Category Archives: Latin America

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!. . .
Continue reading

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.
.
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

Headlines: Pols, players, loans, lies, pollution


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

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

Koch group plans to spend $125 million on midterms

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

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

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

Wyoming is 1st state to reject science standards

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

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

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

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

BBC News raises the heat:

Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

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

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

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

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

Whose Speech, Whose Religion?

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

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

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

The Washington Post politics:

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

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

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

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

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

Obama heads to Wal-Mart, triggers backlash

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

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

>snip<

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

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

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

And from Reuters, more about the company in question:

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

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

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

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

BBC News covers more corporate conundra:

US politicians raise questions over Pfizer bid

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

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

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

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

Calif. City Boosts Revenue By Detaining And Deporting Immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado generates over $25M in marijuana revenue since legalization

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

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

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

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

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

Consider also a second UPI story:

Report: Global war on drugs a failure

The report emphasizes public health treatment instead of incarceration and prosecution

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

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

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

And then there’s this, from the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

While Want China Times takes the fast track:

China mulls building high speed railway to the US

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

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

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

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

Underwater homes: Minorities still suffering from housing collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada sees little employment growth in last year

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

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

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

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

Headlines: eCons, banksters, crimes, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:

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

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

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

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

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

Another response from Al Jazeera America:

Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’

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

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

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

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

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

US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks

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

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

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

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

Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole

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

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

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

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

National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills

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

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

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

From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:

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

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

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

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

A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:

North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic

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

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

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

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

From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:

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

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

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

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

CNBC delivers another verdict:

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

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

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

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

From CNBC again, another verdict:

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

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

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

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

While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:

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

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

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

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

And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:

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

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

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

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

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash

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

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

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

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

Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:

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

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

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

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

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

On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:

ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change

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

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

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

Attribution, via EUobserver:

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

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

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

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

And from New Europe, vast indifference:

Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans

  • Suppose they held an election and nobody came?

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

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

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

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

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

Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs

  • The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure

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

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

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

On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:

Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years

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

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

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

Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:

No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women

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

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

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

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

A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

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

Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:

Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’

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

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

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

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

Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:

German living expenses rank high

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

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

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

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

Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:

Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality

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

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

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

Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:

Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research

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

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

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

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

‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’

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

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

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

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

Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March

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

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

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

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

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

Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital

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

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

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

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

Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers

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

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

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

On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:

Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit

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

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

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

Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:

Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

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

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

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

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

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

Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links

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

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

Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.

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

And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:

Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption

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

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

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

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

Headlines: Classes, corps, cons, divisions


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

Fear of economic blow as births drop around world

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

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

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

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

From Al Jazeera America, another form of global action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEOs slashing jobs get big raises

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

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

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

China Daily covers a globalizing corporation:

GM plans jump start of slowing China sales

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

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

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

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

Aspen to Students: Your Property Book is Not Your Property

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

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

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

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

Talk of an Internet Fast Lane Is Already Hurting Some Startups

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

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

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

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

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

From The Hill, going covert:

Lobby cash goes underground in PR boom

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

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

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

Raising the hue and cry with the Los Angeles Times:

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

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

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

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

While Bloomberg covers another sort of revolt:

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

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

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

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

The Christian Science Monitor covers an academic plateau:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Senate OKs co-op banking option for marijuana sellers

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

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

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

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

The new nursing shortage

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

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

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

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

Barclays to cut up to 8,000 investment banking jobs

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

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

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

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

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

Germany is EU’s worst polluter

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

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

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

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

More industrial news from New Europe:

German industry orders fall in March

  • Orders for industrial goods decreased by 2.8 percent in March

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

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

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

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

Central Bank profit slides 43.7%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When corporations grab your roof, via TheLocal.es:

New law lets phone firms ‘steal’ Spanish roof tops

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

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

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

Italy next, and a Bunga Bunga bummer from ANSA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines: Econotrix, politrix & envirotrix


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

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

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

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

Four-year Flash Crash anniversary haunts markets

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

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

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

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

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

From Business Insider, the proceeds of plunder:

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

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

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

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

From Reuters, just a cost of doing business:

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

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

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

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

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

Etihad Unveils Three-Room ‘Residence’ On A380 Fleet

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

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

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

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

Single women say their income doesn’t cover expenses

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

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

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

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

And from PandoDaily, another form of profitable plunder:

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

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

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

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

From Reuters, we won’t hold our breath:

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

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

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

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

The Los Angeles Times covers gentrification of another sort:

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court Allows Prayers at Town Meetings

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

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

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

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

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

EU raises its growth forecast for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese tycoon keen to buy chunk of Norway

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

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

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

And some Norse doubts via New Europe:

70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU

Skepticism over joining EU remains strong in Norway

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

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

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

Next up France, and similar doubts from RFI:

Majority of French want smaller EU, poll

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

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

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

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

From Europe Online, skepticism:

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

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

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

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

And from Agence France-Presse, a rare win:

France Definitively Bans Genetically Modified Corn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spain next, and dismal numbers from TheLocal.es:

Half of young Spaniards have no money coming in

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

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

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

With just 34 percent of people aged 16 to 29 in Spain actually working, more that half of people in this age group are on temporary contracts. Of those contracts, 46.4 percent are of less than 12 months duration.

From the Independent, a lesson only half-learned:

Spain is inviting back Jews expelled from the country in the 16th Century. But don’t mention the Muslims

  • Our cousins in Madrid and Lisbon simply don’t want Muslims to come to Europe

The year of darkness, of course, was 1492, when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Christian power was restored to the lands in which Muslims and Jews had lived together for hundreds of years and had rescued some of the great works of classical literature – by way of Baghdad – for us to study. Save for those who converted to Christianity or died at the stake – at least 1,000 Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000, among them – the entire Muslim and Jewish communities were thrown out of Spain and Portugal by the early 17th century. They scattered, to Morocco, Algeria, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey. Which is why the glories of Andalusian architecture can still be found in north Africa. The Sephardic (Spanish) Jews spoke Ladino, which was still understood in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. In just over 100 years, the Christian monarchy of Spain had expelled half a million Muslims and between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews. There are now around 3.5 million Sephardic Jews in the world. Their ancient homes also still exist in Spain.

But now Spain and Portugal want to make amends, so we are told. They will give citizenship – full passports – to the descendants of families expelled from their countries. The government regards the expulsions as “a tragedy”, or – in the words of Spain’s justice minister – a “historical error”. It was, of course, an ethnic cleansing, a massive crime against humanity, but don’t let’s expect too much from our Spanish and Portuguese friends, as there are, unfortunately, a few problems. For example: Muslims need not apply.

And from TheLocal.es, what a dose of bananas didn’t cure:

‘They called me a monkey so I danced like one’

A new racism scandal erupted in Spanish football after fans made monkey chants at Levante’s Senegalese midfielder Pape Diop, just a week after Barcelona defender Dani Alves denounced a banana-thrower.

The 28-year-old Diop accused Atletico Madrid fans of subjecting him to abuse as his side inflicted a shock 2-0 defeat on the Liga leaders on Sunday.

He reacted by dancing in front of the disconsolate travelling fans at the final whistle Sunday, and television images showed some furious Atletico supporters making monkey gestures.

“It affected me a lot,” Diop said. “I went to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans began to make monkey chants. To play it down, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone,” the player said.

Italy next, and a tongue-lashing from the top via ANSA:

Renzi says Italy must change or be EU laggards

  • Premier admits delay on institutional reforms is ‘costly’

Premier Matteo Renzi said Monday that the government’s reform programme was necessary to stop Italy becoming one of the European Union’s worst-performing States.

“Our ideas are not the result of improvisation,” Renzi told a seminar on the institutional reforms organised by his centre-left Democratic Party (PD). “We are anxious for change and we have to produce fast results or we won’t have credibility in the European Union.

“We are certain that if Italy changes, it’ll be at the helm. Otherwise it’ll become a laggard”. Renzi, who was sworn in as Italy’s youngest premier aged 39 in February, has presented a bill to change the Constitutional to overhaul the country’s costly, slow-moving political machinery.

From ANSA, the bleak numbers continue:

Italian unemployment worse than expected, says EU and Istat

  • Between 12.7%-12.8% in 2014, with ‘marginal improvement’ in 2015

Both the European Union and Italy’s national statistics agency on Monday revised upwards their forecasts of Italian unemployment for this year and the next. Italy’s unemployment rate will grow to 12.7% in 2014, up 0.5% on the year, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Light improvement is expected in the second half of the year, preceding a drop to 12.4% in 2015, added Istat.

Meanwhile the European Commission predicted Italy’s unemployment rate in 2014 to be 12.8%, “a new high”, as opposed to the 12.6% rate predicted in February.

From TheLocal.it, hard times intolerance, as when adults fear cooties:

‘We don’t want our kids to go on migrant bus’

A group of parents from Sicily refused to let their children go on a school trip because the bus they would have travelled on had previously transported migrants “suffering from diseases”.

The children, from Giacomo Albo di Modica school in Ragusa, had been due to go on the trip on Monday, but a group of about 60 parents rallied against it, saying “the risk of them catching a disease is too great, and we don’t want to take that risk,” according to a report in La Repubblica.

The children would have travelled on one of the buses, chartered by the local council, used to transport migrants from the port of Pozzallo to an emergency holding centre between Comiso and Ragusa in recent days, the newspaper said.

From New Europe, begging the question, as in is this real anti-semitism, or the sort redefined by Israeli media-spinners in which legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies has been redefined as racism:

The number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012

Annual report on Anti-Semitism in Czech Republic registers steep increase of Internet attacks

A new study by Prague’s Jewish community has registered a significant increase of attacks against Jews on the Internet for the second straight year.

The annual report on anti-Semitism released Monday said the number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012. The report said the pro-Israeli stance of the Czech government was among the reasons for the attacks.

Besides the Internet attacks, it said anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic remains at a relatively low level with one physical attack registered last year and three attacks on Jewish property.

After the jump the latest from Greece, new developments in Latin America, mixed signals for the Chinese economy, a host of environmental alarm bells, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Snoops, dupes, pols, and trolls


Today’s tales from the dark side, our daily collection of headlines from the worlds of black ops and arts, opens the a 21st Century reality via the Guardian:

Everyone is under surveillance now, says whistleblower Edward Snowden

  • People’s privacy is violated without any suspicion of wrongdoing, former National Security Agency contractor claims

The US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned that entire populations, rather than just individuals, now live under constant surveillance.

“It’s no longer based on the traditional practice of targeted taps based on some individual suspicion of wrongdoing,” he said. “It covers phone calls, emails, texts, search history, what you buy, who your friends are, where you go, who you love.”

Snowden made his comments in a short video that was played before a debate on the proposition that surveillance today is a euphemism for mass surveillance, in Toronto, Canada. The former US National Security Agency contractor is living in Russia, having been granted temporary asylum there in June 2013.

From the Guardian again, this time with a look at peculiar habits of key players:

Technology law will soon be reshaped by people who don’t use email

  • The US supreme court doesn’t understand the internet. Laugh all you want, but when NSA, Pandora and privacy cases hit the docket, the lack of tech savvy on the bench gets scary

There’s been much discussion – and derision – of the US supreme court’s recent forays into cellphones and the internet, but as more and more of these cases bubble up to the high chamber, including surveillance reform, we won’t be laughing for long: the future of technology and privacy law will undoubtedly be written over the next few years by nine individuals who haven’t “really ‘gotten to’ email” and find Facebook and Twitter “a challenge” .

A pair of cases that went before the court this week raise the issue of whether police can search someone’s cellphone after an arrest but without a warrant. The court’s decisions will inevitably affect millions. As the New York Times editorial board explained on the eve of the arguments, “There are 12 million arrests in America each year, most for misdemeanors that can be as minor as jaywalking.” Over 90% of Americans have cellphones, and as the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a briefing to the court, our mobile devices “are in effect, our new homes”.

Most people under 40 probably would agree police should never have the right to rummage through our entire lives without a particular purpose based on probable cause.Yet during arguments, Justice Roberts insinuated that police might reasonably suspect a person who carries two cellphones of being a drug dealer. Is he unaware that a large portion of the DC political class with which he associates – including many of his law clerks – carries both a personal and business phone, daily? The chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States may have proved this week that he can throw out tech lingo like “Facebook” and even “Fitbit”, but he is trapped in the closet from reality.

From the New York Times, Snowden blowback continues:

Merkel Signals That Tension Persists Over U.S. Spying

President Obama tried to mend fences with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Friday, calling her “one of my closest friends on the world stage.” But Ms. Merkel replied tartly that Germany still had significant differences with the United States over surveillance practices and that it was too soon to return to “business as usual.”

The cordial but slightly strained encounter, which played out as the two leaders stood next to each other at a Rose Garden news conference, attested to the lingering scars left by the sensational disclosure last October that the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on Ms. Merkel’s phone calls.

It came as the two leaders sought to project a unified front against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, threatening President Vladimir V. Putin with sweeping new sanctions if Russia disrupted elections in Ukraine later this month, even as they acknowledged that not all European countries were ready to sign on to the most punishing measures.

While the London Daily Mail spots an oopsie:

U2 spy plane delays HUNDREDS of flights from LAX after it overloaded air traffic control system

  • Glitch occurred on Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m.
  • Despite U-2 spy plane flying at 60,000 feet, air traffic control software was unable to distinguish it from commercial aircraft
  • The problem at the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center, which handles higher-altitude aircraft, meant planes bound for the region were also grounded
  • 200 flights at LAX alone were either cancelled or diverted
  • Other airports across the southwest were also affected

International Business Times covers virtual financial alarms:

Bitcoin A Terrorist Threat? Counterterrorism Program Names Virtual Currencies As Area Of Interest

After attracting attention from law enforcement, financial regulators and old-school Wall Street investors, bitcoin is now on the U.S. military’s radar as a possible terrorist threat.

Friday was the deadline for submissions to a counterterrorism program seeking vendors to help the military understand state-of-the-art technologies that may pose threats to national security, and “bitcoin” and “virtual currencies” are listed among them.

The program is being conducted by the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, a division of the Department of Defense that identifies and develops counterterrorism abilities and investigates irregular warfare and evolving threats.

From the Associated Press, an insecure imperialist:

Condoleezza Rice backs out of Rutgers commencement

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has backed out of delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University following protests by some faculty and students over her role in the Iraq War.

Rice said in a statement Saturday that she informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she was declining the invitation to speak at the graduation.

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

The school’s board of governors had voted to pay $35,000 to the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony. Rutgers was also planning to bestow Rice with an honorary doctorate.

From Military Aerospace Electronics, kicking the drone thing up a notch:

Army orders UAV control for attack helicopters

Military RF communications experts at Longbow LLC in Orlando, Fla., will build 17 sensor and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) control subsystems for the Army’s AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter under terms of a $22.2 million contract modification announced Wednesday.

Officials of the Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., are asking Longbow LLC to provide Radar Electronics Units (REUs), Unmanned Aerial Systems Tactical Common Data Link Assembly (UTAs), a P4.00 software upgrade, and related hardware for production testing for the AH-64D helicopter.

Longbow LLC is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. The REU is part of the Apache Block III upgrade, and will replace two line-replaceable units. The REU provides growth capabilities to the Longbow fire-control radar and reduces maintenance costs.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on a security insecurity:

Death threats stop gun store from selling ‘smart’ gun. Why?

The White House has urged gun companies to invent safety technology that could limit a gun’s use to its owner. But two gun shops decided not to sell such guns after receiving death threats.

Andy Raymond, a Rockland, Md., firearms dealer, found out how much some people who love guns and the Second Amendment really hate some guns, causing the owner of Engage Armament this week to reverse his plan to sell the Armatix iP1, the nation’s first “smart” gun.

The German-made Armatix iP1 won’t fire unless it’s in proximity of a special watch, thus making it useless if stolen. Gun control advocates, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have cited such technology as potential life savers.

But the NRA and many gun owners say it’s a government Trojan horse intended to open the door for laws that will mandate “smart” technology in new guns in order to identify gun owners – a notion that’s widely seen by gun owners as a threat to Second Amendment rights.

And Bloomberg Businessweek covers parents in revolt over too much snooping on their children:

Privacy Fears Over Student Data Tracking Lead to InBloom’s Shutdown

A year ago, every public school student in New York State fell under the watchful eye of InBloom, a data analytics company. Schools sent the company an enormous batch of data spanning 400-odd fields that included a wide range of personal details, from test scores and special-education enrollment to whether kids got free lunches. The idea was to compile enough information so teachers or software could tailor assignments to each student’s needs. InBloom had contracts to do the same for millions of public school kids across nine states, tracking their work to draw conclusions about their academic performance. InBloom promised to analyze its data and make the results accessible to teachers and parents. That made InBloom the hottest company in the emerging field of personalized learning, pitched as a way to help overcrowded, underfunded schools to better teach each student. That was until April 21, when InBloom abruptly announced it soon planned to shut down.

For many parents, the software got a little too personal. Although there weren’t any documented cases of InBloom misusing the information, parents and privacy advocates around the country argued that digital records on kids as young as 5 could easily be sold to marketers or stolen by hackers. Six of InBloom’s nine client states had pulled out over privacy concerns by the time the company said it was closing shop. “The risk far outweighs any benefits,” Karen Sprowal, a mother of a fifth grader, testified before a New York State Senate committee in November. “Just know that there’s a lot of parents like me that’s out there that say, ‘Hell, no.’ “

From CNNMoney, insecurity in significant places:

Defense, energy, banks hit by Internet Explorer bug

The cyber offensive nicknamed “Operation Clandestine Fox” is being used to attack PCs.

Hackers have attacked the government agencies, defense contractors, energy companies and banks by exploiting the software flaw in Internet Explorer.

That’s according to FireEye (FEYE), the cybersecurity firm that revealed the software flaw last week. The company discovered that hackers took advantage of a bug in the Internet Explorer Web browser to secretly take control of computers.

The cyber offensive has been dubbed “Operation Clandestine Fox,” and affects all versions of Microsoft’s Web browser.

Microsoft has issued a fix, but FireEye’s announcement on Thursday showed there are already victims. FireEye also spotted that hackers are now specifically targeting older computers running on the outdated Windows XP operating system and those using the Internet Explorer 8 version of the browser.

After the jump, is off to Asia and the Game of Drones, a possible Chinese death sentence, plus growing Japanese divisions over remilitarization. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Class, wealth, pols, and ploys


We begin today’s collection of stories of economic, politics, resources, and the environment with a stark contrast from Bloomberg:

Miami’s Poor Live on $11 a Day as Boom Widens Wealth Gap

“Miami isn’t the gateway to Latin America; Miami has the same economic demographics as Latin America,” said Pedro “Joe” Greer, a doctor whose 25 years of work treating the homeless and uninsured there earned him the nation’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — in 2009. “Seventy percent of the families we work with bring in less than $25,000 a year.”

Miami’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, is the third-highest among U.S. cities after Atlanta and New Orleans. It’s higher than in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro and mirrors Mexico City’s level. The city is also the toughest for low-wage workers to rise, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the upward mobility of fast-food employees. . .

Miami ranked No. 7 — above Dubai, Paris and Beijing — among “cities that matter” to high-net-worth investors, the 2014 Wealth Report by London-based consulting firm Knight Frank LLP shows. International buyers have purchased more than $10 billion of South Florida property since 2008, the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors says.

From Raw Story, a class clown:

PayPal exec drunkenly tweets late night insults at co-workers and resigns

A recently hired executive at the Internet banking company PayPal spent Friday night tweeting insults at his co-workers and announcing his resignation from the company. Business Insider reported that Rakesh “Rocky” Agrawal was attending Jazz Fest in New Orleans when he sent the now-deleted stream of poorly-spelled, vitriolic messages.

Agrawal posted a photo of himself with his middle finger raised with the caption, “Can’t wait to explain this.”

Around 1:00 a.m., Agrawal wrote, “Duck you Smedley you useless middle. manager,” which was followed by “Christina Smedley is a useless. Piece of shit.”

From Salon, a Silicon Volley:

The Internet’s inequality bomb: The crash is coming — but the 1 percent won’t feel a thing

  • Warnings of a tech bubble are growing more dire every day, but it’s regular people who stand to bear the brunt

Companies are frantically loading up on cash now, because they know– everybody knows — that the business cycle will inevitably turn down. With the vast majority of these start-ups a long, long way from turning a profit, it’s only prudent to stash away as much cash as you can while the getting is still good. Because, like it or not, sooner or later, the bubble will pop.

But if times are destined to get tough for even the current front-runners of the tech boom, then what does that mean for the rest of us? Because there’s a crucial difference between this boom and the last one that is not getting enough attention. Last time around, the average U.S. worker did pretty well: In the 1990s, the median wage rose steadily, while unemployment fell to its lowest point in generations. The economy as a whole added an incredible 21 million jobs. Point being: The prosperity was shared.

Compare that to the current tech boom. Wages have stagnated, and household income has fallen. Unemployment is still historically high and job growth has been tepid, at best. Even as all those billions of dollars of investor capital have poured into tech companies, workers — outside of a few regional hot spots like northern California — just aren’t reaping the kinds of benefits we would hope for in even a borderline healthy economy.

Europe next, starting with the Reykjavík Grapevine and the latest on a noxious memo from the office Icelandic Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir:

Leaked Memo Solely “To Impugn Reputation” Of Asylum Seeker

Reykjavík District Court has concluded, amongst other things, that the sole purpose for leaking the now-infamous memo on Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos was “to impugn his reputation” in the face of growing public protest over his treatment by the Ministry of the Interior.

RÚV reports that police authorities filed a motion with both the Reykjavík District Court and the Supreme Court, demanding that the news editor of mbl.is tell the police who wrote the original news story about Tony Omos, as well as whether and how they had access to the informal memo on Omos. Both courts denied the police’s request, saying that they had not significantly demonstrated that they had explored all investigative avenues before demanding journalists reveal their sources.

In the District Court’s opinion, however, they believe the memo was put together for the sole purpose of “impugning the reputation” of Omos, as public protest against his impending deportation was growing. The accusations made against Omos in the memo would later prove to be false and misleading.

ANSAmed takes us to Portugal and passing marks from the troikarchs:

Portugal passes latest troika test

  • 2014 growth to be at 1% of GDP, says deputy PM

he Portuguese government announced on Friday that the so-called troika of international creditors (ECB,EU, and IMF) had approved the efforts undertaken by the country to comply with the aid program agreed three years ago in exchange for a 76-billion-euro loan.

‘’The twelfth assessment was positive,’‘ Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas said in a press conference, underscoring the ‘’climate of confidence coming from all European markets.’‘ Portas added that the international creditors had urged the government to push forward with reforms that the opposition, unions and most citizens – including military and police associations – are against.

The deputy prime minister underscored that at the June 2011 swearing in of Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservative government, interest rates on ten-year government bonds had stood at 10.6%, whereas they have now dropped to 3.6%.

thinkSPAIN covers Labor Day outrage:

Protests in Barcelona and the Basque Country end in arson attacks and vandalism on high-street banks and wheelie-bins

DEMONSTRATIONS in Barcelona and the Basque Country turned violent after May Day with numerous arrests for setting fire to bins and vandalising branches of banks.

Financial entities in three provinces in the Basque Country suffered graffiti, broken windows due to stones thrown at them and in one case, flammable liquid thrown at it.

An 18-year-old man was arrested in San Sebastián yesterday (Friday) in the early hours of the morning throwing tins of paint at the shop fronts of four banks.

From the Guardian, another kind of battle centeerd around Franco family values:

Students at Spanish college fight ban on men using washing machines

  • Madrid residence threatens to expel male students who do their own laundry – they are told to find female friends to do it instead

Despite repeated calls for more than three years for a change in the rules, the code of conduct at the Duque de Ahumada de la Guardia Civil residence continues to specify that “use of the washing machines by male residents will result in expulsion, ranging from 15 days to three months, from the residence”.

Male students at the dorm, which caters for the children and grandchildren of Guardia Civil officers, are instead instructed to quietly pass their clothes to female friends to be washed.

The association that represents Guardia Civil officers is demanding that the rule be changed. “What is being asked of residents is obsolete, unjust, sexist and borderline ridiculous,” Francisco Cecilia, of the Unified Guardia Civil Association told El Mundo. “In today’s world, it makes no sense that male residents would have to secretly pass their clothes to a female or visit a laundromat to do their laundry.”

Kathimerini English takes us to Greek and pitch preparations:

Greece gears up for debt talks

Stournaras to put forward suggestions on how to reduce annual repayments at Monday’s Eurogroup

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is due to ask his eurozone counterparts Monday to begin considering further debt relief for Greece, with the government already having drafted a number of options to reduce the repayments the country faces in the years to come.

Having achieved a primary surplus of 1.5 billion euros in 2013, Greece will demand that the Eurogroup lives up to its November 2012 commitment to examine other ways of reducing the country’s giant debt burden of roughly 175 percent of gross domestic product. It is highly unlikely, though, that Stournaras will get an immediate answer. The matter will probably be referred to the Euro Working Group, with the technical team that advises eurozone finance ministers being asked to come up with proposals on how to reduce Greece’s debt.

“Discussions will begin but there are a number of preconditions to be met, not just the primary surplus,” a high-ranking European Union official told Kathimerini. “That is why the negotiations will take place when the next [troika] review [of the Greek adjustment program] has been completed.”

But MacroPolis casts doubt on any rosy scenarios:

Greek Parliament’s budget office questions primary surplus sustainability

In its latest quarterly report released on Friday, the Greek Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) argues that despite significant achievements in 2014, the Greek economy still has a long way to go to overcome the obstacles in its path.

The PBO notes the ratification of Greece’s primary surplus in 2013, the government’s agreement with the troika and the 5-year bond issue but expresses scepticism about whether the country can meet its targets in the next few years.

Commenting on the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFS) for 2015 – 2018, which was submitted to Parliament this week, the PBO stresses that the government’s primary surplus targets are overly optimistic for 2016-18. According to the MTFS, the government aims for a primary surplus at 2.3 – 2.5 percent of GDP in 2014-15 increasing to 3.5 – 5.3 percent of GDP in the succeeding three years.

From Kathimerini English, a crucial test for the number three party:

Supreme Court to decide on Golden Dawn ahead of May vote

The so-called secret charter of Golden Dawn, which came to the surface during the ongoing probe into Greece’s ultranationalist party, and the potential inclusion of candidates facing criminal charges on the party’s ticket are expected to determine whether GD will get the green light from the Supreme Court to run in the upcoming European Parliament elections, Kathimerini understands.

Authorities have used the charter, which lays out the Nazi-type structure and fascist ideology of the party, as the basis for charges against several Golden Dawn MPs who are accused of setting up and participating in a criminal organization.

Sources told Kathimerini, GD is unlikely to nominate any of the MPs under probe. The party has already set up a surrogate organization, National Dawn, to take its place should it be banned from running in the vote.

Cyprus next, and good news for bank account holders from EUbusiness:

Bailed out Cyprus lifts last main capital controls

Cyprus abolished restrictions on cashing cheques Friday as it lifted the last main domestic capital controls imposed more than a year ago to avoid a run on banks during bailout negotiations.

“With the new 29th decree issued today by the minister of finance, all restrictions on domestic transactions are lifted… except the opening of a new bank account,” the finance ministry said.

The controls lifted on Friday were a ban on the cashing of cheques and limits on transactions and payments of 50,000 euros ($69,000) for individuals and 200,000 euros for companies.

After the jump, Uruguay goes to pot, Venezuelan forebodings, mixed signals from the Chinese economy, stalled TPP talks, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Headlines: EconoEcoKleptoMegaManiacs


Once again, a collection of things economic, political, ecological, and more, complete with Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, from TechWeekEurope, an ominous notice that Big Brother intends you to wear him, ushering in the dawn of a new era of Taylorism:

Research Proves Wearable Tech Increases Employee Productivity

  • Rakspace says the main challenge now is harvesting data generated by employees’ devices for analytics

Adoption of wearable technology in the workplace can increase staff productivity and job satisfaction, suggests research commissioned by Rackspace.

However, IT professionals have raised concerns about the security of newly-generated data and the sudden increase in IT workloads caused by the introduction of devices like the Fitbit, Pebble and Google Glass.

The findings are the result of the Human Cloud at Work project [PDF], which looks at the impact wearable devices could have on the corporate environment.

Next up, a delay for a key piece of the neoliberal, Ayn Randian agenda from Global Times:

US senators voice concerns over prospects of TPP trade talks

US senators expressed on Thursday concerns over the prospects of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal despite progress made last week between the United States and Japan.

Orrin Hatch, the top Republican at the Senate Finance Committee, said the administration’s trade agenda was at risk of failure without trade promotion authority (TPA).

“I do not believe you can conclude high-standard agreements that will meet Congress’ approval without TPA,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. “History tells us very clearly that without TPA, your trade agenda will almost certainly fail.”

TPA, known as “fast track” trade legislation, provides that Congress must vote up or down on a proposed trade agreement without the possibility of amendment. Without that guarantee, it’s more difficult for other negotiating countries to make significant concessions.

Another significant voice joins in, via Open Media:

Top U.S. Senator: TPP’s secrecy must end and the agreement must “reflect the need for a free and open Internet”

On April 30th, 2014, over 3.1 million citizens and over 50 organizations united in a historic campaign to Stop The Secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Our campaign culminated in our biggest and brightest projection in Washington D.C. last night – check out the images here.

Then, the next day, one of the most powerful members of the United States Congress, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) spoke out during a crucial Senate Hearing to call for an end to the extreme secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Senator Wyden explained, “Too often, there is trade secrecy instead of trade transparency. Bringing the American people into full and open debates on trade agreements that have the effect of law is not too much to ask.” In addition, Wyden also assured citizens that any agreements – including the TPP, “must reflect the need for a free and open internet, strong labor rights, environmental protections, and must be backed by stronger enforcement.”

From the Economic Times, a needed qualification:

Why the US unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%

The unemployment rate plunged for adult high school drop-outs to 8.9 percent from 9.6 percent. But April was a cruel period for them: The number of employed high school drop-outs fell to 9.9 million from 10.1 million. More than 200,000 of them lost jobs.

Their unemployment rate fell because even more of them _ 308,000 _ retired, gave up their search or never started looking for work. That’s a huge negative.

The overall unemployment rate fell primarily because fewer people started looking for work in April. More than 4 million Americans typically do so each month. But in April, only 3.7 million did.

That caused the number of people either working or looking for work to shrink, which, in turn, contributed to lower unemployment rates.

From the New York Times, notable numbers:

Why the Housing Market Is Still Stalling the Economy

Except in a few booming markets, housing is nowhere close to pulling its economic weight. Consider this:

Investment in residential property remains a smaller share of the overall economy than at any time since World War II, contributing less to growth than it did even in previous steep downturns in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit 20 percent, or the early 1990s, when hundreds of mortgage lenders failed.

If building activity returned merely to its postwar average proportion of the economy, growth would jump this year to a booming, 1990s-like level of 4 percent, from today’s mediocre 2-plus percent. The additional building, renovating and selling of homes would add about 1.5 million jobs and knock about a percentage point off the unemployment rate, now 6.7 percent. That activity would close nearly 40 percent of the gap between America’s current weak economic state and full economic health.

Resistance, via Al Jazeera America:

Postal workers resist privatization plans

Employees fear outsourcing of mail processing to Staples store counters and potential sale of post office branches

In a recent video message posted to the U.S. Postal Service’s YouTube channel, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe appeared incredulous and indignant about protests that have erupted across the nation over changes he’s instituted. “There’s no interest in privatizing,” he said. “Do not let people get you confused.”

If that message was aimed at soothing the increasing nervousness on the part of postal employee unions, the postmaster failed to deliver. As seen in the simultaneous demonstrations in 27 states last week, as well as the postal employees’ presence at International Workers’ Day rallies on Thursday, several decisions by Donahoe have only heightened fears among America’s postal workers.

The most visible sign of union angst is the movement to thwart Donahoe’s aim of putting full-service USPS counters in 1,500 Staples stores, to be staffed with the office supply chain’s own, lower-paid employees. Yet that’s just the latest in a string of changes that seem geared toward outsourcing various postal jobs, which include efforts to consolidate processing plants and contract out the trucking of mail from plants to post offices.

From the Los Angeles Times, another notable number:

Seattle mayor proposes $15 minimum wage

A day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate quashed an effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal Thursday for a $15 municipal minimum wage that he said would “improve the lives of workers who can barely afford to live” in this high-tech city on Puget Sound.

Declaring it a “historic” day for progressives seeking to address the issue of income inequality, Murray laid out his complex and controversial proposal, which would be phased in over several years at different rates for large and small businesses. At least initially, income from tips and employer-provided health insurance would be taken into account.

If the City Council agrees, Murray said, Seattle will prove itself to be “an incubator of democracy,” leading the national conversation to address “the growing problem of income inequality.

And for our final U.S. item, the arrival of a filler four times deadlier than SARS from The Wire:

MERS Reaches the U.S. for the First Time

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said on Friday that a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in the U.S. for the first time. The CDC said the MERS-infected patient is a healthcare worker who came to Indiana from Saudi Arabia, adding that it is collaborating with Indiana health officials to investigate the case. Per the CDC:

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.

MERS, a SARS-like virus that was first detected in 2012, has largely affected patients in Saudi Arabia, but has broken out throughout the Middle East and has made an appearance in Greece, Britain, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries. Since 2012, more than 300 Saudi Arabians were hit with the virus, and local officials have reported a recent surge in patients. Only about two-thirds of those diagnosed with the virus survived.

Off to Europe and qualified relief from Reuters:

Euro zone joblessness barely falls in March

The number of people out of work in the euro zone fell slightly in March but remained near a record high, a sign that European households are yet to feel the bloc’s economic recovery and are unlikely help generate growth in the short term.

Around 18.91 million people were jobless in the 18-nation bloc in March, 22,000 less than in February, or 11.8 percent of the working population, the EU statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

That is slightly down from the record 12-percent level a year ago, while the 11.8 percent reading was the same as in February. The February reading was revised down by Eurostat from 11.9 percent earlier.

So what do the numbers show for the European Union? A spectrum ranging of Austrian at the low of 4.9 percent to Greece, with a high of 26.7 percent. Via Eurostat [PDF], click on the image to enlarge:

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

Reuters again, and more qualified numbers:

Euro zone factory recovery broadens, except for France

The recovery in euro zone manufacturing accelerated at the start of the second quarter with solid growth across most of the bloc although French factories struggled to maintain momentum, a business survey showed on Friday.

Growth was again led by Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and previously-lagging companies in Spain and Italy reported better business last month.

It was the first time since November 2007 that all PMIs in the region indicated growth – coming in above the 50 break-even level.

On to austerian Britain and some truly grim numbers from The Independent:

UK has second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, study finds

  • Leading doctors and midwives accuse Government of ‘failing to protect’ British children

The UK has the second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, a major new study has revealed, as leading doctors and midwives accuse the Government of “failing to protect” British children during the financial crisis.

In findings which were described as “shocking” by children’s charities, and which caused surprise among the researchers themselves, the UK ranked behind much poorer countries such as Cyprus and Greece and for prevention of mortality in under-fives.

The under-five mortality rate for the UK was 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births. Only Malta, a country which ranks well behind the UK in terms of wealth, performed worse in the Western European region. The UK mortality rate was more than twice as high as the best-performing country, Iceland, and 25 per cent higher than the Western European average.

The Guardian covers more dubious numbers:

British aid money invested in gated communities and shopping centres

  • CDC development fund insists projects will create jobs in poor countries but NGOs accuse government of helping big business

Millions of pounds of British aid money to tackle poverty overseas has been invested in builders of gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries, the Guardian can reveal.

CDC, the little-known investment arm of the British aid programme, has invested more than $260m (£154m) in 44 property and construction companies in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

At least 20 of these are hotels, shopping centres or companies that build or manage gated communities and luxury property, according to Guardian research.

On to Sweden, and some non-metaphorical alarm bells from TheLocal.se:

Neo-Nazis spark first church alarm since WWII

The churches in Jönköping rang their bells in warning for two hours on May Day as neo-Nazis took to the streets. The alarm marked the first of its kind for the central Sweden town since World War II broke out.

“We chose to ring the bells because we think it’s a threat to our open society when our streets play host to messages that do not respect every person’s value and dignity,” Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) priest Fredrik Hollertz told The Local on Friday.

“We wanted to use what we used in the days of old.”

On to Germany and more interesting numbers from the London Telegraph:

Germany’s interest in Adolf Hitler at record levels

  • Germans more interested in Adolf Hitler than at any time since the Allied defeat of his Third Reich at the end of the Second World War, study finds

Germans are more interested in Adolf Hitler that at any time since the end of the Second World War, a new study has concluded.

The German Media Control research group, which monitors broadcasting, found that documentaries about Hitler are aired twice a day on German television channels and that books and films about the Nazi leader are being produced in record numbers.

It established that 242 programmes dealing specifically with Hitler had been shown on television during the first four months of 2013, while 500 other films and documentaries that had dealt with the Nazi era in general had also been aired.

Some 2,000 books on Hitler were published in Germany last year.

Next, France, and yet more interesting numbers from TheLocal.fr:

Is France really a nation of Eurosceptics?

A recent poll showed fewer than half of the French people believe the EU is a good thing for their country, which is a troubling trend for one of the union’s founders. The Local hit the streets to find out if the French really have become a nation of Eurosceptics.

With European parliament elections just weeks away the French may be having a British moment.

A poll commissioned by French daily Le Figaro recently found that only 44 percent of the French people think the European Union is good for their country, which appears at a first sight a dizzying plummet in one of the Union’s founders and an arch promoter of the project.

But the apparent turning of the tide against the EU has been growing for some time. A study last year showed the French public were rapidly falling out of love with Brussels. What was perhaps most alarming was that the widespread disaffection with the union was spreading quicker in France than in any other country on the continent.

TheLocal.fr again, and a decision sure to please the resurgent Right:

Landmark ruling bars lesbians from adopting

In a landmark decision a lesbian couple were barred from adopting a child, who was conceived through artificial insemination outside France. One gay-rights group slammed the decision saying “Children of LGBT families are the new bastards of the Republic”.

Judges in Versailles refused a request this week by a lesbian woman to adopt a 4-year-old child, who was conceived in Belgium by her partner, thanks to medically assisted procreation (MAP) or artificial insemination.

Currently in France methods of medically assisted procreation like IVF are reserved only for heterosexual couples, who have difficulty having children. However thousands of babies are thought to be born in France each year that were conceived abroad through articificial insemination.

On to the Alps, with TheLocal.ch:

Swiss have world’s highest prices: new study

Residents who find Switzerland to be a costly place to live now have more proof: the mountain country ranks as the most expensive nation on the planet, according to a new study from the World Bank.

The International Comparison Program report, released on Tuesday in the US, compares purchasing power and real expenditures of 177 countries using statistics from 2011.

Switzerland ranks ahead of Norway, Bermuda, Australia and Denmark in the table for highest “price level indexes,” the report says.

Portugal next, with an imprimatur from ANSAmed:

Portugal passes latest troika test

  • 2014 growth to be at 1% of GDP, says deputy PM

The Portuguese government announced on Friday that the so-called troika of international creditors (ECB,EU, and IMF) had approved the efforts undertaken by the country to comply with the aid program agreed three years ago in exchange for a 76-billion-euro loan.

‘’The twelfth assessment was positive,’‘ Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas said in a press conference, underscoring the ‘’climate of confidence coming from all European markets.’‘ Portas added that the international creditors had urged the government to push forward with reforms that the opposition, unions and most citizens – including military and police associations – are against.

The deputy prime minister underscored that at the June 2011 swearing in of Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservative government, interest rates on ten-year government bonds had stood at 10.6%, whereas they have now dropped to 3.6%.

The Portugal News charts a financial invasion:

Brits lead property sale surge

The sale of property in Portugal has recorded positive growth during the first quarter of 2014, the Chairman of National Real Estate Association (APEMIP) revealed this week, with the appetite of British buyers for Portuguese houses showing renewed signs of recovery.

Luís Lima explained that foreign investment played a considerable role in the improvement of the national real estate market, representing 14 percent of the total number of sales during the first three months of the year. However, estimates are that this percentage is substantially greater when solely taking into consideration the monetary value of property sales involving foreign buyers.

“A factor which helped boost figures this past quarter most was the increase in foreign investment and, for example, we started seeing more sales in the Algarve”, Luís Lima told the Lusa News Agency after the release of the association’s latest numbers.

The APEMIP chief put the latest “animated figures” for the first quarter down to mounting interest from foreign buyers, revealing that a total of 24,000 properties changed hands between January and March.

The Portugal News, with an anti-stricke strike:

Inmates launch hunger strike against strike

Fifteen inmates being held in the Monsanto maximum security prison have launched a hunger strike to protest against strike action being taken by prison guards.

According to a report by newspaper Diário de Notícias the inmates are taking action of their own in protest to the guards’ strikes which reduce their access to phone calls and visits.

On to Spain with El País, and that old hard times intolerance, taking the field:

Just another “isolated” racist incident?

  • The throwing of a banana at Barça’s Alves highlights the reluctance to tackle racial abuse in sport

The initial response of the authorities to the banana that was thrown at Barcelona’s Dani Alves during an away match at Villarreal on April 27 was that it was an isolated incident. The problem is that the history of sport, in Spain and around the world, is full of isolated incidents. And after a while, they all add up.

Which is not to say that in some countries action isn’t finally being taken against racism in sport. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, was recently banned for life from the game, and will likely be forced to sell up after he was recorded telling his girlfriend in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want her bringing black people to games.

“The attitude of the State Commission Against Violence and Racism is lazy and laissez-faire,” says Esteban Ibarra, a member of the two anti-racist organizations in Spain. “All that happens here is that we cover up racism and violence.” It is an attitude that many sports fans will recognize from the way the Spanish authorities have failed to deal with doping.

A provocative push with a purpose from TheLocal.es:

Spanish region to tax owners of empty homes

Spain’s Catalonia region is looking at taxing the owners of properties that have stood empty for more than two years in a bid to increase stocks of social housing.

Under the draft legislation, property owners would have to register properties that have been empty for more than two years as of January 1st 2015. They would then be taxed accordingly. The planned tax is targeted primarily at financial institutions and would be gradual, with annual taxes levied on each property of €500 ($690) to €16,500 depending on how many properties are owned.

The proposal will help breathe life into a market where 15,000 people lost their homes in 2013, Catalonia’s government said in a statement.

On to Italy and a truly gruesome crime from TheLocal.it:

‘Mafia is behind stolen anti-cancer drugs’

A highly organized crime ring is behind the distribution of stolen and fake anti-cancer drugs throughout Europe, an Italian official told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Domenico Di Giorgio, the director of the prevention of counterfeiting at the Italian Medicines Agency, the pharmaceutical watchdog, said that “organized crime is certainly involved” in the racket, which has raised concern among pharmaceutical professionals that the drugs may be inefficient or even deadly.

Di Giorgio’s agency is currently carrying out an investigation into the matter along with the Italian antifraud squad, the Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità Carabinieri.

“There’s a central structure apparently based in Italy that commissions thefts of medicines in hospitals,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [and lots of it], boycotts and bailouts in the Ukrainian/Russia conflict, a provocative Israeli move, Brazilian drought and a political preemption, a seismic economic shift in Asia, Chinese financial developments [including a bubble alert], Japanese bankster boosterism, TPP demands, environemtnal woes, visions of epidemics, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Labor, wealth, pols, porn, more


Belated postuing today, thanks to a visit from grandbaby Sadie Rose and parents.

First up, form McClatchy Washington Bureau, consolidating the wealth:

Report: large employers could shift nearly all workers’ health coverage to marketplace by 2020

A new investor report predicts that Standard & Poor’s 500 companies could shift 90 percent of their workforce from job-based health coverage to individual insurance sold on the nation’s marketplaces by 2020.

If all U.S. companies with 50 or more employees followed suit, they could collectively save $3.25 trillion through 2025, according to the report by S&P Capital IQ, a division of McGraw Hill Financial.

Standard & Poor’s 500 companies could save $689 billion over the same period if they did likewise, the report found. Savings for S&P 500 companies could top $800 billion if health care inflation remains at the traditional 7.5 percent rate over the next decade, the report estimates.

From Wall Street On Parade, that’s classified:

Suspicious Deaths of Bankers Are Now Classified as “Trade Secrets” by Federal Regulator

It doesn’t get any more Orwellian than this: Wall Street mega banks crash the U.S. financial system in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of financial industry workers lose their jobs. Then, beginning late last year, a rash of suspicious deaths start to occur among current and former bank employees.  Next we learn that four of the Wall Street mega banks likely hold over $680 billion face amount of life insurance on their workers, payable to the banks, not the families. We ask their Federal regulator for the details of this life insurance under a Freedom of Information Act request and we’re told the information constitutes “trade secrets.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy of a 25 year old male with a Bachelor’s degree or higher as of 2006 was 81 years of age. But in the past five months, five highly educated JPMorgan male employees in their 30s and one former employee aged 28, have died under suspicious circumstances, including three of whom allegedly leaped off buildings – a statistical rarity even during the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

CNNMoney torpedoes the workforce:

Subway leads fast food industry in underpaying workers

McDonald’s gets a lot of bad press for its low pay. But there’s an even bigger offender when it comes to fast food companies underpaying their employees: Subway.

Individual Subway franchisees have been found in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations spanning from 2000 to 2013, according to a CNNMoney analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Each investigation can lead to multiple violations and fines. Combined, these cases found about 17,000 Fair Labor Standards Act violations and resulted in franchisees having to reimburse Subway workers more than $3.8 million over the years.

From CNBC, peonage and the classroom:

The other student debt crisis

Student debt is straining millions of students’ finances, and it is a hot-button topic on college campuses across the country. But if you look at who is really borrowing heavily, it’s the graduate students.

Graduate students made up less than 18 percent of all the students receiving federal loans in the academic year 2012-2013, but they received about 40 percent of the federal money, according to an analysis of Department of Education data. And a study released in March by the New America Foundation found that for the roughly 64 percent of graduate students who take out loans, the median debt for their undergraduate and graduate education was over $57,000 in 2012, up from just over $40,000 in 2004.

“The people who are borrowing are borrowing everything,” said Jason Delisle, director of the federal education budget project at the New America Foundation and the author of the recent study. “If you’re going to borrow for graduate school, it’s generally not people who are borrowing just to fill in the gaps.”

More woes for students, from the Christian Science Monitor:

State college tuition skyrocketed during recession, study finds

Strapped from the recession, states foisted more of the cost of public college tuition onto students. In 45 states, tuition rose more than 20 percent since 2008. The trend is only now starting to ease.

As state budgets bounce back from the Great Recession, most are starting to increase their funding of higher education, an area of spending where cuts went especially deep. But all but two states – Alaska and North Dakota – still spend less per student than they did before the recession.

With both college tuition and student loans skyrocketing in recent years, much attention has gone to those state funding levels – a major reason behind the spiraling cost of attending college, at least for public institutions. A new report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington think tank, quantifies just how much funding for public colleges and universities was cut in the past six years, and what the effects of those cuts have been.

“In many states the cuts have been extraordinarily deep,” said Michael Mitchell, an author of the report, in a call with reporters. “Over the last 25 years, nearly every state has shifted higher education costs from the state to students – this has been a trend for some time. But the recession, and the years following the recession, absolutely kicked this trend into high gear…. The cuts are in part a result of state revenue collapse, but they were also a product of poor policy choices, with states relying on spending cuts to make up for lost revenue.”

From Newswise, twice victimized:

Unemployment Common After Breast Cancer Treatment

  • Women who had chemotherapy less likely to be employed 4 years later

Nearly one-third of breast cancer survivors who were working when they began treatment were unemployed four years later. Women who received chemotherapy were most affected, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Researchers surveyed woman in Detroit and Los Angeles who had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. They narrowed their sample to the 746 women who reported working at the time they were diagnosed. Participants were surveyed about nine months after diagnosis, and then given a follow-up survey about four years later.

Overall, 30 percent of these working women said they were no longer working at the time of the four-year follow-up survey. Women who received chemotherapy were more likely to report that they were not working four years later.

Many of these women reported that they want to work: 55 percent of those not working said it was important for them to work and 39 percent said they were actively looking for work. Those who were not working were significantly more likely to report they were worse off financially. Results of the study appear in the journal Cancer.

Obama whines, via Techdirt:

Obama Complains That TPP Critics Are ‘Conspiracy Theorists’ Who ‘Lack Knowledge’ About Negotiations

from the well,-that-would-appear-to-be-your-own-fault dept

It’s become fairly clear that the TPP agreement is in trouble these days (for a variety of reasons). And it appears that President Obama is losing his cool concerning the agreement and its critics. In a press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, President Obama lashed out at TPP critics, calling them “conspiracy theorists” whose criticism “reflects lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations.” Oh really?

If you take an issue like drugs, for example, the United States does extraordinary work in research and development, and providing medical breakthroughs that save a lot of lives around the world. Those companies that make those investments in that research oftentimes want a return, and so there are all kinds of issues around intellectual property and patents, and so forth.

At the same time, I think we would all agree that if there’s a medicine that can save a lot of lives, then we’ve got to find a way to make sure that it’s available to folks who simply can’t afford it as part of our common humanity. And both those values are reflected in the conversations and negotiations that are taking place around TPP. So the assumption somehow that right off the bat that’s not something we’re paying attention to, that reflects lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations.

More on the TPP from the Japan Daily Press:

TPP deal talks in the ‘last stretch’ says Japanese official

A week after U.S. President Barack Obama left Japan after a three-day state visit that saw no conclusion to bilateral negotiations crucial to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, a high-ranking official from Japan said that significant progress has been made but further efforts are needed to finalize an agreement.

Speaking to reporters via a translator in New York, Senior Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office Yasutoshi Nishimura said that the two countries are in the “last stretch” of their negotiations. He admitted that while there “was some progress” last week, “there still remains a gap and we have to make efforts to come to a compromise.” He added that the final stages of talks will be difficult as it seemed that neither side wants to budge on some of their considerations, particularly in agriculture for Japan and automobiles for the US. Finalizing a TPP deal is essential in the growth strategy of the so-called “Abenomics,” a series of economic policies introduced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to increase consumer spending and ease monetary policies. This strategy was proposed by no other than Nishimura to the prime minister.

And from TMZ, the first of two porno posts:

Samuel L. Jackson

Stop Promoting Free Porn …Say Angry XXX Actors

Samuel L. Jackson likes his porn … but he wants it for FREE … and that’s pissing off some XXX stars who accuse Sam of promoting film piracy.

Jackson — aka Nick Fury —  was at a news conference for the new Capt. America movie when he was asked to name one of the best pop culture achievements of the last 50 years. SLJ had a quick answer: RedTube — the free porn sharing website.

Now some actors in the skin biz are demanding an apology from Sam … telling TMZ RedTube is nothing more than a pirate site that allows users to illegally post stolen porn.  And, they add, “Superheroes don’t steal porn.”

Our second porn post, via Al Jazeera:

PayPal blocking transactions of porn professionals

  • Emails obtained by cite concerns over webcam transactions and security

Online payment giant PayPal closed porn star Teal Conrad’s accounts and “banned her from the site,” she told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, one day after a report on how financial institutions are shutting out clients who work in the adult entertainment industry.

An email sent by PayPal to Conrad, obtained by Al Jazeera, said: “We’ve recently reviewed your PayPal account activity and determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy regarding your sales / offers of cam shows.”

PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy bars people from using the service for transactions involving “certain sexually oriented materials or services.”

Digesting legal weed with the Independent:

Colorado’s new cannabis laws: OK to smoke, not OK to eat

Colorado, the US state which recently became the first to legalise cannabis for recreational use, is considering new legislation to govern pot-infused food. A task force comprised of lawmakers and marijuana producers met in Aurora, near Denver, on Wednesday to begin discussing new rules for the labelling and consumption of so-called “edibles”, following two recent deaths that were said to have been marijuana-related.

In late 2012, Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment legalising marijuana for recreational use. The new law came into force on 1 January 2014, when legal commercial weed sales began. In its first month, the state raised around $2m (£1.2m) in pot taxes.

For many, edible pot products have proved to be a more practical alternative to smoking the drug: the law prohibits smoking weed outdoors and few hotels allow it on their premises. Yet while edibles are increasingly popular, there are also widespread complaints from consumers that they are inadvertently ingesting too much pot too quickly, leading to bad experiences.

From The Register, getting a little for a lot?:

Google Glass teardown puts rock-bottom price on hardware

  • Google objects to notion that $1500 headset only costs $80 to make

A teardown report on Google Glass is raising eyebrows over suggestions that the augmented reality headset costs as little as $80 to produce.

Researchers with the TechInsights’ teardown.com service placed the bill of materials (BOM) of the device at a mere $79.78. The report, which considers the cost of components ranging from processor and battery to non-electric structural pieces, estimates that no part of a Glass headset costs the company more than $14.

Thus far, Google has limited the Glass headset to tightly-controlled demo programs and a one-day sale which require users to cough up $1,500 to get their hands on the headset.

Al Jazeera America covers the plight of Native Americans in the U.S.:

Exclusive: Navajo Nation report raises concerns on ‘food sovereignty’

  • Researchers suggest the nation needs to develop homegrown solutions to counter the scarcity of healthy food

Many in the Navajo Nation do not have the food they need, even though more than half the population receives some kind of nutritional subsidy, according to a study by Navajo Nation researchers released exclusively to Al Jazeera.

The inability to adequately feed its people poses a threat to the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty and sustainability, according to the study’s authors, who suggest the need to develop homegrown solutions to food scarcity.

The Diné Food Sovereignty Report, the most extensive exploration to date on the nation’s food supply, is scheduled for release next week by the Navajo think tank the Diné Policy Institute (DPI). The study reveals that 63 percent of 230 Navajo people surveyed receive some kind of government food subsidy such as food stamps.

And the Canadian Press covers their plight north of the border:

Report of 1,000 murdered or missing aboriginal women spurs calls for inquiry

  • APTN reports RCMP arrived at tally after contacting other police forces across Canada

The Conservative government is resisting renewed calls for an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls despite a media report that suggests there may be hundreds more cases than previously thought.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney was asked Thursday to finally call a inquiry in light of a report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that Canada may be home to more than 1,000 cases of murdered and missing women.

His answer, in short: no.

Instead, Blaney launched a partisan broadside against the NDP’s refusal to support the government’s budget bill, which includes a five-year, $25-million renewal of money aimed at stopping violence against aboriginal women and girls.

And another nother-of-the-border woe from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Rob Ford takes leave as recent drug video emerges

A second video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what has been described as crack cocaine by a self-professed drug dealer was secretly filmed in his sister’s basement early Saturday morning.

The clip, which was viewed by two Globe and Mail reporters, shows Mr. Ford taking a drag from a long copper-coloured pipe, exhaling a cloud of smoke and then frantically shaking his right hand. The footage is part of a package of three videos that the drug dealer says he surreptitiously shot around 1:15 a.m., and which he says he is now selling for “at least six figures.”

The footage comes to light weeks after Mr. Ford embarked on a re-election campaign styled on the importance of second chances and forgiving mistakes. Nearly a year ago, the mayor thrust himself into worldwide infamy when another drug dealer, Mohamed Siad, tried to sell another video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack to media outlets in Canada and the United States. At the time, the mayor denied using the drug, only to later admit that he had smoked crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor” and that he was not an addict.

Off to Europe starting with a bubble alarm from the Guardian:

Bank of England warns UK housing market could suffer hard landing

Deputy governor for financial stability says it’s ‘dangerous’ to ignore momentum in housing market, and warns it could end in sharp correction and negative equity for many households

And the neoliberal agenda strike again, tragically. From the Guardian:

Owen Paterson defends ‘privatising’ UK environmental science agency

  • New commercial partner sought for Food and Research Agency, but Labour denounces move as a ‘secretive sell-off’

The UK environment secretary has defended government plans to seek a private investor for its environmental science agency.

But the Labour party said that the lack of detail from Owen Paterson made the move look like a “secretive sell-off” and “anti-science”.

The Guardian reported on Monday that plans were in motion to open up the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which undertakes research on pesticides, bee health, GM safety, alien pests and food-testing, to a joint venture with investment from the private sector.

Easing separation anxieties with the London Telegraph:

Scottish ‘yes’ vote could improve UK credit, says Moody’s

  • Moody’s has said an independent Scotland would likely receive an investment grade rating and that the rest of the UK’s credit could actually be improved in the event of a ‘yes’ vote

Britain could end up with a better credit rating if Scotland votes for independence, with a ‘yes’ providing the catalyst for an upgrade of the remaining UK’s debt, according to Moody’s.

The rating agency said Scottish independence was “unlikely” to have any impact on the country’s credit and that the elimination of the sizeable fiscal transfers between the rest of Britain and Scotland could actually be a “credit positive”.

In a series of reports on the impact of independence, Moody’s said it believed Scotland would likely hold an investment grade rating, but warned that the rest of the UK would only maintain its current credit if the Scottish accepted their share of Britain’s debt pile.

From the Guardian, austerianism strikes again:

Freeze minimum wage for a decade, says Commission of Audit

  • Level should be reduced to 44% of average weekly earnings, or $486.20 a week, from its current $622.20, says report

The minimum wage should be frozen for a decade, reduced to 44% of average weekly earnings and vary between states and territories, according to the Commission of Audit.

The current minimum wage is $622.20 a week, or $16.37 an hour, about 56% of average weekly earnings. Reducing it by 44% this year would see it fall to $486.20 a week.

The report recommends that the cut could be implemented over 10 years by keeping the growth at 1 percentage point less than inflation.

And from the Independent, the geography of health:

People born in the wealthy south east have 14 more years without disability than those from Liverpool or Manchester

Further evidence of the scale of the UK’s health divide was revealed today as it emerged that those born in the richest London boroughs and affluent parts of the South East can expect to enjoy up to 14 years of additional disability-free life compared with those from the most deprived parts of England.

An average man born in Liverpool or Manchester will live for just 56 years before developing a major life-limiting condition, spending a quarter of his natural span coping with disability, figures published by the Office for National Statistics have revealed.

The findings have major implications for health policy makers who were urged to take urgent steps to end the lifespan lottery of an individual’s birthplace dictating their future longevity and wellbeing.

On to Sweden and more hard times intolerance from TheLocal.se:

Mass arrests at neo-Nazi May Day demonstration

A total of 19 people have been arrested and dozens of others carted away following clashes at a neo-Nazi May Day march in Jönköping, central Sweden, where counter demonstrators outnumbered the far-right activists.

The protest march by the right wing Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas party – SVP) attracted a large police presence, reckoned to be as high as 450 officers, following trouble at a similar rally last year.

In addition to the 19 arrests, a further 90 people were taken away from the scene by bus. Another 32 people were taken into custody on grounds of causing disorder. It’s understood that of the 19 arrests, 13 of them were as a result of disobeying police orders.

And from Amsterdam, warnings of corporate misbehavin’ from DutchNews.nl:

Dutch central bank says trust office performances are ‘worrying’

Trust offices, which manage letter box companies in the Netherlands, are not doing their job properly, according to the Dutch central bank, the Financieele Dagblad reports on Thursday.

The central bank looked into 10 trust offices and concluded that only two were completely above board.

Four lost their licences, two were fined and two others are the subject of further investigation to assess if their managers are ‘suitable and trustworthy’, the Financieele Dagblad says.

Germany next, and a labor day demand from Deutsche Welle:

German unions demand wage minimum without loopholes

Germany’s DGB trade union federation has marked May Day by demanding that a minimum wage be introduced nationwide without loopholes. Leaders also blamed high youth unemployment in southern Europe on austerity policies.

Germany’s trade union chief Michael Sommer told Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government on Thursday to resist employer pressure for exceptions while legislating to introduce a planned hourly wage minimum of 8.50 euros ($11.50).

The minimum – known in German as ‘Mindestlohn’ and to be phased in over the next two years – was one of the key policy planks of the coalition which Merkel’s conservatives formed with the union-allied Social Democrats (SPD) in January.

Speaking at a May Day rally in Bremen, Sommer said “no hour should be cheaper than 8.50 euros,” adding that the unions saw that wage minimum’s introduction as a “test” on whether Merkel’s government was “really serious” about social justice.

Reuters delivers the cuts:

Siemens to cut thousands of jobs as part of new strategy: report

A new strategy to be unveiled by Siemens (SIEGn.DE) on May 7 will include thousands of job cuts, Germany’s Manager Magazin Online reported on Monday, citing several senior Siemens managers.

It said the strategy would see Siemens’ four main divisions – Industry, Energy, Healthcare and Infrastructure & Cities – dismantled, creating a flatter hierarchy and resulting in job cuts of roughly between 5,000-10,000.

It also said Siemens would announce an acquisition in the energy sector worth at least 1 billion euros ($1.38 billion), separate to the deal with Alstom (ALSO.PA) currently being considered by Siemens.

Off to Italy, and a judicial shoe-in from TheLocal.it:

Dolce & Gabbana duo get 18-month jail sentence

Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were on Wednesday sentenced to 18 months in prison for tax evasion, going against a prosecutor’s call last month to have the pair acquitted.

The designers were found guilty of €200 million worth of tax evasion, through the creation of a shell company in Luxembourg in 2004 and 2005.
Wednesday’s decision by Milan’s Court of Appeal upholds the guilty verdict of Dolce and Gabbana’s trial last year, reducing their prison sentences by two months.

After the jump, Latin American news, a postal privatization push Down Under, mixed economic and environmental news form China, economic uncertainly in Japan, emerging global environmental threats, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: A seismic Hispanic shift


Hispanics in the U.S. are now more likely to have been born in the U.S. than in countries south of the border. From the Pew Research Center [PDF]:

BLOG Hispanics

More headlines, politics, economics, & more


To be followed by another set from the world of zones, drones, spooks, and military posturing.

The New York Times gives us our first headline:

U.S. Economy Barely Grew in First Quarter

The American economy slammed on the brakes in the beginning of 2014, as weaker exports and lower spending by businesses essentially brought growth to a standstill.

At 0.1 percent, the pace of expansion in January, February and March was the slowest since late 2012, and revealed another one of the periodic pauses in the growth that has characterized the slow recovery of the last five years.

Many experts had predicted a slowing in the first quarter of 2014, especially in the wake of more robust growth in the second half of 2013 and very cold weather in January and February, but the figures released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday morning were still drastically below the 1.2 percent rate of expansion that Wall Street had been expecting.

So how did the markets respond? Well, they paid more attention to another report. From BBC News:

All three major US indexes closed higher on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones finishing at a record high

The Dow Jones rose 45.47 points to close at 16,580.84, four points above a previous high hit on 31 December 2013.

The S&P 500 index increased 5.62 points to 1,883.95, and the Nasdaq climbed 11.01 points to 4,114.56.

Traders cheered a US Federal Reserve statement which indicated the central bank thought the US economy was improving.

From the Los Angeles Times, another favor to the corporate bottom line:

GOP senators block minimum-wage hike but Democrats vow to try again

A top election-year proposal from Democrats — a bid to raise the federal minimum wage — was rejected by Republicans in the Senate, who blocked legislation Wednesday to boost the rate to $10.10 an hour.

President Obama has turned the plight of the nation’s low-wage workers into a battle cry for Democrats as they try to appeal to voters while the economy continues to sputter. Several states have advanced their own wage hikes amid congressional inaction.

“It’s time for Republicans in Congress to listen to the majority of Americans who say it’s time to give America a raise,” the president said before the midday vote.

However, the effort made little headway with Republicans, who argued that the rate hike would cost jobs. The measure was blocked by a GOP filibuster on a party-line vote, 54-42.

While BBC News has more bad news for the real losers in the game of greed:

American Dream breeds shame and blame for job seekers

  • Out-of-work Americans tend to blame themselves for their predicament

Decades ago, the American dream inspired employees, offering the promise of the good life. But now, with jobs disappearing, that dream has become a nightmare for the unemployed who see their joblessness as a personal – and shameful – failure.

Victor Tan Chen studies some of the unluckiest people in the US.

The sociology fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, researches car workers in cities like Detroit, hard-hit by the economic downturn and by long-term trends in the US industrial base.

“But they used to be the luckiest men in America,” Chen says.

From United Press International, a noble effort with questionable chances of success:

Senate Dems to attempt to reverse Citizens United

Democrats announced a plan to push for a constitutional amendment to undo changes to campaign finance rules wrought by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.

After complaining for four years about changes to campaign finance allowed by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Democrats are finally doing something about it.

Rules Committee Chair Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that Democrats would schedule a Senate vote for this year on an amendment, sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall. The amendment would overturn Citizens United and another recent decision that classified campaign spending as speech protected under the First Amendment and opened the door to corporation- and union-run SuperPACs that flooded the country with political advertisements.

“The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” Schumer said. “The First Amendment is sacred, but the First Amendment is not absolute. By making it absolute, you make it less sacred to most Americans. We have to bring some balance to our political system.”

ProPublica documents the sad plight of the concept of euqal justice under law:

The Rise of Corporate Impunity

Meet the only Wall St. executive prosecuted as a result of the financial crisis. Has justice been served?

American financial history has generally unfolded as a series of booms followed by busts followed by crackdowns. After the crash of 1929, the Pecora Hearings seized upon public outrage, and the head of the New York Stock Exchange landed in prison. After the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, 1,100 people were prosecuted, including top executives at many of the largest failed banks. In the ‘90s and early aughts, when the bursting of the Nasdaq bubble revealed widespread corporate accounting scandals, top executives from WorldCom, Enron, Qwest and Tyco, among others, went to prison.

The credit crisis of 2008 dwarfed those busts, and it was only to be expected that a similar round of crackdowns would ensue. In 2009, the Obama administration appointed Lanny Breuer to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer quickly focused on professionalizing the operation, introducing the rigor of a prestigious firm like Covington & Burling, where he had spent much of his career. He recruited elite lawyers from corporate firms and the Breu Crew, as they would later be known, were repeatedly urged by Breuer to “take it to the next level.”

But the crackdown never happened. Over the past year, I’ve interviewed Wall Street traders, bank executives, defense lawyers and dozens of current and former prosecutors to understand why the largest man-made economic catastrophe since the Depression resulted in the jailing of a single investment banker — one who happened to be several rungs from the corporate suite at a second-tier financial institution.

It brings a song to mind, one written the last time nation was dealing with the grim aftermath of a market collapse wrought by untrammeled greed.

From vlogger Evertnr11

Woody Guthrie: Pretty Boy Floyd

From the lyrics:

Well, you say that I’m an outlaw,
You say that I’m a thief.
Here’s a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

From NextGov, Warren weighs in on the new and noxious FFC rule proposals:

Elizabeth Warren: Internet ‘Fast Lanes’ Will Help ‘Rich and Powerful’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to enact strong net-neutrality rules to ensure that all websites receive equal service.

“Reports that the FCC may gut net neutrality are disturbing, and would be just one more way the playing field is tilted for the rich and powerful who have already made it,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in a Facebook post.

“Our regulators already have all the tools they need to protect a free and open Internet—where a handful of companies cannot block or filter or charge access fees for what we do online. They should stand up and use them.”

And from the China Post, the latest counter to Washington’s global neoliberal trade agenda:

China pressing for vast Asia-Pacific FTA as rival US-led deal runs into snags

China is pressing for a vast Asia-Pacific free trade agreement, a senior official said Wednesday, as a rival U.S.-led deal that excludes the Asian giant runs into snags.

Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, told reporters at a briefing that China has proposed setting up a working group to study the feasibility of an Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTAAP).

The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host.

The response from Washington was prompt, as China Daily reports:

US not edged out of Latin America: State

A US assistant secretary of state criticized the US media’s “Chicken Little” views on China’s growing engagement with Latin America, saying “it’s not a question of someone edging us (the US) out of a market”.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during a talk at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Calling the US’s Latin America relationships “the strongest they’ve ever been”, Jacobson said in response to an audience member’s question that she is “not particularly worried about (the US) becoming obsolete in the region” despite media reports that have suggested the country is “losing influence” in a part of the world considered its backyard. Jacobson attributed the negative portrayal to a US media obsession with the invading “country of the moment”.

“One day it’s China, one day Russia,” she said.

While the Economic Times covers another Washington worry:

China poised to overtake US economy: World Bank ranking

China is advancing rapidly to overtake the United States as the biggest economy in the world, new data shows, with the leader of the world economy since the 19th century possibly losing its top spot to the Asian giant from this year.

“The United States remained the world’s largest economy (in 2011), but it was closely followed by China” once data was adjusted for comparison on a standard basis, the World Bank said on Wednesday. “India was now the world’s third largest economy, moving ahead of Japan.”

In parallel, the OECD grouping 34 advanced economies and analysing the same data, said that “the three largest economies in the world were the United States with 17.1 percent (of global output), China 14.9 percent and India 6.4 percent.”

From AlterNet, more on that long, grievous Claifornia Dought we’ve been covering:

All of California Is Now Under Drought Conditions, and That’s Bad News for All of Us

  • Consumers will feel the effect soon as food prices are expected to skyrocket.

For the first time in 15 years, all of the Golden State suffers from a water shortage, and while that’s very bad for the region, it may also send food prices skyrocketing throughout the country.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map of drought conditions produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that the entire state suffers from conditions ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” The heavy-population centers all suffer from “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” The latter designation, also known a as a D4, being the most critical.

It has also been reported that all of the state’s reservoir levels are low, with one, the San Antonio Reservoir, which is in Alameda County and serves the Bay Area, being essentially dry since winter. Other reservoirs are reported to be near half capacity, and others are at less than half capacity.

The drought has also led to a really frightening potential for fires, with headlines like this one from CNN today occurring in April, rather than August and September:

Fast-moving wildfire in Southern California grows, driven by wind

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for nearly 1,700 homes in the path of a wildfire near Rancho Cucamonga, California, but fire officials urged some residents to keep on an eye on the wind-whipped blaze, authorities said.

The fire, fanned by strong wind gusts and high temperatures, began in the Etiwanda Preserve in San Bernardino National Forest at about 8 a.m. local time, according to Cal Fire. By late afternoon, it had grown to more than 1,000 acres, the agency said.

Next, a trip north of the north with the Canadian Press and yet another growing gap:

Western growth pulls away further from rest of Canada’s

A regional breakdown of economic performance suggests Canada’s two economies drifted even further apart in 2013.

Statistics Canada says in a new report issued Tuesday that improvement in economic output last year was heavily slanted toward resource-rich regions.
The gap between the West and the rest was even more pronounced, said Bank of Montreal economist Robert Kavcic, widening to almost two full percentage points.

Saskatchewan, which also benefited from a bump in the agriculture sector, posted a 4.8% surge in gross domestic product in 2013, while oil-rich Alberta realized a 3.9% growth rate.

On to Europe, starting with a headline from Reuters:

Euro zone inflation edges up, swift ECB action seen less likely

Euro zone inflation rose in April, reducing chances the European Central Bank will act soon to ward off deflation, but the pace of price rises was below forecast and still within the ECB’s “danger zone” of under 1 percent.

Annual consumer inflation in the 18 countries sharing the euro nudged higher to 0.7 percent in April from March’s 0.5 percent, which was the lowest since late 2009, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said on Wednesday.

The reading was lower than the 0.8 percent predicted in a Reuters poll despite higher spending over the Easter period, reflecting the poor state of the euro zone economy after a long recession and with unemployment at near-record levels.

And a major defeat for Britain in its battle against the Tobin Tax, via EUobserver:

EU top court throws out UK challenge to transactions tax

The European Court of Justice on Wednesday (30 April) rejected a UK legal challenge to plans by eleven countries to set up a financial transactions tax (FTT).

The main thrust of London’s opposition to the tax relates to the so-called “residence” and “issuance” principle in the proposed bill, which means that some traders operating outside the FTT-11 would still be liable to pay the levy. The UK, which has the largest financial services sector in the EU, says that it would be hit by the tax as a result.

But since the proposal has not been agreed, the UK case was restricted to challenging the right of the eleven countries, led by France and Germany, to proceed with the bill.

From the London Telegraph, winners in the Great Mail Robbery of 2014:

Abu Dhabi and Soros got ‘golden ticket’ in Royal Mail sale

Sovereign wealth funds and billionaire investors among 16 firms given preferential treatment over small investors in the Royal Mail privatisation

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, billionaire investor George Soros and activist hedge fund Third Point were among the 16 investors given preferential treament in the controversial Royal Mail privatisation.

The Government on Wednesday released details of these preferred investment firms, who saw the shares they had bought rise 38pc on the first day of trading, while thousands of small private investors missed out after the Government imposed a cap of £10,000 on them.

Other preferential investors included Lazard Asset Management, the investment arm of the government’s independent adviser on the privatisation, Capital Research, Fidelity Worldwide, GIC, Henderson, JP Morgan, Kuwait Investment Office, Lansdowne Partners, Och Ziff, Schroders, Standard Life, and Threadneedle.

More from The Independent:

Royal Mail float scandal: how hedge funds cleaned up

The Royal Mail flotation scandal has deepened after officials finally admitted that hedge funds were among the “priority investors” sold hundreds of millions of pounds of shares.

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has repeatedly insisted that the handful of key investors offered Royal Mail shares on preferential terms were long-term institutional investors. This was to ensure the new company started with “a core of high-quality investors” who “would be there in good times and bad”. He promised to marginalise “spivs and speculators”.

But sources in the Department for Business have confirmed to The Independent that around 20 per cent of the shares it had allocated to 16 preferred investors had gone to hedge funds and other short-term investors. This would equate to around £150m of Royal Mail shares – 13 per cent of the entire stock sold by the Government. The companies bought in at the float price of 330p a share. The shares shot up within seconds of trading, eventually peaking within weeks at more than 600p, allowing the hedge funds to bank vast profits at the taxpayers’ expense.

On to Amsterdam and a dirty little secret from euronews:

Dutch prime minister reacts to revelations he threatened to leave the eurozone

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte threatened to take his country out of the eurozone.

His stance was two years ago over planned reforms which were never implemented. It has been revealed in a Dutch newspaper.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy told the paper he was shocked at the strength of opposition to the reforms but stressed no other European leader had talked of leaving the euro. Eurosceptic politician Gert Wilders wants explanations.

“I was very pleasantly surprised. I remember Mr Rutte telling my party it’s a crazy idea only to think about leaving the eurozone. I have asked for an urgent debate in the Dutch parliament. I hope he will support me. Mr Rutte can explain what he really said,” the leader of the Party for Freedom said.

Germany next, and good news for Angela Merkel from Deutsche Welle:

German jobless rate down during spring economic upswing

The German labor market has seen a boost amid mild spring weather, seeing unemployment drop below a psychologically important threshold. Stable growth conditions have helped many people find a new job.

The number of people unemployed in Europe’s biggest economy fell below the three-million threshold for the first time this year in April, the Nuremberg-based Federal Employment Agency (BA) reported Wednesday.

It logged 2.943 million people out of work last month, the lowest figure recorded in any April in 22 years.

The agency said the overall jobless number dropped by 110,000 over March, and by 77,000 compared to last April.

On to France, where RFI reports that the Parisian species of austerianism still resists the usual tax cuts for elites and corporations. [But it’s still austerity, and those who bear the brunt are the least able to afford it. . .]:

Valls defends ‘modern’ economic policy after Socialist revolt

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended his “deeply modern” economic policy on Wednesday, the day after 41 MPs from his Socialist Party refused to back a cuts package that finances reductions in taxes for business.

Describing his policies as social-democratic and reformist, Valls told France Inter radio he was proud of a “this deeply modern left, which faces up to reality and at the same time wants to respond to expectations of social justice”.
Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

“I don’t think being left-wing means passing on debt to future generations,” he told a caller who had said that left-wing supporters felt betrayed by his policies. “I don’t think being left-wing means raising taxes and smothering the middle class.”

Meanwhile, reaction sets in via France 24:

No mosques or EU flags: France’s far-right mayors get down to business

The 11 far-right National Front mayors elected in France’s recent municipal elections have begun implementing controversial policies, including rejecting projects for new mosques and cancelling commemorations of the abolition of slavery.

A month after their victory in French municipal elections, the 11 far-right National Front mayors have implemented their first policies – and some of them have already caused quite a stir.

France 24 again, this time with legal umbrage:

Strauss-Kahn to sue Belgian pimp over ‘DSK’ brothel

Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is suing a Belgium-based pimp for opening a brothel that bears the initials ‘DSK’, his lawyers said Wednesday.

The pimp, Dominique Alderweireld or “Dodo la Saumure” (“saumure” means brine, or the salted oil in which mackerel – also the French slang for pimp – is often served), has been linked to sex parties the disgraced French politician attended in the past.

Strauss-Kahn, a potential presidential contender in the 2012 French election whose chances were dashed by a New York sex scandal involving a hotel maid, is well known by his initials DSK in France and French-speaking countries like Belgium and Switzerland.

From RFI, a powerful symbolic act:

PSA Peugeot Citroën workers give ‘pathetic’ bonuses to charity as boss’s salary announced

Angry employees of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën have donated their “pathetic” bonuses to charity. Workers received bonuses of between 40 cents and 18 euros, unions said, just as the company announced a 1.3-million-euro annual salary for new boss Carlos Tavares.

Judging their bonuses “pathetic and not acceptable”, workers at PSA’s factory in Valenciennes, northern France, decided they would give them to the Restos du Coeur, a charity launched by comedian Coluche in the 1980s to help the poor.

Spain next, starting with a promise from El País:

Government promises to create 600,000 jobs in two years

  • But Rajoy administration admits employment levels it inherited in 2011 will not return until 2018

Spanish labor market continued to shed jobs in first quarter of 2014

The government has promised to create 600,000 jobs between 2015 and 2016 despite admitting that employment would not return to the levels it inherited when it came into power in 2011 until 2018, three years after the current legislature ends.

According to the macroeconomic framework approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday, employment will grow 0.6% this year, 1.2% in 2015 and, in 2016, hopefully pick up steam with a rise of 1.5%, always in terms of the national accounts.

But the improvement will not be sufficient to compensate for the decline that the labor market has suffered since 2011, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party came to power.

Looking for an out with TheLocal.es:

Half of all Catalans want out of Spain: poll

Almost half of all Catalans would vote to become independent from Spain, a recent poll by a Catalan government research group shows.

Forty-seven percent said they would vote in favour of an independent Catalan state, while 19.3 percent would give the proposal the thumbs down.

Some 8.6 percent said they would want Catalonia to be a state, but not an independent one according to the Catalan research institute Centro de Estudios de Opinion (CEO).

With a possible referendum coming later this year, one in ten Catalans are still undecided on whether they would vote.

TheLocal.es again, this time with a highly publicized arrest for a nasty bit of racist theatrics:

Arrested: Man who threw banana at Dani Alves

The man who threw a banana at FC Barcelona Brazilian player Dani Alves, sparking a global anti-racism campaign, has been arrested by Spanish police.

Barcelona’s Alves made headlines when decided to eat the piece of fruit thrown at him during Sunday’s game against Villareal, a reaction he described as “instinct”.

That reaction has now become a worldwide anti-racism campaign with footballers celebrities, and even politicians posing in selfies eating bananas to support the cause.

Now the man who threw the banana has been arrested by Spanish police on a charge of inciting hatred.

And a fascinating story about a legal ruling politically painful to the ruling party, via the victor, El País:

Judge rules against ex-PM in EL PAÍS defamation case over illegal payments

Ruling states that PP, in breach of law, paid Aznar on at least three occasions while in office

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister José María Aznar against EL PAÍS over a story it published in May 2013 that alleged he had continued to receive sums of money from the Popular Party after he took office in 1996, in contravention of the Incompatibilities Law.

On April 25, Judge Enrique Presa Cuesta ruled that Aznar was paid bonuses on at least three occasions by his party while prime minister. The judge pointed out in his sentence that Aznar’s lawyer had argued that the money was given in return for activities he had carried out before taking office in May 1996, but had failed to back this up with any documentary evidence.

The ruling also requires Aznar to pay all legal costs, noting that in preparing the story, EL PAÍS used “official PP accounts,” and that it also “tried to contact the former prime minister and his party to ascertain their version of events.”

From the Guardian, another way to penalize the poor [who can’t buy those costly carts] via the Guardian:

Madrid’s smart parking meters to charge more for most polluting cars

  • Electronic cars will park free and hybrids will get 20% off under scheme to target emissions in Spanish capital

The city of Madrid is introducing smart parking meters that will slap a surcharge on cars that pollute more and reduce parking charges for efficient vehicles, a system that city officials are touting as the first of its kind in the world.

Starting on 1 July, the price a motorist pays to park in the city streets will be based on a complex table governed by the engine and the year of the car. Hybrids will pay 20% less to park, while a diesel car made in 2001 will see a 20% mark-up. Electronic cars will park for free.

Italy next, and some modestly good news from ANSAmed:

Italy’s youth jobless rate dips to 42.7% in March

  • Second straight 0.1% monthly drop but 3.1% higher over year

Youth unemployment in Italy dipped to an annual 42.7% in March, 3.1% higher than March 2013 but down 0.1% on February 2014, national statistics agency Istat said Wednesday. The rate has fallen 0.1% for the second straight month, from 42.9% in January, Istat said in provisional estimates. The number of 15-to-24 year-olds in work rose 1.4% from February to March, to 915,000, but was 6.0% down on March 2013. The youth employment rate of 15.3% was 0.2% up on February and 0.9% down over the year.

Premier Matteo Renzi has vowed to tackle youth unemployment by freeing up the labour market but has faced criticism that new flexibility moves raise already widespread job insecurity.

And a trip to Eastern Europe with EUbusiness:

Kosovo privatisation officials arrested in multi-million-euro fraud

Police on Wednesday arrested 10 officials of Kosovo’s privatisation agency suspected of embezzling millions of euros during the sale of a factory.

The officials are accused of triggering the bankruptcy of the factory in northern Kosovo which produced concrete reinforcements, a police statement said.

It said “several million euros” had been embezzled without giving a more precise figure.

After the jump, more grim news from Greece — including a political death, recession in Russia, good news for Venezuela workers, Indonesia labor force problems, Indian economic ascendancy, Thai troubles, nuclear industry consolidation, Japanese judicial rage, Microsoft move fills Japanese trash piles, Norse land losses, and more environmental news as well. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Spooks, zones, drones, more


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with yet another sign of inept management under the regime of the politician who now serves as ppresident of the University of California, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Former DHS IG altered oversight reports, shared information

Charles Edwards, the acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, has been found to have routinely shared insider information with other department leaders, according to a new report from a the Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee published last week.

Charles Edwards, the acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, has been found to have routinely shared insider information with other department leaders, according to a new report from a the Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee published last Thursday.

TheWashington Post reports that Edwards “altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior administration officials, compromising his independent role as an inspector general.” Additionally, he “routinely shared drinks and dinner with department leaders and gave them information about the timing and findings of investigations.”

From Techdirt, yet another cost of NSA snooping:

Brazil Passed On Boeing For $4.5 Billion Fighter Jet Deal Because Of Concerns Over NSA Surveillance

  • from the costly… dept

We’ve pointed out a few times now, how the NSA seems unable to do basic cost-benefit analysis on its widespread surveillance. The NSA still seems to think that its surveillance is “costless” (perhaps beyond the $70 billion or so from taxpayers). However, as we’ve pointed out time and time again, distrust in US businesses thanks to the NSA’s overreaching surveillance creates a very real cost for the economy.

And it seems to be growing day by day. Brazil, which has been one of the more vocal protesters concerning NSA surveillance, has just awarded a $4.5 billion contract for new fighter jets to Saab, rather than Boeing, which many expected to get the deal. And, Brazilian officials are making it clear that the NSA surveillance issue played a major role in throwing the contract from the Americans to the Swedes.

From the Irish Times, more resistance to Uncle Sam’s snoops:

Data Commissioner decision challenged by Facebook user

  • Max Schrems’ complaint to Irish authorities ‘extremely important’ after Snowden, court told

A complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner regarding the transfer of Facebook user data from Europe to the US National Security Agency (NSA) was “extremely important” in light of the Edward Snowden allegations, the High Court was told today.

The court heard arguments that Commissioner Billy Hawkes wrongly refused to investigate a complaint that an Irish arm of social network giant Facebook could not permit the mass transfer of personal data to US intelligence services operating the Prism surveillance programme.

The Data Protection Commissioner was not entitled to “turn a blind eye” to the allegations by the former NSA contractor Snowden , the court was told by Paul O’Shea BL, counsel for Austrian law student Max Schrems.

Foreign Policy covers another front in the information wars:

Exclusive: New Bill Requires Voice of America to Toe U.S. Line

A powerful pair of lawmakers in the House of Representatives have agreed on major legislation to overhaul Voice of America and other government-funded broadcasting outlets that could have implications for the broadcaster’s editorial independence, Foreign Policy has learned.

The new legislation tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. “public diplomacy” and the “policies” of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.

“It is time for broad reforms; now more than ever, U.S. international broadcasts must be effective,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement.

As does Columbia Journalism Review:

Federal judge: Delayed access to court records raises First Amendment concerns

  • Courthouse News editor sees “nationwide plague”—and he’ll get a chance to make his case

It’s been a routine for generations of legal beat reporters: Every weekday afternoon, at courthouses across the United States, a reporter steps behind the records counter and thumbs through the lawsuits filed that day, looking for news.

This custom is endangered, though, and not just because files have moved online, or because there aren’t as many legal beat reporters as there used to be. Many state courts now keep new civil cases out of sight of the press and public for days, and sometimes even weeks, after they’re filed.

“It’s a nationwide plague,” said Bill Girdner, the founder and editor of Courthouse News Service.

And the Asahi Shimbun finds the same game in another venue:

Ahead of secrets law, information concealed on nuclear facilities

Kiyohiko Yamada has studied the situation surrounding the problem-plagued nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture for a quarter-century, but the information he recently saw was perhaps the most startling.

“Why are there so many blacked-out parts?” Yamada, 57, who lives in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, said he thought when he viewed the website of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).

The page was an application form for construction work submitted to the government in January by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the operator of the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, next to Misawa.

Next up, the Washington Post takes us to Afghanistan and some bloody spookishness:

Mystery surrounds move of Afghan ‘torturer in chief’ to U.S. amid allegations of spy agency abuse

In Afghanistan, his presence was enough to cause prisoners to tremble. Hundreds in his organization’s custody were beaten, shocked with electrical currents or subjected to other abuses documented in human rights reports. Some allegedly disappeared.

And then Haji Gulalai disappeared as well.

He had run Afghan intelligence operations in Kandahar after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and later served as head of the spy service’s detention and interrogation branch. After 2009, his whereabouts were unknown.

The Guardian takes us into the realm of drone wars:

US senators remove requirement for disclosure over drone strike victims

  • Bill had called for disclosure of ‘noncombatant civilians’ killed
  • Director of national intelligence gives assurances to Senate

At the behest of the director of national intelligence, US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims.

The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “noncombatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. It did not require the White House to disclose the total number of strikes worldwide.

While RT looks over Uncle Sam’s shoulder:

World catching up with US in $28.7 bln drone race

Analysts predict that in less than a decade’s time, the United States will spend less than half the global total on drone research and development. Asia in particular is expected to surge ahead, with South Korea set to produce “suicide drones.”

The US draw down in Afghanistan after over a decade of war, coupled with China’s desire for expensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are primary factors behind the expected reversal in US drone dominance, Forecast International, Inc., which provides defense and aerospace market intelligence and analysis, reported earlier this month.

Research and development for UAV technology is expected to balloon to $28.7 billion worldwide over the next 10 years, $11 billion of which will originate in the US.

And a truly troubling story from Military Aerospace Electronics, and sounding a lot like this:

DARPA launches CODE program for UAVs to share information and work together

U.S. military researchers are launching a program to enable surveillance and attack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to work together on missions involving electronic jamming, degraded communications, and other difficult operating conditions.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., released a formal solicitation Friday (DARPA-BAA-14-33) for the Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program to enable UAVs to work together in teams and take advantage of the relative strengths of each participating unmanned aircraft.

The CODE program is to expand the mission capabilities of existing UAVs through increased autonomy and inter-platform collaboration. Collaborative autonomy has the potential to increase capabilities and reduce costs of today’s UAVs by composing heterogeneous teams of UAVs that can capitalize on the capabilities of each unmanned aircraft without the need to duplicate or integrate capabilities into one UAV, DARPA officials say.

Next up, International Business Times covers another information security woe: Times:

Microsoft Should Make Windows XP Open-Source For Millions It Has Left ‘Stranded’ With Internet Explorer Bug: Expert

As Microsoft rushes to fix a major security defect in its popular Web browser, Internet Explorer, one enormous group of computer users will remain vulnerable to the bug: the 488 million people worldwide who still rely on Windows XP to power their computers.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) discontinued support for the 12-year-old operating system on April 8 and ceased offering updates on it to protect users against threats, effectively leaving customers to fend for themselves in a world increasingly susceptible to security flaws exploited by malevolent forces. So as Microsoft eventually releases patches that fix Internet Explorer for those using other operating systems, it says that XP users will go without.

Some advocates demand that Microsoft provide a patch for XP users. They note that the Seattle-based software giant cashed in on enormous sales of XP, suggesting that this creates a moral imperative – if not a legal obligation – to make sure users can surf the Web safely. A dozen years after XP’s release, some 27 percent of computers worldwide rely on the system.

More NSA blowback, this time from Nextgov:

NIST Removes NSA-Tainted Algorithm From Cryptographic Standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has finally removed a cryptographic algorithm from its draft guidance on random number generators, more than six months after leaked top-secret documents suggested the algorithm had been deliberately sabotaged by the National Security Agency.

The announcement came as NIST opened to a final round of public comments its revised Special Publication 800-90a, which contains three algorithms now that the Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator has been removed following negative feedback from the public.

According to documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden in September, NSA “became the sole editor” of Special Publication 800-90 and allegedly introduced weaknesses to the now-removed algorithm. NIST responded swiftly to that news, recommending against using the standards and suggesting reopening them to public scrutiny in an effort to rebuild trust with the public.

From The Guardian, yet another information security breach, and a very troubling one at that:

Government has no idea how many people accessed asylum seekers’ details

  • FoI request reveals panicked emails as bureaucrats scrambled to contain fallout from the leak of personal information
  • Scott Morrison’s media adviser wanted to exaggerate IT skills needed to obtain confidential details about 10,000 detainees

The Department of Immigration does not know how many people accessed the personal details of almost 10,000 asylum seekers in detention that were accidentally placed on its website, raising the prospect that the confidential information has been circulated to an unknown number of people around the world.

Correspondence between the office of the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, and department officials obtained under freedom of information laws by Guardian Australia includes an internal briefing on the day the breach was discovered. It says: “The department is unable to identify how many people may have downloaded the information.”

After the jump, major developments in the Asian Game of Zones, including nuclear saber-rattling, artillery posturing, and a myterious Latin American death. . . Continue reading