Today’s headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, and the environment begins with business as usual from BuzzFeed:

Biden’s Son, Polish Ex-President Quietly Sign On To Ukrainian Gas Company

Revelations that Hunter Biden and Aleksander Kwasniewski serve on the board of a company controlled by a Yanukovych ally raise serious conflict of interest questions for Western countries’ Ukraine policy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s youngest son has joined the board of a gas company owned by an ally of Ukraine’s fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and a key European interlocutor with Kiev who was previously president of Poland.

The move raises questions about a potential conflict of interest for Joe Biden, who was the White House’s main interlocutor with Yanukovych while the latter was president and has since spearheaded Western efforts to wean Ukraine off Russian gas.

Company documents in Cyprus show that Joe Biden’s son, R. Hunter Biden, became a member of the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, which describes itself as Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer, on April 18. Burisma announced Hunter Biden’s appointment in a press release Monday on its website which was quickly picked up by Russian state media.

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, Third World America:

U.S. alone among Western countries on lack of paid maternity leave, UN finds

The United States is the only Western country — and one of only three in the world — that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from their jobs, a new U.N. study reports.

Two other countries share the U.S. position of providing “no cash benefits during maternity leave,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the International Labor Organization: Oman, an absolute monarchy in the Persian Gulf; and Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific nation where the U.S. State Department says violence against women is so common that 60 percent of men in a U.N. study acknowledged having committed a rape.

The other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

From the Associated Press, signs of a dangerous summer ahead in the Golden State:

Wildfire forces 20,000 evacuations near San Diego

Wildfires pushed by gusty winds chewed through canyons parched by California’s drought, prompting evacuation orders for more than 20,000 homes on the outskirts of San Diego and another 1,200 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara County 250 miles to the north.

No homes were reported damaged in either fire, but hundreds were considered threatened. The rugged terrain and unseasonably warm temperatures made firefighting even more difficult.

The flames that erupted in the fire-prone Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego quickly grew to 700 acres, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds that whipped through areas dotted by hilltop estates and pricey new housing tracts.

From TheLocal.fr, with a reminder that the figures refer to the total populations, not per capita consumption:

Americans topple French as biggest wine drinkers

For the first time, the United States has snatched from France the title of the world’s top wine consumer, according to a report released on Tuesday. France’s wine mastery already was threatened earlier this year.

Global wine consumption fell marginally in 2013 and the United States outstripped France as the top consumer, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV) said Tuesday.

Consumption dipped 1 percent last year to 238.7 hectolitres of wine in the global market worth 73 billion euros ($100 billion).

The United States was the top consumer for the first time at 29 million hectolitres, with domestic production accounting for four-fifths, said Jean-Marie Aurand, the head of the intergovernmental organisation that compiles global statistics for the industry.

The Mainichi cites a slowdown:

U.S. retail sales rise a scant 0.1 percent in April

U.S. retail sales growth slowed in April, with consumers shopping less online and cutting back on purchases of furniture and electronics.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after surging 1.5 percent in March following a harsh winter that had curtailed shopping.

Several economists said the April figures might have been depressed because of seasonal adjustments connected to a later than usual Easter. Still, the modest sales suggest that consumers may remain cautious during the still-slow economic recovery. Higher sales would help drive faster growth because consumers account for about 70 percent of the economy.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, plutocrat behaving badly [and he’s Al Gore’s bosom buddy]:

Martins Beach billionaire evades questions on stand

The billionaire landowner who bought a popular beach in San Mateo County and then locked out the public was evasive and uncooperative when questioned Monday about his decision, stating repeatedly he “did not recollect” conversations, letters or legal documents.

Vinod Khosla testified during the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court that he did not remember why he set up two limited liability companies to buy Martins Beach, what amount he paid for the property, when he bought it or why the decision was made to keep the public out.

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist remained calm but gave no ground during the intense questioning – sometimes tinged with disbelief and sarcasm – by the lead attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, which sued Khosla for blocking the only access road to the beach. Khosla explained that he never had a conversation about the property without his lawyers present, a strategy that allowed him to invoke attorney-client privilege for virtually every question whose answer he could recollect.

A global story, via Xinhua:

Global economy still faces considerable risks: leading economic organizations

World economy still faces various risks despite its recent improvements, and further efforts on growth and consolidation are needed, said heads of world’s leading economic organizations on Tuesday.

High unemployment, significant output gap, low investment, rising inequality and slowdown in emerging economies still have an impact on global growth prospects, said chiefs of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel released after their meeting in Berlin.

“The global economy has noticeably improved, but is still far from a robust, sustainable growth,” the statement said.

And form the Japan Times, the neoliberal agenda marches on:

Nations narrowing gaps on TPP: Amari

The 12 countries involved in the haggling over a Pacific free trade agreement are narrowing their differences on intellectual property rights, one of the issues blocking the conclusion of the pact, Akira Amari, minister in charge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, said Tuesday.

“There has been confrontations between emerging and developed economies in the area of intellectual property, but things are moving forward considerably,” Amari said.

“But I am aware that we have yet to reach an agreement” on the issue, Amari told reporters.

On to Europe and a pessimistic EurActiv:

Poll: Most Europeans believe ‘the worst is still to come’

With the European elections opening next week, a new survey shows that most Europeans believe the crisis is not over yet and that “the worst is still to come”, although the trend is slightly improving.

A Eurobarometer study released by the European Commission on Monday (12 May) shows Europeans are still depressed about their future.

44% Europeans believe “the impact of the crisis has already reached its peak” while 47% believe “the worst is still to come”.

Britain next, and a bubble only the rich can love from Sky News:

Property Boom Leaves Many Unable To Buy

A combination of soaring house prices and falling real wages is making home ownership an ever more distant dream for some.

The proportion of English and Welsh homes selling for over £1m has more than doubled during the Great Recession, in the latest evidence of the property market boom.

In London a record 7% of all home sales listed by the Land Registry in the year to March were for £1m or more – a sharp increase from the 3% level when Britain slid into recession in 2008.

Ireland next, and a confidence game from Independent.ie:

Consumer confidence hits seven year high

CONSUMER confidence rose again last month to hit a seven-year high.

The increase is despite household finances being under continued pressure, especially with the advent of water charges.

KBC Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute said the index of consumer sentiment jumped to 87.3 in April, from 83.1 in the previous month.

This is the highest level since January 2007.

How Swede it is, from TheLocal.se:

All but three percent of Swedes lead ‘happy’ lives

A comprehensive survey of the 28 EU member states revealed that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes believe immigrants contribute significantly to society, and 97 percent are satisfied with their lives.

All but 3 percent of Swedes are happy with their lives. At least, that’s according to an EU report published on Tuesday.

“I’m astonished by the results,” Swedish anthropologist Gillis Herlitz told The Local. “Swedes nowadays complain about everything.” The report revealed that Swedes were the most positive nationality in the EU when it came to both life satisfaction and perceptions of immigrants.

Germany next, and a curious move from TheLocal.de:

City to give alcoholics beer to clean streets

A planned taxpayer-funded project in western Germany to get unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts cleaning streets has sparked controversy by offering those who take part beer as part of their compensation.

The “Pick-up” initiative, planned by charity Addict Support Essen to start in mid-June, offers addicts beer – along with food and medical treatment – in exchange for working three to six hours a day collecting litter off streets.

They will also get “pocket money” of €1.25 per hour, similar to the established “one-euro-jobs” which employ unemployed and homeless people in Germany for public projects at an hourly rate of €1.

Deutsche Welle gets instructions:

OECD urges Germany to reduce poverty risk

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticized Germany for not doing enough to prevent a growing number of people from sliding into poverty. It called for a speedy action plan.

The organization of the world’s leading 34 industrialized nations pointed out in its latest biannual report on Tuesday that Germany’s recent economic upswing had failed to reach the weakest in society.

“The relative poverty risk and pronounced income inequality have remained unchanged over the past couple of years,” the reports said. The report also pointed out that it had become harder for low-paid workers to move up.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria called on the government to prepare reforms quickly to rectify the current situation. “Germany must act now,” he told reporters in Berlin.

More from TheLocal.de:

Germany has more jobs, but more inequality

Germany must do more to reduce poverty risks made worse by reforms to the labour market that have reduced joblessness but widened inequality, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday.

“Germany’s current economic success offers a good platform for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, but further reforms will be necessary over the medium and long term,” the OECD wrote in a new report.

Presenting the report at a news conference, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria said that reforms were usually enacted in times of crisis when there was no other option.

Off to France and a disturbing sign of that ol’ hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France sees 78 percent rise in homophobic acts

France may have taken the historic step of legalising gay marriage last year, but it appears the landmark social reform came at a cost. The number of reported homophobic acts increased in 2013 by a staggering 78 percent, according to a watchdog group.

In 2013 there was a homophobic physical attack every two days in France, which represented a rise of 54 percent on 2012.

That is just one of the worrying stats contained in a new report by French gay-rights organisation SOS Homophobie, which monitors the levels of homophobia in the country.

Spain next, and more troubling numbers from ANSAmed:

Spain: 4 million jobless lack unemployment benefits

EPA says only 32.5% get them, labor ministry says 58.9%

The length of the economic crisis and recession in Spain has led to four million jobless not receiving any sort of unemployment benefits or social assistance, according to the Labour Force Survey (Encuesta de Población Activa, EPA) released on Tuesday.

The survey was on the first quarter of 2014. The EPA report shows that 32.5% of the unemployed receive benefits, while a labor ministry report released in March had instead put the figure at 58.9%.

TheLocal.es sticks close:

Spanish love affair with EU still going strong

They may have endured spending cuts and tax hikes overseen by Brussels, but Spaniards still seem surprisingly pro-EU and keen to vote in this month’s European elections.

Crawling out of a crisis in which European authorities helped bail out its banks but approved pay freezes for ordinary Spaniards, Spain is nevertheless a cheerleader for European integration — a once-marginal state that has done well in the union.

More than 58 percent of Spaniards are still in favour of the European Union against just under 30 percent who are against it, according to a study published last week by Spain’s Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS).

The economic crisis that erupted in 2008 did affect Spanish views of the EU. A European Commission study showed that the ratio of people who thought Spain had benefitted from the EU was much higher at 75 percent in 2007.

Italy next, with rising doubts form TheLocal.it:

Support for EU plummets in Italy – survey

Support for the European Union is on the rise across some of the continent’s major economies apart from Italy, a study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed.

As voters head to the European elections, which get under way on May 22nd, the survey found that there has been a 12 percent decline in support for the EU among Italians since 2013.

The survey was conducted in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Favourable sentiment towards the economic bloc has been on the decline in Italy in since 2012, falling from 59 percent that year to 46 percent in the recent survey.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, belated Hungarian vengeance, Ukrainian turmoil, Russian retaliation, Turkish tragedy, Israeli corruption, a Latin American warning and troubles in Brazil, Pakistani busts, Indian electoral exuberance, a warning from Thailand, economic anxieties and death by testing in China, more financial woes in Japan, controlling your dreams, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .  

From ANSAmed, our first Greek headline comes with a payoff:

Greece: IMF to approve bailout tranche to Athens on May 28

The International Monetary Fund’s executive board will convene on May 28 to discuss and likely approve the disbursement of its next bailout tranche to Greece, as daily Kathimerini online reports today.

The report of the IMF’s mission to Greece is expected later this week and, despite talk of a deliberate delay until after the elections, sources from Washington say the assessment report will not contain any surprises.

The issue of debt sustainability will not be analyzed in detail as it will be discussed in the following assessment of the Greek economy.

From EnetEnglish.gr, privatization provokes:

Outcry halts beach bill

Tide of opposition forces temporary government retreat over ‘development’ plans

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras says decision on controversial shoreline bill must wait until after European Parliament elections

Campaigners have welcomed an announcement from the government that it is postponing consultations on a controversial coastal development bill that would allow more construction and business activity along its coastline.

On Tuesday, State Minister Dimitris Stamatis said that the prime minister had ordered the extension of the public consultation process on the bill until after the May 25 European Parliament elections.

“The prime minister wants a thorough and essential consultation so that all aspects of the issue be explored. He also asked that the government be briefed, after the European Parliament elections, on the results and conclusions of the consultation in order to form its final position,” Stamatis said.

Mixed electoral news from ANA/MPA:

SYRIZA leads in euroelections; ND in national elections, shows opinion poll

Main opposition SYRIZA leads over New Democracy (ND) in the euroelections, according to an opinion poll conducted by GPO for private TV MEGA.

According to the poll results, SYRIZA leads among those questioned with 21.5 percent, followed by New Democracy (ND) with 21 percent, the newly founded party To Potami with 8.5 percent, Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) with 7.5 percent, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) with 7 percent; ELIA with 6, Independent Greeks with 3.7 percent and Democratic Left (DIMAR) with 3 percent.

New Democracy leads with 24.5 percent in national elections followed by SYRIZA with 23.1 percent; KKE with 7.2 percent; To Potami with 7 percent; Golden Dawn with 6.9 percent, ELIA with 5.9 percent; Independent Greeks with 4 percent and DIMAR with 2.8 percent.

And from To Vima, a candidate speaks:

Tsipras: “Europe wants subservient Ukrainian and Greek governments”

Opposition leader lashed out against PM Samaras, favors peaceful solution to Ukrainian crisis

The president of SYRIZA Alexis Tsipras, who is currently on a trip to Moscow, spoke of a “democratic deficit” in Europe, arguing that the European leadership unfortunately wants “subservient governments” in Ukraine and Greece. Mr. Tsipras further elaborated that these subservient governments are meant to represent the “short-sighted ambitions” of European leadership, rather than the interests of their people.

Mr. Tsipras accused Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of being “nothing more than Mr. Barroso’s puppet since 2011″ and that the PM’s goal has been to carry on with the bailouts, when the Greek people expressed an “anti-bailout rhetoric”. The SYRIZA leader argued that Europe must “return to its founding values” of social cohesion, solidarity and progress.

Regarding the Ukrainian crisis, the SYRIZA leader stressed the need for a peaceful solution and maintained that Ukraine must be a “bridge of cooperation instead of conflict” and stated that only the Ukrainian people are qualified to decide upon their future, through the provided constitutional and democratic procedures.

Greek Reporter walks out:

Fear of Greek Universities Closing Again as Staff Strike

Administrative staff at Greek universities started a 48-hour strike Tuesday, in protest at the lay-offs of their peers at the Athens University of Economics and Business and at the University of Ioannina.

According to the protesters, the employees that were laid-off had not previously been part of the state’s ‘mobility’ program, which provides direct integration of “a limited number of staff with specific skills in order to move them to services where there is urgent need for staff to better serve citizens.”

The universities’ administrative staff are seeking the immediate implementation of this program for their colleagues. Furthermore, they seek to stop the new evaluation system for all public sector employees. University employees think that this is a way for the Greek Education Ministry to create a huge pool of redundant employees.”

A quick trip to Hungary and memories of days past with the Associated Press:

Hungary: ex-minister guilty of 1956 war crimes

Hungary’s former communist-era interior minister Bela Biszku was sentenced on Tuesday to five years and six months in prison for war crimes related to reprisals against civilians after the anti-Soviet revolution of 1956.

Biszku, the first high-ranking communist official to be tried since Hungary’s return to democracy in 1990, was also found guilty by a Budapest court of other charges, including denying crimes committed by the communist regime — which, like denying the Holocaust, is illegal in Hungary.

Biszku will be credited for the months spent under house arrest after he was first detained by authorities in Sept. 2012, judge Szabolcs Toth said.

The Ukraine next, first with Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Fresh violence rattles new Europe push for Ukraine talks

Separatist rebels killed seven Ukrainian soldiers in a bloody ambush in the restive east on Tuesday, rattling efforts by Europe to step up a diplomatic push to resolve the escalating crisis on its doorstep.

The violence flared as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in Ukraine to push Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels to come together at the negotiating table after the East-West security body OSCE drew up a roadmap aimed at easing tensions.

But the battle lines remained drawn, with fears that Ukraine could be threatened with collapse following weekend independence referendums in the eastern industrial provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk that have been rejected by Kiev and the West.

And the latest in a round of actions, this time from Moscow via RT:

Moscow to suspend American GPS sites on Russian territory from June

Russia is going to suspend the operation of all American GPS sites on its territory, starting from June 1, said Russia’s deputy PM, Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and defense industries.

“Starting June 1, we will halt the work of those stations on Russian territory,” Rogozin said.

Rogozin pointed out that American GPS ground stations are located in Russia under an agreement that dates back to 1993 and 2001.

On to Turkey with a disaster from Sky News:

Turkey Mine Blast: 201 Dead And Toll May Rise

Rescuers battle to reach hundreds of miners trapped underground, as relatives wait anxiously at the surface for news.

At least 201 miners have been killed after an undergound explosion and fire in western Turkey.

Turkey’s energy minister said 787 workers were in the mine at the time of the explosion.

Hundreds are still trapped in shafts and tunnels up to 2.5 miles (4km) from the nearest exit following the blast at a mine in Soma, in what appeared to be the country’s worst mining accident in years.

And from Israel, a politician doing what so many politicians with the New York Times:

Former Israeli Premier Is Sentenced to 6 Years for Bribery

Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison by a judge who likened him to a “traitor” for taking bribes while mayor of Jerusalem in connection with the construction of a luxury housing development.

Mr. Olmert, who on Tuesday vowed to appeal his March conviction, would be the highest-ranking official in Israel’s history to serve prison time. The sentence matched the prosecutors’ request; Mr. Olmert’s lawyers had asked that he be required only to do community service.

Judge David Rozen of Tel Aviv District Court said that Mr. Olmert and the nine government officials and business figures convicted alongside him had all “harmed the public trust,” and that the former prime minister deserved a harsh sentence because he is a public figure and a clever man.

Latin America next with a warning from MercoPress:

IMF warns Latin America about changing times and calls for fiscal prudence

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suggested that Argentina could benefit from cutting public spending destined for subsidies on energy costs, stating that such policies are “very costly and distort economic activity.”

The organization also recommended prudent fiscal policies in Latin America, as well as staying attentive to financial vulnerabilities and encouraging growth through social spending at a time when growth has spluttered in the region.

The chief of Regional Studies in the Southern Hemisphere Department, Dora Iakova, made clear her opinion of local policies during an event organized in Spain by the Areces Foundation, “Economic perspectives – The Americas (April 2014): growing challenges”.

Brazilian politics from the Rio Times:

President Rousseff Loses Support as Rivals Grow

Economic downturn, problems at Petrobras and a movement in support of her predecessor are affecting Rousseff’s re-election effort.

Once considered a landslide favorite for reelection this year, President Dilma Rousseff is facing an increasingly harder battle. A new poll from Datafolha showed last Friday, May 9th that Rousseff has lost support among the Brazilian electorate while her rivals’ popularity rise ahead of the October elections.`

While Rousseff lost a seemingly small number, slipping one percentage point to 37 percent, her opponents made progress, especially the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate, Aécio Neves, who rose by four percent to twenty percent of vote intention.

The Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate, Eduardo Campos, gained a modest one percent of support compared to the last poll, which was released in April. Campos also announced former senator and 2010 presidential candidate Marina Silva as his running mate last October.

Asia next, with BBC News and a worrying story from Pakistan:

Pakistan police charge 68 Pakistani lawyers with blasphemy

Pakistani police have charged 68 lawyers with blasphemy in what is thought to be the biggest ever case of its kind in the country.

The charges were brought in Punjab after lawyers protested when police detained one of their colleagues. During the protest the lawyers are accused of insulting a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Police say they acted after a local man complained.

Critics say blasphemy laws are often misused to settle scores in Pakistan.

India next and electoral reactions from BBC News:

India shares at record high on exit polls

Indian stock markets have risen to a record high after exit polls suggested the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies are on course to win the general election.

India’s main stock index, the Sensex, rose 1.7% to 23,941.32 points in early trade on Tuesday. This follows a 2.4% gain on Monday ahead of the exit poll results.

Analysts said investors were hopeful that a BJP win could help reverse the slowdown in India’s economy.

The Financial Express promises:

Narendra Modi’s party sells voters low-cost housing dream

Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, promised in its election manifesto to adopt a low-cost housing policy.

India needs about 19 million low-cost homes – roughly defined as costing a million rupees ($16,700) and below – to shelter an urban population expected to nearly double to 600 million by 2030 from 2011.

Consultants Monitor Deloitte estimated that the low cost housing segment represented a $150 billion business opportunity, but the challenge for developers lies in earning sufficient margin returns.

Thailand next, with hopes from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

US hopeful Thai military will not stage another coup

The United States voiced confidence on Tuesday that Thailand’s military will not stage another coup as worries mount in Washington of fresh turmoil in its oldest Asian ally.

Amy Searight, the top Pentagon official devoted to Southeast Asia, said the United States was “reasonably confident” that the Thai armed forces “will continue to be restrained and professional in all of this.”

“At this point we don’t have any reason to expect that the Thai military will change their current stance,” she told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

China next, with Nikkei Asian Review diagnosing:

Chinese economy continued to lose steam in April

China’s economy continued to throttle back in April, with government data out Tuesday showing the pace of growth in investment, production and consumption all slowing from March.

Investment in projects like this bridge on the outskirts of Chongqing is slowing.

The cooling housing market, which had been a chief driver of growth, is taking its toll. In a typical year, the three-day Labor Day holiday at the start of May is abuzz with potential buyers. But this year, new housing sales by area during the period were down 47% on the year, according to a local business newspaper. Housing inventories are piling up despite falling prices.

The government’s efforts to push forward structural adjustments are behind the trend. With Chinese authorities working to curb shadow banking, banks are becoming more cautious about mortgages and lending to developers. Individuals are increasingly refraining from buying property, as they assume prices will continue to fall.

China Daily recommends:

Banks told to act more quickly on home loans

Commercial banks should set mortgage rates at “reasonable” levels and grant housing loans more quickly, especially for first time buyers, the People’s Bank of China said in an online statement on Tuesday.

During a meeting with executives from 15 commercial banks on Monday, the PBOC emphasized that the banks should improve their housing finance services and give priority to loans for first time homebuyers while keeping a closer eye on the associated risks.

“The central bank is aiming to maintain economic stability. The move signals that China is finetuning its macroeconomic policy rather than adopting strong stimulus policies,” said Yin Zhongli, a financial researcher with the Institute of Finance and Banking at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China Daily again, with monetary questions:

Currency an issue in Lew’s China talks?

US experts disagree that China’s currency would be a major issue of discussion as US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew winds up his trip in Beijing on Tuesday evening.

Lew said on Friday that he would press Chinese officials to allow the market to play a bigger role in determining the value of China’s currency after acknowledging China’s steps in reforming its exchange rate policy.

“They widened their trading band. But we’ve seen some very negative movement in the exchange rate in recent months,” Lew told Bloomberg. Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said Lew has focused on the depreciation of the yuan over the last few months.

Want China Times changes the rules:

New capital market guidelines in China may mean big changes

China’s State Council on May 9 issued a notice detailing nine guidelines for accelerating the healthy development of the nation’s capital market, the so-called “new nine rules,” following the previous “nine rules” unveiled in 2004 to build up the capital market, the Chinese-language Beijing Business Today reports.

In 2004, China’s cabinet unveiled nine rules which offered preferential policies for the capital market, boosting the A-share market. Now faced with new public listings, the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index (SHCOMP) is striving to maintain itself above 2,000 points and the Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) has seen continuous decline, leading many commentators to question if the new nine rules can boost the market like the old nine rules.

The reform on public listings is seen as the most important of the new rules. The notice stated that the government is in the process of seeking conditions, listing standards and screening procedures that are appropriate for China’s actual situation.

And from BBC News, cracking down:

China arrests man over ‘false stories’ on foreign news site

Chinese authorities say they have detained a man who posted “fabricated information” on a foreign news site.

State-run Xinhua news agency said Xiang Nanfu, 62, had published “false stories” on the Boxun website that “seriously harmed” China’s image. Boxun, a US-based Chinese news site, posts stories on protests and rights that would not appear in state media.

The move comes amid an internet crackdown and ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen killings.

Lethal testing, via China Daily:

School tests blamed for suicides

Pressure of exam-based system leads teens to kill themselves, report says

The test-oriented educational system is the cause of many suicides among elementary and middle school students in China, an education report said on Tuesday.

According to the Annual Report on China’s Education (2014), or the Blue Book of Education, released on Tuesday, most of the teenagers who killed themselves are in middle school, and they did so mainly because they could not bear the heavy pressure of the test-oriented education system.

The blue book was released by the 21st Century Education Research Institute, a nonprofit education research organization composed of educational professors and experts. Teenage suicides have raised concern among people after dozens of such cases were reported in 2013.

Japan next and a banking alarm from the Japan Daily Press:

Prominent Abe adviser warns BOJ of ‘delicate’ financial easing decision

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bold economic strategies – nicknamed “Abenomics” – initially started with the Bank of Japan, when he installed a new BOJ governor and started an aggressive easing of the Japanese currency with an influx of funds from the BOJ. This resulted in the yen weakening against the dollar and giving a boost to Japan’s export-driven economy. But Koichi Hamada, professor emeritus of economics at Yale University and one of Abe’s economic advisers, warned that the BOJ must check the “delicate” balance of Japan’s economy to prevent from doing damage instead of the intended improvement.

Further financial easing by the BOJ would indeed be “better for Japan’s output,” says Hamada. “But there’s also a chance that several months or a few years from now, consumers’ mindset will switch to inflationary” from deflationary, he said. “When the mindset of asset holders changes, we can’t rule out the possibility that inflation may appear earlier than expected.”

The Japan Times sets the number:

Population panel draws line in sand

Experts suggest Japan take stand at 100 million in child-rearing boost

To save Japan from a looming demographic crisis linked to its shrinking population, a goal of maintaining the nation’s population at around 100 million for the next 50 years should be set by allocating more of the social security budget to help child-rearing households instead of the elderly, an advisory panel to the prime minster said in an interim report Tuesday.

If the panel’s final report is adopted, it will be the first time the government has set a numerical population target.

But the panel, which is tasked with projecting Japan’s future and proposing policy options to the prime minister, did not recommend that more foreigners be brought in to offset the expected drop in the population.

Woeful news from the Japan Times:

Yen losing force as driver of automakers’ profits

The fiscal year ending March 2015 is looking less rosy for Japanese automakers, who are unlikely to benefit any further from the weakened yen because of fierce overseas competition, experts say.

Profit growth at Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor. Co. will likely slow this year, said Takaki Nakanishi, CEO of Nakanishi Research Institute.

In the year ending March 31, Toyota posted a record group operating profit of ¥2.29 trillion, jumping 73.5 percent from the year before. But this year the auto giant expects a mere 0.3 percent increase in operating profit to ¥2.3 trillion.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with CNN

Custom-built robot to probe Fukushima leaks

The push to plug the plumbing problem from hell at Fukushima Daiichi is about to get some help from a U.S.-built robot designed to search for leaks from one of the Japanese nuclear plant’s crippled reactors.

Built in Colorado by California-based nuclear cleanup contractor Kurion, the refrigerator-sized robot will stick a 15-foot mechanical arm through a hole in the main floor of the reactor building.

The arm is equipped with radiation-shielded cameras and capable of lifting 100 pounds. It can also carry cutting tools — either a set of heavy-duty shears or a high-pressure water jet that can cut steel.

NHK WORLD rushes ahead:

Aso urges nuclear plant restarts to cut fuel costs

Japan’s Finance Minister says the country’s nuclear power plants need to be restarted once their safety is confirmed.

Taro Aso told reporters on Tuesday the step is necessary to slash the huge fuel import costs that cut deep into the nation’s current account surplus in fiscal 2013.

He expressed concern about the impact of higher electricity rates on businesses and households.

While South China Morning Post prepares:

China to simulate nuclear crisis for national emergency drill next year

Officials plan to hold massive exercise in Guangdong owing to cluster of old nuclear plants there

A national nuclear disaster drill will be staged next year in Guangdong, home to some of the largest and oldest commercial reactors in China, Xinhua reports.

The 2015 Shendun (or “Heavenly Shield”) will be the first such drill since 2009.

Yao Bin, deputy director with the National Nuclear Emergency Response Office in Beijing, told the state news agency that the drill would be larger in scale and more sophisticated than other drills held in recent years.

From El País via the Department of Other Fuels/Other Problems, gassy woes in Spain:

Earth tremors in Valencia were caused by undersea gas plant, report confirms

Scientists link offshore Castor storage project to seismic activity recorded in Castellón last year

Plant has been shut since quakes, the biggest of which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale

An official report has officially confirmed for the first time that there is a “direct relationship” between the 512 earth tremors recorded in Vinaròs in Castellón province last September and the injection of gas into the nearby Castor offshore storage plant. The National Geographic Institute (IGN), one of two public organizations asked by the government to conduct a detailed study into the causes of the quakes in the Valencia region, concluded: “Everything indicates that the induced seismicity is the result of gas-injection activity.” Local residents felt 15 of the tremors, the biggest of which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. The government ordered activity at the plant to be stopped on September 26 last year, after the first 200 quakes.

Making use of a depleted oil field 1,700 meters below the sea, the Castor gas-storage plant was being built to hold a quantity of natural gas equivalent to the country’s total consumption over a period of 17 days, in order to cover spikes in consumption levels and interruptions to the supply. Liquid natural gas is supposed to be piped into the empty Vinarós Castellon oil field, via a 13.6-mile-long offshore pipeline. A 19-bank international consortium, five of whose members are Spanish, provided the $1.6 billion in financing for the project.

And for our final item, on to the consequences of modern economic life with BBC News:

‘Arrogance’ of ignoring need for sleep

Society has become “supremely arrogant” in ignoring the importance of sleep, leading researchers have told the BBC’s Day of the Body Clock.

Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey universities warn cutting sleep is leading to “serious health problems”.

They say people and governments need to take the problem seriously. Cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infections and obesity have all been linked to reduced sleep.

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