Today’s collection of headlines on the unfolding events in economic, politics, and the environment covers lots of ground, but our sense that events are moving toward a climax as the drama continues to accelerate.
First up, another sign of hard times, Catholic fundamentalism, via the London Telegraph:
Decline of religious belief means we need more exorcists, say Catholics
- Decline of religion in the West has created a rise in black magic, Satanism and the occult
The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism have said.
The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.
The conference, “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms.
And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:
Google, Facebook strike back against FCC plans to reshape the Internet
- Some 150 tech companies sent a letter to the FCC, saying proposed rules would undermine ‘net neutrality,’ which has fueled the exponential growth of the Internet, they say.
After years of setbacks, the supporters of “net neutrality” have begun a full-throated counterattack this week. On Wednesday, 150 tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Netflix asked the Federal Communications Commission to preserve a core principle that has guided the Internet’s exponential growth since its advent decades ago.
At issue are new FCC rules announced last month that allow Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to treat some content on the Internet differently. For example, they can create “fast lanes” that will move content across the Internet more quickly, but companies like Google and Facebook will have to pay to use it. This, critics say, is a violation of net neutrality, in which all content – whether it’s a Netflix stream or an e-mail to grandma – is treated the same.
Internet providers such as Comcast say it’s common sense that companies that make more demands on their networks – like Netflix – should pay more for quicker service. Critics say this would turn the Internet – one of the greatest engines of innovation and freedom in the 21st century – into the playground of the highest bidders.
Another response from Al Jazeera America:
Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’
- Protesters plan to stay in front of communications regulator until it supports Net neutrality
Internet libertarians calling for the equal treatment of all Internet data have camped out in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C., saying they won’t quit their Occupy-style protest until the regulator stands up for Net neutrality.
About 15 people stood outside the FCC’s headquarters on Wednesday afternoon in a protest organized by the two groups, Fight for the Future and Popular Resistance. Five of the demonstrators said they were determined to set up camp overnight and stick around until May 15, when the commission is set to unveil proposed new Net neutrality rules — or perhaps longer, if the new rules don’t meet their expectations.
Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance says members of the protest — officially called “Camp Out to Save Net Neutrality” or “People’s Firewall FCC Camp” and unofficially as “Occupy FCC” — are in it for the long haul, bringing sleeping bags and signs and engaging in chants, such as “Hey, hey, FCC, the Internet must be free” and “FCC, drop the barrier, make the Internet a common carrier.”
From CNBC, a case of too little, too late:
US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks
The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday proposed a rule to limit concentration in the financial sector, a requirement of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to make banks safer after the crisis.
The rule would prohibit a bank merger if the new company’s liabilities exceed 10 percent of the aggregate consolidated liabilities of all financial companies, the central bank said in a press release.
Companies subject to the rule would be depository institutions, bank holding companies, savings and loan holding companies, foreign banking organizations, companies that control insured depository institutions, and non-bank financial companies designated “as systemic’‘ by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a tag that carries greater regulation and Fed oversight.
And from the Department of Snowball’s Chance in Hell of Survivng a GOP House, this from BBC News:
Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole
US senator Carl Levin has said he plans to introduce legislation into Congress that would close a loophole allowing US companies to move overseas and avoid US taxes.
The loophole – known as an “inversion” – allows US firms to reincorporate abroad, generally in an effort to avoid the US corporate tax rate of 35%.
Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca has put renewed focus on the practice.
From Al Jazeera America, a verdict of the Bush/Obama education agenda:
National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills
Handing out dismal grades on Wednesday, the Nation’s Report Card said America’s high school seniors lack math and reading skills critical in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Only about one-quarter are performing proficiently or better in math and just 4 in 10 in reading. And they’re not improving, the report says, reinforcing concerns that large numbers of today’s students are unprepared for either college or the workplace.
Scores on the 2013 exam in both subjects were little changed from 2009, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress was last given to 12th graders. The new results come from a representative sample of 92,000 public and private school students.
From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:
Exclusive: Barnes & Noble seeks big expansion of its college stores
The U.S. bookseller, which opened in 1965 as a university bookstore in New York, wants a much bigger presence on college campuses, where students last year spent an average of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies, according to the College Board.
Barnes & Noble, now the second largest operator of college bookstores with 696 shops, plans to have about 1,000 locations within five years, Max Roberts, chief executive of the company’s college business, said in an exclusive interview at Rutgers University’s bookstore in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
It intends to do that by getting more schools to outsource their bookstore operations with the lure of nicer, higher-grossing stores and by poaching accounts from larger rival Follett Corp, which runs 940 stores.
A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:
North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic
North Dakota’s male-dominated oil fields have created huge demand for sex workers. This demand has led to a human trafficking epidemic that the state can’t remedy on its own.
The men working on the oil fields don’t seem put off by the large rent checks they are writing, but the highly skewed male-to-female ratio is proving problematic, prompting many to seek out prostitutes.
Although prostitution is currently illegal in North Dakota and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, the demand for prostitutes has never been higher in the Roughrider State.
Windie Jo Lazenko is an advocate for human trafficking victims who founded 4Her North Dakota — a ministry that helps educate the public and advocate for victims in the hope of eradicating human trafficking for the purpose of sex in the United States. Though she was raised in Southern California, Lazenko has found herself in North Dakota in recent years investigating rumors of rampant human trafficking in the state.
From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:
US exports to China total $120b last year: USCBC
The US exports to China hit $120 billion last year, making China the third largest export market for American goods, said the US-China Business Council (USCBC) Wednesday.
In a newly released report, the USCBC, a private, non-profit organization, noted that US exports to China have grown at an average annual rate of 15.1 percent over the past 10 years, fastest among all major US trading partner.
The American exports to China rose by 10.4 percent last year, making it a major export market for US goods only behind Canada and Mexico, the two neighbors with which the United States has a free trade agreement.
CNBC delivers another verdict:
Yellen: Economy remains on track but keep an eye on housing
The economy is “on track for solid growth this quarter,” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Wednesday, but warned that a deterioration in housing or financial markets could alter that scenario.
After recent weakness that was mostly weather-related, Yellen said many recent indicators suggest a rebound in spending and production. However, the Fed chief told a joint Congressional committee that housing remains a risk to the recovery, even as the Fed expects that sector to pick up eventually.
The newly-appointed top central banker walked a fine line between preparing markets for normalizing monetary policy from its crisis era levels, and assuring the public that the Fed would continue to safeguard a still fragile recovery. A brutally cold winter triggered a run of weak activity that caused economic growth to flatline in the first three months of the year.
From CNBC again, another verdict:
Fed Chair Yellen: Minimum wage hike to have negative impact on jobs
In testimony before a Senate committee on Thursday, Fed Chair Yellen said a minimum wage increase would likely have some negative effects on jobs, though it’s not clear how large.
Still, boosting the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 per hour since mid-2009, would benefit some people, she added.
In recent months, the federal minimum wage has been a hot-button issue. In February, President Barack Obama boosted the minimum pay for federal contractors hired in the future to $10.10 per hour. He’s also voiced his support for the federal level for all workers to rise to $10.10 from the current $7.25. Separately, organized protests of fast food workers have lobbied for a jump to $15.
While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:
US household debt nearly twice as high as annual wages and salaries: Inflating the consumer debt bubble with student loans and auto debt.
The latest consumer credit report surprised to the upside. What was the surprise? Americans are back to borrowing money they don’t have. Are they borrowing for investing or possibly purchasing a modest home? No.
The latest data shows that Americans are once again going deep into student debt and auto debt. This is actually worse than borrowing for a home you can’t afford. A car will begin losing its value seconds after you drive it off the lot. Yet this is where Americans are pouring their money. So don’t be surprised if you see a pizza delivery person driving in a nicer car than you are.
Since the 1980s, households have been supplementing the decline in their standard of living by going into deep debt.
And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:
SEC Official Describes Widespread Lawbreaking and Material Weakness in Controls in Private Equity Industry
At a private equity conference this week, Drew Bowden, a senior SEC official, told private equity fund managers and their investors in considerable detail about how the agency had found widespread stealing and other serious infractions in its audits of private equity firms.
In the years that I’ve been reading speeches from regulators, I’ve never seen anything remotely like Bowden’s talk. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post and strongly encourage you to read it in full.
Despite the at times disconcertingly polite tone, the SEC has now announced that more than 50 percent of private equity firms it has audited have engaged in serious infractions of securities laws. These abuses were detected thanks to to Dodd Frank. Private equity general partners had been unregulated until early 2012, when they were required to SEC regulation as investment advisers.
MarketWatch sounds the alarm:
10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash
- Commentary: Fed-driven rally is about to end badly
Yes, “the bull market may come to an end any time,” warns Jeremy Grantham, founder of the $117 billion GMO investment giant. An unpredictable collapse. Risky valuations, 10 bubbles peaking, and black swan megatrends: The bull “could be derailed by disappointing global growth, profits sagging as deficits are cut, a Russian miscalculation, or, perhaps most dangerous and likely, an extreme Chinese slowdown.”
Yes, Grantham’s hedging his near-term: Betting the S&P 500 could rally past 2,250 before the 2016 presidential election, “depending on what new ammunition the Fed can dig up.” But then, a black swan will ignite “around the election or soon after, the market bubble will burst” and “revert to its trend value, around half of its peak or worse.”
Yes half. The S&P 500 will collapse to about 1,125. This Fed-driven rally “will end badly.” Repeating the dot-com losses of 2000-2003. Repeating Wall Street’s $10 trillion losses in 2007-2009.
Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:
A Win For Civil Society As Corporations Divest From Private Prison Industry
Corporate divestment from the U.S. private prison sector could major a big impact on the industry — even if it’s mostly symbolic.
Three corporations considered major investors in the U.S. private prison industry are moving to dump their holdings in the sector, apparently in response to newly stepped-up pressure from civil society.
The total divestments add up to about $60 million, and organizers say more divestment announcements are on the way. Two of the three companies — Amica Mutual Insurance and Dutch chemicals manufacturer DSM North America — have reportedly offloaded all of their shares in the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, the country’s two largest for-profit corrections companies.
“In accordance with [U.N.] principles … with respect to the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights, the [DSM Netherlands] pension fund has divested from the for-profit prison industry,” Hugh Walsh, president of DSM North America, said in a statement late last month.
On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:
ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has hinted the bank’s policymakers may act soon to reverse the eurozone’s prolonged low inflation.
The ECB chief said on Thursday that the monetary authority was “not resigned” to low inflation, which at 0.7% is well below the 2% target.
The comments followed that ECB’s decision to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.25%.
Attribution, via EUobserver:
Russia driving up euro, says Draghi
Low inflation, weak demand and high unemployment are not the only reasons for a strong euro, which is a “matter of serious concern” for the governing board of the European Central Bank (ECB).
Russia’s actions in Ukraine are “certainly one of the reasons”, with credit flows from Russia and Ukraine “having the effect of keeping the euro strong,” ECB chief Mario Draghi said Thursday (8 May) in a press conference.
The euro is appreciating because it is seen as a safe haven by investors, compared to the shaky Ukrainian hryvnia and the Russian ruble.
And from New Europe, vast indifference:
Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans
- Suppose they held an election and nobody came?
A poll has shown that six out of ten Europeans are uninterested in the elections to the European Parliament in three weeks time.
The survey of 9,000 people in 12 countries will cause great concern in Brussels where the parliament has faced declining turnout since elections were introduced in 1979.
‘This time it is different’ is the slogan used by the parliament in a 15 million Euro campaign to persuade voters to turn up on polling day, 22 to 25 May.
The political parties of Europe have also tried to boost the poll by picking lead candidates and campaigning across the continent.
New Europe again, this time with positive[?] news:
Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs
- The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure
The Council today adopted a directive which will make it easier and cheaper to roll out high-speed electronic communications networks, among other things by promoting the joint use of infrastructure, such as electricity, gas and sewage pipes.
Today’s final adoption of the legislative act by the Council follows an agreement reached at first reading with the European Parliament. The Parliament held its vote at the plenary session on 15 April 2014.
Member states must adopt national provisions to comply with the new directive by 1 January 2016, and they must apply the new measures from 1 July 2016.
On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:
Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years
Barclays is to cut 19,000 jobs by 2016, with more than 9,000 to go in the UK, the bank has said.
As part of a new strategy, the investment part of the bank will lose about 7,000 jobs by the end of 2016.
Barclays’ investment bank has been hit by a slowdown in the demand for government and company debt.
Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:
No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women
Women who are unable to receive abortions in Northern Ireland are told they are not entitled to the procedure for free on the NHS.
The High Court has upheld a ruling which forbids women from Northern Ireland receiving free abortions in England. Mr Justice King rejected a legal challenge to restrictions on women from Northern Ireland undergoing terminations on the NHS.
The case was brought by a teenager, referred to as “A”, who was denied an abortion by medical authorities in Northern Ireland in October 2012. Laws on the procedure are extremely strict, with terminations only permitted when the life of the mother as at risk.
The girl, aged 15 at the time, then sought an abortion in England, where abortions are legal, but was denied NHS treatment. She was forced to pay £600 to have the operation done privately and a further £300 in travel costs.
A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:
EU ‘bullied’ Ireland into bailout, former Barroso aide says
The EU’s institutions ‘bullied’ Ireland into a bailout, a senior former adviser to the European Commission’s president said on Wednesday (7 May).
In an interview with Irish network RTE, Phillipe Legrain accused the Commission and the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) of having sided with France and Germany in insisting that Irish taxpayers were left solely responsible for the €64 billion debt burden held by its banks, a move he described as “unjust and unbearable”.
“It was a mistake by the previous government to guarantee all Irish bank debts but it was outrageous to effectively threaten to force Ireland out of the euro unless the government went through with that foolish pledge,” said Legrain.
Between 2011 and February 2014, Legrain was principal adviser at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, the in-house think tank which provides economic advice to Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:
Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’
Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice ruled on Wednesday that those listed in an illegal Swedish police register of Roma will be entitled to receive compensation of 5,000 kronor ($768), an award dismissed by a leading representative as “a disgrace”.
“This is a further violation. But it is at the same time positive that a state body… rules that what the police have done is wrong and illegal,” Soraya Post, EU parliamentary candidate for the Feminist Initiative and Roma human rights activist, told the Dagens Nyheter daily on Wednesday evening.
“We will just have to bring this before the European Court,” she added.
The Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern – JK) confirmed on Wednesday that the Skåne County police department register was illegal. The existence of the register was exposed by Dagens Nyheter’s reporter Niklas Orrenius in September 2013.
Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:
German living expenses rank high
In Germany, day-to-day goods are one-third more expensive than in the rest of the world. But German price levels rank near average in a European comparison, while living in Switzerland and Norway comes with the highest price-tag, a recent study says.
Life in Germany is comparatively expensive, according to a recent study. In 2011, the price level in the Federal Republic was around 36% over the global average, the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) reported on Wednesday (7 May).
Compared to German price levels, living costs were much lower in Asia. In South Korea, for example, people paid 28% less three years ago, while China and Russia were around half. In India, expenses were over 70% lower than in Germany.
Destatis based its findings on a study conducted by the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP) which focused on purchasing power parities and comparative price levels.
Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:
Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality
The equality commissioner at the German Family Ministry is suing her own employers over the appointment of three men to key positions in 2012.
Kristin Rose-Möhring took the ministry to Germany’s administrative court on Thursday because the appointments of press spokesman, state secretary, and an independent commissioner on child abuse – were made without consulting her. All three posts subsequently went to men.
The 59-year-old, who has been in the post since 2001, said that although the appointments were made under a different minister (Kristina Schröder was replaced by the incumbent Manuela Schwesig last year), the same structures are still in place at the ministry. “There is still room for improvement,” Rose-Möhring said.
Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:
Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research
The risk of deflation is growing in the euro area which threatens economic growth in Germany, the Institute of Macroeconomic Research (IMK) said on Thursday.
Based on its simulation calculations, IMK expected a stable German economy in 2014 and 2015 but warned of risks such as price stability.
The increase in German consumer prices of 0.9 percent in March was significantly below the inflation rate of the European Central Bank of 1.9 percent. In the euro area, prices rose by only 0.5 percent, while prices sank in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus.
On to France and on the defensive with TheLocal.fr:
‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’
President Francois Hollande on Thursday hit back at the growing anti-EU rhetoric in France fostered by the far right in its campaign for the European parliamentary elections.
In a commentary published in Le Monde on the anniversary of the Allied victory against Nazi Germany in World War II, Hollande recalled the words of another Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, who defended European integration by saying “nationalism means war” while “Europe means peace”.
Hollande’s comments come as polls show the far-right National Front (FN) could come out on top in the May 25th European elections in France.
But the economy isn’t helping Hollande, as New Europe reports:
Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March
- France’s March trade gap also widened on soaring imports bills
French statistics bureau Insee reported on Wednesday a 0.7-percent decline in industrial output in France in March compared to February’s data.
According to Insee, Europe’s second largest economy produced less over the period due to sluggish auto industry and weak performance of food processing activity which fell by 2.3 percent and 1.1 percent respectively.
After growing by 0.3 percent in February, manufacturing also lost momentum with a 0.7-percent decrease, Insee reported.
From TheLocal.fr, a wiseguy rubout in an unlikely place:
Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital
The Italian mafia is suspected of being behind the shooting of the 77-year-old head of one of Monaco’s richest families outside a hospital in Nice on Tuesday night.
Hélène Pastor, said to be close to Monaco’s Royal family, and her chauffeur, named by the French press as Mohammed D, were seriously injured after being shot outside the L’Archet Hospital in the southern French city.
A report in the French daily Le Figaro pointed to investigators suspecting that two of Italy’s most notorious organized crime groups, ‘Ndrangheta or the Camorra, could be behind the attack. Both clans are said to have gained a strong foothold on the French Riviera’s property sector.
Switzerland next, and taxing woes for migrant labor from TheLocal.ch:
Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers
Switzerland needs to change its agreement with Italy over the taxation of cross-border workers to make it less appealing for them to work in the canton of Ticino, Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf says.
Widmer-Schlumpf made the comment during a meeting with the cantonal government of Ticino on Wednesday, broadcaster RTS reported.
The federal cabinet minister said that cross-border workers, known as “frontaliers”, who live in Italy currently pay Swiss tax rates, deducted at source, which are lower than those paid in their home country.
On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:
Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit
There will be no turning back for Portugal when it makes a clean exit from its bailout this month without a credit safety net, the president of the Eurogroup warned Thursday.
“A precautionary credit line by definition is asked for in advance,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in an interview with Portuguese daily Expresso.
But if the request is made later “when conditions turn bad, it is no longer a precautionary credit line” and Portugal would then require a new rescue programme, he said.
Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:
Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening
- More cuts likely to be counterproductive in a country that faces a winter of discontent on job front
Economic recovery is taking hold, the banking system has improved, unemployment is beginning a timid retreat, the European bank bailout has worked, and public finances are stabilizing. Spring is in the air in the reports coming out of Brussels and the statements coming out of government officials’ mouths.
But despite the good news, the European Commission wants Spain to have an extra spoonful of the same medicine. While its deficit targets for 2014 will be easily met, things are not so clear for the years 2015 and 2016, leading Brussels to request “considerable additional discretionary efforts.”
In other words, what the European executive wants to see is more cuts, according to the first report following Spain’s clean exit from the banking bailout.
El País again, this time with a culture war development:
Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July
- Socialists suspect conservative government is delaying passage of bill until after European elections
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is planning to take his abortion reform to Congress in July, when parliamentary groups will analyze it and suggest amendments, government sources told EL PAÍS.
The executive of Mariano Rajoy is firmly set on getting this controversial piece of legislation approved, although it is making sure that its passage through parliament does not coincide with the campaign run for the European elections on May 25.
Ever since December 2013, when the cabinet approved the controversial draft bill changing existing abortion laws – which critics say will take Spain back 30 years – opposition has been growing on the streets, in parliament and even within the ruling Popular Party (PP) itself, some of whose members have spoken out against the reforms.
And it’s on to Italy and some Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:
Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links
A former minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s last government has been arrested for allegedly helping a businessman, convicted of collusion with the mafia, escape Italy.
Claudio Scajola has been arrested in Rome for allegedly helping Amedeo Matacena, a Calabrian businessman escape a five-year jail term after his conviction for mafia association was handed down last year, Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday.
Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.
Berlusconi said he was “pained” to hear about Scajola’s arrest but did not know what the reasons behind it where.
And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:
Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption
A manager for Milan Expo 2015 has been arrested while five others have been jailed as part of an investigation into a corruption scandal that also caught ex-politicians allegedly taking bribes, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
Angelo Paris, head of contracts for the trade fair, which runs in Milan between May and October next year, is in custody, Milan Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati told the financial newswire in an e-mailed statement.
Police carried out searches at 80 public entities and firms in parts of northern Italy and Rome, with businessmen and politicians being snared on video allegedly taking bribes to secure Expo contracts.
After the jump, the latest disturbing developments from Greece, Russian economic stress, Ukrainian tension, Argentine woes and a Venezuelan crackdown, Indian pollution, Thai turmoil continues, a Chinese upturn, a mixed report card for Japan, environmental woes, anbd the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading