Category Archives: Latin America

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

InSecurity Watch: Spooks, woes, and dirty deals


While we’re unsure what’s to become of our blog, we remain committed to pointing out developments likely to impinge on the future of folks, both those alive today and the yet-to-be-born.

Developments in the realm of technology and their potential to shred the last remaining vestiges of privacy in the interests of corporations and their symbiotes in the National Security State in an era of enforced globalization — and thus creating a new context for the human experience in which all our vulnerabilities become transparent to folks with a powerful interest in exploiting them in the interests of deep politics and corporate profiteering.

And with that preamble, on with the shoe, starting with deplorable military action in a perennial tinderbox. Via The Independent:

Israel-Gaza conflict: UN school shelled by Israeli tanks, leaving 15 dead and 200 wounded

  • Doctors and officials described the strike as a ‘massacre’ mostly impacting children

While the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had no immediate comment on the incident, news agency photographers reported seeing pools of blood on the ground in the courtyard of the school near the apparent impact mark of a shell.

Israeli Radio, without citing a source, said that most of those killed at the UN compound were children.

It comes after the UN’s humanitarian chief drew attention to the “major concern” of child fatalities in the conflict, which has seen one child killed every hour over the past three days.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: “There is literally no safe place for civilians [in Gaza].”

From The Hill, the ornamental fruits of ornamental umbrage:

Senate NSA compromise likely to come next week

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is close but not yet ready to unveil a negotiated measure to rein in government surveillance.

Despite reports that the bill could be revealed this week, people familiar with the discussions said Leahy will actually release the compromise legislation as early as Tuesday.

Leahy has been working with the administration on a compromise.

Earlier this week, an aide said conversations had turned a corner and they were “within inches” of an agreement. Leahy said Tuesday that he was “far more encouraged that we can finally come up with some legislation that will do two things.”

Whilst the Guardian adds critical context:

US warned: surveillance reform hinges on change to Reagan executive order

  • John Napier Tye, a former State Department official, says Americans’ data remains vulnerable until executive order that provides NSA with a path to collect data is reformed

John Napier Tye is not Edward Snowden. He says he has no surveillance documents to disclose to journalists. He takes a nuanced position on Snowden’s disclosures.

Yet the 38-year old former State Department official has raised a Snowden-like alarm that Americans’ communication data remains highly vulnerable to surreptitious collection by the National Security Agency – and will remain vulnerable despite the legislative fixes wending through Congress to redress the bulk domestic phone data collection Snowden revealed.

Like Snowden, Tye means to spark a debate on the proper boundaries of NSA authorities. His focus is on an obscure, Reagan-era executive order that serves as a foundational set of rules for the intelligence apparatus. The order, known as Executive Order 12333, renders the current surveillance debate hollow, he said, even as it shows signs of traction in the Senate.

Next up, a critical Washington ally grows increasingly pissed, via intelNews:

Up to 20 US spies inside German government: media reports

German counterintelligence has intensified its surveillance of “certain employees of the United States embassy” in Berlin, after internal reports suggested that “up to 20″ agents of the American government are operating inside the German federal bureaucracy.

Citing information “from American security circles”, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag said on Sunday that the agents are German citizens who are secretly employed by a variety of American civilian and military intelligence agencies in return for money.

The Berlin-based tabloid noted that at least a dozen such agents have infiltrated four departments of the German federal government, namely the Ministries of Defense, Finance, Interior, as well as the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The paper said that the latter has been targeted by the US Central Intelligence Agency because it is routinely employed by the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, as a cover for clandestine activities.

From The Independent again, a response:

Germany begins spying on Britain and America for the first time since 1945

  • Government responds to a series of spy scandals which began last year with revelations that the NSA had bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone

Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered her counter-espionage services to begin surveillance of British and American intelligence gathering in Germany for the first time since 1945 in response to a series of US spy scandals which have badly soured relations between Berlin and Washington.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung and two-state funded German TV channels, WDR and NDR, quoted an unnamed Berlin government source who said Ms Merkel’s Chancellery and her interior and foreign ministries had agreed to launch counter-espionage measures against Britain and the US for the first time.

“Right now we need to send a strong signal,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted the source as saying. The extraordinary measures are a direct response to a series of embarrassing US and British spying scandals in Germany which began last year with revelations that the US National Security Agency had bugged Ms Merkel’s mobile phone.

More from Spiegel:

Keeping Spies Out: Germany Ratchets Up Counterintelligence Measures

  • Officials in Berlin were long in denial that their closest allies were spying on Germany. Now, ministries are undertaking measures to improve security and counterintelligence. They’re anticipating frosty relations with the US for some time to come.

Last Wednesday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière paid a visit to his colleague in the Foreign Ministry, Frank-Walter Steinmeier for a strictly confidential conversation about the currently tense relationship with the United States. Specifically, they planned to address the latest spying revelations and accusations. Before the meeting began, both ministers turned in their mobile phones. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has a small side room he uses for this purpose; part of the Foreign Ministry is in the former Nazi Reichsbank and has very thick walls. The room is now used to store smartphones and tablet computers when sensitive discussions take place.

The precaution reflects the significant disquiet and anxiety in Berlin’s ministries and in the Chancellery as the summer holidays get underway. Slowly, ministry officials are starting to grapple with the true meaning of “360 degree” counterintelligence. It means defending yourself not just usual suspects like Russia or China. But also against Germany’s closest allies, particularly the United States.

A few days ago, Chancellor Merkel reportedly told US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation that anger over the US spying activities in Berlin’s government quarter as well as the recruitment of an informant inside Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) foreign intelligence service has in no way subsided. Because Obama apparently expressed little understanding for the commotion in Germany, Merkel is now taking action.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, a Washington diplomatic blitzkrieg:

Top Obama aides fly to Berlin to talk about spying allegations

Two weeks after Germany demanded that the top U.S. intelligence official stationed in its country leave, President Barack Obama has dispatched two top aides to Berlin.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for counterterrorism and homeland security, met with their German counterparts in Berlin Tuesday “for intensive talks on the state of bilateral relations and future cooperation,” according to the White House.

The meeting came after German authorities said they were investigating new instances of spying, including one that targeted the parliamentary committee probing National Security Agency eavesdropping. Last year, reports indicated that the NSA was monitoring the communications of millions of Germans, including listening in on Merkel’s cellphone.

Meanwhile, from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, meet that old Foggy Bottom familiar, Rosy Scenario:

Germany, U.S. rebuild a spy partnership

Given recent German indignation about the National Security Agency, it has been easy to overlook the fact that for decades the German government has cooperated extensively with the NSA on surveillance activities. But after a high-level meeting in Berlin this week, this long-standing but veiled cooperation may have a firmer legal and political base.

The two countries’ past partnership became so extensive that they even developed a special logo for their joint signals—intelligence activity, known by its initials, “JSA.” It shows an American bald eagle against the colors of the German flag, next to the words Der Zeitgeist, or “the spirit of the age.”

Like so much else we know about the NSA, the details about its activities in Germany come from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now living in Moscow. He provided a trove of secret documents to Der Spiegel, which published more than 50 online last month.

German anger about American spying boiled over recently with the expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin. The Germans were furious when they discovered that the CIA was paying a “walk-in” German agent, adding to their anger that the NSA had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

From the New York Times, more fallout from the Dark Side:

European Court Censures Poland Over C.I.A. Rendition Program

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Poland had violated the rights of two terrorism suspects by allowing their transfer to a secret detention center run by the C.I.A. in Poland, where the two men were tortured.

The ruling says Poland failed to prevent the two men — Abu Zubaydah, born in Saudi Arabia, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen — from being subjected to “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” after they were brought to a clandestine prison in northeast Poland. It ordered Poland to pay 100,000 euros, about $135,000, to Mr. Nashiri and $175,000 to Abu Zubaydah. Both are being held at the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Abu Zubaydah is believed to have overseen the operation of guesthouses in Pakistan where terrorism recruits arrived; he vetted them and provided letters of recommendation allowing them to be accepted for training at a paramilitary camp in Afghanistan, a former Guantánamo detainee said in a military court filing, for example. Mr. Nashiri is accused of plotting the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole.

While The Intercept covers the Kafkaesque:

The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire “categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

From Newser, the War on Photography continues, this time with violence [as well as another touch of Kafka]:

Border Official Points Gun… at Boy Scout: Troop Leader

  • Another scout gets threatened with 10 years in prison

A couple weeks ago, a US border patrol official held a gun to the head of … a Boy Scout. A troop leader explains what happened now that the scouts and adult volunteers from Mid-Iowa Scout Troop 111 have returned from their 23-day trip: Ten days into the trip, their four vans attempted to cross from Canada into Alaska. One scout made an innocent error: He snapped a photo of a US border official. Troop Leader Jim Fox tells KCCI that officials detained everyone in that van and searched them and their luggage, and one agent confiscated the boy’s camera, telling him “he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison.” But it didn’t end there.

When another scout removed some luggage to comply with the search, Fox says the boy heard “a snap of a holster, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head.” No one was ultimately hurt or arrested—just scared—and after a four-hour ordeal, the group was allowed to enter Alaska. A Boy Scout official says the scouts learned an important lesson about being a “good citizen” and following rules. But as for that cited rule against photographing federal agents? It’s not exactly true. According to Reason.com, the American Civil Liberties Union says that photographing “things that are plainly visible from public spaces,” including government officials, “is a constitutional right.”

From ZDNet, suspicions confirmed!:

Forensic scientist identifies suspicious ‘back doors’ running on every iOS device

Forensic scientist and author Jonathan Zdziarski has posted the slides from his talk at the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE/X) conference in New York called Identifying Backdoors, Attack Points, and Surveillance Mechanisms in iOS Devices.

The HOPE conference started in 1994 and bills itself as “one of the most creative and diverse hacker events in the world.”

Zdziarski, better known as the hacker “NerveGas” in the iPhone development community, worked as dev-team member on many of the early iOS jailbreaks and is the author of five iOS-related O’Reilly books including “Hacking and Securing iOS Applications.”

And from Military & Aerospace Electronics, there’s more than angels looking over our shoulders:

U.S. UAV spending to triple over next 5 years

The U.S. market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will triple in size over the next five years, and should grow from $5 billion in 2013 to $15 billion in 2020, predict analysts at market researcher Information Gatekeepers Inc. (IGI) in Boston.

The IGI study entitled 2014 UAV Market Research Study takes a look at the total UAV market from large military UAVs to do-it-yourself (DIY) UAVs for amateurs, company officials say.

The study includes the following major market sectors including the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), civil, commercial, small UAVs, amateur and hobby UAVs, and radio-controlled UAVs.

TechWeekEurope covers another private sector initiative:

European Central Bank Held To Ransom Over Stolen Data

  • Hackers steal partially encrypted records from an events website that belongs to the bank

Hackers have breached the public website of the European Central Bank (ECB) and made off with names, email addresses and other personal details of people who had registered for events there.

The attack came to light on Monday, after the organisation received an anonymous email which demanded an unspecified amount of money for the data.

The ECB said most of the stolen information was encrypted, and no sensitive market data has been compromised in the breach. It didn’t indicate whether it was going to pay the ransom.

The institution, which administers the monetary policy of the 18 members of the Eurozone who chose to adopt the single currency, was established by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1998 and is one of the world’s most important central banks.

After the jump, the latest on the ever-escalation Sino-American trans-Pacific confrontation [including Latin American plays],  Britain goes all Orwell, why some Spanish cops have to pee in a bottle daily [and not for te reasons you might expect], and Rob Ford falls prey top a Sharknado. . . Continue reading

Uncle Sam wages legal war for banksters


Yep, forget national sovereignty or the willing assumption of risk by buyers of foreign debt; Washington wants poor countries to bail our speculators at the cost of their own citizens.

The latest proof comes in the form of a federal court ruling in New York, and economists Michael Hudson of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and James M. Henry of the Tax Justice Network discuss the implication with Paul Jay of The Real News Network:

From the transcript:

JAY: Right. Michael, it seems to me a little ironic or something. You know, you pay, you earn 10, 12, 15 percent. I mean, the reason you’re earning those kinds of money on government bonds is ’cause you’re acknowledging risk. If there’s no, ever, a risk of default, then why should you be paying? You could /ˈpeɪbi/ inflation, but not any more. So, I mean, the judge is saying there should be bonds that can pay high rates of interest, but there should be no risk.

HUDSON: That’s–there should not be any suffering as a result of risk. In other words, anybody can buy a discounted bond, and you have Third World countries always paying a premium over what the United States government has to pay, just like you have companies paying high for junk bonds. Essentially, Argentina was like a junk-bond country.

The history that was just said is very important. You had the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that ran the debt up into 1983, but then, in 1989, you had another neoliberal takeover with the Washington Consensus, and they adopted the U.S. dollar as their basic monetary reserves and tied their money supply to the dollar. That essentially drove the country into debt because it brought on an economic collapse by 2002. That’s why the government was voted out and why the Kirchners came in. So you have a destructive neoliberal government coming in, driving the country into debt, ’cause that’s what neoliberals do.

And then, 2002 (and it was just mentioned), the IMF said, look, we’re going to need something like the Bank for International Settlements was set out to do in 1929, to settle German reparations (obviously, Germany couldn’t pay the reparations that it had to). We have to have some international forum to decide how much a country can pay without imposing austerity and depression on its population, ’cause every country’s sovereign. That’s why they call it sovereign debt.

Well, the United States at that time, in 2002, blocked this and said, wait a minute, other countries want an international forum, but we’re going to block the IMF from doing that, because if they do that, they’ll write down the debt, and most of the bondholders are Wall Street, and we want to get every penny these guys want, and we don’t want.

Well, ironically, after Judge Griesa’s ruling threatened to throw the whole international bond issue into anarchy, the U.S. Treasury and the government and the French government and the IMF all filed amicus brief cases with the Supreme Court, saying, if you follow Judge Griesa’s ruling, it’s so wrong it treats Argentina as if it’s a family restaurant that’s just gone broke, and now let’s carve up all the little pieces and pay off. If you treat countries like you’d treat a family restaurant, then no country is going to ever again say, we’re going to agree, if there is a dispute, to settle the rules under the laws of New York, because if you settle the laws under New York bankruptcy, you’re going to have a nutcase like Judge Griesa saying, I don’t like Argentina, Argentina doesn’t pay its debts, I’m going to make it pay all the 100 percent money it owes as if there were no risk, and all of the interest, the 15 percent, you said, compounded year after year, and all of the legal fees that–the hedge fund has gone after 900 attempts to grab Argentine property, including their Naval training vessel, ARA Libertad, and now it’s trying to grab the shale oil in Argentina, and I’m going to give you penalties because I don’t like Argentina. So when the judge says, Argentina, send up your people to negotiate on my terms or I’ll find you in contempt of court, Argentina says, no country could possibly negotiate on your terms. We overthrew the military dictatorship. You are not going to do to us what the military dictatorship did, Judge Griesa.

Chart of the day: Call them the briCs?


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

BLOG BRUCS

Chart of the day: The Happiest Places on Earth™


They don’t have a “Disney” in the names, and all but but one of the top ten are in Latin America, including a country Washington is doing it’s damnedest to make very, very unhappy. From Gallup:

BLOG Happy

Soybeans and indigenous culture destruction


Soybeans have been hailed as a miracle crop, and they’ve certainly made miraculous millions for UC Berkeley “bioentrepreneur” Chris Somerville [he of the $500 million BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute], who sold his soy breeds to Monsanto before coming to Berkeley to head the BP program.

But what of those most impacted by the wonder crop, the Third World peoples whose lands are seized or purchased by Big Agra multinationals?

Deutsche Welle looks at one people deeply impacted by the corporate soy culture, the Aché of Parguay:

From Deutsche Welle:

Paraguay: The Downside of Soybean Consumption

Program notes:

Paraguay’s Atlantic Rainforest is home to the Aché. The indigenous people live from and with the forest as traditional hunters and gatherers. But pressure is growing on them: large-scale soya producers are offering them money for their land.

Only 13 percent of their original habitat in the Atlantic Rainforest remains. An Aché community of 40 families lives in the southern part of the forest. They still own 500 hectares of land. They’re surrounded by soybean plantations, but they, too, have to farm land to survive. A team from the World Wide Fund for Nature is helping the Aché preserve their habitat and way of life. They are encouraging the revival of yerba maté cultivation. The plant regenerates the forest floor, resulting in greater biodiversity.

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

Jose Mujica, a man who walks the walk


From Abby Martin, a moment or two of tribute for one of the most remarkable political figures in the Western Himisphere.

From Breaking the Set:

Why Uruguay’s President is the Most Bad-Ass Leader in the World

Program notes:

Abby Martin applauds Uruguay’s President, Jose Mujica, for his decision to give up his presidential mansion to 100 Syrian refugee children, accept Guantanamo Bay detainees into the country and reject the war on drugs.

Headlines: Pols, cons, econs, lies, and more


Today’s tales from the realms of politics, eocnomics, and the environment begins with one of the reasons a cynic might believe it’s game over. From United Press International:

House bans Pentagon from preparing for climate change

  • Representatives: Amendment “is science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines Thursday to approve an amendment to the $600 billion National Defense Authorization Act which prohibits the Pentagon from using any of its budget to address climate change and specifically instructs the Department of Defense to ignore the latest scientific reports on the threats posed by global warming.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, a Republican whose home state of West Virginia’s economy is heavily leveraged in coal mining, reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.

The data the amendment is forcing the Pentagon to ignore are the most recent and comprehensive reports on the dangers the United States faces as a consequence of climate change.

Another reason, from CNBC:

25% of Americans saving $0 for retirement

  • Retirement savings for about a quarter of Americans amounts to … $0.

One in every 4 Americans is not saving for retirement at all, either because they are not thinking about it, do not really know how or, worse, do not feel they can afford to, according to a report by Country Financial.

Americans ages 18-29, often called “millennials,” are among the worst when it comes to saving for retirement, the firm said. Nearly a third—32 percent—aren’t saving at all for their “golden years.”

Bloomberg News excludes:

No Recovery for Workers in the Middle

  • Whether it’s the back seat of a subcompact car or the U.S. labor market, the middle can be an uncomfortable spot.

Highly educated Americans have been enjoying the recovery for quite a while. And low-skilled Americans may finally be recovering some of their lost ground, Bloomberg News reports. The jobless rate for workers with a high school education or less is down about one percentage point since December, for example.

Left out are so-called “middle skill” workers, according to a new analysis [PDF] from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The worse-than-mediocre prospects for these average workers repeats a four-decade trend. Recessions destroy a disproportionate number of middle-income jobs, like those held by secretaries and machine operators, that can be easily outsourced or automated. When the economy recovers, there’s demand for jobs at the top, like doctors and tech workers, and at the bottom, like restaurant workers and home health aides. But most of the jobs in the middle are gone forever.

From Reuters, you gotta beef with that?:

USDA warns of sticker shock on U.S. beef as grilling season starts

The Department of Agriculture has warned of sticker shock facing home chefs on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the unofficial start of the U.S. summer grilling season.

The agency said conditions in California could have “large and lasting effects on U.S. fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices,” as the most populous U.S. state struggles through what officials are calling a catastrophic drought.

The consumer price index (CPI) for U.S. beef and veal is up almost 10 percent so far in 2014, reflecting the fastest increase in retail beef prices since the end of 2003. Prices, even after adjusting for inflation, are at record highs.

China Daily hustles:

US hedge fund raises money from wealthy Chinese to invest abroad

In a milestone for the global hedge fund industry, US-based Citadel LLC has become the first global fund to raise money from wealthy Chinese individuals for investment abroad.

Chicago-based Citadel was one of six foreign hedge funds approved in September by China’s foreign-exchange regulator to each raise $50 million in yuan under the trial Qualified Domestic Limited Partner (QDLP) Program that allows high net worth Chinese to invest abroad via foreign hedge funds.

The company founded by billionaire Ken Griffin won regulatory approval for currency exchange on March 26, meaning it can now convert the yuan to US dollars for investing, according to a statement Wednesday from the Shanghai government’s information office.

China Daily again, with a visitor en route:

2.1m Chinese to visit US this year

An estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the US in 2013, and that number is expected to grow by 21 percent in to 2.1 million this year.

And US President Barack Obama has signaled that he’s going do what he can to increase not only the number of Chinese visitors, but all foreign tourists.

On Thursday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum giving secretaries at the Homeland Security and Commerce departments four months to come up with a plan to streamline the entry process for foreign visitors to reduce wait times.

A central bankster warning from Reuters:

Central banks must be on guard against currency wars, says ECB’s Coeure

Central banks need to cooperate to avoid a currency war, European Central Bank policymaker Benoit Coeure said on Friday, and the ECB should take account of the euro’s exchange rate in its monetary policy deliberations.

Speaking in Paris, Coeure also said that cutting the ECB’s deposit rate into negative territory was a policy option for the bank but would not be an exchange rate policy.

In a speech on “Currency wars and the Future of the International Monetary System”, Coeure asked whether, from the ECB’s perspective, central banks should take account of exchange rates in monetary policy; whether there is a currency war now; and whether international cooperation is needed in this regard.

Trust us, they say. Via EUbusiness:

Atlantic trade talks: US, EU seek to calm food worries

US and EU officials tried Friday to calm fears that an ambitious transatlantic free trade pact would not erode food safety rules.

Closing out five days of talks to advance the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators stressed that any deal would not force Europeans to accept US foods already ruled unsafe in the European Union.

“We cannot envisage… changing our food safety law as a result of the trade negotiations,” EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said at a press conference in Washington.

“There’s no intention of forcing the Europeans to eat anything that Europeans don’t want to eat — that’s not what this agreement is about,” said his US counterpart, Dan Mullaney.

From EUbusiness, sure, right:

Germany’s Schaeuble denies austerity sparked populist backlash

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble denied in an interview Friday that the rise of eurosceptics expected in weekend elections was due to austerity policies championed by Berlin.

He was asked by The Wall Street Journal whether anticipated gains by populist and anti-EU parties in the European Parliament vote until Sunday would be the price to pay for years of belt-tightening.

“Some will interpret it that way,” Schaeuble replied. “I think that’s wrong. You can see that our policy to stabilise the eurozone was successful.”

On to Britain and the right rising from BBC News:

Nigel Farage: UKIP to be serious players at general election

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his party will be “serious players” at the 2015 general election after it made gains in council polls across England.

Mr Farage said the “UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house” after it gained more than 150 council seats.

The BBC’s projected national share of the vote suggests UKIP would have scored 17% in a Britain-wide election. Labour would have got 31% of the vote, ahead of Conservatives on 29% with the Liberal Democrats on 13%.

More from the Independent:

Local election results 2014: Nigel Farage hails Ukip’s ‘political earthquake’ and vows more to come

The three main political parties were last night assessing the damage from local elections in which they were all hit by the “political earthquake” that Nigel Farage’s Ukip promised and delivered.

Mr Farage predicted that his party’s sweeping gains outside London in Thursday’s council elections in England will be matched by coming first when the results of the European Parliament poll are declared on Sunday night.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all put their best gloss on yesterday’s town hall results. But behind the scenes, they were frantically calculating the impact that the new “four-party” political landscape would have on next year’s general election.

The Guardian recommends, righteously:

Jail fraudsters for longer, judges told

  • Guidelines from Sentencing Council instruct judiciary to make harm to victims a central factor in deciding on custody

Longer prison sentences for frauds that target the vulnerable and fresh sanctions against money-laundering are recommended in new judges’ guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.

The impact of fraud on victims should be a central feature when judges come to consider the level of punishment imposed on convicted fraudsters, the guidance explains. Previous guidelines for many fraud offences referred to the harm done to victims merely as an aggravating factor.

Some of the recommendations significantly raise the starting point in terms of sentence length. The previous range for offences involving more than £500,000, for example, was four to seven years’ custody with a starting point of five years. The range in the new guideline is five to eight years with a starting point of seven.

The London Telegraph scents a bubbly deflation:

London’s property boom is losing its fizz

  • Even the super-rich are baulking at rising prices in the capital and would-be buyers are wary of a rise in interest rates

The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, that most canny of residential property owners, recently took the opportunity to offload hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of property in Mayfair and Belgravia, so silly had prices become. And it is not just the playgrounds of hedge fund bosses and Russian oligarchs that are feeling the chill. Long-favoured spill-over districts for those no longer able to afford Chelsea and South Kensington are also experiencing something of a hiatus. Properties aren’t selling, and those that do are frequently failing to achieve asking prices. “The market has come right off,” says one insider with his nose to the ground.

Viewed in this light, the imminent stock market flotation of Zoopla, the online property website, for some ridiculous sum of money may be something of a last hurrah, like the sky-high price put on the estate agent Foxtons back in 2008.

From the Guardian, a fracking letdown:

No shale gas potential in Weald basin, concludes British Geological Survey

  • Ministers deny hyping UK potential after BGS says only a fraction of Weald oil reserves is recoverable

Government hopes that Britain can emulate the US by starting a shale-gas revolution have been knocked back after a long-awaited report unexpectedly concluded there was no potential in fracking for gas in the Weald region of southern England.

Michael Fallon, the energy minister, insisted he was neither “disappointed nor happy” at the findings from the British Geological Survey and denied the government had hyped the potential for extracting shale gas in Britain.

He preferred to focus on more positive BGS findings that there could be 4.4bn barrels of oil in the shale rocks of the area, which stretches from Salisbury to Tunbridge Wells – although in practice recoverable reserves are likely to be a fraction of this.

More from the Independent:

No gas found in the Weald basin: Does this spell the end of the Government’s dream of a fracking revolution?

The Government’s dream of kickstarting a fracking revolution has suffered a major setback after a survey of one of the UK’s great shale gas hopes found no evidence of gas in the area.

And while the same survey – of the Weald basin, stretching from Wiltshire to Kent – did find an estimated 4.4 billion barrels of oil, the scientist who oversaw the project admitted it would be so difficult to extract that the basin would be unlikely to yield even 0.5 per cent of the oil so far extracted from the North Sea.

Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the British Geological Survey, which produced the report, said: “It’s not a huge bonanza. But we have to see what happens.” He added: “It is going to be a challenge for the industry to get it out.”

By way of stunning contrast, the same basic story refracted through the lens of the stalwart conservative London Telegraph:

Fracking in Tory heartlands ‘in national interest’, says Michael Fallon as report reveals 4.4bn barrels of oil

  • Energy minister denies disappointment as experts say tiny fraction of oil can be recovered and will not lead to “huge bonanza”

Fracking should take place in Tory heartlands of south-east England “in the national interest”, energy minister Michael Fallon has said, despite expert warnings that there was not enough oil in the region to spark a “huge bonanza”.

A British Geological Survey study of the “Weald” basin revealed that 4.4bn barrels of shale oil was likely to lie in the area, primarily beneath Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

But the BGS said that only a small fraction of the oil – potentially 5pc, the equivalent of less than six months’ UK oil demand – was likely to be recoverable through fracking.

Mr Fallon insisted that fracking must go ahead in the area, despite it being largely covered by the South Downs National Park and by the Surrey Hills and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – areas in which some Tory MPs have already suggested the drilling should not take place.

On to Norway and a rejection from TheLocal.no:

Norway scuppers China tycoon’s Arctic plan

The Norwegian government has leapt in to buy a huge swathe of Arctic land on the Svalbard archipelago a week after one of China’s richest property tycoons announced he might buy it to build a resort.

The land, a 216 square-kilometre estate with its own mountain and large coal reserves, had been put up for sale by the industrialist and farmer Henning Horn, and his sisters Elin and Kari Horn.

“The government has decided to work for a solution involving a state takeover Austre Adventfjord,” trade minister Monica Maeland said in a statement released on Thursday. “Through public ownership and Norwegian law, we have the best starting point for managing Svalbard for the common good.

Germany next, and a rare exception at a time other countries are doing the opposite, via TheLocal.de:

Ageing Germany lowers retirement age

German lawmakers approved on Friday a major pensions overhaul, criticised by many, including within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, as making little economic sense in a rapidly ageing country.

The new rules will allow some workers to retire at the age of 63, while the norm of 67 is being progressively phased in for workers in Europe’s top economy after a 2007 change.

Together with an improvement in pensions for mothers whose children were born before 1992, the reforms are set to cost Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition” €60 billion up to 2020.

From Deutsche Welle, diplomatic phrasing:

German business confidence takes a breather

  • Confidence among German business leaders has dropped slightly. A closely watched monthly poll by a leading economic think tank revealed executives expected business prospects to worsen later in the year

The Munich-based Ifo economic research institute reported Friday that its benchmark index gauging business confidence among top executives across the nation fell to 110.4 points in May, down from 111.2 points in the previous month.

The latest poll among some 7,000 managers indicated that on average, compared with last month, the executives polled consider the current business environment to be less favorable, and are less optimistic about prospects for the next six months.

In contrast, analysts polled by Reuters penciled in a less pronounced drop in the confidence barometer.

Süddeutsche Zeitung gets behind the wheel:

What’s Driving Gulf Cash To European Holdings

Once upon a time, buying an expensive German car was enough to make a rich sheikh happy. Lately it seems a car doesn’t quite cut it, though a sizeable stake in an entire German car company may do nicely, thank you.

Four years ago, for example, at a Volkswagen general assembly, a man was sitting up on the stage who didn’t look like the others there from the VW family dynasty. The man’s name was Hussain Ali Al-Abdulla, and he was a board member of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) that owns 17% of VW after acquiring most of Porsche’s share options.

Seventeen percent of the common stock of one of the world’s largest automakers is a great deal. But since the Porsche and Piëch families (via Porsche Holding) own over half of VW stocks and the state of Lower Saxony holds a further 20%, this 17% gives the QIA a strategic right to make its voice heard quite clearly — if not direct power.

France next, and an austerian rebuff from TheLocal.fr:

French military top brass threaten to quit over cuts

  • The battle over further cuts to France’s military budget prompted dire warnings from the country’s defence minister and a threat from the heads of the armed forces to resign

France’s defence minister has warned that any further cuts in the military budget would badly hamper operations amid reports that the top brass would quit if there was further belt-tightening.

French President François Hollande will take decisions on the issue in the coming weeks, his entourage said on Friday, following Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s letter to him. The warning comes at a time when France has sent troops to two of its former colonies in Africa, Mali and the Central African Republic, where there has been widespread fighting following coups.

If there are more cuts, “the army will become under-equipped and will not be able to undertake new operations,” said Le Drian.

And from EurActiv, in your heart you know they’re right, far right:

Marine Le Pen and Golden Dawn ‘flirting’

A post EU-election alliance between the French far-right National Front and the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is not entirely ruled out. EurActiv Greece reports.

Officially, Marine Le Pen has sought to distance the National Front from Golden Dawn and other parties it sees as being too extremist.

But the political balances in the next European Parliament and the openly ambiguous stance of Golden Dawn make an alliance still look possible.

Austria next, and the usual accumulation from TheLocal.at:

Austrian millionaires richer than ever before

  • The assets of Austria’s millionaires grew in 2013 by seven percent, to €262 billion, making them richer than ever before

Austria’s millionaires could pay off the country’s entire debt in one shot, and still have another €20 billion left over, according to a report by the Liechtenstein investment company Valluga.

It noted that the gap between rich and poor is widening in Austria.

A total of 4,600 Austrians became millionaires last year. This means that 82,300 people now have financial assets of more than €1 million, not including owner-occupied real estate.

Switzerland next and sounds of another bubble popping from TheLocal.ch:

Property prices plunge in Geneva region: report

After rising steadily for five years, home prices tumbled by an average of more than six percent in the city of Geneva during the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

That’s the estimate from UBS and real estate consultants Wüest & Partner for average prices of condominiums and villas, according to a report from the Tribune de Genève published on Thursday.

The estimate shows weaker prices across the Lake Geneva region, where an average drop of 2.4 percent was seen, and a slowdown in certain other parts of Switzerland.

Average prices were down by four percent in Lausanne and lower by about 1.5 percent in Winterthur in the canton of Zurich.

On to Spain, and a bankster benediction from New Europe:

S&P raises Spain’s credit rating a notch, cites better economic prospects

Standard & Poor’s rating agency has upgraded Spain’s sovereign credit grade a notch, the third agency to do so in recent months and a further sign the country is turning the corner after five years of economic turmoil.

The agency raised the grade to BBB from BBB-, citing improved economic prospects and praising the conservative government’s structural and labor reforms since 2010.

Two other agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have also upgraded Spain this year.

El País delivers the grim working class reality:

One in five Spanish job seekers has not worked in three years

  • Long-term unemployment rose 22% last year, to 1.275 million
  • Experts warn problem will be lasting legacy of the economic crisis

Six years into a profound jobs crisis, and the full effects of long-term unemployment are beginning to emerge. Figures from the latest Active Population Survey show that 60% of Spain’s 6 million unemployed have not worked in a year. What’s worse is that among this group, the proportion of people who have been without work for three years or more is growing, and now stands at one out of every five job seekers, according to data published on Friday by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The Active Population Survey shows that last year there was an average of 1,275,700 job seekers who, having been active previously, had been unable to return to the job market in at least three years. This represents a rise in long-term unemployment of 234,200 people compared with 2012, an increase of 22%.

Admittedly, the pace of the increase has fallen off in the last two years, when long-term unemployment was rising at a rate of 40% a year. But it remains way above the general unemployment rate, which has begun to fall in the last two quarters, as a result of the marked decline in the active population. In 2007 the proportion of people who had gone three years without working was just 13% of all job seekers, while in 2013 that figure reached 21%.

From TheLocal.es, that good ol’ hard times intolerance:

Spanish mayor ‘sorry’ for ‘anti-immigrant’ outburst

A Spanish mayor has apologised after being accused of racism by Romanian immigrants for a foul-mouthed tirade against thieves.

Mayor Josu Bergara was recorded in a meeting last year boasting that he had made sure “the scum no longer come” to his northern town of Sestao.

Five Romanian families lodged a complaint against him in court, accusing him of illegally refusing to register them as residents in the Basque town. They submitted a video of his outburst as evidence of racism to support their case, said the campaign group SOS Racismo, which aided the families.

Italy next, and last minute political vituperation from Corriere della Sera:

Grillo and Renzi Clash as Berlusconi Speaks in Rome

  • M5S leader claims: “Berlinguer is on our side”. Premier replies: “Wash your mouth out”. Berlusconi appeals for moderate vote

Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi took to the hustings in Rome, the former in Piazza del Popolo and the latter at the Palazzo dei Congressi in the EUR district. Meanwhile Beppe Grillo was in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. The prime minister and the Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader swapped barbs over Enrico Berlinguer. “He’s on our side”, thundered former stand-up comic Grillo. “Wash your mouth out”, was the PM’s reply.

With the race to the polls entering the final straight, the three largest parties took to the streets at almost the same time on Thursday evening for their last rallies before the campaign officially closes. Earlier in the day, Mr Renzi said on Radio1′s Radio anch’io programme: “The risk is that someone might seek to block the reforms. I think that Italy can be a guide for Europe and has an amazing future. If they don’t let me make the reforms, then yes, my project will have failed and I’ll pack my bags”. Speaking in Piazza del Popolo, Mr Renzi recalled that “a united Europe started here” before launching his attack on the M5S leader: “Grillo mentioned Berlinguer in Florence. People who aren’t fit to speak names like that shouldn’t be mentioning them. You can’t say ‘I am beyond Hitler’ and ‘Berlinguer’ in the same breath. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out”.

“I solemnly pledge that all pensioners will get a €1,000 monthly pension, to be on the cabinet’s agenda for its first meetings”. Silvio Berlusconi made the promise at his EUR rally, where he added that a similar measure would be taken “in favour of housewives”. Mr Berlusconi said he was disappointed by Mr Renzi (“He’s meant more spending and more taxes”) and reaffirmed that Mr Grillo was taking advantage of “ordinary people’s desperation”.

From TheLocal.it, political realism?:

Red light district wins Rome mayor’s support

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino has said he is in favour of having a red light district in the Italian capital, following moves in Milan to see the sex trade regulated.

Marino said on Thursday he is “in favour of zones where prostitution is allowed and zones where it isn’t,” although added that as mayor he did not have the power to open a red light district in Rome.

“This overflow of prostitution doesn’t only damage the decorum of the city, but it is a great cause of public annoyance in some neighbourhoods,” he was quoted in Corriere della Sera as saying.

His rethink on regulation of the sex trade follows calls by Matteo Salvini, a Northern League (Lega Nord) politician in Milan, to open a red light district in Italy’s financial capital.

And fueling around with TheLocal.it:

ENI clinches Gazprom deal to cut gas prices

Italian energy major ENI on Friday said it had signed a deal with Russian gas giant Gazprom that will cut gas import prices as part of a revision of its contract.

“The agreement involves a reduction in supply prices and an important change in the price indexation to fully align it with the market,” ENI said in a statement.

It said the deal, which was signed in Russia by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller and ENI boss Claudio Descalzi, would apply retroactively from the start of 2014.

Aftter the jump, the latest from Greece [including accelerating political fireworks], the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan vexation, Venezuelan vituperation, Thai coup grip intensification, Aussie educational austerity, Chinese economic uncertain and corruption woes, Sony tries again, Japanese financial plans, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: EcoWarnings, eCons, lies, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown’s office had no comment Wednesday.

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

As Central Valley fog disappears, fruit, nut crops decline

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

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

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

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

East Bay sheriffs to release immigrants held for feds

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, a legal revolt:

Counties sue narcotics makers, alleging ‘campaign of deception’

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

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

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

BBC News hauls out the chopper:

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

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

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

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

Hypocrisy between the buns, via the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

A thoroughly tamed electorate, via EUbusiness:

Muted US opposition to Atlantic trade treaty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: Organized Crime Launders Billions Through Bets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to Europe, starting with election news from EUobserver:

EU elections under way in Netherlands and UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNNMoney casts a different slant:

Europe’s own ‘tea party’ risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norway to ‘work harder’ to sell whale to Japan

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

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

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

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

Early Dutech electoral indications from euronews:

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

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

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

Germany next, and creeping imperialism from New Europe:

German cabinet adopts new Africa strategy

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

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

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

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

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

France’s left is through with Hollande

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French cops to bulldoze Calais migrant camps

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

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

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

From the Guardian, a new supergrass:

Camorra mafia ‘super boss’ Antonio Iovine turns state witness

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

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

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

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

Reactions from the Independent:

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

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

The jailed mobster, Antonio Iovine, dubbed the Camorra’s “economy minister”, is now spilling the secrets of the brutal mafia group, it was reported today. And not only clan members are risk; now that “the first real boss” of the crime group has decided to cooperate with the authorities, “an entire generation” of mafia associates risks being “swept away”, according to La Repubblica newspaper.

The Camorra’s accomplices are thought to include crooked politicians, civil servants and businessmen, who collude with its moneyspinning activities including illegal dumping, extortion, drug running and prostitution. Iovine was captured in November 2010 after 14 years on the run. But the first real breakthrough in getting the mafia boss to talk occurred within the past two weeks. With prosecutors Antonello Ardituro and Caesar Sirignano having applied careful pressure over a period of three years, Iovine finally cracked and began giving page after page of verbal evidence.

TheLocal.it calls for lighting up:

Rome mayor backs decriminalizing cannabis

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino on Wednesday said he was in favour of decriminalizing cannabis, calling for a national and international reform on drug laws in order to fight organized crime.

The city mayor said he was “in favour of the possibility of the liberalization of cannabis for medical or personal use.”  He was speaking at the Eighth Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy in Rome.

Beyond the capital he also advocated broader reform of drug laws both in Italy and abroad.

“Decriminalization of marijuana must be considered a starting point, because years of prohibition have brought no results in the prevention of a dramatic increase in drug use,” Marino was quoted in Il Messaggero as saying.

From ANSA.it, real GDP:

Economic value of prostitution in 2014 GDP accounts

  • Statistical agency to measure illegal drugs, cigarettes

The economic value of prostitution, illegal drug sales, and trafficking in contraband cigarettes and alcohol will all be measured by Italy’s national statistical agency Istat as it calculates the country’s 2014 gross domestic production (GDP), it announced Thursday.

Istat said that starting in September, its 2014 economic measurements will include those three areas of illegal activities, in line with methodology being applied in measuring national accounts within the European Union.

The move updates the previous system of national account measures implemented in 1995, Istat said in a news release. Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, has provided guidelines that will include an estimate of accounts for illegal activities including prostitution, contraband cigarettes and alcohol, and illegal drug trafficking.

From TheLocal.it, woes for Bunga Bunga Junior:

Prosecutors seek jail term for Berlusconi’s son

Prosecutors in Milan have asked for Silvio Berlusconi’s elder son, Pier Silvio, to be sentenced to three years and two months in jail for alleged tax fraud at the family’s Mediaset empire.

Prosecutors Fabio De Pasquale and Sergio Spadaro are also seeking a three year and two month jail term for Fedele Confalonieri, Mediaset’s chairman, for his alleged involvement in the financial wrongdoing that relates to the trading of TV rights at the company’s subsidiary, Mediatrade, the Italian edition of Huffington Post reported.

The men are accused of tax fraud amounting to millions of euros in 2003 and 2004, when the telemarketing unit was based in Milan.

Striking news from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s newsstands set to empty as strike hits

A national strike of printing press workers on Thursday, prompted by a row over pensions, will see newsstands across the country emptied of newspapers on Friday.

Ink ran dry at Italy’s printing presses on Thursday, as labour unions united to force newspapers to temporarily run out of print. As a result none of Italy’s daily newspapers, such as La Repubblica and La Stampa, will be published on Friday, Italian media reported.

According to unions the government has failed to protect industry workers who were left without a pension following reforms in 2012, the newspaper said

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including campaign news], Russian sanctions beneficiaries, more Brazilian pre-World Cup blues, Thai coup consolidation, more Chinese bubble warnings, Sony fine tunes, environmental disasters, and the latest from Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Cons, mergers, & Fukunightmares


Long collection of headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, environmental nightmares, and the Fukushima disaster, so we go straight on, first with a headline from New America Media:

FACTS ON ETHNIC ELDERS: Recession Leaves Ethnic Families ‘Beyond Broke’

Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans face an economic “quadruple whammy,” leaving them with little or no financial cushion as they age, finds a new study released Monday.

Titled “Beyond Broke: Why Closing the Racial Wealth Gap is a Priority for National Economic Security,” the study used 2011 Census data to examine household worth for all ages. It found that the medium net worth of households of color from 2005-2011 dropped 58 percent for Latinos, 48% for Asians, 45% for African Americans — but only 21 percent for whites.

“You have the racial gap in pay, the gender gap in pay, the ageism gap in pay and predominantly single-income households,” says Maya Rockeymoore, president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) which commissioned the study. “You’re looking at the intersection of all of these disparities.”

Injustice for all, via NPR:

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.

A conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

But some are doing well, via The Wire:

Tiffany Sold Much More Bling Than Usual This Quarter

Tiffany & Co. had an incredible quarter, blowing away analysts predictions. Tiffany reported $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter, jumping 13 percent from this time last year. Worldwide, sales increased 15 percent. Their income was $125.6 million, a 50 percent jump from 2013. Earnings were up $0.97 a share.

The key to these spectacular earnings numbers was not their highest-end luxury items, but Tiffany’s lower-cost pieces, led by the Atlas Collection. The most expensive piece in that collection is the Atlas Cocktail Watch, which is 18k rose gold and complete with 197 diamonds (just under two carats.) It’s cost is $26,500. While that might be pricey, pieces in the popular Elsa Peretti collection go well above $30,000 and the Yellow Diamonds collection offers a variety of pieces in the $100,000 range.

For these lower priced pieces, the profit margin is actually higher. This helped drive profit margins for the company as a whole. Last year, the margin was 56.2 percent, and this quarter it was up to 58.2 percent.

The Berkeley Blog covers another divide:

The Digital Divide Redux: Broadband, Net Neutrality, and the Comcast-Time Warner Merger

A few months ago, Comcast announced a $45 billion deal to purchase Time Warner. Although much of the initial commentary focused on the potential effect this proposed merger would have in the cable television market (since Comcast and Time Warner are the first-and second- largest cable providers in the US), the effects in the broadband market are far more important.  Research at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society suggests that broadband is an increasingly critical element of social, economic and civic life.

In its 2010 “National Broadband Plan” report, the FCC describes Broadband as “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”  Just as the interstate highway system transformed residential life, facilitated the growth of the suburbs, and connected families to the broader economy of a region, broadband is a structural conduit for opportunity and upward mobility and in America today.  Unfortunately, like the interstate highway system and the residential patterns it engendered, broadband access and affordability may yet become a new form of segregation in America.  A research paper [PDF] co-authored by Haas Institute researcher Samir Gambhir notes the inequality of broadband access, affordability and quality experienced by low-income neighborhoods, rural households, and communities of color in particular.

The Comcast-Time Warner merger would give Comcast control over 40 percent of the country’s internet service in 19 of the country’s top 20 cable markets.  Imagine if one corporation privately controlled 40% of the most important roads, streets, highways and bridges in those same markets.  The issue isn’t just access; its affordability and quality (such as internet speed) for low-income families and many marginalized communities. If the Comcast-Time Warner merger reduces competition and increase the price of broadband access, the harms to upward mobility, economic opportunity and our nation would be far reaching.

And another merger warning sign from PC Advisor:

Comcast and Time Warner rank dead last in satisfaction as merger looms

  • A combined company would probably be even worse, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

In the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (via DSL Reports), the two companies landed at the bottom of the list for both TV and Internet services.

Comcast scored 60 points for television service, which is five points less than the industry average, and three points lower than last year’s score. Time Warner Cable scored 56 points, down 4 points from last year, and nine points lower than the industry average. DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse were on top of the list with 69 points. (Incidentally, AT&T is now hoping regulators will approve an acquisition of DirecTV.)

Internet service was even worse. Comcast scored 57 points, down from 62 points last year, while Time Warner’s score dropped to 54 points, from 63 points in 2013. Both companies are now far below the industry average of 63 points, and nowhere near Verizon’s 71 points for its FiOS service.

Via Reuters, serial killers unite:

Exclusive: Reynolds American, Lorillard in advanced merger talks

Reynolds American Inc (RAI.N) is in active discussions to buy Lorillard Inc (LO.N) in a complicated, three-way transaction that could see British American Tobacco PLC (BATS.L) take a major role to back a potential merger, according to people familiar with the matter.

The proposed deal, which is in late stage talks, would unite the second- and third-largest U.S. tobacco companies that have a combined market value of nearly $55 billion, putting brands such as Reynolds’ Camel and Lorillard’s Newport under one roof.

The companies are working to finalize an agreement in as soon as a matter of weeks but the talks will likely take longer given the complex structure, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, pushing the neoliberal agenda to the East:

Japan, U.S. play leading roles in acceleration of TPP talks

The progress made toward this summer’s broad agreement during ministerial-level negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday was largely due to accelerated discussions on tariffs, in response to the substantial agreement made between Japan and the United States.

Cooperation between the two nations to lead TPP talks also proved effective.

Speaking at a joint press conference after the two-day meeting, Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb praised the acceleration of the negotiations as a whole in the wake of the breakthrough between Japan and the United States. He added that the progress in the Japan-U.S. negotiations had set a precedent for future negotiations on the TPP pact.

And pushing it to the West with EUbusiness:

New round of Atlantic trade pact talks opens in Washington

US and European negotiators opened a new round of talks on creating a transatlantic free trade zone Monday amid rising political and public resistance to the deal on both sides.

The fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will cover the details of proposals from the US and EU sides, with no aim to resolve the most difficult divisions between the two sides, officials said.

“This is clearly not the stage in which the difficult political decisions need to be taken,” an EU official said ahead of the talks.

Xinhua predicts:

World economy poised to grow moderately, but lower than pre-crisis levels

The global economy is expected to strengthen over the next two years, despite a downgrade of growth prospects for some developing economies and economies in transition, showed a UN report released here Wednesday.

In the mid-year update of UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP), global growth rate was revised down from the forecasts presented in the WESP 2014.

Growth of world gross product (WGP) is now projected at 2.8 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent in 2015, up from 2.2 percent in 2013, the report said. However, this pace of expansion is still lower compared to the growth level before the 2008 global financial crisis.

And on to Europe, first with Al Jazeera:

EU far-right expects success in elections

  • Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties hope to make big gains in vote for a new EU parliament.

From May 22-25, hundreds of millions of people from the European Union’s 28 member countries will vote for members of the European Parliament, one of the EU’s two legislative bodies.

The last elections were held in 2009, before the depths of Europe’s economic and financial crises. Since then, five EU countries – Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus – have required bailouts, and unemployment across the continent, especially among youth, has remained persistently high.

This has led many Europeans to sour on the union – a disenchantment reflected in polling figures that show a significant portion of the electorate plans on voting for far-right parties for the European Parliament.

These parties are highly sceptical of European government and the euro, and staunchly oppose immigration and multiculturalism. Far-right groups look poised to make especially large gains in the Netherlands, Greece, France and Hungary.

Britain next, and austerity rampant with the Independent:

NHS in the red: Hospitals forced to beg Government for equipment loans and electricity bills

The intense financial pressure faced by NHS hospitals has been laid bare in a series of letters, which range from pleas for bailout loans to replace defunct equipment, attempts to fend off legal threats from suppliers and even requests to pay off electricity bills.

Details of requests for short-term financial aid sent to the Department of Health reveal that one NHS trust was threatened with having the electricity supply shut off at a building on their hospital site, while another said it faced an “untenable level of equipment breakdown and obsolescence”.

The 15 loan requests, made in February and March this year, which were released following Freedom of Information requests from the Health Service Journal, reveal the impact of the NHS financial crisis for England’s most hard-up hospitals.

65 NHS trusts in England are already in financial deficit. A recent survey of NHS finance directors revealed that two thirds are concerned their trust will go into the red in the year of the General Election.

On to Paris and anticipated tarnishing from France 24:

Far-right win in European elections ‘will tarnish French image’

Most opinion polls in France forecast an unprecedented victory for France’s far-right National Front party in Sunday’s European elections, an outcome that observers warn will strip France of its influence on the continent.

Surveys indicate that the anti-euro National Front (FN) is poised to claim between 23 and 24 percent of all votes cast in EU parliamentary elections, which are less than a week away.

Buoyant from its best-ever performance in French municipal elections in March, in which it conquered 11 city councils, the far-right FN has campaigned under the slogan “No to Brussels, yes to France.”

A partisan plague from TheLocal.fr:

Immigration in France: No need for ‘Mr Ebola’

As the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen courts trouble by suggesting the Ebola virus could solve the immigration problem in France, the author of a new OECD report on immigration in Europe says it’s no longer even a significant phenomenon in France.

As expected, given that he is vying for re-election as a member of the European parliament on Sunday, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the controversial honorary president of France’s anti-EU National Front party voiced his opinions on immigration this week.

Le Pen, who has been convicted of hate speech on numerous occasions, could be up in court again after suggesting the deadly Ebola virus could solve the global “population explosion” and thus Europe’s “immigration problem”.

Tracking down an error with AFP:

Red faces as new French trains ‘too wide’ for stations

Cash-strapped France will have to trim back some 1,300 rail platforms at a cost of 50 million euros after realising a brand new fleet of trains are too big to fit its stations, rail operators admitted Wednesday.

The problem affects 182 regional trains supplied by French manufacturer Alstom and 159 from Canada’s Bombardier, due to come into service by 2016.

Two state rail bodies, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) and the Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), acknowledged the embarrassing situation in a joint statement on Wednesday after it was revealed by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

Via TheLocal.fr, pimping for laundromats?:

Far-right mayor bans drying laundry in public

The newly elected far-right mayor of the French town of Beziers has once again laid down the law to residents. After imposing a curfew on teenagers and higher fines for dog waste, Robert Ménard has now banned them from drying their laundry on their balconies.

Robert Ménard the far-right mayor of the southern French town of Beziers is back in the headlines this week.

Ménard was only elected two months ago, with the support of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, but no one can accuse him of putting his feet up once in office.

Off to Austria with TheLocal.at and action contemplated:

Third of Austrians in favour of ‘tax strike’

Some Austrian companies have started a kind of tax strike – by refusing to make some tax payments they want to put pressure on the government to make more savings.

A poll carried out by the OGM market research group, on behalf of the daily Kurier newspaper showed that a third of people asked were in favour of a tax strike and believed that tax money is being wasted.

Fifty-two percent of people thought a tax strike was not justified, while 33 percent thought it was. “Most of the population is not self-employed and view entrepreneurs as rich, because people think they have big companies. Envy plays a role. Nevertheless it’s noteworthy that 33 percent approve of the tax boycott,” OGM pollster Karin Cvrtila said.

Deflating with TheLocal.at:

Real estate bubble: ‘The hype is over’

  • Austria has experienced something of a real estate bubble in recent years, but some experts believe the market is now calming down.

Specialists from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s advisory group on real estate have said that while property costs increased significantly in 2013, current signs suggest that this year growth should be relatively flat, according to the Wirtschafts Blatt.

“While there continues to be a general upwards trend – in many regions the price increases have stopped, the hype is over,” real estate chairman Thomas Malloth explained.

In January, the Austrian National Bank (ÖNB) warned of the possibility of a real estate bubble, with prices in Vienna for selected apartments rising by 21 percent over the previous 12 months. Tenants have been complaining about rising rents, which seem to have been driven by speculative investors.

Spain next, and a hard times intolerance intolerance from  El País:

Spanish government asks state attorney to crack down on Twitter hate speech

  • Prosecutor warns of difficulty of tackling all online insults in generalized way
  • “Incitement to hatred” provision cannot be applied to all cases, she says

The initiative began a month ago with an Interior Ministry order to “clean out the web” that resulted in 21 arrests for glorifying terrorism. Some of the suspects had been asking for Basque terrorist group ETA to kill again and mocking the victims of its decades-long campaign.

But the crackdown on hate speech has taken on new urgency following the recent assassination of Popular Party (PP) politician Isabel Carrasco, which spawned an outbreak of messages from people celebrating the murder and calling for further killings of PP members.

This week, Jewish associations reported more than 18,000 offensive messages on Twitter after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid on Sunday to win the Euroleague title.

Lisbon next and a diktat from Berlin via the Portugal News:

Germany tells Portuguese – Get out or get a job

The Portuguese secretary of state for the communities acknowledged on Wednesday that the government was applying political pressure to avoid the approval of a law by the German CSU party on the repatriation of unemployed immigrants.

“We are following the situation directly through our embassies and hope the decisions that are taken are not going to excessively penalise the Portuguese”, José Cesário told Lusa News Agency.

The ‘Diário de Notícias’ newspaper said on Wednesday that the CSU, one of the parties in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, had put forward a proposal that immigrants who had been unemployed for between three and six months should be repatriated. The paper said the measure could affect more than 5,600 Portuguese who are in Germany without a job.

Off to Italy and another Bunga Bunga scandal from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP probed over labour aide’s murder

Prosecutors in Bologna have opened an investigation involving the murder of Marco Biagi, a labour ministry adviser who was shot dead in 2002, after it was revealed that senior polticians, including Claudio Scajola, an-ex minister, may have been aware of the danger he was under.

Biagi was assassinated by the extreme-left Red Brigades as he made his way home in March 2012, shortly after Scajola, who was interior minister at the time, had taken away his police escort.

Scajola is currently in jail in Rome after being arrested earlier this month for allegedly helping Calabrian businessman Amedeo Matacena escape a five-year-jail term for mafia collusion conviction.

From ANSA, not in a humoring mood:

Don’t send ‘clowns’ to Europe – Renzi

  • Premier says PD represents ‘seriousness’

Premier Matteo Renzi appealed to the Italian people not to vote for “clowns” in Sunday’s European elections. The broadside by the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was aimed at comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo and his anti-estasblishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). The PD is top in most polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S, who are second in the surveys after capturing a stunning 25% of the vote in last year’s general election, can come first with a late surge.

“We don’t need shows and clownery in the European parliament, we don’t need to climb on the roof,” Renzi said on Italian radio referring to a recent M5S protest on the roof of the Italian Lower House. “We need seriousness, people who are well prepared and further Italy’s interests”.

Renzi also blasted the language used in the campaign by Grillo, who, among other things, suggested that the premier will suffer a political “lupara bianca” – a term used to refer to a mafia hit that leaves no trace of evidence – after the European elections.

ANSA again, and he’s makin’ a list:

Grillo calls for ‘people’s trial’ of system after EU poll

Web-based trial to nail blame for Italy’s ‘collapse’

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), on Wednesday called for putting politicians, industrialists and journalists “on trial” using an online system and popular vote among M5S members after European Parliament elections this month.

The comedian turned politician wrote on his blog that the aim of the Web-based “trial” was to “inform citizens about the theft and embezzlement of a system that led to the collapse of Italy” “Just as you can’t build on rubble, you can’t build a new Italy without clearing the land of those who have plundered, transforming the fifth (sixth?) industrial power into a desert,” Grillo said.

The often foul-mouthed protest leader announced “lists” of suspects would be created.

Bunga Bunga bloviation from Corriere della Sera:

Berlusconi Attacks “Killer” Grillo

Former prime minister says M5S leader “killed three friends in an accident. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me”. Grillo replies: “He doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more”

“Grillo is a convicted criminal, a killer”. The Forza Italia (FI) leader went on: “Grillo knows all about staying out of jail. He is guilty of killing three of his friends by ignoring a no entry sign. He got 14 months for multiple manslaughter”. Mr Berlusconi, speaking on the La7 TV talk show L’aria che tira, raised the election campaign stakes. His most direct thrust was: “He ought to have gone to jail but he got away with it. He shouldn’t be talking about that sort of thing. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me. And he only used to do shows if he was paid cash. He was known for that”.

Mr Berlusconi went on: “He killed three friends, ignoring a warning that there was ice on the road. He managed to get out of the car but his three friends didn’t. They died. He was sentenced to 14 months in jail for multiple manslaughter”. Speaking to Enrico Mentana on La7′s Bersaglio Mobile programme, the FI leader added: “I realise there’s an election coming up but when Renzi compares me to Grillo and says we’re two sides of the same coin, he’s way off the mark”.

Beppe Grillo was quick to respond. The Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader said Mr Berlusconi was a “poor thing who doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more. He’s talk show-hopping for the sake of his businesses, not the electorate”.

And a Grillo spawn stigmatizes the poor, via TheLocal.it:

Mayor plans to scrap dessert for poor kids

Only wealthy children will be given dessert with their school lunches, while those from poor families will go without, under plans drawn up by a mayor in central Italy.

The mayor of Pomezia, Fabio Fucci, has proposed the two-tier menu system in response to requests from a number of low-income families, Corriere della Sera said on Tuesday.

Under the plan, parents will be able to pick from two menus of different prices. The more expensive one will come with dessert, while children from poorer families will go without the sweet.

The move by the Five Star Movement (M5S) mayor has been met with ire in some quarters.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including new bribery scandals], Russia strikes a massive deal, the Libyan coup intensifies, a Ukrainian election ultimatum, a bumper cr[h]ash crop in Libya, Brazilian World Cup blues, Argentine bankster woes and student discontent, a Venezuelan stalemate, the new Dirty Digger, a bankster blessing for India’s theocon winner, Thai uncertainty, Chinese labor loses and a Putin partnership, an Abenomics push in Japan, environmental woes, stolen baby brains [and not by zombies], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Pols, crooks, corps, & polluters


And so much, much more, including the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! In today’s collection from the realms of political, law, economics, and the environment.

First up, a slowdown on the road to another skid-greasing for corporocrats and banksters from Kyodo News:

TPP ministers fail to set timeline for striking deal

Ministers in the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks fell short of setting a clear timeline for ending their long-running negotiations as they wrapped up their two-day meeting Tuesday in Singapore, although they stressed that progress has been made on tariff issues.

“We cemented our shared views on what is needed to bring negotiations to a close,” the ministers said in a joint statement issued following the meeting, but it was unclear what outcome was yielded during their gathering.

The ministers did decide that the chief negotiators from the member countries will meet in July to further accelerate talks but they did not clarify where the meeting will be held.

Money launderers get the ticket, via  Reuters:

Credit Suisse fined $2.5 billion after pleading guilty to U.S. tax charge

Credit Suisse has agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine to authorities in the United States for helping Americans evade taxes after becoming the largest bank in 20 years to plead guilty to a U.S. criminal charge.

The bank’s guilty plea resolves its long-running dispute with the United States over tax evasion, but could have implications for the clients and counterparties that do business with the group.

Credit Suisse said it had not seen a material impact in the past few weeks on its business, and that clients faced no legal obstacles from doing business with it despite the guilty plea.

Other banksters/other woes, from the Irish Times:

Drumm facing litany of fraud allegations at bankruptcy trial

  • Document detailing dozens of allegations against former Anglo boss submitted to US court

Former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drum will face a litany of fraud and perjury allegations when his bankruptcy trial begins in Boston tomorrow.

A list of “itemised allegations” against the 47-year-old Dubliner, which include accusations of fraud, concealment and lying under oath, has been submitted to the court where he filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

The document was submitted by the plaintiffs in the trial, bankruptcy trustee Kathleen Dwyer, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, his former employer.

From iMediaEthic, without comment:

Nat’l Journal dumps comments section after ‘worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable’

The National Journal is getting rid of most online comments because it has been filled with “the worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable.”

National Journal’s editor-in-chief Tim Grieve announced the decision in a May 16 post,  explaining that there was no civil discussion on topics and it was getting worse.

“The debate isn’t joined. It’s cheapened, it’s debased, and, as National Journal’s Brian Resnick has written, research suggests that the experience leaves readers feeling more polarized and less willing to listen to opposing views,” Grieve wrote.

From China Daily, a float from abroad:

More Chinese companies choose US as destination to go public

A senior vice president with NYSE Euronex says that more and more Chinese enterprises are attracted to do initial public offering (IPO) in the United States and predicts that around 15 to 20 of them could go public in the States this year.

“What I’ve seen is a nice building process from two years ago when we only had two IPOs. One of them, VIP (Vipshop Holdings Limited), was listed here and did extremely well,” said David A. Ethridge, senior vice president and head of the Capital Markets Group at NYSE Euronext, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Shares of Vipshop, an online discount retailer, were traded at around $165 per share Monday, compared to $6.50 per share since it announced its IPO in March 2012. China’s social gaming portal YY Inc, which was listed on Nasdaq in November 2012, also saw its shares surge to around $56 per share from its IPO price of $10.50 apiece.

From the Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY, maybe retirees will have to get a bridge loan:

Gov. Christie cuts N.J. pension payments

Gov. Chris Christie is slashing the contributions scheduled to be made to New Jersey public workers’ pension funds by nearly $2.5 billion over the next 14 months to deal with a revenue shortfall facing the state budget.

Christie announced today at the Statehouse that he will make a $696 million payment into the pension funds this year, rather than $1.58 billion. He said he will put in $681 million next June, instead of the $2.25 billion that would have been made if the terms of the pension reforms he signed into law in 2011 were followed.

Christie said the payments cover the costs accrued during his administration for active employees but exclude the unfunded liability accrued under past governors and legislatures. He said that means the unfunded liability for active workers will not increase.

From Network World, corporations benefits, public services lose. Call it a neoliberal wet dream:

Driverless cars could cripple law enforcement budgets

  • Local government have long looked to speeding tickets to increase revenue. What will they do when autonomous cars stick to the speed limit?

Shortly after the state of Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana late last year, opponents made a very interesting, if somewhat counterintuitive, argument against legalized pot – law enforcement would miss out on the huge revenue stream of seized assets, property, and cash from pot dealers in the state.

Justice Department data shows that seizures in marijuana-related cases nationwide totaled $1 billion from 2002 to 2012, out of the $6.5 billion total seized in all drug busts over that period. This money often goes directly into the budgets of the law enforcement agencies that seized it. One drug task force in Snohomish County, Washington, reduced its budget forecast by 15% after the state voted to legalize marijuana, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. In its most fruitful years, that lone task force had seen more than $1 million in additional funding through seizures from marijuana cases alone, according to the report.

Naturally, this dynamic is something law enforcement either is or should already be preparing for as driverless cars make their way onto the roads. Just as drug cops will lose the income they had seized from pot dealers, state and local governments will need to account for a drastic reduction in fines from traffic violations as autonomous cars stick to the speed limit.

From the Associated Press, gladiator-doping alleged:

Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs

A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.

The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.

Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, said the complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.

The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, both a story and a metaphor for our times:

Train hits, kills woman wearing earphones in San Leandro

An 18-year-old woman using earphones while talking on her cell phone was struck and killed Monday by an Amtrak train in San Leandro after a witness tried unsuccessfully to warn her of its approach, police said.

On a similar vein, from north of the border via CBC News:

Physical inactivity of Canadian kids blamed on ‘culture of convenience’

  • Parents encouraged to weave opportunities to move and play with their kids into daily life

Canada’s “culture of convenience” means children and youth sit too much and move too little, in gym class, on the playground, and while travelling to and from school, according to a new global comparison.

Tuesday’s report, “Is Canada in the running?”, from Active Healthy Kids Canada grades kids from 15 countries on their physical activity levels in various areas.

Europe next, and the usual suspects, doing the usual via BBC News:

JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole accused of euro rate-fixes

The European Commission has accuses JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole of colluding to fix a key euro benchmark borrowing rate – Euribor.

JP Morgan and HSBC will fight the charges. Credit Agricole will study the European Commission’s findings. Penalties for the guilty are up to 10% of annual revenue.

Euribor is a cousin to Libor, which is used to set trillions of dollars of financial contracts from complex financial transactions to car loans.

And the electoral divide, with more to come next weekend, via EUbusiness:

Conservatives narrowly lead Socialists in EU vote: poll

Conservatives across Europe hold a narrow lead over their Socialist rivals in the upcoming European Parliament elections but eurosceptics and more radical parties will make significant gains, a poll showed Tuesday.

The PollWatch2014 survey issued as EU citizens prepare for the May 22-25 ballot put the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) on 217 seats against 201 for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

While that would leave them still the two biggest parties in the new 751-seat assembly, the EPP would be down from 274 seats and the S&D up only marginally from the previous 196.

In third place, the centrist Liberals (ALDE) would fare especially badly, falling to 59 seats from the current 83, PollWatch2014 said.

A predictable alarm, via Greek Reporter:

Credit Agricole: SYRIZA’s Victory May Cause Shock to EU markets

According to Bloomberg news agency, Mark McCormick, a currency strategist at the French Credit Agricole, sent a to the bank’s clients, stating that a possible victory of SYRIZA in the euro elections might cause a shock to the European markets.

McCormick claimed that a possible victory by SYRIZA can cause a  shock to Europe’s assets (bonds, equities, interest bearing securities, etc.) at a time when Greece is trying to implement reforms.

McCormick, according to Bloomberg, stated that the European elections should not be underestimated given that their results will have an impact on the above-mentioned assets.The increasing popularity of anti-European parties constitutes a threat to the progress that has been achieved in financial reforms. The greatest danger lies in Greece, which could be led to early elections if the Greek main opposition party wins a majority in the European elections.

And the lobbying will commence, via EurActiv:

Google cannot be broken up without new legislation, says EU Competition Commissioner

Google cannot be broken up into smaller companies without new EU legislation, the European Commission said today (20 May), after detailing two potential new antitrust investigations into the internet giant.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia was responding to comments made earlier this week by German’s Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel,  who said Google may have such a dominant market position that a break-up had to be “seriously considered.” Existing competition law was not powerful enough to split up the business, Almunia said.

The California-based company may yet face a separate antitrust investigation to the one ongoing since November 2012. Open Internet Project, a group of 400 European digital market members, made a different complaint [PDF] on Friday.

Britain next, and the bubble continues with BBC News:

UK house prices up 8% in a year, says ONS

UK house prices rose by 8% in the year to the end of March, official figures show, as the prime minister says he will consider changes to Help to Buy.

The annual increase slowed compared with a 9.2% year-on-year price rise to the end of February.

However, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the annual property price increase in London stood at 17%. Excluding London and the South East of England, prices were up by 4.7%.

On a related front, via the London Telegraph:

Lloyds acts to curb ‘inflationary’ London housing

  • UK’s biggest mortgage provider, which also owns Halifax, will not lend any more than four times those of incomes on properties over £500,000

The UK’s biggest mortgage provider, Lloyds Banking Group, has taken radical action in the face of what it called “inflationary pressures” in London’s housing market, tightening up the requirements for high-value property purchases.

The state-backed lender said that on lending of over £500,000, it would not approve mortgages in which consumers are borrowing more than four times their incomes.

The announcement is the first major step taken by lenders to cool rapidly-rising house prices in the capital, where prices have risen by 17pc in the last year – more than double the national average. Lloyds said the policy would be applied nationally, but was deliberately targeted at London.

On to Germany and the predictable, via TheLocal.de:

‘Germany can deny foreigners benefits’

Germany can refuse to give unemployment benefit to EU citizens it believes are “welfare tourists”, according to a European ruling on Tuesday.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice said the state could reject applications for German unemployment benefit Hartz IV from foreigners from other EU countries to prevent abuse of the system and “welfare tourism”.

The Luxembourg court will make its ruling over the next few months, but normally follows the advocate general’s advice.

The decision was made in a high-profile case of a 24-year-old Romanian woman and her son who have lived in Germany since 2010. The woman’s local job centre in Leipzig refused to give her Hartz IV, prompting her to take legal action.

And from Deutsche Welle:

Migration to Germany skyrockets

The sovereign debt crisis is driving a surge in migration to Germany. New figures reveal hundreds of thousands of foreign workers flocked to Europe’s largest economy in 2012 – a nearly 40 percent jump in just a year.

The number of people migrating to Germany jumped nearly 40 percent in a year, according to data released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of mostly developed nations.

Driven mainly by economic uncertainty in the euro zone’s periphery, which includes weaker nations that are still recovering from the global financial crisis, some 400,000 people flocked to Germany in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available.

“We can clearly speak about a boom of migration to Germany without exaggeration,” Thomas Liebig, an OECD migration expert, said as the group released its latest migration outlook just days ahead of European elections in which immigration has been hotly debated.

More from Reuters:

Germany becomes world’s top migration spot after U.S.: OECD

Germany has become the world’s second most popular destination for immigrants after the United States, attracting many southern Europeans driven from the ravages of the euro zone financial crisis to overtake Canada and Australia.

Germany soared to second place in the 2012 in a survey of permanent migration published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday. It ranked eighth in 2009.

“This really is a boom – without any exaggeration … no other OECD country experienced such a rise,” said Thomas Liebig, an expert on international migration at the Paris-based OECD.

Vienna next, and just say Nein!?, From TheLocal.at:

Vienna mayor wants right wing group banned

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Häupl (SPÖ) has called for a ban on a right wing group calling themselves Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement).

Last Saturday a march by the group in central Vienna resulted in clashes between protesters and police after it was obstructed several times by a left-wing counter-demonstration.

“A group like this should have been banned a long time ago,” Häupl said at his weekly press conference. “This is a neo-fascist organization that quite clearly falls under the prohibition act,” he added.

The Verbotsgesetz (Prohibition Act) is an Austrian law which banned the Nazi Party and aimed to suppress any potential revival of Nazism.

While parts of Spain face unparalleled drought, at the other end of Europe with euronews:

Bosnia flood destruction ‘as bad as the war’

The government in Bosnia says more than 1 million people, or a quarter of the population, has been affected by flooding and landslides, comparing the destruction to that of the country’s war in the 1990s.

Some reports speak of around 50 deaths in Bosnia and in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia amid the worst rainfall to hit the Balkans in living memory.

Having survived the war and built a new life, many have lost everything.

Spain next, whipping up the religious for a neoliberal advantage with El País:

Abortion clinics report spike in vandalism

  • Anti-abortion activists step up pressure ahead of government changes to legislation

Anti-abortion groups are getting more radical in their rhetoric and in their actions.

In the face of government delays, these groups have been making increasingly vocal demands for legislative reform to curtail access to pregnancy terminations.

But now, abortion clinics are also reporting several instances of vandalism against their premises, according to formal complaints to which EL PAÍS has had access.

El País again, this time weith another outburst of that hard times intolerance:

Racist gestures at soccer game cost Barcelona employee her job

  • Llagostera fan also barred from her team’s stadium for performing monkey actions at black player

A woman has lost her job and been barred from a soccer stadium for life after she was caught on camera making racist gestures at a Spanish second division game between Llagostera and Racing Santander on Sunday.

Video footage of the match clearly shows the Llagostera fan making monkey actions at Mamadou Koné, a black player from the Ivory Coast who plays for Racing.

The images immediately spread around the social networks, and the consequences soon followed. Llagostera president Isabel Tarragó has barred the woman, who is not a club member, from ever returning to its stadium.

El País again, with more:

Jewish community to file complaint after anti-Semitic tweets posted from Spain

  • Offensive comments appeared on Twitter after basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid
  • The victory on Sunday saw the Israeli side win the Euroleague title

The Jewish community in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia has taken action over anti-Semitic messages posted on social networking sites after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid to win the Euroleague title on Sunday.

After the game in Tel Aviv was over, nearly 18,000 offensive messages appeared on Twitter, according to Jewish associations, which have announced they are planning to file a complaint with the state attorney on Tuesday. According to sources from the Jewish community, the complaint will include tweets from five users of the micro-blogging site – along with their full names – which, the complainants will argue, constitute incitement of hatred against Jews.

Portugal next, and a Troikarch release from ANSAmed:

Portugal officially out of Troika bailout plan

  • Without seeking precautionary credit line, premier says

Portugal officially exited on Monday the bailout programme drafted by the Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) under which it obtained in 2011 a loan worth 79 billion euros provided it implemented a number of austerity measures to cut expenditure.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced the country will ‘’not seek further security measures, although the road ahead is still long to get out of the crisis’‘.

The premier added that ‘’the government’s priorities are economic and employment recovery’‘.

Italy next, starting with Bunga Bunga bloviation from TheLocal.it:

‘Did you call Merkel an ‘unf**kable lard-arse’?’

Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s hard-nosed interviewer, asked Italy’s gaffe-prone former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi whether he called German Chancellor Angela Merkel an “unf**kable lard-arse” in an interview that will be aired on Tuesday night.

Berlusconi, who is currently undertaking community service at a home for Alzheimer’s patients for his tax fraud conviction, reportedly said Merkel was a “culona inchiavabile” (unf**kable lard-arse) during a wiretapped conversation with a man accused of supplying prostitutes to the former prime minister’s “bunga bunga” parties in July 2011.

More bloviatin’ from the Bunga Bunghole via ANSA:

Berlusconi calls Grillo a ‘killer’

Vitriol escalates with reference to manslaughter conviction

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday called Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), a “killer” as the political venom ahead of Sunday’s European elections reached a new high. Berlusconi was referring to Grillo’s 1980 manslaughter conviction for a car accident in which he was the driver and three people died.

Grillo has never stood personally in elections because he says people with criminal records should not be in parliament, although he is still the undisputed leader of the M5S from outside the buildings of power.

The comedian-turned-politician has been brutally critical of three-time premier Berlusconi, who was ejected from parliament last year and is currently doing community after a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year, over his many judicial problems.

After the jump, it’s on to Greece and more electoral mayhem, a Ukrainian pullback, Brazilian jitters and an Argentine memory hole, a case of Thai anxiety, Chinese real estate woes, environmental alarms, and Fukushuimapocalypse Now!. . .
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Headlines: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFollies redux


We begin today’s compendium of news from the worlds of economic, politics, and the enviornment — including the latest sobering news from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster with a march back in time to the days of the ancient Roman tax farmers with a headline from the Washington Post:

Congress moves to turn back taxes over to debt collectors

The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.

The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.

It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.

Some taxpayers would be spared the barrage of notices and phone calls, including innocent spouses, military members deployed to combat zones and people “identified as being deceased.”

And from United Press International, a three alarm hint of the consequences of resurrecting tax farms:

Foreclosures drive up suicide rates, study finds

“Losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being,” said Jason Houle.

Data analysis has previously shown economic downturn to provoke an increase in suicide rates, but a new study shows an even stronger correlation between suicides and foreclosure rates.

According to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, higher rates of suicide are uniquely linked to spikes in foreclosures.

By comparing state-by-state suicide rates with the numbers of issued foreclosures — while accounting for other disruptive factors — the researchers were able to conclude that the correlation was “independent of other economic factors associated with the recession.”

From the San Jose Mercury News, back to the bad old days:

Report: California among worst in the nation in school segregation

As racial separation in education steadily grows, California now leads the nation in children going to school with their own kind, a UCLA study released Wednesday contends.

On the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling intended to dismantle segregation, the report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project says that California students are more likely than ever to attend racially isolated schools.

In the Bay Area, most schools followed the same pattern, though were more integrated than schools in Southern California.

From Salon, one of the major reasons:

Fox News’ divisive race strategy: How O’Reilly, Hannity and Coulter intentionally tore America apart

  • False claims go unchallenged, racial fears are stoked — and political scientists discover it helps GOP at polls

Right-wing political figures have often defended the content of Fox News and other right-leaning media. A common ploy is the insinuation that the “mainstream” news establishment is in fact biased in favor of liberal ideological framings of issues or that it is actually antiwhite. For example, Sarah Palin famously blamed the “leftist lamestream media” for allegedly pressuring Newt Gingrich to soften his critique of Republican congressman Paul Ryan (while in fact the disapproval came from Fox News), and Palin again insinuated charges of political targeting when she decried the media as attacking right-wing figures with their brand of unfair “gotcha journalism.” Rush Limbaugh also compared the mainstream press to a “drive by shooter except the microphones are guns.” Limbaugh further asserted that the anti-right, mainstream media attempts to “destroy people’s careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the drive-by media.”

And from United Press International, com;eting the taming of the Times:

Glenn Greenwald: Dean Baquet is too ‘subservient’ for journalism

Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson was abruptly fired this week. The lack of explanation for her dismissal has caused the newspaper to receive biting criticism.

Glenn Greenwald slammed the New York Times for the decision to make Dean Baquet executive editor, saying he will lead the newspaper into “neutered” journalism.

He may have had harsh words for Baquet but had nothing but compliments for his predecessor Jill Abramson, who was unexpectedly fired from her position earlier this week. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Greenwald said in the last ten years Abramson has been the “best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media.”

Greenwald, most famously known as the journalist to first publish the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is a strong proponent for freedom of the press and transparency in government.

From the Christian Science Monitor, another hint of things to come:

California wildfires set relentless pace months before typical season

This week, San Diego is the hardest hit. But drought, blistering winds, and unseasonably hot temperatures have produced 1,244 wildfires across the state this season, and officials expect no letup.

San Diego residents are bracing for a second day of wildfires, with temperatures expected to hit a high of 106 degrees, after at least nine fires closed schools and roads forced more than 21,000 people from their homes on Wednesday.

Thousands remain perched in front of their television sets, watching local broadcast team coverage of wildfires and hoping the wind won’t bring the fire and smoke toward their own communities.

For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.

From the Guardian, resistance:

Fast-food strike: US workers join world protests over wages and union access

  • Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food workers staged protests on Thursday in 150 cities across the US and in 33 other countries

And from Al Jazeera America completing corporatization:

FCC votes to advance new Internet rules

  • In split decision, commission put forward rule change that could lead to firms being charged for fast track delivery

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to formally put forward new rules on net neutrality that may result in a two-tier delivery service to consumers.

The controversial changes being proposed could allow for providers to charge content sites like Netflix for faster service. But it would prevent them from blocking or slowing down certain websites. The proposals were widely anticipated and have been the subject of intense debate in recent months.

Opponents of the new rules staged protests outside the FCC’s headquarters.

But Deutsche Welle raises an obstacle:

German Economy Minister: ‘Google breakup may be required’

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that a breakup of the company could become an option to consider. Google was not amused.

While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from “systematically crowding out competitors.”

The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.

“It’s about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe,” Gabriel commented.

Via the Christian Science Monitor, more privatization:

Detroit bankruptcy: Bondholders balk at plan for city’s artworks

The collection is central to how the Detroit bankruptcy plan is carried out. Bondholders – one group in the bankruptcy – believe the art should be valued higher, but the judge in the case isn’t making a reappraisal easy.

Judge Steven Rhodes, who is presiding over Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy, agreed last week to a restructuring plan submitted by the city. The plan still requires a vote by pension groups, labor organizations, and bond insurers, and state lawmakers would have to approve a $350 million cash injection from the state. But it has appeared that most groups are onboard with the plan.

A potential snag, however, appeared Thursday. In a three-hour hearing, attorneys representing two bondholders – creditors for the city that do not fare as well in the plan as some other groups – took aim at the arrangement that has been struck for the city’s art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). That collection is central how the plan is carried out.

The plan values the collection at $816 million, but the bondholders argue it should be worth more. A higher value for the collection could enable the city to fulfill more obligations.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

Eurozone economic growth loses momentum

Eurozone economic growth lost momentum in the first three months of 2014, official figures show, with the growth rate unchanged from the previous quarter at 0.2%.

That was weaker than many economists had expected.

German growth picked up pace, with the economy expanding by 0.8%.

But France and Italy disappointed. The French economy failed to grow, while Italy’s contracted by 0.1%, having only just emerged from recession last year. Spain’s economy grew by 0.4% in the first quarter.

On to Old Blighty with BBC News and a truly terrible privatization:

Academics warn over child protection privatisation

A group of academics say they have serious concerns about proposals to let private contractors take over some child protection services in England.

Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University said child protection was too important to be handled by firms “driven by the profit motive”.

He said any such move could be destabilising and cause “chaos”.

BBC News again, running out of gas:

UK’s oil, coal and gas ‘gone in five years’

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

Class divisions with the London Telegraph:

One in five university graduates becomes a millionaire

  • More than two million degree-holders have a net worth of £1m or more as new statistics reveal the education gap between rich and poor

One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

Norway next and Obaman umbrage from TheLocal.no:

Top Obama aide raged at Norway over Nobel

  • Norway’s ambassador to the US received an angry “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s chief of staff after the US President won his controversial Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a senior Norwegian diplomat has claimed.

Morten Wetland, Norway’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told The Local that Rahm Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his explosive disposition, has taken US ambassador Wegger Strömmen to task after the award was announced.

“What I know for a fact is that he gave the ambassador some words, ‘a dressing down’, with respect to this,” Wetland said. “The word ‘fawning’ was used.”
Wetland, now a partner with the Oslo lobbying firm First House, speculated that Obama’s advisors must have seen the prize as an unwelcome embarrassment.

“My guess is that the president’s staff want to be in control and not to be forced into a position that they have not been seeking themselves,” he said. “It could have been perceived that someone was consciously or subconsciously thinking about the prospect of having Obama visit Norway. Obama wouldn’t have visited Norway if it hadn’t have been for the Peace Prize.”

On to Germany, sprinting ahead with EUbusiness:

Germany sprints ahead of flagging eurozone recovery

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, sprinted ahead in the first quarter of 2014, amid a big setback for the eurozone which highlighted the fragility of the recovery, data showed on Thursday.

Germany, the region’s economic locomotive, saw growth double to 0.8 percent in the period from January to March, the strongest quarterly growth for three years and ahead of analysts’ expectations.

But the French economy, described by some economists as the weak link in Europe, turned in zero growth in the same period, highlighting divergence between the eurozone’s two biggest economies which is of deep concern to policymakers.

Austria next, with intolerance rising from TheLocal.at:

Right-wing march in Vienna

Supporters of a German right-wing radical group Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement) are holding a march in Vienna on Saturday.

The movement, initiated by disaffected, tech-savy youth, began in France and now has groups in Germany and Austria.

The group spreads its anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural message via social media and has gained attention by posting clips of its protests on YouTube and Facebook.

France next, and the neoliberal imperative from TheLocal.fr:

Europe warns France about protectionism

The European Commission warned France on Thursday against resorting to protectionism after Paris unveiled new measures to head off hostile foreign bids for key companies.

“The objective of protecting essential strategic interests is clear when it involves security or public order and that is recognised in EU treaties,” EU Finance Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said.

“But we also must check if this is applied in a proportionate fashion, otherwise it could amount to protectionism,” said Barnier, a French politician.

From TheLocal.fr, another quarter heard from:

US business body scolds French ‘protectionism’

  • The leading US business group on Friday called France protectionist, after Paris asserted its right to veto any foreign takeover of key French companies.

The US Chamber of Commerce said the move by Paris, announced Thursday as US industrial giant General Electric presses to buy a division of France’s Alstom, would not help the country’s economy.

“From an open investment policy perspective there is nothing about the motivations behind the recent French decree… that isn’t explicitly a mix of industrial policy and protectionism,” said Sean Heather, executive director for international policy and antitrust policy at the chamber.

Such moves are “doing nothing to increase the country’s competitiveness,” he told AFP.

From TheLocal.fr, striking news:

Flights snarled as French civil servants strike

A country-wide civil servant strike on Thursday meant headaches for travellers on Thursday with dozens of flights cancelled. Strikers are angry about a four-year pay freeze that shows no signs of thawing.

Travellers were scrambling for alternatives on Thursday after a national civil servant strike meant dozens of flights were cancelled and dozens more delayed at France’s biggest airports.

Fliers coming into and out of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon were among those stuck on the ground with at least 20, 16 and seven cancellations respectively in the first half of the day, French daily Le Parisien reported.

From the Guardian, without comment:

Unemployed people in Czech Republic are ‘missing out on office sex’

  • Social Democratic party Euro election campaign video aims to highlight plight of young adult jobless in the country

The Czech Social Democratic party (C(SSD), which is hoping to add to its seven MEPs in Strasbourg, endorsed the video posted by its youth branch, the message of which can be summed up as “unemployment is depriving people of the joys of an office fling”.

The video shows a young woman in office clothes working at a computer. After glancing at the clock, she sneaks off to the next room and can be seen in passionate embrace with a colleague behind the adjoining door.

“Everybody who wants to should be able to enjoy something a bit different during breaks. It is a shame there are half a million people who don’t have jobs,” says a voice-over accompanying the video.

Spain next, and another American arrives via El País:

US wholesaler Costco opens first Spanish megastore in Seville

  • Warehouse club confident it can overcome reticence of local customers to pay membership fee

They have managed to get 15,000 people to pay for the privilege of shopping at their store, and they haven’t even opened their doors yet.

The US warehouse club chain Costco is disembarking in Spain with a first establishment due to open in Seville today.

Though modest, this incursion into Spanish territory has not gone unnoticed by the distribution sector, which will keep a close watch on the performance of its new rival.

El País covers costs:

Overrun costs or corruption? Why Spain’s public works are in crisis

  • In six years, the government has paid out €10bn to cover excess spending on construction projects
  • The amount is equivalent to the cuts it made on health and education when it came to office
  • Arrests of nine on embezzlement charges provide latest example of an overly abused process

Between 2008 and 2014, the Public Works Ministry has paid out €5.12 billion to modify already completed works. A further €4.1 billion has been paid to cover cost overruns, along with €900 million for expropriating land. In total, over the last six years, the Public Works Ministry has had to find more than €10 billion to cover cost overruns on roads, rail and ports, the same amount that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would be cutting from health and education spending in April 2012, shortly after he took office.

There are any number of examples: the new port complex at A Coruña was tendered in 2004 for €436 million, and then awarded later that year for €370 million, according to Spain’s Ports Authority. The job ended up costing €547 million. And more money will be required, with the final cost likely to be more than €700 million.

The Environment Ministry, the government’s other big public works spender, paid out €1.5 billion in cost overruns between 2004 and 2012 on desalination plants, dams and other projects.

From TheLocal.es, cash and a black hole:

Spain’s ‘black’ economy worth 25 percent of GDP

Spain’s illegal economy is worth a staggering 24.6 percent of its gross domestic product and the country needs to pump far more resources into its rickety tax collection regime, a top tax union said on Friday.

Spain is a world leader in fraud with around €253 billion ($347 billion) in illegal money floating around in the country’s economy in 2013, Spain’s tax office union Gestha said in a statement on Friday. This figure has also risen €50 billion since the country’s crisis kicked in in 2008.

Critically, Gestha also argues Spain that Spain is chronically short-staffed when it comes to fighting tax evasion. Spain has one tax worker for every 1,958 inhabitants, against 942 for France and 740 for Germany, the union said in its statement.

On to Italy and the latest bad numbers from ANSAmed:

Italy returned to negative growth in first quarter

  • GDP down 0.1% on last three months of 2013 – Istat estimate

Italy returned to negative growth in the first quarter of 2014, with gross domestic product (GDP) dropping 0.1% compared to the last three months of 2013, Istat said Thursday in its preliminary estimate for the period.

The national statistics agency said GDP was 0.5% down in the first quarter of this year with respect to the same period in 2013.

The figures are a big blow to Italy’s hopes of seeing a strong economic recovery after it emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of last year.

More austerity from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s state broadcaster braces for cuts

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has hinted at funding cuts to Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, saying the network “must also participate” in cuts as part of the government’s spending review.

The social media-savvy prime minister took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce “The future will also arrive at Rai,” following a heated debate on the broadcaster’s leading talk show.

“Rai must also participate in the spending review,” Renzi said on Rai 3′s Balarò programme on Tuesday evening.

The prime minister would not be drawn on a specific sum of cuts to the state broadcaster, although he said Rai’s numerous regional offices could be sites of “resounding waste”.

TheLocal.it again, with a neoliberal imperative:

Italy approves postal service privatisation

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government on Friday approved the sale of up to 40 percent of the postal service as part of a wide-ranging privatisation programme to raise some €12 billion.

The sale “can be carried out in several stages and through a public offering,” read the statement from a cabinet meeting authorising the sale of Poste Italiane, which is expected to raise around four billion euros.

The cabinet meeting also approved the sale of Enav, the state air traffic control agency, which could bring around 1.0 billion euros into state coffers.

The government is also planning to list up to 49 percent of state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri in the biggest privatisations in two decades as part of an effort to reduce Italy’s towering debt mountain.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga hubris:

Pope doing job as I would have says Berlusconi

  • ‘We’re same age but I look better’ says ex-premier

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said Pope Francis was doing his job exactly as he would have done if he had been elected head of the Catholic Church. “Yes, I like Pope Bergoglio. He is being pope exactly the way I would have done it,” Berlusconi said of former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The journalist the billionaire media mogul was speaking to noted that the pope and the centre-right leader are the same age, 77.

“The same age, but I look better for my years,” said Berlusconi.

TheLocal.it warns:

Magistrate sent bullets after Berlusconi ruling

A magistrate in Milan received bullets in the post after ordering former premier Silvio Berlusconi to do community service for tax fraud, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Public Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini received the bullets at her Milan office in April, remarking that they were the latest in a string of threats.

“I received the most recent bullets a few days ago when we decided Berlusconi should do community service,” she was quoted in La Stampa as telling Superior Council of Judiciary (CSM).

While ANSA covers the latest in growing evidence of Bunga Bunga mob ties:

Mafia arrests may be linked to Scajola

  • Two police officers among arrests, probe mole suspected

An anti-mafia round-up of 18 people on Friday – regarding alleged infiltration of the Neapolitan Camorra mafia into the northwestern Tuscan coastal area of Versilia – may be linked to last week’s arrest of former Italian interior minister Claudio Scajola, investigators said Friday.

Two police agents, working for the Italian premier’s office and the Lower House, were placed under house arrest in Friday’s anti-mafia sting, accused of breaching the confidentiality of investigations.

Information leaks indicate that investigators has focused on the hypothesis that a mole may have furnished Scajola with privileged information on criminal investigations.

And TheLocal.it, an all-too-common story:

Migrants revolt at Rome detention centre

Clashes erupted at an immigration detention centre in Rome on Thursday as around 250 people barricaded themselves inside the building, described as a place of “desperate detention” by one rights group. The protest comes in the same week a Tunisian man sewed his mouth shut in protest at a nearby facility.

Around a third of the 780 people detained at the facility in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, joined the protest on Thursday morning, La Repubblica said.

Police were brought in to break through the barricaded entrance and reportedly used a water hose to dispel some of the protesters, who threw stones at police officers, the newspaper said.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian anxieties, Turkish anger, Latin American troubles and a surprising alliance, the right surges to power in India, Thai coup hints, Chinese investor worries, a Japanese surge for the rich accompanied by bad news for the poor [sound familiar?], environmental woes [including the collapse of the American bee population], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

A powerful duo: Chris Hedges and Mr. Fish


For all you readers who are fond of Mr. Fish and inspired by the passionate words for former New York Times Mideast Bureau Chief Chris Hedges, here’s a chance to watch them together, during a joint speaking appearance last moth.

Without further ado [but not adieu], from videographer Leigha Cohen:

Chris Hedges and Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth: War and its Meaning

Program notes:

Chris Hedges and Dwayne Booth “Mr. Fish” spoke on April 24, 2014 at the University of Connecticut. This was part of a week long event sponsored by The Humanities Institute and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Title for today was War and its Meaning. The first 32 minutes of the video Chris Hedges gives an impassioned talk on his personal experiences and political thoughts on this topic. This is then followed by an amazing 25 minute Q&A period where both Chris hedges and Dwayne Booth respond to several questions asked by the audience and as always what is said is amazingly thought provoking. Both Dwayne Booth and Chris Hedges have been working collaborators and good friends for the last 6 years.
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Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was an early and outspoken critic of the US plan to invade and occupy Iraq and called the press coverage at the time “shameful cheer leading.” In 2002, he was part of a team of reporters for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism.

That same year he won an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.He speaks Arabic, French, and Spanish, and studied Latin and Ancient Greek at Harvard. On November 3, 2011, Hedges was arrested with others in New York as part of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, during which Hedges and others staged a “people’s hearing “on the investment bank Goldman Sachs and then blocked the entrance to their corporate headquarters.

And here’s a separate interview with Mr. Fish:

Dwayne “Mr Fish” Booth Private Interview

Program notes:

Dwayne Booth “Mr. Fish” spoke on April 24, 2014 at the University of Connecticut. This was part of a week long event sponsored by The Humanities Institute and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “War and its Meaning”.

After the event I was granted a private interview with Mr. Fish where he reveals his early inspirations for his art, his politics and cartooning. He also describes his 5 year working relationship with Chris Hedges who attended and spoke at that days events. At the end of the short interview appears several on MR. Fish’s Cartoons.

Dwayne Booth (Mr. Fish) has been a cartoonist and freelance writer for twenty years, publishing under both his own name and the pen name of Mr. Fish with many of the nation’s most reputable and prestigious magazines, journals and newspapers. In addition to Harper’s Magazine and Truthdig.com, his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones Magazine, the Advocate, Z Magazine, the Utne Reader, Slate.com, MSNBC.com and others.

Headlines: Pols, lies, eCons, and polluters


Today’s tales from the worlds of economics, politics and the environment — plus added Fukusihmapocalypse Now! — opens with hope for modest relief for some via the Guardian:

Sallie Mae and Justice Department in $60m deal over military student loans

  • US government had claimed the student loan giant imposed interest rates on service members above the 6% allowed by law

Student lender Sallie Mae has reached a $60m settlement with the Justice Department to resolve allegations that it charged members of the military excessive interest rates on their student loans, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The deal settles a government lawsuit that asserted the student loan giant violated the rights of service members by imposing interest rates above the 6% permitted by federal law and by improperly seeking default judgments against them. Separately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced a settlement of $30m in restitution arising from allegations that the company maximized consumer late fee charges, as well as $6.6m in civil penalties.

The lawsuit was the Justice Department’s first against owners and servicers of student loans for violating rights of service members. The settlement has been filed in federal court in Delaware and is awaiting a judge’s approval.

From the New York Times, business as usual:

Citigroup Says It Has Fired 12 in Mexico Over Fraud

Citigroup disclosed on Wednesday that it had fired a total of 12 employees in Mexico, including some senior executives, in connection with a $400 million fraud involving a Mexican oil services company.

In an internal memorandum to Citigroup employees, the bank’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, disclosed the terminations of the employees, including several managing directors, two of whom were business heads at the bank’s Banamex unit.

“Additionally, before our investigation concludes, we expect that several other employees, both inside and outside of Mexico, may receive forms of disciplinary action as well,” Mr. Corbat said in the memo.

From the Guardian, more business as usual:

Banks return to risky business: lax standards and subprime loans

  • Big banks like JP Morgan have rewired troubling, familiar tactics as they scrounge for profit in a difficult market

With business lending sluggish and mortgage lending slumping, Wells Fargo has decided it can cut those credit standards. Last month, it raised eyebrows by cutting the minimum credit score required to qualify for an FHA mortgage. It’s also making a big push into another area of lending notorious for poor lending standards: auto loans. Forget subprime mortgages; by the end of 2013, Wells was the second-biggest subprime auto lender in the country.

At least we’re all alert to the risks tied to lending, thanks to the vivid memories of 2008. The other side of the banking business is how they manage their deposits, and the quest to replace missing profits from this part of the enterprise is much less obvious to the casual observer. Nonetheless, analyst Mike Mayo says it’s this that keeps him awake at night far more often than worrying about stupid lending practices. “We haven’t had enough loan growth yet to cause a big problem.”

Specifically, Mayo frets that bankers are too complacent about whether depositors will stick around in a rising interest rate environment – and how much they’ll have to pay out in interest rates to hang on to those deposits. Then, too, there’s the question of what the banks are doing with all those deposits in the meantime.

From the Guardian again, the elite indulges:

Christie’s racks up $745m in one night – and the bubble keeps inflating

This week’s mega-auctions are once again reaching obscenely high prices, with a Barnett Newman selling for $84.2m and a Bacon triptych close to that. Why is there no sign of a crash?

Christie’s evening sale racked up a wacky, near-incomprehensible $745m, the highest total in history for a single sale – smashing past the house’s own high estimate of $500m, and beating November’s $691.6m sale, whose own Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, set a record (in nominal terms) for the priciest painting ever. The sale established new record prices for 10 artists, including Newman, Alexander Calder, and Joan Mitchell – who became the most expensive woman at auction for a messy blue abstraction from 1960.

Boggling enough on its own, the $744m sale came just a day after the end of Frieze New York, where untold millions changed hands, and on the heels of Christie’s own warm-up auction highlighting the “gritty, underbelly-esque side of contemporary art,” a rather ludicrous phrase to describe $134.6m worth of safe, predictable painting and sculpture. And collectors are set to do it all again Wednesday, when Christie’s rival Sotheby’s mounts its own evening sale.

“We are not in a bubble,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy insisted after the sale on Monday. To which the correct response is the one Mandy Rice-Davies gave during the Profumo scandal: “He would, wouldn’t he?” All the same, here are four theories on why the bubble keeps inflating, and why it may be a while before it bursts.

From the Los Angeles Times, a light frost in Hades?:

Howard Jarvis group won’t oppose bill to close Prop. 13 loophole

The staunchest defender of California’s politically untouchable property-tax initiative, Proposition 13, has tacitly approved a bid to change the landmark law for the first time since voters passed it 36 years ago.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the anti-tax group named for the champion of the 1978 measure, dropped its opposition to a bill that would clamp down on companies avoiding higher property taxes when they buy commercial real estate by using a corporate ownership maneuver.

“I think that the withdrawal of our opposition, at least for now, suggests that we don’t see this as a direct threat to Prop. 13,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, whose crusade for the law sparked a nationwide tax revolt.

From BBC News, a story to shake you up:

Water extraction for human use boosts California quakes

Extracting water for human activities is increasing the number of small earthquakes being triggered in California.

A new study suggests that the heavy use of ground water for pumping and irrigation is causing mountains to lift and valleys to subside.

The scientists say this depletion of the water is increasing seismic activity along the San Andreas fault.

Another California water story, this time from the East Bay Express, reporting on Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan [BDCP]:

The Water Tunnel Boondoggle

  • Experts say the eye-popping costs of Governor Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels far outweigh the financial benefits. And taxpayers may be left holding the bag.

The project — along with the costs of mitigating the damage wrought by it — also promises to be hugely expensive. Two water agencies — the Westlands Water District, which services about seven hundred farms in a vast strip of desert in the western San Joaquin Valley, and the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 19 million Southern Californians with water — plan to cover the majority of the costs of the tunnels, an estimated $15 billion, along with any economic damage they cause to the Delta.

But even as the project’s public comment period draws to a close next month, the state has yet to develop a clear financial plan for the tunnels. Moreover, the relatively few financial facts that do exist are hotly contested. The Department of Water Resources, for example, often states that the entire plan will cost a total of $25 billion, yet many economists think that, when interest on the bonds is factored in, the true figure will run closer to $70 billion.

In terms of benefits, state officials say the tunnels will generate an overall net gain of roughly $5 billion for California’s economy. But other water experts contend the plan could actually result in an annual net loss of about $100 million a year for water contractors backing the project.

From the Los Angeles Times, more ominous signs of a deadly summer to come in the Golden State as a record drought continues:

San Diego County fires: ‘It’s like a scene from Armageddon’

Brush fires broke out in more than half a dozen spots in northern San Diego County and spread at a dangerous pace as hot, dry, erratic winds, backed by record temperatures, raked Southern California for a second day Wednesday.

The fires forced evacuations of schools, businesses, homes, a mobile-home park and Cal State San Marcos, along with causing massive traffic jams and stretching firefighting resources almost to the breaking point.

The most destructive of the blazes was the Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, which burned several hundred acres, hopscotching between pricey neighborhoods near brushy canyons.

And another faint hope for reform from within via the Guardian:

Google investors press for code of conduct on tax

Proposal by group of activist investors will be voted on at annual shareholder meeting and is opposed by Google board

A group of activist investors are calling on other Google shareholders to press the company to adopt a code of conduct on tax that would bring its corporate structures back in line with its “Don’t be evil” motto.

“A set of principles to address misalignments between Google’s tax strategies and its commitments to employees, communities, shareholders and the environment would help protect long-term value,” they argue in a proposal to be voted on at Google’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

The proposal has been made by Domini Social Equity Fund, which has close to $1bn of assets, and five other investors in the internet firm. It is opposed by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, and his board.

From the Register, surrendering to the corporate tracking imperative online:

Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

  • ‘We don’t like it, but we have to use it’

Mozilla has announced that it will add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for digital rights management into a future build of Firefox, even if the organization disagrees with the technology on principle.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is to add EME into the specifications for HTML5 at the behest of Microsoft, Google, and Netflix. Sir Tim Berners-Lee supports the move, but Mozilla had been objecting to the plans as technically unnecessary. However, it has decided to cave.

“We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM ,” said Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal.

Opening shots from an academic battle from USA TODAY:

For-profit colleges, student advocates lobby Obama

As the Obama administration prepares to establish new rules governing for-profit colleges later this year, student advocates and the career college industry are waging a fierce battle to shape the coming regulations.

Stakeholders on both sides of the debate are ramping up their push on the administration just as the public comment period on a proposed “gainful employment” regulation is set to close May 26.

Under the proposal that the administration unveiled in March, colleges would have to demonstrate that graduates’ debt load on average does not exceed 30% of their discretionary earnings or 12% of their total earnings.

And another national shame, reported by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the UC Berkeley Blog:

How the right wing is killing women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

And another national shame, via The Contributor Network:

REPORT: Children as Young as 7 Working in US Tobacco Fields

  • An international rights group is pushing the federal government and the tobacco industry to take further steps to protect children working on U.S. tobacco farms.

A report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch claims that children as young as 7 are sometimes working long hours in fields harvesting nicotine- and pesticide-laced tobacco leaves under sometimes hazardous conditions. Most of what the group documented is legal, but it wants cigarette makers to push for safety on farms from which they buy tobacco.

Human Rights Watch details findings from interviews with more than 140 children working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where a majority of the country’s tobacco is grown.

New enterprise struggles from the New York Times:

The Bud Light-ification of Bud

There’s a pressing economic reason for the pot industry to get better if it is to survive, aside from its formidable legal challenges. The plant is relatively cheap and easy to grow, and not complicated to process either. Left to the whims of the open market — meaning ignoring taxes and regulations — the price of a joint could plummet to the price of a tea bag or a packet of sugar. So how will investors help the market mature while still making money?

The market for marijuana is nothing like the market for corn or wine or tobacco — at least not yet — and the reasons start in the ground: Marijuana growing and processing is downright bush-league compared to modern American agribusiness. Much of the pot produced in the United States still comes from illegal or semi-legal grow sites, even given the surge of production and processing in states with recreational or medicinal laws. And strains remain understudied and underanalyzed, compared with the wheat in your cereal or even the marigolds in your garden.

The inefficiencies continue to pile up after the harvest. Marijuana has to be cured, then trimmed, before it is sold, and much of this work is still done by hand. Workers use scissors to cut away tough outer leaves and expose the smokable part of the plant. It’s a labor-intensive process, the kind that in other instances is completed by a machine, like a thresher or a cotton gin.

And from the Japan Daily Press, still time to resist:

U.S. sees no conclusion to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations anytime soon

The stalemate is still on as the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not expecting a conclusion to be met in the negotiations anytime soon. With a ministerial meeting happening in Singapore this month, members of what will be the world’s biggest free trade deal are yet to finalize the deal as both Japan and the United States, both key economies in the deal, failed to reach a conclusion on the negotiations last month.

While many expected progress to happen when US President Barack Obama himself went to Japan last month to discuss this, many were disappointed to learn that further talks are needed to come to a final agreement. The deadlock remains to be because of Japan’s refusal to give up tariffs on key products such as farming produce and automobiles, both the bread and butter of the Asian nation. This has affected widely the negotiations of the 12-nations included in the TPP as they wait for the final outcome of the talks between Japan and the U.S. The countries included in the TPP will meet in Singapore this week to give updates regarding other talks. They are expected to outline other details including regulations on labor, intellectual property and the environment as soon as the deal has been ironed out.

For our first European story, a plaintive pontifical plea from ANSA:

Pope condemns ‘massacre’ of migrants at sea as ‘shameful’

  • Francis asks for prayers for people fleeing homelands by boat

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the “massacre” of desperate migrants who are killed in boat disasters on the Mediterranean Sea as they flee their homelands for a new life in Europe. During his weekly general audience, the pope said it was “shameful” that thousands of migrants are killed on the seas between North African and the southern borders of Italy.

Shortly before he spoke, police in southern Italy said they had arrested two alleged human smugglers who authorities say deliberately caused a boat carrying as many as 400 migrants to sink off the coast of Libya Monday to induce an Italian sea rescue.

So far, 17 have been confirmed dead and more than 200 rescued but as many as 200 more are still missing.

Next, via EUbusiness, another hint of things to come:

Eurozone industrial output slips back in March: Eurostat

Eurozone industrial output fell in March, official data showed on Wednesday, consistent with recent data showing the economic recovery to be patchy so far.

Industrial output in the 18-nation eurozone dropped 0.3 percent in March compared with the figure for February when it gained 0.2 percent, the Eurostat statistics agency said.

Compared with March 2013, eurozone industrial output was down 0.1 percent, after posting a year-on-year gain of 1.7 percent in February.

From Europe Online, another form of resistance to the austerian imperative:

Brussels expects stronger resistance to austerity in next EU assembly

The European Commission believes that it will be harder to get the European Parliament to approve austerity legislation after this month’s elections, internal documents seen by dpa showed Wednesday.

The European Union’s executive arm acknowledged that based on polling trends, the staunchest backers of recent budget discipline reforms, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), will be “substantially weakened.”

“Some of the winning coalitions” that supported reforms in the outgoing Parliament, which had “the EPP and ALDE at their core,” are likely to “no longer be sufficient to reach a majority” in the next EU assembly, according to an analysis by the commission’s economic and financial department.

EurActiv raises an objection:

Norway accuses Apple of breaching EU consumer law

Apple’s iCloud service violates European law by giving itself the right to change its terms and conditions at any time, without notifying its customers, according to a complaint lodged 13 May by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The council, a government agency, earlier published a study accusing Apple iCloud’s terms of service of violating consumer rights and privacy before the complaint to Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman.

The unfair practice complaint is based on the EU’s directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts. Because people often store important information in the cloud, such as documents and photos, it is particularly important they understand the contract, the council said.

On to Britain and xenophobic fears fail to materialize, via Sky News:

East European Migrant Influx Fails To Emerge

The number of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria has fallen since border controls were lifted but rose over the long-term.

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has fallen by 4,000 since transitional controls on immigration were lifted on January 1.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show 140,000 people born in one of the two countries were employed between January and March this year.

That is down from 144,000 between October and December, suggesting concerns about mass immigration following the New Year have been unfounded.

And some positive numbers from BBC News:

UK unemployment rate falls to five-year low

The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 133,000 to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million in the three months to March, official figures show.

The jobless rate also fell to a five-year low of 6.8%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people in work rose to 30.43 million, the highest since records began in 1971, helped by a rise in self-employment. Average earnings in the three months to March were up 1.7% from a year earlier.

But other numbers hint of another reality, via the Independent:

Anger as Employment Minister Esther McVey denies food bank use is linked to welfare reforms

Charities and politicians have reacted with anger to a claim by the Employment Minister that the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks has nothing to do with the Government’s welfare reforms.

In a letter to the Scottish government, Esther McVey said “the rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this Government has put in place”, adding that there was “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, have shown that demand has increased by more than 300 per cent in the past year.

Sky News hints at a bankster victory:

Banks Warn Regulator On ‘Illegal’ Bonus Rules

Bank of England proposals to toughen bank bonus rules could be legally unenforceable, a document obtained by Sky News warns.

New rules that would force bankers to wait more than a decade to get their hands on bonuses would breach “the principle of natural justice” and leave lenders exposed to costly legal challenges, a trade body has warned.

In a document obtained by Sky News, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) argued that plans to apply clawback provisions retrospectively would be illegal in Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico, countries in which UK-based lenders such as HSBC have a substantial presence.

The BoE’s proposals would force banks to reclaim variable compensation from senior employees for up to six years after it has been handed over and spent.

On to Norway and trepidation from TheLocal.no:

Norway slashes growth forecast on oil slowdown

Norway’s government on Wednesday slashed its growth forecast for this year, citing a slowdown in spending by the key oil sector in the Nordic country.

In a revised budget the government said the Norwegian economy is now forecast to grow by 1.9 percent in 2014, compared to the 2.5-percent increase expected in the original budget submitted last November.

This forecast concerns the country’s “mainland” GDP, which leaves out fossil fuels and maritime transport and is preferred as an indicator in Norway
since it excludes the strong cyclical variations related to oil, one of the country’s main exports.

However the purchase by the oil sector of goods and services is included in the country’s “mainland” GDP calculation, and the finance ministry expects this to stabilise then decrease.

Hypocritical criticism of the day award goes to. . .Well, you get the idea. And imagine if the U.S. had the same priorities as one of the happiest nations on earth. From TheLocal.se:

‘Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security’

No one doubts the Swedes’ ability to fight, but they do doubt Nato-ambivalent Sweden’s commitment to helping its neighbours, argues former US defence attaché to Sweden Bruce Acker.

In the wake of Russian annexation of Crimea, the Swedish defense debate has intensified over the nature of its security structures and partnerships. The Swedish solidarity declaration of 2009 is frequently criticized for being unresourced and therefore weak:

On to Austria and a slowdown from TheLocal.at:

Verbund shuts five power plants

Verbund, Austria’s leading electricity company, is mothballing five power stations to cut costs.

The company said it would temporarily decommission several combined cycle gas-fired power plants in Austria and France, including the 848-megawatt Mellach power station that was commissioned only three years ago.

Additionally, a coal-fired power plant in Dürnrohr and an oil-fueled plant in Styria will be closed, the company added.

The reason for the closures is the “massive disruption in the European electricity market” and “sector-wide economic pressures”, Verbund said. It hopes the restructuring will lead to “lasting economic improvements”.

TheLocal.at again, with a shortfall:

Austrian army ‘going broke’

The Austrian army is in serious financial trouble – so much so that regiments can’t afford fuel and soldiers are forced to march on foot.

Defence Minister Gerald Klug (SPÖ) has said that with its current budget the army “is no longer financially viable”.

His staff have done an analysis of the army’s current saving plan and found that by autumn it won’t even be able to afford its fuel bill.

And a good use for a house linked to a murderous xenophobe extraordinaire from TheLocal.at:

Hitler’s house to become migrant centre?

A long-running debate over the future of the house where Hitler was born finally appears set to be resolved.

The Renaissance-era structure, located near the central square of the picturesque town of Braunau in Upper Austria, is considered prime real estate.

At a recent ‘Birthplace Summit’, held at the Interior Ministry in early May, the house’s current owner and representatives from Braunau met with Austria’s Interior Ministry to discuss the fate of the controversial building.

For decades however, the shadow of Adolf Hitler – its most infamous son – has hung over the former guest house, creating a constant headache for Braunau’s administration.

On to Spain with thinkSPAIN and political provocation:

Mock ‘abortion package tour’ travel agency launched in protest over Spanish law reform

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the proposed restrictions on abortion announced by Spain’s minister of justice have set up a spoof travel agency offering trips to Europe for women wishing to terminate a pregnancy.

Dubbed ‘Abortion Travel – the agency that shouldn’t exist’, the pretend online ‘company’ offers packages to London, Paris and Berlin ranging from 1,940 euros to 2,620 euros.

Its organisers even give women advice relating to where to travel to in Europe depending upon how far gone their pregnancy is and the national law relating to their stage of gestation.

TheLocal.es covers a dismal ratio:

Spain: One vacancy for every 110 jobseekers

Spain had only one job opening for every 110 unemployed people in the final three months of 2013, the second worst rate in the European Union, a new study released on Wednesday shows.

Before Spain’s economic crisis kicked off in 2007, this rate was one job opening for every 17.5 jobseekers, the latest labour market bulletin by job agency Asempleo and financial consultants Afi shows.

Only Cyprus had a worse ratio: there the ratio was one job per 154 people searching for work.

The lack of job openings in Spain — where the official unemployment rate is 25.93 percent — is also in stark contrast with the EU average for the final quarter of of 2013. That figure was 12.3 unemployed people for each job on offer.

Italy next and a Bunga Buna bloviation from ANSA:

Berlusconi says accord with Renzi ‘useless’

  • Forza Italia leader says party will vote as it sees fit

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that continuing an accord with Premier Matteo Renzi on government reforms would be “useless”. Instead of advance agreements, he said, his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party would decide for itself how to vote on each reform measure.

“It is useless to make arrangements before,” any vote, Berlusconi said in a television interview with Rai.

“We expect to see the reforms in Parliament (and) if we believe they are the best, we will vote for them,” and otherwise, FI will vote against the measure, he added.

TheLocal.it asks for a helping hand:

‘EU officials asked US for help to oust Berlusconi’

EU officials asked the US government for help to oust Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian premiership at the height of the economic crisis in 2011, a former advisor to US President Barack Obama has claimed.

Tim Geithner, former US treasury secretary, said that he refused to cooperate in a plot against the then Italian prime minister in the autumn of 2011. “European officials contacted us with a plot to find a way of forcing the Italian Premier Berlusconi to stand down,” Geithner was quoted in La Stampa as saying in his new book – Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.

The EU officials wanted their US counterparts to refuse to back an Italian rescue package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unless Berlusconi resigned, Geithner alleged. The former treasury secretary claimed that he refused to go along with the plot, telling the Europeans “we cannot have blood on our hands.”

Blissful high level ignorance from ANSA:

Napolitano didn’t participate in Berlusconi ‘plot’ meetings

  • Geithner book feeds speculation Berlusconi was felled in 2011

President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday that he did not participate in any of the international meetings in which European officials allegedly plotted to bring down Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2011.

Rumours that the third Berlusconi’s government was scuppered by a conspiracy were fueled this week by a new book by former US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. The former Treasury secretary wrote that in 2011, at a G-20 meeting, Europeans were pushing the White House to get involved in pressuring Berlusconi out of office, as Italy risked a Greek-style financial meltdown with the spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German counterpart ballooning to over 500 points and yields above 7%.

Napolitano was instrumental in engineering the emergency technocrat administration led by ex-premier Mario Monti that replaced Berlusconi’s administration in November 2011.

After the jump, the latest anxieties from Greece, More Ukrainian turmoil and Russian retaliation [including a lethal blow the U.S. space program], a Georgian courtship, Turkish outrage, agrofuel and presidential woes in Latin America, Australian austerity run amok, a blow for GMOs in Pakistan, Thai turmoil, Southern Korean economic woes, bubble-plugging measures, corruption and economic and corporate imperialism in China, economic winners and losers in China, Trans-Pacific Partnership wheeling and dealing, MERS warnings, historical tragedy, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . .
Continue reading

Headlines: EcoEconoDystopic pols, ecofails


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

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

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

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

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

From the New York Times, emphasis added:

Plaintiff in Silicon Valley Hiring Suit Maligns Deal

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

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

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

Added misery from the Washington Post:

Jobless contend with weight gain as they search for work

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

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

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

ThinkProgress offers a ray of sunshine:

Vermont Passes The Highest State Minimum Wage In The Country

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

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

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

But MintPress News notes another ominous sign:

The Minimum Wage Employees Of The Future, Today

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

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

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

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

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

Psychiatric beds disappear despite growing demand

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

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

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

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

Canada faces ‘crisis’ on indigenous living conditions

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

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

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

On to Europe with the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

And another alarm from EUbusiness:

Europeans still gloomy about economy, ahead of EU vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plutocratic hubris on the Emerald Isle from the Irish Times:

Trump and environmentalists on collision course

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

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

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

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

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

Germans accept gays more, immigrants less

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

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

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

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

France next, and controversial consolidation from New Europe:

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

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

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

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

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

More Francoausterity from ANSAmed:

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

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

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

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

Switzerland: referendum may herald world’s highest minimum wage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutbacks in California court system produce long lines, short tempers

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

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

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

TechCrunch covers hypocrisy from Obama appointees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Sky News, elite-a-palooza:

Billionaire Britain: New Nation Of Super-Rich

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

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

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

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

News Corp Australia covers a British plutocrat behaving badly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

London property empire amassed by controversial German landlord

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

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

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

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

While Sky News covers more austerian casualties:

‘Overworked’ Doctors Fear Missing Illnesses

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

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

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

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

Off to Scandinavia with the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

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

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

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

New Europe covers risks:

Norway’s economic risks predicted by OECD

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

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

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

On to France and another green movement from RT:

Hundreds march across France to legalize cannabis

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

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

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

From TheLocal.fr, the Great Game continues:

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

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

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

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

And the London Telegraph covers the bankster blues:

Cinema producer warned over ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn film’

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment slightly down

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

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

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

Italy next, and a populist pander from EUbusiness:

Italy’s Grillo makes Nazi jibe against Schulz

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

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

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

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

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

AC Milan: Bananas thrown at players by Atalanta fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


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

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

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

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

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

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

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

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

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

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

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

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

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

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

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

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

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

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

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

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

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

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

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

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

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

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

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

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

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

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

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

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

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

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

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

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

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

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

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

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

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

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