Today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and their impact on the environment begins with the discovery of a significant pattern, via the Associated Press:
Fear of economic blow as births drop around world
The financial crisis that followed the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 did more than wipe out billions in wealth and millions of jobs. It also sent birth rates tumbling around the world as couples found themselves too short of money or too fearful about their finances to have children. Six years later, birth rates haven’t bounced back.
For an overcrowded planet, this is good news. For the economy, not so good.
We tend to think economic growth comes from working harder and smarter. But economists attribute up to a third of it to more people joining the workforce each year than leaving it. The result is more producing, earning and spending.
Now this secret fuel of the economy, rarely missing and little noticed, is running out.
From Al Jazeera America, another form of global action:
Fast-food workers announce global protest, walkouts set for 33 countries
- Employees plan to expand movement to demand better pay and working conditions across the world
Fast-food workers are planning a global strike for better pay and working conditions, with action set to take place in 33 countries in a bid to exert pressure on multinational firms.
The action was announced Monday in Manhattan, New York, at a meeting during which fast-food workers and union leaders were expected to detail how they intended to expand a movement that began with a walkout in November 2012. On that occasion, some 200 workers went on strike in New York City, N.Y., demanding a pay increase of $15 per hour and the right to unionize without retaliation.
Since then, thousands have followed, organizing protests in more than 100 cities across the country, where workers’ demand to earn a ‘living’ wage in an economy that increasingly relies on low-income jobs has become a national rallying cry.
From USA TODAY, the reward structure of the empowered neoiberal corporation:
CEOs slashing jobs get big raises
CEOs have found cutting jobs is a good way to get the stock price moving. But it looks like it’s another way to get a raise for themselves.
All five of the CEOs at companies that cut their workforces the most the past five years, that reduced the headcount each and every of the past five years, got big raises in their most recent fiscal years, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
The biggest raise went to Sandeep Mathrani, CEO of General Growth Properties, a real-estate investment trust. The company paid Mathrani $22.1 million in fiscal 2013, up 424% from the previous year, says the company’s proxy filing. That’s despite cutting the company’s workforce by more than half from levels five years ago.
China Daily covers a globalizing corporation:
GM plans jump start of slowing China sales
The years of double-digit sales for automobiles in China may be vanishing in the rear view mirror, but General Motors Co is spending $12 billion to reclaim the title of the country’s largest foreign automaker from German rival Volkswagen AG.
Although sales by GM and its joint-venture partners climbed 6.3 percent in April to a record 278,263 vehicles, paced by the sturdy Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Wuling brands, the figures represented a 14-month low. The decline was 12.6 percent from the first quarter and 11.4 percent from April 2013.
The April industry average was forecast to be 10 percent, according to the China Passenger Car Association.
While the Electronic Frontier Foundation tracks the latest manifestation of the metatasizing corporation in the effort to implement a model we call the New Ownership:
Aspen to Students: Your Property Book is Not Your Property
EFF has been fighting for years for the principle that if you bought it, you own it. The first sale doctrine – the law that allows you to resell books and that protects libraries from claims of copyright infringement – is crucial to consumers. Unfortunately, first sale has been under threat in the digital realm, as copyright holders increasingly insist on saddling “sales” with onerous restrictions. You may think you are buying a product (like software, music and ebooks), but as far as they are concerned, you are just renting it, on their terms, whether you know it or not.
The latest attack on first sale comes from Aspen Publishers, and the target is the lucrative textbook market. Aspen is insisting that students who are assigned and purchase physical textbooks Aspen published cannot resell those books to recoup some of the expense.
Aspen’s announced its move in an email to professors. In the coming academic year, Aspen declares, its popular property law case book will only be available under a so-called ‘Connected Casebook’ program. Students will still pay full price (a cool $200) but will be required to return their casebooks at the end of the semester. Students will supposedly also receive “lifetime” access to a digital companion to the casebook. But, as Professor James Grimmelmann noted, “we know from sad experience that gerbils have better life expectancy than DRM platforms.”
And from MIT Technology Review, the soaring costs of privatizing the remainder the electronic commons:
Talk of an Internet Fast Lane Is Already Hurting Some Startups
- Some VCs say the FCC’s latest net neutrality proposal will raise costs for startups that need fast connections or use a lot of bandwidth.
The cost of delivering content over the Internet may determine which Internet products and services succeed in coming years.
Some venture capitalists at the cutting edge of Internet innovation say they will shun startups requiring fast connections for video, audio, or other services, mindful that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission may let ISPs charge extra fees to major content providers.
Proposed rules being drafted by the FCC’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, would allow ISPs to charge content providers like Netflix to ensure speedy service, so long as those charges are “commercially reasonable.” The rules are scheduled to be released for public comment May 15.
In the absence of clear rules, some ISPs have already begun requesting—and receiving—access fees. Netflix recently agreed to pay big ISPs like Comcast interconnection fees to ensure a high quality of service, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings then wrote in a blog post that the United States needs a strict form of net neutrality, with no such tolls, because users who are already paying high prices for fast service should be able to get what content they want.
From The Hill, going covert:
Lobby cash goes underground in PR boom
Lobbying money has gone underground in Washington with the rise of public relations firms that play the “outside game” to influence policy.
While traditional lobbying revenue hit its lowest point in four years in the first months of 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, industry insiders say those statistics miss the hundreds of millions of dollars that are flowing to firms that aren’t registered to lobby.
“The money is still going somewhere,” said someone in the public affairs industry who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely. “That’s evident with the amount of advertising — both print and television — that you see running in Washington around big debates.”
Raising the hue and cry with the Los Angeles Times:
Beverly Hills council urges Brunei to divest itself of Beverly Hills Hotel
The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday night approved a resolution condemning new laws targeting gays and women in the Southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei and urged the government to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The move heightens the growing political backlash against the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, also owned by Brunei. Celebrities including Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres have already called for boycotts.
“The City of Beverly Hills strongly condemns the government of Brunei as well as other governments which engage in similar policies for adopting laws that impose extreme and inhumane penalties including execution by stoning, flogging and severing of limbs,” the resolution says. “The City of Beverly Hills urges the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and any other properties it may own in Beverly Hills.”
While Bloomberg covers another sort of revolt:
Cancer Doctors Join Insurers in U.S. Drug-Cost Revolt
The backlash over surging drug prices is starting to take hold.
With the average cost of branded cancer drugs doubling over the past decade to about $10,000 per month in the U.S., doctors, insurers and politicians are all moving in different ways to pressure drugmakers on pricing.
Cancer doctors are in the process of creating a way to measure the value of the drugs they prescribe, the first step in a drive to give patients affordable options. Insurers are increasingly paying only a percentage of the cost of high-priced drugs, forcing drugmakers to step into the breach for consumers who can’t afford their products. Politicians, meanwhile, have begun asking drugmakers to explain the cost of their products.
The Christian Science Monitor covers an academic plateau:
US ‘report card’: stagnation in 12th-grade math, reading scores
Commenting on the 2013 NAEP ‘report card’ for US 12th-graders, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, ‘achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed.’
American high school seniors showed no improvement in their math and reading abilities in four years, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often known as the nation’s “report card.”
Adding to the discouraging news, achievement gaps between demographic groups have not lessened. And while the 12th-grade math scores are at least slightly higher than they were in 2005 (the earliest scores available for math, due to changes in the test), the reading scores are actually lower than they were in 1992, when the reading score trend line begins.
The news is not all that surprising: While scores have been (mostly) inching up for younger students over the past few decades, gains for high-schoolers – and even for eighth-graders – have been much more elusive.
Reuters evades the federal banking system barred for use of marijuana coops and businesses in states where the plant is legal:
Colorado Senate OKs co-op banking option for marijuana sellers
The Colorado state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to create the nation’s first state-run marijuana financial cooperative, with the ultimate aim of opening newly legalized cannabis retail outlets to key banking services through the Federal Reserve.
The 24-11 vote approving the so-called “cannabis credit co-ops” came days after the state House of Representatives cleared its own version of the bill, which seeks to address problems marijuana retailers face in having to operate on a cash-only basis.
House-Senate negotiators must now reconcile differences between the two versions in hopes of sending a compromise bill back for final floor votes in both chambers before the Democratic-controlled General Assembly session ends at midnight.
From USA TODAY, a jobs story with a global reach:
The new nursing shortage
On one hand, things are looking pretty dandy for nursing in the United States: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 19 percent growth in employment for registered nurses from 2012–2022. Compare that to an 11 percent average growth rate for all occupations. That’s a reason to celebrate during National Nurses Week.
But here’s the twist: The recent recession made it more difficult for entry-level nurses to find work, as more experienced nurses put off retirement and stayed in the job force. So now there’s a nurse shortage – and it’s happening all over the world.
In 2010, a World Health Organization report revealed that India needed 2.4 million more nurses. In sub-Saharan Africa, shortages are having profound effects on health care. In Canada, a nursing shortage lingers on, with an expected 60,000 additional registered nurses needed by 2022.
Off to Britain and some bankster artful dodging sure to result in a big bonus way up high, via the Guardian:
Barclays to cut up to 8,000 investment banking jobs
- Bank boss Antony Jenkins to announce losses as he outlines plan to overhaul investment arm following criticism over bonuses
Barclays will announce on Thursday that it is cutting up to 8,000 investment banking roles – almost a third of the division’s workforce – as it retreats from one of the most controversial parts of its business.
Antony Jenkins, the embattled Barclays chief executive, is to outline his plan to overhaul the investment bank on Thursday after facing fierce criticism for his decision to increase bonuses by 10% last year, when profits fell sharply.
In an announcement to the City, Jenkins is expected to explain how he intends to tackle the most troublesome parts of the investment bank – the traditional powerhouse of Barclays – to prove to investors that he can rein in costs and start to bolster the profitability of the organisation.
Germany next, and one of the downsides of being the reigning industrial power on the continent via TheLocal.de:
Germany is EU’s worst polluter
Germany is the European Union’s worst polluter, with its carbon dioxide emissions rising by two percent in 2013 to 760 million tonnes, official data showed on Wednesday.
The EU’s statistics agency Eurostat found that while emissions were cut across the 28-member bloc by an average of 2.5 percent in 2013, they actually went up in six countries, including Germany.
Denmark registered a 6.8 percent increase in CO2 emissions. In Estonia it was up by 4.4 percent, followed by Portugal (up by 3.6 percent), France (by 0.6 percent) and Poland (by 0.3 percent).
The greatest cuts in CO2, which accounts for 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming, came from Cyprus, where emissions went down by 14.7 percent, followed by Romania (down by 14.6 percent) and Spain (by 12.6 percent).
More industrial news from New Europe:
German industry orders fall in March
- Orders for industrial goods decreased by 2.8 percent in March
Industry orders in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, fell unexpectedly in March, official data showed on Wednesday.
Adjusted for calendar and seasonal swings, orders for industrial goods decreased by 2.8 percent in March compared to February, when new orders increased by 0.9 percent, the German Federal Statistical Office said.
The drop surprised economists who forecast orders to slightly increase. Domestic orders declined by 0.6 percent, while contracts from foreign markets were down by 4.6 percent. In the eurozone, new orders decreased by 9.4 percent.
Lisbon next and a problen remaining after the bailout’s end from the Portugal News:
Central Bank profit slides 43.7%
The Bank of Portugal will be chipping in with €202 million to the state coffers courtesy of its 2013 dividends but that is down 43.7% from 2012 due to a slump in profits, according to the 2013 Management Report released yesterday.
Correspondingly, year-on-year profits at the bank regulatory entity fell from €449 million in 2012 to €253 million last year.
In terms of the dividend to the state, this has slumped from €359 million to the aforementioned €202 million in 2013 with the state thus seeing a €157 million fall in its taking.
The aforementioned report attributes this fall to the “reduction in the interest rate margin and the results attained in financial operations, the rise in non-accounted for losses from financial operations and the decrease in the net results of the shared monetary income.”
Spain next, and an intolerance wrist-slapping via TheLocal.es:
Spanish club fined €12K in racist ‘banana row’
Spanish football authorities fined league side Villareal €12,000($17,000) for racism by a fan who threw a banana at Barcelona’s Brazilian player Dani Alves, a club source said on Wednesday.
The Spanish Royal Football Federation’s disciplinary body imposed the fine but stopped short of ordering the club’s stadium to be closed, the source who asked not to be named told AFP.
International outrage erupted after the banana landed on the pitch near 30-year-old Alves during the league clash at Villareal’s Madrigal stadium on April 27.
When corporations grab your roof, via TheLocal.es:
New law lets phone firms ‘steal’ Spanish roof tops
Spain’s new telecommunications law will allow phone companies to expropriate private property to install mobile phone antennae and other infrastructure, a move which worries opposition groups.
Under the new law passed on April 29th, phone companies will be able to “forcibly” expropriate roof terraces and other private and public property to install telecommunications infrastructure.
This will only take place when it is “strictly necessary” and when no other options are “technically” possible or “economically viable”, according to article 29 of the legislation.
Italy next, and a Bunga Bunga bummer from ANSA:
Ex-Senator says he was offered a bribe to join Berlusconi
- Ex-premier on trial for paying another Senator to topple rival
Ex-Senator Paolo Rossi testified Wednesday to being offered a bribe by another ex-Senator during Romano Prodi’s 2006-2008 government to change political sides and join Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right bloc. “Antonio Tomassini offered me a sum of money and said it wouldn’t change Berlusconi’s life but it would change mine”.
The ex-premier is on trial for allegedly paying a different former centre-left Senator, Sergio De Gregorio, three million euros to switch sides and undermine Prodi. Prodi’s government fell after losing the support of the Senate, leading to new elections that Berlusconi won.
De Gregorio has admitted not declaring to tax authorities two million euros he received and plea-bargained a 20-month sentence.
After the jump, the latest from Greece, African resource woes, Mixed news from Latin America, labor woes and federal cuts Down Under, a judicial Thai coup, Vietnamese corruption, Japanese economic warnings, the old trade pact gambit, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
For our first Greek story, the oldest party now in the running makes it clear via To Vima:
Koutsoumpas: “New Democracy and SYRIZA agree on EU and Eurozone”
- The Communist Party is in favor of Greece leaving Europe and unilaterally canceling its national debt
The general secretary of the Communist Party Dimitris Koutsoumpas gave an interview o ANT1 where he accused the government and opposition of cultivating false expectations and asserted that New Democracy and SYRIZA follow the same line in relation to the EU and Eurozone.
Mr. Koutsoumpas accused Alexis Tsipras of hypocritically for denouncing Angela Merkel’s politics, while recognizing her as a realist who will not endanger the Eurozone. Conversely, he maintained, the Communist Party will always be open about its positions, irrespective of the political cost.
When asked why his party participates in the European elections since it is against the EU and Eurozone, Mr. Koutsoumpas explained that his party’s MEPs have offered an invaluable service of revealing the EU strategies and plans. This in turn, estimated the general secretary, will help the people prepare to overthrow European politics in favor of reinforcing popular rule.
Another old party on the brink with MacroPolis:
PASOK stakes coalition survival on voters’ fear of uncertainty
With no traction in opinion polls and concern growing within the party about how to handle the post-May 25 fallout, PASOK has gambled on Greeks’ uncertainty about the future by warning that a poor European Parliament election result for the centre-left Olive Tree alliance could bring down the government.
By uttering the simple phrase: “Without us there is no government,” PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos attempted on Tuesday to up the stakes for the May 25 poll. SYRIZA has already called the European vote a referendum on the coalition but Venizelos is the first member of the government to openly question whether the two-party administration could survive an electoral defeat this month.
Opinion polls indicate that support for PASOK’s experimental alliance with other social democratic parties will remain in single digits on May 25. Even if New Democracy performs more convincingly, such a result will raise questions about whether PASOK can continue as its coalition partner. This may trigger a leadership challenge against Venizelos, although it could be stifled by concerns about whether this would bring the government down, which would be damaging for the people involved and the party in the longer run
Associated Press covers electioneering:
Greek PM says won’t seek more bailout money
Greece’s prime minister says the debt-strapped country will not ask for any additional bailout money and hopes to begin abolishing austerity taxes later this year.
In an interview with private Antenna television, Antonis Samaras said Tuesday that Greece would not seek additional support beyond the 240 billion euros ($335 billion) already granted in bailout packages from other euro zone countries and the International Monetary Fund.
Samaras’ conservatives face a strong challenge from the left wing anti-bailout Syriza party, Syriza, which wants to win European Parliament elections in Greece this month — to possibly pressure his government to resign.
From ANA-MPA, working to rig the game:
PM presents proposals for ‘New Greece’ through a revised Constitution
Among the changes the premier proposed were a stronger regulatory role of the country’s president, including the president’s direct election by the people, and a smaller Parliament with fewer MPs. He called for greater guarantees that governments will complete their four-year term, with a stable electoral system that could only be changed by a three-fifths majority in Parliament, as well as more flexible governments combined with three permanent deputy ministers in foreign affairs, defence and the budget, each with a five-year term.
Other proposals included the abolition of the current plethora of ministry general secretaries, allowing only one per ministry, an end to current privileges for MPs and ministers with respect to the law – including abolition of the law on ministerial responsibility – and a revision of article 90 to ensure fully independent justice and stronger separation of the government from the legislature and justice.
Among others, Samaras proposed the introduction of measures barring MPs from becoming ministers, so that entering Parliament was no longer a stepping-stone for joining the government.
More grief for the neo-Nazi party from To Vima:
Immunity of MPs Germenis, Boukouras, Alexopoulos and Michos lifted
- Detained MPs attended the vote – Boukouras broke down in tears – Alexopoulos claimed to fear reprisals
The Parliamentary Assembly voted in favor of lifting the immunity of Golden Dawn MPs Giorgos Germenis and Nikos Michos, as well as former party members and currently independent MPs Stathis Boukouras and Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos.
The two detained MPs – Stathis Boukouras and Giorgos Germenis – were allowed to appear in Parliament at noon in order to be present at the discussion regarding the lift of their immunity and were transferred to Parliament in handcuffs.
The MPs were temporarily allowed out of prison in accordance with Parliamentary rules which grant MPs the right to speak against a motion to lift their immunity. Regulations also stipulate that Parliament may only discuss whether the reason for which the immunity lift has been requested is associated with political or parliamentary activities or whether there are political considerations at play.
Africa next, and a frackin’ shame from Al Jazeera America:
China shale gas boom will hit poor African exporters hard, finds study
- Domestic fracking could also have a geopolitical impact on established exporters — including Russia and OPEC
China’s fracking revolution could see the superpower reduce its gas imports by up to 40 percent by 2020 — a move that would significantly affect some of the world’s poorest exporters in much the same way the U.S. energy revolution has previously done, a new report said Wednesday.
The report, “The Development Implications of the Fracking Revolution,” released by the U.K. think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI), looks at the likely ripple effect of China’s energy independence.
The country currently produces very little shale gas but is on its way to reducing its international dependence, authors of the report suggest.
On to Latin America, starting in Brazil with MercoPress:
Dilma pledges economic growth with contained inflation following negative stats
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said in a statement that her government ensures sustained economic growth, with contained inflation. The announcement followed market estimates saying that Brazil’s GDP expansion this year would be down to 1.63%, below official and private recent estimates above 2%.
“Our government will always be the government of growth with stability, rigorous control of inflation and the correct administration of public monies”, pledged Rousseff who has seen her support in the polls exposed to sustained erosion.
According to a Monday markets’ report the Brazilian economy will expand 1.63% this year, which is below the 1.65% of a previous recent report, while inflation was forecasted to be in the upper limit of the target established by the government, 6.50%.
The Guardian absconds:
El Salvador court issues arrest warrant for ex-president
- Francisco Flores may have fled the country after being accused of misappropriating millions of dollars donated by Taiwan
A Salvadoran judge has issued an arrest warrant for the former president Francisco Flores, who may have fled the country after being accused of misappropriating millions of dollars donated by Taiwan.
The court also ordered the seizure of Flores’s assets including several homes, cars and boats, said the former president’s lawyer, Edgar Morales.
Flores, who held power between 1999 and 2004, was investigated by congress and the attorney general’s office in the wake of allegations by the current president, Mauricio Funes, that Flores received up to $15m (£9m) in donations from Taiwan without accounting for them.
MercoPress covers pay for snitches:
Sao Paulo offers 22.000 dollars rewards to whoever turns in data on criminals
With just over a month left for the 2014 World Cup kick off in Brazil, the governor of the state of Sao Paulo launched the Regional Reward program which will pay 55.000 Reales (approximately 22.000 dollars) to anyone providing useful information to help to solve crimes and track perpetrators.
“The reward can help to elucidate a still unsolved crime or for the capture of a criminal, whose wrongdoing has been proven but he is still on the run”, said governor Geraldo Alckmin. He added the program will not reveal the identity of the whistler during the court proceedings and when payment of the reward.
At the end of the court case and sentencing of the criminal involved, the person who supplied the information will receive a protocol and a pin so he can review and keep track anonymously of how the information provided to the police is being used and at the same be aware if he will be finally rewarded.
And from BBC News, a blow to environmental hopes:
Ecuador rejects vote on Amazon oil drilling in Yasuni park
- Activists said they had gathered enough signatures to force a vote on further oil drilling in the Amazon
Ecuador has rejected a petition for a referendum on whether the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon should be opened to further oil exploration.
The National Electoral Council said not enough signatures were collected to force a referendum.
Activists from the group Yasunidos, who had gathered the signatures, accused the council of “fraud”.
They oppose more oil drilling in the park, saying it would damage one of the world’s richest areas of biodiversity.
Off to Down Under with News Corp Australia covering another neocon triumph over reason:
Government sacks over 20 medical experts from committees advising on drug subsidies
ACCESS to high-cost drugs for rare diseases is likely to become even more difficult after the Federal Government sacked more than 20 medical experts from committees advising on which drugs should be subsidised.
The expert committees advising the Government have saved taxpayers $50 million in recent years by detailing how to cut the doses of some ultra-expensive drugs.
And because the Government negotiates capped funding deals with the pharmaceutical companies who supply the medicines under the scheme the doctors advise on, there is always budget certainty about cost.
The sackings come as part of a Government review of the Life Saving Drugs Program and the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Professor Jeff Szer, one of the experts sacked, feared for the future of the scheme, which he said was one of the best parts of Australia’s medicine approval system.
Rupert Murdoch’s minions wield the ax, via the Guardian. And note that the blow falls most heavily on photographers:
Fairfax announces 80 editorial redundancies
- Journalists vote to strike after company announces photographic department will be all but disbanded and work outsourced
Fairfax journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age have voted to strike for 24 hours after the company announced it was all but disbanding its award-winning photographic department and making 80 journalists redundant.
The company has called for redundancies including 30 photographers and 33 editorial production staff.
A stopwork meeting at the Herald on Wednesday afternoon voted 159-1 in favour of strike action. Journalists at the Age in Melbourne also voted to walk out.
Thailand next, and a judicial coup from the Los Angeles Times:
Thailand court ousts prime minister after abuse-of-power verdict
In a controversial ruling that deepened Thailand’s political crisis, the country’s constitutional court on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to leave office, ruling that she abused her powers when she transferred a government official from his post three years ago.
The court also demanded the removal of several of Yingluck’s Cabinet ministers who it said were complicit in the transfer, throwing the status of her caretaker government into uncertainty ahead of elections scheduled for July.
Shinawatra’s opponents had accused her of transferring the official, National Security Council head Thawil Pliensri, in order to install a member of her influential family in the post. Appearing in court Tuesday, she denied any wrongdoing, saying she “never benefited from any transfer of civil servants.”
The response, from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:
Thailand’s Yingluck accepts removal from office
Yingluck Shinawatra has accepted the Thai constitutional court’s decision to dismiss her from office.
She was removed from her caretaker prime minister position on Wednesday as the court ruled that she abused her power by transferring a security official in 2011.
In a defiant press conference Yingluck reiterated her innocence of the abuse of power accusation. “I am proud of every minute I have worked as prime minister because I came from a democratic election,” she said, at times fighting back tears.
The cabinet swiftly appointed a deputy premier — Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan — as Yingluck’s replacement as the ruling party struggled to regain its footing after the judicial blow.
From Deutsche Welle, the next chapter:
Thailand’s caretaker premier vows to hold planned poll
Thailand’s caretaker prime minister has said he will see through planned July elections. Earlier, the Constitutional Court ruled that Yingluck Shinawatra was guilty of abuse of power charges and banned her from politics.
After the ruling, the cabinet announced that Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan would replace Yingluck, and the caretaker government would press ahead with plans for the July 20 elections.
As well as Yingluck, Thailand’s Constitutional Court also implicated nine ministers, but allowed others to retain their posts.
“The caretaker government’s responsibility now is to organize an election as soon as possible,” said Niwatthamrong, a former executive in a company owned by Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother and a former prime minister. “I hope the political situation will not heat up after this,” Niwatthamrong added, referring to the court ruling.
On to Vietnam and business as usual unmasked by the Japan Times:
Vietnam arrests railway officials in ODA graft scandal tied to Japan
Police in Vietnam have arrested four railway officials in a probe into allegations a Japanese firm paid massive kickbacks to win a railway contract in Hanoi, local state media said Wednesday.
The deputy director general of Vietnam Railways, Tran Quoc Dong, was arrested for “failure to carry out responsibilities causing serious consequences,” Tuoi Tre newspaper said.
Three other senior railway officials were taken into custody for abusing their power, the report said, without specifying when they were detained.
Japan next, with Jiji Press charting a decline:
Japan Biz Sentiment Logs Record Fall in April: Survey
Business sentiment among Japanese companies showed a worst-ever setback in April, mainly reflecting a fall in demand after the consumption tax hike to 8 pct from 5 pct on April 1, a Teikoku Databank Ltd. survey showed Wednesday.
The business sentiment diffusion index fell 4.2 points from the previous month to 46.8. The size of the drop was the largest since the survey began in May 2002, outpacing the previous record of 4.1-point decline in December 2008 reflecting the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, the private research firm said.
The DI dropped at nine of the 10 sectors surveyed. The index fell 10.7 points to 36.4 at retailers, which include home electronics stores and automobile dealers, both notable beneficiaries of last-minute demand before the tax hike.
The Japan Daily Press displaces humans in yet another job:
Panasonic introduces upgraded drug-delivery robot to hospitals
Don’t be afraid if you happen to see a robot handing out your medicine at the hospital, that’s not your nurse replacement but an invention of Panasonic Corp. aimed at helping healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses have more time for their patients. The second generation Hospi drug-delivery robot can now be seen in action at the Panasonic’s in-house health insurance union-operated Matsushita Memorial Hospital in Moriguchi, Osaka.
The improved version of the Hospi now features side lamps to identify itself to patients at night and a capability to carry heavy medicine trays with up to 20 kilograms of medicine. It has a sensor that recognizes people and objects to avoid collision. But the best thing about the new Hospi is that it can ride an elevator all by itself. While others may feel skeptical with having a robot in a healthcare environment where personal touch is needed, employing its use in the hospital has since cut nurses’ medicine delivery by at least one-third, with the nurses not having to get medicines from the pharmacy before handing it out to their patients. Pharmacists only need to encode the destination of the medicine and voila, the Hospi will deliver it on its own.
Kyodo News reaches out to the usual suspects in the usual ways:
Japan, EU to seek early trade deal, cybersecurity cooperation
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Union leaders agreed Wednesday to seek an early conclusion of a free trade agreement and cooperate in countering attacks in cyberspace.
“We will negotiate intensively while aiming to achieve a broad (free trade) agreement in 2015,” Abe said at a joint press conference following a summit with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the EU headquarters in Brussels.
Releasing a joint statement amid tensions surrounding the situation in Ukraine, the leaders also condemned Russia’s intervention in the country.
Next, Fukushuimapocalypse Now!, starting with non-caped crusaders from the Japan Times:
Ex-leaders revive no-nukes crusade
Three months after his defeat in the Tokyo gubernatorial race, former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa has teamed up once again with fellow ex-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to renew their effort to abolish nuclear power, even as the central government takes steps to revive it.
On Wednesday, the pair, joined by prominent scholars and activists, launched a council against nuclear power called Japan Assembly for Nuclear Free Renewable Energy.
“The Japanese people have a spirit sturdy enough to overcome even the most adversarial situations,” Koizumi said at the launch. “It’s a wonderful idea to create a country that relies on renewable energy and I am confident that we can make a better society.”
The Asahi Shimbun drunks up:
Sake banned by Beijing after Fukushima accident popular souvenirs among Chinese tourists
At the duty-free Akihabara shop at Narita Airport, Zhou Yueqiu carried a cart containing souvenirs from Japan, including items banned by Beijing because they came from a prefecture near the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Among the goods were four bottles of Urakasumi, a renowned sake brand brewed in Miyagi Prefecture, subject to the restrictions.
Zhou, 42, a company employee from Shanghai, said she was aware that the Japanese rice wine comes from the prohibited area, but came to the shop to buy some because she sipped the brand before and liked it.
“Nobody is bothered by whether they are produced in eastern Japan,” she said on her way back to Shanghai last month. “The flavorful brand will be appreciated by anyone in China.”
And from the San Francisco Chronicle, California kelp cleared:
No Fukushima radiation detected in West Coast kelp
Scientists collecting kelp from along the West Coast say there’s no sign of radiation contamination from the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster.
Steven Manley, a marine biology professor at California State University, Long Beach, says the lack of detection should reassure people that the coastline is safe.
In 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake rocked Japan and crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant, leaking radiation into the Pacific.
Kelp act like sponges, absorbing different materials. But a study of kelp samples gathered from Alaska to Baja California earlier this year didn’t turn up any traces of radioactive material.
United Press International fails to clear the air:
Most cities fail air pollution guidelines, U.N. says
- Most cities fail World Health Organization’s air pollution guidelines.
Many cities are “enveloped in dirty air” that is dangerous to breathe, a director of the United Nations’ World Health Organization said Wednesday.
A database covering 1,600 cities in 91 countries, released Wednesday, indicates only 12 percent of people living in those cities breathe air that complies with WHO air pollution guidelines. About half of the urban populations in the cities in question are exposed to air pollution at least 2.5 times higher than the guidelines suggest.
“Too many urban centers today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Children and Women’s Health. She noted the connection between urban air pollution and increased levels of lung cancer and respiratory and heart disease.
While the Guardian muddies the waters:
Great Barrier Reef’s ‘unprecedented’ threat from dredging, dumping
- Conservation society says impact of previous sediment dumps far greater than claimed
The impact of dredging and dumping sediment on the Great Barrier Reef has been far greater than the mining industry has claimed, with nearly 150m tonnes of new dredging set to take place in the reef’s waters, a study shows.
The report collated by the Australian Marine Conservation Society states that the reef is under “unprecedented” threat from the proposed expansion of coastal ports and industrial development.
Planned expansion of ports, or the creation of new ones, at sites including Gladstone, the Fitzroy Delta, Abbot Point and Townsville, would involve dredging 149m tonnes of seabed to allow large ships to access ports.
For our final item, the Guardian follows a witch hunt designed to destroyed a flawed but sometimes effective guardian of the commons:
Republicans target porn viewing at Environmental Protection Agency
- House oversight committee conducts aggressive grilling
- New climate-change report may prompt more GOP attacks
The oversight committee of the US House of Representatives devoted several hours on Wednesday to grilling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about online porn viewing, rampant absenteeism, accusations of assault and other alleged workplace improprieties.
In truth, the investigation did not come up with much – at least nothing to match last year’s sensational disclosure that the EPA had for years been duped into paying the salary of an employee who masqueraded as a CIA spy. Or revelations that a former administrator, Lisa Jackson, had used a fake private email account in the name of Richard Windsor.
But the zeal with which the committee’s chair, the California representative Darrell Issa, pursued the investigation suggests Republicans are trying to disqualify the EPA from carrying out President Barack Obama’s climate-change agenda.