Category Archives: Nature

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

Headlines II: Pols, crooks, corps, & polluters


And so much, much more, including the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! In today’s collection from the realms of political, law, economics, and the environment.

First up, a slowdown on the road to another skid-greasing for corporocrats and banksters from Kyodo News:

TPP ministers fail to set timeline for striking deal

Ministers in the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks fell short of setting a clear timeline for ending their long-running negotiations as they wrapped up their two-day meeting Tuesday in Singapore, although they stressed that progress has been made on tariff issues.

“We cemented our shared views on what is needed to bring negotiations to a close,” the ministers said in a joint statement issued following the meeting, but it was unclear what outcome was yielded during their gathering.

The ministers did decide that the chief negotiators from the member countries will meet in July to further accelerate talks but they did not clarify where the meeting will be held.

Money launderers get the ticket, via  Reuters:

Credit Suisse fined $2.5 billion after pleading guilty to U.S. tax charge

Credit Suisse has agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine to authorities in the United States for helping Americans evade taxes after becoming the largest bank in 20 years to plead guilty to a U.S. criminal charge.

The bank’s guilty plea resolves its long-running dispute with the United States over tax evasion, but could have implications for the clients and counterparties that do business with the group.

Credit Suisse said it had not seen a material impact in the past few weeks on its business, and that clients faced no legal obstacles from doing business with it despite the guilty plea.

Other banksters/other woes, from the Irish Times:

Drumm facing litany of fraud allegations at bankruptcy trial

  • Document detailing dozens of allegations against former Anglo boss submitted to US court

Former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drum will face a litany of fraud and perjury allegations when his bankruptcy trial begins in Boston tomorrow.

A list of “itemised allegations” against the 47-year-old Dubliner, which include accusations of fraud, concealment and lying under oath, has been submitted to the court where he filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

The document was submitted by the plaintiffs in the trial, bankruptcy trustee Kathleen Dwyer, and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, his former employer.

From iMediaEthic, without comment:

Nat’l Journal dumps comments section after ‘worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable’

The National Journal is getting rid of most online comments because it has been filled with “the worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable.”

National Journal’s editor-in-chief Tim Grieve announced the decision in a May 16 post,  explaining that there was no civil discussion on topics and it was getting worse.

“The debate isn’t joined. It’s cheapened, it’s debased, and, as National Journal’s Brian Resnick has written, research suggests that the experience leaves readers feeling more polarized and less willing to listen to opposing views,” Grieve wrote.

From China Daily, a float from abroad:

More Chinese companies choose US as destination to go public

A senior vice president with NYSE Euronex says that more and more Chinese enterprises are attracted to do initial public offering (IPO) in the United States and predicts that around 15 to 20 of them could go public in the States this year.

“What I’ve seen is a nice building process from two years ago when we only had two IPOs. One of them, VIP (Vipshop Holdings Limited), was listed here and did extremely well,” said David A. Ethridge, senior vice president and head of the Capital Markets Group at NYSE Euronext, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Shares of Vipshop, an online discount retailer, were traded at around $165 per share Monday, compared to $6.50 per share since it announced its IPO in March 2012. China’s social gaming portal YY Inc, which was listed on Nasdaq in November 2012, also saw its shares surge to around $56 per share from its IPO price of $10.50 apiece.

From the Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY, maybe retirees will have to get a bridge loan:

Gov. Christie cuts N.J. pension payments

Gov. Chris Christie is slashing the contributions scheduled to be made to New Jersey public workers’ pension funds by nearly $2.5 billion over the next 14 months to deal with a revenue shortfall facing the state budget.

Christie announced today at the Statehouse that he will make a $696 million payment into the pension funds this year, rather than $1.58 billion. He said he will put in $681 million next June, instead of the $2.25 billion that would have been made if the terms of the pension reforms he signed into law in 2011 were followed.

Christie said the payments cover the costs accrued during his administration for active employees but exclude the unfunded liability accrued under past governors and legislatures. He said that means the unfunded liability for active workers will not increase.

From Network World, corporations benefits, public services lose. Call it a neoliberal wet dream:

Driverless cars could cripple law enforcement budgets

  • Local government have long looked to speeding tickets to increase revenue. What will they do when autonomous cars stick to the speed limit?

Shortly after the state of Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana late last year, opponents made a very interesting, if somewhat counterintuitive, argument against legalized pot – law enforcement would miss out on the huge revenue stream of seized assets, property, and cash from pot dealers in the state.

Justice Department data shows that seizures in marijuana-related cases nationwide totaled $1 billion from 2002 to 2012, out of the $6.5 billion total seized in all drug busts over that period. This money often goes directly into the budgets of the law enforcement agencies that seized it. One drug task force in Snohomish County, Washington, reduced its budget forecast by 15% after the state voted to legalize marijuana, the Wall Street Journal reported in January. In its most fruitful years, that lone task force had seen more than $1 million in additional funding through seizures from marijuana cases alone, according to the report.

Naturally, this dynamic is something law enforcement either is or should already be preparing for as driverless cars make their way onto the roads. Just as drug cops will lose the income they had seized from pot dealers, state and local governments will need to account for a drastic reduction in fines from traffic violations as autonomous cars stick to the speed limit.

From the Associated Press, gladiator-doping alleged:

Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs

A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.

The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.

Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, said the complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.

The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, both a story and a metaphor for our times:

Train hits, kills woman wearing earphones in San Leandro

An 18-year-old woman using earphones while talking on her cell phone was struck and killed Monday by an Amtrak train in San Leandro after a witness tried unsuccessfully to warn her of its approach, police said.

On a similar vein, from north of the border via CBC News:

Physical inactivity of Canadian kids blamed on ‘culture of convenience’

  • Parents encouraged to weave opportunities to move and play with their kids into daily life

Canada’s “culture of convenience” means children and youth sit too much and move too little, in gym class, on the playground, and while travelling to and from school, according to a new global comparison.

Tuesday’s report, “Is Canada in the running?”, from Active Healthy Kids Canada grades kids from 15 countries on their physical activity levels in various areas.

Europe next, and the usual suspects, doing the usual via BBC News:

JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole accused of euro rate-fixes

The European Commission has accuses JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole of colluding to fix a key euro benchmark borrowing rate – Euribor.

JP Morgan and HSBC will fight the charges. Credit Agricole will study the European Commission’s findings. Penalties for the guilty are up to 10% of annual revenue.

Euribor is a cousin to Libor, which is used to set trillions of dollars of financial contracts from complex financial transactions to car loans.

And the electoral divide, with more to come next weekend, via EUbusiness:

Conservatives narrowly lead Socialists in EU vote: poll

Conservatives across Europe hold a narrow lead over their Socialist rivals in the upcoming European Parliament elections but eurosceptics and more radical parties will make significant gains, a poll showed Tuesday.

The PollWatch2014 survey issued as EU citizens prepare for the May 22-25 ballot put the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) on 217 seats against 201 for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

While that would leave them still the two biggest parties in the new 751-seat assembly, the EPP would be down from 274 seats and the S&D up only marginally from the previous 196.

In third place, the centrist Liberals (ALDE) would fare especially badly, falling to 59 seats from the current 83, PollWatch2014 said.

A predictable alarm, via Greek Reporter:

Credit Agricole: SYRIZA’s Victory May Cause Shock to EU markets

According to Bloomberg news agency, Mark McCormick, a currency strategist at the French Credit Agricole, sent a to the bank’s clients, stating that a possible victory of SYRIZA in the euro elections might cause a shock to the European markets.

McCormick claimed that a possible victory by SYRIZA can cause a  shock to Europe’s assets (bonds, equities, interest bearing securities, etc.) at a time when Greece is trying to implement reforms.

McCormick, according to Bloomberg, stated that the European elections should not be underestimated given that their results will have an impact on the above-mentioned assets.The increasing popularity of anti-European parties constitutes a threat to the progress that has been achieved in financial reforms. The greatest danger lies in Greece, which could be led to early elections if the Greek main opposition party wins a majority in the European elections.

And the lobbying will commence, via EurActiv:

Google cannot be broken up without new legislation, says EU Competition Commissioner

Google cannot be broken up into smaller companies without new EU legislation, the European Commission said today (20 May), after detailing two potential new antitrust investigations into the internet giant.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia was responding to comments made earlier this week by German’s Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel,  who said Google may have such a dominant market position that a break-up had to be “seriously considered.” Existing competition law was not powerful enough to split up the business, Almunia said.

The California-based company may yet face a separate antitrust investigation to the one ongoing since November 2012. Open Internet Project, a group of 400 European digital market members, made a different complaint [PDF] on Friday.

Britain next, and the bubble continues with BBC News:

UK house prices up 8% in a year, says ONS

UK house prices rose by 8% in the year to the end of March, official figures show, as the prime minister says he will consider changes to Help to Buy.

The annual increase slowed compared with a 9.2% year-on-year price rise to the end of February.

However, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the annual property price increase in London stood at 17%. Excluding London and the South East of England, prices were up by 4.7%.

On a related front, via the London Telegraph:

Lloyds acts to curb ‘inflationary’ London housing

  • UK’s biggest mortgage provider, which also owns Halifax, will not lend any more than four times those of incomes on properties over £500,000

The UK’s biggest mortgage provider, Lloyds Banking Group, has taken radical action in the face of what it called “inflationary pressures” in London’s housing market, tightening up the requirements for high-value property purchases.

The state-backed lender said that on lending of over £500,000, it would not approve mortgages in which consumers are borrowing more than four times their incomes.

The announcement is the first major step taken by lenders to cool rapidly-rising house prices in the capital, where prices have risen by 17pc in the last year – more than double the national average. Lloyds said the policy would be applied nationally, but was deliberately targeted at London.

On to Germany and the predictable, via TheLocal.de:

‘Germany can deny foreigners benefits’

Germany can refuse to give unemployment benefit to EU citizens it believes are “welfare tourists”, according to a European ruling on Tuesday.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice said the state could reject applications for German unemployment benefit Hartz IV from foreigners from other EU countries to prevent abuse of the system and “welfare tourism”.

The Luxembourg court will make its ruling over the next few months, but normally follows the advocate general’s advice.

The decision was made in a high-profile case of a 24-year-old Romanian woman and her son who have lived in Germany since 2010. The woman’s local job centre in Leipzig refused to give her Hartz IV, prompting her to take legal action.

And from Deutsche Welle:

Migration to Germany skyrockets

The sovereign debt crisis is driving a surge in migration to Germany. New figures reveal hundreds of thousands of foreign workers flocked to Europe’s largest economy in 2012 – a nearly 40 percent jump in just a year.

The number of people migrating to Germany jumped nearly 40 percent in a year, according to data released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of mostly developed nations.

Driven mainly by economic uncertainty in the euro zone’s periphery, which includes weaker nations that are still recovering from the global financial crisis, some 400,000 people flocked to Germany in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available.

“We can clearly speak about a boom of migration to Germany without exaggeration,” Thomas Liebig, an OECD migration expert, said as the group released its latest migration outlook just days ahead of European elections in which immigration has been hotly debated.

More from Reuters:

Germany becomes world’s top migration spot after U.S.: OECD

Germany has become the world’s second most popular destination for immigrants after the United States, attracting many southern Europeans driven from the ravages of the euro zone financial crisis to overtake Canada and Australia.

Germany soared to second place in the 2012 in a survey of permanent migration published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday. It ranked eighth in 2009.

“This really is a boom – without any exaggeration … no other OECD country experienced such a rise,” said Thomas Liebig, an expert on international migration at the Paris-based OECD.

Vienna next, and just say Nein!?, From TheLocal.at:

Vienna mayor wants right wing group banned

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Häupl (SPÖ) has called for a ban on a right wing group calling themselves Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement).

Last Saturday a march by the group in central Vienna resulted in clashes between protesters and police after it was obstructed several times by a left-wing counter-demonstration.

“A group like this should have been banned a long time ago,” Häupl said at his weekly press conference. “This is a neo-fascist organization that quite clearly falls under the prohibition act,” he added.

The Verbotsgesetz (Prohibition Act) is an Austrian law which banned the Nazi Party and aimed to suppress any potential revival of Nazism.

While parts of Spain face unparalleled drought, at the other end of Europe with euronews:

Bosnia flood destruction ‘as bad as the war’

The government in Bosnia says more than 1 million people, or a quarter of the population, has been affected by flooding and landslides, comparing the destruction to that of the country’s war in the 1990s.

Some reports speak of around 50 deaths in Bosnia and in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia amid the worst rainfall to hit the Balkans in living memory.

Having survived the war and built a new life, many have lost everything.

Spain next, whipping up the religious for a neoliberal advantage with El País:

Abortion clinics report spike in vandalism

  • Anti-abortion activists step up pressure ahead of government changes to legislation

Anti-abortion groups are getting more radical in their rhetoric and in their actions.

In the face of government delays, these groups have been making increasingly vocal demands for legislative reform to curtail access to pregnancy terminations.

But now, abortion clinics are also reporting several instances of vandalism against their premises, according to formal complaints to which EL PAÍS has had access.

El País again, this time weith another outburst of that hard times intolerance:

Racist gestures at soccer game cost Barcelona employee her job

  • Llagostera fan also barred from her team’s stadium for performing monkey actions at black player

A woman has lost her job and been barred from a soccer stadium for life after she was caught on camera making racist gestures at a Spanish second division game between Llagostera and Racing Santander on Sunday.

Video footage of the match clearly shows the Llagostera fan making monkey actions at Mamadou Koné, a black player from the Ivory Coast who plays for Racing.

The images immediately spread around the social networks, and the consequences soon followed. Llagostera president Isabel Tarragó has barred the woman, who is not a club member, from ever returning to its stadium.

El País again, with more:

Jewish community to file complaint after anti-Semitic tweets posted from Spain

  • Offensive comments appeared on Twitter after basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid
  • The victory on Sunday saw the Israeli side win the Euroleague title

The Jewish community in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia has taken action over anti-Semitic messages posted on social networking sites after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid to win the Euroleague title on Sunday.

After the game in Tel Aviv was over, nearly 18,000 offensive messages appeared on Twitter, according to Jewish associations, which have announced they are planning to file a complaint with the state attorney on Tuesday. According to sources from the Jewish community, the complaint will include tweets from five users of the micro-blogging site – along with their full names – which, the complainants will argue, constitute incitement of hatred against Jews.

Portugal next, and a Troikarch release from ANSAmed:

Portugal officially out of Troika bailout plan

  • Without seeking precautionary credit line, premier says

Portugal officially exited on Monday the bailout programme drafted by the Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) under which it obtained in 2011 a loan worth 79 billion euros provided it implemented a number of austerity measures to cut expenditure.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced the country will ‘’not seek further security measures, although the road ahead is still long to get out of the crisis’‘.

The premier added that ‘’the government’s priorities are economic and employment recovery’‘.

Italy next, starting with Bunga Bunga bloviation from TheLocal.it:

‘Did you call Merkel an ‘unf**kable lard-arse’?’

Jeremy Paxman, the BBC’s hard-nosed interviewer, asked Italy’s gaffe-prone former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi whether he called German Chancellor Angela Merkel an “unf**kable lard-arse” in an interview that will be aired on Tuesday night.

Berlusconi, who is currently undertaking community service at a home for Alzheimer’s patients for his tax fraud conviction, reportedly said Merkel was a “culona inchiavabile” (unf**kable lard-arse) during a wiretapped conversation with a man accused of supplying prostitutes to the former prime minister’s “bunga bunga” parties in July 2011.

More bloviatin’ from the Bunga Bunghole via ANSA:

Berlusconi calls Grillo a ‘killer’

Vitriol escalates with reference to manslaughter conviction

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday called Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), a “killer” as the political venom ahead of Sunday’s European elections reached a new high. Berlusconi was referring to Grillo’s 1980 manslaughter conviction for a car accident in which he was the driver and three people died.

Grillo has never stood personally in elections because he says people with criminal records should not be in parliament, although he is still the undisputed leader of the M5S from outside the buildings of power.

The comedian-turned-politician has been brutally critical of three-time premier Berlusconi, who was ejected from parliament last year and is currently doing community after a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year, over his many judicial problems.

After the jump, it’s on to Greece and more electoral mayhem, a Ukrainian pullback, Brazilian jitters and an Argentine memory hole, a case of Thai anxiety, Chinese real estate woes, environmental alarms, and Fukushuimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Map of the day: California drought continues


From the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of the Golden state remains in a condition of severe drought [yellow], extreme drought [red] or excepitpnal drought [dark brown]:

BLOG Drought

By way of contrast, here’s the situation a year ago [14 May 2013], when conditions ranged from a mild abnormally dry [bright yellow] through moderate drought [pale yellow] to severe drought]:

BLOG Ca drought 2013

A kitty litter explosion spews bad stuff


An update on the plutonium release from the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the temporary nuclear waste repository holding all that radioactive waste from the national labs where UC Berkeley has kept Uncle Sam armed with all those nuclear weapons.

The site sustained an atmospheric leak from its underground vaults on Valentine’s Day, signaled by the release of detectable amounts of plutonium, one of the deadliest things on earth.

Now we can see just what happened, the apparent result of a reaction between the deadly waste and a new brand of kitty litter used as a mixer in storage drums, in this case one from Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of the world’s first nukes.

Here’s what a remote camera found:

BLOG WIPP

The story, via the Albuquerque Journal:

Photos show cracked LANL container at WIPP

A radiation leak at the government’s troubled nuclear waste dump has been linked to a waste container shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory, officials said Friday, raising questions about the safety of other barrels being stored on the lab’s northern New Mexico campus and at a temporary site in West Texas.

Lab Director Charlie McMillan, in a memo Friday to lab employees, said Los Alamos “is fully cooperating” with state and federal officials and has taken extra precautions to ensure that similar waste drums at the lab and those sent to Waste Control Specialists in Texas “are in a safe and controlled configuration.”

“Based on this,” he wrote, “we do not believe there is any imminent threat to the safety of our employees, the public, or the environment at this time.”

Watchdog Don Hancock, however, said that until more is known about the breach, “we can’t have assurances.”

From the waste site’s website:

Last week a photograph showed a waste container with a cracked lid and heat damage, providing further evidence of a significant heat event in WIPP’s Room 7 of Panel 7. The investigation into the exact cause of the release is ongoing.

Los Alamos and Savannah River National Laboratories are testing the waste stream’s chemical and radiological content and looking at possible scenarios for what might have caused a reaction in the drum.

Headlines: CorporoEconoEcoPoliFarce


Having lost a host of entries through a browser crash, we’re feeling touched by absurdity, and so we begin with this from Taiwanese Animators:

AT&T buys DirecTV for $48.5 billion: Monopoly Media Mergers Edition

Program notes:

AT&T announced it plans to buy DirecTV, the top US satellite TV operator, for $48.5 billion in an attempt to grow beyond an increasingly hostile cellular market.

The deal was announced on Sunday. AT&T said it is offering $95 per DirecTV share in a combination of cash and stock, a 10 percent premium over Friday’s closing price of $86.18. The cash portion, $28.50 per share, will be financed by cash, asset sales, financing already lined up and other debt market transactions.

If the deal is approved by US regulators, AT&T would add 20 million DirecTV customers to its paltry 5.7 million U-verse customers, plus another 18 million DirecTV customers in Latin America.

The Wire adds more, less theatrically:

AT&T Promises to Uphold Net Neutrality for Three Years if DirecTV Deal Goes Through

In the event the $48 billion AT&T-DirecTV deal closes, the new joint company is promising to uphold the current net neutrality rules for at least three years. This promise would be valid regardless of how the FCC vote on the issue goes later this year.

In their proposal for the DirecTV purchase, AT&T issued a list of commitments, which they are calling “benefits of the transaction.”  One of these “benefits” is the following:

Net Neutrality Commitment. Continued commitment for three years after closing to the FCC’s Open Internet protections established in 2010, irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules.

In the event the FCC’s paid prioritization proposal passes, AT&T won’t actually participate in the potentially multi-million dollar scheme (if they keep their promise, that is.) This is also a major show of good faith to the FCC, which will have to approve the merger.

From the Guardian, a rare cause of a faint twinge of something approaching but not exactly qualifying as joy:

Credit Suisse pleads guilty to criminal charges in US tax evasion settlement

  • Bank is first in more than a decade to admit to a crime in US and will pay more than $2.5bn in penalties

Credit Suisse Group has pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it helped Americans evade taxes, becoming the first bank in more than a decade to admit to a crime in the US. It will now pay a long-expected fine of $2.5bn (£1.5bn).

“This case shows that no financial institution no matter its size or global reach is above the law,” said the attorney general, Eric Holder. He said the years-long investigation had uncovered evidence of an “extensive and wide-ranging” conspiracy to hide taxes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the bank’s involvement in it.

“The bank went to elaborate lengths to shield itself, its employees, and the tax cheats it served from accountability for their criminal actions. They subverted disclosure requirements, destroyed bank records, and concealed transactions involving undeclared accounts by limiting withdrawal amounts and using offshore credit and debit cards to repatriate funds. They failed to take even the most basic steps to ensure compliance with tax laws,” said Holder.

From Al Jazeera America, an unsurprising correlation:

Study: Student debt worst at universities with highest-paid presidents

  • Executives at 25 universities saw 14 percent higher salary increase than national average after 2008 recession

Student debt and the hiring of relatively low-paid adjunct faculty rather than full-time professors have grown fastest at public universities with the highest-paid presidents, a new report found.

University president pay has risen dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, according to the report, which focuses on 25 state universities that pay their presidents almost double the national average. Released Sunday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive Washington D.C.-based think tank, the study is called The One Percent at State U — referring to the financial gains made by executives after the 2008 recession.

Nationwide, between the fall of 2009 and the summer of 2012, average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent to $544,544, according to the study

Another unsurprising correlation, via KCBS:

Inner City Oakland Youth Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Centers for Disease Control said 30 percent of inner city kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The CDC said these children often live in virtual war zones. Doctors at Harvard said they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD.

Unlike soldiers, children in the inner city never leave the combat zone. They often experience trauma, repeatedly.

“You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar. Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home,” said Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University.

A cross-border legal beef from the Canadian Press, with that old “corporate person” free speech once again at issue:

Canada-U.S. meat labelling row hears free speech arguments

Canadian livestock producers were in an American courtroom Monday fighting against labelling requirements blamed for having devastated their exports to the United States.

The case revolves around the free-speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment, one of the most sacrosanct provisions of the American Constitution.

Canadian and Mexican producers, and the U.S. partners they supply, argue that those speech rights are being violated by the requirement that they stamp country-of-origin labels on meat packaging.

On to Europe, with growth at the margin from TheLocal.st:

Europe’s far right expect election gains

Europe’s far-right is looking to overcome deep divisions and establish itself as a major player in Brussels after EU elections this week where it is expected to make significant gains.

With voters tired of a European Union handing down decisions from on high, parties like France’s National Front (FN), Britain’s UKIP and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPOe) are going strong in the polls ahead of the May 22-25 ballot.

But it might not be all plain sailing in the months to come.

Ireland next, and austerity once again victimizing its victims, via TheJournal.ie:

Two rape crisis centres are to close temporarily as cuts take hold

  • The services in Clare and Tipperary will be closed for at least a month because of a €120,000 shortfall.

TWO RAPE COUNSELLING services in the Midwest are to be temporaily closed because of a funding shortfall the service estimates at €120,000.

Rape Crisis Midwest has centres in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary but is to close the latter two services for a least one month to save costs.

The service provides confidential one to one counselling to survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse and says that it helps about 80 people a week.

Cash flowing from one end of Eurasia to another, via TheLocal.no:

Chinese tycoon agrees to buy Norway land

The Chinese property billionaire blocked from buying a huge chunk of Iceland is reportedly close to buying up a 100 hectares of the scenic Lyngen coastline.

Huang Nubo, a Communist party member who spent ten years working in the country’s propaganda ministry, on Thursday agreed to buy the site, which has already received planning permission for a series of villas, from Ola OK Giæver Jr, a local landowner, pilot and businessman.

“I can promise you a new era for Lyngen municipality. I trust that Huang Nubo will create huge and positive financial ripples throughout the north of Norway,” Giæver jr said. “There is not a better capitalist than Huang.”

Sweden next, and one way to make homelessness vanish, the neooliberal version, via TheLocal.se:

Stockholm says no to ‘freakshow’ soup kitchen

Stockholm municipality has ruled that a soup kitchen which had served hearty broth to the city’s homeless for the past two years must move on due to the risk of the city square being “turned into a zoo”.

“Nazis can march freely and water is thrown on people begging, but to create a meeting place to challenge politicians and other people to actually do something is obviously very dangerous and terrible,” Elin Jakobsson at Soup Kitchen Stockholm said in response to the decision via social media.

The organization has been active for the past two years and works both as a source of food and a monthly meeting place for the city’s homeless population. The soup kitchen requires a police permit and on Monday its application for renewal was rejected.

But it can be carried to far, of course, via TheLocal.se:

Shopkeeper charged over beggar dousing

A Gothenburg shopkeeper has been charged over the drenching of a beggar with water in front of his shop in March, an incident which sparked an outraged response on social media.

The man was charged on Monday with two counts of harassment.

The first was for an incident on March 10th when he threw a bucket of warm water at his own Hemköp window, effectively soaking a beggar sitting nearby. The second charge was for the day after, when the man did the same thing with a bucket of cold water.

On both occasions, the woman begging by the windows was drenched, and the prosecutor argued on Monday that both acts were carried out with intent.

From GlobalPost, going medieval:

In Germany, no means yes

  • A regressive definition of rape highlights the country’s stubbornly traditional attitudes toward women.

No means yes, at least in this country.

When a rape court in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia acquitted the alleged rapist of a 15-year-old girl in 2012, women’s rights advocates were outraged.

The ruling found that saying no, or even screaming it, wasn’t enough to merit rape charges. Now findings from a new study indicate that case was hardly unique, despite a European initiative to step up efforts to stop violence against women.

The number of German rape cases ending in convictions has plummeted from 22 percent to 8 percent over the past 20 years, according to a study released by the Hanover-based Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony

A suggestion for a foreign visitor from TheLocal.de:

Mayor urges Erdogan to cancel German trip

German politicians called on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to cancel an upcoming pre-election appearance to Cologne in the wake of a deadly mine disaster.

Amid mounting anger within Turkey over his response to last week’s coal mine blast in which 301 died, Erdogan faced condemnation and calls to cancel his visit next Saturday from across the political spectrum in Germany.

Erdogan is due to address supporters in Germany, where three million Turks or people of Turkish origin live, with a visit to the western city of Cologne. For the first time, some 2.6 million Turks living abroad, including 1.5 million in Germany alone, will be able to cast their votes in the August presidential vote in which Erdogan is expected to stand.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Germany urges restraint ahead of Erdogan’s planned speech in Cologne

The German government has urged Turkey’s prime minister to exercise restraint when he visits the country on the weekend. This followed calls from some German politicians for Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel his visit.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday that as the prime minister of a “really close and important partner” nation, Erdogan was welcome in Germany, where he plans to deliver a speech to local Turks on Saturday.

At the same time, though, Seibert said the German government expected Erdogan to choose his words carefully at what he described as a “difficult” time, given the political tensions in Turkey in light of the recent mining disaster and the fact that it comes one day before the European elections.

Seibert said in light of this, the government expected Erdogan to deliver a “sensitive, responsible” speech, when he addresses thousands of his fellow countrymen and women at an indoor stadium in the western city of Cologne.

Another bankster busted, from TheLocal.fr:

Rogue trader Kerviel imprisoned in France

The former trader Jérome Kerviel was finally behind bars in France on Monday after being picked up by French police at midnight. Kerviel is due to start a three year prison sentence over his role in losing former employers Société Général €5 billion through high-risk trading.

French police arrested rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel at midnight on Sunday, shortly after he had crossed the border from Italy into France on his walk home from Rome to Paris.

A local prosecutor then announced on Monday morning that Kerviel was behind bars in the Riviera city of Nice.

TheLocal.fr again, with some reassurance for the poorest:

French income tax cuts for poorest to last to 2017

A plan to exempt France’s poorest households from income tax will not just be a one-off for this year, the government finance minister said this week. The income tax breaks will actually apply until 2017, the minister Michel Sapin said.

There was more cheer for the more hard-up tax payers in France on Monday when the finance minister Michel Sapin announced a government plan to apply the recently revealed breaks until 2017.

Sapin’s pledge comes days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made the headlines by announcing that the government plans to exempt 1.8 million households from the income tax burden.

From El País, Spanish repos rising:

Home repossessions up 10% in 2013

  • Spanish lenders took back nearly 50,000 properties last year
  • Figures released by Bank of Spain suggest more borrowers are handing back keys in payment

Spanish lenders repossessed 49,694 homes from defaulting borrowers in 2013, a 10% rise from a year earlier, figures released on Monday by the Bank of Spain show.

Of these, 38,961 were first residences, according to statistics provided by the banks. The vast majority of properties were empty at the time of repossession.

Meanwhile, the proportion of cases involving dation in payment, in which borrowers in arrears hand over the keys of the property to the lender that approved the mortgage to cancel debt obligations, reached 32.5% of all repossessed homes.

Pimping the rich fails to enrich, via TheLocal.es:

Spain’s ‘golden visa’ scheme fails to shine

Just 72 people have signed on to a controversial Spanish ‘visa for cash’ scheme which grants automatic Spanish residency to people who buy a property worth at least €500,000 ($685,000).

The so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme has reaped only small rewards, according to Spain’s El País newspaper.

Introduced in September 2013, the law gives foreigners who invest large sums in Spanish property, public debt and projects of general interest the right to reside in Spain.

And from thinkSPAIN, another way California is like Spain:

Worst drought in 150 years hits southern and eastern Spain

A DROUGHT of the scale not seen in over a century and a half is threatening water resources in Spain’s south and east after the lowest rainfall on record over the autumn, winter and spring.

The worst-hit provinces are Valencia and Alicante where, following a sudden and unprecedented gota fría or Mediterranean ‘monsoon’ in late August, it has barely rained between September and June.

Murcia, Albacete, Cuenca, Teruel, Cádiz, Málaga, Jaén and Almería are also at high risk – the only provinces in Andalucía which are safe are Granada, Sevilla and Huelva.

From El País, and how [to employ a sexist term] broad-minded of them:

Spanish conservatives forgive sexist remarks by their European contender

  • Women at Popular Party rally play down Arias Cañete’s views about male “intellectual superiority”

It was just a minor “slip.” Popular Party (PP) voters are writing off as unimportant statements about the intellectual superiority of men made last week by the party’s top European candidate, Miguel Arias Cañete, despite leaders’ fears they might have jeopardized his chances of winning.

Several women who attended a Sunday rally by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal in Cuenca sought to play down the controversy over the sexist remarks.

During a televised debate with Elena Valenciano, his Socialist rival in next Sunday’s European elections, Arias Cañete claimed that he had held back from serious intellectual confrontation because “if you abuse your intellectual superiority, you end up looking like a sexist intimidating a defenseless woman.”

Italy next and a wiseguy lipoff lambasted via ANSA.it:

Renzi hits back after Grillo mafia jibe

  • Premier says PD marks real face of change

Premier Matteo Renzi hit back Monday after Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), used a Mafia jibe to suggest his political career was close to ending as the campaign for Sunday’s European elections grew increasingly venomous.

Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is top in most polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S, who are second in the surveys after capturing a stunning 25% of the vote in last year’s general election, can come first with a late surge.

“Renzie has been hired on a temporary project to win the European elections, but he’ll lose them,” Grillo wrote Monday on his popular blog, using a nickname that refers to the premier’s alleged attempt to come across as cool like TV’s Fonzie.

TheLocal.it notes another grime number:

Italy’s employment rate is one of Europe’s worst

  • The Italian employment rate fell to 59.8 percent last year, one of the worst in Europe, according to figures released on Monday by the European Commission.

Fewer than 60 percent of Italians aged 20 to 64 were employed in 2013, far below the EU average of 68.3 percent.

The new figure sees Italy slip to figures not seen for over a decade, with last year’s rate just higher than the 59.2 percent recorded in 2002. Between then and 2008 the situation steadily improved for workers in Italy, until the global financial crisis struck and led to a steady decline in employment.

According to the European Commission data, Italy now has one of the worst employment rates in Europe, just slightly higher than Spain’s 58.2 percent. Only Greece, with 53.2 percent, and Croatia (53.9 percent) fared worse in 2013.

ANSA.it demands:

Napolitano says EU must help on migrants

  • Italy is main entrance for flow that’s creating emergency

President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday that the European Union must provide Italy with greater help in coping with a massive wave of migrants arriving from North Africa. “Today we are faced with the absolute need to achieve a concrete, operative model of cooperation with the European Union,” Napolitano told Italian officials at the United Nations in Geneva, ANSA sources said. The Head of State added that while migrant arrivals had caused an emergency for all of southern Europe, Italy is “the main entrance”. There has been friction between Rome and Brussels after two migrant boat disasters south of Italy last week in which around 60 people are confirmed dead and many more may have lost their lives.

Rome says the EU is not doing enough to support it after it launched the humanitarian Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) search-and-rescue border operation in October, after roughly 400 migrants drowned in two wrecks off the coast of Sicily.

On Wednesday Premier Matteo Renzi accused the European Union of looking the other way as Italy struggles to cope with the crisis.

After the jump, fascinating electoral news from Greece, the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan turmoil, pre-World Cup jitters in Brazil, polio rising, a Thai takeover, Chinese real estate developments, Japanese Trans-Pacific intransigence, melting polar caps, other environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

A crisis in Italy: Mafia toxic waste dumping


From SBS Dateline, a documentary from the doomed [by a neoliberal Australian government] network on the massive scale of illegal toxic and nuclear waste dumping by the mafia with the collusion of successive governments:

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Inside Italy’s Secret Toxic Waste Crisis

Program notes:

On the foothills of Mount Vesuvius a new threat has emerged. Known as the “triangle of death”; 20 tonnes of toxic waste have been illegally dumped by the Mafia, causing child cancer rates to double.

“The ground is smouldering with unnatural fumes”, explains Enzo Tosti, a local activist. As the fumes rise, lethal contamination spreads into the local farms and the aquifers surrounding Naples. The effect of the Mafia waste disposal has been devastating as these toxins have now found their way into the food chain, causing “carcinogenic, mutagenic damage” and an upsurge in child cancer rates. Carmine Schiavone, the former Mafia boss in charge of disposing the toxic waste, has a price on his head. But he has now had a turn of conscience. Exposing that the waste near Naples was dumped under the “knowledge of senior officials”, Schiavone also indicates that Naples isn’t the only place in Italy facing this toxic time bomb.

Headlines: Pols, polls, EconoGrecoFukuNews


Today’s collection of political, economic, and environmental news headlines — plus the latest from Fukushima — begins a a “mission accomplished” entry from the Associated Press:

Tea party losing races but tugging GOP rightward

Tuesday’s high-profile primary elections may extend a streak of sorts for tea party Republicans: losing individual races but winning the larger ideological war by tugging the GOP rightward.

Tea party-endorsed candidates are struggling in Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho.

In each state, “establishment” Republican candidates have emphasized their conservative credentials — thus narrowing the party’s philosophical differences.

Democrats say it’s happening elsewhere — and that the candidates trying to give Republicans control of the Senate will prove too far right for centrist voters in November.

From the London Daily Mail, via the Dept. Of Anything for a Buck:

‘To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant’: Families of workers killed on 9/11 vent fury at new museum’s tacky gift shop which stands above tomb storing 8,000 unidentified body parts of victims

  • The newly-opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum also features a gift shop
  • Many victims’ families feel the idea of a gift shop, so close to their loved-ones’ remains, offensive
  • Some 8,000 unidentified remains of victims were recently relocated to a tomb beneath the museum
  • The museum opened to victims’ families and survivors on Thursday and will open for the general public on May 21
  • Proceeds from the gift shop will go to ‘developing and sustaining’ the museum and memorial

From the Washington Post, consolidation of media continues:

AT&T, DirecTV announce $49 billion merger

AT&T announced Sunday that it was acquiring DirecTV in a $49 billion deal that would create a new telecom and television behemoth to rival cable firms — while raising fresh concerns about competition and options for consumers.

AT&T would gain DirecTV’s 20 million U.S. subscribers, a company with strong cash flows and an ability to fatten its bundle of offerings. The combined firm would be able to offer phone, high-speed Internet and pay-TV subscriptions to more customers — packages that cable firms such as Comcast have sold most successfully.

AT&T has agreed to acquire DirecTV for $95 a share, made up of $28.50 a share in cash and $66.50 a share in AT&T stock. AT&T says it expects to close the acquisition within 12 months.

More from the Department of Anything for a Buck from BuzzFeed:

New York To Keep Investments Linked To Russian Social Media Site Home to Neo-Nazi and Anti-Gay Groups

Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Burger King, keep advertising there, too.

LGBT activists have since February been pushing the city and state of New York to divest of holdings connected to the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) because it hosts the pages of hundreds of Neo-Nazi and anti-LGBT groups — but New York isn’t budging.

Duncan Obsorne, a member of LGBT rights protest group Queer Nation, told BuzzFeed the group met with both State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and City Comptroller Scott Stringer in April to discuss their holdings tied to VKontakte, which hosts hundreds of pages belonging to groups like Occupy Pedophilia, which entraps gay men to torture them on camera.

California’s state pension fund, CalPERS, responded to similar prodding from other LGBT activists and has sold $20 million shares in Mail.ru, which owns a 52 percent share of VKontakte and is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, the Financial Times reported Friday. Queer Nation helped CalPERS research and investigate material on VK that lead to the fund’s decision to divest.

More consolidatin’ from BBC News:

Pfizer in new offer for AstraZeneca takeover

US drugs giant Pfizer has made an improved offer for the UK’s AstraZeneca as it bids to tie up the largest takeover in British business history.

The new offer of £55 per share would value AstraZeneca at about £69bn.

Pfizer plans to create the world’s largest drug company, with its headquarters in New York, but based in the UK for tax purposes.

That plan has proved controversial with unions and politicians, with 6,700 UK jobs at stake.

Bankster alert from TheLocal.fr:

Goldman Sachs fears BNP Paribas guilty plea

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The two European banks, under probes for violating US sanctions and abetting tax evasion, are potentially facing very heavy fines that could reach billions of dollars.

From the Guardian, hot times in the Golden State:

California governor links wildfire increase to climate change

  • Jerry Brown predicts ‘worst’ wildfire season ever
  • Last evacuees home after San Diego County fires

Drought-stricken California is preparing for its worst wildfire season ever, the state’s governor said on Sunday.

Governor Jerry Brown told ABC’s This Week that the nearly dozen wildfires that this week caused more than $20m in damage mark only the beginning. The state has 5,000 firefighters and has appropriated $600m to battling blazes, but that may not be enough.

“We’re getting ready for the worst,” Brown said. “Now, we don’t want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full complement of firefighting capacity.”

From PRI’s The World, driving away to cheaper pastures:

Toyota built Torrance into the second-largest home of Japanese Americans. Now, it’s leaving

When Toyota announced plans last month to move its US headquarters from Southern California to Texas, the announcement caught a lot of people off guard — particularly in the city of Torrance, Toyota’s American home for the past 30 years.

Torrance is just 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and is quintessential suburbia — the kind of place people move to when they’re ready to raise their kids.

It’s long been overshadowed by its livelier neighbors, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.

From United Press International, scoldin’ students over Grinnin’ Bobby B:

Haverford College commencement speaker calls students ‘arrogant’ for protesting other speaker

Former Princeton President William G. Bowen called Haverford students “immature” and “arrogant” for protesting previously scheduled commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau.

Haverford College’s graduating class of 2014 got a slap on the wrist from their own commencement speaker on Sunday.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, called students “immature” for protesting the original speaker, Robert J. Birgeneau, who bowed out last week.

Birgeneau, former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, faced criticism for his handling of the Occupy movement in 2011, when he allegedly allowed campus police to use force against protesters.

On to Europe and a brouhaha in Brussels via EurActiv:

Hundreds of protesters arrested in Brussels as business leaders debate ‘maintaining citizen’s trust’

240 people were arrested on Thursday (15 May) around the European Business Summit venue in Brussels during non-violent protests organised by trade unions and citizens’ groups.

The protestors had gathered to denounce the budgetary austerity policies in Europe, and the ongoing talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA, which they say is being negotiated “in total opacity”.

“Today multinationals are inviting political decision makers like the European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and they are discussing putting more business in Europe,” said Felipe Van Keirsblick, the secretary general of the Belgian trade union for employees, the CNE-CNG.

From the Department of Mother Said Never Do It, via EurActiv:

EU secret revealed: Rome Treaty was signed on blank sheet

At the launch of a book on the history of the European Commission, officials revealed some of the best-kept secrets in EU history. Among them is the incredible story of the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, on 1 January 1958.

José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing President of the European Commission, presented the second volume of a book Wednesday (14 May) telling the history of the Commission between 1973 and 1986.

The ceremony, hosted on the 13th floor of the Commission’s flagship Berlaymont building, gave Barroso the occasion to disclose unknown anecdotes, the most extraordinary of which regards the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The event was attended by many figures of post-war European integration history, including old-time surviving officials from the Commission such as Jean Rabier, born in 1919, the chief of staff of Jean Monnet, one of the “founding fathers” of Europe.

Britain next and a departure alert from EUobserver:

Brexit would be ‘very costly gamble’, warns think tank

Increased trade and regulatory costs would cost the UK economy up to 9.5 percent of its output if the UK left the European Union, according to new research by the London School of Economics.

The findings are contained in the ‘Brexit or Fixit’? report by researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance, which forms part of the university.

“Our current assessment is that leaving the EU would be likely to impose substantial costs on the UK economy and would be a very risky gamble,” the paper states.

The London Telegraph strives to tame a bubble:

Mortgages could be capped to control house prices, says Bank Governor

  • The Bank of England could step in to curb mortgage lending amid fears Britain’s booming housing market risks threatening the economic recovery, says its Governor Mark Carney

People could be stopped taking out mortgages worth many times their salary to buy new homes, the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Mark Carney said in an interview that capping the size of mortgage ratios to salaries was one measure the Bank was considering to controlling the housing market.

The Bank was also watching to see if the Government’s Help to Buy scheme – in which the Government gives people taxpayers money to cover deposits on new homes worth up to £600,000 – was fuelling them.

The Independent totes up another austerian cost:

Cuts send rates of mental health disorders among young soaring

Rising rates of mental health disorders among children are linked to council budget cuts and health restructurings that have denied vulnerable young people early help, the Children’s Commissioner has told MPs.

Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said more children and young people with mental health problems were being admitted to adult psychiatric wards.

In written evidence to the Health Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), she said: “It cannot be coincidental that the increasing concerns about child and adolescent mental health coincides with the biggest reconfiguration of health and social care services, reductions in preventative and early intervention budgets and local CAMHS budgets and therefore spending, in a generation.”

And over to Ireland, where concerns about mental health patients under the austerian regime have led one Irish hospital director to resign, reports Independent.ie:

Hospital’s clinical director resigns due to his concerns for ‘patient safety’

The clinical director of Beaumont Hospital has resigned citing his concerns for patient safety. Professor Shane O’Neill emailed his resignation to management on Friday.

In his role as clinical director, he was the hospital’s most senior doctor.

The Sunday Business Post reported Mr O’Neill’s previous correspondence with management, saying assessment of psychiatric patients in their busy accident and emergency department was “entirely unsafe”.

From Independent.ie, another diagnostic criterion of austerity on the Emerald Isle:

‘Tsunami of homelessness’ beyond crisis point, warns campaigner

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has claimed the “tsunami of homelessness” is the worst he has ever seen.

He said that in his 40 years working with homeless people in Dublin, the housing shortage has never been as problematic as it is now and is being forced into turning people away due to a lack of capacity.

His charity – The Peter McVerry Trust – is struggling to cope with demand and says the problem is getting worse. “There are six new people becoming homeless every day and that’s the official figures. It may be more than that”.

German next, with a cash infusion from Reuters:

Deutsche Bank enlists Qatar in 8 billion-euro capital hike

Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) said on Sunday it would raise 8 billion euros in new capital, with the Qatari royal family lined up as a major new investor, in a bid by Germany’s largest bank to end questions about its capital position.

The bank had already raised 10.2 billion euros in equity in 2010 and a further 3 billion euros in 2013, but that had not been enough to assuage investor concerns about its capital position as if faces increased regulatory demands.

A stake worth 1.75 billion euros has already been placed with an investment vehicle owned and controlled by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al-Thani of Qatar, Deutsche Bank said in a statement. It plans to raise another 6.3 billion euros in a rights issue to existing shareholders.

Austerity in Germany, only at the bottom, via New Europe:

OECD: Germany needs more jobs, less poverty

A new report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on May 13 calls on Germany to implement more measures aimed at reducing poverty.

According to the OECD, recent labour market reforms have increased the rate of unemployment and widened the social inequality gap.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long-term,” the OECD reported.

On to Austria with New Europe and a boost for the right:

Austria: Populist Freedom Party strong in EU vote

Despite its Euroskeptic stance, the Freedom Party is only a few percentage points behind the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party in the May 25 race for EU Parliament seats. That’s in line with expectations of a generally strong showing of right-leaning populist parties in the EU parliamentary race.

But pollsters also say that if national elections were held now, the Freedom Party would actually win them, a stunning upset of the two establishment parties that have traditionally governed Austria.

The party’s popularity clearly reflects unhappiness with the status quo. And that’s hard to explain, when looking only at Austria’s metrics.

From Deutsche Welle, Swiss nix both guns and butter:

Swiss referendum turns down minimum wage and new fighter jets

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal that would have introduced the world’s highest minimum wage. They also turned down a plan to buy more than twenty new fighter jets.

The vote count by Swiss TV showed some 77 percent of voters and 24 of the Alpine nation’s 26 cantons (states) rejecting the idea mooted by trade unions to create a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (20.22 euros, $24.70) per hour. Votes from the capital Bern and business center of Zurich are still to be announced.

Trade unions had argued the wage would be a way to fight poverty in a country known for its very high cost of living.

Business leaders had argued the minimum wage rate would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland’s high costs even higher. The median hourly wage is about 33 francs (27 euros, $37) an hour.

From France, a chutzpah alert from TheLocal.fr:

French rogue trader demands to see Hollande

Rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, facing a Sunday deadline to return to France to begin a three year prison term, has demanded an audience with President Francois Hollande.

Issuing a statement from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, Kerviel said he wished to detail “all the serious failings” that led to his conviction after he brought one of Europe’s biggest banks to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008.

Aides to Hollande said Saturday they would consider a request from Kerviel for a presidential pardon over his role in the loss of nearly five billion euros through wildly risky trades.

From FRANCE 24, a belated act of resistance:

France extends veto power over foreign takeovers

The French government on Thursday changed its policy to increase the state’s influence in foreign buyouts and investment in key sectors, which will allow it to intervene in GE’s controversial bid for French giant Alstom.

The new rules will come into effect on Friday and cover the key sectors of energy, transport, water, health and telecoms.

“The choice we have made, along with the prime minister (Manuel Valls), is the choice of economic patriotism,” Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg told daily newspaper Le Monde.

Portugal next and an upgrade form New Europe:

Moody’s raises Portugal’s rating to Ba2

Portugal has received its first ratings upgrade since the sovereign-debt crisis pushed it into a €78 billion rescue programme in 2011.

Moody’s Investors Service said on 9 May it upgraded Portugal’s government bond rating to Ba2 from Ba3. In addition, the rating agency placed the Ba2 rating on review for possible further upgrade.

Moody’s said  Portugal’s fiscal situation has improved more rapidly than initially targeted and the public debt ratio will start declining this year, albeit from a very high level. The budget deficit was reduced a full percentage point of GDP more than envisaged last year, indicating the government’s strong commitment to fiscal consolidation.

Off to Italy and a Bunga Bunga rebuke from Europe Online:

Ex wife lashes out at Berlusconi over unflattering tabloid shots

The ex-wife of Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday charged that following her divorce, she was being subjected to “miserable” hounding from a gossip magazine published by the family of the former Italian premier.

Earlier this month, Chi magazine printed unflattering paparazzi pictures of Veronica Lario, under the headline “The new life of Veronica.” It noted that she had “put on a bit of weight,” and asked plastic surgeons how they would operate on her.

“It hurts me that the weekly responsible for this miserable ambush belongs to my ex-husband,” the 57-year-old Lario said in a rare interview to Il Messaggero newspaper.

Next up, off to Eastern Europe with Sky News:

Balkans: Worst Floods In A Century Kill Dozens

Tens of thousands have fled their homes after Serbia and Bosnia experienced three months of rainfall in just three days.

The worst floods to hit the Balkans in more than a century have killed dozens, and there are fears that number could rise as a major river is set to be hit by a new flood wave this evening.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia after three months of rain fell on the region in just three days. Thousands have also been evacuated in Croatia, where one person has died and two remain missing.

A video report form euronews:

Dozens dead, tens of thousands evacuated from Balkans flooding

Program note:

The death toll continues to rise from the flooding in the Balkans. In central and western Serbia, the rains did start to ease and waters receded in some of the worst-hit areas on Sunday, May 18.

But essential services, like power stations, have been submerged. Serbia’s EPS power utility said fresh flooding is threatening the Nikola Tesla and Kostolac power plants in Obrenovac, 30 kilometres southwest of the capital, Belgrade. Kostolac currently supplies 20 percent of Serbia’s electricity needs.

From the Washington Post, a headline that could’ve gone in our companion compendium of headlines:

Russian President Putin builds ties in Moldova, Kazakhstan and Baltics

Vowing to defend ethnic Russians wherever they live, President Vladimir Putin has embarked on an aggressive campaign to rebuild the pride and assertiveness of the Russian people, which he says was lost in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A week ahead of a presidential vote in Ukraine that will help determine that nation’s relationship with Russia, Putin has been devoting new power to redressing what he has called the historical tragedy that shattered the Soviet Union into 15 nations.

From annexing Crimea to collecting separatist petitions in Moldova to handing out passports to compatriots in the Baltics, Putin has spent recent weeks focused on neighboring countries, many of which have substantial ethnic Russian minorities.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Cypriot relief, Ukrainian questions, Russian political moves, Turkish troubles, Iranian woes, African measures and countermeasures, Latin American troubles and deals, Thai turmoil, China slowdown signs, Abenomics in question, environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Breaking the Set: Indian election, labor, more


From RT America, Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set provides the critical insight on the Indian election and the rise of the fundamentalist right embodied by Narendra Modi, winner of the world’s largest election.

Of particular note is the plight of the Indian working class, overwhelmingly composed of men and women without permanent employment or benefits.

India’s Right Wing Takeover, Politicians Who Still Believe in WMDs & The End of the Cheetah

EPISODE BREAKDOWN:

On this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin talks about recent comments by Iowa GOP Senate Candidate, Joni Ernst, in which she claims that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction. Abby then speaks with Author and Professor, Vijay Prashad about India’s elections, and what they mean for the future of India’s economy, Muslim minority and relationship with Pakistan and the US. Abby then lauds the global fast food strike in which fast food workers all over the world took to the streets to demand a living wage. Abby then speaks with RT Correspondent, Anastasia Churkina about a new UCLA report showing that segregation in US public schools is actually growing. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Dr. Laurie Marker, the world’s foremost expert on Cheetahs about the dwindling numbers of the fast land animal on earth and what we can do to preserve this majestic cat.

Headlines: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFollies redux


We begin today’s compendium of news from the worlds of economic, politics, and the enviornment — including the latest sobering news from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster with a march back in time to the days of the ancient Roman tax farmers with a headline from the Washington Post:

Congress moves to turn back taxes over to debt collectors

The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.

The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.

It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.

Some taxpayers would be spared the barrage of notices and phone calls, including innocent spouses, military members deployed to combat zones and people “identified as being deceased.”

And from United Press International, a three alarm hint of the consequences of resurrecting tax farms:

Foreclosures drive up suicide rates, study finds

“Losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being,” said Jason Houle.

Data analysis has previously shown economic downturn to provoke an increase in suicide rates, but a new study shows an even stronger correlation between suicides and foreclosure rates.

According to research published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, higher rates of suicide are uniquely linked to spikes in foreclosures.

By comparing state-by-state suicide rates with the numbers of issued foreclosures — while accounting for other disruptive factors — the researchers were able to conclude that the correlation was “independent of other economic factors associated with the recession.”

From the San Jose Mercury News, back to the bad old days:

Report: California among worst in the nation in school segregation

As racial separation in education steadily grows, California now leads the nation in children going to school with their own kind, a UCLA study released Wednesday contends.

On the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education ruling intended to dismantle segregation, the report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project says that California students are more likely than ever to attend racially isolated schools.

In the Bay Area, most schools followed the same pattern, though were more integrated than schools in Southern California.

From Salon, one of the major reasons:

Fox News’ divisive race strategy: How O’Reilly, Hannity and Coulter intentionally tore America apart

  • False claims go unchallenged, racial fears are stoked — and political scientists discover it helps GOP at polls

Right-wing political figures have often defended the content of Fox News and other right-leaning media. A common ploy is the insinuation that the “mainstream” news establishment is in fact biased in favor of liberal ideological framings of issues or that it is actually antiwhite. For example, Sarah Palin famously blamed the “leftist lamestream media” for allegedly pressuring Newt Gingrich to soften his critique of Republican congressman Paul Ryan (while in fact the disapproval came from Fox News), and Palin again insinuated charges of political targeting when she decried the media as attacking right-wing figures with their brand of unfair “gotcha journalism.” Rush Limbaugh also compared the mainstream press to a “drive by shooter except the microphones are guns.” Limbaugh further asserted that the anti-right, mainstream media attempts to “destroy people’s careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the drive-by media.”

And from United Press International, com;eting the taming of the Times:

Glenn Greenwald: Dean Baquet is too ‘subservient’ for journalism

Former executive editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson was abruptly fired this week. The lack of explanation for her dismissal has caused the newspaper to receive biting criticism.

Glenn Greenwald slammed the New York Times for the decision to make Dean Baquet executive editor, saying he will lead the newspaper into “neutered” journalism.

He may have had harsh words for Baquet but had nothing but compliments for his predecessor Jill Abramson, who was unexpectedly fired from her position earlier this week. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Greenwald said in the last ten years Abramson has been the “best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media.”

Greenwald, most famously known as the journalist to first publish the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is a strong proponent for freedom of the press and transparency in government.

From the Christian Science Monitor, another hint of things to come:

California wildfires set relentless pace months before typical season

This week, San Diego is the hardest hit. But drought, blistering winds, and unseasonably hot temperatures have produced 1,244 wildfires across the state this season, and officials expect no letup.

San Diego residents are bracing for a second day of wildfires, with temperatures expected to hit a high of 106 degrees, after at least nine fires closed schools and roads forced more than 21,000 people from their homes on Wednesday.

Thousands remain perched in front of their television sets, watching local broadcast team coverage of wildfires and hoping the wind won’t bring the fire and smoke toward their own communities.

For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.

From the Guardian, resistance:

Fast-food strike: US workers join world protests over wages and union access

  • Calling for higher pay and the right to form a union without retaliation, fast-food workers staged protests on Thursday in 150 cities across the US and in 33 other countries

And from Al Jazeera America completing corporatization:

FCC votes to advance new Internet rules

  • In split decision, commission put forward rule change that could lead to firms being charged for fast track delivery

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to formally put forward new rules on net neutrality that may result in a two-tier delivery service to consumers.

The controversial changes being proposed could allow for providers to charge content sites like Netflix for faster service. But it would prevent them from blocking or slowing down certain websites. The proposals were widely anticipated and have been the subject of intense debate in recent months.

Opponents of the new rules staged protests outside the FCC’s headquarters.

But Deutsche Welle raises an obstacle:

German Economy Minister: ‘Google breakup may be required’

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned US Internet giant Google could eventually achieve such a strong market position that a breakup of the company could become an option to consider. Google was not amused.

While failing to explain how exactly to enforce a breakup of a US-based company, Sigmar Gabriel said Friday such a move could be a last resort for countries seeking to prevent Google from “systematically crowding out competitors.”

The German Economy Minister made those remarks in an op-ed published by the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, painting an alarming picture of the threat posed to society by Internet companies.

“It’s about nothing less than the future of democracy in the digital age and therefore also about the self-determination of 500 million people in Europe,” Gabriel commented.

Via the Christian Science Monitor, more privatization:

Detroit bankruptcy: Bondholders balk at plan for city’s artworks

The collection is central to how the Detroit bankruptcy plan is carried out. Bondholders – one group in the bankruptcy – believe the art should be valued higher, but the judge in the case isn’t making a reappraisal easy.

Judge Steven Rhodes, who is presiding over Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy, agreed last week to a restructuring plan submitted by the city. The plan still requires a vote by pension groups, labor organizations, and bond insurers, and state lawmakers would have to approve a $350 million cash injection from the state. But it has appeared that most groups are onboard with the plan.

A potential snag, however, appeared Thursday. In a three-hour hearing, attorneys representing two bondholders – creditors for the city that do not fare as well in the plan as some other groups – took aim at the arrangement that has been struck for the city’s art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). That collection is central how the plan is carried out.

The plan values the collection at $816 million, but the bondholders argue it should be worth more. A higher value for the collection could enable the city to fulfill more obligations.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

Eurozone economic growth loses momentum

Eurozone economic growth lost momentum in the first three months of 2014, official figures show, with the growth rate unchanged from the previous quarter at 0.2%.

That was weaker than many economists had expected.

German growth picked up pace, with the economy expanding by 0.8%.

But France and Italy disappointed. The French economy failed to grow, while Italy’s contracted by 0.1%, having only just emerged from recession last year. Spain’s economy grew by 0.4% in the first quarter.

On to Old Blighty with BBC News and a truly terrible privatization:

Academics warn over child protection privatisation

A group of academics say they have serious concerns about proposals to let private contractors take over some child protection services in England.

Professor Ray Jones of Kingston University said child protection was too important to be handled by firms “driven by the profit motive”.

He said any such move could be destabilising and cause “chaos”.

BBC News again, running out of gas:

UK’s oil, coal and gas ‘gone in five years’

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

Class divisions with the London Telegraph:

One in five university graduates becomes a millionaire

  • More than two million degree-holders have a net worth of £1m or more as new statistics reveal the education gap between rich and poor

One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

Norway next and Obaman umbrage from TheLocal.no:

Top Obama aide raged at Norway over Nobel

  • Norway’s ambassador to the US received an angry “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s chief of staff after the US President won his controversial Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a senior Norwegian diplomat has claimed.

Morten Wetland, Norway’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told The Local that Rahm Emanuel, nicknamed “Rahmbo” for his explosive disposition, has taken US ambassador Wegger Strömmen to task after the award was announced.

“What I know for a fact is that he gave the ambassador some words, ‘a dressing down’, with respect to this,” Wetland said. “The word ‘fawning’ was used.”
Wetland, now a partner with the Oslo lobbying firm First House, speculated that Obama’s advisors must have seen the prize as an unwelcome embarrassment.

“My guess is that the president’s staff want to be in control and not to be forced into a position that they have not been seeking themselves,” he said. “It could have been perceived that someone was consciously or subconsciously thinking about the prospect of having Obama visit Norway. Obama wouldn’t have visited Norway if it hadn’t have been for the Peace Prize.”

On to Germany, sprinting ahead with EUbusiness:

Germany sprints ahead of flagging eurozone recovery

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, sprinted ahead in the first quarter of 2014, amid a big setback for the eurozone which highlighted the fragility of the recovery, data showed on Thursday.

Germany, the region’s economic locomotive, saw growth double to 0.8 percent in the period from January to March, the strongest quarterly growth for three years and ahead of analysts’ expectations.

But the French economy, described by some economists as the weak link in Europe, turned in zero growth in the same period, highlighting divergence between the eurozone’s two biggest economies which is of deep concern to policymakers.

Austria next, with intolerance rising from TheLocal.at:

Right-wing march in Vienna

Supporters of a German right-wing radical group Die Identitaere Bewegung (The Identity Movement) are holding a march in Vienna on Saturday.

The movement, initiated by disaffected, tech-savy youth, began in France and now has groups in Germany and Austria.

The group spreads its anti-Islamic, anti-multicultural message via social media and has gained attention by posting clips of its protests on YouTube and Facebook.

France next, and the neoliberal imperative from TheLocal.fr:

Europe warns France about protectionism

The European Commission warned France on Thursday against resorting to protectionism after Paris unveiled new measures to head off hostile foreign bids for key companies.

“The objective of protecting essential strategic interests is clear when it involves security or public order and that is recognised in EU treaties,” EU Finance Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said.

“But we also must check if this is applied in a proportionate fashion, otherwise it could amount to protectionism,” said Barnier, a French politician.

From TheLocal.fr, another quarter heard from:

US business body scolds French ‘protectionism’

  • The leading US business group on Friday called France protectionist, after Paris asserted its right to veto any foreign takeover of key French companies.

The US Chamber of Commerce said the move by Paris, announced Thursday as US industrial giant General Electric presses to buy a division of France’s Alstom, would not help the country’s economy.

“From an open investment policy perspective there is nothing about the motivations behind the recent French decree… that isn’t explicitly a mix of industrial policy and protectionism,” said Sean Heather, executive director for international policy and antitrust policy at the chamber.

Such moves are “doing nothing to increase the country’s competitiveness,” he told AFP.

From TheLocal.fr, striking news:

Flights snarled as French civil servants strike

A country-wide civil servant strike on Thursday meant headaches for travellers on Thursday with dozens of flights cancelled. Strikers are angry about a four-year pay freeze that shows no signs of thawing.

Travellers were scrambling for alternatives on Thursday after a national civil servant strike meant dozens of flights were cancelled and dozens more delayed at France’s biggest airports.

Fliers coming into and out of Toulouse, Paris and Lyon were among those stuck on the ground with at least 20, 16 and seven cancellations respectively in the first half of the day, French daily Le Parisien reported.

From the Guardian, without comment:

Unemployed people in Czech Republic are ‘missing out on office sex’

  • Social Democratic party Euro election campaign video aims to highlight plight of young adult jobless in the country

The Czech Social Democratic party (C(SSD), which is hoping to add to its seven MEPs in Strasbourg, endorsed the video posted by its youth branch, the message of which can be summed up as “unemployment is depriving people of the joys of an office fling”.

The video shows a young woman in office clothes working at a computer. After glancing at the clock, she sneaks off to the next room and can be seen in passionate embrace with a colleague behind the adjoining door.

“Everybody who wants to should be able to enjoy something a bit different during breaks. It is a shame there are half a million people who don’t have jobs,” says a voice-over accompanying the video.

Spain next, and another American arrives via El País:

US wholesaler Costco opens first Spanish megastore in Seville

  • Warehouse club confident it can overcome reticence of local customers to pay membership fee

They have managed to get 15,000 people to pay for the privilege of shopping at their store, and they haven’t even opened their doors yet.

The US warehouse club chain Costco is disembarking in Spain with a first establishment due to open in Seville today.

Though modest, this incursion into Spanish territory has not gone unnoticed by the distribution sector, which will keep a close watch on the performance of its new rival.

El País covers costs:

Overrun costs or corruption? Why Spain’s public works are in crisis

  • In six years, the government has paid out €10bn to cover excess spending on construction projects
  • The amount is equivalent to the cuts it made on health and education when it came to office
  • Arrests of nine on embezzlement charges provide latest example of an overly abused process

Between 2008 and 2014, the Public Works Ministry has paid out €5.12 billion to modify already completed works. A further €4.1 billion has been paid to cover cost overruns, along with €900 million for expropriating land. In total, over the last six years, the Public Works Ministry has had to find more than €10 billion to cover cost overruns on roads, rail and ports, the same amount that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would be cutting from health and education spending in April 2012, shortly after he took office.

There are any number of examples: the new port complex at A Coruña was tendered in 2004 for €436 million, and then awarded later that year for €370 million, according to Spain’s Ports Authority. The job ended up costing €547 million. And more money will be required, with the final cost likely to be more than €700 million.

The Environment Ministry, the government’s other big public works spender, paid out €1.5 billion in cost overruns between 2004 and 2012 on desalination plants, dams and other projects.

From TheLocal.es, cash and a black hole:

Spain’s ‘black’ economy worth 25 percent of GDP

Spain’s illegal economy is worth a staggering 24.6 percent of its gross domestic product and the country needs to pump far more resources into its rickety tax collection regime, a top tax union said on Friday.

Spain is a world leader in fraud with around €253 billion ($347 billion) in illegal money floating around in the country’s economy in 2013, Spain’s tax office union Gestha said in a statement on Friday. This figure has also risen €50 billion since the country’s crisis kicked in in 2008.

Critically, Gestha also argues Spain that Spain is chronically short-staffed when it comes to fighting tax evasion. Spain has one tax worker for every 1,958 inhabitants, against 942 for France and 740 for Germany, the union said in its statement.

On to Italy and the latest bad numbers from ANSAmed:

Italy returned to negative growth in first quarter

  • GDP down 0.1% on last three months of 2013 – Istat estimate

Italy returned to negative growth in the first quarter of 2014, with gross domestic product (GDP) dropping 0.1% compared to the last three months of 2013, Istat said Thursday in its preliminary estimate for the period.

The national statistics agency said GDP was 0.5% down in the first quarter of this year with respect to the same period in 2013.

The figures are a big blow to Italy’s hopes of seeing a strong economic recovery after it emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of last year.

More austerity from TheLocal.it:

Italy’s state broadcaster braces for cuts

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has hinted at funding cuts to Italy’s state broadcaster Rai, saying the network “must also participate” in cuts as part of the government’s spending review.

The social media-savvy prime minister took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce “The future will also arrive at Rai,” following a heated debate on the broadcaster’s leading talk show.

“Rai must also participate in the spending review,” Renzi said on Rai 3′s Balarò programme on Tuesday evening.

The prime minister would not be drawn on a specific sum of cuts to the state broadcaster, although he said Rai’s numerous regional offices could be sites of “resounding waste”.

TheLocal.it again, with a neoliberal imperative:

Italy approves postal service privatisation

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government on Friday approved the sale of up to 40 percent of the postal service as part of a wide-ranging privatisation programme to raise some €12 billion.

The sale “can be carried out in several stages and through a public offering,” read the statement from a cabinet meeting authorising the sale of Poste Italiane, which is expected to raise around four billion euros.

The cabinet meeting also approved the sale of Enav, the state air traffic control agency, which could bring around 1.0 billion euros into state coffers.

The government is also planning to list up to 49 percent of state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri in the biggest privatisations in two decades as part of an effort to reduce Italy’s towering debt mountain.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga hubris:

Pope doing job as I would have says Berlusconi

  • ‘We’re same age but I look better’ says ex-premier

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said Pope Francis was doing his job exactly as he would have done if he had been elected head of the Catholic Church. “Yes, I like Pope Bergoglio. He is being pope exactly the way I would have done it,” Berlusconi said of former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The journalist the billionaire media mogul was speaking to noted that the pope and the centre-right leader are the same age, 77.

“The same age, but I look better for my years,” said Berlusconi.

TheLocal.it warns:

Magistrate sent bullets after Berlusconi ruling

A magistrate in Milan received bullets in the post after ordering former premier Silvio Berlusconi to do community service for tax fraud, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Public Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini received the bullets at her Milan office in April, remarking that they were the latest in a string of threats.

“I received the most recent bullets a few days ago when we decided Berlusconi should do community service,” she was quoted in La Stampa as telling Superior Council of Judiciary (CSM).

While ANSA covers the latest in growing evidence of Bunga Bunga mob ties:

Mafia arrests may be linked to Scajola

  • Two police officers among arrests, probe mole suspected

An anti-mafia round-up of 18 people on Friday – regarding alleged infiltration of the Neapolitan Camorra mafia into the northwestern Tuscan coastal area of Versilia – may be linked to last week’s arrest of former Italian interior minister Claudio Scajola, investigators said Friday.

Two police agents, working for the Italian premier’s office and the Lower House, were placed under house arrest in Friday’s anti-mafia sting, accused of breaching the confidentiality of investigations.

Information leaks indicate that investigators has focused on the hypothesis that a mole may have furnished Scajola with privileged information on criminal investigations.

And TheLocal.it, an all-too-common story:

Migrants revolt at Rome detention centre

Clashes erupted at an immigration detention centre in Rome on Thursday as around 250 people barricaded themselves inside the building, described as a place of “desperate detention” by one rights group. The protest comes in the same week a Tunisian man sewed his mouth shut in protest at a nearby facility.

Around a third of the 780 people detained at the facility in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome, joined the protest on Thursday morning, La Repubblica said.

Police were brought in to break through the barricaded entrance and reportedly used a water hose to dispel some of the protesters, who threw stones at police officers, the newspaper said.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian anxieties, Turkish anger, Latin American troubles and a surprising alliance, the right surges to power in India, Thai coup hints, Chinese investor worries, a Japanese surge for the rich accompanied by bad news for the poor [sound familiar?], environmental woes [including the collapse of the American bee population], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Maps of the day: Ten feet deep and rising


First up, this from Scientific American:

New research indicates that climate change has already triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The projected decay will lead to at least 4 feet of accelerating global sea level rise within the next two-plus centuries, and at least 10 feet of rise in the end.

What does the U.S. look like with an ocean that is 10 feet higher? The radically transformed map would lose 28,800 square miles of land, home today to 12.3 million people.

These figures come from Climate Central research published in 2012, analyzing and mapping every coastal city, county and state in the lower 48 states. (A next generation of research is currently under way.)

Using Climate Central’s Surging Seas maps, we decided to Look at just what a ten-foot rise in sea level would bring to San Francisco Bay’s East Bay region, home of Casa esnl and so much more.

Everything that’s not white is under water.

First up, an overview:

BLOG Seas

Next, a look at West Berkeley from University Avenue to Gilman Street, with all the non-white areas due for submergence:

BLOG Berkeley

Next, an overview of the City of Richmond, which would sustain major immersion:

BLOG Richmond

And for our next image, part of southern Richmond, including the major toxic waste dump at Campus Bay, UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station, most of which would wind up under water unless the university’s plans for a $1.5 billion academic/corporate/national laboratory development includes a massive sea wall. Also included is the housing complex at Marina Bay:

BLOG Marina Bay

Finally, a look at part of West Oakland, including Alameda Island:

BLOG Oakland

Better lay in some extra swimming trunks.

Tara the cat, and why we’re cat people


Consider the case of Tara, a house cat in Bakersfield, California, and her heroic rescue of four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo, who was happily riding his scooter when a large dog rushed up and sunk its teeth into his leg.

The events, captured by home video surveillance cameras and posted online by father Roger Triantafilo, have become an internet sensation:

My Cat Saved My Son

We were once in a similar predicament back when we were a couple of years older than young Jeremy and living in Abilene, Kansas.

We were playing in our front yard one bright summer’s day when a very large boxer dog wandered into the yard and began growling as he approached us [why we knew the dog was male will become apparent].

As the dog drew menacingly near, we were struck dumb and paralyzed by fear, unable to move.

That’s when Mickey rushed to the rescue.

Mickey, otherwise known as Mickey Muggins, was a large orange neutered Persian and absolutely devoted to esnl and sister Lois. He was quite simply adorable, and smarter than a whip.

Spotting the menacing pooch, Mickey didn’t hesitate. He rushed up to the critter and somehow leapt up so what he was clutching onto the dog’s underbelly with three paws, and using the fourth — his right hind leg as we vividly recall — to ferociously rake the critter’s masculine organs.

The boxer whined piteously, and Mickey abandoned his perch, feorciously confrontly the vastly larger canine, which then executed a rapid 180 and ran whining from the yard, Mickey in hot pursuit.

Mickey chased the dog right up to the edge of the yard, just as Tara does in the video, then watched for a second or two to make sure the dog had continued to skeedaddle [yeah, it’s a geezer word], before returning to run against our leg, purring ferociously. Major hugs followed.

What cinched our conversion to a cat person was another incident shortly thereafter, when a female dog ambled up to us in the yard, craving for affection. As we patted the pooch, we heard an ominous and pervasive growling and looked up to confront a large pack of slavering male dogs of every sort and size.

The female, it turned out, was in heat, and her scent had attracted at least 20 males, initially bristling at each other, then directing their ferocity at six-year-old esnl. We screamed, and fortunately mom came running, armed with a broom, which she bravely used to chase the pack away.

Mickey was inside when it happened, but we believed firmly he’d have come racing to the rescue had he seen our plight.

Thereafter we were firmly in the cat camp, and it hasn’t changed to this day, six decades later. Forget dogs, we know who our four-legged best friend really is. . .

As for the heroic Tara, no cat was ever better named.

UPDATE: From the Los Angeles Times:

Tara the hero cat will ‘throw out’ first pitch at a minor league game

Tara the cat, made famous in a YouTube video that shows it saving a 4-year-old boy from a dog attack in Bakersfield, has been tapped for another duty: throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a local minor league baseball game.

Video footage of the cat ramming into and then chasing off the next door neighbor’s dog as it attacks the boy’s ankle went viral this week after it was posted by the boy’s father, Roger Triantafilo. Since then, Tara the cat has become a local hero, and will do the honors — with an assist from the Triantafilos — at a Bakersfield Blaze game on May 20.

Headlines: Pols, EconoEnvirofails, more


Today’s headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and the environment begins with business as usual from BuzzFeed:

Biden’s Son, Polish Ex-President Quietly Sign On To Ukrainian Gas Company

Revelations that Hunter Biden and Aleksander Kwasniewski serve on the board of a company controlled by a Yanukovych ally raise serious conflict of interest questions for Western countries’ Ukraine policy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son has joined the board of a gas company owned by an ally of Ukraine’s fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and a key European interlocutor with Kiev who was previously president of Poland.

The move raises questions about a potential conflict of interest for Joe Biden, who was the White House’s main interlocutor with Yanukovych while the latter was president and has since spearheaded Western efforts to wean Ukraine off Russian gas.

Company documents in Cyprus show that Joe Biden’s son, R. Hunter Biden, became a member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, which describes itself as Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer, on April 18. Burisma announced Hunter Biden’s appointment in a press release Monday on its website which was quickly picked up by Russian state media.

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

U.S. alone among Western countries on lack of paid maternity leave, UN finds

The United States is the only Western country — and one of only three in the world — that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from their jobs, a new U.N. study reports.

Two other countries share the U.S. position of providing “no cash benefits during maternity leave,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the International Labor Organization: Oman, an absolute monarchy in the Persian Gulf; and Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific nation where the U.S. State Department says violence against women is so common that 60 percent of men in a U.N. study acknowledged having committed a rape.

The other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

From the Associated Press, signs of a dangerous summer ahead in the Golden State:

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north.

No homes were reported damaged in either fire, but hundreds were considered threatened. The rugged terrain and unseasonably warm temperatures made firefighting even more difficult.

The flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego quickly grew to 700 acres, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds that whipped through areas dotted by hilltop estates and pricey new housing tracts.

From TheLocal.fr, with a reminder that the figures refer to the total populations, not per capita consumption:

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

For the first time, the United States has snatched from France the title of the world’s top wine consumer, according to a report released on Tuesday. France’s wine mastery already was threatened earlier this year.

Global wine consumption fell marginally in 2013 and the United States outstripped France as the top consumer, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV) said Tuesday.

Consumption dipped 1 percent last year to 238.7 hectolitres of wine in the global market worth 73 billion euros ($100 billion).

The United States was the top consumer for the first time at 29 million hectolitres, with domestic production accounting for four-fifths, said Jean-Marie Aurand, the head of the intergovernmental organisation that compiles global statistics for the industry.

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

U.S. retail sales rise a scant 0.1 percent in April

  • U.S. retail sales growth slowed in April, with consumers shopping less online and cutting back on purchases of furniture and electronics.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after surging 1.5 percent in March following a harsh winter that had curtailed shopping.

Several economists said the April figures might have been depressed because of seasonal adjustments connected to a later than usual Easter. Still, the modest sales suggest that consumers may remain cautious during the still-slow economic recovery. Higher sales would help drive faster growth because consumers account for about 70 percent of the economy.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, plutocrat behaving badly [and he’s Al Gore’s bosom buddy]:

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

The billionaire landowner who bought a popular beach in San Mateo County and then locked out the public was evasive and uncooperative when questioned Monday about his decision, stating repeatedly he “did not recollect” conversations, letters or legal documents.

Vinod Khosla testified during the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court that he did not remember why he set up two limited liability companies to buy Martins Beach, what amount he paid for the property, when he bought it or why the decision was made to keep the public out.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist remained calm but gave no ground during the intense questioning – sometimes tinged with disbelief and sarcasm – by the lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla for blocking the only access road to the beach. Khosla explained that he never had a conversation about the property without his lawyers present, a strategy that allowed him to invoke attorney-client privilege for virtually every question whose answer he could recollect.

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

World economy still faces various risks despite its recent improvements, and further efforts on growth and consolidation are needed, said heads of world’s leading economic organizations on Tuesday.

High unemployment, significant output gap, low investment, rising inequality and slowdown in emerging economies still have an impact on global growth prospects, said chiefs of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel released after their meeting in Berlin.

“The global economy has noticeably improved, but is still far from a robust, sustainable growth,” the statement said.

And form the Japan Times, the neoliberal agenda marches on:

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

The 12 countries involved in the haggling over a Pacific free trade agreement are narrowing their differences on intellectual property rights, one of the issues blocking the conclusion of the pact, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, said Tuesday.

“There has been confrontations between emerging and developed economies in the area of intellectual property, but things are moving forward considerably,” Amari said.

“But I am aware that we have yet to reach an agreement” on the issue, Amari told reporters.

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

Poll: Most Europeans believe ‘the worst is still to come’

With the European elections opening next week, a new survey shows that most Europeans believe the crisis is not over yet and that “the worst is still to come”, although the trend is slightly improving.

A Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission on Monday (12 May) shows Europeans are still depressed about their future.

44% Europeans believe “the impact of the crisis has already reached its peak” while 47% believe “the worst is still to come”.

Britain next, and a bubble only the rich can love from Sky News:

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

A combination of soaring house prices and falling real wages is making home ownership an ever more distant dream for some.

The proportion of English and Welsh homes selling for over £1m has more than doubled during the Great Recession, in the latest evidence of the property market boom.

In London a record 7% of all home sales listed by the Land Registry in the year to March were for £1m or more – a sharp increase from the 3% level when Britain slid into recession in 2008.

Ireland next, and a confidence game from Independent.ie:

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

CONSUMER confidence rose again last month to hit a seven-year high.

The increase is despite household finances being under continued pressure, especially with the advent of water charges.

KBC Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute said the index of consumer sentiment jumped to 87.3 in April, from 83.1 in the previous month.

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

A comprehensive survey of the 28 EU member states revealed that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes believe immigrants contribute significantly to society, and 97 percent are satisfied with their lives.

All but 3 percent of Swedes are happy with their lives. At least, that’s according to an EU report published on Tuesday.

“I’m astonished by the results,” Swedish anthropologist Gillis Herlitz told The Local. “Swedes nowadays complain about everything.” The report revealed that Swedes were the most positive nationality in the EU when it came to both life satisfaction and perceptions of immigrants.

Germany next, and a curious move from TheLocal.de:

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

A planned taxpayer-funded project in western Germany to get unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts cleaning streets has sparked controversy by offering those who take part beer as part of their compensation.

The “Pick-up” initiative, planned by charity Addict Support Essen to start in mid-June, offers addicts beer – along with food and medical treatment – in exchange for working three to six hours a day collecting litter off streets.

They will also get “pocket money” of €1.25 per hour, similar to the established “one-euro-jobs” which employ unemployed and homeless people in Germany for public projects at an hourly rate of €1.

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticized Germany for not doing enough to prevent a growing number of people from sliding into poverty. It called for a speedy action plan.

The organization of the world’s leading 34 industrialized nations pointed out in its latest biannual report on Tuesday that Germany’s recent economic upswing had failed to reach the weakest in society.

“The relative poverty risk and pronounced income inequality have remained unchanged over the past couple of years,” the reports said. The report also pointed out that it had become harder for low-paid workers to move up.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria called on the government to prepare reforms quickly to rectify the current situation. “Germany must act now,” he told reporters in Berlin.

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

Germany must do more to reduce poverty risks made worse by reforms to the labour market that have reduced joblessness but widened inequality, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long term,” the OECD wrote in a new report.

Presenting the report at a news conference, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria said that reforms were usually enacted in times of crisis when there was no other option.

Off to France and a disturbing sign of that ol’ hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

France may have taken the historic step of legalising gay marriage last year, but it appears the landmark social reform came at a cost. The number of reported homophobic acts increased in 2013 by a staggering 78 percent, according to a watchdog group.

In 2013 there was a homophobic physical attack every two days in France, which represented a rise of 54 percent on 2012.

That is just one of the worrying stats contained in a new report by French gay-rights organisation SOS Homophobie, which monitors the levels of homophobia in the country.

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

  • EPA says only 32.5% get them, labor ministry says 58.9%

The length of the economic crisis and recession in Spain has led to four million jobless not receiving any sort of unemployment benefits or social assistance, according to the Labour Force Survey (Encuesta de Población Activa, EPA) released on Tuesday.

The survey was on the first quarter of 2014. The EPA report shows that 32.5% of the unemployed receive benefits, while a labor ministry report released in March had instead put the figure at 58.9%.

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

They may have endured spending cuts and tax hikes overseen by Brussels, but Spaniards still seem surprisingly pro-EU and keen to vote in this month’s European elections.

Crawling out of a crisis in which European authorities helped bail out its banks but approved pay freezes for ordinary Spaniards, Spain is nevertheless a cheerleader for European integration — a once-marginal state that has done well in the union.

More than 58 percent of Spaniards are still in favour of the European Union against just under 30 percent who are against it, according to a study published last week by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS).

The economic crisis that erupted in 2008 did affect Spanish views of the EU. A European Commission study showed that the ratio of people who thought Spain had benefitted from the EU was much higher at 75 percent in 2007.

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

Support for the European Union is on the rise across some of the continent’s major economies apart from Italy, a study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed.

As voters head to the European elections, which get under way on May 22nd, the survey found that there has been a 12 percent decline in support for the EU among Italians since 2013.

The survey was conducted in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Favourable sentiment towards the economic bloc has been on the decline in Italy in since 2012, falling from 59 percent that year to 46 percent in the recent survey.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, belated Hungarian vengeance, Ukrainian turmoil, Russian retaliation, Turkish tragedy, Israeli corruption, a Latin American warning and troubles in Brazil, Pakistani busts, Indian electoral exuberance, a warning from Thailand, economic anxieties and death by testing in China, more financial woes in Japan, controlling your dreams, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .   Continue reading