Straight into it, starting at home with an offering from Reuters:

Weaker U.S. personal earnings, home-price expectations: New York Fed survey

Americans expected weaker personal earnings growth and home prices, according to a survey done last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The survey, released on Monday, showed median earnings growth expectations dropped to 2 percent, the lowest so far this year, thanks in part to respondents with lower education levels.

Median home price-change expectations slipped for the fourth straight month to 3.8 percent, the lowest since the survey was launched in June 2013, when the result was 4.7 percent. The New York Fed said the most recent decline was driven by higher-income households.

From the New York Times, emphasis added:

Plaintiff in Silicon Valley Hiring Suit Maligns Deal

Apple has more than $150 billion in the bank, eclipsing the combined cash reserves of Israel and Britain. Google, Intel and Adobe have a total of about $80 billion stored up for a rainy day.

Against such tremendous cash hoards, $324 million is chump change. But that is what the four technology companies have agreed to pay to settle a class action brought by their own employees.

The suit, which was on track to go to trial in San Jose, Calif., at the end of May, promised weeks if not months of damaging revelations about how Silicon Valley executives conspired to suppress wages and limit competition. Details of the settlement are still under wraps.

Added misery from the Washington Post:

Jobless contend with weight gain as they search for work

A subject long ignored by policymakers, and one that unemployment counselors are too sheepish to raise with job seekers, the link between bulging waistlines and joblessness is now of intense interest to researchers studying the long-term effects of the country’s economic malaise.

Recent studies and surveys have shown a distinct relationship between unemployment and obesity, particularly for lower-skilled workers who struggle to find work — a search made more challenging by their weight.

In Hagerstown, where blue-collar jobs have gone overseas or to cheaper parts of the country, 8.4 percent are unemployed — well above Maryland’s 5.9 percent rate. Last month, Gallup identified the area as the third-heaviest place in the United States, with almost 37 percent of its residents obese. Local studies put the number even higher.

ThinkProgress offers a ray of sunshine:

Vermont Passes The Highest State Minimum Wage In The Country

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise from $8.73 to $10.50 over the next four years under a bill that won final passage just before the legislative session ended on Saturday. The measure puts Vermont on track to have the highest minimum wage of any state in 2018, higher than a handful of states whose pay floors will rise to $10.10 under laws approved this year.

“I will be proud to sign it,” Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) said of the bill. The final version will phase in the higher wage in order to win nearly unanimous support in both chambers. The state’s minimum wage was already indexed to inflation.

The Green Mountain state is the seventh to enact a minimum wage hike this year and the fourth to crack the $10 mark. Delaware and West Virginia lawmakers raised their wages above $8 an hour. Minnesota raised the minimum wage for most large companies to $9.50. And Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut each established $10.10 minimum wages.

But MintPress News notes another ominous sign:

The Minimum Wage Employees Of The Future, Today

A boom in self-service kiosks in restaurants have some people wondering if technology is replacing minimum wage workers.

“People don’t go into business to create jobs; they go into business to make money,” wrote Jonah Goldman for Omaha.com in opposition to the president’s push to raise the nation’s base pay. “Labor is a cost. The more expensive labor is, the more attractive nonhuman replacements for labor become. The minimum wage makes labor more expensive. Obama knows this, which is why he so often demonizes ATMs as job-killers.”

Those who buy into this line of thought point to Panera Bread’s recent announcement that it will be replacing some of its manned registers with self-help kiosks. Panera’s kiosks will enable customers to look at pictures of the prepared dishes, make their selections from mounted touchscreens and pay for their orders by credit or debit card without the help of a cashier. Customers would then take a pager — which would inform them when their food is ready — and be seated, with a server delivering orders as they are ready. Customers will also be able order tableside, using a smartphone or a tablet.

Panera CEO Ron Shaich, however, insists that this is not being done to reduce labor costs. “The dirty little secret in the food industry is one in seven orders is wrong. We’re one in ten, a little better than average,” said Shaich in an interview. “Half of those inaccuracies happen during order input.” Shaich insists that only one or two registers in each restaurant will be replaced by the kiosks and that the kiosks are meant to improve issues with checkout speed. They would also facilitate food customization to accommodate a growing population of picky eaters.

And form USA TODAY, austerity’s most hapless victims:

Psychiatric beds disappear despite growing demand

Across the country, it’s getting harder to find a psychiatric hospital bed for patients in crisis, doctors and advocates say.

States have been reducing hospital beds for decades, because of insurance pressures as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession forced some of the most devastating cuts in recent memory, says Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply, he says.

North of the border to more austerian castoffs from BBC News:

Canada faces ‘crisis’ on indigenous living conditions

Canada faces a “crisis” over the living conditions of its aboriginal residents, the UN special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples has said.

James Anaya said Canada had taken “positive steps” but that “daunting challenges” remained, including a lower level of “well-being”.

He said aboriginal women and girls remained vulnerable to abuse, and noted a lack of trust of the government.

On to Europe with the Guardian:

IMF chief Lagarde warns Europe’s crisis isn’t over

Europe’s financial crisis is not over, and that the Ukraine crisis could derail the global recovery, Christine Lagarde has warned today, urging against a “false sense of security” in the euro area.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund said that weak bank lending, and low inflation rates, posed serious threats to the European recovery.

In an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt, Lagarde cautions against undue optimism, just because countries (such as Ireland) have emerged from their bailout programmes.

And another alarm from EUbusiness:

Europeans still gloomy about economy, ahead of EU vote

Support for the EU is slowly rising ahead of European Parliament elections, but most Europeans remain gloomy about the economy and complain their voices are not heard in Brussels, a poll found.

Fears about immigration are also coloring public opinion in the run-up to polls later this month with most Europeans believing that newcomers are a burden on their already struggling economies, the Pew Research Center found.

The survey was conducted across seven key European Union members — Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain — from March 17 to April 9 among 7,022 people.

Britain next, and peculiarly convenient austerity, at least for banksters, from the Guardian:

City fraud cases on brink of collapse in growing row over legal aid cuts

Appeal court ruling could derail high-profile prosecutions designed to clean up London’s financial markets

The biggest City fraud cases since the crash of 2008 are close to collapsing because of the government’s cuts to legal aid. The refusal of barristers to work at the government’s new low rates has already led to Judge Anthony Leonard throwing out charges against five men accused of conning investors out of their savings by selling them land at grotesquely inflated prices.

If the court of appeal upholds the verdict on Tuesday, a string of prosecutions designed to clean up London’s financial markets may be dropped. Last week, solicitors for alleged insider dealers caught in the Financial Conduct’s Authority’s Operation Tabernula – the most ambitious and expensive investigation into the City – said they would seek to have the charges against their clients thrown out.

Colin Nott, who represents Richard Baldwin, one of six defendants who are due to stand trial in September, said he could not find a QC to represent his client. Unless the fight between the coalition government and the legal profession stopped, it would be impossible for Baldwin to have a fair trial. Detectives told the Observer that they feared an investigation into the manipulation of Libor rates, welcomed by chancellor George Osborne, could also come to nothing.

Plutocratic hubris on the Emerald Isle from the Irish Times:

Trump and environmentalists on collision course

Billionaire hints he hopes to extend Doonbeg golf links course across EU-protected sites at the property

Donald Trump looks set for a collision course with environmentalists after strongly hinting yesterday he hopes to extend his Doonbeg golf links course across EU-protected sites at the property.

The course – originally designed by Greg Norman – omitted EU-designed Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) from the 18-hole course design.

At his press conference in Shannon yesterday, Trump said: “Greg Norman couldn’t use the right land. A lot of people would say ‘that’s strange, why didn’t you use the right land?’ I don’t want people to say that anymore.”

Germany next, and politically acceptable targets from TheLocal.de:

Germans accept gays more, immigrants less

Tolerance of homosexuality has increased in nearly all German states since the fall of the Wall 25 years ago, but acceptance of immigrants who keep their traditions has declined, according to a study published on Monday.

Published on Monday by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the social cohesion study showed tolerance for social diversity had grown since reunification. The report stated that there was a “more relaxed approach” towards sexual minorities.

Even in Bavaria, ranked as the least tolerant of the western German states, acceptance of homosexuality had increased.

Immigrants on the other hand, were still being met with scepticism, with fewer Germans considering immigrants to be an “enrichment of cultural life in the country”.

France next, and controversial consolidation from New Europe:

France drawing ire with plans to redraw nation’s map, erasing borders to save money

France’s administrative regions — Normandy, Alsace, Burgundy, etc. — have long been part of the identity of citizens of this diverse country. Now, merging some of them is seen as a logical way to save money on bureaucracy, and the French support it — as long as it’s someone else’s turf.

The recent proposal of France’s new prime minister to cut the number of regions in half by 2017 is provoking sharp disputes — especially in areas with strong historical identity. It’s somewhat like erasing the state lines between Texas and Oklahoma.

A poll suggests that 68 percent of the French believe the measure to be a necessity — but 77 percent reject the disappearance of their own region. Polling agency LH2 questioned 5,111 people nationwide in February and March. The margin of error was 1.4 percentage points.

“This is where we will learn who the real reformers are and who are the conservatives,” French President Francois Hollande said this month on national TV. He’s trying to counter his image as a man afraid of unpopular cost-cutting reforms that many economists say his nation needs in order to thrive.

More Francoausterity from ANSAmed:

Crisis: France, cuts for ministry expenses by 15% in 3 years

In a framework letter concerning the 2015-17 budgets sent over the weekend to the government’s ministries, the premier asked for a 15% cut in ordinary expenses by 2017 and expenses in general including pensions.

”There is an across-the-board objective but is has to be adapted to different ministries”, a government source was quoted as saying by Les Echos over complaints from a number of ministries already targeted by significant cuts last year. The austerity measures don’t only concern ordinary expenses but also aid to State institutions (universities, weather services, chambers of commerce and research centres), which will have to shrink 2% a year in the next three years, and investment operations so there is no specific number indicated but a more general call to operate under a tight budget, especially in terms of expenses for real estate, computer technology and support services. As far as the number of employees is concerned, the framework letters asked for an overall stabilization which will translate in a 2% cut for some ministries, necessary to compensate new hires in schools, the judiciary and police.

On to Switzerland and another form of anxiety, with a price tag of $24.79 an hour from the Guardian:

Switzerland: referendum may herald world’s highest minimum wage

Business leaders uneasy at prospect of 18 May vote on proposal to increase minimum to 22 Swiss francs an hour

Swiss business leaders shocked by past popular votes on executive pay and immigration are wary of a referendum on 18 May that could see Switzerland adopt the world’s highest minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (£14.70) an hour.

A recent opinion poll by gfs.bern found that 64% of voters were against the proposal, made by the SGB union and supported by the Socialist and Green parties. But Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, with frequent popular votes on social, political or economic matters, has brought surprises before: the Swiss unexpectedly voted in February to curb EU immigration.

“I’m feeling uneasy about the upcoming vote,” said Ralph Mueller, division head at electronic components maker Schurter.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga wiseguy unmasking from the Independent:

Silvio and the Cosa Nostra: Berlusconi’s links with Italian organised crime confirmed

Silvio Berlusconi – Italy’s former Prime Minister and one of the world’s most recognisable politicians – did business with the mafia for nearly two decades.

That is the conclusion of the country’s Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome. The billionaire tycoon, nicknamed the Teflon Don, worked with Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, via his conduit and former senator Marcello Dell’Utri after judges sentenced Dell’Utri to seven years for mafia association.

Three-time premier Berlusconi, 77, has always denied rumours that mob links were behind the large and opaquely sourced investments used to kickstart his construction and media businesses in the 1970s and 1980s.

After the jump it’s on to Greece and the latest economic and political crises, the unfolding Ukrainian saga, Europe’s Bulgarian blues, a Turkish legal hit, In Afghan fields the poppies grow, a Uruguayan rebuke for Obama, Aussie austerity,  China’s burst real estate bubble and elite spending, Japanese economic woes, a full slate of major environmental developments, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

For our first Greek item, a striking story from ANSAmed:

Greece: hospital and Culture ministry staff to go on strike

To protest the lack of spending on public healthcare

All public hospitals in Greece will operate with skeleton staff on Wednesday due to a strike by employees, as Kathimerini online reports today.

A protest is due to take place at noon outside the Health Ministry to protest a range of issues, including the lack of spending on public healthcare.

Archaeologists and Culture Ministry workers are due to strike on Wednesday to protest the dismissal of colleagues whose period in a labor pool comes to an end on May 21.

Kathimerini English eases the frown:

Survey finds Greeks gloomiest in EU but less so than last year

Greeks are more pessimistic than any of their counterparts in the 28-member European Union about their country’s economic prospects but are less gloomy than they were six months ago, according to a new Eurobarometer poll.

The poll indicated that 56 percent of Greeks think the economy will worsen, down from 61 percent last November, while 16 percent said they believed things will improve, up 3 percent. On average, 25 percent of EU citizens expressed pessimism about the economic outlook in their countries, up 5 percent from November. A total of 24 percent said they thought things would get better, up 3 percent.

Capital.gr upgrades:

Japan’s R&I upgrades Greece rating to B-, outlook Stable

Japan’s R&I upgraded the rating of Greece to B- from CC before, while it has a stable outlook since it considers that Greek economy is bottoming out and fiscal consolidation is progressing as planned.

Outstanding government debt is massive relative to gross domesti product (GDP), but will likely start declining within one or two years

in tandem with improvement in the fiscal balance. Supported by improving funding conditions, the government’s debt repayment capacity

is recovering from its lowest level.

In light of such circumstances, R&I has upgraded the Foreign and Domestic Currency Issuer Ratings to B-. The domestic economy has been battered by austerity efforts, and the economic recovery is likely to remain weak. Given that the European economy has started picking up, however, R&I believes that the possibility of another disruption in Greece’s economy and financial system is low.

MacroPolis brings negative tidings:

Building activity continues to crumble, falling by 20.7 pct in Feb

Greek building activity (as measured by the number of building permits) retained on a downward curve for the third straight month in February, retreating by 20.7 percent according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

The drop in the February figures for surface and volume was less pronounced at -15.1 and -5.9 percent respectively.

The number of building permits remained below the 1,000-mark for the second successive month, leading the two-month figure down 28.5 percent. Similarly, surface and volume fell by 28.4 and 25.6 percent respectively in the first two months of 2014.

ANA-MPA waffles:

IMF underestimated the impact of fiscal consolidation on Greece’s growth, Lagarde says

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) underestimated the impact of fiscal consolidation on economic growth, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told German newspaper Handelsblatt in an interview, citing Greece as an example.

Lagarde acknowledged that Europe was recovering, but warned against “misleading security” because of falling bond prices. “The recovery is underway. That is correct,” she said. “Some countries have successfully implemented the programmes, but that does not mean the crisis is over and our mission accomplished.”

In the case of Greece, the deep and enduring political crisis caused further uncertainty among investors, Lagarde noted.

Greek Reporter hits the beach:

Coastal Development Bill Receives International Condemnation

The coastal development bill submitted to parliament by the Greek Finance Ministry has received international condemnation.

The bill for the “definition, management and protection of beaches and shorelines,” lifts all current restrictions on the maximum area designated for beach concessions such as bars, umbrellas and sun beds, while abolishing the right to unhindered access to the coast for the public. It would also facilitate permanent constructions on beaches for commercial purposes, and will make it possible for businesses to pay fines in order to legalize their unlicensed constructions.

According to the ministry, the new provisions will delineate the Greek coastline and simplify the construction on and the management of coastal areas. The public consultation on the bill has been extended to May 13.

To Vima alerts:

Threats against Supreme Court Prosecutors handling Golden Dawn case

Envelope containing bullets includes warned of reprisals unless the Golden Dawn detainees are released

The Supreme Court Prosecution received an envelope containing three 7.62mm rounds from a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a threatening message against the judicial officers handling the case brought against Golden Dawn.

According to a NERIT report, the author of the threatening message demands that those detained in relation to the Golden Dawn case be released within 15 days, otherwise friends and relatives of the judicial officers will face reprisals. The handwritten message was not signed, nor was the envelop addressed to anyone specific.

And To Vima gives the boot:

Residents of Ierissos expel Golden Dawn candidates

Local residents did not allow the neo-Nazi party to present its candidates for the upcoming elections

Golden Dawn may have received approval from the Supreme Court to participate in the upcoming elections, however the neo-Nazi party is still facing fierce opposition in local communities across Greece.

The latest instant occurred on Sunday in Ierissos, where local residents did not allow the neo-Nazi party to present its candidates for the upcoming elections and the six Golden Dawn members were expelled from the town by a group of about 100 protesters.

Angry local residents argued that they cannot forget about how the neo-Nazi party actively offered support in Parliament to the company running controversial mining operations in the area around Ierissos, “when tear gas rained down a few months ago”.

The Independent issues a fiat:

Turkey ordered to pay Cyprus €90m for 1974 invasion

Turkey has been ordered to pay Cyprus €90 million (£73.3 million) in compensation for its 1974 invasion of the island.

In its largest ever judgement, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said the passing of almost 40 years did not erase Turkey’s responsibility for the ensuing conflict and continuing division of Cyprus.

The court ruled that the Turkish government must pay €30 million in damages to relatives of those missing in military operations and €60 million for “the enclaved Greek-Cypriot residents” of the Karpas peninsula.”

And Eastern European angst with Spiegel:

In the Kremlin’s Grip: Fears Grow Over Bulgaria’s Russian Dependence

Bulgaria’s close energy ties to Russia are causing concern among European officials — they worry Moscow will use Sofia as a beachhead for its interests and drive a wedge between EU member states.

Concerns are growing within the German government that the European Union’s most impoverished member state, Bulgaria, could fall into the grips of Moscow’s influence. Internal reports, including those of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, warn that Moscow may seek to expand its relations with the country in order to use Bulgaria as a political beachhead into the EU, and then use that power to divide the block.

From the Associated Press, our first Ukrainian headline:

Insurgents in eastern Ukraine declare independence

Pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s Donetsk region declared independence Monday and asked to join Russia — a day after holding a hastily arranged vote on separatism that Ukraine’s interim government and the West have declared a sham.

Organizers said about 90 percent of those who cast ballots Sunday in Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region backed sovereignty for the sprawling areas that lie along Russia’s border and form Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

There was no immediate response from the Kremlin to Monday’s statement issued by one of the insurgent leaders, Denish Pushilin. But the Kremlin suggested earlier it had no intention of immediately annexing the two regions.

Deutsche Welle makes the call:

Donetsk leader calls for Russian accession after contentious votes on status

The province of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine has asked “the Russian Federation to consider” incorporating the region into Russia, saying Sunday’s contentious referendum showed the desires of its residents.

The pro-Russian leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, on Monday called for the self-proclaimed “People’s Republic of Donetsk” to become a part of Russia.

“Proceeding from the expression of the will of the people of the Donetsk People’s Republic and in order to restore historical justice, we ask the Russian Federation to consider the absorption of the Donetsk People’s Republic into of the Russian Federation,” Pushilin told reporters in the province’s capital, Donetsk.

The regional authorities claimed almost 90 percent support at the polls in Sunday’s contentious referendum, which is not recognized by the interim government in Kyiv, the EU or the US. Authorities in neighboring Luhansk offered similar figures for their simultaneous vote, but did not immediately call for Russian accession on Monday. A spokesman in Luhansk, Vasily Nikitin, did say the region would not vote in Ukraine’s planned presidential election, currently scheduled for May 25.

More from the Guardian:

Ukraine crisis: Donetsk region asks to join Russia

The “People’s Republic of Donetsk” declared itself an independent country on Monday and, within two hours of doing so, had asked to join Russia. The separatist leader Denis Pushilin told journalists that the self-proclaimed republic would ask Moscow to consider absorbing the region, which borders Russia.

But it remains extremely doubtful whether Moscow will carry out a Crimea-style annexation of the region, which held a controversial referendum on independence on Sunday, together with neighbouring Luhansk.

According to results announced by the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk – which also declared independence from Ukraine on Monday – about 90% on a turnout of 70% and 96% on a turnout of nearly 75% respectively voted for state sovereignty. The referendums – which Kiev has dismissed as illegitimate – were hastily organised and marked by numerous violations.

A predictable response from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Rebel vote “farce without legal basis”: Ukraine interim president

Ukraine’s interim president on Monday slammed the rebel-held “referendum” in two eastern regions as a “propaganda farce without any legal basis” that sought to cover up serious crimes.

“The farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes,” Oleksandr Turchynov told Ukraine’s parliament.

The only “legal effect” of Sunday’s referendum would be to bring those that called it to justice, the interim president said.

And Russia makes a demand via Deutsche Welle:

Russian declares Ukraine must pay its gas bill or be cut off

Russia’s state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, says it will require Ukraine to pay in advance for monthly gas supplies as of June, and pay billions in arrears – or Moscow will cut off Ukraine’s gas supply.

Ukraine is on the edge of bankruptcy. One of its financial problems is that the government in Kyiv is in arrears by $3.5 billion (2.54 billion euros) on its gas bill payments to Gazprom, which coordinates its pricing policy closely with the Kremlin. Gazprom now says Ukraine will have to pay in advance for each month’s gas supplies.

Gazprom says that if Ukraine fails to settle its debt – or fails to pay in advance for June deliveries – then it will cut off gas supplies. This would present a major problem for Kyiv, since Russia supplies two thirds of the gas consumed by Ukraine. It also presents a problem for the rest of Europe, since transit pipelines crossing Ukraine deliver about half the gas that Russia sells to Europe (about 15 percent of Europe’s total gas supply).

And a response from Sky News:

Ukraine: EU Hits Russia With New Sanctions

The latest rebuke comes as pro-Moscow insurgents in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions declare independence.

The European Union has imposed a new round of sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians as part of attempts to pressure Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

Among the 13 people facing asset freezes and visa bans are President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin and the commander of Russian paratroopers Vladimir Shamanov.

Two pro-Russian separatists who helped organise independence votes in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were also on the list, as well as Crimean companies PJSC Chernomorneftegaz and Feodosia.

And not so far away, the Guardian finds fault:

MPs slam UK record on controlling Afghan opium poppy harvest

Cross-party report says attempts to manage soaring levels of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan have been a spectacular failure

Attempts by successive governments to control the Afghan opium poppy harvest – the source of most of the heroin that reaches Britain – have been a spectacular failure, according to a report from a cross-party group of MPs published on Tuesday.

As British troops prepare to leave Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, poppy cultivation is soaring to record levels and there is no sign that the Afghan government has the will or the means to tackle the problem, the Commons defence committee said. The report warns: “We are concerned that this will continue to fund organised crime and undermine the development of democratic government and governance.”

The committee suggests that in future, British aid to Afghanistan should be conditional on clear progress in developing viable alternatives to poppy farming.

From Latin America comes a rebuke, via The Hill:

Uruguayan president lectures US at WH

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica Cordano offered some advice for Americans during a visit to the White House on Monday: learn a foreign language and put down the cigarettes.

Mujica, a farmer and former guerrilla, said the world was in “an arduous fight” against “very strong [corporate] interests” who were promoting tobacco use.

“In the world, 8 million people are dying from smoking” each year, Mujica said, adding, “it’s murder.”

American tobacco company Phillip Morris is currently suing Uruguay for $2 billion at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, arguing that a 2009 law requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs violates intellectual property rights.

Off to Australasia, first with austerity triumphant from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australia to streamline government, axe public servants in budget

Dozens of Australian agencies and hundreds of public service jobs face the axe in Tuesday’s budget, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann saying government was too big, wasteful, and needed streamlining.

Cormann refused to confirm specifics of the conservative administration’s first budget since taking office in September, which comes as a mining boom fades and growth remains sluggish.

But the minister agreed there was room to scrap or merge some government agencies, a move which could reportedly save Aus$470 million (US$440 million).

The ABC said the bodies to be abolished included the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the National Water Commission and the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Business Policy Advisory Group.

On to India, where Hindu fundamentalists win big, via Reuters:

Modi on course for election victory, India’s exit polls show

Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is set to become India’s next prime minister, exit polls showed on Monday, with his opposition party and its allies forecast to sweep to a parliamentary majority in the world’s biggest ever election.

Indian elections are notoriously hard to call, however, due to the country’s diverse electorate and a parliamentary system in which local candidates hold great sway. Pre-election opinion polls and post-voting exit polls both have a patchy record.

Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has electrified the lengthy contest with a media-savvy campaign that has hinged on vows to kickstart India’s economy and create jobs.

More from the Financial Express:

Exit polls project Narendra Modi-led BJP, allies bagging between 249-290 seats

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is set to win 270-282 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, an exit poll conducted by CNN-IBN and CSDS projected on Monday.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is likely to win 92-102 seats, the survey projected. This is half the number the Congress won alone in the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009.

As per a separate survey conducted by Times Now, the NDA is predicted to win 249 seats. It says the UPA may win 148 seats while others are tipped to win 146 seats.

And the Economic Times hears from Washington:

US looking forward to working with new Indian government

Congratulating the people of India on the successful elections, the polling for which concluded today, the US said it is looking forward to working with the new Indian government.

“We look forward to working with the leaders chosen by the Indian people to advance this important partnership and to set an ambitious agenda,” State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference today.

“We congratulate the people of India on their participation in the largest-ever free and fair democratic election in human history,” she said, hours after a record number of Indian voters concluded casting their votes in the nine-phase Lok Sabha elections.

While the Independent.ie, a sad precedent:

Rape in marriage not a crime, Indian court rules

A man who allegedly drugged and raped his wife has been acquitted after a judge confirmed Indian rape laws do not apply to married couples.

Feminist campaigners said the judgment highlighted the failure of Indian law to protect the majority of women in the country – those who are married – from being raped or their right to refuse to have sex with their husbands.

In this latest case, the women, whose identity was not revealed, claimed her marriage was illegal and had been conducted against her will after she had been sedated.

On to China, the symptoms of a bubble deflating from China Daily:

Property sector’s slump takes realty jobs with it

Real estate agents reportedly give pink slips to hundreds of employees

Real estate agencies are on a layoff spree as home sales have frozen amid recent price dips.

China’s housing market has cooled rapidly since late 2013. A monthly report by China Index Academy that monitors home price changes in China’s 100 biggest cities shows that 45 cities saw price declines in April.

Market sentiment deteriorated rapidly as the media reported stories about unsold homes, steep price cuts and troubled developers.

But the rich indulge, via China Daily:

China enters new luxury market era

More than a third of the money spent around the world on high-end bags, shoes, watches, jewelry and ready-to-wear clothing now comes from Chinese consumers either domestically or abroad when they travel.

Within the next year, Chinese tourists could be spending as much as $194 billion annually in Europe, the US, Asia and other vacation spots, according to Morgan Stanley in a research note on luxury companies.

Chinese travelers are already the world’s biggest spenders, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, musing:

Questions arise about wisdom of huge China water project

There’s an old saying in the American West: “Water flows uphill toward money.” The same holds true in China, where engineers are building a 1,500-mile network of canals and tunnels to divert water from the rain-abundant south to Beijing and other wealthy northern cities.

Costing an estimated $62 billion, the South-North Water Transfer Project is the largest public works undertaking in China since the Three Gorges Dam, and even more gargantuan in scale. Parts of the project are behind schedule and over budget, but the costs go far beyond money. The government has relocated more than 330,000 villagers for the project, and many are angry over lost farmland and compensation they say was skimmed off by corrupt local officials.

“We were willing to sacrifice the small family for the good of the big family _ the nation,” said one villager, Jia, whom McClatchy interviewed. But the government, he said, “has not kept its promises.”

On to Japan and questions arising from NHK WORLD:

Poll: Nearly half undecided about TPP

Nearly half of the people responding to an NHK poll say they haven’t decided whether to support Japan’s participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

1,028 people aged 20 or older replied to NHK’s telephone survey over the weekend.

31 percent of them approved of Japan’s participation in the TPP. 16 percent were opposed. 45 percent said they remain undecided.

JapanToday cites sobering numbers:

Japan’s annual current account surplus lowest on record

Japan’s annual current account surplus is the lowest on record, government figures showed Monday, as fossil fuel bills and a sliding yen overshadow rising exports.

For fiscal 2013, the value of the goods, services and investments that left Japan exceeded those coming in by 789.9 billion yen, plunging 81.3% from 4.2 trillion yen the previous year.

The figure was the lowest since the finance ministry started keeping comparable data in 1985.

The Japan Times looks abroad:

Abe, Netanyahu agree to join hands on defense, Internet security

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu agreed in Tokyo Monday to bolster bilateral defense cooperation, including in cyberspace.

Abe also urged Netanyahu to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians after nine months of U.S.-led efforts froze up last month.

“The earliest resumption of the suspended peace negotiations will benefit both parties,” Abe said. “Maximum self-restraint is needed so as not to take unilateral measures including settlement activities, which would serve as an impediment to negotiations.”

Netanyahu meanwhile called on the international community to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. Talks involving six countries and Iran are set to begin in Vienna on Wednesday to reach a full deal on placing long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now! Starting with this from NHK WORLD:

NRA conducts geological survey in Aomori

Japan’s nuclear regulator is conducting a geological survey of a northeastern area where many nuclear facilities are located.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority began examining underground structures on the Shimokita Peninsula and its surrounding areas on May 2nd. A sea bottom fault stretches 84 kilometers east of the peninsula and a 55-kilometer inland fissure runs from east to west toward the Bay of Mutsu.

On Monday, NRA Commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki began an inspection of the survey.

Vice gets punitive:

How a Single Tweet Could Land a Japanese Nuclear Activist in Jail

Fukushima police and prosecutors have set their sites on a 47-year-old single mother named Mari Takenouchi because she wrote a tweet critical of a nuclear lobbyist. Takenouchi may go to jail for it.

Fukushima police and prosecutors are currently investigating Takenouchi for criminal contempt; if found guilty, she could face a month in jail. Prosecutors confirmed they will be flying to Okinawa, where Takenouchi lives, to question her on May 13. Police have already traveled from Fukushima to Okinawa to interrogate her — an unusual occurrence.

“We only send police officers from one prefecture to another if the subject is really a potentially dangerous criminal,” Fukushima police spokesman Lieutenant Tadashi Terashima told VICE News.

From SimplyInfo.org, another island, another problem:

Taiwan New Nuclear Plants Fail Tests, Old Unit Out of Spent Fuel Space

The fourth nuclear plant reactors in Taiwan have been found to have failed containment tests. This has created considerable controversy as the information had been withheld from the public. Officials at Taipower tried to explain away the problem claiming it could be fixed by adding additional sealing to the structures. The plants are currently in a suspended state awaiting a public referendum on use of the two new nuclear reactors.

This came soon after officials admitted the #1 reactor in Taiwan was out of spent fuel storage space. This has been a serious problem with Taiwan’s nuclear power program. The small country has no safe place to put spent fuel. 2982 assemblies reside in the spent fuel pool at the #1 reactor. There isn’t even enough space left to offload the entire reactor core into the pool. This may cause the #1 plant to be shut down within a year but would require storing some fuel in the reactor.

Nuclear woes closer to home with NHK WORLD:

US nuclear waste site to be closed for 3 years

A company managing an underground nuclear waste repository in the US state of New Mexico says it has still not determined the cause of a radioactive leak at the facility in February. It estimates that it will take another 3 years before the facility can reopen.

The leak occurred 660 meters below ground. Twenty-one employees working on the surface were exposed to radiation.

The company held a meeting with local residents in a nearby town on Thursday. It said a chemical reaction inside a nuclear waste container may have caused the leak. The company said it will likely take 3 years before workers can secure safety and resume operations.

Anticipation of others from Xinhua:

China to set up nuclear emergency team

China is working to form a 300-member state-level rescue team specialized in nuclear emergencies, said a senior official here Monday.

This team will respond to “serious nuclear accidents in complicated circumstances”, said Yao Bin, head of the nuclear emergency and security division under the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

They will be tasked to support operators of nuclear facilities to handle contingencies, such as cordoning the radioactive source in nuclear accidents, rescuing trapped people, controling the spread of contamination and minimizing the damage, said Yao, also deputy head of a national nuclear emergency response office.

Deutsche Welle tries to cover a bad bet:

German utilities want ‘bad bank’ for nuclear energy

As Germany prepares to phase out nuclear energy, major utilities want to hand over the decommissioning of their nuclear plants to a public foundation. But the government says the firms need to accept responsibility.

German utilities are negotiating with the government to unburden themselves from having to dismantle the country’s nuclear power plants, according to a report in news magazine Der Spiegel.

The four major energy companies, E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Sweden’s Vattenfall, are looking to hand over ownership and control of their nuclear power plants to a public foundation effectively a “bad bank” for energy.

But the German government said there had been no talks with those companies nor had anything been decided on the issue. The Environment Ministry stressed that the energy companies that operate the nuclear power stations also had the “full responsibility” for decommissioning.

New America Media covers a conundrum:

Ethnic Voters Want Environmental Protections, But Do Their Lawmakers?

Ethnic minorities in California strongly favor environmental protections, yet their elected representatives — for the most part – don’t share the same values.

New America Media analyzed the environmental voting records of Asian, African American and Latino legislators, using a 2014 scorecard by the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) that assigns an overall score to all state legislators based on how they voted on dozens of key environmental bills during the 2013 legislative year.

NAM found that Latino and Black Legislative Caucuses — made up entirely of Democrats — are more pro-business than their Asian and white Democratic counterparts in the state legislature. After heavy lobbying by industry, more moderate Latino and African-American lawmakers shot down or abstained on pro-environment bills more often than Asian Democratic lawmakers.

From the Mainichi, awesomely significant:

NASA spots worrisome Antarctic ice sheet melt

The huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a glacially slow collapse in an unstoppable way, two new studies show. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured.

The worrisome outcomes won’t be seen soon. Scientists are talking hundreds of years, but over that time the melt that has started could eventually add 4 to 12 feet (1.2 to 3.6 meters) to current sea levels.

A NASA study looking at 40 years of ground, airplane and satellite data of what researchers call “the weak underbelly of West Antarctica” shows the melt is happening faster than scientists had predicted, crossing a critical threshold that has begun a domino-like process.

From the Harvard Daily Gazette, ditto:

Rising CO2 poses significant threat to human nutrition

Reduction in dietary zinc and iron already evident

At the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 anticipated by around 2050, crops that provide a large share of the global population with most of their dietary zinc and iron will have significantly reduced concentrations of those nutrients, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Given that an estimated 2 billion people suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies, resulting in a loss of 63 million life years annually from malnutrition, the reduction in these nutrients represents the most significant health threat ever shown to be associated with climate change.

“This study is the first to resolve the question of whether rising CO2 concentrations — which have been increasing steadily since the Industrial Revolution — threaten human nutrition,” said Samuel Myers, research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH and the study’s lead author.

From the Independent, another proof of a long-term concern here at esnl:

Chemicals in soap can cause male infertility, claim scientists

Chemicals in common household products such as toothpaste, soap and plastic toys have a direct impact on human sperm which could help explain rising levels of male infertility, scientists have found.

One in three “non-toxic” chemicals used in the manufacture of everyday items significantly affected the potency of sperm cells, which may account for the high incidence of unexplained infertility in the human population, the researchers said.

It is the first time that a study has found a direct effect of the many ubiquitous man-made chemicals in the environment on a vital function of human sperm. The findings will raise further concerns about the hidden toxicity of chemicals deemed safe by toxicology tests.

But the researchers believe they have developed a new way of testing the impact of household chemicals on human sperm which will allow regulatory authorities in Europe to decide whether to ban or impose restrictions on their use in certain products.

The study was part of wider research into so-called “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals that for several years have been linked with declining sperm counts and widespread male infertility.

From the Verge, our final item — a story that reminds us of sings once common in managerial offices a half century back, featuring a scowling face with the caption “I don’t get stress, I give it.”:

Being a bully may be good for your health, study finds

Children who bully others have lower levels of inflammation later in life

Childhood bullying has been linked to a number of physical and mental health effects, including lower self-worth, depression, and serious illnesses later in life. But until now, researchers had largely focused on examining these effects in victims of abuse, not the bullies themselves. This may soon change, as a long-term study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was able to demonstrate that “pure bullies,” people who have never experienced bullying themselves, do in fact face a long-lasting health effect from abusing others. As it turns out, that effect is actually beneficial — even when compared to people who aren’t involved in bullying at all.

“Pure bullies had the lowest blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation,” says William Copeland, an epidemiologist at Duke University and co-author of the study. “This is kind of a beneficial outcome,” because CRP is a risk factor for a variety of health problems down the road, such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, Copeland says. These findings therefore suggest that “the bullying experience was protective for the bullies.”

In the study, researchers tracked over 1,000 children living in western North Carolina over seven years.

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