We open today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of politics, economics, and the environment with this, a creation of Vangelis Papavasiliou of the Greek paper Eleftherotypia:
In today’s economy, recovery is a matter of perspective.
From USA TODAY, a reminder of just how flimsy are the underpinnings of the new, picoseconds-fast transactions on which our Brave New Financial Order is founded:
Four-year Flash Crash anniversary haunts markets
This week marks the fourth anniversary of the brutal flash crash that rocked markets on May 6, 2010, and is a stark reminder of how little has changed.
Even four years after the crash that wiped out $1 trillion in wealth in the blink of an eye, investors and academics still haven’t agreed on what caused one of the most vicious and inexplicable short circuiting of markets to occur.
On that day, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged roughly 1,000 points only to recover in minutes. High-frequency computerized trading, believed to at least be part of the cause of the breakdown, is still a major force in the markets. There have been tweaks made to “circuit breakers,” or thresholds of volatility that cause trading individual stocks or the market to be halted. But these measures are widely viewed as putting Band-Aids on an open wound — it might offer some comfort, but does little to fix the underlying problem.
“It can still happen now, and it does in certain (individual stocks),” says Joe Saluzzi, trader at Themis Trading.
Perhaps the reason why the problem isn’t being addressed is that we don’t really know — even four year later — what caused the Flash Crash. And as recently as 2013, there have been other widespread malfunctions in the market that remain largely mysteries. Regarding the Flash Crash of 2010, it took roughly five months before regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released a report documenting the events that shook the markets. The report largely blames the “fragmented” stock market where there are multiple marketplaces exchanging prices with each other.
From Business Insider, the proceeds of plunder:
A Hedge Fund Manager Just Made The Biggest Home Purchase In US History
A Hamptons property has just taken the title of “most expensive home ever sold in the U.S.”
The 18-acre expanse in East Hampton just sold for $147 million to hedge-fund manager Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners, according to Curbed Hamptons.
Rosenstein’s new neighbors on exclusive Further Lane include Jerry Seinfeld, hedge-fund manager Jim Chanos, and art dealer Larry Gagosian.
From Reuters, just a cost of doing business:
Credit Suisse In Talks To Pay $1.6 Billion To Resolve U.S. Tax Probe: Source
Credit Suisse Group AG is in talks with the U.S. Justice Department to pay as much as $1.6 billion to resolve an investigation into the bank’s role in helping Americans evade U.S. taxes, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The penalty could be roughly twice the amount paid by UBS AG, which settled similar charges in 2009 for $780 million and agreed to identify its customers.
Prosecutors have also been pushing for Credit Suisse to plead guilty in connection with the probe, two people with knowledge of the talks said.
From Aviation Week, how the elite travels, at least on one Abu Dhabi-based airline:
Etihad Unveils Three-Room ‘Residence’ On A380 Fleet
All of the three-class A380s will seat 498, with two seats in “residence,” nine “apartments” (first class), 70 in business and 417 economy seats.
Etihad will be the second airline to offer showers on board the A380, a concept that has been introduced by its rival Emirates. There will be one shower available for the nine first class passengers, but the real innovation is the “residence.” It is located to the left and aft of the front staircase and consists of three rooms: A living room certified for two passengers during take-off and landing, a bathroom with a shower, and the bedroom in the very front of the upper deck. The bedroom does not have windows. Other A380 operators have used the room next to the staircase for showers (Emirates) or for small lounge areas (Air France, Qantas). By creating the “residence” (125 square feet), Etihad is not giving up revenue space.
According to Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner, “residence” is going to be about three times as expensive as regular first class. A flight from Abu Dhabi to London would be around $20,000 one-way, but it can be used for two passengers. Etihad is targeting high net worth individuals who would otherwise use a private jet for long haul travel.
USA TODAY covers reality for some of the rest of us:
Single women say their income doesn’t cover expenses
Across the country, single women feel worse than both men and any age group about their ability to make ends meet. In a survey of 1,200 adults given exclusively to USA TODAY by Consumers’ Research, the data show that about 60% of single women say they don’t earn enough to cover their expenses.
That’s compared with 45% of everyone surveyed, and 57% of those ages 50 to 59, the group with the highest percentage who said they don’t make enough to cover expenses.
Do Americans not make enough money, or are they living beyond their means?
“I would say that those two are the same thing,” says Joe Colangelo, executive director of Consumers’ Research. “If you aren’t making enough to support your lifestyle, you need to make some life and habit changes.”
And from PandoDaily, another form of profitable plunder:
LEAKED: Docs obtained by Pando show how a Wall Street giant is guaranteed huge fees from taxpayers on risky pension investments
Thanks to confidential documents exclusively obtained by Pando, we can now see some of the language and fee structures in the agreements between the “alternative investment” industry and major public pension funds. Taken together, the documents raise serious questions about whether the government employees, trustees and politicians overseeing major public pension funds are shirking their fiduciary responsibilities under the law when they are cementing “alternative” investment deals.
The documents, which were involved in a recent SEC inquiry into the $14.5 billion Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS), were handed to us by SEC whistleblower Chris Tobe, an investment consultant and former trustee of the KRS. Tobe has also written a book — “Kentucky Fried Pensions” — about the scandalous state of the Kentucky public pensions system.
The documents provided by Tobe (embedded below) specifically detail Kentucky’s dealings with Blackstone – a giant Wall Street investment firm which has deployed a platoon of registered lobbyists in Kentucky and whose employees are major financial backers of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
From Reuters, we won’t hold our breath:
U.S. attorney general says banks may face criminal cases soon
The U.S. Justice Department is pursuing criminal investigations of financial institutions that could result in action in the coming weeks and months, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video, adding that no company was “too big to jail.”
The comments, made in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website on Monday, came as federal prosecutors push two banks, BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA) and Credit Suisse AG (MLPN.P), to plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve investigations into sanctions and tax violations, respectively, according to people familiar with the probes.
While Holder did not name any banks, he said he is personally monitoring the ongoing investigations into financial institutions and is “resolved to seeing them through.”
The Los Angeles Times covers gentrification of another sort:
Return of ‘mansionization’ has some L.A. homeowners grumbling
Six years ago, Los Angeles politicians imposed new limits on the size of new and renovated houses, promising to rein in what they called “homes on steroids” dwarfing blocks of smaller buildings.
But as the housing market rebounds and construction picks up, many homeowners complain that “mansionization” has revved up — reigniting long-standing policy battles and sometimes bitter fence fights over the face and feel of L.A.’s neighborhoods.
Builders are snapping up smaller, older homes, razing them and replacing them with bigger dwellings. Increasingly, sleek, square structures are popping up along streets known for quaint bungalows.
Opening the tent flap for the camel’s nose, via the New York Times:
Supreme Court Allows Prayers at Town Meetings
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a town in upstate New York did not violate the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that divided the court’s more conservative members from its liberal ones, said the prayers were merely ceremonial. They were neither unduly sectarian nor likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome.
“Ceremonial prayer,” he wrote, “is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”
In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share of her government.”
Off to Europe, starting with some boosterism from BBC News:
EU raises its growth forecast for 2014
The European Commission has raised its growth forecast for the EU, saying that “the recovery has taken hold”.
The 26 nations of the EU are forecast to grow by 1.6% for 2014, a touch higher than the forecast of 1.5% made in late February. The growth forecast for the 18-nation eurozone remains at 1.2% for 2014.
The Commission expects the jobs market to continue to improve, forecasting EU unemployment will fall to 10.1% this year. In March, the rate was 10.5%
And from New Europe, giving the banksters a freer hand:
The EU partially suspended talks to hold a three-month public consultation over worries about the investment rules
Germany’s vice chancellor is underlining doubts about the need for new investment rules in a proposed European Union-U.S. trade deal — a thorny issue in the talks.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel on Monday voiced strong support for the overall trade deal but said both sides already have a “sophisticated, legally safe position for investors” so he doesn’t see the need for a special agreement on that aspect. Germany has the EU’s biggest economy.
The EU partially suspended talks to hold a three-month public consultation over worries about the investment rules. Critics and some officials previously voiced unease over what they said were loopholes that might expose governments to lawsuits by multinational companies.
Off to Norway, and a ready customer from abroad via TheLocal.no:
Chinese tycoon keen to buy chunk of Norway
A Chinese property tycoon shut out by Iceland after he sought to buy a vast tract of the country is turning his attention to Norway, he told AFP on Monday.
Huang Nubo, founder of Chinese property firm Zhongkun Group, said in a telephone interview that he still wants to develop high-end resorts in northern Europe and plans to invest 80 million euros ($111 million) in Norway over the next five to 10 years.
His statement comes as a huge tract of the Arctic Svalbard Islands has been put up for sale by Henning Horn, a Norwegian industrialist and farmer, and his sisters Elin and Kari.
And some Norse doubts via New Europe:
70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU
Skepticism over joining EU remains strong in Norway
More Norwegians are against seeking European Union (EU) membership today than several decades ago, making the prospect of Norway joining the 28-member bloc look even dimmer.
A new opinion poll, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported Monday, shows that 70 percent of Norwegians opposes joining the EU.
Only 20.2 percent of respondents in the poll, which was carried out by the agency Sentio for Norwegian-language newspapers “Klassekampen” and “Nationen,” were in favor of Norway joining the EU.
Next up France, and similar doubts from RFI:
Majority of French want smaller EU, poll
A new poll suggests a majority of French people would like the European Union to be smaller.
In a poll published on Monday, conducted by Viavoice for the French newspaper Libération, 64 per cent of those surveyed say they would prefer the European Union to centre around core countries, such as the euro countries, or the six founder-member states: France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Twenty per cent of those polled are happy with the current membership and a mere seven per cent favour further EU enlargement.
49 per cent associate the EU with something negative while only 45 say for them it represents something positive.
From Europe Online, skepticism:
France set to miss deficit goal despite spending cuts, EU predicts
France has not gone far enough to whittle its deficit down to within EU limits, a new forecast predicted Monday, despite unprecedented cuts introduced by Paris.
France has struggled to rev up its economy – the second largest in the European Union – with warnings rampant about its sluggish competitiveness. There are concerns that Paris’ economic woes could complicate the recovery underway in the crisis-battered eurozone.
Last year, the EU gave France a reprieve by granting it two extra years – until 2015 – to bring its deficit below 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
And from Agence France-Presse, a rare win:
France Definitively Bans Genetically Modified Corn
France definitively banned the growing of genetically modified corn on Monday after its highest court and Senate both confirmed an existing ban.
A grouping of leftist senators including members of the ruling Socialists, Greens and Communists approved a law banning MON810, a type of GM corn produced by US firm Monsanto, that had already been passed by the lower house of parliament, overcoming opposition from right-wing members.
At the same time, the Council of State rejected a request from corn producers to overturn the ban on MON810.
New up Switzerland, and the possible end of a centuries’ old stance from TheLocal.ch:
Swiss ‘likely to vote on EU ties in two years’
Swiss citizens will likely go the polls in two years to decide on Switzerland’s future ties with the European Union, the country’s president Didier Burkhalter says.
In an interview published on Sunday by the German-language weekly NZZ am Sonntag, Burkhalter said it was his personal view that a referendum will be held in 2016 on bilateral relations with the EU.
“The decision will be at the end of a long process that has only just begun,” Burkhalter, a member of the centre-right Liberal party from Neuchâtel, told the newspaper.
“Until then there is still a tough obstacle course ahead of us.”
Spain next, and dismal numbers from TheLocal.es:
Half of young Spaniards have no money coming in
Almost half of all Spaniards aged 16 to 29 receive neither a salary nor government benefits while only one in five can afford to fly the family coop, the startling results from a new study reveal.
A total of 47.5 percent of young Spaniards receive no formal income at all, the study by youth lobby group CJE shows.
Youth unemployment is currently 55 percent but the CJE study shows the situation is made even worse by the precarious nature of that employment.
With just 34 percent of people aged 16 to 29 in Spain actually working, more that half of people in this age group are on temporary contracts. Of those contracts, 46.4 percent are of less than 12 months duration.
From the Independent, a lesson only half-learned:
Spain is inviting back Jews expelled from the country in the 16th Century. But don’t mention the Muslims
Our cousins in Madrid and Lisbon simply don’t want Muslims to come to Europe
The year of darkness, of course, was 1492, when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Christian power was restored to the lands in which Muslims and Jews had lived together for hundreds of years and had rescued some of the great works of classical literature – by way of Baghdad – for us to study. Save for those who converted to Christianity or died at the stake – at least 1,000 Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000, among them – the entire Muslim and Jewish communities were thrown out of Spain and Portugal by the early 17th century. They scattered, to Morocco, Algeria, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey. Which is why the glories of Andalusian architecture can still be found in north Africa. The Sephardic (Spanish) Jews spoke Ladino, which was still understood in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. In just over 100 years, the Christian monarchy of Spain had expelled half a million Muslims and between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews. There are now around 3.5 million Sephardic Jews in the world. Their ancient homes also still exist in Spain.
But now Spain and Portugal want to make amends, so we are told. They will give citizenship – full passports – to the descendants of families expelled from their countries. The government regards the expulsions as “a tragedy”, or – in the words of Spain’s justice minister – a “historical error”. It was, of course, an ethnic cleansing, a massive crime against humanity, but don’t let’s expect too much from our Spanish and Portuguese friends, as there are, unfortunately, a few problems. For example: Muslims need not apply.
And from TheLocal.es, what a dose of bananas didn’t cure:
‘They called me a monkey so I danced like one’
A new racism scandal erupted in Spanish football after fans made monkey chants at Levante’s Senegalese midfielder Pape Diop, just a week after Barcelona defender Dani Alves denounced a banana-thrower.
The 28-year-old Diop accused Atletico Madrid fans of subjecting him to abuse as his side inflicted a shock 2-0 defeat on the Liga leaders on Sunday.
He reacted by dancing in front of the disconsolate travelling fans at the final whistle Sunday, and television images showed some furious Atletico supporters making monkey gestures.
“It affected me a lot,” Diop said. “I went to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans began to make monkey chants. To play it down, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone,” the player said.
Italy next, and a tongue-lashing from the top via ANSA:
Renzi says Italy must change or be EU laggards
Premier admits delay on institutional reforms is ‘costly’
Premier Matteo Renzi said Monday that the government’s reform programme was necessary to stop Italy becoming one of the European Union’s worst-performing States.
“Our ideas are not the result of improvisation,” Renzi told a seminar on the institutional reforms organised by his centre-left Democratic Party (PD). “We are anxious for change and we have to produce fast results or we won’t have credibility in the European Union.
“We are certain that if Italy changes, it’ll be at the helm. Otherwise it’ll become a laggard”. Renzi, who was sworn in as Italy’s youngest premier aged 39 in February, has presented a bill to change the Constitutional to overhaul the country’s costly, slow-moving political machinery.
From ANSA, the bleak numbers continue:
Italian unemployment worse than expected, says EU and Istat
Between 12.7%-12.8% in 2014, with ‘marginal improvement’ in 2015
Both the European Union and Italy’s national statistics agency on Monday revised upwards their forecasts of Italian unemployment for this year and the next. Italy’s unemployment rate will grow to 12.7% in 2014, up 0.5% on the year, according to national statistics agency Istat.
Light improvement is expected in the second half of the year, preceding a drop to 12.4% in 2015, added Istat.
Meanwhile the European Commission predicted Italy’s unemployment rate in 2014 to be 12.8%, “a new high”, as opposed to the 12.6% rate predicted in February.
From TheLocal.it, hard times intolerance, as when adults fear cooties:
‘We don’t want our kids to go on migrant bus’
A group of parents from Sicily refused to let their children go on a school trip because the bus they would have travelled on had previously transported migrants “suffering from diseases”.
The children, from Giacomo Albo di Modica school in Ragusa, had been due to go on the trip on Monday, but a group of about 60 parents rallied against it, saying “the risk of them catching a disease is too great, and we don’t want to take that risk,” according to a report in La Repubblica.
The children would have travelled on one of the buses, chartered by the local council, used to transport migrants from the port of Pozzallo to an emergency holding centre between Comiso and Ragusa in recent days, the newspaper said.
From New Europe, begging the question, as in is this real anti-semitism, or the sort redefined by Israeli media-spinners in which legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies has been redefined as racism:
The number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012
Annual report on Anti-Semitism in Czech Republic registers steep increase of Internet attacks
A new study by Prague’s Jewish community has registered a significant increase of attacks against Jews on the Internet for the second straight year.
The annual report on anti-Semitism released Monday said the number of Internet attacks, including texts, photos and videos, jumped to 156 in 2013 from 82 in 2012. The report said the pro-Israeli stance of the Czech government was among the reasons for the attacks.
Besides the Internet attacks, it said anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic remains at a relatively low level with one physical attack registered last year and three attacks on Jewish property.
After the jump the latest from Greece, new developments in Latin America, mixed signals for the Chinese economy, a host of environmental alarm bells, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypose Now!. . .
For our first Greek item, stringing them out with Capital.gr:
Dijsselbloem: Decisions on Greek debt issue after summer
In an interview to the Bloomberg news agency, the Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem revealed that the debt in Greece and the possibility of further aid will be decided after the summer.
Mr. Dijsselbloem explained that Greece must implement what it has agreed to with its international creditors, which includes maintaining a primary surplus, although Europe is “prepared to do more”, should debt sustainability remain a problem.
Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said he doesn’t want to see Greece push the discussion on debt relief but says that it will be raised and that there will be many differing opinions.
Via Greek Reporter, the Great Beach Rush of 2014, bankster-mandated:
Greece Will Let Developers Seize Beachfronts, End Free Public Access
A leading ecological group is objecting to Greek government plans to let private businesses – including those who have built operations unlawfully – to seize beachfront property and abolish the right for unhindered access to public beach lands.
The Greek branch of the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) has written to Members of Parliament – which is controlled by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and his partner the PASOK Socialists – to protest the proposal it says will deprive Greeks of their right to be able to get to public beaches.
Athens’ coastline is dotted with unlawful taverns and businesses that charge people for access to public beaches, many of the operations running without licenses, which is common in Greece, amid complaints of corruption and officials being paid off to allow them.
More from Kathimerini English:
Environmental group urges MPs to block ‘criminal’ coastal development bill
The bill facilitates permanent constructions on beaches for commercial purposes, while making it possible for businesses to pay fines to legalize unlicensed constructions.
Reactions against a controversial bill that lifts restrictions on construction along Greece’s coastline continued Monday, as environmental protection group WWF Greece urged lawmakers to shoot down the “ecologically criminal proposal.”
“It is a brutal and outrageously shortsighted, revenue-oriented wipeout of environmental law,” the NGO said in an open letter to Greek MPs urging them to stop the draft law before it is submitted to Parliament.
Meanwhile, ANA/MPA has hopeful numbers:
EC report: Greek economy to grow +0.9 pct in 2014, 2.9 pct in 2015
The Greek economy is expected to grow by 0.9 pct this year and by 2.9 pct in 2015, the European Commission said on Monday.
In its spring estimates for the country’s economic outlook, the Commission confirmed its estimates released earlier this year (February 25). In the report, the Commission said it expected the Eurozone economy to grow by 1.2 pct this year and by 1.7 pct in 2015 (down from an 1.8 pct estimate in February). For the EU, it expects an 1.6 pct growth rate in 2014 (1.5 pct in February) and a 2.0 pct growth rate in 2015 (unchanged from February).
The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 26 pct in 2014, from 27.3 pct in 2013 (up from a 25.7 pct estimate in February) and to 24 pct of the workforce in 2015 (down from 24.6 pct in February).
From Greek Reporter, Syriza takes the lead in a densely populated field:
Pulse Poll: SYRIZA in Lead for Euro Elections
Pulse RC Poll for 2014 Euro ElectionsA new poll on May’s Euro elections conducted by Pulse RC for the Greek website http://www.topontiki.gr showed SYRIZA has retained its 1.5% lead over New Democracy, with both parties increasing their share of the vote by 3% since April’s survey.
More specifically, SYRIZA has a 22% edge over New Democracy, compared to 19% in April, and New Democracy ranks second with 20.5% (17.5% in April). The far-right Golden Dawn is estimated to win 10% of the votes compared to 9.5% in the previous poll, while To Potami has fallen to 7% from 9.5% in April.
The socialist coalition Elia lost ground by 0.5% and polled 6.5% in May, while the Democratic Left (DIMAR) rose to 3% from 2%. Both the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) remain steady at 6% and 4% respectively.
Latin America next, and a warning from the Lords of Money via MercoPress:
“Least difficult phase of economic growth is now over”, IMF top official tells Latam
IMF Director for the Western Hemisphere Department Alejandro Werner has once again called on Latin America to embark upon economic reforms, claiming that the “least difficult” phase of economic growth is now over.
The IMF most recently forecast a 2.5% Gross Domestic Product growth rate for the region this year, which it has termed “modest,” to be followed by 3% growth in 2015 and Werner attributed the lower growth rates to the of the commodities boom, instability in international capital markets and the region pushing up against the upper limits of its current production capacity.
Werner differentiated between Latin American countries closely-linked to the US economy, which he predicted will have a marginally better year, and those more dependent on commodities, which is the case of the Southern Cone including Argentina, for example.
MercoPress again, this time with some major progress in a notable area:
The Lancet acknowledges Argentina’s child mortality rates have dropped dramatically
Argentina has been improving its mortality rates over the past decades, as it was revealed on Friday by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. Although Argentina’s rates are better than other countries in the region, including Brazil, Cuba, Uruguay and Chile among others still have the better numbers.
In 2000, all the countries agreed that child mortality rate had to be reduced and according to The Lancet, many nations have been doing their best to improve those rates. However, there is much to do yet.
According to The Lancet, Argentina between 1990 and 2013 reduced its child mortality rate by 3.1% every year. According to the journal, there are 14.2 under five child deaths per 1,000 births. In Brazil, there are 18 child deaths per 1,000 births and the rate has reduced in a 4.6% annually between 1990 and 2013.
However, the other country’s neighbors have a better record. In Chile, 7.4 deaths of children under five are reported every 1,000 births; in Uruguay, the number climbs to 10.9. Between 1990 and 2013, Chile reduced children mortality in a 4.2% every year whereas in Uruguay the improvement reached the 3.4%.
And off to Asia with an Africa twist from SINA English:
Li Keqiang:Destinies of China, Africa closely linked
ADDIS ABABA – Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said here Sunday that China hopes to deepen friendly cooperation with Africa as the two have closely-linked destinies.
Li made the remarks when meeting the press together with his Ethiopian counterpart Hailemariam Desalegn after their talks.
At the current stage, China’s relations with Ethiopia and Africa at large are both moving along the right track, said the Chinese leader. On China-Africa ties, Li said, first, the two sides share closely-linked destinies.
SINA English again, this time with worrisome numbers for Beijing:
China factory activity shrinks in April
Activity in China’s manufacturing sector contracted for a fourth consecutive month in April, a private survey showed on Monday, adding to questions about whether the world’s second-largest economy is still losing momentum.
The final reading of the HSBC/Markit purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for April came in at 48.1, lower than a preliminary reading of 48.3 but up slightly from an eight-month low of 48.0 in March.
The HSBC/Markit PMI has been below the 50 level that separates growth from contraction since the start of 2014.
Want China Times covers psychic revanchism:
The superstition that haunts Chinese bureaucracy
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China has dismissed Li Chuncheng, former deputy Communist Party chief of the southwestern province of Sichuan and cancelled his party membership for corruption. Li has also been accused of pursuing a lifestyle with too great an attachment to “superstitious” practices, including feng shui, the traditional Chinese system which links one’s fate to location and the layout of objects, as well as Daoist rituals.
Insiders noted that such practices are actually common among Chinese officials, many of whom place their trust in rites and feng shui in the belief that it will assure them of a smooth ascension up the bureaucratic ladder. They may engage feng shui masters to adjust the layout of their living or work environment or hire Daoist practioners to perform rituals to dispel evil spirits haunting their life — or to protect them against their corruption coming to light.
Ye Shuyang, former chief of police in the city of Shaoguan in the southern province of Guangdong, is believed to have consulted fortune tellers for guidance on how to safely carry out three instances of corruption deeds where he expected to gain 20 million yuan (US$3.2 million) on each occasion.
On to Japan and straight to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:
Fukushima forest radiation down 50% in 2 years
Officials released the data in a meeting with people who work in the forestry industry in Fukushima. They have been monitoring radiation levels at 362 sites in the prefecture’s forests.
They say the average radiation for the sites was 0.91 microsieverts per hour in the year following the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
The officials found that the average radiation level fell by about half to 0.44 microsieverts during the year ending in March 2014. They say the amount of radioactive materials in new leaves was about one fifth of those contained in leaves that started growing before the disaster.
The prefectural government forecasts forest radiation will drop to around 30 percent from the current level over the next 20 years.
Next, a reminder that Japan, like California, offers a most unstable platform for massive nuclear reactor complexes. From the Asahi Shimbun:
Tokyo’s strongest tremor since Great East Japan Earthquake injures 16
The strongest earthquake registered in Tokyo since the 2011 Tohoku disaster rocked the nation’s capital early on May 5, injuring 16 people and causing minor disruptions in transportation.
The quake had an estimated magnitude of 6.0 and reached an intensity of lower 5 on the Japanese scale of 7 in Chiyoda Ward in central Tokyo.
The epicenter of the undersea quake, which struck at 5:18 a.m., was south of Tokyo near Izu-Oshima island.
From NBC Right Now, another nuclear nightmare, much closer to home:
Pipe Explosion at Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant Site
Hanford union workers tell NBC Right Now there was an explosion at the plutonium finishing plant cleanup site weeks ago, but the event wasn’t shared with the public.
The Hanford union representative says it happened when workers were cutting some pipe as part of the demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.
The union representative wants to remain anonymous and says workers are concerned management isn’t putting worker safety first.
“Having a pipe explode at probably the most contaminated facility in the United States. This is one of the most hazardous buildings in the U.S.” said the Union representative.
From BBC News, another nightmare scenario:
World facing polio health emergency
The World Health Organization has declared the spread of polio is an international public health emergency.
Outbreaks in Asia, Africa and Middle East are an “extraordinary event” needing a co-ordinated “international response”, the agency says. It recommends citizens of affected countries travelling abroad carry a vaccination certificate.
It says Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria “pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014.”
While the Observer covers crime in the supermarket aisle:
Crime gangs expand into food fraud
Draft EU report says increasingly sophisticated techniques being used to counterfeit and adulterate food
Organised gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology to perpetrate widespread food fraud, according to experts.
A rise in criminal targeting of the food and drink sector is being blamed on the huge mark-ups that can be made by passing off inferior products as premium goods, coupled with the fact that there is little oversight and lenient penalties for those caught.
Concerns about the role organised crime is playing in the endemic diluting of virgin olive oil has seen the UK government appoint a specialist testing company to establish if the grade declared on the label is genuine. Olive oil is recognised by the EU committee on the environment, public health and food safety as the product most at risk of fraud by gangs, in particular Italian crime syndicates. Other foods attracting the interest of organised crime, according to the committee, include fish, milk, honey and rare spices such as saffron.
Pacific Standard covers another foe, once almost vanquished and now resurgent:
How Malaria Defeats Our Drugs
In the war against malaria, one small corner of the globe has repeatedly turned the tide, rendering our best weapons moot and medicine on the brink of defeat.
Malaria is the work of the single-celled Plasmodium parasites, and Plasmodium falciparum chief among them. They spread between people through the bites of mosquitoes, invading first the liver, then the red blood cells. The first symptoms are generic and flu-like: fever, headache, sweats and chills, vomiting. At that point, the immune system usually curtails the infection. But if the parasites spread to the kidneys, lungs, and brain, things go downhill quickly. Organs start failing. Infected red blood cells clog the brain’s blood vessels, depriving it of oxygen and leading to seizures, unconsciousness, and death.
When Nosten first arrived in Southeast Asia almost 30 years ago, malaria was the biggest killer in the region. Artemisinin changed everything. Spectacularly fast and effective, the drug arrived on the scene in 1994, when options for treating malaria were running out. Since then, “cases have just gone down, down, down,” says Nosten. “I’ve never seen so few in the rainy season—a few hundred this year compared to tens of thousands before.”
But he has no time for celebration. Artemisinin used to clear P. falciparum in a day; now, it can take several. The parasite has started to become resistant. The wonder drug is failing. It is the latest reprise of a decades-long theme: We attack malaria with a new drug, it mounts an evolutionary riposte.
From the Guardian, another invasive organism:
Invasion of albino snakes threatens Gran Canaria wildlife
Soaring numbers of albino California king snakes prompts warning that they could take over 70% of Spanish island
Invasive species experts will gather in Gran Canaria this week to offer their advice on how best to control an albino variety of a popular pet snake whose population has exploded across the island in recent years, decimating local bird and lizard species.
Originally brought to the island as pets, the albino California king snakes were set loose or escaped decades ago, said Ramón Gallo, a biologist who is spearheading the effort to control the population through a project called LIFE+Lampropeltis.
In the absence of natural predators and in mild temperatures and a coastal climate similar to its native California, the king snakes have multiplied. In the past eight years, more than 2,000 of the snakes have been captured, and thousands more are thought to be living underground, said Gallo. “The word plague comes to mind.”
Our final item comes from the Financial Express, via the Department of What-Could-Possibly-Go-Wrong?:
New edible film kills bacteria in meat
A new dissolving film that kills bacteria in meat and could be eaten along with the food has been developed. The film protects meat from spoilage using essential oils or nanoparticles and being edible, it could even be incorporated into the meat products.
Using films made of pullulan – an edible, mostly tasteless, transparent polymer produced by the fungus reobasidium pulluns – researchers evaluated the effectiveness of films containing essential oils derived from rosemary, oregano and nanoparticles against foodborne pathogens associated with meat and poultry.
The results demonstrate that the bacterial pathogens were inhibited significantly by the use of the antimicrobial films, said Catherine Cutter, professor of food science at The Pennsylvania State University.