Once again, a collection of things economic, political, ecological, and more, complete with Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, from TechWeekEurope, an ominous notice that Big Brother intends you to wear him, ushering in the dawn of a new era of Taylorism:

Research Proves Wearable Tech Increases Employee Productivity

Rakspace says the main challenge now is harvesting data generated by employees’ devices for analytics

Adoption of wearable technology in the workplace can increase staff productivity and job satisfaction, suggests research commissioned by Rackspace.

However, IT professionals have raised concerns about the security of newly-generated data and the sudden increase in IT workloads caused by the introduction of devices like the Fitbit, Pebble and Google Glass.

The findings are the result of the Human Cloud at Work project [PDF], which looks at the impact wearable devices could have on the corporate environment.

Next up, a delay for a key piece of the neoliberal, Ayn Randian agenda from Global Times:

US senators voice concerns over prospects of TPP trade talks

US senators expressed on Thursday concerns over the prospects of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal despite progress made last week between the United States and Japan.

Orrin Hatch, the top Republican at the Senate Finance Committee, said the administration’s trade agenda was at risk of failure without trade promotion authority (TPA).

“I do not believe you can conclude high-standard agreements that will meet Congress’ approval without TPA,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. “History tells us very clearly that without TPA, your trade agenda will almost certainly fail.”

TPA, known as “fast track” trade legislation, provides that Congress must vote up or down on a proposed trade agreement without the possibility of amendment. Without that guarantee, it’s more difficult for other negotiating countries to make significant concessions.

Another significant voice joins in, via Open Media:

Top U.S. Senator: TPP’s secrecy must end and the agreement must “reflect the need for a free and open Internet”

On April 30th, 2014, over 3.1 million citizens and over 50 organizations united in a historic campaign to Stop The Secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Our campaign culminated in our biggest and brightest projection in Washington D.C. last night – check out the images here.

Then, the next day, one of the most powerful members of the United States Congress, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) spoke out during a crucial Senate Hearing to call for an end to the extreme secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Senator Wyden explained, “Too often, there is trade secrecy instead of trade transparency. Bringing the American people into full and open debates on trade agreements that have the effect of law is not too much to ask.” In addition, Wyden also assured citizens that any agreements – including the TPP, “must reflect the need for a free and open internet, strong labor rights, environmental protections, and must be backed by stronger enforcement.”

From the Economic Times, a needed qualification:

Why the US unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%

The unemployment rate plunged for adult high school drop-outs to 8.9 percent from 9.6 percent. But April was a cruel period for them: The number of employed high school drop-outs fell to 9.9 million from 10.1 million. More than 200,000 of them lost jobs.

Their unemployment rate fell because even more of them _ 308,000 _ retired, gave up their search or never started looking for work. That’s a huge negative.

The overall unemployment rate fell primarily because fewer people started looking for work in April. More than 4 million Americans typically do so each month. But in April, only 3.7 million did.

That caused the number of people either working or looking for work to shrink, which, in turn, contributed to lower unemployment rates.

From the New York Times, notable numbers:

Why the Housing Market Is Still Stalling the Economy

Except in a few booming markets, housing is nowhere close to pulling its economic weight. Consider this:

Investment in residential property remains a smaller share of the overall economy than at any time since World War II, contributing less to growth than it did even in previous steep downturns in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit 20 percent, or the early 1990s, when hundreds of mortgage lenders failed.

If building activity returned merely to its postwar average proportion of the economy, growth would jump this year to a booming, 1990s-like level of 4 percent, from today’s mediocre 2-plus percent. The additional building, renovating and selling of homes would add about 1.5 million jobs and knock about a percentage point off the unemployment rate, now 6.7 percent. That activity would close nearly 40 percent of the gap between America’s current weak economic state and full economic health.

Resistance, via Al Jazeera America:

Postal workers resist privatization plans

Employees fear outsourcing of mail processing to Staples store counters and potential sale of post office branches

In a recent video message posted to the U.S. Postal Service’s YouTube channel, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe appeared incredulous and indignant about protests that have erupted across the nation over changes he’s instituted. “There’s no interest in privatizing,” he said. “Do not let people get you confused.”

If that message was aimed at soothing the increasing nervousness on the part of postal employee unions, the postmaster failed to deliver. As seen in the simultaneous demonstrations in 27 states last week, as well as the postal employees’ presence at International Workers’ Day rallies on Thursday, several decisions by Donahoe have only heightened fears among America’s postal workers.

The most visible sign of union angst is the movement to thwart Donahoe’s aim of putting full-service USPS counters in 1,500 Staples stores, to be staffed with the office supply chain’s own, lower-paid employees. Yet that’s just the latest in a string of changes that seem geared toward outsourcing various postal jobs, which include efforts to consolidate processing plants and contract out the trucking of mail from plants to post offices.

From the Los Angeles Times, another notable number:

Seattle mayor proposes $15 minimum wage

A day after Republicans in the U.S. Senate quashed an effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal Thursday for a $15 municipal minimum wage that he said would “improve the lives of workers who can barely afford to live” in this high-tech city on Puget Sound.

Declaring it a “historic” day for progressives seeking to address the issue of income inequality, Murray laid out his complex and controversial proposal, which would be phased in over several years at different rates for large and small businesses. At least initially, income from tips and employer-provided health insurance would be taken into account.

If the City Council agrees, Murray said, Seattle will prove itself to be “an incubator of democracy,” leading the national conversation to address “the growing problem of income inequality.

And for our final U.S. item, the arrival of a filler four times deadlier than SARS from The Wire:

MERS Reaches the U.S. for the First Time

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said on Friday that a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been detected in the U.S. for the first time. The CDC said the MERS-infected patient is a healthcare worker who came to Indiana from Saudi Arabia, adding that it is collaborating with Indiana health officials to investigate the case. Per the CDC:

On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.

MERS, a SARS-like virus that was first detected in 2012, has largely affected patients in Saudi Arabia, but has broken out throughout the Middle East and has made an appearance in Greece, Britain, France, Italy, Malaysia and other countries. Since 2012, more than 300 Saudi Arabians were hit with the virus, and local officials have reported a recent surge in patients. Only about two-thirds of those diagnosed with the virus survived.

Off to Europe and qualified relief from Reuters:

Euro zone joblessness barely falls in March

The number of people out of work in the euro zone fell slightly in March but remained near a record high, a sign that European households are yet to feel the bloc’s economic recovery and are unlikely help generate growth in the short term.

Around 18.91 million people were jobless in the 18-nation bloc in March, 22,000 less than in February, or 11.8 percent of the working population, the EU statistics office Eurostat said on Friday.

That is slightly down from the record 12-percent level a year ago, while the 11.8 percent reading was the same as in February. The February reading was revised down by Eurostat from 11.9 percent earlier.

So what do the numbers show for the European Union? A spectrum ranging of Austrian at the low of 4.9 percent to Greece, with a high of 26.7 percent. Via Eurostat [PDF], click on the image to enlarge:

The two darker areas reflected the 28-member European Union and the 18.member common currency zone, the euro area.

Reuters again, and more qualified numbers:

Euro zone factory recovery broadens, except for France

The recovery in euro zone manufacturing accelerated at the start of the second quarter with solid growth across most of the bloc although French factories struggled to maintain momentum, a business survey showed on Friday.

Growth was again led by Germany, Europe’s largest economy, and previously-lagging companies in Spain and Italy reported better business last month.

It was the first time since November 2007 that all PMIs in the region indicated growth – coming in above the 50 break-even level.

On to austerian Britain and some truly grim numbers from The Independent:

UK has second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, study finds

Leading doctors and midwives accuse Government of ‘failing to protect’ British children

The UK has the second-worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, a major new study has revealed, as leading doctors and midwives accuse the Government of “failing to protect” British children during the financial crisis.

In findings which were described as “shocking” by children’s charities, and which caused surprise among the researchers themselves, the UK ranked behind much poorer countries such as Cyprus and Greece and for prevention of mortality in under-fives.

The under-five mortality rate for the UK was 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births. Only Malta, a country which ranks well behind the UK in terms of wealth, performed worse in the Western European region. The UK mortality rate was more than twice as high as the best-performing country, Iceland, and 25 per cent higher than the Western European average.

The Guardian covers more dubious numbers:

British aid money invested in gated communities and shopping centres

CDC development fund insists projects will create jobs in poor countries but NGOs accuse government of helping big business

Millions of pounds of British aid money to tackle poverty overseas has been invested in builders of gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries, the Guardian can reveal.

CDC, the little-known investment arm of the British aid programme, has invested more than $260m (£154m) in 44 property and construction companies in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

At least 20 of these are hotels, shopping centres or companies that build or manage gated communities and luxury property, according to Guardian research.

On to Sweden, and some non-metaphorical alarm bells from TheLocal.se:

Neo-Nazis spark first church alarm since WWII

The churches in Jönköping rang their bells in warning for two hours on May Day as neo-Nazis took to the streets. The alarm marked the first of its kind for the central Sweden town since World War II broke out.

“We chose to ring the bells because we think it’s a threat to our open society when our streets play host to messages that do not respect every person’s value and dignity,” Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) priest Fredrik Hollertz told The Local on Friday.

“We wanted to use what we used in the days of old.”

On to Germany and more interesting numbers from the London Telegraph:

Germany’s interest in Adolf Hitler at record levels

Germans more interested in Adolf Hitler than at any time since the Allied defeat of his Third Reich at the end of the Second World War, study finds

Germans are more interested in Adolf Hitler that at any time since the end of the Second World War, a new study has concluded.

The German Media Control research group, which monitors broadcasting, found that documentaries about Hitler are aired twice a day on German television channels and that books and films about the Nazi leader are being produced in record numbers.

It established that 242 programmes dealing specifically with Hitler had been shown on television during the first four months of 2013, while 500 other films and documentaries that had dealt with the Nazi era in general had also been aired.

Some 2,000 books on Hitler were published in Germany last year.

Next, France, and yet more interesting numbers from TheLocal.fr:

Is France really a nation of Eurosceptics?

A recent poll showed fewer than half of the French people believe the EU is a good thing for their country, which is a troubling trend for one of the union’s founders. The Local hit the streets to find out if the French really have become a nation of Eurosceptics.

With European parliament elections just weeks away the French may be having a British moment.

A poll commissioned by French daily Le Figaro recently found that only 44 percent of the French people think the European Union is good for their country, which appears at a first sight a dizzying plummet in one of the Union’s founders and an arch promoter of the project.

But the apparent turning of the tide against the EU has been growing for some time. A study last year showed the French public were rapidly falling out of love with Brussels. What was perhaps most alarming was that the widespread disaffection with the union was spreading quicker in France than in any other country on the continent.

TheLocal.fr again, and a decision sure to please the resurgent Right:

Landmark ruling bars lesbians from adopting

In a landmark decision a lesbian couple were barred from adopting a child, who was conceived through artificial insemination outside France. One gay-rights group slammed the decision saying “Children of LGBT families are the new bastards of the Republic”.

Judges in Versailles refused a request this week by a lesbian woman to adopt a 4-year-old child, who was conceived in Belgium by her partner, thanks to medically assisted procreation (MAP) or artificial insemination.

Currently in France methods of medically assisted procreation like IVF are reserved only for heterosexual couples, who have difficulty having children. However thousands of babies are thought to be born in France each year that were conceived abroad through articificial insemination.

On to the Alps, with TheLocal.ch:

Swiss have world’s highest prices: new study

Residents who find Switzerland to be a costly place to live now have more proof: the mountain country ranks as the most expensive nation on the planet, according to a new study from the World Bank.

The International Comparison Program report, released on Tuesday in the US, compares purchasing power and real expenditures of 177 countries using statistics from 2011.

Switzerland ranks ahead of Norway, Bermuda, Australia and Denmark in the table for highest “price level indexes,” the report says.

Portugal next, with an imprimatur from ANSAmed:

Portugal passes latest troika test

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

The 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%.

The Portugal News charts a financial invasion:

Brits lead property sale surge

The sale of property in Portugal has recorded positive growth during the first quarter of 2014, the Chairman of National Real Estate Association (APEMIP) revealed this week, with the appetite of British buyers for Portuguese houses showing renewed signs of recovery.

Luís Lima explained that foreign investment played a considerable role in the improvement of the national real estate market, representing 14 percent of the total number of sales during the first three months of the year. However, estimates are that this percentage is substantially greater when solely taking into consideration the monetary value of property sales involving foreign buyers.

“A factor which helped boost figures this past quarter most was the increase in foreign investment and, for example, we started seeing more sales in the Algarve”, Luís Lima told the Lusa News Agency after the release of the association’s latest numbers.

The APEMIP chief put the latest “animated figures” for the first quarter down to mounting interest from foreign buyers, revealing that a total of 24,000 properties changed hands between January and March.

The Portugal News, with an anti-stricke strike:

Inmates launch hunger strike against strike

Fifteen inmates being held in the Monsanto maximum security prison have launched a hunger strike to protest against strike action being taken by prison guards.

According to a report by newspaper Diário de Notícias the inmates are taking action of their own in protest to the guards’ strikes which reduce their access to phone calls and visits.

On to Spain with El País, and that old hard times intolerance, taking the field:

Just another “isolated” racist incident?

The throwing of a banana at Barça’s Alves highlights the reluctance to tackle racial abuse in sport

The initial response of the authorities to the banana that was thrown at Barcelona’s Dani Alves during an away match at Villarreal on April 27 was that it was an isolated incident. The problem is that the history of sport, in Spain and around the world, is full of isolated incidents. And after a while, they all add up.

Which is not to say that in some countries action isn’t finally being taken against racism in sport. Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, was recently banned for life from the game, and will likely be forced to sell up after he was recorded telling his girlfriend in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want her bringing black people to games.

“The attitude of the State Commission Against Violence and Racism is lazy and laissez-faire,” says Esteban Ibarra, a member of the two anti-racist organizations in Spain. “All that happens here is that we cover up racism and violence.” It is an attitude that many sports fans will recognize from the way the Spanish authorities have failed to deal with doping.

A provocative push with a purpose from TheLocal.es:

Spanish region to tax owners of empty homes

Spain’s Catalonia region is looking at taxing the owners of properties that have stood empty for more than two years in a bid to increase stocks of social housing.

Under the draft legislation, property owners would have to register properties that have been empty for more than two years as of January 1st 2015. They would then be taxed accordingly. The planned tax is targeted primarily at financial institutions and would be gradual, with annual taxes levied on each property of €500 ($690) to €16,500 depending on how many properties are owned.

The proposal will help breathe life into a market where 15,000 people lost their homes in 2013, Catalonia’s government said in a statement.

On to Italy and a truly gruesome crime from TheLocal.it:

‘Mafia is behind stolen anti-cancer drugs’

A highly organized crime ring is behind the distribution of stolen and fake anti-cancer drugs throughout Europe, an Italian official told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

Domenico Di Giorgio, the director of the prevention of counterfeiting at the Italian Medicines Agency, the pharmaceutical watchdog, said that “organized crime is certainly involved” in the racket, which has raised concern among pharmaceutical professionals that the drugs may be inefficient or even deadly.

Di Giorgio’s agency is currently carrying out an investigation into the matter along with the Italian antifraud squad, the Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità Carabinieri.

“There’s a central structure apparently based in Italy that commissions thefts of medicines in hospitals,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [and lots of it], boycotts and bailouts in the Ukrainian/Russia conflict, a provocative Israeli move, Brazilian drought and a political preemption, a seismic economic shift in Asia, Chinese financial developments [including a bubble alert], Japanese bankster boosterism, TPP demands, environemtnal woes, visions of epidemics, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

Our Greek coverage begins with the numbers from To Vima:

Eurostat: Greek rate of unemployment 26.7% in January

Rate of unemployment in Eurozone in March found to be 11.8%, while in the EU it was found to be 10.5%

The European statistics authority Eurostat published its latest data regarding employment in the Europe and found that the rate of unemployment amongst the Eurozone members in March was 11.8%, namely 18.19 million people.

According to Eurostat’s figure, the rate of unemployment in the EU in March was 10.5%, remaining the same as it was in February; the total number of unemployed in the Eurozone shrunk by 22,000, while in the EU there were 66,000 fewer unemployed.

The highest rate of unemployment were documented in Greece (26.7%, according to January’s official figures) and Spain (25.3%), while the lowest rate was documented in Austria (4.9%), Germany (5.1%) and Luxembourg (6.1%)

From To Vima again, voicing anxieties:

Parliamentary Budget Office concerned about the future

While the rate of recession appears to be slowing down, the ongoing social crisis continues undeterred

The Budget Office in Parliament has published its first quarterly report for 2014 and concludes that while the rate of recession is slowing down, the social crisis carries on.

The scientific committee under professor P. Liargovas appears rather pessimistic regarding the coalition government’s predictions of a rather swift increase of revenue and reduction of tax evasion. Additionally, the committee argues that any discernible increase in income is mostly attributed to the government introducing new taxes and increasing the rates of existing ones.

Additionally, the Budget Office estimates that any discussion for debt relief must be initiated promptly in order to avoid any further problems. The rampant unemployment is also a major point of concern for the Budget Office, despite the recent improvement, stressing that the current rate is far higher than that in other countries where similar policies were observed.

A grim diagnosis from Greek Reporter:

Greece Failing to Protect Children from Poverty

Greece is failing to protect its children from poverty, the Deputy Ombudsman Giorgos Moschos told a parliamentary committee on equality and human rights on Friday.

His opinion is based on a study conducted by experts from the National Center for Social Research, who examined various data before coming to this conclusion.

“The expert team has revealed that children risking poverty had increased from 23% in 2008 to 30.4% in 2011. Children experiencing severe material deprivation also rose from 18.7% to 29.2%, while those living in a household where both parents are unemployed had tripled to 9.2%,” Moschos highlighted.

The Deputy Ombudsman concluded by emphasizing that, so far, there hasn’t been any political commitment to protecting children from poverty.

Locking in non-elite austerity, via To Vima:

Mid term plans include freezing wage and pension expenses

Economy is expected to recover gradually, while the rate of unemployment begins to deescalate

According to the new Medium Term Fiscal Strategy plan for 2015-2018 which is currently being discussed in Parliament, the State will freeze wage and pension expenses at 18 billion euros for the five-year period.

Meanwhile, the economy will begin to grow (0.6% GDP this year), while unemployment begins to drop and the primary surpluses continue to soar. Should this trend continue, of achieving fiscal goals, the Deputy Minister of Finances Christos Staikouras revealed that then the government will be in the position to begin reducing taxes, further encouraging growth.

The strategy plan suggests that the primary surplus in 2014 will be 2.3% GDP (4.19 billion euros), which will rise to 2.5% (4.737 billion euros) in 2015, 3.5% (6.955 billion euros) in 2016, 4.6% (9.423 billion euros) in 2017 and 5.3% (11.585 billion euros) in 2018. As for fiscal gaps, the estimate for 2015 is 911 million euros and 1.1927 billion euros in 2016 (nb: the sums are not accumulative). The fiscal gap of 2015 will be revised in September along with the draft of the new budget and should it remain unchanged, then further measures and interventions may be necessary.

Capital.gr has other numbers ot warm a banster’s heart [should said bankster actually have to organ in question]:

Nielsen: Greek consumer confidence index rose significantly during 1Q14

According to Nielsen, Greek consumer confidence index rose significantly in the first quarter of 2014 to 53 points, following a similar trend in the global consumer confidence index.

Greece and France were among the countries which recorded the biggest increases in the first quarter, among European countries, with the European consumer confidence index rising by two points to 75.

The Greek index rose eight points to 53, although concern over labor security remained the biggest worry for 52% of respondent Greeks, while 8 out of 10 respondents continued doubting whether Greece could recover soon from an economic recession and a 79% said that the economic situation will remain unchanged in the next 12 months.

More numbers, this time players on a program, via Keep Talking Greece:

39 parties, 7 coalition formations to claim the Greeks’ vote for EU elections 2014

Thirty-nine parties, seven coalition formations and one independent candidate will claim the vote of Greeks in the upcoming EU elections. “The participation broke a record,” write  Greek media, noting that during the last EU elections the number of parties seeking the votes were only 23.

The Ministry of Interior imposed a fee of 3,000 euro for a party or an independent candidate to submit application for the EU elections. The deadline for submission ended on May 1st.

PS You cannot claim afterwards you found no party to vote for.

More political numbers from ANA-MPA:

Opinion polls show ND lead over SYRIZA in European elections

The ruling New Democracy party, the largest in the current coalition government, was shown to be easing ahead with a lead of 0.6-0.8 pct over main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) in the upcoming European elections, in two opinion polls published on Friday.

An opinion poll carried out by MRB and presented on the Athens-based private television channel Star showed ND leading by 0.6 percent over SYRIZA.

According to the poll, ND received 21.9 pct of respondents’ preferences, SYRIZA 21.3 pct, Potami 8.2 pct, Golden Dawn 6.9 pct, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) 6 pct, Elia 5.1 pct, Independent Greeks 4.2 pct and Democratic Left (DIM.AR) by 2.8 pct.

And from Greek Reporter, another tragic consequence of austerity:

Rainwater Causing Damage to Acropolis

Archaeologists have been aware of the erosion caused to the subsoil of the Acropolis by the rainwater and have already submitted a study to bring the problem to the attention of the Central Archaeological Council of Greece (KAS). Furthermore, once the walls started to collapse the authorities prevented the visitors from ascending to the Acropolis from the theater of Dionysus and the Asclepeion.

The erosion problem derived from the fact that the major monument of Greece doesn’t have an up-to-date drainage system to absorb rainwater. Five out of the six ancient gutters have been blocked for many years now and the drainage system of Acropolis hasn’t been connected that of the city.

The secretary-general of the Ministry of Culture, Lina Mendoni, acknowledging the major impact of this destruction on the image of Greece, has mobilized both the Acropolis Restoration Scientific Committee and the Committee for the Preservation of the Acropolis Monuments to launch a program addressing the collapsing of the Acropolis’ walls. At the same time, the archaeological authorities have launched restoration programs for the already collapsed stones, stressed the KAS.

On to Russia and an unber-bankster pronouncement from CNN:

‘Clearly’ Russia’s economy has suffered, IMF chief Christine Lagarde says

There have “clearly” been consequences for the Russian economy because of the crisis in Ukraine, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

The IMF said Wednesday that the Russian economy was in recession, and is expected to grow by only 0.2% in 2014.

“If you look at the monetary policy, if you look at the capital flows, if you look at their own forecast, there have been consequences on the Russian economy as a result of the geopolitical situation, the uncertainty, and the sanctions that have been decided,” Lagarde told Amanpour.

And CNNMoney, political games:

U.S. presses CEOs to skip Russia’s Davos

American chief executives are being urged by the White House to stay away from Russia’s annual economic showcase.

Hosted by President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg — the former capital of imperial Russia — the event typically draws 100 global CEOs eager to network with officials, party with clients, do deals with oligarchs or just enjoy a night at the ballet.

The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which runs for three days starting May 22, has been compared to the annual January gathering of world leaders and executives in the Swiss resort of Davos. This year will be a much more subdued affair, however.

On to the Ukraine and an international bankster bailout, austerian strings attached via EUobserver:

Western lenders approve $17bn Ukraine bailout

International lenders have agreed a $17 billion (€12.3bn) bailout for Ukraine despite the pro-Russia uprising in the east and south of the country.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) act of faith in Ukraine’s future was announced in Washington on Thursday (30 April) even as Ukraine’s acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, said in Kiev his forces are “helpless” to quell the unrest.

The bailout envisages $3.2 billion of emergency assistance and makes the rest of the money available as a “stand-by arrangement” over the next two years, subject to “frequent reviews” of Kiev’s compliance with austerity measures on a similar model to EU bailouts of Eurozone states.

Off to the Mideast and a provocative move from Europe Online:

Netanyahu proposal for law on “Jewish State” stirs Arab outrage

A new push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare Israel a Jewish state came under increasing attack from the country’s Arab minority Friday, with prominent Arabs saying the attempt would only discredit Israel.

Netanyahu said he would make the push for the declaration – which has long been under discussion – on Thursday. He said he would want to “legally anchor,” at a constitutional level, Israel’s status as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

“Only a national movement that is not convinced of its righteousness makes demands every other day to recognize its Jewishness, against a historical narrative of another community, the Arab-Palestinian one, which asks for a shared existence,” Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, told the Ynet news site.

On to Latin America, starting with an agricultural disaster in Brazil, covered by CCTV America:

Brazil Inflation: Food Prices Surge as Drought Takes Toll

Program note:

Inflation has risen sharply again in Brazil, after months of efforts to keep prices in check. As CCTV’s Paulo Cabral reports, a brutal nationwide drought has created more pressure.

From BBC News, a preemptive strike:

Brazil poor get welfare rise and tax cuts from Rousseff

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has announced a 10% increase in social security payments as well as tax cuts for the less well-off. The changes will affect 36 million low-income families.

The announcements come ahead of a October’s presidential poll, in which Ms Rousseff will seek a second term.

Her popularity has dropped in recent weeks because of high inflation and mismanagement accusations involving Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras.

Asia next, and signs of a seismic shift from New Europe:

Asian exports’ performance may have “decoupled” from strength of western economy

The lack of significant rise in exports across Asia despite the steady recovery in the U.S. and Euro-zone economy in recent months has baffled analysts, which led some to speculate that a “decoupling effect” may have taken place or that the performance of developed economies may not have a direct impact on Asian exports.

More encouraging data are coming from the U.S. and Euro-zone at economic front in recent months. U.S. durable goods orders and flash manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) jumped impressively in March, something that is supposed to benefit Asian exports given their sensitivity to the U.S. capital expenditure cycle in the past. In the Euro-zone, the flash PMIs all also pointed to accelerating growth.

But in Asia, there was little evidence of strong exports and manufacturing activities which should have been the natural consequence of the economic recovery in the U.S. and the Euro zone.

China next, starting with a warning from Global Times:

Central bank warns of financial risks, pressure

China’s economy is still facing increasing downward pressure and potential financial risks, and the country will use “market means” to resolve local government debt issues, the country’s central bank said in its annual financial stability report released on Tuesday.

The foundation of economic recovery is still not solid, the reliance on investment and credit is still increasing and the task of structural adjustment and change of growth model is huge, the report said.

The country will maintain the continuity and stability of the macroeconomic policies and speed up economic restructuring to improve the quality and efficiency of economic growth, it said.

From South China Morning Post, Obamacare comes to China?:

China considers higher patient fees to fund salary boost for doctors

Government contends medical services have long been sold short, but assures increased charges to patients will be offset by public insurance

Beijing has pledged to better compensate doctors and nurses in the public sector by increasing health care costs, amid complaints that China’s doctors are grossly underpaid.

Some types of doctors are reportedly paid less than barbers or housekeepers for certain shifts, according to hospital officials. Public health is at risk if doctors and nurses are overworked and underpaid, and if fewer and fewer skilled talents enter the medical field.

However, the central government was quick to claim that the increase in charges to patients would be offset by public medical insurance.

The London Telegraph sees a bubble deflating:

Chinese anatomy of a property boom on its last legs

So now we know what China’s biggest property developer really thinks about the Chinese housing boom.

A leaked recording of dinner speech by Vanke Group’s vice-chairman Mao Daqing more or less confirms what the bears have been saying for months. It is a dangerous bubble, and already deflating.

Prices in Beijing and Shanghai have reached the same extremes seen in Tokyo just before the Nikkei boom turned to bust, when the (quite small) Imperial Palace grounds were in theory worth more than California, and the British Embassy grounds (legacy of a good bet in the 19th Century) were worth as much as Wales.

A virtual crackdown from Want China Times:

China Construction Bank shuts down bitcoin, litecoin transactions

In line with instructions from China’s central bank, China Construction Bank on April 30 announced on its website that effective immediately, the bank won’t allow clients to use their accounts for transactions related to bitcoin or litecoin, two global peer-to-peer digital currencies, following similar moves by Alipay and China Merchants Bank, our sister paper Commercial Times reports.

China Construction Bank is the second major bank, after China Merchants Bank, to take action to shut down transactions related services to the two digital currencies. Earlier on April 24, Alipay banned transactions bitcoin and litecoin through its services.

The central bank on April 22 convened executives of more than 20 commercial banks and third-party payment companies who deal with bitcoin, demanding that they suspend transactions and close current accounts with transactions related to bitcoin, according to a report by the Chinese-language Beijing Times.

On to Japan, starting with bankster boosterism from NewsOnJapan:

Japan household spending hits 4-decade high; wages key to outlook

The Bank of Japan has repeatedly said in recent weeks that the world’s third-biggest economy is not in need of fresh near-term stimulus to overcome the pain of the April 1 tax increase.

That view gained further currency with separate data on Friday showing the jobless rate held steady at a nearly seven-year low and the availability of jobs continued to improve.

Household spending rose 7.2 percent in March from a year earlier, data showed on Friday, far exceeding a median market forecast for a 1.0 percent increase, as demand boomed ahead of the sales tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent in April.

Jiji Press covers a downtick:

Consumption Slumps in Japan after Tax Hike

Sales of automobiles and other products in Japan slumped in April following the consumption tax rate hike to 8 pct from 5 pct at the start of that month, a series of industry data have shown.

As last-minute demand before the tax hike had run its course, sales of new automobiles, including minivehicles, slipped 5.5 pct from a year earlier to 345,226 units in April, the first drop in eight months, according to statistics released Thursday by the Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Association.

Going whole hog with Jiji Press:

Japan Discusses Big Tariff Cuts for Pork with U.S.

Japan is discussing sizable cuts in its pork tariffs with the United States as part of bilateral negotiations on trade liberalization under the Trans-Pacific Partnership framework, an informed source said Friday.

Japan imposes a tariff of up to 482 yen per kilogram on lower-priced pork imports. The idea on the table calls for lowering the tariff to around 120 yen soon after the effectuation of the envisioned TPP agreement and eventually to 50 yen over a period of 10 or more years, the source familiar with bilateral relations said.

As to beef, the two countries are discussing cutting the Japanese tariff from the current 38.5 pct to 9 pct over at least 10 years, according to the source.

NHK WORLD hits the transoceanic books:

Japan, US discuss agreement on students

Japan and the United States have confirmed that they will work together to double the number of their students studying in the other country by 2020.

Japan’s education minister Hakubun Shimomura spoke to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, following a meeting with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Shimomura said the plan is based on an agreement reached during the Japan-US summit last Thursday.

The number of Japanese students studying in the United States has been on the decline since peaking at around 50,000 in 1997. In 2013, the number fell below 20,000.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with pathetic incompetence via the Japan Times:

Unlabeled AC switch likely caused botched water transfer: Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power Co. told nuclear regulators Friday that human error was likely responsible for the highly radioactive water that got pumped into the wrong building at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March and that the tainted building is being turned into a makeshift water tank.

According to the hapless utility, workers might have mistakenly turned on the transfer pumps when they were actually trying to turn on the air conditioners in two buildings instead, including the one mistakenly flooded with toxic water.

The switches for the pumps and the air conditioners are on the same power distribution board but were not specifically labeled.

When a solution isn’t, via the Japan Daily Press:

Nuclear experts doubt ice wall as solution to Fukushima plant’s leak problems

An international nuclear expert expressed his doubts on Thursday on whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s plan to build an ice wall would effectively stop the leakage issues at the disaster stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex. The Japanese central government is also backing this plan, but a number of experts are skeptical if this solution could really limit the water contamination from the facility.

“I’m not convinced that the freeze wall is the best option,” said former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein. Klein heads a supervisory panel tasked with overseeing the plant operator’s nuclear safety efforts. “What I’m concerned about is unintended consequences,” Klein said. “Where does that water go and what are the consequences of that? I think they need more testing and more analysis,” he said. Klein also said that the plan may actually not function as intended due to untested assumptions about the site’s hydrology. The Japanese government has gone on record saying in September that it would fund the construction, giving around 32 billion yen (USD$313 million) to construct the 1.4 kilometer subterranean wall.

Former British Atomic Energy Authority Chairperson Barbara Judge, also part of the said panel, said that there needs to be an assessment if the ice wall would even be effective during the summer season. “No one has built a freeze wall this long for this period of time. Typically, you build a freeze wall for a few months,” Klein also added. These remarks by two international nuclear experts come at a time that concerns about the plan are also being raised by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority and engineering experts.

Jiji Press lends a hand:

British Firm to Help TEPCO Scrap Fukushima Reactors

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday that it has signed a statement of cooperation with British nuclear-related firm Sellafield Ltd. for the decommissioning of reactors at TEPCO’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

TEPCO hopes to learn Sellafield’s advanced decommissioning technologies and enhance measures to cope with leaks of radioactive water at the power station in northeastern Japan.

The signing ceremony was held in London on Thursday. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is on a European tour, also took part.

A disturbing story from NHK WORLD:

Fukushima evacuees complain of health problems

A survey by Fukushima Prefecture shows that nearly 70 percent of households that evacuated after the March 2011 disaster have members who complain of health problems.

The prefecture polled more than 62,800 evacuee households. About one-third responded. Sixty-eight percent said one or more of their members complain of health problems such as lack of sleep or depression.

Prefectural officials say they understand the need to do more to help evacuees improve their health and living conditions.

From the Japan Times, more signs of nuclear ineptness:

NRA raps Sendai plant for lack of safety info

Nuclear regulators said Friday that Kyushu Electric Power Co. has not provided enough information in a document outlining safety measures for two reactors the utility wants to restart.

The document was submitted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday so the NRA can confirm that the reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant satisfy the new safety requirements drafted in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Reactors 1 and 2 at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture are seen as the closest to restarting of the nation’s 48 idled commercial reactors, because the NRA has decided to prioritize the checkup process for the two units.

From the Albuquerque Journal, more woes at the site where radioactive waste from UC Berkeley’s national labs is stored. And since plutonium was found outside the site, we disagree with the assessment that no hazardous levels were detected, since any plutonium at all is hazardous:

DOE: Damaged bags discovered at WIPP

Investigators have discovered that several heavy bags used to prevent radiation leaks at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant were damaged, the Department of Energy said Thursday.

The magnesium oxide bags, weighing up to 4,200 pounds each, sit atop sealed containers of nuclear waste stored underground at the WIPP repository and are put in place to “prevent the radioactive material from releasing into the environment over a 10,000-year period,” according to a statement.

On Feb. 14, radiation leaked from the underground repository into the environment but did not reach levels considered unsafe for the public. The cause of the radiation leak, and what damaged the bags, is not yet known.

Air samples taken since Feb. 18 have shown no contamination, WIPP said Thursday

Gee! If you inject fluid in a stressed seismic fault, slippage ensures, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Geophysicists link fracking boom to increase in earthquakes

“It is certainly possible, and in large part that is based on what else we’ve seen in the Fort Worth basin in terms of the rise of earthquakes since 2008,” William Ellsworth, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, said in an interview Thursday.

Ellsworth said the Dallas-Fort Worth region previously had just a single known earthquake, in 1950. Since 2008, he said, there have been more than 70 big enough to feel. Those include earthquakes at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that scientists linked to a nearby injection well.

Ellsworth briefed his colleagues on his findings Thursday at the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

From Spiegel, an ongoing tragedy fed by our consumption habits:

A Tangle of Conflicts: The Dirty Business of Palm Oil

Palm oil can be found in many of the products we consume each day. Much of it comes from Indonesia, where brutal methods are deployed against locals. One of the main suppliers says it is cleaning up its act, but has it really changed?

Two months ago, soldiers abducted day laborer Titus, hit him with the butts of their rifles, whipped him and then wiped off the blood. It was only later that he found out the reason for his torture. A sign had been placed in his village, Bungku, stating, “This is our land.”

Bangku is located at the center of Indonesia’s Sumatra island. It’s a city full of people that have been pushed off their property and has been a flash point for years in one of the country’s bloodiest land conflicts. Palm oil is at the center of the dispute. Almost every second product available in today’s supermarkets contains the cheap natural resource, which is often generically labeled as “vegetable oil”. Palm oil can be found in shampoos, but also in margarine, frozen pizzas, ice cream and lipstick.

There are hundreds of conflicts over land with palm oil companies in Indonesia, but Bungku is considered to be one of the worst. The area’s forest, which once provided nourishment to those who lived there, fell victim to the giant palm oil plantations of the firm Asiatic Persada in the mid-1980s. In the following years, the company’s bulldozers illegally claimed a further 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of rain forest — an area about half the size of Berlin. Included were areas for which indigenous people’s held guaranteed land rights. But they were of little use against the palm oil industry.

From the San Jose Mercury News, another environmental alarm:

Climate change: Pacific Ocean acidity dissolving shells of key species

In a troubling new discovery, scientists studying ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington have found the first evidence that increasing acidity in the ocean is dissolving the shells of a key species of tiny sea creature at the base of the food chain.

The animals, a type of free-floating marine snail known as pteropods, are an important food source for salmon, herring, mackerel and other fish in the Pacific Ocean. Those fish are eaten not only by millions of people every year, but also by a wide variety of other sea creatures, from whales to dolphins to sea lions.

If the trend continues, climate change scientists say, it will imperil the ocean environment.

The Guardian covers a challenge to corporate free speech, Down Under:

Ben & Jerry’s referred to consumer watchdog over save-the-reef campaign

Ice-cream company’s ‘mistruths could cost jobs’, says Queensland LNP senator elect who has written to the ACCC

A Queensland senator elect has referred Ben & Jerry’s to Australia’s consumer watchdog for its advocacy efforts against development around the Great Barrier Reef.

The international ice-cream company has been campaigning against dredging and dumping near the reef. The company has been going on the road delivering free ice-cream around the country to raise alarm about the future of the reef.

Queensland LNP senator elect Matthew Canavan said he wrote to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Tuesday to consider the company’s conduct.

Our final item, from <a href="http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1502057/one-new-superbug-infection-every-18-minutes-hong-kong-public" targe

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