Category Archives: Nature

And now for something completely different


Would you believe dancing bats?

Film some bats doing what bats do, then roll it over 180 degrees [we suspect], add some music, and voila!

From vlogger Paul Wood:

Dancing Bats

Program notes:

Featuring the Dancing Bat Brothers

Headlines: eCons, pols, hate, polluters. . .


Today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of politics, economics, and the environment — plus the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Beguns with a frightener from The Observer:

Why global recovery could depend on China’s taste for luxury

  • Attitudes are changing in China, but western export hopes are pinned on a swelling middle class embracing its inner consumer

China’s looming coronation as the world’s largest economy, years ahead of schedule, is probably not particularly surprising in one sleepy corner of Oxfordshire. Around half of the international visitors who flock to Bicester retail village are Chinese nationals, making the one-hour train trip from London, or using the fleet of special coaches that head there each day – to stock up on luxury goods.

A World Bank-backed report has declared that the country’s national currency, the yuan, will go further than previously thought in the hands of the Chinese consumer and that this supercharged purchasing power will push the world’s second-largest economy ahead of the US this year.

This could be the century of the Chinese consumer, now a figure of central importance for luxury goods companies including some of the biggest retail names in Britain.

Closer to home with disorder in the courts from the Los Angeles Times:

Cutbacks in California court system produce long lines, short tempers

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye remembers the moment she learned that the Kings County Superior Court had resorted to holding a garage sale to raise money.

“That was a day of extreme humiliation and embarrassment to me,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

During her three years as chief justice, recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.

TechCrunch covers hypocrisy from Obama appointees:

FCC Said To Tweak Proposed Net Neutrality Rules, But Preserve Pay-For-Speed

Call it a non-fix: According to the Wall Street Journal, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tweaked the language of his proposed rules to allow content providers to pay for faster delivery of their content across an ISPs network.

He has not recanted that proposal. Instead, according to the Journal, “the new language by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to be circulated as early as Monday is an attempt to address criticism of his proposal unveiled last month that would ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites,” but would still let companies that are content-intensive “pay [ISPs] for faster delivery of Web content to customers.”

Doesn’t that feel precisely the same as the plan before? Yes, but, this time, the Journal continues, we’re going to have “language that would make clear that the FCC will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don’t unfairly put nonpaying companies’ content at a disadvantage.” So, the paid advantage would be “fair.” Defining that isn’t going to be easy.

Heading north of the border, Canada’s effort to sway American legislators via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada’s $207,000 oil sands ad: Putting a price on deception

The ad in The New Yorker is pretty, if not quite arresting. The full-page photo on the inside back cover – prime real estate in the United States’ leading upmarket magazine – features a pristine river meandering through a lush mountain valley, untouched by humanity. It is not a tourism ad. It is designed to convince influential Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline is environmentally safe, even desirable.

What is clever about the ad is not the photo; it is the headline and the succinct lines of copy beneath it. They are slick pieces of propaganda – misleading without being outright lies. Of course, advertising is all about propaganda. But this ad is unconscionable because you, the Canadian taxpayer, paid for it. The rate for a full-page ad in that location, according to Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, is $207,000 (U.S.).

The ad appeared in the April 14 issue and was sponsored by GoWithCanada.ca, the federal government site that is trying to convince the skeptical that the Alberta oil sands – known as the tar sands to non-Canadians – and the export pipelines that would allow the megaproject to thrive for decades are a “secure, responsible source of energy for the global market” (“Keystone” does not appear in the ad).

On to Europe and another hint of darker days to come from the Guardian:

Mario Draghi drops hint of imminent move to tackle risk of deflation

  • European Central Bank boss signals that a move could come once his economists produce forecasts for inflation in June

European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi has dropped his broadest hint yet of imminent moves to head off deflation when he said policy makers at the bank were “comfortable” about action in early June.

Upward pressure on the euro eased and yields on government bonds fell after the ECB president expressed concern that weak growth and the possible knock-on effects from the Ukraine could derail the eurozone’s fragile recovery.

Although Draghi announced no change in policy following the meeting of the ECB’s general council in Brussels, he signalled that a move could come once his in-house economists produce updated forecasts for inflation in the first few days of next month.

From Sky News, elite-a-palooza:

Billionaire Britain: New Nation Of Super-Rich

This year’s Sunday Times Rich List reveals Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country.

More than 100 billionaires are now living in Britain – the first time the milestone has been reached.

According to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 104 billionaires with a combined wealth of more than £300bn are now based in the UK – more than triple the number from a decade ago.

Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country, while London has more than any other city with 72.

News Corp Australia covers a British plutocrat behaving badly:

British millionaire Shoja Shojai ‘fathered seven children with harem of women he held against their will in Spain’

A BRITISH millionaire accused of fathering seven children with a harem of aspiring models he kept against their will has been arrested.

Shoja Shojai, 56, allegedly met many of the women in London and convinced them to move to his mansion in Spain, telling them he was an oil tycoon who was friends with Barack Obama.

Police were called to the luxurious Arabic-style mansion in the hills above Marbella when one of the women filed a domestic violence claim against him, T he Telegraph reports.

Nine of the women, mostly in their 20s, who live at the mansion claim Shojai lured them to Spain under false pretences, abusing them and forcing them to cover the 6500 pound ($11,6700) monthly rent.

From the Guardian more of London’s billionaire attracting power:

London property empire amassed by controversial German landlord

  • Henning Conle, who has reputation for shabby buildings and disgruntled tenants in Germany, has snapped up almost £2bn of prime London real estate

A German landlord with a reputation for shabby buildings and disgruntled tenants has emerged as one of the biggest investors in London property in recent years.

Henning Conle, 70, has snapped up almost £2bn of prime real estate, including a series of historic buildings in central London, raising inevitable questions about where he got his money from.

The portfolio includes buildings that house department stores such as Liberty and House of Fraser, the Kensington Roof Gardens complex, the London offices of Manchester United and the art deco Shell Mex House on the Strand.

While Sky News covers more austerian casualties:

‘Overworked’ Doctors Fear Missing Illnesses

  • More than eight out of 10 family doctors say they worry about failing to spot serious conditions because of their workloads.

More than eight out of 10 GPs have said they fear missing serious illnesses in patients because they are so overworked, according to a survey.

Nine out of 10 family doctors, meanwhile, feel their general practices do not have sufficient resources to provide high quality care.

The survey was carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the professional membership body for family doctors.

Off to Scandinavia with the Christian Science Monitor:

Nordic cuddly capitalism: Utopia, no. But a global model for equity

The cuddly capitalism of the Nordic nations provides an economic equity that makes a middle class lifestyle the norm, where the sharp edges of worry about the cost of health care, elder care, child care, and education simply don’t exist. But is it a sustainable model for anyone but the pragmatic North?

And these countries have pioneered public policies, the effects of which – if not the tax burden – are the envy of the common man worldwide: from universal preschool and paternity leave to vocational training schools and voucher programs for private schools.

Some of it is hype, which naysayers love to shoot down, as in the recent viral Guardian article that spelled out “the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle.’ “ Much of Nordic success has happened because the countries are small, nimble, and, until recently, homogenous. But problems do loom on the horizon, with growing inequality and anti-immigration sentiment, stubborn youth unemployment, and education scores dropping in Sweden and one of the world’s star education performers, Finland.

But by so many measures, the Nordic countries simply work well, sustaining the security of a welfare state while being unabashed capitalists and innovators, adapting to change, and doing so with a long tradition of pragmatic consensus. The region tops charts on equality, transparency, and innovation.

New Europe covers risks:

Norway’s economic risks predicted by OECD

Norway’s economy faces two risk factors that threaten its overall development, warned the OECD in its latest Economic Outlook which was released on May 6.

These two risk factors, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, are the price of oil and the real estate market.

“The ripple effects from a weak oil sector may be greater than expected,” the OECD concludes in its report, which also notes that the country is still volatile when it comes to changing oil prices.

On to France and another green movement from RT:

Hundreds march across France to legalize cannabis

Hundreds of protesters all over France have been rallying demonstrating in favor of legalizing cannabis. The event coincides with the so-called world march for the legalization of the drug.

In Paris, protesters gathered on Bastille Square on Saturday, after Cannabis Without Frontiers, an organization struggling to legalize marijuana in the country, called for the rally.

The crowd chanted “Marie-Jeanne!” in a reference to the nickname for marijuana in France. Many of the protesters held joints or leaves of marijuana, dancing to reggae music.

From TheLocal.fr, the Great Game continues:

Hollande bids to boost Caucasus ties

French President Francois Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia’s southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

French President Francois Hollande starts a three-day visit to the South Caucasus on Sunday as he seeks to bolster European ties on Russia’s southern doorstep amid the crisis in Ukraine.

Hollande was due to arrive in the Azerbaijani capital Baku around 6:00 pm Sunday, on the same day separatists in eastern Ukraine held referendums on breaking away from the country.

And the London Telegraph covers the bankster blues:

Cinema producer warned over ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn film’

  • French producer of film closely inspired by downfall of IMF boss warned that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s wife will “destroy his life”

The producer of a film which appears to chart the spectacular downfall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said he was warned that the estranged wife of the former IMF chief would “destroy his life”.

The accusation will heighten controversy over the film Welcome to New York, which premieres next weekend at Cannes despite being shunned by festival organisers.

Producer Vincent Maraval also repeated his claims that the French political and media “elite” had done their best to prevent the film, which has Gérard Depardieu in the lead role, being made

On to Lisbon and moderately good news from the Portugal News:

Unemployment slightly down

Portugal’s unemployment rate closed the first quarter on 15.1%, down 2.4% on the same period in 2013 and down 0.2% on the previous quarter according to figures released by the National Institute of Statistics.

The institute reported some 788,100 persons were without employment and down by 138,700 and 19,900 people on annual and quarterly bases respectively with the former figure amounting to a 15% drop but also accounting for those who have left the workforce in the meanwhile.

The figures show that there was a total of 4.427 million people in employment, an annualised rise of 1.7% but down 0.9% on the final quarter of 2013.

Italy next, and a populist pander from EUbusiness:

Italy’s Grillo makes Nazi jibe against Schulz

Italian anti-establishment firebrand Beppe Grillo on Sunday likened European Commission presidency candidate Martin Schulz to a Nazi comic book character after Schulz compared him to Stalin and Hugo Chavez.

Grillo’s blog carried a photoshopped picture of Schulz as a Nazi whipping Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his post said that the European Parliament’s German president “has no shame in talking crap”.

Grillo said Silvio Berlusconi was “not completely wrong when he called him a kapo”, or concentration camp guard, recalling an infamous speech made by the then prime minister to the European Parliament in 2003.

Grillo called Schulz a “sturmtruppen” — a reference to a comic book series — and said he was a “krapo”, a combination of the word “kapo” and “crapun” — a dialect word meaning “big head” that was used to refer to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

From BBC Sport, more overt racism, soccer-style:

AC Milan: Bananas thrown at players by Atalanta fans

AC Milan players had bananas thrown at them during a 2-1 defeat at Atalanta.

Guinea international Kevin Constant and Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong picked up two bananas thrown onto the pitch, while Milan players appeared to sarcastically applaud the home support.

Fans were warned the game would be suspended if there was a repeat.

“Whoever threw the banana on the pitch deserves to have a coconut thrown back at them,” Atalanta boss Stefano Colantuono told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“They’ve ruined what was a great afternoon.”

After the jump, good news for Greek neoNazis, electoral violence in the Ukraine, Brazilian angst, waiting for Chinese promises in Africa, Indian elections and hankering for U.S. fracking, Indonesian Shariah second thoughts, Thai troubles continue, economic warning signs from China, Japanese casino dreams, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Science News: Of plates and platitudes


For your Sunday viewing pleasure, we bring you a pair of fascinating videos from University of California Television [UCTV]

First, best-selling author and student of human behavior parses the mysteries of those telling phrases and speech patterns that serve as social lubricants:

The Elephant in the Room: The Psychology of Innuendo and Euphemism

Program notes:

Why don’t people just say what they mean? In this lecture, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker explains the paradoxical appeal of euphemism, innuendo, politeness, and other forms of shilly-shallying.

And for our second video, a look at some of the fundamental forces shaping our world through a look at the great African Valley which may have given rise to the human species:

Rift! Geologic Clues to What’s Tearing Africa Apart

Program notes:

East Africa is one of the most geologically intriguing places on the planet—a place where the African continent is literally ripping apart. Deep rift valleys, active volcanoes, and hot springs are dramatic evidence for the powerful forces deep within the earth that are slowly reshaping the continent. Join geochemist David Hilton on an adventure to the East African Rift Valley and learn how he and his colleagues utilize geologic samples to understand this dynamic region of our planet.

Headlines: Health, wealth, pols crooks


Today’s headlines from the realms of politics, economics, and the ecology, are weighted heavily toward the U.S. and Asia, with relatively little form Europe, save Greece.

There’s also plenty on the environment, including lots in the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with a global issue, a reminder of what always lurks within the world around us. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO to hold emergency talks on deadly MERS virus Tuesday

The World Health Organization said Friday it would hold an emergency meeting next week on the deadly MERS virus, amid concern over the rising number of cases in several countries.

The UN health agency will host the emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the worrying spread of the virus, which in less than two years has killed 126 people in Saudi Arabia alone, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss the mysterious corona virus, which surfaced in mid-2012.

More on an issue we’ve covered before via the Oakland Tribune:

UC nonresident students increase as Californians’ admissions slow

As more California high school seniors fight for spaces at popular UC campuses, the universities have flung open their doors to students from other states and countries, more than tripling the ranks of out-of-state freshmen in the past five years.

Freshmen from outside the Golden State now make up almost 30 percent of their class at UC Berkeley and UCLA, up from just over 10 percent four years earlier, a new analysis by this newspaper shows.

The shift feels like a betrayal to some families coping with — or fearing — rejection by the distinguished university system, which was built by and for Californians but now is turning them away in record numbers.

CNBC covers a surprising statistic:

CNBC survey shows millionaires want higher taxes to fix inequality

CNBC’s first-ever Millionaire Survey reveals that 51 percent of American millionaires believe inequality is a “major problem” for the U.S., and of those, nearly two-thirds support higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage as ways to narrow the wealth gap.

The findings show that—far from being a purely self-interested voting bloc—American millionaires have complicated views when it comes to the wealth gap and opportunity in America. They are unashamed of their own wealth and attribute their success to hard work, smart investing and savings. They also believe that anyone in America can get wealthy if they work hard.

Yet millionaires also believe that cultural and family issues prevent many Americans from climbing the wealth ladder. They advocate improved education, higher taxes on the wealthy and better savings incentives for the poor and middle class as important changes that would reduce inequality.

From the Washington Post suicidal behavior reconsidered:

Split appears in GOP as more call for raising federal minimum wage

Several leading Republicans have called for raising the federal minimum wage and others are speaking more forcefully about the party’s failure to connect with low-income Americans — stances that are causing a growing rift within the party over how best to address the gulf between the rich and poor.

Another Republican reminded of consequences, via  United Press International:

FBI arrests man accused of threatening Boehner over unemployment insurance

Brandon James Thompson, of New Castle, Ind., angered over the House’s failure to pass an emergency unemployment extension, admitted to sending threatening messages to House Speaker John Boehner and his wife.

The FBI arrested an Indiana man Thursday night for allegedly threatening to kill House Speaker John Boehner for delaying a vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Brandon James Thompson, 32, of New Castle, Ind., was taken into custody at his home Thursday night and faces federal charges for making phone and email threats to an elected official.

According to an FBI affidavit, Thompson admitted to sending threatening messages to the Ohio Republican’s congressional website using his neighbor’s wifi, and leaving threatening voicemails on Boehner’s wife Debbie’s personal cellphone.

USA TODAY covers woes to come:

3 generations face USA’s retirement crisis

The retirement crisis in America is not contained to any one generation. Across the country, people of all ages are struggling with stagnant wages, rising living expenses, and an overall sluggish economy. Some are closer to their golden years than others, but one thing is clear: There are three unique generations with very different retirements ahead of them.

Many workers are simply trying to recover from the financial meltdown that took place more than five years ago. According to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement survey, one of the largest and longest-running national surveys of its kind, 35% of workers believe the Great Recession has not yet ended. That figure rises to 40% among Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, 65% of workers believe the recession has ended, but they have mixed views about the strength of the recovery. Only 14% say they have fully recovered financially from the historic downturn.

“Experts have long written about the changing retirement landscape over the past century,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Times are changing so rapidly that the retirements of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials will not only be a radical departure from their parents’ generations but from each other as well.”

The same basic story form another angle via Salon:

401(k)s are retirement robbery: How the Koch brothers, Wall Street and politicians conspire to drain Social Security

The decades-long tale of how the Kochs, Reagan, Wall Street and even Democrats have tried to gut Social Security

Excerpted from “Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis”

On the eve of the Reagan presidency in 1980, Milton and Rose Friedman published “Free to Choose,” a proposal for gradually phasing out Social Security. The entitlements of retirees would be honored as would the accumulated credits of contributors who had not yet retired. But no new payroll taxes would be collected. The final elimination of Social Security would allow “individuals to provide for their own retirement as they wish.” Among the advantages would be that “it would add to personal saving and so lead to a higher rate of capital formation [and] stimulate the development and expansion of private pension plans.” While the Friedmans argued for such a plan, they acknowledged that immediate privatization of retirement was unrealistic in the current political climate, but they would accept incremental reforms with the hope that one day total privatization would become politically feasible.

That same year, the conservative Koch brothers-financed Cato Institute published “Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction,” by Peter Ferrara, which argued that instead of being required to participate in Social Security, people should “be allowed to choose from a variety of insurance and investment options offered in the private market. The previous year, two years after its founding in 1977, the institute had published an article by Carolyn Weaver in which she made the case for privatization, and in 1980 it also sponsored a conference on Social Security privatization that drew, among others, two hundred congressional staffers.

And yet another erosion from Pacific Standard:

Are Sundays Dying?

A battle against leisure is unfolding. In America, it’s a war that has been raging since the Puritan age.

Though recently American leisure time has appeared to rise, the averages are skewed by undereducated and lower-income men, who are likely “unemployed or underemployed,” as the Washington Post has noted. Work-life balances are abominable when compared to other developed countries. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “average American” is actually working “one month” more a year than he or she was in 1976.

But Sunday, the weekend day that even Puritans blocked off for worship and rest (a Puritan poet once pondered “over whether closing a stable door that was blowing in the wind constituted an act of work which would profane the Sabbath”), is also beginning to look more and more like just another day of the work week.

On the other hand, given the narcissism of some of our leisure time habits. . .From  United Press International:

Hundreds of ATV riders in Utah threaten sacred Navajo burial ground to protest federal government

  • Illegal route runs through protected Native American land, forced military veterans retreat to relocate.

Protesters who say the Bureau of Land Management has no right to criminalize use of ATVs in Utah’s Recapture Canyon plan to demonstrate today by illegally riding their vehicles through the protected land – a move that has drawn the ire of Native Americans and displaced a veterans retreat.

“It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor,” Jerry Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance said in a statement. “It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.”

Willie Grayeyes, chair of a nonprofit that lobbies to protect Navajo land, was offended at both the protesters’ dismissive attitude toward Native American culture and their disrespect for the American veterans who had to move their long-scheduled retreat to ensure it could be held in peace.

From the Washington Post, better read than dead?:

The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads

What if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

According to a recent report by the World Bank, that scenario is not so far-fetched. The bank is one of those high-minded organizations — Washington is full of them — that release hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.

The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once. Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times. Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes. Since most World Bank reports have a stated objective of informing public debate or government policy, this seems like a pretty lousy track record.

Bloomberg covers business as usual:

Swisspartners Ends U.S. Probe With Non-Prosecution Deal

Swisspartners Group, a Zurich-based money-manager, resolved a U.S. criminal tax probe by paying $4.4 million for helping American clients use secret accounts to evade taxes. In return, the government agreed not to prosecute the firm, citing its “extraordinary cooperation.”

The agreement resulted from Swisspartners’ voluntary production of the files for about 110 U.S. taxpayer clients, according to the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“The extraordinary cooperation of Swisspartners has enabled us to identify U.S. tax cheats who have hidden behind phony offshore trusts and foundations,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said today in a statement. “In this and other cases around the world we will continue to provide substantial credit for prompt and full cooperation.”

The Washington Post covers an austerian conundrum:

America’s transportation needs are huge. Too bad the way we fund them is broken.

You’ve read the headlines about nearly one in four of America’s bridges being either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, right? The $59 billion backlog for commuter railway maintenance? The $324 per year in mechanic visits that each U.S. motorist incurs by driving on deteriorated roads?

America has a transportation funding problem. And if Congress doesn’t fix it this summer, it could start doing some real damage.

First, a few basics. Most big transportation projects — bridge repairs, new highways, intercity rail — are paid for with a stack of local, state, and federal funds. The federal contribution ranges between 35 percent and 95 percent of a state’s total transportation budget, and is mostly supplied by the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund is mostly supplied by the federal gas tax, which is a robust stream of money that can’t be used for anything other than transportation.

The problem for funding is that Americans are actually using less gas than they used to — both because they aren’t driving as much, and cars are getting more efficient. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994, which is now far behind what it was then when you take inflation into account.

From the  Los Angeles Times, the voice of reason from an unexpected quarter:

Jackie Lacey says L.A. County should stop locking up so many people

You wouldn’t expect the county’s top prosecutor to step up to a microphone and say it’s time to stop locking up so many people. But that’s exactly what L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey did last week. She told the county Board of Supervisors that, in her opinion, 1,000 or more people with mental illness who are currently incarcerated should probably be somewhere other than in jail.

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

From Business Insider, the Washington Post’s new owner’s other business demonstrates utter greed:

Amazon Is Claiming Exclusive Rights To A Basic Version Of An Extremely Common Practice

A photography site called DIY Photography wrote this week that the Amazon corporation applied for—and received—a patent for the process of taking a picture of an object against a white background.

Despite the technical detail in the patent documentation, the DIY site says, Amazon is ultimately claiming exclusive rights to a basic version of an extremely common practice:

The patent number is 8,676,045B1 and you can read the entire boring text on USPTO, or just about any basic studio photography book.

Crooked Timber raises the right question:

Step away from that white background

As you probably know, several of us at CT are big photography enthusiasts. While we seem to be more interested in taking photos of nature and architecture, next time we want to shoot a family portrait or an item, we’ll have to be careful with our approach. The US Patent Office recently granted Amazon a patent for taking photos against a white background. For real. So is their plan to start trolling portrait studios and Ebay/Etsy sellers to see whom they can sue?

I am no lawyer, but the language seems rather vague. For example, “a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white”. So what level of off-white should a photographer strive for to avoid litigation?

Having shot many a picture for publication we cam attest to the fact that Amazon has basically tried to patent the wheel.

On to Europe, first from Lisbon with Europe Online:

Ratings firms raise Portugal’s debt outlook

Portugal received a vote of confidence from credit ratings agencies Friday for the first time since the country’s sovereign-debt crisis began.

Moody’s Investors Service raised the debt rating to Ba2, from Ba3, citing an improved financial position and Lisbon’s decision not to seek additional aid after its bailout programme expires at the end of this month.

“Portugal’s economic recovery is gaining momentum, with signs of broadening beyond exports, which continue to perform strongly,” Moody’s said. The move followed a revised outlook from negative to stable by Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services earlier in the day.

Italy next, with Corruptio berlusconii from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi associate’s conviction upheld

An Italian court has upheld the conviction of retired parliamentarian Marcello Dell’Utri for ties to the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri is a close associate of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Dell’Utri was not present when Italy’s highest appeals court upheld his seven-year prison sentence on Friday. He had fled to Lebanon last month in order to avoid arrest.

The close Berlusconi associate (pictured center) is currently in police custody at a hospital in Beirut while Italian authorities seek his extradition.

In 2010, a Palermo court convicted Dell’Utri of acting as a mediator between the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite from 1974-1992. The decision by the Court of Cassation on Friday means his conviction is now final and can no longer be appealed.

After the jump, the latest from grief from Greece, Ukrainian turmoil, a Turkish tantrum, economic alarms form Latin America, Indian anxieties in Washington, Indonesian bankster woes, Australian bankster extravagance, Thai turmoil, Chinese housing, food & economic uncertainties, environmental ills, and the latest chapter of Fumkshimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Pols, players, loans, lies, pollution


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

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

Koch group plans to spend $125 million on midterms

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

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

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

Wyoming is 1st state to reject science standards

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

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

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

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

BBC News raises the heat:

Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

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

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

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

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

Whose Speech, Whose Religion?

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

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

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

The Washington Post politics:

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

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

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

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

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

Obama heads to Wal-Mart, triggers backlash

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

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

>snip<

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

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

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

And from Reuters, more about the company in question:

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

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

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

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

BBC News covers more corporate conundra:

US politicians raise questions over Pfizer bid

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

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

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

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

Calif. City Boosts Revenue By Detaining And Deporting Immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado generates over $25M in marijuana revenue since legalization

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

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

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

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

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

Consider also a second UPI story:

Report: Global war on drugs a failure

The report emphasizes public health treatment instead of incarceration and prosecution

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

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

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

And then there’s this, from the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

While Want China Times takes the fast track:

China mulls building high speed railway to the US

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

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

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

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

Underwater homes: Minorities still suffering from housing collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada sees little employment growth in last year

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

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

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

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

Headlines: eCons, banksters, crimes, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:

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

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

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

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

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

Another response from Al Jazeera America:

Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’

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

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

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

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

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

US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks

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

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

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

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

Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole

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

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

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

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

National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills

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

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

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

From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:

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

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

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

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

A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:

North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic

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

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

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

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

From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:

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

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

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

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

CNBC delivers another verdict:

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

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

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

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

From CNBC again, another verdict:

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

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

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

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

While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:

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

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

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

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

And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:

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

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

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

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

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash

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

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

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

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

Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:

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

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

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

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

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

On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:

ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change

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

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

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

Attribution, via EUobserver:

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

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

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

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

And from New Europe, vast indifference:

Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans

  • Suppose they held an election and nobody came?

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

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

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

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

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

Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs

  • The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure

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

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

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

On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:

Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years

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

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

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

Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:

No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women

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

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

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

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

A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

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

Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:

Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’

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

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

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

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

Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:

German living expenses rank high

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

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

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

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

Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:

Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality

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

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

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

Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:

Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research

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

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

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

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

‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’

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

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

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

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

Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March

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

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

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

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

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

Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital

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

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

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

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

Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers

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

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

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

On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:

Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit

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

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

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

Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:

Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

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

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

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

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

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

Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links

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

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

Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.

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

And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:

Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption

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

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

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

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

Another map, this time of climate change


From NASA, noting the rise of temperatures across the U.S. over the past 119 years:

BLOG TempsBLOG Tempt

From NASA:

Since consistent record-keeping began in 1895, the average temperature in the United States has increased by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 to 1.1° Celsius), and most of that change has happened since 1970. The warmest year on record for the United States was 2012. The map above shows temperature changes between 1991 and 2012 compared to the average temperature between 1901 and 1960. Bold lines divide the country into regions, and the change is uneven across the regions. “Multiple lines of independent evidence confirm that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years,” says the report.

Headlines: Neoliberalism run rampant, more


Don’t have time to be terribly clever, given the extensive nature of today’s collection of news economic, political, and environmental [things military and secretuive follow in our second collection].

And the latest consequence of selling out the commons to the 0.001 percent and their lessers via the Washington Post:

White House opens door to tolls on interstate highways, removing long-standing prohibition

With pressure mounting to avert a transportation funding crisis this summer, the Obama administration Tuesday opened the door for states to collect tolls on interstate highways to raise revenue for roadway repairs.

The proposal, contained in a four-year, $302 billion White House transportation bill, would reverse a long-standing federal prohibition on most interstate tolling.

Though some older segments of the network — notably the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes and Interstate 95 in Maryland and Interstate 495 in Virginia — are toll roads, most of the 46,876-mile system has been toll-free.

And from the Washington Post again, not-so-creative destruction:

U.S. businesses are being destroyed faster than they’re being created

The American economy is less entrepreneurial now than at any point in the last three decades. That’s the conclusion of a new study out from the Brookings Institution, which looks at the rates of new business creation and destruction since 1978.

Not only that, but during the most recent three years of the study — 2009, 2010 and 2011 — businesses were collapsing faster than they were being formed, a first. Overall, new businesses creation (measured as the share of all businesses less than one year old) declined by about half from 1978 to 2011.

The authors don’t mince words about the stakes here: If the decline persists, “it implies a continuation of slow growth for the indefinite future.” This lack of economic dynamism, particularly the steep drop since 2006, may be one reason why our current recovery has felt like much less than a recovery. As Matt O’Brien noted on Wonkblog last week, annual job growth rates have stubbornly refused to budge above 2 percent for the duration of the recovery.

From Al Jazeera America, among those paying the price:

Cuts in public higher education hit minority schools hardest

  • The recession has seen some states cut their public higher education budget by more than 30 percent

A 2012 study from the Ford Foundation found that five Historically Black Colleges have closed their doors in the last two decades, and many Tribal Colleges and Universities are struggling to keep their faculty on staff because of budget cuts to state and federal aid programs that make up the majority of their budgets.

Things have been rough for public higher education across the board, but for HBCUs, Native American Tribal institutions, Hispanic and other minority serving institutions, the cuts are deeper.

Marybeth Gasman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, told Al Jazeera when states slash their budgets for higher education, minority-serving schools have a much harder time rebounding and absorbing the financial hit because they don’t have the large cash reserves like some of the more prominent public or big-name private universities.

From United Press International, trying to partially right and wrong:

Elizabeth Warren pushes student loan refinancing bill

  1. The Massachusetts Democrat says people holding student loans should be able to refinance them like car or home loans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is doing something about the $1.2 trillion in outstanding student federal loan debt she says is dragging down the middle class.

The Massachusetts Democrat is set to introduce a bill Tuesday that will allow people holding federal student loans to refinance them to the lower, current rate.

“When interest rates drop, people can refinance their home, they can refinance their business debt. It’s regarded as a smart move for any consumer or business. But student borrowers are prohibited from doing that under most programs,” Warren said. “This bill says we’re going to change that and let them refinance that down to current low rates.”

Warren, who has forged a reputation as an advocate for consumers, called the $66 billion in interest the government stands to collect from loans issued between 2007 and 2012 is “just plain wrong.”

From Agence France Presse, FYI:

Asians outperform white students because they try harder: study

Scientists at Queens College of New York, the University of Michigan and Peking University in Beijing looked at grades, test scores, teacher ratings, family income and education level, immigration status and other factors.

“Asian-Americans enter school with no discernible academic advantage over whites,” said the study, noting that “advantage grows over time.” By fifth grade, or age 10-11, Asian-Americans “significantly outperform whites,” and the peak difference is reached by grade 10, or age 15-16.

“Overall, these results suggest that the growing achievement gap can be attributed to a widening gap in academic effort rather than to differences in cognitive ability.”

Asian-Americans tend to be motivated by cultural teachings that instill the notion that effort is more important than inborn ability, researchers said. They also endure “greater parental pressures to succeed than in the case of comparable white peers.”

And from China Daily, a decline:

Chinese applicants for US grad schools drop

The number of Chinese applicants for graduate schools in the United States has dropped for the second year in a row, figures from an education group in the US show.

Applications from Chinese students for the 2014 fall enrollment dropped by 1 percent from a year earlier, said the report by the Council of Graduate Schools. Applications for the same period last year fell by 3 percent from those of 2012, the report said.

Overall foreign applications for US graduate schools rose by 7 percent, with the highest growth – 32 percent – coming from India, said the report released recently by the council, which advocates graduate education and research.

From Ars Technica, too much information:

On average, Americans get 189 cable TV channels and only watch 17

  • A new Nielsen report raises questions about the channel-bundling system.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Nielsen reported that on average, US homes receive 189.1 TV channels, but viewers only watch 17.5 of those channels.

The news will appear in Nielsen’s forthcoming “Advertising & Audiences Report,” and while the results seem somewhat intuitive, they articulate a very real problem in cable TV—the fact that consumers often feel forced into paying for a lot of TV they never watch.

Nielsen’s blog post today showed that the number of cable channels in an average US household has grown dramatically over the last five years, but the number of channels that viewers actually watch has hardly changed at all. In 2008, US households received an average of 129.3 channels but only actually viewed 17.3 channels. In 2013, the number of channels received increased 46 percent, but the number of channels viewed only increased 1 percent.

With all those channels, the country is still falling apart. From Salon:

United States plunges to 31st place in global maternal health ranking

“Today, an American woman faces the same lifetime risk of maternal death as a woman in Iran or Romania”

Less than a decade ago, the United States ranked 6th on Save the Children’s list of best places to be a mother. This year, it dropped to 31st place out of 178 countries. “In the U.S., the lifetime risk of maternal death has risen more than 50 percent since we launched our first report in 2000 — from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 2,400,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. “Today, an American woman faces the same lifetime risk of maternal death as a woman in Iran or Romania.”

In Texas alone, the maternal mortality rate quadrupled over the last 15 years to nearly 25 out of 100,000 births, according to data from the state’s Department of Health Services. The United States is one of the top 10 wealthiest countries in the world.

And it may get worse, as costs of drugs could soar under all those “free trade” agreements both Dubya and Barry O have so ruthelessly promoited, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Off the Charts blog:

Emerging Trade Agreement Would Make Drugs Less Affordable

Our concerns fall into three main areas.

First, the draft TPP would restrict Medicare’s ability to limit the prices it pays for drugs for Part B beneficiaries.  The recent release of Medicare physician payment data has vividly illustrated the large sums spent on Part B drugs, such as Lucentis, a macular degeneration treatment that costs $2,000 per monthly injection.  The TPP could allow drug companies to challenge existing Part B payment policies that hold down costs and foreclose some future cost-containment steps, such as discouraging the use of new drugs that are costlier but no more effective than existing alternatives.

Second, the draft TPP would raise health care costs further by expanding patent protections for drugs and medical devices.  Drug companies use various strategies — such as making small changes in their products — to extend their patents and fend off competition from generic drugs.  The TPP could limit efforts to combat these “evergreening” strategies.  It would also make it easier for companies to obtain patents for therapeutic and diagnostic techniques that now aren’t patentable.

Third, the draft TPP would give companies a new legal avenue to challenge U.S. pricing and patent policies for drugs and medical devices:  the ability to sue the U.S. government before an international arbitration panel that wouldn’t be subject to normal democratic checks and balances.  Under a similar provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, the drug company Eli Lilly is suing the Government of Canada for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated patents for two drugs that didn’t meet Canada’s legal standards.

A global story from Deutsche Welle:

OECD predicts moderate growth, unemployment to drop only slowly

  • The US and the eurozone will see economic output grow at a modest pace this year and next, but the number of people out of a job will remain higher than before the crisis, according to the OECD’s spring outlook.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts modest global growth for 2014 and 2015 in its biannual economic outlook, published on Tuesday. But the group lowered its 2014 global forecast to 3.4-percent growth, down from 3.6 percent predicted in its autumn outlook last year.

Unemployment across the world is to fall only slowly, with 11.25 million more people out of a job at the end of 2015 than at the onset of the global crisis, according to the global forum.

Global growth will increasingly be shaped by Asian countries, specifically by China and India. Their share of the OECD countries’ combined output is to rise to 73 percent in 2060, up from 33 percent in 2010.

More on the warning from the Economic Times:

Slowing Chinese economy likely to pinch US, too

After watching China narrow the US lead as the world’s largest economy, Americans might be tempted to cheer signs that the Chinese economy might be stumbling.

Any schadenfreude would be short-sighted. In an interconnected global economy, bad news for one economic superpower is typically bad news for another — even a fierce rival.

“It hurts,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “China is the second-largest economy on the planet. If growth slows there, it affects everybody.”

Getting too testy, via the Guardian:

Global school tests under attack as OECD accused of killing ‘joy of learning’

  • Leading academics from 12 countries including UK call for next round of OECD Pisa tests on 15-year-olds to be scrapped

Leading academics have accused the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of acting as an unaccountable super-ministry of education which kills the “joy of learning” and turns schooling into “drudgery”.

A letter signed by 120 leading academics and teachers from 12 countries – including Britain, the US and Germany – argues the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests on 15-year-olds distort the curriculum, reduce teachers’ autonomy and increase children’s stress levels.

The results of the Pisa tests, which the signatories say are “widely known to be imperfect” because they focus narrowly on the economic goals of education, are anxiously awaited in the 66 countries that take part.

From Deutsche Welle, geopolitical economics:

G7 drafts energy options to Russian gas

  • Group of Seven nations represented by their energy ministers have agreed to wean Europe off its dependency on Russian gas. Meeting in Rome, the G7 also said it would help Ukraine cope with Russian threats to cut supply.

The G7 industrialized powers agreed on Tuesday to help Ukraine to “strengthen its energy security” and warned Russia that “energy should not be used as a means of political coercion.”

Russia recently said that it could restrict gas supplies to Ukraine if Kyiv failed to make a pre-payment in May.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency, which took part in Tuesday’s consultations in Rome, was asked to submit an assessment within six months.

And our first purely European story, via Deutsche Welle:

European financial tax to be levied as of 2016

  • European Union finance ministers announced a planned tax on transactions will come into effect in 10 member countries in January 2016. But some nations remain opposed to the levy.

Meeting in Brussels, EU finance ministers said Tuesday a controversial tax on financial transactions would be levied in an initial group of 10 countries as of 2016. Some nations hope the project could help win over voters ahead of European elections in late May.

“We have agreed to put our money where our mouth is,” Austrian Finance Minister Michael Spindelegger told reporters. “On January 1, 2016, the first part of the tax initiative should come into effect.”

The minister said he expected the levy to generate “considerable revenues.” But the tax has been facing criticism from a number of non-participating EU nations, and from some business associations which fear the levy may have a negative impact on business investment.

On the edge with Reuters:

ECB seen on hold as inflation picks up, QE a way off

The European Central Bank will likely hold off policy action on Thursday, waiting for new forecasts from its staff in June before deciding whether to counter low inflation that ticked up last month.

The ECB Governing Council meets in Brussels against the backdrop of a Franco-German spat over ECB policy towards the euro’s exchange rate – one factor the bank’s president, Mario Draghi, has identified as a potential trigger for policy action.

Ahead of the meeting, markets pushed the euro above $1.39 and towards its high for this year after surveys showed euro zone firms enjoyed a brisk start to the second quarter.

On to Britain with the Guardian and a human rights disaster:

Manus Island block a ‘rape dungeon’, Salvation Army worker tells inquiry

  • Parliamentary inquiry also told of inadequate medical care, poor workplace safety and fears of violent attacks

Part of Manus Island detention centre was known as a “rape dungeon” to some guards, a former Salvation Army worker has alleged. In a submission to the Manus Island parliamentary inquiry, Nicole Judge said concerns she raised about possible sexual assaults in another part of the camp were ignored.

Other submissions make allegations of inadequate medical care, poor workplace safety and fears of violent attacks from local staff.

“I have heard P1 block in foxtrot being referred to by G4S guards as a ‘rape dungeon’,” Judge’s submission said. “I have been told never to enter this building due to heightened sexual activity in this particular building.”

From the Guardian, well-grounded opposition:

Fracking trespass law changes opposed by 74% of British public, poll finds

  • Move to allow shale gas companies to drill under homes without owner’s permission is widely-opposed, YouGov survey says

Signs at the anti-fracking protest camp set up at Barton Moss in Salford where energy company iGas has built a vertical test well to assess the suitability for shale gas tracking An anti-fracking protest camp set up at Barton Moss in Salford where energy company iGas has built a vertical test well to assess the suitability for shale gas tracking. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

The government faces widespread opposition to plans to change trespass laws to allow shale gas companies to drill under homes without the owner’s permission, a poll has revealed.

The YouGov survey of 1,898 people found that 74% opposed the controversial move, which ministers are thought to be considering as part of efforts to drive a “shale gas revolution” that could see fracking across swathes of the UK.

More than 45,000 people around the country have joined legal moves to block energy companies from fracking under their properties, but a change to the trespass laws could allow companies to explore for shale gas without needing their permission.

A bubble alarm from the London Telegraph:

Bank must burst housing bubble

  • Force buyers to find bigger deposits, says OECD think tank, to slow booming market that could put economic recovery at risk

The Bank of England should invoke new legal powers allowing it to rein in Britain’s booming housing market for the first time, an influential international think tank has said.

Would-be housebuyers should have to put down bigger deposits and George Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme should be cut back, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said.

The intervention from the OECD comes after senior figures at the Bank identified the housing market as the biggest threat to Britain’s financial stability.

On to Iceland and the growing scandal around a deceptive memo from a cabinet aimed at smearing Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos. From the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Interior Minister Digs Deeper

Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir has made false statements about certain facts of the Tony Omos memo scandal.

Kjarninn reports that while the minister has often said that she cannot comment on the Tony Omos case while police are still investigating ministry computers and questioning staff, this is actually not the case. In fact, there is nothing legally preventing her from commenting on the matter.

Hanna Birna has also told members of the press, and members of parliament, that the leaked memo on Tony Omos was “not comparable to any document in the ministry”. In fact, the police have concluded, that the memo in question was created in the ministry at the behest of the office manager, and then sent to at least eight people in the ministry, including Hanna Birna and her two assistants, Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir and Gísli Freyr Valdórsson. The next day, what would later prove to be false information contained in the memo appeared on news website mbl.is.

For background on a most peculiar case, see this post at Tony Nwajei Post.

Finland next and withdrawal symptoms from Deutsche Welle:

Euroskeptic Finns Party has ‘changed the political landscape’

  • Finland sees itself as Europe’s star pupil. But the upstart Finns Party, with its euroskeptic party line, is polling at about 20 percent and is influencing the views of the country’s more established parties.

Angry with the establishment, many voters – predominantly male, factory workers, the unemployed – turned away from established parties and gave their support to Perussuomalaiset, as the party is known in Finnish. The result: the party garnered more than 19 percent of the votes in the in 2011 parliamentary election.

In the last decades, the now disbanded Finnish Rural Party was only able to capture a few seats in parliament; today, Lindström heads a faction of 39 representatives. “We have permanently changed the political landscape,” he said. “Instead of three big parties, there are now four.”

The party has not only shaken up parliament’s configuration, it has also introduced new topics into the national conversation. “We have made euroskepticism part of the discussion in Finland,” said Lindström. “Without us, no one would be discussing the bailouts. And nobody would be discussing migration, or the conversation would be completely different.”

France next, and a bad review from the Independent:

François Hollande versus the French people: president flops in TV questioning

François Hollande, the most unpopular French president in living memory, demonstrated the perils of wanting to be known as the “normal” leader by subjecting himself to a surreal hour-long television and radio grilling to mark the second anniversary of his election.

He took questions from listeners, including a 61-year- old woman who asked him whether he could live on her €662 (£550) monthly pension. “No,” he replied.

Earlier, the BFM TV interviewer Jean-Jacques Bourdin took a leaf out of Jeremy Paxman’s book to accuse the President of “amateurism” and of conducting a “reckless” private life which had cheapened the presidency. “You talk about [economic] recovery,” said Bourdin, “where is it?”

France 24 gives its spin:

France was ‘on verge of bankruptcy’, Hollande says

Marking the two-year anniversary on Tuesday since being elected and facing the lowest opinion polls in modern French history, President François Hollande urged his countrymen to reserve judgement until the end of his mandate in 2017.

The 59-year-old French leader said he would feel “impatient, but not disappointed” if he had been one of the people who had voted for him.

“I prefer making my decisions, assuming my responsibilities and then being judged on my results… The results will come,” he said during an interview with media group RMC and BFM TV. “I’ve asked to be judged at the end of my mandate.”

From TheLocal.fr, blood on the newsroom floor:

Editors at Le Monde newspaper quit en masse

A majority of chief editors at French daily Le Monde resigned from their posts on Tuesday amid a conflict with management over editorial reforms. The mass resignation comes while staff at another French newspaper are in uproar over plans to turn into a “social network”.

“A lack of confidence in and communication with editorial management prevents us from fulfilling our roles as chief editors,” seven of the newspaper’s senior editors said in an internal letter to management.

They said they remained available to help out until a new team is appointed to replace them, to avoid damaging the daily running of the newspaper.

Switzerland next, with business as usual from TheLocal.ch:

Credit Suisse to set up US ‘bad bank’: reports

Credit Suisse, facing potential criminal charges for helping Americans dodge taxes, has created a “bad bank” unit for US clients, Swiss media reported on Tuesday.

According to Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger, Switzerland’s second largest bank aims to drop all funds belonging to US citizens not residing in Switzerland, into a newly created bank called CS International Advisors AG, headquartered in Zurich and with its own separate banking licence.

The bank has reportedly been informing its off-shore US clients of the shift in recent days.

Off to Lisbon and bleak numbers from the Portugal News:

Budget cuts until 2030, debt to reach 131.8% GDP – OECD

Portugal is going to have to adopt budget consolidation measures of 1.9% a year until 2030, if it wants to reduce public debt to 60% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Tuesday.

In its ‘Economic Outlook’, released Tuesday, the OECD said that Portugal is in the group of countries that needed budget consolidation until 2030 to comply with the public debt objective but which had already done a lot of the work.

According to today’s forecasts, Portugal’s public debt is going to continue rising at least until 2015, when it will reach 131.8%.

This forecast runs contrary to government optimism, which expects the debt to start falling in 2015.

Spain next, with some qualified good news from ANSAmed:

Spain’s joblessness rate drops 2.3% in April

  • PM Rajoy calls figure ‘encouraging’

Some 111,565 fewer people were unemployed in Spain in April, equal to -2.3% on the previous month. The reduction was due to term contracts for the week of Easter, resulting in 133,000 more registered with the social security agency.

According to the figures released on Tuesday by the labor ministry, the decline in unemployment was the largest in the month of April since 1996. Despite the reduction, the overall number of those signed up with unemployment agencies was 4,684,301 people, a 6.1% (304,892 people) drop on the year.

In commenting on the figures in a radio interview with Cadena Ser, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that the figures were positive and encouraging and that he was hopeful about the future.

Culture wars, via TheLocal.es:

Spanish PM ‘open to debate’ on abortion law

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Tuesday stuck by his government’s plan to curb women’s abortion rights but said he was open to debate on the bill which has sparked angry protests.

The government has approved a draft law to end women’s right to have the procedure on demand up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, but the text has not yet gone to parliament for a vote amid dissent within Rajoy’s Popular Party.

“We are not going to withdraw the law,” Rajoy vowed on Tuesday in an interview on Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

Italy next, and a lingua no longer franca via TheLocal.it:

Milan university to teach most degrees in English

The rector of one of Italy’s top universities in Milan is pushing ahead with a plan for degree courses to be taught in English despite a Lombardy court ruling against the move.

Twenty-nine out of 36 degree courses will be taught in English at the Politecnico di Milano from the start of the next academic year, La Repubblica reported.

The plans were initially announced by the university’s rector, Giovanni Azzone, in 2012, with the aim of rolling out all degree courses in English from 2014.

From ANSA, Bunga Bunga bounceback, dudes!:

Berlusconi not ruling out entering govt

Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday said he was not ruling out the possibility that his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party could join the alliance supporting Premier Matteo Renzi’s coalition government after this month’s European elections. “We’ll have to see what happens with the economy. I don’t exclude the possibility that we could be together to take the decisions for the good of the country,” Berlusconi told the Radio Anch’io radio station.

Berlusconi’s party was part of the weak left-right grand-coalition government that was led by Enrico Letta after last year’s inconclusive general election. But after causing a series of crises for the administration, Berlusconi finally pulled his support for it in November, just before being ejected from parliament after a definitive tax-fraud conviction.

And from Europe Online, Bunga Bunga declamation:

Berlusconi: Italy could leave euro if ECB doesn’t soften policy

Italy and several other countries will have no choice but to leave the euro unless the European Central Bank drops its hardline monetary policies, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday.

The ECB, whose governing council is due to hold a rate-setting monthly meeting Thursday, is under pressure to ease its stance to stave off the risk of deflation in Europe.

“Today it would be reckless, and nobody knows what would really be the consequences of our immediate exit from the euro,” Berlusconi said in a radio phone-in with state broadcaster RAI.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Cyprus-testing, BRICs to BRICAS?, Chinese bubble deflation, Academic woes in China and Japan, a bad report card for Tokyo accompanied by political counterblasts, environmental alarm bells, and the latest from Fukushiumapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Street Seens: Spring in Berkeley, plus one


Just some random shots, three of flowers one of the ocean, grabbed during strolls.

First up, just a red, red rose. . .

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 100, 20.6 mm, 1/250 Sec, f5.3

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 100, 20.6 mm, 1/250 Sec, f5.3

And another rose, paler in hew. . .

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 100, 5.4 mm, 1/125 Sec, f3.5

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 100, 5.4 mm, 1/125 Sec, f3.5

Some more flowers, both botanic and carved into fence stakes by a neighbor. . .

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 160, 7.4 mm, 1/250 Sec, f3.9

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 160, 7.4 mm, 1/250 Sec, f3.9

And finally, the San Francisco coast near sunset, with a hang glider high overhead. . .

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 160, 4.3 mm, 1/1300 Sec, f3.3

Panasonic DMC-ZS19 3 May 2014, ISO 160, 4.3 mm, 1/1300 Sec, f3.3

Headlines: Corps, classes, meds, mayhem, more


Today’s collection of headlines from the realms of politics, economics, human behavior, and the environment begins with a reminder that Big Pharma all too often rushes too soon to market. From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Convicted of murder, soldier blames anti-smoking drug

While his homicidal claim is rare — [Army Pfc. George D.B] MacDonald may be the first, and so far only, murder defendant to go all the way to trial with a Chantix defense — questions about the drug’s safety are not.

Others have blamed the prescription pill for suicides, suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric problems. More than 2,000 joined in lawsuits against Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer. Most have largely since been settled, at a cost to Pfizer of at least $299 million.

Chantix sales, meanwhile, totaled $486 million during the first nine months of 2013.

On May 13, MacDonald will get one more chance to plead his case when the nation’s top military appeals court will decide whether the trial judge erred when he quashed a wide-ranging subpoena for Pfizer documents. The documents, MacDonald’s lawyers say, might have helped prove the potential dangers of Chantix.

We’ll add an older headline to impart context. From Al Jazeera, 21 November 2013:

FDA: Anti-smoking drug Chantix linked to more than 500 suicides

Another military medical scandal from United Press International:

Phoenix VA officials on leave after ‘secret list’ scandal that let vets die waiting for care

Official: “These allegations, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and if the Inspector General’s investigation substantiates these claims, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”

The director and two other officials of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare System (PVAHS) have been placed on administrative leave in light of the recently revealed scandal that allowed over forty veterans to die while waiting for medical care and falsified records to hide the lengthy wait times from the federal government.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Investigative, Dr. Same Foote, a veteran doctor just retired after 24 years with the VA system in Phoenix, blew the whistle on PVAHS maintaining two separate records of waiting lists — one fake list to convince Washington they were providing timely appointments (14-30 days is the expected turnaround standard for timely care required by the VA) and another real but secret list where veterans’ wait for an appointment could last over a year.

On Monday, President Barack Obama called on U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to investigate. As well, several members of Congress have called for hearings on the matter, at least three representatives publicly calling for PVAHS Director Sharon Helman’s resignation.

More from International Business Times:

Phoenix VA Scandal: New Charges And A Second Whistleblower

It’s getting even hotter in Phoenix, where government officials are investigating a scandal at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. At least 40 U.S. veterans allegedly died at the Phoenix VA waiting for appointments, and many of them were placed on a secret waiting list to hide the long wait times, according to Dr. Sam Foote, a physician at the Phoenix VA for 24 years who retired in December.

A second whistleblower, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, also a longtime physician at the Phoenix VA, came forward this week with more incendiary charges of poor treatment of veterans in Phoenix and accusations that officials shredded documents related to the investigation.

The controversy remains focused on the secret list, which was part of an elaborate scheme designed by VA managers in Phoenix to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to Foote.

From MarketWatch, irrational exuberance:

Stocks are riding optimism, not earnings, to records

Pfizer, Disney, Tesla earnings on tap; Yellen scheduled for two-day testimony

Stocks are trading near record highs, and some say that’s more due to cautious optimism than solid fundamentals.

Stocks finished higher last week, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA -0.28%  set its first record close of the year. The S&P 500 index SPX -0.13%  passed into record close territory but couldn’t finish there. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP -0.09%  closed up 1.2% on the week, though it’s still down 1.3% for the year.

The workings of the Dow suggest hope is driving prices rather than the bottom line. Sales and profit trends aren’t looking so hot, nor are corporate outlooks.

The Miami Herald notes a phenomenon much covered previously in this blog:

A Lopsided comeback: How the housing recovery favors the rich

An analysis of 11 years of home sales in South Florida, parsed by ZIP code, shows the boom, bust and recovery left a wider gap between the rich and the poor.

South Florida’s housing rebound has been remarkable.

Lured by Miami’s cachet as an emerging international gateway and luxury getaway, foreign investors ranging from Russian oligarchs to Brazilian supermodels to anonymous Channel Islands companies have rushed in with mounds of cash.

Along Miami Beach’s North Bay Drive and Sunset Islands, Key Biscayne and Gables Estates, the elite are shelling out millions of dollars to buy teardowns to make room for new Gatsby-esque spreads.

Developers are hawking one new pre-construction condominium tower after another. They feature gilded amenities fit for Dubai or Hong Kong (one will be topped with a private helipad; another, equipped with private automobile elevators). Glass-walled penthouses tout 360-degree views of the city, the ocean and Biscayne Bay.

And from Salon, some of the reasons for that growing divide:

How the rich stole our money — and made us think they were doing us a favor

Pushing people toward stocks, real estate and credit cards have all come at a cost — and with one goal in mind

If you’ve paid attention to the economy over the last few years, you’ve doubtless seen the charts and figures showing the decline of the American middle class in concert with the explosion of wealth for the super-rich. Wages have stagnated over the last 40 years even as productivity has increased, which is another way of saying that Americans are working harder but getting paid less. Unemployment remains stubbornly high even though corporate profits and the stock market are at or near record highs. Passive assets in the form of stocks and real estate, in other words, are doing very well. Wages for working people are not. Unfortunately for the middle class, however, the top 1 percent of incomes own almost 50 percent of asset wealth, and the top 10 percent own over 85 percent of it. When assets do well but wages don’t, the middle class suffers.

This ominous trend is particularly prominent in the United States. That shouldn’t surprise us: study after study shows that American policymakers operate almost purely on behalf of wealthy interests. Recent polling also proves that the American rich want policies that encourage the growth of asset values while lowering their own tax rates, and are especially keen on outcomes that favor themselves at the expense of the poor and middle class.

So why isn’t the 99 percent in open revolt? The answer lies in part because the top 1 percent have done an excellent job disguising the upward transfer of wealth by making the rest of us feel better off than we actually are while enriching themselves in the process.

From My Budget 360, job numbers in deeper context:

The disappearing labor force: Over 800K Americans drop out of labor force.

Since end of recession, those not in the labor force has grown from 80 million to 92 million. Workers younger than 55 lost jobs in April.

It might have come as a surprise to many that the pumped up stock market had no rally from the big employment report last week. Why? The unemployment rate fell from 6.7 to 6.3 percent. One survey showed a big jump in jobs added. As is usually the case, the devil is in the details. The unemployment rate fell dramatically because more than 800K Americans dropped out of the labor force. That is right, nearly 1 million people dropped out of the labor force. So of course this will make the rate look better than expected. In fact, since the recession ended we have added 12 million Americans to the category of “not in the labor force” which trumps even demographic changes. We have discussed that many Americans have no economic means to even retire. What was also interesting in the report is that workers younger than 55 actually lost jobs in the April report. So it is no surprise that the stock market actually turned lower with the whopping jobs report after people dug into the data.

From the neoliberal London Telegraph, thinly veiled exultation:

Shocking US jobs data impugns recovery, Fed tapering

  • Friday’s figures are a warning that the US recovery may be losing momentum

The US economy has delivered two minor shocks in a week, prompting concerns that bond tapering by the Federal Reserve may be doing more damage than expected.

Non-Farm Payrolls data released on Friday shows that the workforce shed 806,000 jobs in April, a stunning drop that cannot plausibly be blamed on the weather. Wage growth and hours worked were both flat and the manufacturing hours per week fell.

This follows news earlier in the week that the economy to a halt in the first quarter. Growth plummeted to 0.1pc and is now well below the Fed’s “stall speed” indicator. Analysts blamed this on the freezing polar vortex over the winter.

Yet the jobs data confirm a disturbingly weak picture. The headline unemployment rate fell to 6.3pc but that was only because the labour “participation rate” plummeted back to a modern-era low of 62.8pc, last seen in 1978 when there were far fewer women in the workforce. The rate for males is the lowest ever recorded at 69.1pc.

ABC News adds to the sense of things amiss:

Aging Baby Boomers Becoming the Roommate Generation

Rachel Caraviello, vice president of Affordable Living for the Aging (ALA), says that nationally there are about 130,000 households where the cohabiters are aged 50 or older, and where they have no familial relationship or romantic connection.

Caraviello views these arrangements as one more manifestation of the “sharing economy”: Here, one party typically is house-rich but cash-poor; and the other has money or services to contribute.

Rodney Harrell, PhD, a specialist on housing with the AARP’s Public Policy Institute, tells ABC News the range of agreements struck can include one party’s helping the other with shopping, transportation, cooking or informal care-giving. He believes there will be more demand for roommate and other sharing programs as the Baby Boom ages.

By 2030, according to the Federal Administration on Aging, one out of every five Americans will be 65 or older. The sheer size of the Boomer cohort, says Harrell, plus its declared desire to age “in place,” rather than in a nursing home, means having a roommate will be what he calls a growing niche option. “Few do it now,” he tells ABC, “but more could, or would, if that option were made more easily available.”

From Associated Press, it’s nice to be a rich city:

California city looks to sea for water in drought

With California in a drought, the coastal city of Santa Barbara is thinking about firing up a desalination plant that has been in storage for more than two decades.

The city built the plant in the 1990s during the last drought but turned it on for only three months after heavy rains eliminated the need for extra water.

Desalination involves removing salt from ocean water or groundwater, but it’s not a quick drought-relief option. It takes years of planning and overcoming red tape to launch a project.

And from United Press International, another enhancement for California’s Sterling [snicker] reputation:

San Jose State expels three students charged with hate crimes

Students referred to their black roommate as “three-fifths,” put bike lock around his neck, wrote racial slurs on surfaces and flaunted the Confederate flag.

Three white San Jose State students have been expelled after being charged with misdemeanor battery and hate crimes for racist treatment of their only black housemate. A fourth has been put on probation for the remainder of his time at the university.

All four students pled not guilty to the charges, brought about after their roommate’s parents first noticed a Confederate flag in the living room and racial slurs scrawled on the walls. Campus officials were notified and an investigation was held.

Among the findings in the investigation were numerous racially charged incidents directed at the victim, Donald Williams Jr. Among the offenses were nicknaming the victim “three-fifths,” a reference to the nineteenth century legislation that only counted a black votes as three-fifths the value of whites, and an incident where Williams was wrested to the ground while a bike lock was forced around his neck.

For our final U.S. post, irony from Raw Story:

Anti-gay NC GOP candidate outed as former female impersonator ‘Miss Mona Sinclair’

A GOP candidate for North Carolina State Senate — who supports the state’s ban on same-sex marriage — has been revealed as a former female impersonator and drag show emcee by the co-owner of the club where he once worked.

Steve Wiles, 34, of Kernersville, NC, worked at Club Odyssey until 2010 under the name ‘Mona Sinclair,’ former club owner Randy Duggins told the Winston-Salem Journal.

According to Duggins, Wiles was a frequent patron in the late 1990s at his nightclub where gay, lesbian and straight clientele gathered for weekly shows featuring female impersonators. Around 2001 and 2002, Wiles began working for Duggins as the show director and performance booker, while emceeing the show as Miss Mona Sinclair.

EUobserver takes us to Europe and fuelish anxieties:

Russian gas supplies ‘not guaranteed’, EU commissioner warns

A first mediation attempt by the EU between Russia and Ukraine on their gas price dispute on Friday (2 May) in Warsaw ended with no results other than the willingness to meet again.

“It is with concern that we see the security of supply for end consumers in EU and non-EU states like Ukraine is not guaranteed,” EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger told press after the meeting.

The energy ministers of Ukraine and Russia, for the first time at a table since the annexation of Crimea and the Russia-backed separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, decided to hold separate press points rather than join Oettinger in a common press conference.

On to Britain with the Observer and more hints of tough times ahead for the marginalized:

Two thirds of self-employed are not paying into pensions, report finds

  • Resolution Foundation finds majority of Britain’s 4.5m self-employed people are not making any retirement provision

Two-thirds of the growing number of self-employed workers are failing to pay anything into a pension policy, leaving themselves at risk of financial insecurity later in life, a report will warn this week.

The study on the changing nature of employment by the Resolution Foundation thinktank will paint a picture of a growing army of self-employed people who are mostly at ease with being their own bosses.

One in three self-employed people describe themselves as “entrepreneurs”, while three-quarters say that, rather than being forced into this type of employment because there was no alternative, they chose it from a range of options. But while there is a level of contentment among the self-employed, polling for the report by Ipsos MORI found that only 34% of them were paying into a pension and laying proper plans for life after work.

From Reuters, another instance of wretched excess, Old Blighty style:

$237 million apartment sale sets record

London’s red-hot property market has struck a new record with the sale of a 140 million pound ($237 million) unfurnished apartment, but even the developer of the opulent building warned that some asking prices in Britain were unsustainable.

Buoyed by the wealth of Russian oligarchs, Chinese tycoons and Arab sheikhs, London has become one of the most expensive markets on earth, raising concerns ahead of parliamentary elections in 2015 that locals are being squeezed out of the market.

“We’re in boom-time prices, more expensive than we’ve ever been in the history of mankind,” Nick Candy, one of the developers of London’s One Hyde Park luxury apartments, at the pinnacle of the capital’s super-prime residential sector, told Reuters.

A London Telegraph cartoon gives a sense of the high end bubble in the city:

BLOG London RE

From Europe Online, speech no longer so free:

Belgian police disperse hundreds at “anti-Semitic” congress

Belgian police dispersed a crowd of around 400 people on Sunday who had gathered for a congress condemned by Jewish groups as being anti-Semitic, according to Belga news agency.

Mayor Eric Tomas of Anderlecht – the Brussels suburb where the rally took place – had banned the gathering earlier Sunday citing risks to security and public order. The event organizers challenged the ban and said they would stay put while awaiting a court decision.

Attendees at the “First European Congress of Dissidence” were expected to include controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has previously been fined for anti-Semitic remarks.

Event organiser, MP Laurent Louis, denied the accusations of anti-semitism surrounding the event.

On to Paris with TheLocal.fr and a French retreat:

France’s Carrefour to quit India: reports

Carrefour, the world’s second largest retailer, is working on a plan to exit India, media reports said Saturday, amid political uncertainty about the future of multi-brand retail in the South Asian giant.

The reports in the Times of India and Business Standard and other dailies come as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to win India’s marathon general election which winds up in mid-May, declared it opposes allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

Indian newspapers quoted unnamed sources in the France-based company as saying Carrefour had been working on an exit strategy for two weeks.

And from France 24, electioneering ahoy:

Will Anti-EU parties dominate upcoming European elections?

Last Thursday, [hard right National Front party leader Marine] Le Pen addressed thousands of supporters at a May Day rally in Paris, where she made a passionate appeal for a show of strength at the polls.

“On May 25, put an end to this system that despises you … turn your back on the dishonour and capitulation,” she told her supporters.

“No to Brussels, yes to France. Do not fall into the trap of abstention. Do not disappoint me, go and vote!”

According to a April 25 poll by CSA on behalf of the BFM-TV channel and French regional daily Nice-Matin, the FN will be battling it out with the centre-right UMP to come out on top among French voters, leaving the ruling Socialists in third place.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukraine turmoil, Thai troubles, Taiwanese protests, Chinese puritanism, Japanese demographic decline, environmental anxieties, a celestial near-miss, antibiotic overdoses, and a world from the WTO — the World Toilet Organization — and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Class, wealth, pols, and ploys


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

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

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

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

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

From Raw Story, a class clown:

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

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

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

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

From Salon, a Silicon Volley:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaked Memo Solely “To Impugn Reputation” Of Asylum Seeker

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

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

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

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

Portugal passes latest troika test

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

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN covers Labor Day outrage:

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

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

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

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

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

Students at Spanish college fight ban on men using washing machines

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

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

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

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

Kathimerini English takes us to Greek and pitch preparations:

Greece gears up for debt talks

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

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

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

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

But MacroPolis casts doubt on any rosy scenarios:

Greek Parliament’s budget office questions primary surplus sustainability

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court to decide on Golden Dawn ahead of May vote

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

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

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

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

Bailed out Cyprus lifts last main capital controls

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

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

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

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

Map of the day: California drought endures


From the National Drought Monitor, with the latest figures showing that 96.1 percent of the Golden state remains in a state of severe drought or worse, with 25 percent [including the San Francisco Bay Area and the heart of California's agricultural lands in the Central Valley] rated in the most dire of conditions, Exceptional Drought:

BLOG Drought r

Chart of the day III: The Keeling Curve


From the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the Keeling Curve records atmospheric CO2 as it continues to soar unabated:

BLOG CO2

Headlines: Labor, wealth, pols, porn, more


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

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

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

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

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

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

From Wall Street On Parade, that’s classified:

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

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

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

CNNMoney torpedoes the workforce:

Subway leads fast food industry in underpaying workers

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

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

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

From CNBC, peonage and the classroom:

The other student debt crisis

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

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

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

More woes for students, from the Christian Science Monitor:

State college tuition skyrocketed during recession, study finds

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

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

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

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

From Newswise, twice victimized:

Unemployment Common After Breast Cancer Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

Obama whines, via Techdirt:

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

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

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

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

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

More on the TPP from the Japan Daily Press:

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

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

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

And from TMZ, the first of two porno posts:

Samuel L. Jackson

Stop Promoting Free Porn …Say Angry XXX Actors

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

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

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

Our second porn post, via Al Jazeera:

PayPal blocking transactions of porn professionals

  • Emails obtained by cite concerns over webcam transactions and security

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

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

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

Digesting legal weed with the Independent:

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

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

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

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

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

Google Glass teardown puts rock-bottom price on hardware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His answer, in short: no.

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

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

Rob Ford takes leave as recent drug video emerges

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

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

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

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

Bank of England warns UK housing market could suffer hard landing

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

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

Owen Paterson defends ‘privatising’ UK environmental science agency

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

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

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

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

Easing separation anxieties with the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

From the Guardian, austerianism strikes again:

Freeze minimum wage for a decade, says Commission of Audit

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

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

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

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

And from the Independent, the geography of health:

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

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

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

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

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

Mass arrests at neo-Nazi May Day demonstration

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

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

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

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

Dutch central bank says trust office performances are ‘worrying’

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

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

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

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

German unions demand wage minimum without loopholes

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

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

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

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

Reuters delivers the cuts:

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

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

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

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

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

Dolce & Gabbana duo get 18-month jail sentence

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

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

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

More headlines, politics, economics, & more


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

The New York Times gives us our first headline:

U.S. Economy Barely Grew in First Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Dream breeds shame and blame for job seekers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Dems to attempt to reverse Citizens United

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of Corporate Impunity

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

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

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

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

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

From vlogger Evertnr11

Woody Guthrie: Pretty Boy Floyd

From the lyrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US not edged out of Latin America: State

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

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

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

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

While the Economic Times covers another Washington worry:

China poised to overtake US economy: World Bank ranking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western growth pulls away further from rest of Canada’s

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

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

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

On to Europe, starting with a headline from Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

EU top court throws out UK challenge to transactions tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from The Independent:

Royal Mail float scandal: how hedge funds cleaned up

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

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

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

On to Amsterdam and a dirty little secret from euronews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

German jobless rate down during spring economic upswing

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

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

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

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

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

Valls defends ‘modern’ economic policy after Socialist revolt

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

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

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

Meanwhile, reaction sets in via France 24:

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

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

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

France 24 again, this time with legal umbrage:

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

Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is suing a Belgium-based pimp for opening a brothel that bears the initials ‘DSK’, his lawyers said Wednesday.

The pimp, Dominique Alderweireld or “Dodo la Saumure” (“saumure” means brine, or the salted oil in which mackerel – also the French slang for pimp – is often served), has been linked to sex parties the disgraced French politician attended in the past.

Strauss-Kahn, a potential presidential contender in the 2012 French election whose chances were dashed by a New York sex scandal involving a hotel maid, is well known by his initials DSK in France and French-speaking countries like Belgium and Switzerland.

From RFI, a powerful symbolic act:

PSA Peugeot Citroën workers give ‘pathetic’ bonuses to charity as boss’s salary announced

Angry employees of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën have donated their “pathetic” bonuses to charity. Workers received bonuses of between 40 cents and 18 euros, unions said, just as the company announced a 1.3-million-euro annual salary for new boss Carlos Tavares.

Judging their bonuses “pathetic and not acceptable”, workers at PSA’s factory in Valenciennes, northern France, decided they would give them to the Restos du Coeur, a charity launched by comedian Coluche in the 1980s to help the poor.

Spain next, starting with a promise from El País:

Government promises to create 600,000 jobs in two years

  • But Rajoy administration admits employment levels it inherited in 2011 will not return until 2018

Spanish labor market continued to shed jobs in first quarter of 2014

The government has promised to create 600,000 jobs between 2015 and 2016 despite admitting that employment would not return to the levels it inherited when it came into power in 2011 until 2018, three years after the current legislature ends.

According to the macroeconomic framework approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday, employment will grow 0.6% this year, 1.2% in 2015 and, in 2016, hopefully pick up steam with a rise of 1.5%, always in terms of the national accounts.

But the improvement will not be sufficient to compensate for the decline that the labor market has suffered since 2011, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party came to power.

Looking for an out with TheLocal.es:

Half of all Catalans want out of Spain: poll

Almost half of all Catalans would vote to become independent from Spain, a recent poll by a Catalan government research group shows.

Forty-seven percent said they would vote in favour of an independent Catalan state, while 19.3 percent would give the proposal the thumbs down.

Some 8.6 percent said they would want Catalonia to be a state, but not an independent one according to the Catalan research institute Centro de Estudios de Opinion (CEO).

With a possible referendum coming later this year, one in ten Catalans are still undecided on whether they would vote.

TheLocal.es again, this time with a highly publicized arrest for a nasty bit of racist theatrics:

Arrested: Man who threw banana at Dani Alves

The man who threw a banana at FC Barcelona Brazilian player Dani Alves, sparking a global anti-racism campaign, has been arrested by Spanish police.

Barcelona’s Alves made headlines when decided to eat the piece of fruit thrown at him during Sunday’s game against Villareal, a reaction he described as “instinct”.

That reaction has now become a worldwide anti-racism campaign with footballers celebrities, and even politicians posing in selfies eating bananas to support the cause.

Now the man who threw the banana has been arrested by Spanish police on a charge of inciting hatred.

And a fascinating story about a legal ruling politically painful to the ruling party, via the victor, El País:

Judge rules against ex-PM in EL PAÍS defamation case over illegal payments

Ruling states that PP, in breach of law, paid Aznar on at least three occasions while in office

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister José María Aznar against EL PAÍS over a story it published in May 2013 that alleged he had continued to receive sums of money from the Popular Party after he took office in 1996, in contravention of the Incompatibilities Law.

On April 25, Judge Enrique Presa Cuesta ruled that Aznar was paid bonuses on at least three occasions by his party while prime minister. The judge pointed out in his sentence that Aznar’s lawyer had argued that the money was given in return for activities he had carried out before taking office in May 1996, but had failed to back this up with any documentary evidence.

The ruling also requires Aznar to pay all legal costs, noting that in preparing the story, EL PAÍS used “official PP accounts,” and that it also “tried to contact the former prime minister and his party to ascertain their version of events.”

From the Guardian, another way to penalize the poor [who can’t buy those costly carts] via the Guardian:

Madrid’s smart parking meters to charge more for most polluting cars

  • Electronic cars will park free and hybrids will get 20% off under scheme to target emissions in Spanish capital

The city of Madrid is introducing smart parking meters that will slap a surcharge on cars that pollute more and reduce parking charges for efficient vehicles, a system that city officials are touting as the first of its kind in the world.

Starting on 1 July, the price a motorist pays to park in the city streets will be based on a complex table governed by the engine and the year of the car. Hybrids will pay 20% less to park, while a diesel car made in 2001 will see a 20% mark-up. Electronic cars will park for free.

Italy next, and some modestly good news from ANSAmed:

Italy’s youth jobless rate dips to 42.7% in March

  • Second straight 0.1% monthly drop but 3.1% higher over year

Youth unemployment in Italy dipped to an annual 42.7% in March, 3.1% higher than March 2013 but down 0.1% on February 2014, national statistics agency Istat said Wednesday. The rate has fallen 0.1% for the second straight month, from 42.9% in January, Istat said in provisional estimates. The number of 15-to-24 year-olds in work rose 1.4% from February to March, to 915,000, but was 6.0% down on March 2013. The youth employment rate of 15.3% was 0.2% up on February and 0.9% down over the year.

Premier Matteo Renzi has vowed to tackle youth unemployment by freeing up the labour market but has faced criticism that new flexibility moves raise already widespread job insecurity.

And a trip to Eastern Europe with EUbusiness:

Kosovo privatisation officials arrested in multi-million-euro fraud

Police on Wednesday arrested 10 officials of Kosovo’s privatisation agency suspected of embezzling millions of euros during the sale of a factory.

The officials are accused of triggering the bankruptcy of the factory in northern Kosovo which produced concrete reinforcements, a police statement said.

It said “several million euros” had been embezzled without giving a more precise figure.

After the jump, more grim news from Greece — including a political death, recession in Russia, good news for Venezuela workers, Indonesia labor force problems, Indian economic ascendancy, Thai troubles, nuclear industry consolidation, Japanese judicial rage, Microsoft move fills Japanese trash piles, Norse land losses, and more environmental news as well. . . Continue reading

SImply because it’s, well, the coolest thing ever


Via Scientific American, may we introduce you to. . .the cart-wheelin’ spider:

Tabacha and Tabbot

From Scientific American:

In the latest edition of ZooTaxa, Peter Jäger from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany describes a new species of spider native to the Erg Chebbi desert of southeastern Morocco. Named Cebrennus rechenbergi, its genus contains 13 known species, most of which are found in the arid region that stretches from Morocco to Turkmenistan. These desert spiders are nocturnal and elusive, spending most of their time hidden under rocks or buried in their long, silken burrows, which means there’s very little known about their biology or ecology. But what we do know, thanks to Jäger’s recent observations, is that one of them is an expert ‘flic-flacker’.

One of the strangest defense mechanisms ever observed in nature, flic-flacking, as it’s known in the scientific literature, is essentially cartwheeling to avoid danger. It’s been observed in a handful of animals around the world, including the larvae of the southeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis), the American mantis shrimp (Nannosquilla decemspinosa) and caterpillars of the moth species Pleurotya ruralis and Cacoecimorpha pronubana. And then there’s the golden wheel spider (Carparachne aureoflava), which you can read about in one of my earlier blog posts here.

Native to the steep sand dunes of the Namib Desert in Southern Africa, the golden wheel spider is a small, cream-coloured species of huntsman. It lives in constant fear of the parasitic Pompilid wasp – a particularly nasty predator that goes to great lengths to snare its prey

Headlines I: EconoPoliBankoEcoFukuFollies


A huge amount of fascinating stories about currents in play in our increasingly neoliberalized global physical and fiscal world. We’re following up with another headline set devoted to the dark arts of militarism, espionage. drones, and suchlike.

We open with an ominous report of a global phenomenon from the Times of India:

World’s coastal megacities sinking 10 times faster than rising water levels

Scientists have issued a new warning to the world’s coastal megacities that the threat from subsiding land is a more immediate problem than rising sea levels caused by global warming.

A new paper from the Deltares Research Institute in the Netherlands published earlier this month identified regions of the globe where the ground level is falling 10 times faster than water levels are rising — with human activity often to blame.

In Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, the population has grown from around half a million in the 1930s to just under 10 million today, with heavily populated areas dropping by as much as six and a half feet as groundwater is pumped up from the Earth to drink.

The same practice led to Tokyo’s ground level falling by two metres before new restrictions were introduced, and in Venice, this sort of extraction has only compounded the effects of natural subsidence caused by long-term geological processes.

It’s just not the oceans that are rising, at least for the moment. From Reuters, a story to read with tongue in cheek:

U.S. consumer confidence near six-year high, home prices rise

U.S. consumer confidence dipped in April but remained near a six-year high, while home prices rose in February, suggesting the economy continued to regain momentum after a winter lull.

The Conference Board said its index of consumer attitudes dipped to 82.3, the second-highest reading since January 2008, from an upwardly revised 83.9 in March.

An unusually cold and snowy winter disrupted economic activity early in the year.

From The Progressive, predictable results:

Scathing Report Finds Rocketship, School Privatization Hurt Poor Kids

Gordon Lafer, a political economist and University of Oregon professor who has advised Congress, state legislatures, and the New York City mayor’s office, landed at the airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late last night bringing with him a briefing paper on school privatization and how it hurts poor kids.

Lafer’s report, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” released today by the Economic Policy Institute, documents the effects of both for-profit and non-profit charter schools that are taking over struggling public schools in Milwaukee.

“I hope people connect the dots,” Lafer said by phone from the Milwaukee airport.

From The Verge, a program to suit the era of standardized tests and computerized grades:

This machine can write a grade-A paper in less than a second

  • Machines fooling machines

Les Perelman, a now retired former director of writing for MIT, has long been against the idea of using machines to grade essays. “I’m a skeptic,” he told the New York Times in 2012 — and now he’s built his own machine to prove his skepticism right.

Called the Babel Generator — short for Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator — the software is able produce complete essays in less than a second, and all you have to do is feed it up to three keywords. The essays are grammatically correct but nonsensical. The goal isn’t to produce great writing, though, it’s to fool other machines: Babel was designed specifically to prove that essay-grading software doesn’t effectively analyze things like meaning and isn’t able to check facts. Perelman’s gibberish essays have managed to get high scores on automated tests like MY Access!, with grades like 5.4 out of 6.

Various studies have shown that automated software often scores papers roughly the same as its human counterparts, and the software is gaining popularity at schools simply because it can grade papers so much faster than teachers. Previously, Perelman had managed to fool these algorithms with essays that employed a few simple tricks, using lengthy words and sentences, as well as connective words like “however.” Some developers — including a team at MIT, building software called EASE (Enhanced AI Scoring Engine) — are even trying to create automated systems that are more human by mimicking how actual professors grade.

From the Los Angeles Times, a reminder that the homeless aren’t homogeneous:

She’s homeless and likes it that way

Annie Moody has been arrested 59 times in six years, as L.A. officers try to get her off the streets of skid row. But to her, that’s home.

Moody has been arrested by Los Angeles police 59 times in roughly six years, according to LAPD arrest data — more than anyone else in the city. Since 2002, she has been tried 18 times, convicted 14 times and jailed for 15 months, costing taxpayers at least a quarter of a million dollars, according to court and law enforcement records.

Under a court settlement, homeless people can sleep on the sidewalk overnight but must be up by 6 a.m. or face charges of resting on the sidewalk or having an “illegal lodging.” Most of the 1,000 or so street dwellers on skid row fear arrest and move along, if only temporarily.

Authorities say she has turned down dozens of offers of shelter or services for the homeless. Friends believe police target her because she stands up for her rights. Police describe her as a homeless “anchor” whose defiance encourages others to remain in the streets, undermining efforts to clean up skid row.

From The Guardian, a story that should weigh on the minds of folks who probably don’t even care:

US death row study: 4% of defendants sentenced to die are innocent

Deliberately conservative figure lays bare extent of possible miscarriages of justice suggesting that the innocence of more than 200 prisoners still in the system may never be recognised

At least 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death in the US in the modern era are innocent, according to the first major study to attempt to calculate how often states get it wrong in their wielding of the ultimate punishment.

A team of legal experts and statisticians from Michigan and Pennsylvania used the latest statistical techniques to produce a peer-reviewed estimate of the “dark figure” that lies behind the death penalty – how many of the more than 8,000 men and women who have been put on death row since the 1970s were falsely convicted.

Apathy by the numbers from United Press International:

Poll: Most millennials not planning to vote in November

  • Higher percentage of young conservatives plan to vote in November than young liberals.

23 percent of the millennial generation plan to vote in the U.S. midterm elections in November, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The Harvard Institute of Politics said there has been a marked drop in political enthusiasm among those aged 18 to 29 in the past few months. In November, 34 percent of that age group said they would probably vote.

The news is bad for the Democrats, since the current generation of 20-somethings tends to lean in their direction. Even worse, the poll found, that millennials with conservative views are more likely to say they will be voting than those who lean liberal.

SINA English covers imperial expansion:

Disney says to spend $800M on Shanghai theme park

Disney says it and its Chinese partner will spend $800 million more on their Shanghai theme park, bringing the total investment to nearly $5.5 billion.

The extra spending will go toward more attractions, entertainment and other offerings. Most of the additions are targeted to be completed by opening day, which is aimed for the end of 2015.

CEO Bob Iger said in a statement that Disney has been impressed with the growth of China’s economy, the expansion of the middle class and a significant increase in travel and tourism.

While Computerworld frets:

White House sees ‘real danger’ China will soon take R&D lead

  • Spending on research drops as Congress pursues austerity

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. continues to lead in spending on research and development (R&D). But the rate of spending by other nations — China, in particular — is increasing at a faster pace. This fact is creating angst in Congress.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today on U.S. R&D spending, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) the committee chairwoman, said that much of America’s “exceptionalism” comes from its investment in science. “We cannot afford to let other countries out-invest or out-innovate the U.S.,” she said.

But the committee’s ranking member, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), threw cold water on Mikulski’s rallying call for R&D support, by linking federal debt and mandatory spending to science spending.

From New Europe, The Lobby swings into action [unction?]:

Kerry backs off Israel ‘apartheid’ remark after withering criticism

Secretary of State John Kerry says he chose the wrong word in describing Israel’s potential future after coming under withering criticism for saying the Jewish state could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In a statement released by the State Department Monday, Kerry lashed out against “partisan political” attacks against him, but acknowledged his comments last week to a closed international forum could have been misinterpreted. While he pointedly did not apologize for the remarks, he stressed he was, and is, a strong supporter of Israel, which he called a “vibrant democracy.”

He said his remarks were only an expression of his firm belief that a two-state resolution is the only viable way to end the long-running conflict. And, he stressed, he does not believe Israel is, or is definitely track to become, an “apartheid state.”

TheLocal.ch gives it up for Rummy:

Donald Rumsfeld ‘gets Swiss social benefits’

Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial former US secretary of defence, is receiving around 5,000 francs ($5,680) a year in benefits from the Swiss social security system (AHV), according to a news report.

Rumsfeld, condemned for authorizing torture in the Iraq as head of the military under former president George W. Bush, receives 400 francs a month from the AHV, the Tages Anzeiger newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The 81-year-old and his wife have probably been receiving the pension since the summer of 1997, the Zurich-based daily said.

He was entitled to this pension benefit from his position on the board of directors of Swiss engineering and technology company ABB, Tages Anzeiger said.

And here at home, a less harmonious scene from Frontera NorteSur:

Life, Death and Struggle on New Mexico’s Mean Streets

Albuquerque’s Wyoming Boulevard bustles on the edge of what some people call the War Zone and others name the International District.  Both names really fit, but perhaps in ways not completely envisioned by the architects of popular lingo.

Here, the urban geography is imprinted with the social shrapnel of foreign and domestic wars, global migration and the cycles of capitalism. Gang conflicts, domestic violence, substance abuse, and prostitution have long rattled the zone, where many families nonetheless live, love, work and attempt to get ahead.

A rainbow of the human race inhabits this section of the city’s Southeast Heights-refugees from Southeast Asian wars, Native Americans from the reservations of Manifest Destiny, Mexicans from the collapsing campo and imploding cities of the NAFTA zone, struggling retirees from the USA of yesteryear.

And from the Associated Press, it oughta be a crime:

Oklahoma inmate dies after execution is botched

An Oklahoma inmate whose execution was halted Tuesday because the delivery of a new drug combination was botched died of a heart attack, the head of the state Department of Corrections said.

Director Robert Patton said inmate Clayton Lockett died Tuesday after all three drugs were administered.

Patton halted Lockett’s execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He said there had been vein failure.

On to Europe and waning homes from Reuters:

Euro zone sentiment, inflation expectations dip in April

Euro zone economic sentiment deteriorated slightly in April, defying forecasts of further improvement, while inflation expectations continued to fall, European Commission data showed on Tuesday.

The monthly Commission survey showed that economic sentiment in the 18 countries sharing the euro eased to 102.0 in April from 102.5 in March, mainly because of a dip in confidence in the construction sector and in services.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected an improvement to 103.0 in April.

EUbusiness concentrates power:

EU anti-fraud chief sees need for Europe-wide prosecutor

The head of Europe’s anti-fraud agency has backed calls to establish a public prosecutor’s office to probe and prosecute crimes committed against the European Union’s financial interests.

Giovanni Kessler, director general of the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, told AFP the mooted public prosecutor would be a “natural evolution” which would allow for “fully fledged criminal investigations.”

OLAF, which was established in 1999, has the power to investigate fraud and corruption in EU institutions. However, it must then hand over evidence gathered to national prosecutors in the EU’s 28 member states.

And from The Independent, a polarizing threat from 10 Downing Street:

David Cameron would quit as Prime Minister after general election if he could not deliver on in-out EU referendum pledge

David Cameron pledged tonight to step down as Prime Minister after next year’s general election if he could not deliver on his promise to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

His comments indicate that the pledge to stage the EU vote in 2017 would be a “red line” for the Conservatives in any post-election negotiations to form a Coalition government.

In a conference call with party stalwarts, Mr Cameron said he would not “barter or give away” his in-out referendum promise.

Last year the Prime Minister said he would wrest back powers from Brussels and put the deal he negotiates to the public in the first referendum on EU for more than 40 years.

Meanwhile, the HeraldScotland discovers another threat, Mother Nature:

Volcanic blast ‘as great a threat to UK security as nuclear terrorism’

AN ERUPTION of a supervolcano in Iceland should pose as great a threat to Britain as nuclear terrorism, according to a high level UK government report.

The warning was made by a group of academics and scientists from the British Geological Survey and the Met Office, which also involved geologists from Edinburgh University.

They argue that certain types of eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes, known as effusive gas-rich eruptions, should be considered an immediate risk to human health and the environment for much of northern Europe.

On to Ireland, where rich crooks get the usual wrist-slap, via TheJournal.ie:

No jail time for convicted Anglo pair, judge says prison sentences would be ‘incredibly unjust’

  • Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer will now be assessed for suitability for community service.

ANGLO EXECUTIVES PAT Whelan and Willie McAteer will be assessed for community service following their conviction for their roles in providing illegal loans totalling €450 million to 10 individuals.

Judge Martin Nolan said that it would be ‘unjust’ to impose prison sentences on the Anglo pair because a State agency “led them into error and illegality”.

The judge said that he could not be certain Whelan or McAteeer knew they were in breach of the law but were, nonetheless, in breach.

Next up, Germany, starting with bankster anxieties from Deutsche Welle:

Deutsche Bank still waiting for profit boost

Germany’s biggest lender is still struggling to enhance its profit. Although first-quarter business was ‘resilient’ and legal costs could be curbed, sluggish investment banking weighed on earnings.

Deutsche Bank announced Tuesday its net profit dropped by no less than 34 percent in the first three months of the year as slower trading of bonds and foreign exchange factors weighed on its business.

Deutsche said it earned 1.10 billion euros ($1.52 billion), compared with 1.66 billion euros in the same period last year.

The Frankfurt-based lender also took over half a million euros in losses from its non-core unit keeping assets intended to be sold or wound down. The write-downs came at a special commodities group that took a huge hit on US power trading due to a price spike amid severe winter weather.

From Associated Press, echoes of another, earlier economic crisis:

Germany sees spike in left-wing violence

German authorities are reporting a rise in politically-motivated crimes over the last year, driven by a spike in left-wing violence and other illegal activity.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday the far-right accounted for most such crimes with 17,042 acts in 2013, down 3.3 percent from 2012. More than two-thirds of those crimes were classified as propaganda, such as displaying the swastika or other banned symbols. Violent crimes dropped 0.6 percent to 837.

By contrast, leftist crimes rose 40.1 percent to 8,673 acts in 2013, nearly half of which were property damage. Violent crimes rose 28.4 percent to 1,659 — largely attacks on police and others during demonstrations.

Germany saw an 11.2 percent increase in anti-foreigner crimes to 3,248, but a 7.2 percent drop in anti-Semitic incidents to 1,275.

On to Paris and a “socialist” [sic] government’s austerian agenda from France 24:

French lawmakers approve €50bn deficit-reduction plan

France’s lawmakers Tuesday voted narrowly in favour of a plan to slash €50 billion from the country’s budget deficit by 2017, but a high abstention rate underscored discord within the Socialist majority.

The plan, designed to allow the eurozone’s second-largest economy to meet deficit-reduction commitments, passed with 265 votes in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, with 232 voting against and 67 abstaining.

The programme can now be submitted for approval to the European Commission, which has already granted France two extra years to bring its deficit below EU-mandated limits.

And from TheLocal.fr, hard times beget the usual scapegoats:

Paris cops told to ‘purge’ Roma from posh area

Police in Paris’s posh 6th arrondissement have been ordered to count up Roma people and “systematically purge” them from the area, media reports said [15 April]. The public outrage prompted by the orders forced France’s top cop to wade into the row.

An internal memo revealing police in the upscale 6th arrondissement of the French capital have orders to purge Roma people, their children and animals from the neighborhood has prompted outrage among officials and activists.

The memo, which was leaked to French daily Le Parisien, notes the order come directly from “police headquarters” and commands: “Effective immediately and until further notice, day and night personnel of the 6th arrondissement are ordered to find Roma families living in the street and systematically purge (évincer in French) them.”

While The Guardian covers French toxic worries:

French children exposed to dangerous cocktail of pesticides, campaigners say

  • Analysis of hair samples from youngsters living or studying near farms or vineyards found total of 624 pesticide traces

Children in agricultural areas are being exposed to a dangerous cocktail of pesticides, some of which are banned substances, a French health and environment group has claimed.

Générations Futures did independent analysis of the hair of young people living or studying near farms and vineyards after parents expressed worries about their children being exposed to poisons that could disrupt their endocrine system.

The group, a non-profit organisation specialising in the use and effects of pesticides on humans and the environment, says its findings confirmed their fears.

Next, on to Lisbon and another austerian agenda adopted from the Portugal News:

Government approves budget strategy document with €1.4bn in 2015 cuts

Portugal’s government on Monday approved a Budget Strategy Document (DEO) for the year covering the period to 2018, at a cabinet meeting that lasted around five hours, a government official told Lusa News Agency.
Government approves budget strategy document with €1.4bn in 2015 cuts

The document is understood to contain details of the spending cuts for next year 2015 that, according to the finance minister, Maria Luís Albuquerque, are to total €1.4 billion.

The DEO is a document that the government presents each year in April, and which looks ahead to revenues and spending to the coming years.

Spain next, starting with worrisome numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain’s jobless rate hits 25.9% in Q1

  • Almost 2 million households lack breadwinner

Spain’s unemployment rate rose in the first quarter of 2014 to 25.9% from a previous 25.73%, said the national institute of statistics INE on Tuesday.

There are almost two million households in the country in which all the members are unemployed. In the first quarter this category rose by 2.7% (53,100) to 1,978,900, but dropped on an annual basis by 1.7%.

INE noted that in the first quarter some 184,600 jobs had been lost (-1.08% on an annual basis), the smallest first quarter decrease since 2008. (ANSAmed).

TheLocal.se turns the tables:

Scores of Swedes beg in Spain’s tourist hotspots

A Swedish magazine sold by homeless people has caught the attention of the national media after it covered the homeless Swedes who beg in Spain’s most popular tourist areas.

Talk of Sweden and begging conjures images of eastern European migrants begging for change on Stockholm street corners. But few Swedes realize that hundreds of their own people are out begging on the streets of southern Europe — Spain, to be precise.

Faktum magazine, which is sold by homeless people in Gothenburg, released an issue on Tuesday that took a closer look at the phenomenon.

“The response has been tremendous really, gives people an important perspective on the debate in Sweden about poor EU migrants. There’s been a lot of discussion about Romanians and Bulgarians, but virtually nothing about Swedes who are begging in Spain, hoping for a somewhat better life,” Faktum editor Aaron Israelson told The Local.

TheLocal.es covers a taxing white sale:

Spanish tax office sells bras for extra cash

Fancy getting your hands on an oil painting, several tennis club memberships, or even a box of 50 bras? All of these items and many more are being auctioned off by Spain’s cash-strapped tax office.

Spain’s economic crisis has been hard on the country’s tax office.

While Spanish tax rates have shot up and are now among the highest in Europe, an unemployment rate of 26 percent and inefficient tax collection means the country is struggling to fill its public coffers.

But Spain’s tax office has found a hugely popular way to raise some much needed cash: online auctions.

From Rome, the threat of another Italian government collapse fr0m ANSA:

Renzi ready to quit if Senate reform fails

  • Premier not ready to go forward at all costs

Matteo Renzi reiterated Tuesday that he was ready to quit if his planned institutional reforms do not come to fruition.

He also told a meeting of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) that he did “not accept” those who call his institutional reforms, including a revamp of the Senate, “authoritarian”. . The executive is trying to find a compromise over its bill to change the Constitution to overhaul the country’s slow, costly political apparatus, after recent friction about its intended transformation of the Senate.

The support of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party for the reforms has looked in doubt in recent weeks, with its leader Silvio Berlusconi alternating between criticism of the plan and pledges to uphold it. Renzi won the agreement of three-time premier Berlusconi for the reforms at a meeting in January, a month before he toppled Enrico Letta, his colleague in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), to become Italy’s youngest-ever premier at 39. The central part of the package is to turn the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with minimal law-making powers to make passing legislation easier.

And a trip to Eastern Europe from EUobserver:

Anti-Roma views rampant across all Romanian political parties

Snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures descended on Romania in February, gridlocking the roads, isolating villages, killing pensioners and causing panic across the country.

Social Democratic Party (PSD) MP for Bucharest Dan Tudorache, a member of the Parliament’s foreign relations commission, chose this moment to post a public message on Facebook.

“It is minus 14 in Bucharest! Very cold!!!” he wrote. “So cold that I actually saw a gypsy with his hands in his pockets.”

For those unfamiliar with racist humour against Romania’s Roma minority, Tudorache was referring to the myth that ‘gypsies’ always have their hands exposed in the street so they can steal wallets and phones from passers-by.

After the jump, the latest tortuous twists in the Greek crisis, calls for regime change and car production in Brazil, Mexican telephonic discontent, poop protests, rare earths, and more from China, GMO rebuke, pollution woes, haughty sales staff justified, and questions raised about medical research. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Monsanto in Argentina


From journalist Soledad Barruti, author of Malcomidos: Cómo la industria alimentaria argentina nos está matando, [roughly "Bad Food: How the Food Industry in Argentina is Killing Us"]  a 465-page look at the role of Big Ag in her country, quoted in the Argentina Independent:

The fight against Monsanto is highly emotional. Especially in our country, where those confronting the company are the victims of the undeniable rise in the number of illnesses that appeared in the communities which were sprayed. For them, Monsanto is, above all, a symbol. It is the 20th century poisoned by the abuse of chemistry, the weakness of the states against corporations, or their alliance. Monoculture which does not feed people but animals, and which is extending around the planet.

For the employees in charge of Monsanto’s image (who work there just as they could work for Adidas or Mac) it seems hard to understand that they are a symbol, but, especially, it seems harder to convince anyone else of the opposite.

***

My book talks about this: how our food production system is in crisis. It expels farmers and doesn’t produce healthy, good quality food within everybody’s reach. We have 57% of arable land occupied by GM soy, more than 90% of which is exported to feed animals in China and to generate biofuels. Our food is disappearing. It is enough to have a look around a greengrocers: there is less and less variety and the prices seems uncontrollable. But instead of thinking about redesigning the matrix to make access to food easier, soy is being planted right up to La Matanza, and many institutions – among them a number of universities – seem focused on encouraging this model.

An excerpt from her book, in English, is posted here.

Headlines, threats, pols, cons, and more


Today’s global news wrapup covers lots of ground, starting with a New York Times story on the skewed jobs picture resulting from the —ahem — Obama recovery:

Recovery Has Created Far More Low-Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones

The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery.

“Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author. “If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — the question is, how do we make them better?”

Next, two headlines defining the meaning of Republican Family Values™. Both from USA TODAY.

First, this:

Kissing congressman won’t run for re-election

Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., said Monday he will not seek re-election in November, after being caught on video kissing a female aide.

McAlllister, who was elected just five months ago in a special election, first informed The News Star in Monroe, La., of his decision. He will serve out this term, which ends in January 2015.

“I am committed to serving the 5th District to the best of my ability through this term, but I also have to take care of my family as we work together to repair and strengthen the relationship I damaged,” McAllister said. He and his wife, Kelly, are returning to Washington later Monday.

And by way of contrast, this:

Rep. Grimm charged with tax fraud, says he won’t quit

A 20-count indictment unsealed Monday charged Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.,with an alleged tax evasion scheme involving the concealment of more than $1 million in receipts from his New York restaurant where he employed an undisclosed number of undocumented immigrants.

Grimm surrendered to federal authorities Monday and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction, mail fraud and perjury related to the alleged scheme involving his fast-food restaurant Healthalicious. But he said he would not resign his seat in Congress.

“In total, Grimm concealed over $1 million in Healthalicious gross receipts alone, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars of employees’ wages, fraudulently depriving the federal and New York state governments of sales, income and payroll taxes,’‘ court documents state.

So there it is: Cheat on your wife, lose your position. Cheat Uncle Sam and you soldier on, just like another recent GOP icon.

And from the Toronto Globe and Mail, bad news for Bill Gates:

U.S. advises avoiding Microsoft’s Internet Explorer until bug fixed

  • Malicious Operation Clandestine Fox campaign targets U.S. defence, financial firms

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security advised computer users to consider using alternatives to Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer browser until the company fixes a security flaw that hackers have used to launch attacks.

The bug is the first high-profile security flaw to emerge since Microsoft stopped providing security updates for Windows XP earlier this month. That means PCs running the 13-year old operating system could remain unprotected against hackers seeking to exploit the newly uncovered flaw, even after Microsoft figures out how to defend against it.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a part of Homeland Security known as US-CERT, said in an advisory released on Monday morning that the vulnerability in versions 6 to 11 of Internet Explorer could lead to “the complete compromise” of an affected system.

From Want China Times, Motor City looks East for salvation:

Chinese immigrants could save Detroit: governor

Bankrupt Detroit announced its new immigration plan that aims to attract Chinese investors, and the combined investment from China has reached US$100 billion, the ninth highest among the 50 states in the United States.

Although is was seeking Chinese investment, the city’s chronic problems with public disorder, racial conflict, and chaos in urban planning may still put its future at risk, according to the Southern Weekly.

The city, which has a factory that produced the first Ford car, was a major hub for automobile manufacturing worldwide. Its collapse after suffering huge debt and dying industries symbolizes the world’s farewell to the era of traditional industry.

Closer to home, The Guardian covers ranching chaos in the Golden State:

California drought drives exodus of cattle ranchers to eastern states

Ranchers herd their stock away from dying grasslands as beef prices reach record highs and industry faces uncertain future

In the midst of the worst California drought in decades, the grass is stunted and some creeks are dry. Ranchers in the Golden State are loading tens of thousands of heifers and steers onto trucks and hauling them eastward to Nevada, Texas, Nebraska and beyond.

“If there’s no water and no feed, you move the cows,” said Gaylord Wright, 65, owner of California Fats and Feeders Inc. “You move them or they die.”

The exact headcount for livestock on this cattle drive is not known. But a Reuters review of state agriculture department records filed when livestock cross state borders indicates that up to 100,000 California cattle have left the state in the past four months alone.

While the McClatchy Washington Bureau covers another impact of water shortages combined with drug war rules:

With no federal water, pot growers could be high and dry

Newly licensed marijuana growers in Washington state may find themselves without a key source of water just as spring planting gets under way.

Federal officials say they’ll decide quickly whether the U.S. government can provide water for the growers or whether doing so would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which makes possession of the drug illegal.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the water supply for two-thirds of Washington state’s irrigated land, is expected to make a decision by early May, and perhaps as soon as this week, said Dan DuBray, the agency’s chief spokesman.

And on the subject of pot, United Press International covers dires predictions unfulfilled in the Centennial State:

Only 15 percent of Colorado residents say they have bought recreational marijuana

The Quinnipiac Poll finds most Colorado residents say legalizing pot has not eroded state’s “moral fiber” and more than half expect it to help state budget.

While almost half of Colorado residents say they have used marijuana, only 15 percent say they have done so since the state legalized it Jan. 1, a new poll finds.

Generally, residents still support legalization, with 67 percent saying it has “not eroded the moral fiber” of Coloradoans, a Quinnipiac poll reported Monday. Only 30 percent said it has.

Half of those polled said they expect legalization to aid the criminal justice system, and 54 percent said that it has not made driving in Colorado more dangerous. More than half, 53 percent, said legalization “increases personal freedoms in a positive way,” and the same percentage expect the change to save the state money.

And from MIT Technology Review, more consequences of the mare’s nest exposed by Edward Snowden:

Spying Is Bad for Business

Can we trust an Internet that’s become a weapon of governments?

The big question in this MIT Technology Review business report is how the Snowden revelations are affecting the technology business. Some of the consequences are already visible. Consumers are favoring anonymous apps. Large Internet companies, like Google, have raced to encrypt all their communications. In Germany, legislators are discussing an all-European communications grid.

There is a risk that the Internet could fracture into smaller national networks, protected by security barriers. In this view, Brazil’s new cable is akin to China’s Great Firewall (that country’s system for censoring Web results), or calls by nationalists in Russia to block Skype, or an unfolding German plan to keep most e-mail traffic within its borders. Nations are limiting access to their networks. The result, some believe, could be the collapse of the current Internet.

Analysts including Forrester Research predict billions in losses for U.S. Internet services such as Dropbox and Amazon because of suspicion from technology consumers, particularly in Europe, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. “The Snowden leaks have painted a U.S.-centric Internet infrastructure, and now people are looking for alternatives,” says James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

One business is really booming, as Homeland Security News Wire reports:

Demand for terrorism insurance remains strong

The fourth edition of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Report has found that demand for terrorism insurance remains strong and the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) plays a key role in making coverage available and affordable. A survey of roughly 2,600 organizations found that the demand and price for terrorism insurance has remained constant since 2009. Education organizations purchase property terrorism insurance at a higher rate, 81 percent, than companies in any other industry segment surveyed in 2013, followed by healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and media companies.

The fourth edition of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Report has found that demand for terrorism insurance remains strong and the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIA) plays a key role in making coverage available and affordable.

The 2014 Marsh & McLennan Companies survey of roughly 2,600 clients found that the demand and price for terrorism insurance has remained constant since 2009. Education organizations purchase property terrorism insurance at a higher rate, 81 percent, than companies in any other industry segment surveyed in 2013, followed by healthcare organizations, financial institutions, and media companies.

On to Europe and rising doubts, reported by The Guardian:

Anti-EU vote could rise above 30% in European elections, says thinktank

  • Hardline sceptics could get 29% of vote and critical reformers 5%, although Open Europe’s definitions of groups are disputed

Anti-EU parties could win more than 30% of the vote across the continent in the European elections, according to calculations by the Open Europe thinktank, up from 24.9% on the vote in 2009.

The calculation – challenged by other analysts – suggests hardline sceptics could take as many as 218 (29%) of the 751 available seats, up from 164 out of 766 (21.4%) in the current parliament. Open Europe says this bloc is diffuse, ranging from mainstream governing parties to neo-fascists.

It forecasts that the European parliament will continue to be dominated by parties that favour the status quo or further integration, although their vote share is set to fall slightly.

BBC News covers good news for us, bad news for the banksters:

RBS plan for 200% bonuses blocked by Treasury body

Royal Bank of Scotland has abandoned attempts to pay bonuses twice the size of salaries after being told the move would not be approved.

UKFI, the body that manages the Treasury’s 81% stake in the bank, told RBS it would veto plans for a 2:1 bonus ratio at the next shareholder meeting.

“There will be no rise” while RBS is “still in recovery”, the Treasury said.

New EU rules mean the bank has to ask its shareholders for approval of annual bonuses above 100% of base salaries.

On to Germany and a warning from TheLocal.de:

Bundesbank warns of German slowdown

German economic growth is heading for a significant slowdown in the second quarter of 2014 after a robust first three months, the German central bank said on Monday.

“After the extremely strong start to the year, economic growth in Germany is expected to see a noticeable slowdown in the second quarter,” the Bundesbank said in its latest monthly report.

Growth in industrial orders has not continued with the “same intensity” as in the first two months of the year, it said.

Lisbon next, and embarrassing hacks from the Portugal News:

Attorney general’s office hacked, passwords accessible online

The web page of the Lisbon attorney general’s office has been hit by a hacker attack by ‘Anonymous Portugal’.

Saturday’s edition of Portuguese paper ‘Dário de Notícias’ said that personal details of more than 2,000 public prosecutor magistrates had been accessible online including their mobile and land line number and their passwords to reserved areas on the site.

The paper said that the hack, code named ‘national Blackout’, had also affected companies, political parties and the criminal investigation police.

On to Spain and a bare minimum protest from thinkSPAIN:

Naked police protest in council meeting

LOCAL Police officers burst into a council meeting in Torrevieja (Alicante), stripped down to their underpants and protested over forced changes to their working hours.

The 30 or so policemen bore slogans on their naked backs which said ‘no more chaos’ and ‘we’ve had enough’, among others.

Torrevieja’s PP council ordered the police off the premises and said it had no intention of changing officers’ duty hours back again, because their new timetables were ‘more efficient’.

Next up, Italy, and more Bunga Bunga blowback from EUbusiness:

Scandal-hit Berlusconi insists ‘friend of Jews, Germans’

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi insisted he is a friend of Jewish people and Germany on Monday in a bid to quell international outrage sparked by his controversial remarks about the Holocaust.

The former premier said he was “a historic friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel” and it was “surreal to attribute to me anti-German sentiment or a presumed hostility towards the German people, to whom I am a friend.”

The 77-year-old’s statement, posted on the website of his centre-right Forza Italy party, came after an international outcry over his claim on Saturday that Germans denied the existence of Nazi concentration camps.

The media mogul, who is campaigning for the European elections on behalf of his party despite a tax-fraud conviction, made the comment while lashing out at European Parliament chief Martin Schultz, the centre-left candidate in the race to lead the EU Commission.

After the jump, the latest mixed messages from Greece, a Ukrainian bailout, mass death sentences in Egypt, Chinese Brazilian dreams, a tension-filled Indian elections, printing houses in China, ramping up the Asian Game of Zones, nuclear nightmares, and tales of birds and bees. . . Continue reading

Headlines, TPPeonage, threats, pols, deals


Lots of ground to cover, especially the latest developments in Asia, so we head straight to it, first with this announcement from the Washington Post:

‘Happy Days’ no more: Middle-class families squeezed as expenses soar, wages stall

Wages for millions of American workers, particularly those without college degrees, have flat-lined. Census figures show the median household income in 2012 was no higher than it was 25 years ago. Men’s median wages were lower than in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, many of the expenses associated with a middle-class life have increased beyond inflation. This includes college tuition, whose skyrocketing cost has laid siege to a bedrock principle of the American Dream: that your children will do better than you did.

A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Miller Center at the University of Virginia found that 40 percent of those calling themselves middle class felt less financially secure than they were just a few years ago. Forty-five percent said they worry “a lot” about having enough money stashed away for retirement, and 57 percent said they worry about meeting their bills. Less than half said they expect their kids to do any better.

From CBS New York, sheltering the rich from class war:

Preparing For The Worst With Luxury Bunkers

  • Today’s Backyard Survival Cave Looks More Like An Extravagant 5-Star Resort

“The overall scope of the project was to create a wow experience for the homeowner. So that they could live here and enjoy the facility and not just survive,” said luxury bunker creator.

Survive whatever may come in comfort, whether it be a natural disaster or a future terror attack.

“It was part of the selling point. You want to make it as comfortable for the psychology,” said Ralph Henrich, who bought a bunker.

Henrich, of New Jersey, paid to reserve space in an underground luxury bunker for himself, his wife, and their three kids. The cost was $50,000 per adult and $35,000 for children under the age of 16. That’s nearly $200,000 for an average family of four.

“Leather sofas, high end kitchens, comfortable bedrooms, artwork, a gym,” Henrich said of the accommodations.

And from RT America, a high tech powerhouse:

Google now a ‘master of Washington influence’

Program notes:

The widely anticipated Google Glass is about to hit the market, but lawmakers in some states are concerned the internet-connected glasses will be a distraction for drivers. Legislators are considering restricting their use behind the wheel, so Google is responding by sending out lobbyists to convince lawmakers otherwise. As RT’s Ameera David reports, this political influence is only one small part of the company’s multi-million dollar lobbying apparatus.

And just for the fun of it, our proposal for the corporate theme song, performed in 1923 by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare:

Another high tech fortune, used to questionable ends, via International Business Times:

Bill Gates Criticised for Investment in G4S’ Israel Torture Prisons

Bill Gates’ philanthropic body, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been accused of complicity in the torture of Palestinian prisoners through its investment in British security company G4S.

G4S provides security services and equipment at Israeli prisons where allegations of child torture, forced confessions, overcrowding and medical neglect have been raised.

The foundation, the largest in the world, last year purchased £110m ($172m) worth of shares in G4S, something that human rights charities, such as Addameer Prisoner Support, claim contradicted the foundation’s belief that “every life has equal value”.

And from the Japan Times, more questions about a major and destructive trade deal being pushed ruthlessly by the Obama Regime of Hope™ and Change™:

Sealing TPP deal by May iffy despite Japan-U.S. ‘milestone’

Japan and the United States have found “common ground” to forge a two-way trade deal, but may not be able to resolve remaining sticking points in time for a mid-May meeting of top negotiators seeking a broader regional deal, a senior Japanese official said.

Marathon talks during U.S. President Barack Obama’s state visit to Tokyo last week yielded progress — hailed by the two sides as a “key milestone” — but the two stopped short of announcing a deal vital to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation bloc that will extend from Asia to Latin America.

The upbeat tone, however, was in contrast to the emphasis on “gaps” after previous rounds of talks on a bilateral deal that has been stalemated by differences over access to Japan’s agriculture market and both countries’ car markets.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another and very curious story on the same deal:

Obama denies US bullying Malaysia in TPPA negotiations

US President Barack Obama has denied that Washington is bullying Malaysia in the ongoing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Instead, he said, he himself was being bullied by his own (Democratic) party on the pact while protests against the agreement was more due to “people being fearful of the future or have invested in the status quo.”

“It is important for everybody to wait and see what is the (final) agreement before they jump into conclusions,” he said in response to a question on whether Washington was bullying Kuala Lumpur in negotiations on the TPPA at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday.

While Public Citizen casts some light on the darker side of the TPP:

TPP Investment Map: New Privileges for 30,000 Companies?

Under previous presidential administrations, the United States signed a number of free trade agreements (FTAs) that grant foreign corporations extraordinary rights and protections beyond the rights of domestic companies. A little-known FTA mechanism called “investor-state” enforcement allows foreign firms to skirt domestic court systems and directly sue governments for cash damages (our tax dollars) over alleged violations of their new rights before UN and World Bank tribunals staffed by private sector attorneys who rotate between serving as “judges” and bringing cases for corporations. Using this extreme system, corporations have sued the U.S. government in foreign trade tribunals for enacting laws or regulations that “interfered” with the corporations’ expected profits.  This “interference” has included essential environmental regulations, health laws, and domestic court decisions. These cases are not just threats to domestic U.S. policies. U.S. corporations have also used FTAs to attack public interest laws abroad.

If a corporation wins its private enforcement case, the taxpayers of the “losing” country must foot the bill. Over $380 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations in a series of investor-state cases under U.S. FTAs. Of the nearly $14 billion in the 18 pending claims under U.S. FTAs, all relate to environmental, energy, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.

The Obama administration is currently negotiating a sweeping new FTA called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — the first FTA negotiated by the Obama administration.  Despite Obama’s many campaign promises to scale down investor-state enforcement in trade agreements, the leaked investment chapter of the TPP reveals that the Obama administration intends to expand even further the extreme investor-state model of past FTAs. If passed, the TPP would grant thousands of corporations these extraordinary rights to sue governments over public interest policies for taxpayer compensation.

On to Europe, and a tale of dubeity from EurActiv:

Eurosceptics will gain national influence, study says

A new study claims that even if Eurosceptic parties do well in next month’s European elections, their impact in the European Parliament will be minimal. However, Eurosceptics will have more influence in their national parliaments, and on the sovereign debt crisis resolution. EurActiv France reports.

It is a month until the European elections, and the future looks bright for Eurosceptic parties across Europe. According to a survey published in the France’s Nice-Matin, the French far-right party, the National Front, is expected to take 24% of the vote, placing them ahead of the well-established Socialist Party (20%) and UMP (22%).

Deutsche Bank published a study titled Euroscepticism gaining currency? Implications of the EU elections for economic policy. It investigates the possible impact of Eurosceptic political parties after the European elections in May.

And Reuters raises some other doubts:

Deflation, emerging market fears set scene for tough EU bank tests

Fears of euro zone deflation, emerging markets turmoil and a determination not to repeat past mistakes mean European regulators are likely to come up with the toughest set of tests for the region’s banks that they have ever faced.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) will on Tuesday reveal the crisis scenarios that banks will have to prove they can withstand without resorting to the kind of taxpayer bailouts that all but bankrupted some countries in the 2008-2012 crisis.

Banks that fall short of capital under the imagined scenarios will have to produce a plan to boost their reserves by raising fresh funds from investors, selling assets or hanging on to profits instead of paying dividends.

On to Britain, and a weighty consequence of neoliberal school privatization from The Observer:

Top doctor slams schools policy for fuelling epidemic of child obesity

  • Academies and free schools could damage children’s health by opting out of healthy nutrition rules for school meals

One of Britain’s top doctors has warned that children’s health is being damaged because academies and free schools are allowed to opt out of serving healthy lunches to their pupils.

Two million children at such schools are now at risk of exposure to unhealthy foods as a result of the coalition government’s divisive and “irresponsible” policy, which is undermining the fight against childhood obesity, Professor Terence Stephenson told the Observer.

Germany next, with the usual neoliberal proposal from TheLocal.de:

Finance minister: Taxes could be cut

Germany’s powerful finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on Sunday he was open to cutting income taxes, as international partners call on Europe’s top economy to spur consumer demand.

Schäuble told the upcoming issue of Der Spiegel magazine that if a compromise can be reached within Germany’s left-right “grand coalition” government while respecting fiscal discipline, he would be willing to look at tax relief.
The latest calls for reform target a quirk of the German system known as “tax bracket creep” under which employees who get pay rises slip into higher tax groups, making their net pay lower than before.

France next, and another threatened German invasion from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Siemens prepares to rival GE with bid for France’s Alstom

German industrial giant Siemens is planning a rival offer for French engineering group Alstom, which is being pursued by General Electric, a source close to the deal said Saturday.

“Siemens is preparing an offer,” said the source, the day before GE’s chief executive is due to arrive in Paris for talks with senior government officials about its potential bid.

Shares in Alstom were suspended from trading on Friday amid press reports that GE was preparing to make a $13 billion (9.4 billion euro) takeover bid for the French engineering group’s power plants, lines and renewable energy operations.

After jump, the latest from Greece, Big Oil’s Russia woes, Saudi Arabia’s killer drones, Egypt’s newest crop, the browning of Africa’s forest, the Asian wars of history and zones, more environmental woes, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and two tales of sexual shortcomings. . . Continue reading