We begin today’s compendium of news from the worlds of economic, politics, and the enviornment — including the latest sobering news from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster with a march back in time to the days of the ancient Roman tax farmers with a headline from the Washington Post:
Congress moves to turn back taxes over to debt collectors
The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.
The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.
It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.
Some taxpayers would be spared the barrage of notices and phone calls, including innocent spouses, military members deployed to combat zones and people “identified as being deceased.”
And from United Press International, a three alarm hint of the consequences of resurrecting tax farms:
Foreclosures drive up suicide rates, study finds
“Losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being,” said Jason Houle.
Data analysis has previously shown economic downturn to provoke an increase in suicide rates, but a new study shows an even stronger correlation between suicides and foreclosure rates.
According to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, higher rates of suicide are uniquely linked to spikes in foreclosures.
By comparing state-by-state suicide rates with the numbers of issued foreclosures — while accounting for other disruptive factors — the researchers were able to conclude that the correlation was “independent of other economic factors associated with the recession.”
From the San Jose Mercury News, back to the bad old days:
Report: California among worst in the nation in school segregation
As racial separation in education steadily grows, California now leads the nation in children going to school with their own kind, a UCLA study released Wednesday contends.
On the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling intended to dismantle segregation, the report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project says that California students are more likely than ever to attend racially isolated schools.
In the Bay Area, most schools followed the same pattern, though were more integrated than schools in Southern California.
From Salon, one of the major reasons:
Fox News’ divisive race strategy: How O’Reilly, Hannity and Coulter intentionally tore America apart
- False claims go unchallenged, racial fears are stoked — and political scientists discover it helps GOP at polls
Right-wing political figures have often defended the content of Fox News and other right-leaning media. A common ploy is the insinuation that the “mainstream” news establishment is in fact biased in favor of liberal ideological framings of issues or that it is actually antiwhite. For example, Sarah Palin famously blamed the “leftist lamestream media” for allegedly pressuring Newt Gingrich to soften his critique of Republican congressman Paul Ryan (while in fact the disapproval came from Fox News), and Palin again insinuated charges of political targeting when she decried the media as attacking right-wing figures with their brand of unfair “gotcha journalism.” Rush Limbaugh also compared the mainstream press to a “drive by shooter except the microphones are guns.” Limbaugh further asserted that the anti-right, mainstream media attempts to “destroy people’s careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the drive-by media.”
And from United Press International, com;eting the taming of the Times:
Glenn Greenwald: Dean Baquet is too ‘subservient’ for journalism
Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson was abruptly fired this week. The lack of explanation for her dismissal has caused the newspaper to receive biting criticism.
Glenn Greenwald slammed the New York Times for the decision to make Dean Baquet executive editor, saying he will lead the newspaper into “neutered” journalism.
He may have had harsh words for Baquet but had nothing but compliments for his predecessor Jill Abramson, who was unexpectedly fired from her position earlier this week. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Greenwald said in the last ten years Abramson has been the “best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media.”
Greenwald, most famously known as the journalist to first publish the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is a strong proponent for freedom of the press and transparency in government.
From the Christian Science Monitor, another hint of things to come:
California wildfires set relentless pace months before typical season
This week, San Diego is the hardest hit. But drought, blistering winds, and unseasonably hot temperatures have produced 1,244 wildfires across the state this season, and officials expect no letup.
San Diego residents are bracing for a second day of wildfires, with temperatures expected to hit a high of 106 degrees, after at least nine fires closed schools and roads forced more than 21,000 people from their homes on Wednesday.
Thousands remain perched in front of their television sets, watching local broadcast team coverage of wildfires and hoping the wind won’t bring the fire and smoke toward their own communities.
For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.
From the Guardian, resistance:
Fast-food strike: US workers join world protests over wages and union access
- Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food workers staged protests on Thursday in 150 cities across the US and in 33 other countries
And from Al Jazeera America completing corporatization:
FCC votes to advance new Internet rules
- In split decision, commission put forward rule change that could lead to firms being charged for fast track delivery
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to formally put forward new rules on net neutrality that may result in a two-tier delivery service to consumers.
The controversial changes being proposed could allow for providers to charge content sites like Netflix for faster service. But it would prevent them from blocking or slowing down certain websites. The proposals were widely anticipated and have been the subject of intense debate in recent months.
Opponents of the new rules staged protests outside the FCC’s headquarters.
But Deutsche Welle raises an obstacle:
German Economy Minister: ‘Google breakup may be required’
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that a breakup of the company could become an option to consider. Google was not amused.
While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from “systematically crowding out competitors.”
The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.
“It’s about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe,” Gabriel commented.
Via the Christian Science Monitor, more privatization:
Detroit bankruptcy: Bondholders balk at plan for city’s artworks
The collection is central to how the Detroit bankruptcy plan is carried out. Bondholders – one group in the bankruptcy – believe the art should be valued higher, but the judge in the case isn’t making a reappraisal easy.
Judge Steven Rhodes, who is presiding over Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy, agreed last week to a restructuring plan submitted by the city. The plan still requires a vote by pension groups, labor organizations, and bond insurers, and state lawmakers would have to approve a $350 million cash injection from the state. But it has appeared that most groups are onboard with the plan.
A potential snag, however, appeared Thursday. In a three-hour hearing, attorneys representing two bondholders – creditors for the city that do not fare as well in the plan as some other groups – took aim at the arrangement that has been struck for the city’s art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). That collection is central how the plan is carried out.
The plan values the collection at $816 million, but the bondholders argue it should be worth more. A higher value for the collection could enable the city to fulfill more obligations.
On to Europe, first with BBC News:
Eurozone economic growth loses momentum
Eurozone economic growth lost momentum in the first three months of 2014, official figures show, with the growth rate unchanged from the previous quarter at 0.2%.
That was weaker than many economists had expected.
German growth picked up pace, with the economy expanding by 0.8%.
But France and Italy disappointed. The French economy failed to grow, while Italy’s contracted by 0.1%, having only just emerged from recession last year. Spain’s economy grew by 0.4% in the first quarter.
On to Old Blighty with BBC News and a truly terrible privatization:
Academics warn over child protection privatisation
A group of academics say they have serious concerns about proposals to let private contractors take over some child protection services in England.
Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University said child protection was too important to be handled by firms “driven by the profit motive”.
He said any such move could be destabilising and cause “chaos”.
BBC News again, running out of gas:
UK’s oil, coal and gas ‘gone in five years’
In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.
A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.
There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.
The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.
The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.
Class divisions with the London Telegraph:
One in five university graduates becomes a millionaire
- More than two million degree-holders have a net worth of £1m or more as new statistics reveal the education gap between rich and poor
One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.
Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.
Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.
The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.
Norway next and Obaman umbrage from TheLocal.no:
Top Obama aide raged at Norway over Nobel
- Norway’s ambassador to the US received an angry “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s chief of staff after the US President won his controversial Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a senior Norwegian diplomat has claimed.
Morten Wetland, Norway’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told The Local that Rahm Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his explosive disposition, has taken US ambassador Wegger Strömmen to task after the award was announced.
“What I know for a fact is that he gave the ambassador some words, ‘a dressing down’, with respect to this,” Wetland said. “The word ‘fawning’ was used.”
Wetland, now a partner with the Oslo lobbying firm First House, speculated that Obama’s advisors must have seen the prize as an unwelcome embarrassment.
“My guess is that the president’s staff want to be in control and not to be forced into a position that they have not been seeking themselves,” he said. “It could have been perceived that someone was consciously or subconsciously thinking about the prospect of having Obama visit Norway. Obama wouldn’t have visited Norway if it hadn’t have been for the Peace Prize.”
On to Germany, sprinting ahead with EUbusiness:
Germany sprints ahead of flagging eurozone recovery
The German economy, Europe’s biggest, sprinted ahead in the first quarter of 2014, amid a big setback for the eurozone which highlighted the fragility of the recovery, data showed on Thursday.
Germany, the region’s economic locomotive, saw growth double to 0.8 percent in the period from January to March, the strongest quarterly growth for three years and ahead of analysts’ expectations.
But the French economy, described by some economists as the weak link in Europe, turned in zero growth in the same period, highlighting divergence between the eurozone’s two biggest economies which is of deep concern to policymakers.
Austria next, with intolerance rising from TheLocal.at:
Right-wing march in Vienna
Supporters of a German right-wing radical group Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement) are holding a march in Vienna on Saturday.
The movement, initiated by disaffected, tech-savy youth, began in France and now has groups in Germany and Austria.
The group spreads its anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural message via social media and has gained attention by posting clips of its protests on YouTube and Facebook.
France next, and the neoliberal imperative from TheLocal.fr:
Europe warns France about protectionism
The European Commission warned France on Thursday against resorting to protectionism after Paris unveiled new measures to head off hostile foreign bids for key companies.
“The objective of protecting essential strategic interests is clear when it involves security or public order and that is recognised in EU treaties,” EU Finance Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said.
“But we also must check if this is applied in a proportionate fashion, otherwise it could amount to protectionism,” said Barnier, a French politician.
From TheLocal.fr, another quarter heard from:
US business body scolds French ‘protectionism’
- The leading US business group on Friday called France protectionist, after Paris asserted its right to veto any foreign takeover of key French companies.
The US Chamber of Commerce said the move by Paris, announced Thursday as US industrial giant General Electric presses to buy a division of France’s Alstom, would not help the country’s economy.
“From an open investment policy perspective there is nothing about the motivations behind the recent French decree… that isn’t explicitly a mix of industrial policy and protectionism,” said Sean Heather, executive director for international policy and antitrust policy at the chamber.
Such moves are “doing nothing to increase the country’s competitiveness,” he told AFP.
From TheLocal.fr, striking news:
Flights snarled as French civil servants strike
A country-wide civil servant strike on Thursday meant headaches for travellers on Thursday with dozens of flights cancelled. Strikers are angry about a four-year pay freeze that shows no signs of thawing.
Travellers were scrambling for alternatives on Thursday after a national civil servant strike meant dozens of flights were cancelled and dozens more delayed at France’s biggest airports.
Fliers coming into and out of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon were among those stuck on the ground with at least 20, 16 and seven cancellations respectively in the first half of the day, French daily Le Parisien reported.
From the Guardian, without comment:
Unemployed people in Czech Republic are ‘missing out on office sex’
- Social Democratic party Euro election campaign video aims to highlight plight of young adult jobless in the country
The Czech Social Democratic party (C(SSD), which is hoping to add to its seven MEPs in Strasbourg, endorsed the video posted by its youth branch, the message of which can be summed up as “unemployment is depriving people of the joys of an office fling”.
The video shows a young woman in office clothes working at a computer. After glancing at the clock, she sneaks off to the next room and can be seen in passionate embrace with a colleague behind the adjoining door.
“Everybody who wants to should be able to enjoy something a bit different during breaks. It is a shame there are half a million people who don’t have jobs,” says a voice-over accompanying the video.
Spain next, and another American arrives via El País:
US wholesaler Costco opens first Spanish megastore in Seville
- Warehouse club confident it can overcome reticence of local customers to pay membership fee
They have managed to get 15,000 people to pay for the privilege of shopping at their store, and they haven’t even opened their doors yet.
The US warehouse club chain Costco is disembarking in Spain with a first establishment due to open in Seville today.
Though modest, this incursion into Spanish territory has not gone unnoticed by the distribution sector, which will keep a close watch on the performance of its new rival.
El País covers costs:
Overrun costs or corruption? Why Spain’s public works are in crisis
- In six years, the government has paid out €10bn to cover excess spending on construction projects
- The amount is equivalent to the cuts it made on health and education when it came to office
- Arrests of nine on embezzlement charges provide latest example of an overly abused process
Between 2008 and 2014, the Public Works Ministry has paid out €5.12 billion to modify already completed works. A further €4.1 billion has been paid to cover cost overruns, along with €900 million for expropriating land. In total, over the last six years, the Public Works Ministry has had to find more than €10 billion to cover cost overruns on roads, rail and ports, the same amount that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would be cutting from health and education spending in April 2012, shortly after he took office.
There are any number of examples: the new port complex at A Coruña was tendered in 2004 for €436 million, and then awarded later that year for €370 million, according to Spain’s Ports Authority. The job ended up costing €547 million. And more money will be required, with the final cost likely to be more than €700 million.
The Environment Ministry, the government’s other big public works spender, paid out €1.5 billion in cost overruns between 2004 and 2012 on desalination plants, dams and other projects.
From TheLocal.es, cash and a black hole:
Spain’s ‘black’ economy worth 25 percent of GDP
Spain’s illegal economy is worth a staggering 24.6 percent of its gross domestic product and the country needs to pump far more resources into its rickety tax collection regime, a top tax union said on Friday.
Spain is a world leader in fraud with around €253 billion ($347 billion) in illegal money floating around in the country’s economy in 2013, Spain’s tax office union Gestha said in a statement on Friday. This figure has also risen €50 billion since the country’s crisis kicked in in 2008.
Critically, Gestha also argues Spain that Spain is chronically short-staffed when it comes to fighting tax evasion. Spain has one tax worker for every 1,958 inhabitants, against 942 for France and 740 for Germany, the union said in its statement.
On to Italy and the latest bad numbers from ANSAmed:
Italy returned to negative growth in first quarter
- GDP down 0.1% on last three months of 2013 – Istat estimate
Italy returned to negative growth in the first quarter of 2014, with gross domestic product (GDP) dropping 0.1% compared to the last three months of 2013, Istat said Thursday in its preliminary estimate for the period.
The national statistics agency said GDP was 0.5% down in the first quarter of this year with respect to the same period in 2013.
The figures are a big blow to Italy’s hopes of seeing a strong economic recovery after it emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of last year.
More austerity from TheLocal.it:
Italy’s state broadcaster braces for cuts
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has hinted at funding cuts to Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, saying the network “must also participate” in cuts as part of the government’s spending review.
The social media-savvy prime minister took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce “The future will also arrive at Rai,” following a heated debate on the broadcaster’s leading talk show.
“Rai must also participate in the spending review,” Renzi said on Rai 3’s Balarò programme on Tuesday evening.
The prime minister would not be drawn on a specific sum of cuts to the state broadcaster, although he said Rai’s numerous regional offices could be sites of “resounding waste”.
TheLocal.it again, with a neoliberal imperative:
Italy approves postal service privatisation
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government on Friday approved the sale of up to 40 percent of the postal service as part of a wide-ranging privatisation programme to raise some €12 billion.
The sale “can be carried out in several stages and through a public offering,” read the statement from a cabinet meeting authorising the sale of Poste Italiane, which is expected to raise around four billion euros.
The cabinet meeting also approved the sale of Enav, the state air traffic control agency, which could bring around 1.0 billion euros into state coffers.
The government is also planning to list up to 49 percent of state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri in the biggest privatisations in two decades as part of an effort to reduce Italy’s towering debt mountain.
From ANSA, Bunga Bunga hubris:
Pope doing job as I would have says Berlusconi
- ‘We’re same age but I look better’ says ex-premier
Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said Pope Francis was doing his job exactly as he would have done if he had been elected head of the Catholic Church. “Yes, I like Pope Bergoglio. He is being pope exactly the way I would have done it,” Berlusconi said of former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
The journalist the billionaire media mogul was speaking to noted that the pope and the centre-right leader are the same age, 77.
“The same age, but I look better for my years,” said Berlusconi.
Magistrate sent bullets after Berlusconi ruling
A magistrate in Milan received bullets in the post after ordering former premier Silvio Berlusconi to do community service for tax fraud, Italian media reported on Thursday.
Public Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini received the bullets at her Milan office in April, remarking that they were the latest in a string of threats.
“I received the most recent bullets a few days ago when we decided Berlusconi should do community service,” she was quoted in La Stampa as telling Superior Council of Judiciary (CSM).
While ANSA covers the latest in growing evidence of Bunga Bunga mob ties:
Mafia arrests may be linked to Scajola
- Two police officers among arrests, probe mole suspected
An anti-mafia round-up of 18 people on Friday – regarding alleged infiltration of the Neapolitan Camorra mafia into the northwestern Tuscan coastal area of Versilia – may be linked to last week’s arrest of former Italian interior minister Claudio Scajola, investigators said Friday.
Two police agents, working for the Italian premier’s office and the Lower House, were placed under house arrest in Friday’s anti-mafia sting, accused of breaching the confidentiality of investigations.
Information leaks indicate that investigators has focused on the hypothesis that a mole may have furnished Scajola with privileged information on criminal investigations.
And TheLocal.it, an all-too-common story:
Migrants revolt at Rome detention centre
Clashes erupted at an immigration detention centre in Rome on Thursday as around 250 people barricaded themselves inside the building, described as a place of “desperate detention” by one rights group. The protest comes in the same week a Tunisian man sewed his mouth shut in protest at a nearby facility.
Around a third of the 780 people detained at the facility in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, joined the protest on Thursday morning, La Repubblica said.
Police were brought in to break through the barricaded entrance and reportedly used a water hose to dispel some of the protesters, who threw stones at police officers, the newspaper said.
After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian anxieties, Turkish anger, Latin American troubles and a surprising alliance, the right surges to power in India, Thai coup hints, Chinese investor worries, a Japanese surge for the rich accompanied by bad news for the poor [sound familiar?], environmental woes [including the collapse of the American bee population], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading