Category Archives: MSM

NSA lands spot in a German campaign poster


From the Green Party, with Gegen unbegrenzte Abhörmöglichkeiten translating to Against unlimited interception. From TheLocal.de:

BLOG NSA

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

And our final maps: Comcast’s imperial dreams


Two maps detail precisely why Comcast wants to buy major cable rival Time-Warner Cable.

First up, a map of population density in the U.S., via MapofUSA.net :

BLOG Population

And, from Comcast, a map detailing the turf of the two corporate giants. Compare with the map above and the reason for Comcast’s covetousness becomes clear:

BLOG Merger

 

Academic imperialism: Cal schools look East


The University of California at Berkeley, cash-strapped by a state government already overburdened by covering costs of local and county governments impoverished by Proposition 13, is looking abroad for cash.

It makes sense, of course. The increasingly wealthy elites of former Second World countries like China and Russia and the oil-enriched aristocratic an technocratic elites of the Mideast are eager to give their children appropriately elite educations.

So while Cal cuts enrolments of students from the state it was created to serve and replaces them with overseas students whose parents or states are able to pay the far higher enrolments charged non-Californians, it has taken the next step and established offshore campuses as well.

And why not? For the host country, there are the benefits of technology transfer coupled with the presitge of hosting academic names. And for cash-strapped American schools, there’s all that lovely money.

From the 3 April 2013 issue of the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal’s engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China’s biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

Two years earlier — when the center was in the planning stages — the New York Times reported, tellingly:

The public university, which is struggling under budget constraints imposed by the state of California, said the Shanghai center would cater to engineering graduate students and be financed over the next five years largely by the Shanghai government and companies operating here.

And the Shanghai campus isn’t the only link to Beijing, as China Daily reported two weeks ago:

West Point, Berkeley become must-stops for Chinese CEOs

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the US Military Academy at West Point have become popular must-stops for Chinese CEOs and business executives enrolled in an overseas education program organized by China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A group of 66 Chinese business executives in the program ended their 10-day tour of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 20. The tour that included meetings with key international financial institutions and government officials is part of a 12-month non-degree course at the university that also includes the UK.

On April 18, the Haas School of Business at the UC Berkeley campus hosted the Chinese executives.

“The Shanghai Jiaotong University Global CEO program provides our group of Chinese CEOs with advanced management training and face-to-face dialogue with key people in the US, which helps us understand and participate effectively in the globalized market,” said Jiang Zhaobai, chairman of Shanghai Pengxin Group, a leading Chinese conglomerate with interests in real estate, infrastructure construction.

Berkeley isn’t new at the foreign partnership game. Nor has the imperial expansion been entirely without complications, as in the case of the Graduate School of Management at Russia’s St. Petersburg University, a partnership between Cal’s Haas School of Business and the Russian school launched in 1993.

UC Berkeley plutocratic professor David J. Teece , who directs the Center for Global Strategy and Governance at Cal’s Haas School of Business, also chairs of the St. Petersburg business school’s International Academic Council. [He’s also vied with David Koch for pride of place among the top five contributors to a California Republican senatorial candidate.]

Let us quote from a WikiLeaks-ed 5 February 2001 CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN cable from Ambassador William J. Burns in Moscow to the Secretary of State’s office:

2. (C) During the November 2006 inauguration of the newly-opened premises of the St. Petersburg State University School of Management, an American academic long associated with the school told CG about Vice Governor Yuri Molchanov’s “sinister” presence in their dealings.

3. (C) The Haas School of Management at U.C. Berkeley has nurtured the development of a new St. Petersburg School of Management since 1993. In addition to academic exchanges and curriculum development, representatives of the Haas school led a unique fund-raising campaign which collected $6.5 million in private U.S. and Russian funds to entirely renovate a dilapidated building for classroom use. As steward of the funds, which included a whopping $1 million from U.S. citizen Arthur B. Schultz, the Haas School kept close tabs on all expenditures. At one point in the early 1990s, when lenders were sought to renovate the old building, Vice Governor Molchanov’s private construction firm placed a bid. As the only local bidder and as a close associate of the now Dean of the School of Management, Molchanov apparently expected to win the tender. He did not. This provoked an angry response in which he demanded compensation from the Haas School representatives for the costs of preparing his bid. While the Haas School did not comply with his demand, they did find a way to mollify the Vice Governor, who “was always present at all our discussions”, according to the American source. “He gave me the creeps.” Although the source did not describe any specific intimidation, it was clear that the Americans experienced some degree of fear – a not unreasonable reaction in 1990s Russia.

4. (C) Vice Governor Malchanov is widely rumored to be corrupt, enjoying a convenient intersection of interests between his construction company and his position in the city government. He played a very visible role in the School of Management inauguration alongside Governor Valentina Matviyenko and President Putin.

BURNS

Just what the school did to mollify Molchanov remains an open question. The only mention of him on the Russian university’s website is as one of seven judges in a 23 November 2000 student business plan competition. His name doesn’t appear in a search of UC Berkeley’s website.

What was most peculiar is that no mention of this fascinating story has appeared in the local news media after WikiLeaks put on line, with the notable help of Chelsea Manning. But then such is the plight of the impoverished, gutted, and pathetically understaffed American news media.

One has to wonder how many similar situations are confronted by other institutions, and by their staff members.

Perhaps these are just the moaning and musing of a stubborn old journalist who’s spent a great many years investigating corruption much closer to home. . .

The provocation for this rambling post follows, a pair of video reports from CCTV, like China Daily a Chinese state medium, reporting on similar deals by other American universities.

From CCTV:

USC President C.L. Max Nikias on Investment in China

Program notes:

China is also one of the biggest markets for U.S. universities. The number of Chinese students studying abroad is soaring, but the U.S. only attracts a fraction of them. Now American colleges are trying to change that: they already have the biggest number of satellite campuses and partnerships in China. The University of Southern California (USC) is one school investing time, money, and people towards this goal. CCTV’s Phillip Yin speaks to USC President C.L. Max Nikias about the university’s efforts in China.

Foreign Universities Setting up Shop in India

Program notes:

For years, India has been sending students away to learn the skills to build the economy back home. Now overseas universities are coming to India. CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj reports from New Delhi.

Headlines II: Spooks, security, zones, etc.


We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of government and corporate espionage, security anxieties, and militarism — including the increasingly tense Asian Game of Zones — with a case of overwrought anxieties from AlterNet:

Las Vegas Cops Host Event Linking Premarital Sex to Having Your Face Chewed Off by Meth Fiends

  • Scaring girls abstinent.

For some reason, the Las Vegas Police decided that it was their business to instruct young girls not to ever ever have sex until they are married. Otherwise, they will end up as prostitutes, drug addicts and dead people. So, the police (yes, the police!) hosted a ‘Choose Purity’ event over the weekend, in which Officer Regina Coward, president of the Nevada Black Police Association, told girls that promiscuity leads to sexual assault, gang activity, and drugs. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Officer Coward was asked by her church, Victory Outreach Church, to set up an event emphasizing abstinence. She really went all out, even including a demonstration with a body bag (to drive home that point about premarital sex leading to death.)

According to the Sun, about 125 people attended the event and “watched recorded interviews with a pimp and prostitutes, learned modern-day slavery exists in the form of the sex trade, and saw grisly images of people who’d suffered at the hands of hard drugs — such as a woman who’d lost limbs in a methamphetamine lab explosion and a man who’d had his face partially gnawed off by a meth user.”

From the Guardian, hopes of panopticon game limits [but don’t hole your breath]:

Chairman of key House committee agrees to proceed with NSA reform bill

  • Judiciary committee chair gives new life to USA Freedom Act
  • Bill to overhaul spy agency had been stalled by months of delay

The chairman of a key committee in the House of Representatives agreed to move on a major surveillance overhaul on Monday, after months of delay.

The decision, by the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, breathes new life back into the USA Freedom Act, a legislative fix favoured by privacy advocates to prevent the US government from collecting domestic data in bulk.

The judiciary committee is expected to take action on an amendment encapsulating the provisions of the USA Freedom Act on Wednesday at 1pm. Congressional aides expected it to pass the committee with bipartisan support, setting up a fight on the House floor.

And a new twist, via TechDirt:

Competing NSA Reform Bills Suddenly Lurch Forward In Congress

  • from the well-this-might-get-interesting dept

In a bit of a surprise move, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, caught people off guard this morning by announcing that there would be a markup of the USA FREEDOM Act on Wednesday, complete with a Manager’s Amendment from bill author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. If you don’t recall, the USA FREEDOM Act was the best bet for real NSA reforms. It was far from perfect, but did actually do a lot of good things without adding a bunch of bad things. The amended version scales that back a bit. It’s not as good, but it’s still pretty good. Harley Geiger, over at CDT has a good overview of the Manager’s Amendment, and how it actually improves the bill in certain areas, while Marcy Wheeler highlights both the good and bad of the amendment.

Of course, within just a few minutes of the Judiciary Committee announcing its plans to move forward with the USA FREEDOM Act, the House Intelligence Committee announced that it would hold its own damn markup on the competing “NSA reform” bill from Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, which is designed to look like a shot at NSA reform, but which really would make it easier for the NSA to collect info on people. That bill, called the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act (almost none of that is true), is basically the NSA’s prime choice for pretending to be reform.

Next, from the New York Times, another secret base, but much closer to home:

Arms Cache Most Likely Kept in Texas by the C.I.A.

In passing references scattered through once-classified documents and cryptic public comments by former intelligence officials, it is referred to as “Midwest Depot,” but the bland code name belies the role it has played in some of the C.I.A.’s most storied operations.

From the facility, located somewhere in the United States, the C.I.A. has stockpiled and distributed untraceable weapons linked to preparations for the Bay of Pigs invasion and the arming of rebels and resistance fighters from Angola to Nicaragua to Afghanistan.

Yet despite hints that “Midwest” was not actually where it was located, the secrecy surrounding the C.I.A. armory has survived generations of investigations. In a 2007 essay on the 20th anniversary of the Iran-contra affair, for example, a congressional investigator noted that the facility where the C.I.A. had handled missiles bound for Iran remained classified even as other “incredible things were unveiled during the hearings.”

But three years ago, it became public that the C.I.A. had some kind of secret location at Camp Stanley, an Army weapons depot just north of San Antonio and the former Kelly Air Force Base, though its purpose was unclear. And now, a retired C.I.A. analyst, Allen Thomson, has assembled a mosaic of documentation suggesting that it is most likely the home of Midwest Depot.

You’ll find the report, posted by the Federation of American Scientists, here [PDF].

From Spiegel, Merkel toes Obama’s line:

  • Trans-Atlantic Supplicant: Merkel Chooses Unity over NSA Truth

There was a time when Angela Merkel was committed to investigating the extent of NSA spying in Germany. Now, though, the chancellor has made an about face. Trans-Atlantic unity is her new priority, and the investigation has been left to languish.

In the world of diplomacy, moments of candor are rare, obscured as they are behind a veil of amicability and friendly gestures. It was no different last Friday at the meeting between US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Obama welcomed Merkel by calling her “one of my closest partners” and a “friend” and took her on a tour of the White House vegetable garden as part of the four hours he made available. He praised her as a “strong partner” in the Ukraine crisis and thanked her many times for the close cooperation exhibited in recent years. The birds in the Rose Garden sang happily as the president spoke.

But then Obama made clear who had the upper hand in this wonderfully harmonious relationship. When a reporter asked why, in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, the no-spy deal between Germany and the US had collapsed, Obama avoided giving a clear answer. He also dodged a question as to whether Merkel’s staff is still monitored. Instead, he stayed vague: “As the world’s oldest continuous constitutional democracy, I think we know a little bit about trying to protect people’s privacy.” That was it.

Merkel, when asked if trust had been rebuilt following the NSA revelations, was much less sanguine. “There needs to be and will have to be more than just business as usual,” she said.

And one consequence, via RT:

Germany to thwart internal NSA probe – reports

The German government plans to limit their level of cooperation with a recently formed parliamentary panel investigating mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency, Der Spiegel reports.

The 8-member panel of inquiry, comprising six lawmakers from the ruling coalition and two from the opposition, will only be given limited access to a so-called bilateral no-spy agreement currently being negotiated with Washington. Access to relevant documents will be limited as it is considered to be “an ongoing process” regarding “a core area of government responsibility” which is constitutionally protected, a senior government official told the German daily.

It also remains unknown whether the committee will be given access to documents regarding cooperation between Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service and its US and British counterparts. According to the paper, such a step would require the consent of Germany’s foreign partners.

Quartz covers Snowden’s latest, using Danish corporate trickery to hoist the elites’ petard:

Edward Snowden’s latest target is a Danish gossip magazine

“Big things are happening in Denmark.” With this Hamletic line, Edward Snowden opens a letter in the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

The former NSA contractor and whistleblower weighed in on what the Scandinavian press has dubbed “Se og Hør-gate” (Danish.) It’s a News-of-the-World-like scandal involving the Danish gossip paper Se og Hør (See and Hear), which is accused of buying the confidential credit card records of the royal family, prime minister, and celebrities.

According to a book by a former Se og Hør reporter, Ken Rasmussen, an employee of the payment company Nets leaked information about the credit card purchases of prominent personalities to help the gossip magazine target their location. Nets was recently bought by Bain Capital and Advent International for $3.1 billion.

ProPublica covers a new trick to avoid the public’s right to know:

The Dangers of Public Officials Using Private Email for Government Business

Adopting a tactic that has been used by officials ranging from Sarah Palin to staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sending emails from private accounts to conduct official business.

I know because I got one myself. And three other people who interact with the governor’s office on policy or media matters told me they have too. None of the others wanted to be named.

The tactic appears to be another item in the toolbox of an administration that, despite Cuomo’s early vows of unprecedented transparency, has become known for an obsession with secrecy. Emailing from private accounts can help officials hide communications and discussions that are supposed to be available to the public.

From Al Jazeera America, more corporate consequences for a data breach:

Target chief resigns five months after data breach

  • CEO of nation’s third-largest retailer steps down after hackers stole card info from tens of millions of customers

Target announced Monday that its chairman, president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel is out nearly five months after the nation’s third-largest retailer disclosed a massive hacker attack and data breach, which has hurt its reputation among customers and has derailed its business.

The company said Steinhafel, a 35-year Target veteran and its CEO since 2008, has agreed to step down, effective immediately. He also resigned from the board of directors.

A company spokeswoman declined to say when the decision was reached.

MarketWatch covers the start of a drone bubble:

Profit from the coming drone revolution

The Drone Revolution is coming, and we’re gunning for it.

It’s gonna be huge. Are you even digging into the drone world yet? I’ve already found a couple relatively “undiscovered” stocks that are poised to benefit from the burgeoning huge drone market over the next five to 10 years, which will likely be one of the biggest new industries to hit the developed world since the App Revolution.

From Romenesko, the Fourth Estate moves to create a corporate version of a state secret:

Lara Logan’s ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi piece was deleted from LexisNexis

  • “Deleted at the request of CBS News”

And from GlobalPost, more corporate media trickery:

Fox News used footage of random sad Asians instead of actual Koreans mourning the ferry

  • Nope, not The Onion.

One sad Asian is as good as the next it seems. At least according to Fox News.

In the clip below about the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry in South Korea, from a few weeks ago, Fox appears to have swapped in footage of random sad Asian people in place of mourning Koreans.

At about minute 1:40, the narrator talks about how relatives of the missing passengers believe there would have been more survivors had people been ordered to evacuate the sinking ship.

The problem? The corresponding footage is not of the mourning relatives, or even Koreans, but rather “people presumably from another region of Asia,” according to KoreAm, a blog covering the Korean American experience. Another blogger suggests the footage is actually of Tibetans crying after the recent avalanche at Mt. Everest.

After the jump, the latest escalations, posturings, and allliances in the Asian Game of Zones. . . 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

Grammar Nazi alert: Can you spot the error?


The lead story on the Los Angeles Times homepage as we write:

BLOG Times goof

Droned: Is this a $10,000 storm damage video?


That’s the question currently confronting the Federal Aviation Administration, which is looking closely at whether and how its rules apply to small drones used by photographers to capture news videos and stills.

The basic rule seems to be that you can send you camera drones aloft, but only if you’re not usually them commercially, but many questions remain. . .

First up, the footage in question, shot by Brian Emfinger:

Arkansas Tornado Damage Aerial Video 4-27-2014

Program note:

Drone video I shot right after the tornado moved through just south of Mayflower, Arkansas. Continue to follow KATV for the latest information and tomorrow we will have more drone video.

And the story, from PetaPixel:

FAA ‘Looking Into’ $10,000 Fine for Using Drone to Document Tornado Damage

In an effort to document the intense and widespread damage of the tornados that ripped through Arkansas this past week, storm chaser and videographer Brian Emfinger made use of a drone, flying it above the damage and rescue efforts to bring to light just how bad the damage was. Unfortunately for Emfinger, the Federal Aviation Administration may have an issue with his drone use.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting that the FAA is indeed investigating the situation of Emfinger’s use of the drone (as well as other entities who made use of drones).

However, just as the video brought to life some controversy on the use of drones, the FAA’s investigation has also brought some controversy with it — specifically questions regarding the First Amendment and the agency’s ability to impose its rules over the right of freedom of press.

The potential fine could be upwards of $10,000 if any of the storm chasers or journalists who covered the storm and damage using a drone are indeed fined, but the FAA is walking on some slippery slopes if it does intend to enforce the fines. Laywer Greg McNeal writes at Forbes that “many news organizations, lawyers [...], and other drone enthusiasts would be united in opposition to the agency’s efforts to enforce non-existent rules.”

Quote of the day: Growth blindness


From Indian food and trade policy analyst Davinder Sharma, writing at his blog:

There are generally two kinds of eye problems that people face. There is myopia, short-sightedness. And then there is hyperopia, far-sightedness. But over the years, another major eye defect has emerged. It is called growth blindness. Almost all educated, even if they happen to suffer from either myopia or hyperopia, are falling to growth blindness. Universities and educational institutes are churning out graduates and post-graduates (not to talk of people passing out from Business Schools) who are made to believe in the magic potion of growth.

The newspapers are full of reports and quotes about growth. Finance Ministers (everywhere in the world) swear in the name of economic growth. TV anchors (most of them have not ventured out of their plush offices for years) are hung on economic growth. That is what they have read in the university, and if they ever try to question the growth paradigm the business house owning the channel will throw them out. And they know for sure — getting a job again even at times of rising growth is not easy.

So basically, it’s all about protecting and saving your job. Whether it is a journalist, economist, academician, credit rating analyst or a politician, singing the growth chorus helps them to save their job.

Growth blindness is a manufactured disease. It’s an economic system that money has been able to create. Take the example of oil spills. Do you want more oil spills to happen or do you think these spills are a disaster for environment and health? Well, a Houston-based Oil pipeline company recently acknowledged that “Spill response and clean-up created business opportunities for affected communities, regions and clean-up service providers.” In other words, oil spills help in raising GDP or growth.

When money speaks, the public’s interest falls


Money is speech, and thus protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, declaring that Congress can’t block its ability to bankroll media and the messages they convey.

Just as our previous Chart of the Day II: Watchdogs into lapdogs describes the increasing fusion of mainstream media journalists to hew to the corporatist agenda, so this video report from Jessica Desverieux of The Real News Network examines how that control translates into a Senate vote on a proposal to hike the medium wage to ten bucks and hour, though not to a commensurate level of earnings of the then-minimum when esnl started working back in the 1960’s.

Via CNNMoney:

BLOG Minimum wage

In the age of [p]lootocracy, up is down, black is white, and money is speech.

From The Real News Network:

The Lobbyists behind Senate Failure to Advance Minimum Wage Increase

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: Although independents voted with Democrats, Democrats would still need six Republican votes in order to reach the 60 votes required to advance the bill. Only one Republican voted in favor of the bill, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.

But not all Democrats are in favor of a minimum wage increase. Home of retail giant Walmart–Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor voiced his opposition to the bill. Although he wasn’t present for the vote due to recovery efforts in his home state, he wrote in an op-ed in an Arkansas newspaper that said he supports a state ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour over three years. That’s a sharp contrast to his fellow Democrats’ proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour over the next two years. Pryor was in the minority, since the rest of the senators against the bill were all Republicans.

But with poll after poll showing that most Americans support increasing the minimum wage, why would any Democrat or Republican senator take on such an unpopular position? Institute for Policy Studies economic policy associate Betsy Wood says if you follow the money, you understand how strong lobbying forces outweigh the voice of the American people.

BETSY WOOD, ECONOMIC POLICY ASSOCIATE, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: About 76 percent of Americans in a recent poll said that they support an increase in the minimum wage. So the polls show an overwhelming majority thinks that an increase in the minimum wage is a good idea and something that would be good for workers and for their families. But a small contingent of very wealthy Americans are controlling our process through these large corporate lobbies that spend millions of dollars to defeat commonsense legislation that would help millions of families and workers.

DESVARIEUX: In a letter to senators, 20 trade associations urged members of congress to reject an increase to the federal minimum wage. These associations representing industries like hotels and restaurants wrote about the minimum wage, quote:

“The more expensive something is, the less of it one can afford. This is exactly what will happen if the minimum wage is increased — there will be fewer low-skilled workers hired, other workers will lose hours, and employers will have more incentive to find other ways to be productive, such as using technology or automation where they would previously have hired someone.”

Some big names a part of this group include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurants Association, and the National Retail Federation. These groups have put large sums in the pockets of lawmakers in the form of campaign contributions.

Chart of the day II: Watchdogs into lapdogs


From The American Journalist in the Digital Age [PDF], a survey of American journalists by the Indiana University School of Journalism, evidence of a disturbing trend among the national press corps. Most worrying to esnl is the first, item, showing a growing reluctance of the American press corps to use leaked documents. Without just such documents, Americans would’ve never learned about the sordid background and conduct of America’s war in Vietnam as revealed by the Pentagon Papers, nor of the massive extent of American electronic surveillance disclosed by Edward Snowden:

BLOG Journos

Among other findings from the survey:

  • Most see journalism going in “wrong direction.” Six in 10 journalists (59.7 percent) say that journalism in the United States is going in the wrong direction.
  • Job satisfaction drops further. Job satisfaction dropped from 33.3 percent of journalists who said they were “very satisfied” with their job in 2002, to 23.3 percent who said so in 2013. This trend continues the decline in job satisfaction that was observed between 1971 and 1992 but was interrupted with a positive bounce in 2002.
  • Perceived job autonomy also drops. The survey findings since 1982 document a continuing erosion of perceived professional autonomy in the nation’s newsrooms. While a majority (60 percent) of journalists said they had “almost complete freedom” in selecting their stories in 1971 and 1982, only a third (33.6 percent) said so in 2013.
  • Gender pay gap persists. Median income has climbed to about $50,000 in 2012, up 12.9 percent since 2002. This increase was less than half of the combined inflation rate of 29.5 percent during this decade (2001-12). Women’s salaries still trail those of men overall, but not among journalists with less than five years’ experience.

Thomas Piketty: A case of all hat and no cattle?


Following up on Monday’s Thomas- Piketty-debunking quote of the day from esnl favorite Michael Hudson, a clear-eyed economist from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, here’s a Jessica Desverieux interview of Hudson about the limitations of Piketty’s ideas and the media furor surround his much-discussed Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

From The Real News Network:

Is Thomas Picketty Right About The Causes of Inequality?

From the transcript:

HUDSON: Well, that’s why the neoliberal’s love Piketty. It’s why Krugman loves [him] and others. You can’t implement it. So he’s produced a book without any solution, and the free enterprise boys like that. The 1 percent don’t mind being criticized as long as there’s no solution to their problem. And that’s what the critics have come out saying: wait a minute, there are a lot of solutions. For one thing, some kind of wealth is better than others. You don’t want to tax people building factories and improving living standards like the one percent pretend that they do, but what you do want to tax is unearned income, economic rent, capital gains. Right now, the capital gains tax, most people, rich people, make their money not buy earning income; the naked on capital gains, on stock markets going up, on bond prices going up, on all of the asset prices that the Federal Reserve’s qualitative easing has been just flooding the market with. So the first thing to do is to raise the capital gains rates much higher, closer to 100 percent, because that’s unearned. These are inflationary gains. Right now, the economy’s all about capital gains, so if you make $1 million like–as Warren Buffett said, he makes hundreds of millions of dollars. He pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. So the tax system is all wrong.

What Piketty does not suggest is getting rid of regressive taxes like the FICA wage withholding that everybody has to pay that’s now more than 15 percent of their paycheck. This is a regressive tax. That should be gotten rid of.

But most of all, he doesn’t talk about the whole restructuring that’s part and parcel of this neoliberal revolution to privatization. He doesn’t criticize privatization. And most of this increased wealth by the 1 percent since 1980 is all taken–a result of privatizing the public domain–public utilities, things that–100 years ago everybody expected banking to be a public utility, roads, railroads, public transport, telephone systems, broadcasting systems. Now that these are being monopolized, the rich are getting their money by monopoly rents.

And the solution isn’t simply to let the rich exploit the 99 percent by raising the prices you pay for your cable, for fridges, for transportation; it’s to take–to deprivatize these assets, to put them back in the public domain, so that you can provide basic services to people at a very low price instead of at an extortionate price that’s all meant to pay the 1 percent that basically has been foreclosing on governments and grabbing the public domain. And Piketty quotes the French novelists, in English, of the 19th century and points out why is it that novelists understand the problem that’s happening in the economy more than economists. Economists all talked about the economy becoming more equal. But if you read Balzac, he said that the origin of almost every great family fortune is a great theft, often undiscovered, and people think it’s just a part of nature. And it’s thievery and theft, as Bill Black, who’s often on your show, also points out every week: you have essentially the decriminalization of fraud. And what really pays is crime. And it’s the criminals that have risen most rapidly into the 1 percent. It’s the Wall Street bankers who’ve been doing the junk mortgages and engaging in the kind of fraud that we’ve been hearing about on Wall Street. This is not what Piketty discusses. He doesn’t say, throw the clerks in jail; he doesn’t say, have government regulatory agencies to prevent this kind of exploitation; he doesn’t say, reimpose anti-monopoly regulations to prevent monopoly profits from enriching the one percent; he doesn’t say, take all of these public utilities that Margaret Thatcher privatized in England and Ronald Reagan did in America and put them back in the public domain so that they can provide basic services to people at cost. All of this is a different topic from his book.

Challenging racism: Of bananas and melanin


There’s a key rule of derogatory history: The more melanin you have in your skin, the more likely you’ll be called or compared to a simian.

Here is the U.S., African Americans were often compared to gorillas or, in the case folks sitting on stoops or in a once ubiquitous by now-vanished architectural feature of single-family homes, “porch monkeys.”

And Adolf Hitler, that most famous of European racists, called darker skinned Mediterranean peoples [including Arabs] as angemalte Halbaffen [painted half-apes] and back Africans as Halbaffen.

Now as everyone knows, thanks to countless cartoons [both on the printed page and on screen], apes like bananas.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

For one famous African American, the association between her dark skin and the banana was made over. Josephine Baker became the toast of Paris and Weimar Berlin by her brilliant ovation-evoking dances. And one of her most famous routines was danced topless, wearing a wryly subversive skirt of jiggling costumer’s bananas. But when Hitler came to power, the last thing he wanted was a black nightclub star, so Baker retreated to Paris, and when Hitler’s troops invaded, she joined the Resistance, ultimately winning the Croix de Guerre. After her return to the U.S., she became active in the civil rights movement.

But the association between bananas and a derogatory view of folks with an abundance of melanin remains strong in Europe.

Consider the case of Italy’s first black cabinet minister, who has several times been the target of banana-throwing racists.

BBC News describes one such incident in this 27 July 2013 report:

Black Italian minister Kyenge suffers banana insult

Italian politicians have reacted with anger after the country’s first black minister had bananas thrown at her during a political rally.

Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, who has suffered racial abuse in the past, dismissed the act as “a waste of food”.

But Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said on Twitter he felt the “utmost indignation” over the incident.

An earlier International Business Times article on 1 May 2013 reported on incidents that had led to a call for a government investigation:

Kyenge, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is an eye surgeon, has been targeted by racist and far-right websites, as well as by a member of the right-wing Northern League party.

She was appointed integration minister by new prime minister Enrico Letta on Saturday, making her one of seven women in the new government.

Now, in the wake of racist taunts from an array of sources, including epithets that described Kyenge, 48, as a “Congolese monkey,” “Zulu” and “the black anti-Italian,” equal opportunities minister Josefa Idem has ordered the National Anti-Discrimination Office to investigate.

One venue where banana-throwing has become almost a regular feature is the European soccer match [though Canada hasn’t been spared either], as NBC Sports documented back on 23 September 2011 in “A brief history of racist banana-throwing incidents in sports.”

But the latest such incident generated a genuinely interesting response.

From TheLocal.es:

Spain goes bananas for anti-racism campaign

FC Barcelona player Dani Alves decided to eat a banana thrown at him during Sunday’s game against Villareal, a quick-witted reaction which is quickly turning into a worldwide anti-racism campaign with the help of his teammate Neymar.

The Brazilian full-back picked up the banana as he prepared to take a corner (see the video here) in his side’s match at Villareal on Sunday, and rather than take offense to the racist jibe, he gobbled up the fruit in one bite.

“I have been in Spain 11 years and it has been the same for 11 years,” Alves said after his team’s 3-2 comeback. “You have to laugh at these backward people. We are not going to change it, so you have to take it almost as a joke and laugh at them.”

Here’s the video, via Barca Vs Madrid Multimedia:

Dani Alves Eats Banana Thrown From Public – Villareal vs Barcelona 2-3 La Liga 27 04 2014

The response on Facebook and Twitter was immediate. Here’s an example, in tis case posted by Alves’s companion Thaíssa Carvalho [via Independenti.e]:

BLOG Bananas

 

UPDATE: A new, high level development, via ANSA. Photo and more at the link:

Renzi, Prandelli eat banana to back Alves

  • Premier, Italy coach show solidarity against racism

Premier Matteo Renzi and Italy coach Cesare Prandelli on Monday ate a banana, copying Barcelona player Dani Alves’s reaction to racist abuse and giving a symbolic demonstration of solidarity.

Brazilian defender Alves won international acclaim for his intelligent response to having a banana thrown at him from the stands while taking a corner during Sunday’s 3-2 win at Villarreal – peeling it and then taking a bite. Renzi and Prandelli showed their support during a meeting with Italy’s Five-A-Side football team, who were recently crowned European champions. Many other high-profile Italians also hailed Alves.

“Bravo Dani Alves. Fight racism forever. With elegance and imagination,” tweeted former immigration minister Cecile Kyenge, whose short tenure as Italy’s first black minister under ex-premier Enrico Letta was plagued by racist verbal attacks and gestures from the anti-immigrant Northern League party.

But there’s another factor in play: The spread of a fungus that threatens the very existence of the fruit.

The story from NBC News:

Bananas can’t seem to catch a break.

The fruit is under assault again from a disease that threatens the popular variety that Americans slice into their cereal or slather with chocolate and whipped cream in their banana splits. But aside from its culinary delight, the banana is the eighth most important food crop in the world, and the fourth most important one for developing nations, where millions of people rely on the $8.9 billion industry for their livelihood.

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida. In 1989 Ploetz discovered a strain of Panama disease, called TR4, that may be growing into a serious threat to U.S. supplies of the fruit and Latin American producers.

“There’s nothing at this point that really keeps the fungus from spreading,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

If the banana does go the way of the dodo, let’s just hope racist fans don’t take to throwing that other “fruit” so frequently linked with blacks by racists. Via Free Republic:

BLOG Melon

A blast for the past: Newsrooms and toe gum


Just for the fun of it, our very first esnl post, from 22 October 2009. As of now, 9,605 other posts have followed:

I’ve joined the legion of downsized journalists. The Berkeley Daily Planet laid me off Monday, leaving me with time to work on this blog, a gift from a dear friend, inspiration, and future contributor.

American journalism is dead.

I wrote my first newspaper story in 1964, in the closing days of the era when the ink-stained wretch was king [and a few queens as well] and newsrooms were peopled with folks with sharp elbows, sharper tongues and a camaraderie that doesn’t thrive in today’s newsrooms, where many a reporter nurtures dark hopes that her neighbor, not her, will be the next victim of the accountant’s ax.

When I started in the business, anyone with a decent set of clips could walk into any medium-sized burg in the country and count on landing a job within days, at most weeks.

This is my first post, one of what will be an occasional series about te changes I’ve seen in newsrooms over the past forty-plus years. And I promise I’ll throw in some toe gum along the way.

Toe gum? Read on. . .

My first job at a daily paper was at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where I covered civil rights, radical politics, the war on poverty, conventions and night cops–the last one being the traditional assignment of rookie reporters.

I had a great city editor, Tom Wilson, who taught me the basic skills of the craft, the foremost being “Ya gotta put some toe gum in your stories.”

Toe gum?

Yep. Toe gum.

“Brenneman,” he said after I’d turned in my first few stories, “y0u’ve got what it takes to be a good reporter. You know how to ask questions, and you can write a good sentence. But the problem is that you don’t put any toe gum in your stories.”

My eyebrows shot up. I knew a reporter was supposed to write a lead that, in 25 words or so, included the who, what, when, where and how, with the why coming in the second graf at the latest. But toe gum?

Tom smiled.

“You gotta think about who you’re writing for,” he drawled. “Now you work the swing shift, and that means your stories go out in the edition that hits the casinos and hotels when the midnight shift is getting off. Folks who want to buy a paper, take it home and give it a read.

“Now imagine you’re writing for a cabbie. He’s been haulin’ around a bunch of drunken tourists all evening long. He’s been yelled at, maybe cleaned some puke out of the back seat, and his ass is numb from sittin’ on dead springs for eight hours straight.

“Now when he gets home and opens the door, he’s gonna head straight for his easy chair. He’s gonna slip off his shoes and socks, then rub his feet and rub out all that gum that’s built up between his toes. Then he’s gonna lean back and open up his paper.

“He doesn’t want to read an academic dissertation. He wants to read something that tells him about his world in a way that means something to him. He’s who you’re writing for. So put some damn toe gum in your stories, Brenneman!”

After that, whenever the academic in me threatened to come out, Tom would throw the story back at me with the simple instruction, “Needs toe gum.”

I’ll be forever grateful.

We were later able to discover a picture of Tom Wilson as he appeared 35 years later with a new [to us] crop of chin whiskers. When we tried to return to it for a more accurate date and an update on Wilson’s career, but the site had vanished. . .

Tom Wilson, a writer's editor

Tom Wilson, a writer’s editor

Con artists in the aisles: Gendered Marketing


A deft takedown of a clever way to charge more for less [the antithesis of Buckminster Fuller's notion of synergy]  by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Kirsten Drysdale and Zoe Norton Lodge will give you a good idea of why the publicly funded network is under attack by the neoliberal government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

From ABC1’s The Checkout:

GENDERED MARKETING | The Checkout | ABC1

Program note:

Kirsten Drysdale and Zoe Norton Lodge examine the issue of market segmentation by gender and find we’ve all got an equal opportunity to pay more.

H/T to The Sociological Cinema.

Juice Rap News: Israel vs Palestine


Direct from Melbourne, Australia, we bring you the latest edition of Juice Rap News, created by Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant with the cooperation of Norman Finkelstein, Palestinian rap group DAM [Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Jreri], and others:

From Juice Rap News:

Juice Rap News: Israel vs Palestine

Program notes:

Decades of failed peace talks have led nowhere; but do not lose hope just yet. Join Robert Foster as he attempts to host the first ever Middle East Peace Raps, using rhyme and reason to bring together Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and a representative of Hamas. We investigate the key arguments, counter-arguments and ad-hominems from both sides. But the picture would not be complete without a thorough discussion of “America’s last taboo”, as Edward Said once referred to it: the USA’s role as Israel’s best (and only) buddy in the world (Ok, together with Australia). Featuring special cameos from prominent American Jewish scholar, Dr. Norman Finkelstein, and Palestinian rap legends, DAM, this is an episode for the ages. Join us as we bravely (or perhaps stupidly) take on one of the most bitter, divisive and controversial conflicts of our times: Israel & Palestine.

Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a suburban backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, on Wurundjeri Land.

Of free-ranging ranchers and media meltdowns


Fox news and the neolibertarian blogosphere erupted in high dudgeon over the federal government’s efforts to force Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy pay the national treasury for grazing his cattle on public lands.

Jon Stewart deftly skewered Fox for its sudden support for freeloading off the public purse, but the real meltdown came when Cliven Bundy expressed his views of black people — views that hadn’t been spoken aloud on Main Street in the last, oh, forty years.

Via Media Matters for America:

VIDEO: Cliven Bundy’s Racist Remarks

Program note:

Cliven Bundy questioned whether black Americans were “better off as slaves” or “better off under government subsidy.” His remarks initially appeared in a New York Times article on April 23.

What amazes us is the fact that Fox & Co. hadn’t vetted Bundy for views shared by many of their audience, but could only be voiced in loaded language.

That Bundy came form Nevada’s cow counties should’ve sounded an alert somewhere in some newsroom [or maybe not, thanks to the relentless purging of media of older journalists. . .].

We spent time back in Nevada during Bundy’s formative years, and when we arrived in 1966, there wasn’t a single black dealer or cocktail server in any of the casinos in Glitter Gulch or along the Strip. Rich white gamblers for Texas, Louisiana, and many from New York liked it that way.

Esnl spent some of the happiest times of his youth among hill people, high plains ranchers, desert rats, and other assorted end-of-the-roaders in Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico, enjoying fascinating conversations with men and women from an amazing array of backgrounds.

We recognize now that our reception amonst some of them would’ve been a lot different were our skin more melanin-rich and our less less thin and rather limp.

While two women we knew from imeccably WASPy backgrounds, they’d married or were openly cohabiting with native American men in the 1950s and 60s whilst living in regions voting strongly to the right. But a good many also held peculiar views on folks who didn’t hale from Northern Europe, sometimes overtly expressed, otherwise in telling words accompanied by winks, nods, shoulder shrugs, and other such somatic semantics.

The other irony is that Bundy’s ongoing grazing grab is the very embodiment of the otherwise wrongly premised notion of the “tragedy of the commons” that lies at the heart of the neolibertarian rationale.

Bundy’s views on black people came as no surprise to us. But the simple fact that the antics of a cow county curmudgeon had grabbed national headlines left us saddened at the utter collapse of political discourse in the mainstream media.

Chart of the day: Online video class divisions


From the Pew Research Center, a report [PDF] on emerging distinctions in online video viewing, including online journalism reports. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Vids

Three cheers for journalist Scott Bujnak!


Class war comes to othe newsroom, via Romenesko:

On April 7, I reported that Lee Enterprises CEO Mary Junck received a $700,000 bonus for simply refinancing the newspaper chain’s debt.

The news disgusted longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch carpenter Scott Bujnak.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he says.

Bujnak, 56, went into publisher Ray Farris‘s office last Wednesday and quit after 18 years at the Lee-owned daily.

Columnist Bill McClellan writes:

He told his boss he was through and explained why. What’s the point of saving nickels and dimes when the big boss gets a $700,000 bonus? Word spread quickly. “He did what?” “Wow.”

How many people at how many companies have daydreamed about doing the same thing?

Bujnak apparently doesn’t regret quitting, even without another job lined up. “I have a smile on my face you can’t wipe off,” he tells McClellan.

The columnist points out:

Workers have suffered while the big bosses have prospered. Pensions were long ago frozen. Mandatory unpaid furloughs were introduced. Layoffs were the worst. Families were ravaged. Yet, it was the small things that got to Bujnak. Mixing paints, cannibalizing chairs. He started resenting saving the company money.

Especially when people like CEO Junck were regularly getting big bonuses. (She also got a bonus of $500,000 in March of 2012 – again for simply refinancing Lee’s debt.)

Read the rest.

Random thoughts on our plutocratic senator


Dianne Feinstein’s everything Ike warned us about in his farewell address to the nation, the embodied fusion of the elements of that military/industrial/academic [MIA] complex that so alarmed the old general during the latter years of his presidency.

And, yes, Ike included academia in his warning, something we’ve sadly forgotten over the years as the problem itself has grown exponentially.

Feinstein and her partner in pilferage — spouse/University of California regent/real estate peddler and developer/defense contract/investment bankster Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum — are exemplars of the demise of the last semblance of a government created to serve the common good.

That the press invariably describes DiFi as a “liberal” also reveals the utter debasement of the mainstream media and the corruption of language itself.

DiFi and Tricky Dickie are the incarnations of something new, a class of beings we call, for lack of a better term, lootocrats. . .public servants devoted to turning the public into servants of their own insatiable lust for power and pelf.

That they are Democrats is merely a delicious irony.

[And isn't it ironic that DiFi, who serves on the key Senate committees of the MIA complex, only became upset with nation's spooks when she discovered they were also spying on her?]

What’s truly remarkable are the sheer nakedness of the dastardly duo’s greed, their willingness to cast off ever the slightest shred of camouflage as they go about gutting the commons and ensuring that there fellow lootocrats will scoop up every bit of spare change remaining in the pockets of an increasingly impoverished public.

We suspect one major reason that the pair has been able to get away with conduct that would have raised headlines and generated screaming headlines in years past is the finale decline of the American press. Here in California, the press corps has been gutted, with scores of newspaper closed, radio and television news staffs laid off in droves, and the remainder terrified for their jobs and spread so thin that the day-to-day coverage of the consequences of political actions has been diluted to near-homeopathic levels of enfeeblement.

In a sane world, Feinstein and Blum would be clapped in irons, stripped of their ill-gotten gains, and either administered a nice veneer of tar and feathers or locked away with far more honorable thieves, murderers, and arsonists to be subjected to their tender ministrations.

It’s really that bad.

Instead, their names adorn public institutions.

The last time the couple ran into any troubled was fourteen years ago, when she made an unsuccessful run against Pete Wilson for the California governorship. It was the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission which caught them.

From the FPPC website:

Dianne Feinstein, an unsuccessful candidate for Governor in 1990, her committee, and the committee treasurer failed to properly report campaign contributions and expenditures. The campaign statements did not disclose expenditures of $3.5 million, accrued expenses of $380,000, and subvendor payments of $3.4 million. The guarantor of loans totaling $2.9 million, Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, was not disclosed. Monetary and non-monetary contributions totaling $815,000 were not reported on campaign statements and late contributions of $90,000 were not reported. Notices were not sent to 166 major contributors who made contributions of $5,000 or more advising them of possible filing requirements.

Not a lot of money to folks like them, but it ain’t chump change either.

Meanwhile, their wealth keeps growing as Blum makes tidy profits selling off post offices to his pals and selling degrees to students at his private colleges financed by federal loans indenturing their lives for years to comes, all thanks to the public purse.

Meanwhile, Blum played a key role in completing the capture of the the University of California by his cronies from the dark side when the former Director of Homeland Security was hired to run what had been the world’s finest public education system.

There oughta be a law. . .