Today’s tales from the worlds of economics, politics and the environment — plus added Fukusihmapocalypse Now! — opens with hope for modest relief for some via the Guardian:

Sallie Mae and Justice Department in $60m deal over military student loans

US government had claimed the student loan giant imposed interest rates on service members above the 6% allowed by law

Student lender Sallie Mae has reached a $60m settlement with the Justice Department to resolve allegations that it charged members of the military excessive interest rates on their student loans, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The deal settles a government lawsuit that asserted the student loan giant violated the rights of service members by imposing interest rates above the 6% permitted by federal law and by improperly seeking default judgments against them. Separately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced a settlement of $30m in restitution arising from allegations that the company maximized consumer late fee charges, as well as $6.6m in civil penalties.

The lawsuit was the Justice Department’s first against owners and servicers of student loans for violating rights of service members. The settlement has been filed in federal court in Delaware and is awaiting a judge’s approval.

From the New York Times, business as usual:

Citigroup Says It Has Fired 12 in Mexico Over Fraud

Citigroup disclosed on Wednesday that it had fired a total of 12 employees in Mexico, including some senior executives, in connection with a $400 million fraud involving a Mexican oil services company.

In an internal memorandum to Citigroup employees, the bank’s chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, disclosed the terminations of the employees, including several managing directors, two of whom were business heads at the bank’s Banamex unit.

“Additionally, before our investigation concludes, we expect that several other employees, both inside and outside of Mexico, may receive forms of disciplinary action as well,” Mr. Corbat said in the memo.

From the Guardian, more business as usual:

Banks return to risky business: lax standards and subprime loans

Big banks like JP Morgan have rewired troubling, familiar tactics as they scrounge for profit in a difficult market

With business lending sluggish and mortgage lending slumping, Wells Fargo has decided it can cut those credit standards. Last month, it raised eyebrows by cutting the minimum credit score required to qualify for an FHA mortgage. It’s also making a big push into another area of lending notorious for poor lending standards: auto loans. Forget subprime mortgages; by the end of 2013, Wells was the second-biggest subprime auto lender in the country.

At least we’re all alert to the risks tied to lending, thanks to the vivid memories of 2008. The other side of the banking business is how they manage their deposits, and the quest to replace missing profits from this part of the enterprise is much less obvious to the casual observer. Nonetheless, analyst Mike Mayo says it’s this that keeps him awake at night far more often than worrying about stupid lending practices. “We haven’t had enough loan growth yet to cause a big problem.”

Specifically, Mayo frets that bankers are too complacent about whether depositors will stick around in a rising interest rate environment – and how much they’ll have to pay out in interest rates to hang on to those deposits. Then, too, there’s the question of what the banks are doing with all those deposits in the meantime.

From the Guardian again, the elite indulges:

Christie’s racks up $745m in one night – and the bubble keeps inflating

This week’s mega-auctions are once again reaching obscenely high prices, with a Barnett Newman selling for $84.2m and a Bacon triptych close to that. Why is there no sign of a crash?

Christie’s evening sale racked up a wacky, near-incomprehensible $745m, the highest total in history for a single sale – smashing past the house’s own high estimate of $500m, and beating November’s $691.6m sale, whose own Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, set a record (in nominal terms) for the priciest painting ever. The sale established new record prices for 10 artists, including Newman, Alexander Calder, and Joan Mitchell – who became the most expensive woman at auction for a messy blue abstraction from 1960.

Boggling enough on its own, the $744m sale came just a day after the end of Frieze New York, where untold millions changed hands, and on the heels of Christie’s own warm-up auction highlighting the “gritty, underbelly-esque side of contemporary art,” a rather ludicrous phrase to describe $134.6m worth of safe, predictable painting and sculpture. And collectors are set to do it all again Wednesday, when Christie’s rival Sotheby’s mounts its own evening sale.

“We are not in a bubble,” Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy insisted after the sale on Monday. To which the correct response is the one Mandy Rice-Davies gave during the Profumo scandal: “He would, wouldn’t he?” All the same, here are four theories on why the bubble keeps inflating, and why it may be a while before it bursts.

From the Los Angeles Times, a light frost in Hades?:

Howard Jarvis group won’t oppose bill to close Prop. 13 loophole

The staunchest defender of California’s politically untouchable property-tax initiative, Proposition 13, has tacitly approved a bid to change the landmark law for the first time since voters passed it 36 years ago.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the anti-tax group named for the champion of the 1978 measure, dropped its opposition to a bill that would clamp down on companies avoiding higher property taxes when they buy commercial real estate by using a corporate ownership maneuver.

“I think that the withdrawal of our opposition, at least for now, suggests that we don’t see this as a direct threat to Prop. 13,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, whose crusade for the law sparked a nationwide tax revolt.

From BBC News, a story to shake you up:

Water extraction for human use boosts California quakes

Extracting water for human activities is increasing the number of small earthquakes being triggered in California.

A new study suggests that the heavy use of ground water for pumping and irrigation is causing mountains to lift and valleys to subside.

The scientists say this depletion of the water is increasing seismic activity along the San Andreas fault.

Another California water story, this time from the East Bay Express, reporting on Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan [BDCP]:

The Water Tunnel Boondoggle

Experts say the eye-popping costs of Governor Brown’s plan to build two giant water tunnels far outweigh the financial benefits. And taxpayers may be left holding the bag.

The project — along with the costs of mitigating the damage wrought by it — also promises to be hugely expensive. Two water agencies — the Westlands Water District, which services about seven hundred farms in a vast strip of desert in the western San Joaquin Valley, and the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 19 million Southern Californians with water — plan to cover the majority of the costs of the tunnels, an estimated $15 billion, along with any economic damage they cause to the Delta.

But even as the project’s public comment period draws to a close next month, the state has yet to develop a clear financial plan for the tunnels. Moreover, the relatively few financial facts that do exist are hotly contested. The Department of Water Resources, for example, often states that the entire plan will cost a total of $25 billion, yet many economists think that, when interest on the bonds is factored in, the true figure will run closer to $70 billion.

In terms of benefits, state officials say the tunnels will generate an overall net gain of roughly $5 billion for California’s economy. But other water experts contend the plan could actually result in an annual net loss of about $100 million a year for water contractors backing the project.

From the Los Angeles Times, more ominous signs of a deadly summer to come in the Golden State as a record drought continues:

San Diego County fires: ‘It’s like a scene from Armageddon’

Brush fires broke out in more than half a dozen spots in northern San Diego County and spread at a dangerous pace as hot, dry, erratic winds, backed by record temperatures, raked Southern California for a second day Wednesday.

The fires forced evacuations of schools, businesses, homes, a mobile-home park and Cal State San Marcos, along with causing massive traffic jams and stretching firefighting resources almost to the breaking point.

The most destructive of the blazes was the Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, which burned several hundred acres, hopscotching between pricey neighborhoods near brushy canyons.

And another faint hope for reform from within via the Guardian:

Google investors press for code of conduct on tax

Proposal by group of activist investors will be voted on at annual shareholder meeting and is opposed by Google board

A group of activist investors are calling on other Google shareholders to press the company to adopt a code of conduct on tax that would bring its corporate structures back in line with its “Don’t be evil” motto.

“A set of principles to address misalignments between Google’s tax strategies and its commitments to employees, communities, shareholders and the environment would help protect long-term value,” they argue in a proposal to be voted on at Google’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

The proposal has been made by Domini Social Equity Fund, which has close to $1bn of assets, and five other investors in the internet firm. It is opposed by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, and his board.

From the Register, surrendering to the corporate tracking imperative online:

Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

‘We don’t like it, but we have to use it’

Mozilla has announced that it will add Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) for digital rights management into a future build of Firefox, even if the organization disagrees with the technology on principle.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is to add EME into the specifications for HTML5 at the behest of Microsoft, Google, and Netflix. Sir Tim Berners-Lee supports the move, but Mozilla had been objecting to the plans as technically unnecessary. However, it has decided to cave.

“We have come to the point where Mozilla not implementing the W3C EME specification means that Firefox users have to switch to other browsers to watch content restricted by DRM ,” said Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gal.

Opening shots from an academic battle from USA TODAY:

For-profit colleges, student advocates lobby Obama

As the Obama administration prepares to establish new rules governing for-profit colleges later this year, student advocates and the career college industry are waging a fierce battle to shape the coming regulations.

Stakeholders on both sides of the debate are ramping up their push on the administration just as the public comment period on a proposed “gainful employment” regulation is set to close May 26.

Under the proposal that the administration unveiled in March, colleges would have to demonstrate that graduates’ debt load on average does not exceed 30% of their discretionary earnings or 12% of their total earnings.

And another national shame, reported by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the UC Berkeley Blog:

How the right wing is killing women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

And another national shame, via The Contributor Network:

REPORT: Children as Young as 7 Working in US Tobacco Fields

An international rights group is pushing the federal government and the tobacco industry to take further steps to protect children working on U.S. tobacco farms.

A report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch claims that children as young as 7 are sometimes working long hours in fields harvesting nicotine- and pesticide-laced tobacco leaves under sometimes hazardous conditions. Most of what the group documented is legal, but it wants cigarette makers to push for safety on farms from which they buy tobacco.

Human Rights Watch details findings from interviews with more than 140 children working on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where a majority of the country’s tobacco is grown.

New enterprise struggles from the New York Times:

The Bud Light-ification of Bud

There’s a pressing economic reason for the pot industry to get better if it is to survive, aside from its formidable legal challenges. The plant is relatively cheap and easy to grow, and not complicated to process either. Left to the whims of the open market — meaning ignoring taxes and regulations — the price of a joint could plummet to the price of a tea bag or a packet of sugar. So how will investors help the market mature while still making money?

The market for marijuana is nothing like the market for corn or wine or tobacco — at least not yet — and the reasons start in the ground: Marijuana growing and processing is downright bush-league compared to modern American agribusiness. Much of the pot produced in the United States still comes from illegal or semi-legal grow sites, even given the surge of production and processing in states with recreational or medicinal laws. And strains remain understudied and underanalyzed, compared with the wheat in your cereal or even the marigolds in your garden.

The inefficiencies continue to pile up after the harvest. Marijuana has to be cured, then trimmed, before it is sold, and much of this work is still done by hand. Workers use scissors to cut away tough outer leaves and expose the smokable part of the plant. It’s a labor-intensive process, the kind that in other instances is completed by a machine, like a thresher or a cotton gin.

And from the Japan Daily Press, still time to resist:

U.S. sees no conclusion to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations anytime soon

The stalemate is still on as the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are not expecting a conclusion to be met in the negotiations anytime soon. With a ministerial meeting happening in Singapore this month, members of what will be the world’s biggest free trade deal are yet to finalize the deal as both Japan and the United States, both key economies in the deal, failed to reach a conclusion on the negotiations last month.

While many expected progress to happen when US President Barack Obama himself went to Japan last month to discuss this, many were disappointed to learn that further talks are needed to come to a final agreement. The deadlock remains to be because of Japan’s refusal to give up tariffs on key products such as farming produce and automobiles, both the bread and butter of the Asian nation. This has affected widely the negotiations of the 12-nations included in the TPP as they wait for the final outcome of the talks between Japan and the U.S. The countries included in the TPP will meet in Singapore this week to give updates regarding other talks. They are expected to outline other details including regulations on labor, intellectual property and the environment as soon as the deal has been ironed out.

For our first European story, a plaintive pontifical plea from ANSA:

Pope condemns ‘massacre’ of migrants at sea as ‘shameful’

Francis asks for prayers for people fleeing homelands by boat

Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned the “massacre” of desperate migrants who are killed in boat disasters on the Mediterranean Sea as they flee their homelands for a new life in Europe. During his weekly general audience, the pope said it was “shameful” that thousands of migrants are killed on the seas between North African and the southern borders of Italy.

Shortly before he spoke, police in southern Italy said they had arrested two alleged human smugglers who authorities say deliberately caused a boat carrying as many as 400 migrants to sink off the coast of Libya Monday to induce an Italian sea rescue.

So far, 17 have been confirmed dead and more than 200 rescued but as many as 200 more are still missing.

Next, via EUbusiness, another hint of things to come:

Eurozone industrial output slips back in March: Eurostat

Eurozone industrial output fell in March, official data showed on Wednesday, consistent with recent data showing the economic recovery to be patchy so far.

Industrial output in the 18-nation eurozone dropped 0.3 percent in March compared with the figure for February when it gained 0.2 percent, the Eurostat statistics agency said.

Compared with March 2013, eurozone industrial output was down 0.1 percent, after posting a year-on-year gain of 1.7 percent in February.

From Europe Online, another form of resistance to the austerian imperative:

Brussels expects stronger resistance to austerity in next EU assembly

The European Commission believes that it will be harder to get the European Parliament to approve austerity legislation after this month’s elections, internal documents seen by dpa showed Wednesday.

The European Union’s executive arm acknowledged that based on polling trends, the staunchest backers of recent budget discipline reforms, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), will be “substantially weakened.”

“Some of the winning coalitions” that supported reforms in the outgoing Parliament, which had “the EPP and ALDE at their core,” are likely to “no longer be sufficient to reach a majority” in the next EU assembly, according to an analysis by the commission’s economic and financial department.

EurActiv raises an objection:

Norway accuses Apple of breaching EU consumer law

Apple’s iCloud service violates European law by giving itself the right to change its terms and conditions at any time, without notifying its customers, according to a complaint lodged 13 May by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The council, a government agency, earlier published a study accusing Apple iCloud’s terms of service of violating consumer rights and privacy before the complaint to Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman.

The unfair practice complaint is based on the EU’s directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts. Because people often store important information in the cloud, such as documents and photos, it is particularly important they understand the contract, the council said.

On to Britain and xenophobic fears fail to materialize, via Sky News:

East European Migrant Influx Fails To Emerge

The number of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria has fallen since border controls were lifted but rose over the long-term.

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK has fallen by 4,000 since transitional controls on immigration were lifted on January 1.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show 140,000 people born in one of the two countries were employed between January and March this year.

That is down from 144,000 between October and December, suggesting concerns about mass immigration following the New Year have been unfounded.

And some positive numbers from BBC News:

UK unemployment rate falls to five-year low

The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 133,000 to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million in the three months to March, official figures show.

The jobless rate also fell to a five-year low of 6.8%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people in work rose to 30.43 million, the highest since records began in 1971, helped by a rise in self-employment. Average earnings in the three months to March were up 1.7% from a year earlier.

But other numbers hint of another reality, via the Independent:

Anger as Employment Minister Esther McVey denies food bank use is linked to welfare reforms

Charities and politicians have reacted with anger to a claim by the Employment Minister that the dramatic rise in the number of people using food banks has nothing to do with the Government’s welfare reforms.

In a letter to the Scottish government, Esther McVey said “the rise in food banks predates most of the welfare reforms this Government has put in place”, adding that there was “no robust evidence linking food bank usage to welfare reform”.

Figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, have shown that demand has increased by more than 300 per cent in the past year.

Sky News hints at a bankster victory:

Banks Warn Regulator On ‘Illegal’ Bonus Rules

Bank of England proposals to toughen bank bonus rules could be legally unenforceable, a document obtained by Sky News warns.

New rules that would force bankers to wait more than a decade to get their hands on bonuses would breach “the principle of natural justice” and leave lenders exposed to costly legal challenges, a trade body has warned.

In a document obtained by Sky News, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) argued that plans to apply clawback provisions retrospectively would be illegal in Brazil, France, Germany and Mexico, countries in which UK-based lenders such as HSBC have a substantial presence.

The BoE’s proposals would force banks to reclaim variable compensation from senior employees for up to six years after it has been handed over and spent.

On to Norway and trepidation from TheLocal.no:

Norway slashes growth forecast on oil slowdown

Norway’s government on Wednesday slashed its growth forecast for this year, citing a slowdown in spending by the key oil sector in the Nordic country.

In a revised budget the government said the Norwegian economy is now forecast to grow by 1.9 percent in 2014, compared to the 2.5-percent increase expected in the original budget submitted last November.

This forecast concerns the country’s “mainland” GDP, which leaves out fossil fuels and maritime transport and is preferred as an indicator in Norway

since it excludes the strong cyclical variations related to oil, one of the country’s main exports.

However the purchase by the oil sector of goods and services is included in the country’s “mainland” GDP calculation, and the finance ministry expects this to stabilise then decrease.

Hypocritical criticism of the day award goes to. . .Well, you get the idea. And imagine if the U.S. had the same priorities as one of the happiest nations on earth. From TheLocal.se:

‘Swedes prioritize welfare and jobs above security’

No one doubts the Swedes’ ability to fight, but they do doubt Nato-ambivalent Sweden’s commitment to helping its neighbours, argues former US defence attaché to Sweden Bruce Acker.

In the wake of Russian annexation of Crimea, the Swedish defense debate has intensified over the nature of its security structures and partnerships. The Swedish solidarity declaration of 2009 is frequently criticized for being unresourced and therefore weak:

On to Austria and a slowdown from TheLocal.at:

Verbund shuts five power plants

Verbund, Austria’s leading electricity company, is mothballing five power stations to cut costs.

The company said it would temporarily decommission several combined cycle gas-fired power plants in Austria and France, including the 848-megawatt Mellach power station that was commissioned only three years ago.

Additionally, a coal-fired power plant in Dürnrohr and an oil-fueled plant in Styria will be closed, the company added.

The reason for the closures is the “massive disruption in the European electricity market” and “sector-wide economic pressures”, Verbund said. It hopes the restructuring will lead to “lasting economic improvements”.

TheLocal.at again, with a shortfall:

Austrian army ‘going broke’

The Austrian army is in serious financial trouble – so much so that regiments can’t afford fuel and soldiers are forced to march on foot.

Defence Minister Gerald Klug (SPÖ) has said that with its current budget the army “is no longer financially viable”.

His staff have done an analysis of the army’s current saving plan and found that by autumn it won’t even be able to afford its fuel bill.

And a good use for a house linked to a murderous xenophobe extraordinaire from TheLocal.at:

Hitler’s house to become migrant centre?

A long-running debate over the future of the house where Hitler was born finally appears set to be resolved.

The Renaissance-era structure, located near the central square of the picturesque town of Braunau in Upper Austria, is considered prime real estate.

At a recent ‘Birthplace Summit’, held at the Interior Ministry in early May, the house’s current owner and representatives from Braunau met with Austria’s Interior Ministry to discuss the fate of the controversial building.

For decades however, the shadow of Adolf Hitler – its most infamous son – has hung over the former guest house, creating a constant headache for Braunau’s administration.

On to Spain with thinkSPAIN and political provocation:

Mock ‘abortion package tour’ travel agency launched in protest over Spanish law reform

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the proposed restrictions on abortion announced by Spain’s minister of justice have set up a spoof travel agency offering trips to Europe for women wishing to terminate a pregnancy.

Dubbed ‘Abortion Travel – the agency that shouldn’t exist’, the pretend online ‘company’ offers packages to London, Paris and Berlin ranging from 1,940 euros to 2,620 euros.

Its organisers even give women advice relating to where to travel to in Europe depending upon how far gone their pregnancy is and the national law relating to their stage of gestation.

TheLocal.es covers a dismal ratio:

Spain: One vacancy for every 110 jobseekers

Spain had only one job opening for every 110 unemployed people in the final three months of 2013, the second worst rate in the European Union, a new study released on Wednesday shows.

Before Spain’s economic crisis kicked off in 2007, this rate was one job opening for every 17.5 jobseekers, the latest labour market bulletin by job agency Asempleo and financial consultants Afi shows.

Only Cyprus had a worse ratio: there the ratio was one job per 154 people searching for work.

The lack of job openings in Spain — where the official unemployment rate is 25.93 percent — is also in stark contrast with the EU average for the final quarter of of 2013. That figure was 12.3 unemployed people for each job on offer.

Italy next and a Bunga Buna bloviation from ANSA:

Berlusconi says accord with Renzi ‘useless’

Forza Italia leader says party will vote as it sees fit

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that continuing an accord with Premier Matteo Renzi on government reforms would be “useless”. Instead of advance agreements, he said, his opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party would decide for itself how to vote on each reform measure.

“It is useless to make arrangements before,” any vote, Berlusconi said in a television interview with Rai.

“We expect to see the reforms in Parliament (and) if we believe they are the best, we will vote for them,” and otherwise, FI will vote against the measure, he added.

TheLocal.it asks for a helping hand:

‘EU officials asked US for help to oust Berlusconi’

EU officials asked the US government for help to oust Silvio Berlusconi from the Italian premiership at the height of the economic crisis in 2011, a former advisor to US President Barack Obama has claimed.

Tim Geithner, former US treasury secretary, said that he refused to cooperate in a plot against the then Italian prime minister in the autumn of 2011. “European officials contacted us with a plot to find a way of forcing the Italian Premier Berlusconi to stand down,” Geithner was quoted in La Stampa as saying in his new book – Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.

The EU officials wanted their US counterparts to refuse to back an Italian rescue package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unless Berlusconi resigned, Geithner alleged. The former treasury secretary claimed that he refused to go along with the plot, telling the Europeans “we cannot have blood on our hands.”

Blissful high level ignorance from ANSA:

Napolitano didn’t participate in Berlusconi ‘plot’ meetings

Geithner book feeds speculation Berlusconi was felled in 2011

President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday that he did not participate in any of the international meetings in which European officials allegedly plotted to bring down Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2011.

Rumours that the third Berlusconi’s government was scuppered by a conspiracy were fueled this week by a new book by former US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. The former Treasury secretary wrote that in 2011, at a G-20 meeting, Europeans were pushing the White House to get involved in pressuring Berlusconi out of office, as Italy risked a Greek-style financial meltdown with the spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German counterpart ballooning to over 500 points and yields above 7%.

Napolitano was instrumental in engineering the emergency technocrat administration led by ex-premier Mario Monti that replaced Berlusconi’s administration in November 2011.

After the jump, the latest anxieties from Greece, More Ukrainian turmoil and Russian retaliation [including a lethal blow the U.S. space program], a Georgian courtship, Turkish outrage, agrofuel and presidential woes in Latin America, Australian austerity run amok, a blow for GMOs in Pakistan, Thai turmoil, Southern Korean economic woes, bubble-plugging measures, corruption and economic and corporate imperialism in China, economic winners and losers in China, Trans-Pacific Partnership wheeling and dealing, MERS warnings, historical tragedy, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . .

Our first Greek headline, via To Vima, plans for an exit:

Timothy Geithner reveals Germany’s “Grexit” plans in latest book

The former US economic policy maker explains how the Greek case terrified European leaders

The former US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner recently authored a book entitled “Stress Test: Reflection on Finances Crises”, where he outlines the German plans for a Greek exit from the Eurozone in July 2012. In his book, Mr. Geithner claims that when he met German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in Sylt, in the North Sea, he was told that many were in favor of expelling Greece from the Eurozone.

The German Minister claimed that with Greece gone, Germany would be able to provide the necessary financial support for the Eurozone, because the German people would not perceive it as a handout to Greece. At the same time, the shock of a Greek exit would convince the rest of Europe of increasing protection.

The author claims that he found the proposition to be terrifying and revealed that the negative predisposition towards Greece existed as far back as 2010, when a G7 meeting was held in Iqaluit, in Canada. Mr. Geithner argues that there were calls for austerity and “Old Testament justice” as well as calls to deter the moral hazard that would be triggered from supporting Greece.

ANSAmed walks out:

Greece: public hospitals go on nation-wide 24-hour strike

The emergency services will operate with skeleton staff

The Hellenic Federation of public hospital employees (POEDIN) has announced a 24-hour strike for today, 14th of May, with the public hospitals, health centers and the EKAV emergency services operating with skeleton staff.

According to a statement issued by the federation, as daily To Vima online reports, the strike is in response to the government’s public sector review plans, the underfunding and understaffing of hospitals and health centers as well as the privatization of healthcare services.

The public hospital employs have arranged a demonstration outside the Ministry of Health for today at noon.

And the plight of Greeks forced to deal with the austerity-plagued hospital system can be nothing short of catastrophic, as Keep Talking Greece reports:

Athens: Man ousted from operation table because he was uninsured

Everything was ready for the heart operation to begin: the patient’s chest was shaved, doctors and nurses were on alert. Then suddenly an clerk from the hospital accounts office walked in and ordered the doctors to stop the procedure because the patient was uninsured and had not provide a welfare booklet proving he was poor.

This incredible incident was published by the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Elliniko in south Athens, that provides free medical assistance to the unemployed and poor citizens with no social security or very little income.

The patient is a 54-year-old man without job and insurance. He suffers from a serious heart problem, his life is at risk. The doctors at Athens’ biggest public hospital Evaggelismos were about to insert a cardiovascular-defibrillator to save his life. With the help of social services the patient was admitted to the hospital, the doctors had managed to convince the accounts office to accept his official declaration that he would soon provide the welfare booklet normally issued by the welfare departments in municipalities.

But the accounts controller was more powerful. He interrupted the procedure and the Metropolitan Clinic made the case public complaining about the unprecedented boldness of a clerk marching right inside the operation room. “Bureaucracy cannot set the life of a patient in danger,” the clinic said in a statement critizing the delay in issuing the welfare booklet.

From MacroPolis, help from the Lords of Money:

April saw first rise in Greek banks’ Eurosystem funding this year

Greek banks’ Eurosystem funding increased by 1.27 billion in April, showing a monthly rise for the first time since December 2013, according to the Bank of Greece’s (BoG) monthly financial statement.

The headline figure stood at 61.96 billion at the end f April from 60.69 billion at the end of March.

The monthly increase primarily stems from a rise in ECB funding by 1.03 billion to 58.84 billion. In addition, the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) funding slightly grew by 0.24 billion bringing the outstanding amount to 3.12 billion.

Kathimerini English denies:

Barroso did not choose PM, says PASOK chief

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos on Tuesday laughed off a Financial Times report that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had a hand in the creation of a three-party interim government led by ex-central banker Lucas Papademos in late 2012.

Venizelos, in Brussels in his capacity as foreign minister, was commenting publicly for the first time on the report, which went behind the scenes of the G20 summit in Cannes in November 2011, when eurozone leaders reacted angrily to then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s plans to hold a referendum on the country’s bailout program.

“Mr Barroso did not have the main role in the discussion and the process,” said the PASOK chief. “Whoever says this does not have an understanding of the international balance of power and of the roles that EU figures have.”

And ANSAmed, a Sino-Greco pas de deux?:

Investments: China eyeing master plan for Greece

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expected in Athens in mid June

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to visit Athens in mid June this year, in order to rejuvenate economic ties between China and Greece as Capital.Gr website reports today.

China already has business interests in Greece and has been praised for turning around the fortunes of the Greek port of Piraeus, managed through its state-owned shipping giant Cosco. Greece is hoping that the official visit of the PM will attract Chinese investments in as the country is interested in finding a gateway entrance into the European Union.

There also has already been tremendous interest both in the regional ports in order to increase the Chinese presence in the main Greek port, but also in regional airports and real estate investments.

One to the Ukraine, first with hopes from Xinhua:

Ukraine hosts national unity talks to end crisis

The Ukrainian leadership and the country’s government and parliament officials, lawmakers and international mediators gathered here on Wednesday for a roundtable “national unity” talks aimed at ending the prolonged crisis in the country.

The meeting was focused on the situation in Ukraine’s eastern regions and was held under a roadmap drafted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Among other issues, the forum discussed preparation for the upcoming presidential vote in the East European country scheduled for May 25.

But all didn’t go well, as reported by USA TODAY:

Ukraine tense as peace talks falter

President Oleksandr Turchynov said the Ukraine government in Kiev was ready to talk but not with pro-Russia militants, some of whom are pleading with Russia to invade and take over eastern Ukraine as it did in the Ukraine province of Crimea.

“Let’s have a dialogue, let’s discuss specific proposals,” Turchynov said, “But those armed people who are trying to wage a war on their own country, those who are with arms in their hands trying to dictate their will, or rather the will of another country, we will use legal procedures against them and they will face justice.”

Militants derided the European-backed peace plan as useless.

And from Computerworld, more blowback for Uncle Sam:

Russia threatens to pull out of space station partnership

Russia said it wants out of deal with NASA by 2020; space agency says it has not received any official notification

Russia, a critical partner in the operation of the International Space Station, is threatening to stop its work on the station by 2020.

According to several reports, including one from CNN.com, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Tuesday that Russia plans to focus its attention on other projects after 2020.

NASA said it hasn’t received any official word about Russia backing out of their partnership.

From EUbusiness, rare candor slips in but the party line’s unchanged:

EU made ‘mistakes’ in Ukraine: German vice chancellor

The European Union shares part of the blame for the Ukraine crisis by initially creating the impression Kiev had to choose between Russia and the EU, Germany’s vice chancellor said Wednesday.

Sigmar Gabriel, who is also economy and energy minister, stressed that this did not justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the former Soviet satellite country.

“Sure, the EU also made mistakes, but that doesn’t justify Russia’s behaviour,” Gabriel told the Rheinische Post daily, referring to Brussels’ offer of an association pact to Kiev last year.

“It certainly was not wise to create the impression in Ukraine that they must choose between Russia and the EU. But again: that wasn’t and isn’t a justification to plunge a country into chaos.”

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, a win in Berlin?:

Russia may have won a battle as propaganda war comes to Germany’s capital

Bild am Sonntag, a tabloid-like newspaper that occasionally breaks major stories on the German government, is reporting that German intelligence has told Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office that it had unconfirmed reports that 400 Americans appear to be aiding the interim Ukrainian government in its fight against pro-Russian separatists. According to Bild, the German intelligence agency cited U.S. intelligence officials as its source.

The report, which appeared Sunday, has since been repeated by nearly every German news outlet. The allegation that the information was presented to the chancellor’s office in a weekly briefing in April lends it gravitas. That such reports in Bild on more than one occasion have proved true enhances its credibility. The chancellor’s office and the German intelligence service have declined to either confirm or deny, a development that leaves an atmosphere of doubt in a country where tensions are rife about just how angry Germany should be at Russia’s actions in Ukraine _ fueled in no small part by German reliance on Russian natural gas and oil and the extensive business ties between the two nations.

“We’ve told Bild and other outlets that these stories are nonsense,” Caitlin Hayden, the national security spokeswoman for the White House, said Wednesday. “The company in question has been on record denying it for almost two months.”

Meanwhile, marching through Georgia with Europe Online:

Georgia to also sign political, free trade deal with EU on June 27

Georgia is to join Moldova in signing a deal on closer political and trade ties with the European Union on June 27, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said during a visit Wednesday to Tbilisi.

The move could further increase tensions between the EU and Russia, which has been wary of the bloc’s moves to seek closer relations with former Soviet countries.

“By choosing this path, Georgia is signalling its commitment to strong democratic institutions, respect for the rights of its citizens, and firmly upholding the rule of law,” Van Rompuy said.

Turkey next and a disaster both for the country and for its leader from euronews:

Erdogan under fire as Turkey mine disaster death toll reaches 274

The death toll in Turkey’s mining accident has risen to 274, making it the worst such disaster in the country’s history and prompting fury aimed at the prime minister.

Search teams are working through a second night although hopes have faded of finding survivors, despite more than 100 miners remaining unaccounted for.

Having declared three days of national mourning, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the site and faced local anger first hand when his car was attacked by demonstrators.

Critics blame his government for privatising the country’s mines and ignoring repeated warnings about their safety.

From RT, dramatic raw footage of his visit:

Erdogan jeered, heckled, his car attacked as he visits scene of mine collapse

Program note:

Anger has erupted against Turkish PM after a deadly coal mine disaster in the western town of Soma. People hurled abuse as they surrounded PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s car during his visit to the scene of the tragedy, and protesters clashed with police in Istanbul and Ankara.

On to Latin America and a corporate favor from the Buenos Aires Herald:

Biodiesel tax breaks approved in Lower House

Lawmakers debate the tax-exemption bill this morning, in Congress’‘ Lower House

Lawmakers in Congress’ Lower House have approved by an overwhelming margin the proposal to exempt biodiesel products from tax burdens.

The project, sent to the chamber by the presidency as a response to high tariffs against Argentine biodiesel products in the European Union, was passed easily by national lawmakers in attendance at today’s vote.

217 voted in favour of the bill, with four legislators voting against and eight abstentions.

MercoPress carries bad news for the Brazilian leader:

Rousseff warns about protests during the World Cup: ‘they must be peaceful’

President Dilma Rousseff repeated Tuesday that Brazil is “a democratic country” and that its government guarantees the right to “peaceful protest” during the World Cup soccer competition, which begins June 12. However protests must not harm the Cup events in any way.

Thousand of security forces with support from the Army and marines have been deployed Thousand of security forces with support from the Army and marines have been deployed

“If people want to protest, they can perfectly well do so, but democracy does not signify vandalism nor harming the rest of the population,” Rousseff said during a visit to the construction site of the Sao Francisco River diversion.

The head of state was referring to demonstrations being planned by a number of social movements during the World Cup to protest against the fortune in public funds being spent on the event and to demand more investment in health care, education and transport instead.

And from Xinhua, East meets West:

Maduro says China, Venezuela work together to build new multipolar world

President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday Venezuela and China were at the forefront of building a multipolar world of peer relationship with new profit-sharing schemes.

In his television program, “In Touch with Maduro,” the Venezuelan leader spoke of the potential of the Asian giant and said its relationship with his country touched all aspects of Venezuelan society.

“China practises international relations on the basis of equality. It shows that, just starting the 21st century, it is possible to build a new world power without the imperialist practice of colonization and domination,” Maduro said.

“We have conducted cooperation in finance, economy, trade, energy, science, technology, military, society and culture,” he said.

On to AustralAsia and an austerian victory over public media from the Guardian:

Budget: 80 ABC staff out of work in 90 days as Australia Network closes

ABC chief suggests Abbott government had decided to axe the network while still in opposition

The Australia Network will close in 90 days, throwing 80 staff out of work and reducing the ABC’s overall news resources in the Asia Pacific. However, some staff may be deployed in other areas and the broadcaster has yet to put a number on redundancies.

Cuts of $120m over four years were delivered to the ABC in the budget on Tuesday, as well as an $8m cut to SBS.

“The Australia Network will have a domestic impact as well as international, particularly for our news services,” the ABC’s managing director, Mark Scott, said on its The World program

The Mainichi puts grandpa and grandma back in the harness:

Australia plan to raise pension age to 70 blasted

The Australian government’s plan to raise the state pension age to 70 has been criticized as unfair for those in physically demanding jobs, the poor and indigenous people.

Increasing the pension eligibility age to 70 by 2035 was one of the measures in a budget announced Tuesday to help Australia cope with the costs of an aging population.

The opposition Labor Party has vowed to oppose the change in Parliament. The current pension age is 65.

Pakistan next and a win for GMO foes from the Dawn:

Court stops regulator from issuing licences for ‘modified’ seeds

The Lahore High Court has ordered the federal government to stop issuing licences for genetically-modified (GM) varieties of cotton or corn until a legal framework is put into place to assess the new types of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are fast cropping up every day.

The decision effectively halts and prohibits the supply and sale of fresh GM seeds in Pakistan including pest-resistant strains of Bt cotton and Bt corn. These varieties are genetically altered to be more resistant to certain types of pests and diseases.

The restraining order will affect previously-approved varieties of GM seeds. It will also affect 23 varieties of Bt cotton and 14 new varieties of Bt corn approved in March 2014.

However, these GM corn varieties include strains MIR162 and MON810, both of which have been banned by China and the European Union.

Thailand next and the last turmoil from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Thai protesters occupy heart of power as crisis deepens

From ornate staterooms once used to host dignitaries including Barack Obama, Thailand’s opposition protesters are plotting the appointment of an unelected premier in a move which government supporters warn could spark a civil war.

Six months after they launched their campaign, triggering violence that has left 25 dead and hundreds wounded on both sides, demonstrators have one foot inside the seat of power — and another rooted in the street.

In a highly symbolic challenge to the authority of the wounded administration, protesters have set up base inside a wing of the largely abandoned government headquarters, where they are now holding press conferences for the international media.

South Korea next, with bad news from Xinhua:

Job growth in S. Korea dwindles, ferry disaster effect concerned

Job growth in South Korea slowed down for two straight months in April, but it kept a stable trend of job creation as seen in the record high of hiring rate, a government report showed Wednesday.

The number of people employed was 25,684,000 in April, up 581, 000 from the same month of last year, according to Statistics Korea.

Job creation in January and February was 705,000 and 835,000 respectively, but it fell to 649,000 in March before reducing further last month.

The monthly employment of some 600,000 was viewed as the continued recovery of labor market in the country, which created 386,000 jobs a month last year.

On to China with Nikkei Asian Review and corporate imperial dreams:

Chinese Internet giant Tencent takes aim at SE Asia market

China’s largest provider of social networking services, Tencent Holdings, has set its sights on expansion into the markets of Southeast Asia.

Tencent intends to ride the rising wave of popularity of its mobile messaging app WeChat. But the question remains whether it can survive the competition outside China’s protected Internet market.

Tencent announced Wednesday that net profit soared 60% in the first quarter compared to a year ago, on a 36% rise in sales. With its stock traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the company has a market capitalization exceeding $116 billion, surpassing Chinese search engine giant Baidu as the largest Internet company listed on an Asian exchange.

From the Guardian, militarized graft:

Chinese crackdown aims to break vicious circle of military corruption

President Xi Jinping has made a priority of tackling graft in the army, though observers say he may have to tread carefully

It has a huge and growing budget, its first aircraft carrier has taken to the seas, and its increasing assertiveness stirs anxiety in the region and the west. China’s 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army is also the focus of deep concern at home, and one of the biggest causes of disquiet is the enemy within: corruption.

President Xi Jinping has told PLA commanders they must be ready to fight and win wars – comments that have been read by some as a sign of swaggering confidence. But others say Xi’s words underline profound worries about a force that has not been tested in combat for decades.

“A corrupt army has no ability to fight and cannot win wars,” warned a commentary carried widely across Chinese news sites on Monday, claiming that corruption had reached “an unprecedented level”.

Want China Times has signs of other corruption:

Officials in China ate up US$48bn in banquets in 2012

Chinese officials ate through 300 billion yuan (US$48 billion) worth of public-funded dining receptions and functions in 2012, r

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