Category Archives: Nature

EnviroWatch: Drought, plague, nukes, woes


For our compendium of headlines from the world of nature and its most dangerous predator [us], we begin with the latest on California’s epochal drought, via CNBC:

California drought: ‘May have to migrate people’

It’s going from worse to worst each week in California.

Suffering in its third year of drought, more than 58 percent of the state is currently in “exceptional drought” stage, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map. That marks a huge jump from just seven days ago, when about 36 percent of the state was categorized that way.

Exceptional drought, the most extreme category, indicates widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells. If the state continues on this path, there may have to be thoughts about moving people out, said Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University and who serves on the climate change delegation in the United Nations.

“Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought,” Wilson said. “We may have to migrate people out of California.”

Meanwhile back at the tap, with the Los Angeles Times:

Water-use restrictions take effect in California; daily fines possible

Tough new statewide regulations restricting outdoor water use took effect Tuesday, the same day millions of gallons of water gushed from a ruptured water main near the UCLA campus.

Under the emergency conservation restrictions, which were approved July 15 and were prompted by the statewide drought, hosing down driveways and sidewalks is prohibited, as is watering outdoor landscapes if it causes excess runoff.

In addition, water can’t be added to a decorative water feature unless it uses a recirculating system. Californians can use a hose to wash their cars only if the hose has a shut-off nozzle.

Offenders can be subject to a daily fine of $500.

And then there’s EbolaWatch, first with this from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: WHO to announce $100m emergency response

The head of the World Health Organization and leaders of West African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak are to announce a joint $100m (£59m; 75m euro) response plan.

They will meet in Guinea on Friday to launch the initiative aimed at tackling a virus which has claimed 729 lives.

Sierra Leone’s president has declared a public health emergency over the outbreak after 233 people died there.

CBS News imports:

White House Looking Into Medevac Options To Bring 2 American Aid Workers Diagnosed With Ebola Back To US

U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to the three African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.

The travel advisory applies to non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The outbreak in those West Africa countries has killed more than 700 people this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk of the deadly disease coming to the United States remains small. The last time the federal agency issued such a travel warning was in 2003 because of a SARS outbreak in Asia.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into Medevac options to bring two American aid workers diagnosed with Ebola back to the U.S. While the U.S. government would facilitate the response, private companies would be used.

And from Reuters, contagion explained:

Taxis, planes and viruses: How deadly Ebola can spread

For scientists tracking the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, it is not about complex virology and genotyping, but about how contagious microbes – like humans – use planes, bikes and taxis to spread.

So far, authorities have taken no action to limit international travel in the region. The airlines association IATA said on Thursday that the World Health Organisation is not recommending any such restrictions or frontier closures.

The risk of the virus moving to other continents is low, disease specialists say. But tracing every person who may have had contact with an infected case is vital to getting on top of the outbreak within West Africa, and doing so often means teasing out seemingly routine information about victims’ lives.

From the Guardian, an environmental alarm:

Wading birds declining in the UK

  • Conservationists say climate change could be partly to blame for big drop in numbers in eight of the main species over 10 years

Results from the Wetland Bird Survey reveals that ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshank and dunlin are among the eight most abundant species overwintering on UK estuaries to suffer significant and consistent population drops over 10 years.

Conservationists believe several factors are responsible, including climate change forcing the birds to areas outside the UK, and say collaborative international research is imperative. Examinations of the traditional sites, the largest of which include the Wash, Morecambe Bay and Thames Estuary, are also required to determine if there are site-specific issues.

Ringed plovers have suffered a decline of 39% in 10 years in over-wintering birds and those breeding in the UK. Redshank have fallen by 26% and Dunlin by 23%.

While the Guardian reminds us of one of yesterday’s toxic blessings:

BHP ordered to make record $2.2m asbestos compensation payment

  • The latest Dust Diseases Tribunal decision marks the largest payout in its 25-year history

Mining giant BHP Billiton will pay a record $2.2m to a man who was exposed to asbestos at a New South Wales steelworks.

The compensation was ordered on Thursday by the state’s Dust Diseases Tribunal, and is understood to be the largest payment in the tribunal’s 25-year history.

The decision is also the first time BHP Billiton has been ordered to pay financial compensation to a former employee of the Newcastle steelworks who has contracted mesothelioma, an incurable cancer.

Off to Japan and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! With the Mainichi:

3 ex-TEPCO execs recommended for indictment by citizens’ committee

A committee for the inquest of prosecution announced on July 31 that it had recommended three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), including its former chairman, be indicted for their criminal responsibility over the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster.

The citizen-composed Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said that while it was impossible to predict specifically that a tsunami like the one that struck on March 11, 2011, would hit the plant, the TEPCO executives should have been better prepared for the coming of a tsunami. It said that research done before the Great East Japan Earthquake was scientifically-based, but TEPCO, while knowing that it shouldn’t ignore this research, avoided taking disaster-prevention measures due to reasons including their cost.

The recommendation was adopted on July 23. It overrides a former decision by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office not to indict the three former executives on charges that included causing death and injury through professional negligence, and requires them to re-examine the former executives’ cases and make a new decision on their indictment. If they again decide not to indict and the committee again decides in favor, indictment will proceed forcibly.

Kyodo News covers a long-delayed start date:

Water treatment to get into full swing at Fukushima facility in Dec.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Thursday it will begin full-scale operation of its trouble-plagued radioactive water treatment facility in December after taking steps to improve its performance.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which began a test-run of the facility in March last year, initially planned to start its full-scale operation in April to accelerate efforts at tackling the toxic water buildup at the complex. But it was forced to delay the plan as the facility was hit by a series of problems.

The water treatment performance of the facility, which is said to be capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from toxic water generated in the process of cooling the reactors that suffered meltdowns in the 2011 nuclear crisis, has also not been as good as expected because some of the substances remain untreated.

From the Asahi Shimbun, yet another debacle:

Radioactive dust released during Fukushima cleanup reaches as far as Miyagi Prefecture

Airborne radioactive materials released during debris-clearing work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were found in a town 60 kilometers away on seven occasions since December 2011.

Led by Teruyuki Nakajima, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, the team noted a surge in concentration of airborne radioactive cesium during clean-up activities that reached the town of Marumori in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture.

The researchers said the findings show that radioactive materials were repeatedly released into the environment and reached extensive areas during debris-clearing operations.

And on the health side of things, this from the Japan Times:

Experts question Fukushima thyroid screening

The iodine-131 released into the air by the meltdowns accumulates in the thyroid gland, increasing the risk of thyroid cancer. The gland is responsible for regulating hormone levels in the body.

Children are considered especially vulnerable. After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, more than 6,000 children were diagnosed with thyroid cancer by 2005, according to the U.N. Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

Given the local anxiety, the Fukushima Prefectural Government in October 2011 started offering free thyroid screenings for everyone who was 18 or younger at the time of the disaster. The prefecture has 370,000 residents in that age group, and 300,000 had received voluntary checkups by the end of March.

The program may look good on paper, but it has drawn flak from medical experts who say it is far from adequate in determining a link between the cancers found and radiation exposure.

The Mainichi unsettles:

Shioya residents angry over proposed radioactive waste disposal site

Residents here gathered in front of the Shioya Town Hall on July 30 to protest the Environment Ministry’s announcement the same day that the government was looking to make the town a final disposal site for radioactive waste.

The ministry has been searching for a location to construct a facility to store “designated waste” including radioactive materials from the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. On July 30, Deputy Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited the Shioya town office and asked Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to agree to a detailed inspection of the area.

The ministry is apparently eyeing 3 hectares of state-owned land in Shioya to construct the storage site. The ministry says it picked the site because it had the highest score on a 5-point suitability scale in four categories — including a lack of local active faults and distance from settlements and water sources.

And our final item, via the Asahi Shimbun, importing the hot stuff:

India seeks Japan’s approval to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

Japan has been asked to approve reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in India as part of negotiations to conclude a nuclear power agreement between the two nations.

But though the Abe administration is eager to export nuclear power generation infrastructure as a pillar of its economic growth strategy, some Japanese government officials are cautious about approving the request from India.

The reprocessing produces plutonium that can be used as raw materials for nuclear weapons, which India already possesses.

California drought dramatically intensifies


While all of the state remains in a condition of Severe Drought, the latest United States Drought Monitor map reveals a dramatic increase of in the region ranked in the most severe Exceptional Drought category, which now covers 58.4 percent of the Golden State, compared to last week’s 36.5 percent. The critically impacted region now includes all of California’s Central Valley, the West’s agricultural breadbasket:

BLOG Drought

 

EnviroWatch: Water, weather, plagues, nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines from the intersection of people and planet begins with more of the most compelling story of the moment, via Sky News:

Liberia Closes Schools To Halt Ebola Spread

  • Security forces are ordered to enforce new anti-ebola rules as government workers are made to take compulsory leave.

Liberia has closed all schools and quarantined several communities as it attempts to stop the spread of the deadly ebola virus.

All non-essential government workers were also put on 30 days compulsory leave as the country announced its anti-ebola action plan.

Security forces across the country have been ordered to enforce the new rules.

Liberia had recorded 129 of the 672 deaths blamed on ebola as of July 23, according to the World Health Organisation.

Al Jazeera America covers the later on another subject of ongoing and considerable interest:

Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Wind, solar power increase needed to avoid global drought

The world will face “insurmountable” water crises in less than three decades, researchers said Tuesday, if it does not move away from water-intensive power production.

A clash of competing necessities — drinking water and energy demand — will cause widespread drought unless action is taken soon, researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and the U.S.-funded Center for Naval Analyses Corporation said in the reports.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” researcher Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University said in a press release on two new reports released Tuesday.

Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030.

Another water story, this time from MercoPress:

Sao Paulo faces water rationing; in 100 days the system could run dry

  • Federal prosecutors have asked the government of Sao Paulo to present water rationing plans for Brazil’s most populous state to prevent the collapse of its main reservoir. If such plans are not presented in 10 days, the prosecutor’s office said on its website it may ask courts to force rationing.
  • Sao Paulo is facing the worst drought in more than 80 years. The key Cantareira water system, which provides water to some 9 million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo city, is at less than 16% of its capacity of 1 trillion liters.

Citing a study prepared by the state university of Campinas, the prosecutor’s office said that the Cantareira system could run dry in 100 days unless rationing is implemented.

The Sao Paulo state government’s water utility said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the “imposition of water rationing, for it would penalize the population.”

From Public Radio International, a Brazilian environmental body count:

Activists in Brazil are fighting to protect the environment — and their lives

908. That’s the number of environmental and land-reform activists assassinated worldwide between 2003 and 2013, according to a study by the NGO Global Witness. The number might shock you, but perhaps even more shocking is that nearly half of those murders — 448 — took place in one country: Brazil.

What is it that makes Brazil the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist?

You’ll find clues in the story of Guarabana Bay. The bay, just minutes from downtown Rio’s world famous beaches, is a study in pollution and filth. Dark sludge cakes the shoreline. Garbage floats everywhere. It’s so bad that some sailors set to compete here in the 2016 Summer Olympics are warning colleagues not to let this water touch their ski

While an item in yesterday’s EnvrioWatch noted strong opposition to GMO rice in china, an MIT Technology Review indicates GMO receptivity for another staple:

Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing

  • Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

To stop the mildew, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences deleted genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew. The work promises to someday make wheat more resistant to the disease, which is typically controlled through the heavy use of fungicides. It also represents an important achievement in using genome editing tools to engineer food crops without inserting foreign genes—a flashpoint for opposition to genetically modified crops.

The gene-deletion trick is particularly tough to do in wheat because the plant has a hexaploid genome—that is, it has three similar copies of most of its genes. That means multiple genes must be disabled or the trait will not be changed. Using gene-editing tools known as TALENs and CRISPR, the researchers were able to do that without changing anything else or adding genes from other organisms.

On to the latest Fukushimaposcalypse Now!, starting with a chilly item from NHK WORLD:

Ice put into utility tunnels at Fukushima plant

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has begun putting ice into underground utility tunnels to help freeze radiation-contaminated wastewater.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company began work in April to create a wall of ice between the basement of the No. 2 reactor building and its utility tunnel.

TEPCO initially planned to freeze radioactive wastewater that’s been flowing into underground utility tunnels at the plant. It hoped the measure would prevent the wastewater from mixing with groundwater and flowing out to sea.

Followed by a hotter reception from NHK WORLD:

Emergency radiation exposure limit may be raised

Japan’s nuclear watchdog is considering raising the radiation exposure maximum limit for nuclear plant workers for serious accidents.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told at the body’s regular meeting on Wednesday that the possibility of a nuclear accident, where workers could be exposed to radiation beyond the current legal accumulative limit of 100 millisieverts, cannot be denied. His proposal to study raising the limit was approved at the meeting.

The authority will decide on the level by referring to overseas standards. It will also confer on how to get prior consent from workers and train them for such cases. If a legal amendment is necessary, it plans to send its findings to a relevant government panel for deliberations.

Jiji Press disposes, unhappiness ensues:

Shioya Picked as Candidate Site for Designated Waste Disposal

Japan’s Environment Ministry said Wednesday it has picked state-owned land in the town of Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture as a candidate site for building a final disposal facility for designated waste contaminated by radioactive substances from the March 2011 nuclear accident.

Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited Shioya Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to explain the ministry’s decision and to seek the eastern Japan town’s understanding for the conducting of a detailed field investigation.

“I can’t help but feel regret,” Mikata said, expressing the town’s opposition to construction of the facility.

From the Guardian, a fractious fracking flap:

EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

  • Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Truthout ponders a rising crisis alert:

Does NASA’s Data Show Doomsday for New York City?

If we don’t do something quick to stop global warming, some of the biggest cities in America could go the way of Atlantis in just a matter of decades.

Sam Carana over at Arctic News has taken the time to analyze the latest data from NASA, and what’s he’s projecting from that data is startling.

Sam suggests that global sea levels may rise rapidly over the next few decades; so rapidly, in fact, that we could see more than 2.5 meters of seal level rise by 2040, which is just 26 years from now.

And because, as Sam Carana points out, sea levels now look like they’re going rise exponentially – on a curve – as opposed to on a straight line, they will continue to rise even faster after 2040.

And for our final item, from CNBC, an alert from left field:

Paul Singer: This threat is ‘head-and-shoulders’ above all others

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has issued an unusual warning for investors, calling the threat of a widespread blackout from an electromagnetic surge the “most significant danger” in the world.

Called an “electromagnetic pulse” or EMP, the events can occur naturally from solar storms or artificially from a high-altitude explosion of nuclear weapons.

“While these pages are typically chock full of scary or depressing scenarios, there is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence,” Singer wrote to clients of his $24.8 billion Elliott Management on Monday in a standard investment update letter. “Even horrendous nuclear war, except in its most extreme form, can [be] a relatively localized issue, and the threat from asteroids can (possibly) be mitigated.”

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, nukes, GMOs, toxins


We’re really cheery in this edition. . .or not.

Consider first this from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: More than doctors needed to contain West Africa’s unprecedented crisis

  • Over 1,200 cases already in deadly epidemic, including prominent physicians

Doctors alone aren’t enough to contain West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak, which has already infected, and in some instances killed, key medical personnel, including prominent Western and local physicians.

Quebec doctor Marc Forget, who has been on the front lines of the epidemic in Guinea for seven weeks, told CBC News that past Ebola outbreaks were contained quite quickly with the intervention of international groups such as Doctors Without Borders working in conjunction with a country’s ministry of health.

This time, he says, “the magnitude of the disease is unprecedented,” and a stronger response is required, both in resources and personnel — including water, sanitation and logistics specialists, as well as medical staff.

Here’s a Reuters map of Ebola outbreaks via CBC News. Click on the image to enlarge:

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The Independent watches the borders:

Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow

  • One of world’s deadliest viruses – which makes people bleed from their eyes, nose and mouth – has now been flown out of main affected countries

Public health experts have issued urgent warnings to British doctors and border officials to watch for signs of the Ebola virus arriving in the UK.

It comes after an infected man in Liberia was allowed to fly from disease-affected West African country to the major international travel hub of Lagos, Nigeria.

Experts from Public Health England (PHE) are meeting with representatives from the UK Border Agency and individual airports to make sure they are aware of the signs to look for and what to do if “the worst happens”.

United Press International covers a notable casualty:

Top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone dies from infection

  • Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading medical expert on the Ebola virus, has died after becoming infected with the disease.

Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, a doctor in Sierra Leone who was actively working to control the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus, died Tuesday of the disease.

Khan became infected last week and had been in quarantine in an Ebola ward run by Medecins Sans Frontiere.

His death was confirmed by chief medical officer Dr. Brima Kargbo, who said his passing “is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers.”

Corporate contagion challenged, via Shanghai Daily:

China vows zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of GM rice

CHINESE authorities have vowed zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of genetically modified (GM) crops days after a media exposure of GM rice on sale at a supermarket in central China.

“The ministry will punish any companies or individuals that ignore regulations to grow or sell GM grains,” the Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday in a statement. “There will be no tolerance for those violating practices.”

China Central Television (CCTV) found GM rice, which is not allowed to be commercialized in China, on sale in the supermarket in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, the broadcaster reported on Saturday.

And from Common Dreams, a GMO-no:

Brazil Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Bugs

  • Farm lobby group calls on Monsanto and other biotech companies to reimburse for additional pesticide treatments

Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reported Monday.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” — which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests — is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.” (via Google Translate)

Another Brazilian story about another plague, from BBC News:

Amazon: Yanomami tribe’s Davi Kopenawa gets death threats

Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon rainforest said armed men had raided the offices of lawyers working with him. He said they were hired gunmen who had asked for him and wanted to kill him.

In February a major operation began to evict hundreds of gold miners from Yanomami land. Davi Kopenawa has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect Yanomami land for decades.

He told the BBC: “Illegal gold miners are still invading our land. They have leaders who organise the supplies and transport and support the invasion of our land. Ranchers have also invaded with their cattle.

Killing species to sate fashionable appetites, via the Independent:

African Pangolins at risk of extinction after becoming east Asian food favourites

  • More than a million pangolins are believed to have been snatched from the wild over the past decade

The pangolin, or scaly anteater, has become such a popular dish in affluent Asian circles that it is in danger of becoming extinct, according to a stark warning from a leading conservation organisation.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just added the four African pangolin species to its list of species threatened with extinction after an escalation of poaching driven by the rapid economic growth across much of the East. This means that all eight pangolin species – the other four from Asia – are now on the list, raising the prospect of the anteater being wiped out altogether.

Pangolins have long been caught and killed for their purported medicinal properties, which include being a treatment for psoriasis and poor circulation.

From the Guardian, another kind of extinction:

New Zealand’s ‘dramatic’ ice loss could lead to severe decline of glaciers

  • Study says Southern Alps mountain range has lost 34% of permanent snow and ice since 1977

New Zealand’s vast Southern Alps mountain range has lost a third of its permanent snow and ice over the past four decades, diminishing some of the country’s most spectacular glaciers, new research has found.

A study of aerial surveys conducted by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) discovered that the Southern Alps’ ice volume has shrunk by 34% since 1977.

Researchers from the University of Auckland and University of Otago said this “dramatic” decrease has accelerated in the past 15 years and could lead to the severe decline of some of New Zealand’s mightiest glaciers.

On to those pesky Japanese nuclear woes, first from NHK WORLD:

Poor quake resistance to keep Ikata plant offline

The restart of a nuclear power plant in western Japan has been put off until at least early next year after its emergency control room failed to pass a more rigorous quake resistance review.

Shikoku Electric Power Company made the announcement about its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture on Friday.

The room failed the review when the utility raised the estimated peak ground acceleration from a potential earthquake at the plant to 620 gals.

The review was part of the ongoing safety screening of the No. 3 reactor being undertaken by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

NHK WORLD again, disposing:

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

More fuelishness, this time from the Japan Times:

U.S. energy secretary defends possible German nuclear waste imports

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday defended his agency’s controversial move to consider processing spent nuclear fuel from Germany at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site nuclear facility, saying the proposal is consistent with U.S. efforts to secure highly enriched uranium across the globe.

The United States has for years accepted spent fuel from research reactors in various countries that was produced with uranium of U.S. origin as a part of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy and treaties.

Receiving the German spent fuel would be “very much in line with our mission of removing the global danger of nuclear weapons material,” Moniz told reporters before a visit to the South Carolina nuclear facility.

Displacing history for the yachting crowd, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Tahiti memorial commemorating those impacted by French nuclear tests in danger of removal

The French Polynesian government’s decision to remove a monument on Tahiti dedicated to those who suffered from repeated French nuclear testing in the South Pacific is facing growing opposition, including from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On June 11, the government, headed by French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, decided to rescind permission to use the current location in a park that sits along the ocean in the capital, Papeete.

“It is desirable to construct new facilities to accept yachts and boats and renovate (current) facilities for tourists,” Flosse said.

MintPress News covers other problems from other fuels:

Western Penn. Residents Request Fracking-Related Illness Probe

  • Scientists are asked to either prove or refute theories connecting a range of health problems with nearby fracking operations.

Across the nation, communities are challenging claims that fracking is safe. Residents living near the litany of well pods that are being built or are already in operation continue to report nosebleeds, headaches, skin rashes, dizziness and nausea. Research is increasingly supporting theories connecting such symptoms to fracking well proximity. According to a Jan. 28 Colorado School of Public Health report, for example, mothers living close to a cluster of fracking wells have as much as a 30 percent additional risk of their child being born with a birth defect. A second study, released by the Endocrine Society in December, found that exposure to fracking fluid could disrupt hormone functioning, leading to a greater chance of infertility, cancer and other health problems.

While some states, such as New York and Maryland, have taken these health concerns seriously, and have issued statewide moratoriums on fracking, other states, drawn to the revenue the expanded oil and natural gas drilling would bring to their coffers, have allowed fracking operations to set up with virtually no state regulation and no vetting of the safety of the process. The drive toward making America energy-independent has also led to the federal government taking a hands-off approach in regards to dealing with fracking, with several pieces of legislation in place to make it difficult for federal agencies to impose safety regulations on oil and gas companies.

In fracking-heavy Washington County, Pennsylvania, residents have reached out to a group of local scientists to prove definitively that their illnesses are being caused by the fracking well pods. The group, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, is offering free health evaluations to families local to the drilling sites. In Pennsylvania, there are no planned or ongoing health studies in place with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection — which oversees the state’s oil and gas industries — and none of the impact fees the state collects from drilling operations go toward health programs or initiatives.

And for our final item, there’s exxxcellent news for Montgomery Burns from the Independent:

Luxury cruise line accused of offering ‘environmental disaster tourism’ with high-carbon footprint Arctic voyage

A luxury cruise operator in the US has announced it will offer a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to experience the environmental devastation of the Arctic – using a mode of transport that emits three times more CO2 per passenger per mile than a jumbo jet.

It will be the first ever leisure cruise through the Northwest Passage, only accessible now because of the melting of polar ice, and is being marketed at those with an interest in witnessing the effects of climate change first-hand.

Tickets for the trip, scheduled for 16 August 2016 and organised by Crystal Cruises, will cost between $20,000 (£12,000) and $44,000.

Yet there is no mention on Crystal Cruises’ promotion or FAQ for the journey of the boat’s own carbon footprint.

EnviroWatch: Fires, toxins, nukes, crops


Our compendium of news environmental begins with Golden State burning, via the Christian Science Monitor:

California fire threatens 500 homes, more high temps forecast

California fire crews are battling the so-called Sand Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as well as a fire near Yosemite National Park. Intense heat is expected to continue in the state this week.

More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated from the Sierra Nevada foothills as wildfire threatens 500 homes.

The so-called Sand Fire doubled in size over the weekend, burning 13 homes and outbuildings and scorching six square miles of grassland and timber near Plymouth, Calif., some 30 miles east of Sacramento. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze with the help of a DC-10 air tanker, but high temperatures and gusting winds continue to fan the flames. The blaze, which began on Friday, is currently 50 percent contained.

The intense heat is expected to continue throughout the week, further complicating efforts to battle the fire and heightening the potential for other outbreaks, Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson told the Los Angeles Times.

From CBC News, corporate poisoning north of the border:

Mercury survivors neglected by government, Grassy Narrows First Nation claims

A northwestern Ontario First Nation has released a five-year-old report confirming the community suffers ongoing effects from mercury poisoning, but it says the government has never acted on the findings.

At a news conference in Toronto on Monday, members of Grassy Narrows First Nation presented the 2009 report that they say should have been made public long ago.

The report was commissioned by the Mercury Disability Board, an organization established in 1986 through an out-of-court settlement to assess and manage claims related to mercury contamination in the Wabigoon/English River system.

A Dryden-based paper company dumped mercury into the river between 1962 and 1970, contaminating the main source of fish for Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabesemoong Independent Nations.

And from EcoWatch, troubled waters on the northern border:

Plastic Pellets Pollute Lake Erie

Millions of industrial plastic pellets pollute the sands beneath our feet, but you can’t see them unless you look closely, and no beach cleanup will ever make it better.

“We picked up all the bags and bottles already,” said one young volunteer that collected trash on Whiskey Island at Wendy Park’s Sandy Beach, along the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland as part of the Burning River Fest. I was sitting next to her on the ground sifting through leaf litter picking up the little pieces. I yelled, “I’ll give a dollar to the first person to find a pellet!” Within a few minutes a dozen volunteers were on their hand and knees picking up thousands of them. The amount of pellets on this beach is equivalent to a least one plastic bottle every three feet.

Industries that make or use preproduction plastic pellets contribute to the problem of uncontrolled pellet loss. Preproduction plastic is the raw plastic resin materials that are molded into finished plastic products, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. Preproduction plastics are often produced in a resin pellet format, occasionally termed as “nurdles.” These small, 1- to 5- mm diameter pieces are produced in various shapes, colors and plastic types. Preproduction plastics can be produced in powder, granule and flake form.

From the Guardian, the best “science” money can buy:

Bee research tainted by corporate funding, MPs say

  • Report warns against letting pesticide companies fund key research for government plan to boost pollinators

Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.

UK environment ministers failed in their attempt in 2013 to block an EU-wide ban on some insecticides linked to serious harm in bees and the environmental audit select committee (EAC) report urges ministers to end their opposition, arguing there is now even more evidence of damage. Millions of member of the public have supported the ban.

“When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.

On to Latin America for two contrasting agricultural stories via Public Radio International:

Brazil is set to become the world’s biggest soy producer — and that might be bad news for its forests

In the soy bean world, all eyes are now on the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

It’s covered by millions of acres of industrial farms and deep green soy fields. If this year’s harvest — the best in Brazilian history — comes in as expected, Brazil is poised to surpass the US and become the world’s largest soy producer. Soy beans have boosted Brazil’s economy and even brought President Dilma Roussef to Mato Grosso to congratulate farmers in person.

But in a nearby indigenous village, no one is celebrating. The boom in soy production coincided with a spike in deforestation. And Hiparidi Toptiro, an activist from the indigenous Xavante people, says local soy farmers are willing to do anything for a chunk of the forest where the Xavante live.

“Throughout our lands, people show up wielding false deeds to the area,” Toptiro says.  “And they have begun to plant soybeans inside our lands. They pay off one of our villages with a little money, which complicates the relationship between all of us in the reserve. “ He calls it dividing and conquering with trinkets.

The Guardian looks at the alternative:

Can ‘agroecology’ bring food security to Latin America?

  • A home-grown, alternative approach to farming is bad news for pesticides, monoculture and food poverty in Brazil

In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.

Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.

María de Los Angeles is an Ecuadorian representative of the agroecological movement of Latin America and the Caribbean. She says conventional production is not sustainable because it degrades the soil and is based on fossil fuels.

“Agroecology recovers elements of each territory and knowledge developed by farmers for thousands of years. Instead of monoculture, we’re talking about preserving biodiversity and humankind itself.”

Off to Japan for the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an offering from Jiji Press:

No Clear Effect of Fukushima Groundwater Bypass: TEPCO

Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Monday that it still cannot confirm whether a so-called groundwater bypass operation at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is working.

In May, the utility began the operation to pump untainted groundwater into the sea so that the water will not flow into reactor buildings and increase the amount of radioactive water at the plant.

TEPCO official Teruaki Kobayashi told a news conference Monday that the company is still unable to see tangible results from the operation in reactor buildings.

From the Asahi Shimbun, justifiable skepticism:

ASAHI POLL: 59% oppose planned restart of Kyushu reactors

Nearly 60 percent of citizens are opposed to the planned restart of reactors at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the first such restart under tougher standards introduced after the Fukushima crisis, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 16 concluded that reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Co. plant meet the safety standards introduced after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It is the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began that a nuclear plant has passed the NRA’s stricter inspections.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with cause for even more skepticism:

Former Kansai Electric Power executive reveals 18 years of secret payments to prime ministers

A former top official at Kansai Electric Power Co. has come forward to reveal a nearly 20-year history of doling out “top secret” huge donations to Japanese prime ministers, funded on the backs of ratepayers.

Chimori Naito, 91, a former KEPCO vice president, said that for 18 years from 1972, seven prime ministers received 20 million yen (about $200,000 now) annually from Yoshishige Ashihara, who served as both KEPCO president and chairman.

At that time, political donations to individual lawmakers were not illegal. However, in 1974, electric power companies declared a ban on corporate donations to politicians because of strong public opposition to the use of electricity fees to pay for such contributions.

Naito had long taken pride in working closely with Ashihara in making the donations as part of efforts to promote nuclear energy and to further develop the electric power industry.

NHK WORLD covers a hot real estate deal:

Govt. won’t nationalize radioactive storage site

The government says it will allow landowners to keep their property rights for the land where it will build temporary storage facilities for radioactive debris in Fukushima Prefecture. It had originally planned to buy the land for the facilities.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto met Fukushima Prefecture Governor Yuhei Sato and the mayors of Futaba and Okuma in Tokyo on Monday. The two towns host the crippled nuclear power plant.

The government had planned to buy land from landowners in the towns to build the intermediate storage facilities for radioactive soil and waste from the nuclear power plant. But some landowners had refused to sell.

From the Guardian, fracking Britain’s heritage:

Fracking: oil exploration already occurs in national parks, says energy minister

  • Tory MP Matthew Hancock’s remark comes as firms are invited to bid for first onshore oil and gas licences in six years

Ministers are right to leave the door open to fracking in national parks because oil and gas have been exploited uncontroversially in such areas for decades, Matthew Hancock, the new energy minister, has said.

Unveiling the first new competition for onshore oil and gas licences for six years, the Conservative MP said there would need to be exceptional circumstances for shale drilling in protected countryside but people should remember that national parks cover 16% of the UK.

The government is on Monday to advertise around half of the UK to companies which want to exploit shale gas, in the first sale of new onshore licences since experts discovered the scale of the UK’s reserves.

And for our final item, a chiller from News Corp Australia:

The arrival of an Ebola-infected air passenger in Nigeria has airlines and airports scrambling to respond around the world

A MAN collapses at an international airport: It’s a hackneyed scene from almost every plague film ever made. But now it has happened — airports around the world are on high alert as fears mount that the deadly Ebola virus is on the move.

Nigerian health authorities are racing to stop the spread of the flesh-eating Ebola virus after a man sick with one of the world’s deadliest diseases carried it by plane to Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 21 million people.

Nigeria is so concerned it has ordered the establishment of “disease isolation centres” at international airports across the country to prevent any further entry of the untreatable disease.

But the horse may have already bolted.

EnviroWatch: Loans, drought, laws, radiation


Today’s first item, via the Guardian, covers the sad but not so surprising:

Leaked World Bank lending policies ‘environmentally disastrous’

  • New ‘light touch’ rules on bank’s $50bn annual lending have been gutted to remove protections, watchdogs claim

Radical plans by the World Bank to relax the conditions on which it lends up to $50bn (£29bn) a year to developing countries have been condemned as potentially disastrous for the environment and likely to weaken protection of indigenous peoples and the poor.

A leaked draft of the bank’s proposed new “safeguard policies”, seen by the Guardian, suggests that existing environmental and social protection will be gutted to allow logging and mining in even the most ecologically sensitive areas, and that indigenous peoples will not have to be consulted before major projects like palm oil plantations or large dams palm go ahead on land which they traditionally occupy.

Under the proposed new “light touch” rules, the result of a two year consultation within the bank, borrowers will be allowed to opt out of signing up to employment safeguards, existing protection for biodiversity will be shredded, countries will be allowed to assess themselves, and harmful projects are much more likely to occur, according to World Bank watchdog groups including the Bank Information Centre (BIC), the Ulu Foundation and the International Trade Union Confederation.

And on to our ongoing coverage of the drought parching the Golden State and the West, first with a scorcher from BBC News:

Two California wildfires destroy 10 homes

Two fast-moving wildfires in California have destroyed 10 homes and have forced the evacuation of hundreds more, US officials say.

In the Sacramento region, a fire has spread to cover an area of about 4,000 acres, while another blaze threatens homes around Yosemite National Park.

The Sacramento fire is around 35% contained, officials told local media.

Months of drought have caused more fires in California this year – some 1,400, twice the usual number.

The Los Angeles Times digs down:

Farmers drilling deeper for water as drought drags on

California’s three-year drought has sparked a surge in demand for wells in the state’s agricultural heartland. With federal and state allocations of surface water reduced to a trickle, growers are searching deeper underground for sources of water to keep their farms from ruin.

The clamor has overwhelmed California drillers and pump installers, forcing some farms to hire contractors from neighboring states.

It’s also setting the stage for more problems later as groundwater supplies are shrinking faster than they can be replenished. In parts of the Central Valley, the water table has plummeted, drying up old wells and sinking the land above, a phenomenon called subsidence.

That’s resulted in even deeper wells that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and require more energy to pump water to the surface. As recently as two decades ago, a well several hundred feet would suffice. Today, large farms are drilling to depths of 2,000 feet in anticipation of falling water levels.

“We’re going bigger horsepower every year,” said Charles Barber, president of Caruthers Pump south of Fresno, who has customers on a three-month waiting list. “We’ve lost 30 feet of groundwater in a year in some places. We keep that up for 10 years and we won’t be farming like this anymore.”

From Al Jazeera America, a crackdown:

Cali water cops: What you gonna do when they come for you?

  • State resources officials are aggressively policing the dire shortage by imposing fines on drought rule violators

But the Los Angeles Times covers the scofflaws:

California officials admit they have incomplete water usage data

When state regulators tried to tally water use across California recently, they didn’t exactly get a flood of cooperation.

Of the 440 water agencies in the state, only 276 provided water consumption data. And officials in San Diego made a point of formally refusing the request, saying the state’s method for measuring water use in California’s second-largest city was “misleading and technically inappropriate.”

The State Water Resources Control Board released the result of its survey earlier this month, showing an 8% increase in water use in Southern California in May while most of the rest of the state was using less water.

And what water there in the Midwest, is increasingly likely to be toxic, reports Common Dreams:

Notorious ‘Neonics’ Pervasive in Midwest Waters: Study

Researchers from the USGS found the insecticides in waterways of nation’s corn, soy region.

A new study has added to mounting evidence against a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics.”

Linked in numerous studies to bee declines, the new research looks at neonics’ impacts on surface water.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 9 rivers and streams in the U.S. Midwest—home to vast plantings of corn and soybeans as well as widespread use of neonics—in the 2013 growing season.

On to the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with this bit of ominous news from the Asahi Shimbun:

Water leaks continue to plague No. 5 reactor at Fukushima plant

A leak of radioactive water was found in the piping of water used to cool the spent fuel pool in the undamaged No. 5 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its operator said on July 19, a sign of possible deterioration in the system.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said water from the cooling pond leaked, citing comparable levels of the concentration of radioactive substances in the leak and the pool.

A TEPCO employee found a pool of water in each of two boxes–75 centimeters by 50 cm–that house a control valve in the cooling water piping system on the fifth floor of the No. 5 reactor building at 1:25 a.m. on July 19.

From the Asahi Shimbun again, why are we not surprised?:

Restarts of reactors in Ehime delayed due to insufficient safety standards

Restarts of reactors at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture will be delayed until at least next year because the site does not meet safety standards.

Its operator, Shikoku Electric Power Co., is being forced to construct a new emergency headquarters building at the facility as the current one, which was completed after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, fails to meet the new criteria.

The new building is scheduled to be completed in January 2015 at the earliest. Given that procedures for safety screening take time, the utility said it was doubtful the reactors could be reactivated this fiscal year, which ends in March 2015.

From Kyodo News, a measure sure to inspire confidence — or not:

Local gov’ts give iodine tablets to residents as reactor restart looms

Local governments started Sunday handing out iodine tablets to residents living within 5 kilometers of an offline nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, that may restart in the fall.

It is the first time iodine tablets have been distributed under Nuclear Regulation Authority guidelines instituted following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Iodine tablets help protect thyroids from radiation.

The move by the Kagoshima prefectural and Satsumasendai city governments came after Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant cleared a safety hurdle key to its restart earlier this month.

The Asahi Shimbun withdraws:

Plan dropped for land purchases to host nuclear debris storage sites

In the face of strong opposition, the government has abandoned its plan to purchase all of the land needed to build temporary storage sites for radioactive debris, sources said.

The idea was dropped after some landowners at prospective sites refused to sell, fearing the storage facilities located near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would end up being permanent.

Instead of purchasing all of the plots, the government now plans on leasing some of the land from landowners.

And from the Japan Times, looking across the Pacific:

Problems dog plans for U.S. nuclear plants

The U.S. nuclear industry has started building its first new plants in decades using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and money and revive the once promising energy source.

But so far, it is not working.

Quality and cost problems have cropped up again, raising questions about whether nuclear power will ever be able to compete with other electricity sources. The first two reactors built after a 16-year lull, Southern Co.’s Vogtle plant in Georgia and SCANA Corp.’s VC Summer plant in South Carolina, are being assembled in large modules. Large chunks of the modules are built off-site, in an effort to improve quality and avoid the chronic cost overruns that all but killed the nuclear industry when the first wave of plants was being built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Analysts say engineers created designs that were hard or impossible to make, according to interviews and regulatory filings reviewed by AP. The factory in Louisiana that constructed the prefabricated sections struggled to meet strict quality rules. Utility companies got early warnings but proved unable to avoid the problems. Now the firms leading the project are phasing out the Louisiana factory for work on the biggest modules and contracting with new manufacturers.

While the Los Angeles Times covers another, surprising source of radioactive waste, fracking:

Oil drilling in North Dakota raises concerns about radioactive waste

Every weekday, about a dozen large garbage trucks peel away from the oil boom that has spread through western North Dakota to bump along a gravel road to the McKenzie County landfill.

Nearly 1,000 radioactive filters were found last year at the landfill, part of a growing tide of often toxic waste produced by the state’s oil and gas rush. Oil field waste includes drill cuttings — rock and earth that come up a well bore — along with drilling fluids and wastewater laced with chemicals used in fracking.

To many local and tribal officials, environmentalists and some industry managers in North Dakota, the dumping of the socks and the proliferation of other waste shows the government falling short in safeguarding the environment against oil field pollution.

And for our final item, the New York Times reminds us who’s footing the bill:

The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 94 percent of the population had less wealth and 4 percent had more.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households.

From NASA: A Solar Filament Erupts


Via Astronomy Picture of the Day. And do click on the image to enlarge to its full spectacularity:

BLOG Solar flare

Explanation:

What’s happened to our Sun? Nothing very unusual — it just threw a filament. Toward the middle of 2012, a long standing solar filament suddenly erupted into space producing an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The filament had been held up for days by the Sun’s ever changing magnetic field and the timing of the eruption was unexpected. Watched closely by the Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, the resulting explosion shot electrons and ions into the Solar System, some of which arrived at Earth three days later and impacted Earth’s magnetosphere, causing visible aurorae. Loops of plasma surrounding an active region can be seen above the erupting filament in the ultraviolet image. Over the past week the number of sunspots visible on the Sun unexpectedly dropped to zero, causing speculation that the Sun has now passed a very unusual solar maximum, the time in the Sun’s 11-year cycle when it is most active.

EnviroWatch: Scofflaws, nuke woes, more


Our second headline collection focuses on the environment, and the costs of living a world where consumption — and the attendant damages to the earth, our fellow living creatures, and ourselves — has become the driving impetus of the systems of power and control.

First up, MintPress News covers stark reality:

Criminal Prosecution Rates For Corporate Environmental Crimes Near Zero

Grappling with a shrinking budget and limited manpower, the EPA pursues criminal charges in “fewer than one-half of one percent” of total legal violations.

While U.S. regulators are actively flagging and tracking corporate violations of federal environmental laws, the government is rarely pursuing criminal penalties for those infractions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the key department in safeguarding the country’s health from pollutants, pursues criminal charges in fewer than one-half of one percent of total violations, according to new research. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges, which require less evidence to prove and fewer resources to prosecute.

Yet critics worry that civil proceedings, which typically result in fines but no jail time or restitution, don’t offer the robust deterrent effect necessary to substantively impact corporate decision-making or offer compensation to affected communities.

“More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in agency databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations,” according to a newinvestigation from the Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

BBC News combines the deplorable and the devastating:

Global decline of wildlife linked to child slavery

New research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.

Ecologists say the shortage of wild animals means that in many countries more labour is now needed to find food.

Children are often used to fill this need for cheap workers, especially in the fishing industry.

The decline in species is also helping the proliferation of terrorism and the destabilisation of regions.

From Mother Jones, a subject of our ongoing concern:

California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under

In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

  • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
  • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, DC.
  • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
  • “We’re acting like the super-rich:” California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

The report is posted online here [PDF]:

From Project Syndicate, another ravaged continent:

Antarctica’s Point of No Return

Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

Via DutchNews.nl, Big Pharma strikes again:

Criminal investigation begun into banned antibiotic in animal feed

The public prosecution department has launched a criminal investigation into the use of a banned antibiotic in Dutch animal feed from a producer near Utrecht.

In a statement on Friday the department said business premises and a private house have been searched as part of the investigation.

Food safety inspectors have shut 102 Dutch pig and veal farms and 11 in Germany because they were delivered feed containing the antibiotic furazolidone, the Financieele Dagblad said earlier on Friday.

From the Economic Times, conditional reistance to the globalization regime in the name of food autonomy:

US sees ‘crisis’ in WTO over customs disaccord with India, others

The World Trade Organisation is facing a “crisis” because of disagreement, most notably with India, over improved customs procedures, the United States said Friday.

“We are deeply disappointed that backsliding on Trade Facilitation has brought the WTO to the brink of crisis,” the US ambassador to the world trade body, Michael Froman, said in a statement.

“The current state of play on Trade Facilitation threatens to deal a serious blow to the credibility of the multilateral trading system and to set back the development needs of many countries around the world,” he said.

Off to Japan and the latest installment of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from NHK WORLD:

TEPCO: Groundwater bypass showing limited effects

Work to pump up groundwater to keep it from flowing into the contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is apparently having limited effects.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, reported the results of the operation so far at a meeting of experts at the industry ministry on Friday.

TEPCO began the so-called groundwater bypass operation in May. It involves draining water from wells and releasing it into the sea to keep it from flowing into reactor buildings and becoming contaminated.

NHK WORLD reassures

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

And speak of the devil! From Nextgov:

Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press ties it up:

U.S. Fukushima report: Think about unthinkable disasters

A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.

That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to the National Academy of Sciences report released on July 24. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.

“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.

Echoes of an earlier disaster resonate anew. From the Guardian:

Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep

  • Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions

In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.

“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.

The beneficiaries of all this mayhem, via United Press International:

85 wealthiest are richer than poorest 3.5 billion

  • The report found 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.

The U.N.’s annual Human Development Report released Thursday shows that the world’s 85 richest people are wealthier than the poorest 3.5 billion.

The top five countries ranked in the Human Development Index (HDI) are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. The bottom five are all from Africa: Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The U.N. attributed slowing improvements in health, education and income to worsening income inequality, climate change and government corruption.

The authors found that nearly one-third of people are poor or vulnerable to poverty with 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. The report says that human development can be improved by “universal access to basic social services, especially health and education; stronger social protection, including unemployment insurance and pensions; and a commitment to full employment, recognizing that the value of employment extends far beyond the income it generates.”

And to close, one of those beneficiaries wages war on the commons, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial

The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast.

The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him.

“If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?” he asked. “The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don’t want to compromise on anything.”

Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open.

Quote of the day: The Sixth Mass Extinction


From the abstract of “Defaunation in the Anthropocene,” a major study in the latest issue of Science:

We live amid a global wave of anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss: species and population extirpations and, critically, declines in local species abundance. Particularly, human impacts on animal biodiversity are an under-recognized form of global environmental change. Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance. Invertebrate patterns are equally dire: 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Much remains unknown about this “Anthropocene defaunation”; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impacts. Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change.

The last mass extinction happened 65 million years ago, spelling the end of the age of the dinosaurs. While that event is linked to a massive asteroid strike, the current collapse is, sadly, largely of our our own making.

Map of the day II: Looming water apocalypse


The Colorado River Basin, where groundwater is being extracted at levels certain the lead of a catastrophic water failure for the American West in the the near-term future.

Via the Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL]. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Groundwater

More from the JPL:

A new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists finds more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal water management agency, the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years.

The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study’s lead author. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Read the rest.

H/T to Ignacio Chapela.

Map of the day: Global heat hits all-time record


Click on the image to enlarge. . .BLOG Weather

From the National Climatic Data Center, which reports:

According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for June 2014 was the highest for June since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 38th consecutive June and 352nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for June was in 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985.

Most of the world experienced warmer-than-average monthly temperatures, with record warmth across part of southeastern Greenland, parts of northern South America, areas in eastern and central Africa, and sections of southern and southeastern Asia. Similar to May, scattered sections across every major ocean basin were also record warm. Notably, large parts of the western equatorial and northeastern Pacific Ocean and most of the Indian Ocean were record warm or much warmer than average for the month. A few areas in North America, Far East Russia, and small parts of central and northeastern Europe were cooler or much cooler than average.

EconoEnviroWatch: Drought, fires, poisons


For today’s second headline collection, we offer news of the environment, as well as some relevant economic and political stories.

We begin with an alarm from Circle of Blue:

Colorado River’s Course Through A Drying Landscape Is Draining Lake Mead

  • Along the 1,800-mile river basin, locals wrestle with water demands.

The effects of lingering drought, and the unrelenting demand for water from farmers, cities, and energy producers converged today at Lake Mead, which drained to its lowest level since 1937 when the Hoover Dam closed off the Colorado River to begin filling the largest reservoir in the United States.

In dropping to a record-low water level the huge lake, which straddles the border between southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona, has emerged as an important measure of water insecurity in the American West. Just as gasoline prices serve as a national gauge of American economic stress — relieving psychic pressure as prices go down, causing strain as they rise — Lake Mead’s steadily declining water levels are a visible and widely reported gauge of intensifying water scarcity in the fastest growing region of the United States.

Lake Mead sits near the end of the Colorado River, which stretches 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) across seven U.S. states before entering Mexico. Its course is through one of the earth’s grandest landscapes. Lake Mead reflects the mammoth scale of the geography and its drying condition.

The California angle from Weather West:

An overview of California’s ongoing and extraordinary drought: a tale of exceptional dryness and record warmth

Droughts historically have a way of sneaking up on California, and the extraordinary 2012-2014 drought has been no exception.

Year-to-year and even season-to-season rainfall variability is quite high in this part of the world, which means that it’s nearly impossible to know whether a single dry year (or season) portends the beginning of a much more prolonged or intense dry period. Indeed–the 2012-2013 rainy season had an extremely wet start–so wet, in fact, that an additional large storm during December 2012 would likely have led to serious and widespread flooding throughout Northern California. But no additional significant storms did occur during December 2012–nor during January 2013…nor February, March, April, or May. In fact, January-June 2013 was the driest start to the calendar year  on record for the state of California in at least 118 years of record keeping. Some parts of the state saw virtually no precipitation at all during this period, which made for an especially stark contrast with the extremely wet conditions experienced just a few months earlier.

How did this drastic change occur so quickly? The second half of the 2012-2013 Water Year saw the development of the now infamous Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (or RRR)–an extraordinarily persistent region of high pressure over the northeastern Pacific Ocean in the middle atmosphere that forced the mid-latitude storm track well to the north of its typical position and prevented winter storms from reaching California.

And just how dry is the Golden State? Consider this from the United States Drought Monitor, showing that all of California is in a state of Severe Drought, and a phenomenal 36.49 percent is in the most extreme state of Exceptional Drought:

BLOG CalDrought

Next up, fracking the drought with Pacific Standard:

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

  • The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review of more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.

The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.

From South of the Border, the opposite course via Frontera NorteSur:

Mexican Fracking Foes Lose a Big Round

Mexican opponents of the controversial method of extracting natural gas known as fracking lost an important battle in the Mexican Senate late last week. As part of a 91-26 vote that approved secondary legislation implementing the Pena Nieto administration’s energy reform, most senators rejected a measure that would have prohibited fracking.

Prior to the July 18 vote, the Mexican Alliance against Fracking, a grouping of environmental organizations, presented senators with a petition signed by more than 10,000 people that supported a fracking ban.
Nonetheless, a majority of senators from President Pena Nieto’s PRI party joined with lawmakers from the PAN and PVEM (Mexican Green) parties to reject an outright prohibition of fracking. Voting in favor of a ban were members of the PRD and PT parties.

Senator Pablo Escudero, PVEM representative, maintained that environmental studies in the United States, as well as the history of fracking in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and other states, showed that fracking could be done in a safe manner. To back up his case, Escudero referred to studies by University of California physicist Dr. Richard Muller, whose pro-environment arguments in favor of fracking have engendered sharp polemics.

When drought meets austerity, via the Christian Science Monitor:

Western wildfires burn through firefighting budgets

The cost of fighting wildfires has eaten into agency budgets meant for forest management and fire preparedness. Proposed federal legislation would treat such fires as natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes.

As 26 major wildfires currently rage across the American West – 18 of them in Oregon and Washington – they’re rapidly burning through firefighting budgets as well.

As a result, experts warn, firefighting agencies such as the US Forest Service and the US Department of the Interior have to raid other fire-related programs – forest management and fire preparedness, for example – to battle the blazes.

The reasons for this are multiple and complicated: Years of fire suppression instead of letting fires burn naturally allowed fuel levels to grow dangerously; climate change has brought on changes in weather patterns; and housing and other development pushed into what’s known as the “wildland-urban interface” – some 60 percent of all new homes built since 1990, according to environmental economist Ray Rasker.

From EurActiv, the environment gets cowed:

Scientists find beef production harmful to the environment

Production of beef is nearly ten times more damaging to the environment than any other form of meat production, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

American scientists measured the environment inputs required for beef production and concluded that beef cattle need 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than pork, poultry, eggs or dairy.

The researchers developed a uniform methodology that they were able to apply to all five livestock categories and to four measures of environmental performance.

On to Japan for the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Daily Press:

Testimony of Fukushima plant manager reveals safety inspectors were first to flee during disaster

Masao Yoshida – the former plant manager of the Fukushima nuclear power plant during the time when it was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 – died of cancer last year, but his recorded testimony revealed a flaw in the disaster management process that probably caused the chaos around the way Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) dealt with the disaster at that time. According to Yoshida’s testimony, the safety inspectors were among the first to flee the site at the time of the disaster.

The safety inspectors were under the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the predecessor of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and they were supposed to remain on site to be able to give a factual and solid assessment of what needed to be done to deal with the accident and the multiple reactor meltdowns. As such, with the lack of safety inspectors onsite, the Japanese government was forced to rely on sometimes erroneous and mostly chaotic information from TEPCO.

Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan had gone to TEPCO’s Tokyo office, ultimately leading to the decision that a base of communications for the disaster was set up by TEPCO and the Japanese government in Tokyo, 230 kilometers away from where the disaster was taking place. That in itself was a hindrance to the proper flow of information and the correct assessment of the disaster.

NHK WORLD runs the numbers:

One trillion Bq released by nuclear debris removal

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says more than one trillion becquerels of radioactive substances were released as a result of debris removal work at one of the plant’s reactors.

Radioactive cesium was detected at levels exceeding the government limit in rice harvested last year in Minami Soma, some 20 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi.

There are fears that some rice paddies in the city have been tainted by airborne radioactive material released when debris was removed from the plant’s No.3 reactor in August last year.

On Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Company presented the Nuclear Regulation Authority with an estimate that the removal work discharged 280 billion becquerels per hour of radioactive substances, or a total of 1.1 trillion becquerels.

Poisoning primates, via the Guardian:

Japanese monkeys’ abnormal blood linked to Fukushima disaster – study

  • Primates in Fukushima region found to have low white and red blood cell levels and radioactive caesium

Wild monkeys in the Fukushima region of Japan have blood abnormalities linked to the radioactive fall-out from the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster, according to a new scientific study that may help increase the understanding of radiation on human health.

The Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) were found to have low white and red blood cell levels and low haemoglobin, which the researchers say could make them more prone to infectious diseases.

But critics of the study say the link between the abnormal blood tests and the radiation exposure of the monkeys remains unproven and that the radiation doses may have been too small to cause the effect.

The scientists compared 61 monkeys living 70km (44 miles) from the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with 31 monkeys from the Shimokita Penisula, over 400km (249 miles) from Fukushima. The Fukushima monkeys had low blood counts and radioactive caesium in their bodies, related to caesium levels in the soils where they lived. No caesium was detected in the Shimokita troop.

From the Japan Daily Press, pressing feet to the [nuclear] fire:

TEPCO shareholders seeking disclosure of nuclear accident interview records

It seems that three years after the nuclear disaster that crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, the operator’s problems are far from over. While the problem of decontamination is ongoing, albeit slowly, the next battle is set to come as shareholders in the firm are looking at filing lawsuits to determine the real cause of the incident.

The shareholders are planning to request from the Cabinet Secretariat copies of the interviews conducted, which many already assume would be denied. Such denial would force the shareholders to no other recourse but to file legal action against the government so it would release interview records of 772 people for their own analysis. Not only that, they also plan to file a separate legal action against TEPCO to see if executives and managers of the company played a hand in the disaster and the problems resulting from the meltdown.

Next up, more disastrous blowback at the disastrous intersection of Big Pharma, politics, and those who pay the real price. From Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Doctors Blame Factory Farming For Failing Antibiotics

Citing the failure of antibiotics to work effectively in their patients, a group of German doctors and other healthcare providers are laying blame on the factory farming industry — and calling for reform.

The doctors say that antibiotics no longer work because of multi-resistant germs that patients carry, at least some of which have their origins in the way animals are bred. Germs from agro-industrial facilities that are resistant to antibiotics are a massive threat to human health, the campaign founders say.

The first nationwide campaign of this type is so far being supported by 250 doctors, carers and pharmacists. They are demanding humane breeding of animals, sharper controls, and sanctions against those who put antibiotics in animal feed.

If action is not taken, antibiotics may soon be entirely ineffective as a weapon against bacterial infections in both humans and animals, warns professor of veterinary medicine Siegfried Ueberschär. Doctors now often try in vain to save the lives and health of patients with weak immune systems, and there are no new antibiotics in sight, says Bremen-based internist Imke Lührs.

And for our final item, a very import reminder of the profound consequences of cultural differences, not patentable by Big Pharma. From the London Daily Mail:

How schizophrenia is shaped by our culture: Americans hear voices as threatening while Indians and Africans claim they are helpful

  • Scientists came to the conclusion after speaking with 60 schizophrenics
  • 20 came from California, 20 from Accra, Ghana and 20 from Chennai, India
  • In America, voices were intrusion and a threat to patient’s private world
  • In India and Africa, the study subjects were not as troubled by the voices
  • The difference may be down to the fact that Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity
  • Whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self as interwoven with others and defined through relationships

Big Pharma latest victims: Europe’s vultures


A livestock drug that has already killed most of India’s once numerous vultures is now coming to Spain, a nation where the magnificent creatures are already threatened by by mistaken cultural beliefs.

From Deutsche Welle:

Program notes:

pain is home to the largest population of vultures in Europe, but their numbers are steadily declining. A new drug for cattle now threatens to wipe out the vultures altogether.

Vultures have long had a bad reputation in Spain. Time and time again, the birds are illegally poisoned, because they are said to prey on living cattle. Now the EU has authorized the administration of veterinary diclofenac to livestock in Spain and Italy – a deadly threat to the four species of vultures that live in Spain.

The anti-inflammatory drug has already led to the near-extinction of the vulture population in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The birds ingest the substance when eating the carcasses of cattle treated with the drug, and die of kidney failure.

Video reports: As seen from overseas


First up, from China’s CCTV America, a report on America’s record rate of people needed helping putting food on the table:

U.S. is at [Greater] Risk of Hunger Than Ever Before

Next up, a report from RT America on weekend global protests targeting an American corporate giant:

Anti-Monsanto protests hit streets around the world

Program notes:

Protesters from 52 countries and 436 cities participated in Anti-Monsanto, Anti-Genetically Modified Foods rallies over the weekend. Activists rallied, marched and held speeches to demand for GM foods to be labeled or banned altogether. RT Correspondent Meghan Lopez was at the March Against Monsanto in Washington, D.C. over the weekend and brings us her report.

Finally, from Britain’s Channel 4 News, a move to exclude American authors from reading lists in the nation’s school system:

Michael Gove vs American literature

Program notes:

The Education Secretary Michael Gove had said he wanted to see more British authors studied. It’s meant Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill and Mockingbird’ and Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ are now excluded.

Quote of the day: Confronting the conundrum


From George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian:

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

>snip<

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result, they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle-class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Eyes in the sky: Drone videos of cetaceans


Some remarkable drone video footage of dolphins and gray whales at play in Southern California and Masui waters show by tour guide Captain Dave Anderson of Dana Point:

Drones Over Dolphin Stampede and Whales off Dana Point and Maui

Program notes:

Captain Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, California, at great personal risk, has recently filmed and edited a 5-minute video that contains some of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping, footage ever taken with a drone from the air of a huge mega-pod of thousands of common dolphins stampeding off Dana Point, California, three gray whales migrating together down the coast off San Clemente, California, and heartwarming close-ups hovering over a newborn Humpback whale calf snuggling and playing with its mom as an escort whale stands guard nearby, filmed recently in Maui.

According to N.O.A.A. Southern California has the greatest density of dolphins in the world. We have pods up to 10,000 strong stretched out for miles like the wildebeests of Africa. Over 400,000 common dolphin alone. We also have the largest concentration of blue whales on earth.

Capt. Dave explains, “This is the most beautiful and compelling five minute video I have ever put together. I learned so much about these whales and dolphins from this drone footage that it feels like I have entered a new dimension! I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat. Drones are going to change how we view the animal world. Wow!”

Headlines: Beaucoup elections, and lots more


Whole lotta ground to cover, with elections — and their aftermaths — on three continents, plus the latest economic and ecological headlines and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

On with the show, starting with a trans-Pacific partnership of another sort from China Daily:

Children from China enroll in US summer academic camps

Summer is near, and that means that many Chinese parents will be sending their children to summer camps in the US for an academic performance boost.

Michelle Raz, the director of the Longfeifei Youth Summer Academy in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, said that Chinese parents are keen on “rounding out their kids’ experiences”, so they are enrolling them in programs like Longfeifei’s, which has an academic portion but also gives children time to learn about the arts and to participate in athletic activities.

“What the children have told me is that schools in China been very limited in sports and arts, where they are coming from,” Raz told China Daily. “Few of them have some experiences but the vast majority haven’t, so we’re teaching them American games and things like soccer.”

And more standardized testing from Washington, this time with ivy coverings, via the New York Times:

Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System

The college presidents were appalled. Not only had President Obama called for a government rating system for their schools, but now one of his top education officials was actually suggesting it would be as easy as evaluating a kitchen appliance.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons. For years that task has been dominated by private companies like Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report.

Next up, more neoliberalism north of the border with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Ottawa approved thousands of foreign worker requests at minimum wage, data reveal

The federal government approved thousands of requests to bring in temporary foreign workers at minimum wage in recent years, a practice that undermines claims from government and employers that there are serious labour shortages and that all efforts have been taken to hire Canadians.

The revelations in newly released data come as the Conservative government is weighing major policy reforms – including a new “wage floor” – in response to criticism that employers are relying on the temporary foreign worker program as a way to avoid raising wages.

Using Access to Information legislation, the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained extensive statistics about the program and provided its findings to The Globe and Mail. The union sought and obtained information on the number of Labour Market Opinions approved by Employment and Social Development Canada that were for minimum wage jobs. An LMO is a screening process meant to ensure employers have exhausted efforts to hire Canadians before turning to the program.

On to Europe, first with a hint of things to come from the Portugal News:

‘Risk of deflation’ – ECB president

The president of the European Central Bank (ECB) said on Monday that inflation was going to stay low for a prolonged period of time and that “there is a risk” of deflation, adding there was “no question” the objective of the institution was to control price changes.

“At the moment, our expectation is that the low inflation is going to remain with us, but that it will gradually return to the 2% level. However, our responsibility is to be aware of any risks that might arise and be prepared to act is necessary”, Mario Draghi said.

The ECB president was giving a speech opening Monday’s works at the ‘ECB Forum on Central Banking’, organised by the ECB in Sintra and which began on Sunday and is to continue until Tuesday.

And our first electoral story, via EUbusiness:

Europe’s leaders urge EU reform after eurosceptic poll wins

France’s President Francois Hollande Monday called for reining in Brussels’ power after eurosceptic and far-right parties scored stunning success in EU polls, sending shock waves through the continent’s political landscape.

“Earthquake” in Europe, read the headlines after European parliamentary elections ended Sunday, summing up a day of trauma for establishment parties and the accepted consensus that the European Union offers the best future for all.

Hollande went on national television to call for the EU to reduce its role which he said had become for many citizens “remote and incomprehensible”.

More from United Press International:

European Parliament election results illustrate growing dismay with economic austerity measures

The European parliamentary election results are in. While pro-EU parties are expected to retain the majority of the 751 seats in the new legislature, so-called Euroskeptic parties who oppose the EU made significant gains.

According to European politics expert Simon Usherwood, who spoke to CNN about the election results, “They don’t have enough votes to stop legislation going through but what they will get particularly on the far right, is the time for speaking in debates, the chairmanship of certain committees, which means that they’re going to have much more of a platform on which they can sell their message to voters.”

And ominous new additions from EUbusiness:

European Parliament set to usher in first neo-Nazis

Though no stranger to controversy or diatribe, the European Parliament is set to usher in its first fully-fledged neo-Nazis members, from Germany and Greece.

With around 300,000 votes at Sunday’s European elections the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is expected to claim one of the country’s 96 seats in the new Parliament, in a historical ground-breaker.

A recent change in German electoral laws, scrapping all minimum thresholds, paved the way for the march into parliament of the NPD, which has 6,000 members. It describes itself as “national socialist,” just like Germany’s Nazis in the 1930s, and is openly xenophobic and anti-semitic so a group of German regional governments have tried to have it banned for propagating racism.

EurActiv looks on the bright side:

Europe on course for ‘grand coalition’ after election

Despite a rise in anti-European parties, political balances remained broadly unchanged in the European Parliament following the elections yesterday, with the centre-right and centre-left parties on track for a grand coalition.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won 212 seats in the European parliament, followed by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), with 186 seats (out of 751). In the last European election, the EPP won 265 seats and the S&D 184. The Parliament was slightly larger at the time, counting a total of 766 seats.

This is the fourth consecutive victory for the EPP since the 1999 election and another disappointment for the Socialists, who failed to reverse the balance of power in Parliament, despite the popular resentment over austerity.

A different take from EUobserver:

New EP will struggle to find majorities

It will take days if not weeks for the political dust to settle after the EU vote but it is already clear that the new European Parliament will need to work harder to find majorities with discussions on issues such as migration and free trade deals set to become more polarised.

While the centre-right EPP gained the most seats in the EU vote, it lost around sixty seats compared to 2009, while the centre-left S&D came second, but did less well than expected. Together the two parties hold a majority (403) in the 751-strong EP, under current group projections, but it is a slim majority (54%).

“That means that in areas where only the S&D and the EPP agree, that will not be enough, they will have to get votes from some other places,” said VoteWatch’s Doru Frantescu at a post-election analysis on Monday (26 May).

On to Britain, and exuberance from an EU foe from Sky News:

Nigel Farage: ‘My Dream Has Become Reality’

  • UKIP’s leader likens the main parties to goldfish out of water “desperately gasping for air”, after his Euro election victory.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his “dream” of “causing an earthquake in British politics” has come true.

Mr Farage was speaking at a press conference after UKIP’s first win in a national election – the first time in more than 100 years a party other than Labour or the Conservatives has finished top.

He described the “legacy parties” as “like goldfish that have just been tipped out of the bowl onto the floor, desperately gasping for air and clinging on to the comfort blanket that this is a protest vote”.

The Guardian hears from Boris the Bloviator, the neocon’s friend:

Boris Johnson: Eurosceptic success due to ‘peasants’ revolt’

  • London mayor says European election results are expression of revulsion and a signal for the EU to change or die

Boris Johnson has described Ukip voters as peasants in revolt after Eurosceptic parties swept to victory across the union.

The London mayor painted a scene of “pitchfork-wielding populists” converging on Brussels “drunk on local hooch and chanting nationalist slogans and preparing to give the federalist machinery a good old kicking with their authentically folkloric clogs”.

Writing in the Telegraph, he compared Eurosceptic parties, including Ukip, Dutch rightwing firebrands and Greek anti-capitalists, to people taking part in “a kind of peasants’ revolt” or a “jacquerie” – a bloody uprising against the French nobility in 1358.

From the Independent, a loser struggles:

European elections 2014: Nick Clegg faces fight for survival after Lib Dems’ Euro disaster

Local Liberal Democrat party activists begin calling emergency meetings to force leadership contest as triumphant Nigel Farage predicts Ukip will hold balance of power at next year’s general election

Nick Clegg failed to quell a grassroots revolt by Liberal Democrat activists on Monday night as they stepped up an attempt to oust him following the party’s disastrous performance in the European elections.

After the Deputy Prime Minister refused to fall on his sword, The Independent learnt that activists had begun to call emergency meetings of local parties across the country in order to force a leadership election. They require the backing of 75 parties to trigger a contest.

Ditto from Sky News:

EU Must Reform For Jobs And Growth – Cameron

  • The Prime Minister tells fellow EU leaders they must reform the 28-nation bloc in the wake of successes for eurosceptic parties.

David Cameron has called fellow European leaders and urged them to “seize the opportunity” for reform on jobs and growth following the European Elections.

In a series of phone calls the Prime Minister urged them to “heed the views expressed at the ballot box” over recent days.

His intervention came ahead of today’s Informal European Council dinner in Brussels, where leaders are expected to discuss the results of the European poll.

Meanwhile, the austerians can proclaim another kind of victory, via the Independent:

‘If the NHS were an airline planes would fall out of the sky all the time’ says Mid Staffs inquiry chairman

Standards across the NHS have become so poor that if the health service were an airline “planes would fall out of the sky all the time”, the chairman of the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal has warned.

Robert Francis QC said the public had been given a falsely positive impression about the quality of care being provided in many of the country’s hospitals.

Mr Francis told The Telegraph: “If we ran our airlines industry on the same basis, planes would be falling out of the sky all the time. We’ve got to change the attitude that because it’s provided by the state, it’s all right for a number of people to be treated badly; well it’s not. Airlines would go out of business very quickly if they worked that way.”

Ireland next, and a win for the left from Bloomberg:

Sinn Fein Surges in Ireland as Voters Punish Austerity

Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, became the biggest party in Dublin city as voters punished the ruling coalition for three years of austerity amid a rise in protest votes across Europe.

The party has more members of Dublin City Council than any other after municipal elections on Friday and topped the Irish capital’s poll for a European Parliament seat. Support for Sinn Fein and other anti-austerity groups swelled across Ireland as they grabbed seats from government parties.

“It’s a profound change in the political landscape,” Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said in an interview posted on the Irish Independent’s website, adding the party is at its strongest in almost a century. “The government will think it can dismiss this as a bit of a scolding by the electorate, but it’s bigger and deeper than that.”

One response from Independent.ie:

Eamon Gilmore resigns as leader of Labour Party

EAMON Gilmore has warned against the Labour pulling out of government following his dramatic decision to resign as party leader.

Mr Gilmore said he “agonised” over the decision to step down which was made just hours before eight members of the Labour Parliamentary party tabled a vote of no confidence.

A new Labour leader will be put in place on July 4 following a postal ballot of all party members.

On to Iceland, and an odd election issue from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Mayoral Candidates Speak Out On Mosque Issue

In the wake of recent remarks from a mayoral candidate that she would revoke a plot of land the city of Reykjavík granted for building a mosque, numerous mayoral candidates have expressed their disagreement with this sentiment.

Vísir spoke with other candidates running for mayor, to get their reactions to recent remarks made by Progressive Party mayoral candidate Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir, who said last week that if elected mayor, she would reverse a city council decision made in January 2013 to grant Iceland’s Muslim population a plot of land on which to build a mosque.

“This is a desperate way to get votes during the last days before elections,” said Social Democrat mayoral candidate Dagur B. Eggertsson. “You don’t run a city by discriminating against people based on their religious beliefs.”

Sweden next, and harumphing from TheLocal.se:

‘Nationalists threaten EU openness’: Malmström

Sweden has in total fewer seats in Strasbourg than the French National Front does, and the upswing of nationalist parties worries Sweden’s European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.

“They’re scary,” Malmström said about the rise of nationalist, extreme-right, and xenophobic parties in the European parliament elections over the weekend.

“What worries me is that their rhetoric has infected other parties.That means it could be difficult henceforth to make decisions on everything from labour migration, taking more responsibility for refugees… it won’t be easier after this.”

On to Norway, and a deal nearly done from TheLocal.no:

Rosneft to buy stake in Norway drill company

Russian state oil giant Rosneft could buy a major stake North Atlantic Drilling, a subsidiary of Norway’s Seadrill, in a deal which would give the company access to the lucrative Russian drilling market.

Norwegian shipping tycoon John Fredriksen announced the deal, which will see Rosneft book “a significant portion” of the company’s idle rigs, at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on Saturday.

“We have sought to access the growth opportunity represented by the Russian market for several years,” NADL chief executive Alf Ragnar Lovdal, said in a statement.  “After the closing of this transaction, will have created a powerful force in the Russian market and for the Arctic region.”

On to Copenhagen and more right wing triumphs via EurActiv:

Danish far right party wins in EU elections, doubles mandate

The far-right Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party has won 26.7% of the votes and becoming by far the biggest Danish party in the Parliament with four seats. The party has doubled its mandates since 2009.

Meanwhile, the two biggest parties in the Danish parliament, the Social Democrats (at 19.1%) and the Liberals (16.7%) both had poor showings, each losing a seat, leaving them at three and two seats, respectively. The Greens lost one seat, while the Conservatives, the Social Liberals and a left-wing Eurosceptic party together make up Denmark’s 13 mandates.

The Danish People’s Party has looked to Britain’s UKIP for inspiration, calling for less EU influence over Danish matters, an end to ‘benefits tourism’ and tougher border controls. After Sunday, UKIP, the Danish People’s Party and France’s National Front are the three most successful eurosceptic parties in this Parliament election. But the three parties are unlikely to work together in the same group, as the Danish People’s Party has decided to seek influence via the European Conservatives and Reformists’ group of Tory MEPs.

Germany next, with a qualified win for the Iron Chancellor via TheLocal.de:

Merkel’s party tops vote but loses ground

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives came out ahead in European Parliament elections, official results showed on Monday, but a neo-Nazi party also won a seat in Brussels, echoing far-right gains elsewhere.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU – a team that last September celebrated a landslide win at the national level – between them secured 35.3 percent of votes cast.

The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), won 300,000 votes, one percent of the total, and so wins its first seat in the 751-member European parliament.

Another winner from EUbusiness:

German’s anti-euro professor Bernd Lucke scores in EU polls

Bernd Lucke, an economics professor with boyish looks, seems an unlikely revolutionary, but in little over a year he has led his German anti-euro party from the political wilderness straight into the European parliament.

Lucke’s small Alternative for Germany (AfD) party demands nothing less than Germany’s return to its once beloved Deutschmark, an end to EU bailouts and the orderly dissolution of the euro common currency.

Like populist leaders elsewhere in Europe, Lucke wants to repatriate many powers from Brussels to the national level, although he doesn’t want to scrap the EU itself — a stance summed up in the vague campaign motto “Have Courage to Be Germany”.

And a predictable reaction from EUbusiness:

German Jews shocked at far right’s EU success

The leader of Germany’s Jewish community Monday denounced gains made by far-right parties in EU-wide elections and urged democratic forces to block their path and defend European values.

Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the extremist parties performed “shockingly well”, as feared, in Sunday’s European parliamentary vote.

He pointed to France, Hungary and Greece, saying in a statement: “Right-wing MPs are now coming into the European Parliament from all over Europe in order to implement their anti-European and extremist course.”

“Democratic parties are now called on to curb this way of thinking and to defend and maintain European values,” Graumann said.

More of the same from TheLocal.de:

Steinmeier ‘horrified’ at far-right seat win

Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday he was horrified that the neo-Nazi party, the NPD, had won a seat in the European Parliament. Jewish leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced concern about the rise of the far right.

“There is no doubt that many populist, eurosceptic and even nationalistic parties are entering the European Parliament,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, speaking on NTV television.

“In some countries it won’t be as bad as had been feared, for example in the Netherlands, but France’s National Front is a severe signal, and it horrifies me that the NPD from Germany will be represented in the parliament,” he said, referring to the extremist anti-immigrant National Democratic Party of Germany.

From Deutsche Welle, a reminder:

Audi comes clean about its Nazi past

A historical probe commissioned by the German car maker Audi revealed Monday that the company’s predecessor exploited thousands of slave laborers under the Nazi dictatorship.

German car maker Audi unveiled a dark chapter in its history on Monday, saying its predecessor company had exploited slave labor under the Nazi regime on a massive scale.

A historical investigation commissioned by the company found that thousands of concentration camp inmates had been forced to work for Auto Union, an automobile manufacturer founded in 1932 and a forerunner company of today’s Audi AG .

Audi is the last major German car company, after Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, to come clean about its Nazi-era history, and the study marked a clear push to be more transparent about that past.

On to Brussels and a post-election quit from euronews:

Belgian PM hands in resignation after defeat in elections

Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has handed his government’s resignation to the King. It comes after this weekend’s general election which saw his Socialist party defeated.

The palace confirmed that King Philip had accepted the resignation and that the government would continue in its job until a new one was sworn in.

The Flemish separatist party N-VA won 32 percent of the vote, while the Socialists managed 30 percent. The NVA wants to dissolve Belgium and have it become a confederation of regional governments divided along linguistic lines.

On to France and explanation of sorts from TheLocal.fr:

‘We’re not racist, just angry’ say French voters

The historic victory for the far-right National Front party does not mean France is a country full of racists, voters told The Local on Monday. Rather people are simply seething with anger at the main political parties’ inability to fix the economy.

There were no anti-National Front demonstrations on Monday morning in the heart of Paris, the day after the anti-EU, anti-immigrant party took first place in the European Parliament elections in France.

In fact voters shrugged their shoulders in typical Gallic fashion and told The Local they were not surprised the party had won 25 percent of the vote, beating the centre-right UMP and the Socialists by wide margins.

Predictable panic from Europe Online:

Hollande holds crisis talks on far-right win in European elections

French President Francois Hollande convened a crisis meeting Monday with several cabinet ministers to discuss the victory of the far-right National Front (FN) – and trouncing of his Socialists – in the European elections.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Finance Minister Michel Sapin were among the ministers who huddled with Hollande to discuss how to proceed after the FN became France’s biggest party in Europe.

Provisional results showed Marine Le Pen’s anti-Europe FN winning 26 per cent of Sunday’s vote, a four-fold increase on its take in the last European election in 2009.

And a pickle for a predecessor from TheLocal.fr:

Cops grill Sarkozy ally over €400m state payout

A right-hand man to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning on Monday over his role in a highly controversial state payout to disgraced former tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Claude Gueant, a former interior minister who also served as Sarkozy’s chief of staff, was placed in custody after he arrived at the headquarters of France’s fraud squad to clarify his role in the €400 million($557-million) payout to Tapie in 2008.

The payment was connected to a dispute between the businessman and partly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over his 1993 sale of sportswear group Adidas.

Next, Austria, and more electoral results from TheLocal.at:

EU Election: ÖVP defends first place

Austria’s conservative ÖVP (People’s Party) has emerged the winner in Sunday’s European elections, in spite of slight losses compared to its result in the 2009 elections.

According to preliminary results the ÖVP won 27.3 percent of the vote.  The SPÖ received 23.8 percent, almost unchanged in second place.

Both the right wing, eurosceptic FPÖ (Freedom Party), and the Grüne (Greens) made strong gains, coming in at third and fourth place respectively, with 19.5 percent and 15.1 percent.

The FPÖ made gains of 6.8 percent and will double its seats in the European Parliament – with four instead of two representatives.

Off to Poland with New Europe:

Poland’s ruling party, opposition share seats in European Parliament

Poland’s ruling Civic Platform (PO) and opposition Law and Justice (PIS) parties each took 19 seats in the European parliament after the European elections Sunday, according to preliminary results.

PO secured 31.29 percent and PIS 32.35 percent in voting in Poland. Social Democrats, New Right and Polish Peasant’s Party won five seats, four seats and four seats respectively, according to results from 91 percent of the polling stations in the country.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Sunday a low turnout in European Parliament elections “is a problem not only in Poland, but I would like to see a time when everyone … sees voting as something positive.”

Hungary next, via EUobserver:

Hungarian PM breaks ranks on Juncker

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will not support Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid to become president of the European Commission even if the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) wins the European elections.

Orban is the first EPP leader to publicly break ranks on the issue.

“We don’t think he should lead the Commission,” Orban said in an interview with Hir TV on the eve of the election.

The EPP supported Orban’s ruling Fidesz party when the government was under criticism over questions of rule of law, media freedom and constitutional changes. Orban said “there is no way” he would vote for Juncker.

Next, Romania, via EUbusiness:

Ruling Social Democrats win Romania EU vote: official results

Romania’s ruling left-wing alliance led by the Social Democrats won 37.6 percent of the vote in European parliamentary elections, official results showed Monday.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s PSD won 16 seats according to official data issued after 99.99 percent of Sunday’s ballots had been counted.

The EU’s second-poorest country since joining the bloc in 2007, Romania will send 32 legislators to the European Parliament. The opposition National Liberal Party came second with around 15 percent of the vote, giving them six seats.

Portugal next, with EurActiv:

Socialists win in Portugal, stay second in Spain

Portugal’s main opposition Socialists won elections for the European Parliament yesterday in an austerity-weary country which earlier this month exited an international bailout. In Spain, the opposition Socialists came second, but both centre-left and centre-right lost support compared to 2009.

With more than 99% of the vote counted, the centre-left Socialists had won with 31.45% of the ballot that was marked by high abstention levels at over 66%.

The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s Social Democrats and their smaller rightist partner CDS-PP that implemented painful cuts over the three years of bailout, garnered 27.7%.

It was followed by the Communist-Greens alliance, with 12.7% and the agrarian-environmentalist Partido da Terra (Party of the Earth), which built its campaign on disillusionment with traditional political parties.

El País takes us to Spain:

Spain’s two-party system dealt major blow in EU elections

  • Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE) fail to attract even 50 percent of the vote
  • But xenophobe and anti-European parties fail to make any headway in Spanish polls

Spain’s two main parties, which have been taking turns in power since 1977, obtained their worst results in democratic history at the European elections on Sunday.

Together, the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) failed to attract even 50 percent of the vote, compared with the 80 percent they garnered at the 2009 EU elections.

This massive loss of support reflects the rapid rise of smaller parties that portray the two main players as being similarly corrupt, beholden to money and unable to effectively deal with the economic crisis.

El País again, with another resignation:

Socialist leader throws in the towel after poor showing at European elections

  • Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba calls extraordinary party meeting in July to choose new leadership

Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and his team have decided to throw in the towel. In the wake of the Socialist Party’s (PSOE) poor showing at Sunday’s European elections, the leader of the main opposition group in Spain’s Congress has called an extraordinary party meeting for July 19 and 20. The order of the day will be choosing a new general secretary, given Rubalcaba’s decision to bow out.

“The meeting will serve for us to choose new leadership for the party,” he told the press on Monday. “I am assuming my responsibility for the results.”

Rubalcaba described Sunday’s election results – which saw the PSOE take just 14 seats, with 23.03 percent of the vote – as “bad, with no palliatives.” The Popular Party (PP), which is currently in power in Spain, took 16 seats (26.04 percent) at a poll that saw the two main parties secure their worst results in democratic history.

And El País one more time, with a symbolic result:

Town with controversial “Killjews” name votes in favor of change

  • Burgos municipality will become “Little Fort on Jew Hill” following local referendum

The end has come for Castrillo Matajudíos, the small village in Burgos province that gained global notoriety after announcing it would hold a referendum on May 25 to consider a name change from the current “Little Hill-Fort of Jew Killers.”

“Everyone is watching expectantly to see what we will do: in Italy, in New York…” said Mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez a few days before the vote, which was made to coincide with elections to the European Parliament.

The uncertainty came to an end at 8pm on Sunday, when the vote count showed a majority support for changing the village’s name to Castrillo de Mota de Judíos, or Little Hill-Fort on Jew Hill. “Mota” means hill or mound in Spanish, and the mayor has posited that this was probably the community’s original name before a spelling mistake on an official document changed it to Matajudíos in 1623.

Off to Italy and a market response from TheLocal.it:

Italian stocks surge after Renzi’s EU victory

Italian stocks rocketed up 3.61 percent on Monday after Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party swept to victory in the European Elections, claiming 40.8 percent against of the vote against 21.2 percent for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and 16.8 percent for disgraced former leader Silvio Berlusconi.

The victory will give Renzi’s centre-left party a leading voice in Europe and bolster his ambitious reform programme.

The landslide gives the party the highest number of MEPs among Europe’s leftists and was one of the best showings for any European leader – a far higher result than the 25.4 percent it scored in a 2013 general election.

Cheering up also-rans with ANSA:

Grillo tells M5S supporters not to lose heart

  • Leader tells supporters M5S opposition will do more

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), urged his followers Monday to not lose heart despite the political party’s failure to do as well as it expected in the European elections that ended Sunday.

“Do not be discouraged, (I am) confident that we can move forward,” said Grillo, whose party won 21.16% of votes, in second place behind the ruling Democratic Party (PD) with 40.81%.

The M5S will make its mark as a strong opposition force that will demand positive changes to Italy, added Grillo in comments posted on his blog, one of his favoured methods of communication.

ANSA again, with more also-rans:

Berlusconi says FI remains ‘linchpin’ despite poor result

  • Ex-premier says his ‘guiding star’ is uniting moderates

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that his Forza Italia (FI) is the linchpin of the centre right and a “decisive partner” of the Italian government despite placing third in European Parliament elections. Premier Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) took almost 41% of Sunday’s vote while FI captured less than 17%. Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment, Euroskeptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) took 21.16%.

Berlusconi was unable to stand or even vote in the election after being ejected from parliament following a binding tax-fraud conviction last year. The three-time premier and his supporters say that conviction is the result of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary who are trying to eliminate him from Italy’s public life. Berlusconi said that despite the poor showing, his party is still important to ensuring necessary government reforms announced by Renzi are passed.

“We are at the same time the decisive partners without which there are not the numbers in Parliament to make real reforms, definitive and lasting for the good of the country,” he said.

And some more Bunga Bunga woes from TheLocal.it:

Ex-MP ‘pilfered public money’ in Iraq deal

  • Italy’s former environment minister has been placed under house arrest for alleged embezzlement involving an Iraq water deal.

Corrado Clini, who served as environment minister with Mario Monti’s government, allegedly stole over €3 million from public money that was meant to fund a water purification project in Iraq, Corriere della Sera reported.

A businessman from Padua, whose company oversaw the deal in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates basin, was also placed under house arrest by Italy’s Finance Police on Monday morning, the newspaper added.

They face charges of embezzlement against the Italian ministry of environment, land and sea.

After the jump, its on to Greece and Syriza’s win and woes for the losers, the latest electoral and uprising news from the Ukraine, electioneering and ridicule in Egypt, intensified turmoil in Libya, Brazilian pre-World Cups woes and tensions, elections in Colombia and Venezuela, more austerity Down Under [targeting jobless youth], Macau unrest, Indian triumphalism, Thai troubles, more signs of a Chinese slowdown, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Soybeans and indigenous culture destruction


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

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

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

From Deutsche Welle:

Paraguay: The Downside of Soybean Consumption

Program notes:

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

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

Headlines: Polls, trolls, laws, toxins, more


Long visit from a kidlet, so late in posting. But major elections in Europe hint at major changes to come, and much more. . .so on with the show!

First, takin’ to the streets with RT:

World protests Monsanto grip on food supply chain

Hundreds of thousands people have united across the world to voice concern over the spread of GMO foods and crops and to raise awareness over the biotech giant Monsanto’s growing grip on the global food supply chain.

It was not only the fear of genetically modified organisms in foods that knows no boundaries. Activists on five continents around the globe, comprising of 52 nations joined the fight under the March against Monsanto umbrella.

Organized worldwide, peaceful family protests spoke out for the need to protect food supply, health, local farms and environment. Activists also sought to promote organic solutions to food production, while “exposing cronyism between big business and the government.”

With anti-GMO rallies having taken place in around 400 cities across the globe it’s still hard to estimate how many people participated in the event. Last year over 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries worldwide marched against the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.

Next up, the back story to a tragedy from the Guardian:

Sheriff highlights mental-health shortcomings after California rampage

  • ‘There’s a general lack of resources in community treatment’
  • Bereaved parent blames ‘craven’ politicians and NRA

Police named Elliot Rodger, 22, the British-born son of a film director, as the suspect behind Friday’s murder spree in and around the Isla Vista campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, which left a trail of 10 separate crime scenes and 13 people injured.

On Sunday, Santa Barbara’s county sheriff, Bill Brown, blamed failures in mental-health treatment for the fact that Rodger’s behaviour had worried people around him and precipitated three contacts with police, most recently last month, but had not caused an intervention that might have averted the slaughter.

“I think the fact of the matter is, there’s a general lack of resources in community mental-health treatment generally,” he told CNN on Sunday. “There’s also probably a lack of notification by healthcare professionals in instances when people are expressing suicidal or in certain cases homicidal thoughts or tendencies.”

From the Republic Report, back story to another kind of tragedy:

Top Donor for House Education Chair is For-Profit College Facing Federal and State Fraud Probes

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has no serious opposition in her bid for reelection, yet has received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions. More than half of that money has come from outside North Carolina, much of it from corporate special interests.

The single biggest donor group to Foxx, by almost a factor of two, is Santa Ana, California-based, for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

Corinthian, which operates Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges, has a troubling record. The company faces a major lawsuit from California attorney general Kamala Harris, who has charged that Corinthian has engaged in “false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements.” Corinthian is also under investigation by a group of sixteen state attorneys general (Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and Pennsylvania) into its recruiting and business practices, and faces a separate probe by Massachusetts’ AG.

Federal investigators also are probing Corinthian. In June 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a subpoena to the company concerning student recruitment, degree completion, job placement, loan defaults and compliance with U.S. Education Department rules.

And the Los Angeles Times defines today’s Obama Democrats:

Past Republican donors rebuffing GOP candidates to back Jerry Brown

With Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown expected to romp to reelection this year against little-known rivals, many donors who gave Republican candidates more than $37 million in the last gubernatorial contest are now keeping their hands in their pockets.

But those who are writing checks are largely giving them to … Jerry Brown.

The governor has received nearly $2 million, a Times analysis of campaign reports found, from donors who fueled Meg Whitman’s and Steve Poizner’s Republican gubernatorial bids in 2010. That’s more than three times as much as his current GOP rivals have received from these donors.

From the Guardian, the results those big bucks produce:

Pensions are the spectre hanging over America, and your problem too

  • Most private-sector workers grew up with no promise of pensions, but the problem of our cities and states haunts us all

You may know that you’ll never collect a penny of either public or private pension income when you retire. That doesn’t mean those scary headlines about pensions – and pension reform – won’t cast a scary shadow across your own life. You may as well start thinking about how you’re going to cope with the fallout today.

Public pension plans themselves today calculate that they have about $1tn of unfunded liabilities – that’s the gap between how much they have on hand in assets today and how much they estimate they’ll need to pay out in benefits to members of the plans. In some cases, that sounds scarier than it is: what is just as important is its “funded ratio”, or the percentage of its liabilities covered by its assets.

The bad news? Morningstar calculates that safe pension plans are increasingly rare: more than half of all states have a funded ratio that falls below 70%, the threshold for being deemed fiscally sound. As recently as 2011, only 21 states failed that test (although that’s bad enough … ) and theoretically the rise in the stock market should have given the value of pension fund portfolios a big boost, making them look a lot healthier.

On to Europe, first with financial rumblings from the Associated Press:

ECB ready to act, but how much will it help?

Investors and analysts are nearly certain: The European Central Bank will take action at its next meeting to boost the tepid recovery.

What’s not at all certain is how much good that can do.

Any help is needed. The weak recovery in the 18 countries that use the euro is a source of risk and uncertainty for the rebounding U.S and global economy. The eurozone economy grew only 0.2% in the first quarter, gaining no speed from the quarter before. Worse, inflation is dangerously low at an annual 0.7%, well below the ECB’s goal of just under 2%.

And on with the day’s major European story, elections — first from Deutsche Welle:

EU vote sees boost for right wing in France, Austria and Greece

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party is leading in the European Parliament elections in France, according to early projections. Results from across the 28-member bloc are coming in throughout the the evening.

According to early projections in Austria, the far-right FPÖ saw strong gains at 20 percent, compared to the 7.3 percent they garnered in 2009.

Belgium’s Flemish nationalist N-VA party looked set to make strong gains, partial results indicated, with 30 to 32 percent of the vote. TV exit polls in Denmark say the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party is set to take the biggest share of the Danish vote.

Britain next, with BBC News:

UKIP heading for clear victory in UK European elections

UKIP is course for an emphatic victory in the European elections in the UK – with leader Nigel Farage promising to use it as a springboard for next year’s general election.

Labour’s vote is up significantly on 2009 but it is vying with the Tories for second place.

The Lib Dems have come fifth behind the Green Party in most areas and have lost all but one of their seats.

Only Scotland, London and Northern Ireland have yet to declare.

One outcome, via the Guardian:

Triumphant Ukip draws up hitlist of 20 key seats to storm Commons

  • Nigel Farage to head ‘ruthless’ drive on Westminster, as Nick Clegg faces Lib Dem revolt over poor poll showing

Nigel Farage’s Ukip is to target at least 20 parliamentary seats at the next general election, using his party’s success in Thursday’s council elections as the launch pad for an all-out assault on the House of Commons, party officials have revealed.

In a move that will further unnerve the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – all of which have suffered from the Ukip surge – senior party officials said the next move would be to identify specific, mainly marginal, seats, where it now has a strong base of councillors. It is imitating the tactics that established the Liberal Democrats as a strong parliamentary force in the 1990s.

The extent of Farage’s ambitions came to light as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg faced a serious backlash from party malcontents, including at least two parliamentary candidates and several prominent councillors, as activists gathered names on a petition demanding he be replaced immediately by a new leader.

On to Ireland, and more meaningful results from the Guardian:

Sinn Féin tastes electoral success north and south of the Irish border

  • Gerry Adams’s plan to govern on both sides of border by 100th anniversary of Easter Rising in 2016 moves a step closer

Sinn Féin has secured the single biggest number of first preference votes in Northern Ireland’s local government elections, while across the border in the Republic it won 25% of the vote and its highest number of councillors.

The electoral success brings a step closer Gerry Adams’ strategic plan to be in government on both sides of the Irish border by 2016 – the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It also suggests that his recent arrest in connection with the IRA’s kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville did not seriously damage Sinn Féin’s election campaign. But the overall unionist vote in Northern Ireland also held up, with the Democratic Unionist party winning 130 seats compared with Sinn Féin, which returns to the new council chambers with 105 seats.

Scandinavia next, first with Bloomberg:

Voters Punish Reinfeldt as Protest Groups Gain in Nordic EU Vote

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt emerged as Sweden’s biggest loser in European parliament elections as voters across the Nordic region punished those in power.

Reinfeldt’s Conservatives fell 5.2 percentage points to 13.6 percent, becoming only the third biggest party in Sweden, according to a preliminary count from the Election Authority. The Greens jumped to 15.3 percent, while the Social Democrats won 24.4 percent, grabbing the most seats.

“This strengthens the stamp of defeat that has surrounded the government for a while now,” said Ulf Bjereld, a political science professor at Gothenburg University. “At the same time, from the Social Democrats’ perspective, one can note that they didn’t even manage to reach their utterly modest target of 25 percent.”

On to Copenhagen with EUbusiness:

Anti-immigrant Danish party wins EU vote: exit poll

The anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party won the election in Denmark for the European Parliament with 23 percent of the votes, according to an exit poll Sunday.

The poll, which was carried out by the firm Epinion on behalf of national broadcaster DR, put the party ahead of the Social Democrats who scored 20.2 percent.

“My mother’s heart swells, because I’m simply so proud if that’s the result,” the party’s charismatic cofounder and former leader Pia Kjaersgaard told DR in reaction to the poll. If proved correct, this result would give the party three of Denmark’s 13 seats in the European Parliament.

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

Eurosceptics and SPD celebrate EU vote gains

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc will remain Germany’s biggest party in the EU Parliament, according to exit polls, but lost ground to their rivals. It was a particularly good night for the centre-left and eurosceptic parties.

Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were one of the main losers of the night, with their vote sinking by eight percent on the last EU elections in 2009.

It meant that Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc recorded their worst ever result in an EU election with 35.8 percent – down from 37.9 percent in 2009.

On to Belgium with the Associated Press:

Belgium faces tough coalition talks after vote

Initial results of Belgian national elections show big gains for the regionalist N-VA party in northern Flanders while the PS socialists were the biggest vote getters in southern Wallonia, raising the possibility of complicated coalition talks to form a government

With nearly half the votes counted, the Dutch-speaking N-VA party of Bart De Wever surged to 34 percent of Flemish votes in parliament, a rise of 6 percentage points.

The PS of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has 29 percent in Francophone Wallonia. That’s a drop of 7 percentage points but still enough to remain biggest vote getter in Di Rupo’s region.

France next, first with Reuters:

French far right poised for win as Europe votes on ‘Super Sunday’

The far right anti-EU National Front was forecast to win a European Parliament election in France on Sunday, topping a nationwide ballot for the first time in a stunning advance for opponents of European integration.

Critics of the European Union, riding a wave of anger over austerity and mass unemployment, gained ground elsewhere but in Germany, the EU’s biggest member state, the pro-European center ground held firm, according to exit polls.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s nationalist movement which blames Brussels for everything from immigration to job losses, was set to take about 25 percent of the vote, comfortably ahead of the conservative opposition UMP on about 21 percent.

President Francois Hollande’s Socialists suffered their second electoral humiliation in two months after losing dozens of town halls, trailing far behind in third place with about 14.5 percent, according to projections based on partial results.

More from Bloomberg:

French National Front Victory Needs EU Response, PM Valls Says

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the European Union needs to respond to the “earthquake’ of the National Front’s first-ever victory in nationwide voting in European parliamentary elections.

The anti-euro, anti-immigration party headed by Marine Le Pen won at least 25 percent of the vote, according to estimates by TNS Sofres, Ipsos, and Ifop. Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP Party placed second with about 20 percent, with the ruling Socialist Party coming in a distant third, with between 14 percent and 15 percent, the polls showed.

‘’Europe has disappointed,” Valls said in a televised address late yesterday from Paris. “Europe needs to give hope again. We need a Europe that is stronger, with more solidarity, more fairness.”

Next up, on to Geneva and a non-electoral story from Bloomberg:

Credit Suisse Offers Map to 13 Swiss Banks in U.S. Tax Probes

Thirteen Swiss banks face rising stakes in criminal tax-evasion probes after Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) set a new standard for punishment in the U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion.

Julius Baer Group Ltd., Zuercher Kantonalbank and the Swiss unit of HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) are among those seeking to avoid pleading guilty to helping Americans cheat the Internal Revenue Service — an unprecedented step taken by Credit Suisse on May 19. Their degree of wrongdoing and cooperation with investigators will help decide their fate, said the top U.S. tax prosecutor.

“We will look at the facts and circumstances of each investigation to determine an appropriate penalty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kathryn Keneally said in an interview. “It should be very clear from the Credit Suisse investigation that cooperation, or the lack thereof, is an important factor.”

Then on to Vilnius with BBC News:

Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite wins re-election after run-off

With nearly all votes counted she had won 58% with her Social Democrat rival Zigmantas Balcytis trailing on 42%.

The election was fought amid rising concerns in the region after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Ms Grybauskaite thanked her supporters for granting her a second term. “No president has been elected twice in a row in Lithuania. It will be a historic victory for all of you,” she said.

Budapest next with EUbusiness:

Hungary’s right-wing dominates EU polls

Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party swept to victory in European Parliament elections on Sunday, ahead of the far-right Jobbik party who overtook the Socialists to come second.

Just two months after a convincing victory in national elections, the Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbantook an even more commanding win in the EU poll with 51.5 percent of the vote.

But turnout was poor at 29 percent — the second-lowest ever for European polls in the country. Orban’s party will send 12 MEPs to the Strasbourg parliament, taking up over half of Hungary’s 21 seats.

And on to Slovakia with EUobserver:

Slovakia’s EP election turnout set for all-time low of 13%

Slovakia is set to rewrite the record books of EU elections again, with unofficial turnout figures suggesting that just some 13 percent of people cared to vote.

If confirmed, this would surpass both the pessimistic pre-election estimate of 16-21 percent turnout and past results – 19.6 percent in 2009 and 16.9 percent in 2004. The latter was the lowest ever score in the union’s history.

Slovakia’s EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, campaigning for the ruling social democrats (Smer-SD), said politicians need to seriously think about how to tackle the so-called Slovak paradox. People are generally supportive of EU membership and integration, but show an unprecedented lack of interest in the EP vote.

A non-slectoral headline from the Balkans via The Wire:

Historic Floods in the Balkans Give Way to Mudslides, Disease, and Landmines

Over the course of several days earlier this week, three-months-worth of rain hit the Balkan region. On Monday, the Bosnian government reported that one million residents — a quarter of the country’s population — were cut off from clean water, and 100,000 buildings destroyed.

Both Bosnia and Serbia have declared a state of emergency, as have a number of Croatian villages. Serbia’s prime minister said the damage would cost the country hundreds of millions of euros.

Thousands of landslides were triggered by the flooding and the tens of thousands who have been evacuated from the affected regions will likely be forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Next up Spain, and another shakeup from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s major parties lose out in Euro elections

  • Spain’s two main political parties, the ruling conservative Popular Party in power since 2011 and the Socialist Party, lost major ground in European Parliament elections on Sunday, official results showed.

The Popular Party elected 16 of Spain’s 54 lawmakers, down from 24 in the outgoing assembly while the Socialist Party took 14 seats, down from 23 with smaller parties, mainly on the left, making gains.

Polls had predicted a far more modest decline for the two main parties.

The result was seen as a sign of growing voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties in Spain as well as of fatigue with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s austerity measures and economic reforms.

A critical regional result via EUbusiness:

Separatist party wins EU vote in Spain’s Catalonia

A long-standing separatist party, the Republican Left, won the European Parliament elections in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia on Sunday, official results showed.

The party captured 23.67 percent of the vote, beating the conservative Convergence and Union party, the biggest formation in Catalonia’s local parliament, which came in second with 21.86 percent of the vote.

Both parties want to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9, flying in the face of fierce opposition from the central government in Madrid.

Italy next and a rare win for the incumbents from ANSA:

Renzi’s PD projected to land big win

Premier Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is set to be Italy’s top party in Sunday’s European elections by a big margin, according to early projections. A projection by SWG marketing for Sky gave the PD 36.8-38.8% of the vote, compared to 23.3-25.3% for comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment, Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) and 15.6-17.6% for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI).

Another projection by IPR marketing for State broadcaster Rai gave the PD a whopping 40.2% of the vote, compared to 23.1% for the M5S and 16% for FI. The PD said that, if the outcome is confirmed, it is an endorsement of the ambitious programme of institutional and economic reforms Renzi has embarked on since unseating his party colleague Enrico Letta in February to become Italy’s youngest premier at 39.

These include a drive to change the Constitution and transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with limited lawmaking powers as part of an overhaul of the country’s slow, costly political machinery.

And from TheLocal.it, more bad news for a former incumbent:

Lebanon agrees to extradite Berlusconi ally

Lebanon is to extradite to Italy an ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wanted by Rome over mafia links, an official and his lawyer told AFP on Saturday.

“Lebanon has agreed to an Italian request to extradite (former) senator Marcello Dell’Utri,” who was arrested in Beirut in mid-April on an Interpol warrant, said lawyer Nasser al-Khalil. Khalil said he will appeal the extradition order.

An official source confirmed the decision and said outgoing President Michel Sleiman signed the extradition agreement with Italy just hours before his mandate ends at midnight Saturday.

After the jump, a Greek upset and furious reaction, the expected Ukrainian result, electoral and economic news from Latin America, Indonesian poverty’s impact on education, the Thai coup continues to unfold, the ongoing Chinese slowdown, major Abenomics questions for Japan, the latest environmental woes, plus added Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines: Bubbles, bull, bile, pols, threatcetera


Today’s compilation of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with a bubble inflating, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

S.F. hot housing prices back, bidding wars fiercer than ever

Prices have climbed 33 percent since 2011, with many neighborhoods exceeding that.

And while bidding wars have long been part of buying a home in Noe Valley, Glen Park and Cole Valley, they are now just as fierce in less fashionable areas such as the Excelsior, Mission Terrace and Ingleside.

Citywide, properties are now commanding an average of 10.7 percent more than asking price, according to Paragon Real Estate Group, with Bernal Heights leading the pack at an average of 21 percent over asking. That’s up from April 2012, when homes were selling for an average of 3.5 percent over asking.

The Wall Street Journal covers the other side of the coin:

Poor Americans Direct 40% of Their Spending to Housing Expenses

Housing and food expenses absorb more than half of low-income Americans’ annual spending. Even the wealthiest Americans devote a sizable share of their spending to keeping a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerators.

That’s according to the Labor Department’s latest survey of Americans’ buying habits. The consumer expenditure survey report released Friday contained data on spending from July 2012 through June 2013.

On average, the report found, Americans upped their spending on food, transportation, health care, housing and “cash contributions” like child support payments and charitable donations. Overall, they spent 1.5% more compared with the previous 12 months, while average income ticked down 0.2%.

While The Hill finds cause for rejoicing:

Bankers breathe sigh of relief as Tea Party power fizzles

Banks are breathing a sigh of relief after established GOP incumbents bested a handful of Tea Party challengers at the polls recently.

Industry sources said the establishment wins improve Republican odds of retaking the Senate, which would in turn lead to a friendlier climate for the long-beleaguered sector. But some note that the Tea Party has left a mark on the Republican Party, presenting a challenging landscape for the industry.

The Tea Party movement can trace its roots back to fury about bailouts and banks, but the force that pulled the Republican Party right in recent years is finding less success at the polls recently.

And from the East Bay Express, a sign of rationality:

Californians Overwhelmingly Support a Ban on Fracking

A new poll shows that a super-majority of California residents — 68 percent — say they support a ban on fracking in the state. Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial oil- and natural gas-extraction method that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals into the earth. It’s been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to causing earthquakes. The new survey was published earlier this week by public policy opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, or FM3. Of the 807 California voters who were polled over the phone at random, 68 percent suppored a moratorium on fracking, with 45 percent of respondents stating that they “strongly” supported it.

Just a week after FM3 conducted its poll — and on the same day that the firm released its poll results — Californians learned that the estimate of extractable oil via fracking or acidization in the state was significantly lower than originally thought. The Monterey Shale, a 1,750 square-mile rock formation stretching from Sacramento to Los Angeles, was expected to provide 13.7 billion barrels of oil. A new estimate by the US Energy Information Administration lowered the number to 600 million barrels — about four percent of the original estimate.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, Proposition 13 strikes again [the measure limiting property taxes used to find the state’s schools]:

Governor’s teacher pension plan shocks school districts

When local school district officials pulled out their calculators and started crunching the numbers based on the governor’s new plan to shore up the state’s teacher pension fund, their jaws hit the floor.

The proposal, part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision, would more than double the 8.25 percent of payroll that districts now pay toward teacher retirement each year. Phased in over seven years, districts would end up paying 19.1 percent.

For San Francisco, that would mean spending $34 million each year above the current $25.8 million for teacher pensions, district officials said Friday.

From Bloomberg, a dire warning?:

U.S. Retailers Missing Estimates by Most in 13 Years

U.S. retailers’ first-quarter earnings are trailing analysts’ estimates by the widest margin in 13 years after bad weather and weak spending by lower-income consumers intensified competition.

Chains are missing projections by an average of 3.1 percent, with 87 retailers, or 70 percent of those tracked, having reported, researcher Retail Metrics Inc. said in a statement today. That’s the worst performance relative to estimates since the fourth quarter of 2000, when they missed by 3.3 percent. Over the long term, chains typically beat by 3 percent, the firm said.

Extreme winter weather through February and March forced store closings and stifled sales, Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics said. Lower- and moderate-income consumers had little discretionary spending power, and chains also faced price competition from e-commerce sites.

And from CNN, the first of two headlines in what we suspect will be a stream to come as the long, hot summer commences:

Arizona residents evacuate as fierce wildfire rages

The online Incident Information System reported Friday night that much of the fire burned with lower intensity throughout the day, allowing firefighters to make some progress.

However, despite that progress, the total area scorched climbed to 8,500 acres that night, and the containment level held steady at 5%.

The equivalent of a battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers, have been fighting the fire between Flagstaff and Sedona — a tourist and retirement destination famed for its red rock formations — since Tuesday afternoon.

CNN again:

Wildfire scorches nearly 80,000 acres in Alaska

A days-long wildfire had covered more than 78,000 acres of Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge by early Saturday, a state agency said.

The Funny River Fire began burning Monday evening and was 20% contained by early Saturday, Alaska’s Interagency Incident Management Team said.

No evacuations or injuries have been reported. There were more than 409 firefighters battling the blaze.

North of the border, and an all-too-familiar headline south of the border, via CBC News:

39% of unemployed have given up job search, poll suggests

In a poll carried out by Harris Poll and published Friday by employment agency Express Employment Professionals, the company surveyed 1,502 unemployed Canadians. None of them had a job, and not all of them were receiving EI benefits.

The results were eye-opening.

Some 39 per cent of those polled were in agreement with the statement that “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job” with five per cent saying they “agree a lot” 11 per cent saying they “agree somewhat” and 17 per cent saying they “agree a little.”

In the poll, which saw people respond to questions online over a week in April, more than a third responded they hadn’t had a job interview in over a month. A full 13 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t had a job interview since 2012 or before — well over a calendar year ago.

Britain next, and another slap on the wrist from BBC News:

Barclays Bank fined £26m for gold price failings

Barclays Bank has been fined £26m by UK regulators after one of its traders was discovered attempting to fix the price of gold. The trader, who has been sacked, exploited weaknesses in the system to profit at a customer’s expense, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

The incident occurred in June 2012, the day after the bank was fined a record £290m for attempting to rig Libor. Barclays said it “very much regrets the situation” that led to the fine.

The FCA found the bank failed to “adequately manage conflicts of interest between itself and its customers”, in relation to fixing the price of gold.

The Independent sets a precedent:

Slovak Roma parents fail in attempt to block same sex couple adopting their children

A Slovakian couple who have accused Kent County Council of social engineering have failed in their bid to block the adoption of their two sons by a same sex couple.

The Catholic couple, who are of Roma origin, took their case to the High Court earlier this month in an attempt to prevent their sons, aged two and four, from being adopted by a same sex couple in Kent.

In the judgement – released on Friday –Sir James Munby, the most senior judge in the Family Court, refused the pair’s request, saying that they had no grounds in law to appeal the decision.

And Sky News covers hard times populism resurgent:

Parties Reel From UKIP Election Success

  • The establishment faces up to the fallout from UKIP’s election “earthquake” as it wins more than double the seats many predicted.

UKIP’s haul of seats in the council elections is up to 184 with the main parties now mulling the prospect of four-party politics in next year’s general election.

Nigel Farage has said his anti-EU party is a “serious player” for 2015 after they added 167 councillors at the expense of the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

UKIP made gains in traditional Labour and Conservative heartlands, including strong showings in Rotherham – where it returned 10 out of 21 councillors.

One reaction from EUbusiness:

British deputy PM faces calls to quit

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg came under pressure Sunday to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats after the centrist party took a pounding in local elections.

Two would-be Lib Dem parliamentary candidates — staring at a much-reduced prospect of winning a seat at nexy tear’s general election — have put heir names to an online letter, signed by more than 200 party members, calling for Clegg to step aside.

He insisted Friday he would not quit despite being down 307 seats to 427 in the English local authority seats voted for on Thursday, with two of the 161 councils still to declare.

Sweden next, and a surge to the left form TheLocal.se:

Greens, feminists surge ahead of EU vote ‘thriller’

  • The Green Party climbed ahead of the Moderates into second spot in the polls ahead of Sunday’s EU elections with the upstart Feminist Initiative taking a further step forward in what promises to be a tough election to forecast.

The Green Party (MP) now has the support of 15.5 percent of the Swedish electorate ahead of Sunday’s vote, according to the latest opinion poll by Novus. The poll shows that the party has overtaken the Moderates who came in at 15 percent and now trails only the Social Democrats on 25.1 percent.

“We have not seen anything like it. I think that in Sweden, this is unique in itself,” said Torbjörn Sjöström at Novus to Sveriges Radio.

The Feminist Initiative (Fi) continued their dramatic success of recent months to claim a statistically significant rise to 5.4 percent and look set to claim their first seats in the parliament.

From BBC News, more of that hard times intolerance:

Brussels fatal gun attack at Jewish museum

  • Police have cordoned off the area but will not confirm if the gunman is still being pursued, as Duncan Crawford reports from the scene

A gunman has shot dead two men and a woman at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital Brussels.

A fourth person was seriously wounded, emergency services said.

The attacker arrived by car, got out, fired on people at the museum entrance, and returned to the vehicle which then sped away, Belgian media report.

Germany next, and political idiocy rebuked from EUbusiness:

Schulz mocked for ‘German’ appeal in EU election ad

The Socialists’ top candidate in European elections, Martin Schulz, drew online ridicule Sunday for telling Germans only a vote for his party would ensure one of their compatriots runs the European Commission.

“Only if you vote for Martin Schulz and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) can a German become president of the EU Commission” read an advertisement published in Germany’s top-selling Bild daily ahead of the election.

The appeal to national sentiment in the pan-European polls quickly sparked derisive commentary on Twitter under the hashtag #NureinDeutscher (Only a German).

“Youth unemployment in Europe is a huge problem, only a German can solve it,” quipped journalist and blogger Tilo Jung.

From Reuters, deals undone:

Germany stops numerous arms exports, risks compensation fees: report

Germany’s national security council declined two-thirds of applications for arms export licenses at its most recent sitting three weeks ago, German news weekly Spiegel said on Saturday.

The economy ministry had prevented a license application to export to Saudi Arabia 500 million euros worth of sight devices for armored personnel carrier guns from even being discussed in the council, it said.

Spiegel said the sights were made by a unit of Airbus. A spokesman for Airbus said: “We have no information about any government decision. We hope however for a swift and positive decision.”

And TheLocal.de protests:

Thousands protest at Erdogan German rally

Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Germany on Saturday, splitting the large Turkish community between passionate street protesters and conservative supporters flocking to what was widely seen as a campaign speech.

Erdogan is expected to run for the presidency in August, and Germany – with a Turkish community of three million, about half of them eligible voters – would be a strong constituency for the controversial leader.

Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have polarized Turks at home and abroad over what critics call his authoritarian style, a crackdown on civil liberties and corruption scandals under his rule.

On to Eastern Europe and epidemic apathy from New Europe:

Record abstention in Chech Republic reaches 80%, exit poll

  • Right wing TOP 09 leads with 18%

Right wing opposition party TOP 09 is taking the first place in the European Elections in the Czech Republic, according to exit polls. Czech news agency CTK calculates abstention to have reached record levels at around 80%

According to the exit poll done on behalf of the Dnes newspaper, TOP 09 gets 18% of the poll, while the ruling Social Democratic party (CSSD) follows with 17%.

Spain next, and significant symbolism from the Guardian:

Why Spain’s goal to leave racism behind could be decided by 56 villagers

  • A mayor’s quest to change his village’s name could help to alter attitudes in the country as a whole

At 4pm on Friday, it’s eerily quiet in this tiny village. The blinds on the stone houses are drawn and there’s not a person to be seen wandering the few streets that make up Castrillo Matajudíos.

It’s a sharp contrast to the noisy, relentless chatter about the place in the outside world. Ever since the mayor announced his intention to hold a referendum on changing its name, the spotlight has been on this Spanish village near the northern city of Burgos. Hundreds of media outlets around the world have shared its story. Thousands have taken to social media to opine on the name change. And come Sunday evening, when journalists are expected to outnumber residents at the announcement of the referendum result, millions around the world will hear about the outcome.

For 400 years, this place has borne the name of Castrillo Matajudíos, or Fort Kill the Jews in English. Starting at 9am on Sunday, the village’s 56 residents will have the chance to decide whether the time has come to change the name to Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or Hill of Jews. “We had no idea that this would be something that would gain worldwide attention,” said Lorenzo Rodríguez Pérez, mayor of Castrillo Matajudíos.

After the jump, mixed Latin American signals, That turmoil, serious Chinese economic uncertainty, Japanese Olympic fraudsters, the tragic loss of play, pre-cooked chickens, and fears of another Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading