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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from the Christian Science Monitor, unlikely allies:

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

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

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

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

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

Another response from Al Jazeera America:

Open Internet backers stage ‘Occupy FCC’

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

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

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

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

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

US Fed proposes rule to limit size of merged banks

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

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

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

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

Carl Levin eyes bill to end corporate tax loophole

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

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

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

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

National report card: High school seniors lack critical skills

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

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

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

From Reuters, the search for a captive audience:

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

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

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

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

A boom brings its own crisis, via MintPress News:

North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic

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

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

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

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

From China Daily, a trans-Pacific customer:

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

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

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

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

CNBC delivers another verdict:

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

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

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

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

From CNBC again, another verdict:

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

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

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

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

While My Budget 360 offers another bottom line:

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

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

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

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

And Naked Capitalism sets the stage for another crisis:

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

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

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

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

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

10 peaking megabubbles signal impending stock crash

Commentary: Fed-driven rally is about to end badly

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

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

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

Add another potential bubble, via MintPress News:

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

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

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

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

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

On to Europe and a eurobankster decision from BBC News:

ECB holds rates but Draghi hints at policy change

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

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

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

Attribution, via EUobserver:

Russia driving up euro, says Draghi

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

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

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

And from New Europe, vast indifference:

Euro election fails to interest 62% of Europeans

Suppose they held an election and nobody came?

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

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

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

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

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

Council adopts new measures to cut broadband costs

The measures promote the joint use of infrastructure

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

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

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

On to Britain and a body count from BBC News:

Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years

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

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

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

Ireland next, Sky News and bad news for women:

No NHS Abortions For Northern Ireland Women

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

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

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

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

A stunning allegation, via EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

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

Sweden next with TheLocal.se, imitating the Nazis:

Roma rep: Register payouts ‘a disgrace’

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

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

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

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

Germany next, and a household budget from EurActiv:

German living expenses rank high

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

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

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

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

Via TheLocal.de, ironic litigation:

Equality tsar sues own ministry – for inequality

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

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

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

Via People’s Daily, anticipatory anxiety:

Growing euro area deflation risk could hurt German economy: research

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

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

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

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

‘Exiting from Europe is exiting from history’

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

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

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

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

Industrial production in France falls 0.7 pct in March

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

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

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

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

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

Monaco magnate shot outside Nice hospital

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

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

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

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

Minister urges tax hikes for Italian frontaliers

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

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

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

On to Lisbon with a warning from EUbusiness:

Eurogroup warns Portugal on bailout exit

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

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

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

Next up Spain, and austerian bondage from El País:

Brussels asks Spain for two more years of belt-tightening

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

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

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

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

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

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

Ex-Berlusconi MP arrested over mafia links

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

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

Matacena fled Italy for Dubai last year.

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

And from TheLocal.it again, more corruption:

Milan Expo manager arrested for corruption

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

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

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

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

For our first Hellenic headline, a mixed report card from Greek Reporter:

IMF Talks Greek Debt Relief But Fears for Political Stability

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Thursday that Greek debt is “high” and added that the European partners of Greece have agreed to debt relief.

At a scheduled weekly press conference, Rice expressed his concern about the possibility of political instability in Greece around the municipal and regional elections set for later this month.

“In the Greek program, like other programs, political stability is an important issue,” said Rice.

EurActiv raises allegations:

EU accused of ‘fiddling’ with Greek deficit figures ahead of election

The Ifo Institute, one of Germany’s most influential economic think tanks, has accused the EU institutions of “fiddling the figures” on Greece’s public deficit figures in order to “embellish” the country’s situation ahead of the May European elections.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Munich-based research institute said Eurostat had removed key data from its website in order to show a primary surplus of 0.8% for Greece in its 2013 budget figures.

Instead of a surplus, the actual figure should show an 8.7% deficit, the Ifo said on Wednesday (7 May).

Greek Reporter issues another warning:

Schäuble Praises Greece’s Surplus But Warns Work Still To Do – See more at:

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has acknowledged Greece’s progress but underlined that, unless Greeks continue their efforts, they won’t achieve their goals. To accomplish that, he pointed out, Greeks should not get carried away by irresponsible promises from politicians.

According to Schäuble, Greece is on the right track, given its primary surplus is bigger than the anticipated.

“Greece has made significant progress and if Greeks continue on the same track, it is very probable that they will make it,” Schäuble said in an interview with German state TV ARD.

It looks like real estate developers in Greece have learned something from their U.S. counterparts: Use an economic crisis as a tool to demoish zoing laws. From Kathimerini English:

Environment Ministry aims to create more flexible rules for building activity

Greece’s zoning laws are to be made much more flexible, according to draft legislation prepared by the Environment Ministry and put to public consultation on Thursday.

The most significant change is that the national zoning plan is being scrapped and replaced with a description of general policy regarding what kind of activities are permitted. The legislation also makes reference to the fact that zoning can be regulated in accordance to the needs generated by “the medium-term fiscal plan, the public investment program and specific or general national or regional programs.”

Under the would-be law “strategic zoning plans” can be drawn up regarding particular activities and areas. The schemes would have a five-year duration but their stipulations could be amended by just a ministerial decision if the projects involved are deemed to be of national interest or part of European Union-funded programs. This provision, however, appears to run counter to the idea of zoning as it creates a much more fluid situation, which could lead to two seemingly incongruent types of developments – such as industry and tourism – finding themselves bordering each other.

From Greek Reporter, a related development:

Greenpeace Blasts Greek Coastal Development Bill

The environmental group Greenpeace has joined in criticism over a bill that would let developers run amok on Greece’s coastline and build where they want, legalize unlawful construction and hinder public access to public beaches.

“Enough is enough. The coastal bill must be withdrawn without a second thought,” Greenpeace said of the measure but forth by the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy leader, and his partner the PASOK Socialists.

“Protecting and exhibiting the [Greek] shoreline is key for the country’s biggest industry which is tourism. That should be the government’s aim in order to improve the national economy,” the organization said.

To Vima counts the numbers:

Pulse RC: SYRIZA ahead of New Democracy in latest polls

Opposition leaders ahead of New Democracy by two points – Olive Tree and The River tied with 7%

According to a rolling poll focused on the upcoming elections conducted by Pulse RC for the To Pontiki newspaper, Alexis Tsipras’ SYRIZA is ahead of Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy by 2%.

The polling company’s results are as follows:

SYRIZA – 22.5%

New Democracy – 20.5%

Golden Dawn – 9%

Olive Tree – 7%

The River – 7%

KKE – 6.5%

ANEL – 4%


Ecologists/Greens – 2%

LAOS – 1%

Other party – 2.5%

Blank/abstain 5%

Undecided 7.5%

Electioneering with ANA/MPA:

Greece will soon return to its pre-crisis level, PM Samaras tells deputies

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras lashed out at main opposition SYRIZA while addressing his New Democracy Parliamentary group on Thursday, saying “they want to take the country back to the crisis,” while he elaborated on his plan for the country’s exit from the crisis.

“What will they, in SYRIZA, do without barbarians?” he wondered and added: “they will disappear when the crisis is over. They emerged by denouncing the memoranda, they are being fuelled by the crisis and they consider growth an enemy. That is why they are trying to bring the crisis back. They are nostalgic for the days when hood-wearing individuals burnt cities, when universities were a place of lawlessness, when migrants entered the country undisturbed. We are turning the page and they want Greece to return to the past and to chaos. SYRIZA does not want Greece to become a normal country, that is why it wants new memoranda, but there will be no new memoranda, there will be no new measures. It is trying to destabilise the country. It is a synonym of instability, this is its main goal but it will not get it its way.”

While To Vima brings the latest unemployment numbers:

ELSTAT: Rate of unemployment 26.5% in February 2014

Data shows 3,609,445 were employed, 1,300,165 were unemployed and 3,408,565 were not seeking employment

According to the latest data published by Greeks statistics authority ELSTAT, the rate of unemployment in February was 26.5%, from 26.6% in January. The rate of unemployment in February 2013 was 26.7%

The data also shows that in February 2014 a total of 3,609,445 people were employed, while 1,300,165 were unemployed and 3,408,565 were not seeking employment (pensioners, students etc).

And from To Vima again, more dissension over the eviscerated national broadcaster:

NERIT amendments included in Growth Ministry draft bill

The inclusion of amendments regarding NERIT’s operation has caused reactions from the journalist federation

A number of legislative amendments regarding the operation of the new public broadcasting service NERIT have been included in the draft bill of the Ministry of Growth. The amendments include regulations and provisions related to the compensation of ERT employees, the 3-euro licensing fee, as well as contract duration and overtime for the employees of interim broadcasting service DT.

Journalist union federation POESY has repeatedly criticized NERIT and argued that despite government assurances, the new broadcasting service is “nothing more than a bad copy of and sequel to DT and its perverse and poor practices, which the Ministry of Finances is trying to turn into an institution.

POESY also argued that the government has failed to pay out compensation that is still owed to the former employees of ERT and that the work relations it is trying to establish will essentially make independent reporting impossible.

And from Kathimerini English, a truly dismal report card:

Greek education ranked worst in the EU

Greece has the worst education system in the 28-member European Union, according to a global league table compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the British publishing firm Pearson which shows Asian countries overtaking Scandinavian nations that have traditionally excelled in this area.

South Korea tops the league chart, which comprises 39 countries as well as the region of Hong Kong, with Finland down to fifth place after ranking top last year. Greece is in 33rd place, wedged between Chile and Turkey.

The rankings are based on the assessment of students’ performance in school examinations as well as international tests including the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) examinations devised by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

On to Russia and fleeing capital from the London Telegraph:

ECB: capital flight from Russia has hit $220bn

Uutflows from Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted may be four times higher than admitted by Kremlin

The European Central Bank says capital flight from Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted may be four times higher than admitted by the Kremlin, a clear sign that sanctions pressure is inflicting serious damage on the Russian economy.

Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said the outflows from Russia have been large enough over recent weeks to push up the euro exchange rate, complicating monetary policy for the ECB.

“We had very significant outflows that have been estimated by some to be in the order of €160bn out of Russia,” he said, without specifying where the information came from.

Russia next, and a plot from the Independent:

Exclusive: West draws up plan to ‘disarm’ Russia’s energy supply threat

Britain is drawing up plans with the US and other European countries to “disarm” the threat of President Vladimir Putin using Russian gas and oil supplies as “a weapon” against Ukraine and its Eastern European neighbours.

Next month, David Cameron and other G7 leaders are expected to sign off on an “emergency response plan” to assist Ukraine this winter if Russia restricts gas supplies.

At the same time, G7 energy ministers this week agreed a plan to eliminate Europe’s reliance on Russian oil and gas over the longer term and prevent energy security being used as political bargaining chip by the Kremlin.

From Want China Times, recognition by default?

Beijing’s bridge deal tacitly recognizes Russia’s Crimea annexation

China may have tacitly recognized the legitimacy of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, since its state-run China Railway Construction Corporation and Hong Kong-based private China International Fund are said to have inked a deal with the Russian Ministry of Transport and the highway authority in May, reports Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

The country has outwardly claimed to have taken a neutral stance over the Crimea issue since it abstained from a resolution of the UN Security Council on March 15 this year. However, China’s potential participation in the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge–which would link the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar in Russia–could be interpreted as a sign of Beijing’s tacit acknowledgement of Crimea’s incorporation into Russia.

Russian newspaper Kommersant said the Russian transport ministry had been planning to sign a memorandum of understanding over the bridge with China. The project could involve US$1.2 billion-$3 billion in investment and part of it could be settled in the renminbi. The Chinese state railway company and the fund were reported to have taken part in the project.

Plowing ahead with the New York Times:

Separatists in Ukraine Vow to Proceed With Autonomy Vote

Rebels in eastern Ukraine said on Thursday that they would proceed with a referendum this weekend seeking autonomy, even though President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Wednesday had appeared to withdraw his support for the vote.

“The referendum will be held on May 11,” said Miroslav Rudenko, the co-chairman of the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, as the rebels call their political wing, according to Interfax, a Russian state-controlled news service.

The announcement is likely to revive tensions between the interim government in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, and the armed rebels who have seized terrain and buildings in parts of eastern Ukraine, including Donetsk.

Africa next, and a deal in progress from China Daily:

Key Sino-Nigerian deals signed

China signed a slew of deals with Nigeria on Wednesday, including cooperation on landmark infrastructure projects, on the first full day of Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to the African economic powerhouse. . .

The deals signed cover an upgrade for Nigeria’s communications network, solar power plant construction, as well as agriculture and investment.

Railway communication signals and mining rights were included in the deals but details were not disclosed. China also donated medical equipment and drugs to help Nigeria fight malaria.

Off to Latin America and a warning from MercoPress:

Grim outlook for Argentine industry according to auto industry and Moody’s

An estimated 12,000 workers from the auto industry and auto-parts manufacturing have been sent home on anticipated vacations or because of lesser working days, according to the mechanics union SMATA, a figure consistent with the level of domestic market sales and exports. However the industry leaders and unions have warned that the situation is set to worsen in coming months.

Moody’s warns some of the big Argentine corporations have a meaningful amount of debt in US dollars Moody’s warns some of the big Argentine corporations have a meaningful amount of debt in US dollars

The big auto manufacturers, Volkswagen, Fiat, Peugeot, Iveco and Renault have temporarily ceased activities or cut working hours which has a direct impact on the suppliers of auto parts.

Automakers are betting on lower interest rates on loans to re-launch the domestic market, as promised by the government of President Cristina Fernandez and on discussions with Brazil, which faces a similar problem, to jointly address the issue by lowering costs and looking for new export markets.

BBC News covers a crackdown:

Venezuelan security forces break up protest camps

Venezuelan security forces have broken up a number of protest camps and arrested almost 250 people, officials said.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said four encampments in the eastern part of the capital, Caracas, had been cleared.

He said members of the National Guard had found “drugs, weapons, explosives and mortars” in the tents.

From the Guardian, more turmoil in Rio as the World Cup nears:

Rio de Janeiro bus strike disrupts business across city

Service disruption and related vandalism renews concerns about public order in run up to World Cup tournament

Thousands of passengers across Rio de Janeiro endured long lines and tense commutes on Thursday as a bus strike and related vandalism disrupted the workday in Brazil’s second-biggest city.

The strike renewed concerns about services and public order one month before Rio and 11 other Brazilian cities play host to the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament. It came two weeks after the death of a dancer in a police shootout prompted riots in a slum near the city’s most popular tourist district.

By early afternoon, the consortium of private companies that operates Rio’s municipal bus network said that more than 300 of its vehicles had been vandalized, many of them in Rio’s sprawling western suburbs. Only 30% of the city’s bus fleet was still in service.

Off to Asia with a report from India via the Guardian:

India admits Delhi matches Beijing for air pollution threatening public health

World Health Organisation study finds Indian capital had dirtiest atmosphere of 1,600 cities around the world for PM2.5 particles

India’s state air monitoring centre has admitted that pollution in Delhi is comparable to that of Beijing, but disputed a World Health Organisation (WHO) finding that the Indian capital had the dirtiest atmosphere in the world.

A study of 1,600 cities across 91 countries released on Wednesday by the WHO showed Delhi had the world’s highest annual average concentration of small airborne particles (known as PM2.5) of 153.

These extremely fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they penetrate deep into the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream.

Bad numbers from the Jakarta Globe:

Bank Indonesia Cites Weak Exports for Cut in GDP Growth Forecast

The central bank has cut Indonesia’s gross domestic product estimate as it has kept its benchmark rate unchanged for the sixth consecutive month in an effort to narrow the country’s current account deficit.

Bank Indonesia, blaming weak exports, cut full-year gross domestic product growth to between 5.1 percent and 5.5 percent from its previous estimate of between 5.5 percent and 5.9 percent.

Indonesia’s economy expanded at the slowest pace in more than four years at 5.2 percent in the first quarter this year, as exports of copper and minerals declined due to slowing global demand and a government ban of exports.

On to Thailand and the first of a series of tumultuous headlines from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Thailand’s deposed premier Yingluck faces politics ban

Thailand’s deposed premier Yingluck Shinawatra faces a possible five-year ban from politics after anti-graft officials ruled Thursday that she should face impeachment proceedings, a move sure to further enrage her supporters.

But the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) said it would not extend its probe into a costly rice subsidy scheme to the rest of the caretaker cabinet as feared by officials of the battered ruling party.

That could have seen the cabinet ousted and sent the kingdom spinning into a deeper political crisis.

The Japan Times indicts:

Ousted Thai premier indicted over rice subsidy program

Thailand’s anti-graft commission indicted ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday on charges of dereliction of duty in overseeing a widely criticized rice subsidy program, a day after a court forced her from office.

Yingluck was accused of allowing the rice program, a flagship policy of her administration, to proceed despite advice that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption.

The government has lost billions of dollars on the subsidy plan, which also cost Thailand its position as the world’s leading rice exporter as the government stockpiled the commodity.

A post mortem from China Daily:

Thailand’s new caretaker PM seen capable of compromises

With his willingness to compromise and public relations skills, Thailand’s new caretaker prime minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, may be what is needed to take the heat out of a political crisis that is close to boiling point.

Niwatthamrong, 66, will hold the fort until elections tentatively slated for July 20, but he inherits a stuttering economy and limited powers that for months dogged predecessor Yingluck Shinawatra, who the Constitutional Court ordered to step down on Wednesday for abuse of power.

“The caretaker government’s responsibility now is to organise an election as soon as possible,” said Niwatthamrong. “I hope the political situation will not heat up after this,” he added of the court ruling.

And the latest official development, via South China Morning Post:

Thailand’s deposed premier Yingluck Shinawatra faces 5-year ban from politics

Anti-graft officials rule that Yingluck should face impeachment proceedings after being found guilty of negligence in controversial rice subsidy scheme

Thailand’s deposed premier Yingluck Shinawatra faces a possible five-year ban from politics after anti-graft officials ruled Thursday that she should face impeachment proceedings, a move sure to further enrage her supporters.

But the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) said it would not extend its probe into a costly rice subsidy scheme to the rest of the caretaker cabinet as feared by officials of the battered ruling party.

Meanwhile, foes of the ousted prime minister and her party haven’t stopped their protests. From the Bangkok Post:

PDRC kicks off ‘all-out final battle’

The anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee’s (PDRC) will kick off its “all-out final battle” rally Friday, with the possibility that they might attempt to occupy major government buildings and lay siege to free-to-air TV stations, according to a source in the PDRC.

Invigorated by the Constitutional Court’s ruling that ousted caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine of her cabinet ministers on Wednesday, the PDRC abruptly brought forward its planned rally from next Wednesday to Friday.

And from Nikkei Asian Review, the Lords of Money weigh in:

Moody’s: Thailand court ruling a credit negative

Thailand’s court ruling on Wednesday ousting Yingluck Shinawatra as caretaker prime minister is a credit negative, Moody’s Investors Service has said. The credit agency warned the verdict “threatens to prolong the country’s political crisis and makes a near-term compromise solution unlikely.” Thailand is currently rated as Baa1 stable.

“Thailand’s political crisis is increasingly challenging the country’s strong credit fundamentals,” Steffen Dyck, assista

Show more