Today’s collection of political, economic, and environmental news headlines — plus the latest from Fukushima — begins a a “mission accomplished” entry from the Associated Press:

Tea party losing races but tugging GOP rightward

Tuesday’s high-profile primary elections may extend a streak of sorts for tea party Republicans: losing individual races but winning the larger ideological war by tugging the GOP rightward.

Tea party-endorsed candidates are struggling in Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho.

In each state, “establishment” Republican candidates have emphasized their conservative credentials — thus narrowing the party’s philosophical differences.

Democrats say it’s happening elsewhere — and that the candidates trying to give Republicans control of the Senate will prove too far right for centrist voters in November.

From the London Daily Mail, via the Dept. Of Anything for a Buck:

‘To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant’: Families of workers killed on 9/11 vent fury at new museum’s tacky gift shop which stands above tomb storing 8,000 unidentified body parts of victims

The newly-opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum also features a gift shop

Many victims’ families feel the idea of a gift shop, so close to their loved-ones’ remains, offensive

Some 8,000 unidentified remains of victims were recently relocated to a tomb beneath the museum

The museum opened to victims’ families and survivors on Thursday and will open for the general public on May 21

Proceeds from the gift shop will go to ‘developing and sustaining’ the museum and memorial

From the Washington Post, consolidation of media continues:

AT&T, DirecTV announce $49 billion merger

AT&T announced Sunday that it was acquiring DirecTV in a $49 billion deal that would create a new telecom and television behemoth to rival cable firms — while raising fresh concerns about competition and options for consumers.

AT&T would gain DirecTV’s 20 million U.S. subscribers, a company with strong cash flows and an ability to fatten its bundle of offerings. The combined firm would be able to offer phone, high-speed Internet and pay-TV subscriptions to more customers — packages that cable firms such as Comcast have sold most successfully.

AT&T has agreed to acquire DirecTV for $95 a share, made up of $28.50 a share in cash and $66.50 a share in AT&T stock. AT&T says it expects to close the acquisition within 12 months.

More from the Department of Anything for a Buck from BuzzFeed:

New York To Keep Investments Linked To Russian Social Media Site Home to Neo-Nazi and Anti-Gay Groups

Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Burger King, keep advertising there, too.

LGBT activists have since February been pushing the city and state of New York to divest of holdings connected to the Russian social network VKontakte (VK) because it hosts the pages of hundreds of Neo-Nazi and anti-LGBT groups — but New York isn’t budging.

Duncan Obsorne, a member of LGBT rights protest group Queer Nation, told BuzzFeed the group met with both State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and City Comptroller Scott Stringer in April to discuss their holdings tied to VKontakte, which hosts hundreds of pages belonging to groups like Occupy Pedophilia, which entraps gay men to torture them on camera.

California’s state pension fund, CalPERS, responded to similar prodding from other LGBT activists and has sold $20 million shares in Mail.ru, which owns a 52 percent share of VKontakte and is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, the Financial Times reported Friday. Queer Nation helped CalPERS research and investigate material on VK that lead to the fund’s decision to divest.

More consolidatin’ from BBC News:

Pfizer in new offer for AstraZeneca takeover

US drugs giant Pfizer has made an improved offer for the UK’s AstraZeneca as it bids to tie up the largest takeover in British business history.

The new offer of £55 per share would value AstraZeneca at about £69bn.

Pfizer plans to create the world’s largest drug company, with its headquarters in New York, but based in the UK for tax purposes.

That plan has proved controversial with unions and politicians, with 6,700 UK jobs at stake.

Bankster alert from TheLocal.fr:

Goldman Sachs fears BNP Paribas guilty plea

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The head of US bank Goldman Sachs has warned that guilty pleas from rivals BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, under legal proceedings in the United States, could hurt the financial system.

The two European banks, under probes for violating US sanctions and abetting tax evasion, are potentially facing very heavy fines that could reach billions of dollars.

From the Guardian, hot times in the Golden State:

California governor links wildfire increase to climate change

Jerry Brown predicts ‘worst’ wildfire season ever

Last evacuees home after San Diego County fires

Drought-stricken California is preparing for its worst wildfire season ever, the state’s governor said on Sunday.

Governor Jerry Brown told ABC’s This Week that the nearly dozen wildfires that this week caused more than $20m in damage mark only the beginning. The state has 5,000 firefighters and has appropriated $600m to battling blazes, but that may not be enough.

“We’re getting ready for the worst,” Brown said. “Now, we don’t want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full complement of firefighting capacity.”

From PRI’s The World, driving away to cheaper pastures:

Toyota built Torrance into the second-largest home of Japanese Americans. Now, it’s leaving

When Toyota announced plans last month to move its US headquarters from Southern California to Texas, the announcement caught a lot of people off guard — particularly in the city of Torrance, Toyota’s American home for the past 30 years.

Torrance is just 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and is quintessential suburbia — the kind of place people move to when they’re ready to raise their kids.

It’s long been overshadowed by its livelier neighbors, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.

From United Press International, scoldin’ students over Grinnin’ Bobby B:

Haverford College commencement speaker calls students ‘arrogant’ for protesting other speaker

Former Princeton President William G. Bowen called Haverford students “immature” and “arrogant” for protesting previously scheduled commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau.

Haverford College’s graduating class of 2014 got a slap on the wrist from their own commencement speaker on Sunday.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, called students “immature” for protesting the original speaker, Robert J. Birgeneau, who bowed out last week.

Birgeneau, former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, faced criticism for his handling of the Occupy movement in 2011, when he allegedly allowed campus police to use force against protesters.

On to Europe and a brouhaha in Brussels via EurActiv:

Hundreds of protesters arrested in Brussels as business leaders debate ‘maintaining citizen’s trust’

240 people were arrested on Thursday (15 May) around the European Business Summit venue in Brussels during non-violent protests organised by trade unions and citizens’ groups.

The protestors had gathered to denounce the budgetary austerity policies in Europe, and the ongoing talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA, which they say is being negotiated “in total opacity”.

“Today multinationals are inviting political decision makers like the European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and they are discussing putting more business in Europe,” said Felipe Van Keirsblick, the secretary general of the Belgian trade union for employees, the CNE-CNG.

From the Department of Mother Said Never Do It, via EurActiv:

EU secret revealed: Rome Treaty was signed on blank sheet

At the launch of a book on the history of the European Commission, officials revealed some of the best-kept secrets in EU history. Among them is the incredible story of the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, on 1 January 1958.

José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing President of the European Commission, presented the second volume of a book Wednesday (14 May) telling the history of the Commission between 1973 and 1986.

The ceremony, hosted on the 13th floor of the Commission’s flagship Berlaymont building, gave Barroso the occasion to disclose unknown anecdotes, the most extraordinary of which regards the signature of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The event was attended by many figures of post-war European integration history, including old-time surviving officials from the Commission such as Jean Rabier, born in 1919, the chief of staff of Jean Monnet, one of the “founding fathers” of Europe.

Britain next and a departure alert from EUobserver:

Brexit would be ‘very costly gamble’, warns think tank

Increased trade and regulatory costs would cost the UK economy up to 9.5 percent of its output if the UK left the European Union, according to new research by the London School of Economics.

The findings are contained in the ‘Brexit or Fixit’? report by researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance, which forms part of the university.

“Our current assessment is that leaving the EU would be likely to impose substantial costs on the UK economy and would be a very risky gamble,” the paper states.

The London Telegraph strives to tame a bubble:

Mortgages could be capped to control house prices, says Bank Governor

The Bank of England could step in to curb mortgage lending amid fears Britain’s booming housing market risks threatening the economic recovery, says its Governor Mark Carney

People could be stopped taking out mortgages worth many times their salary to buy new homes, the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Mark Carney said in an interview that capping the size of mortgage ratios to salaries was one measure the Bank was considering to controlling the housing market.

The Bank was also watching to see if the Government’s Help to Buy scheme – in which the Government gives people taxpayers money to cover deposits on new homes worth up to £600,000 – was fuelling them.

The Independent totes up another austerian cost:

Cuts send rates of mental health disorders among young soaring

Rising rates of mental health disorders among children are linked to council budget cuts and health restructurings that have denied vulnerable young people early help, the Children’s Commissioner has told MPs.

Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said more children and young people with mental health problems were being admitted to adult psychiatric wards.

In written evidence to the Health Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), she said: “It cannot be coincidental that the increasing concerns about child and adolescent mental health coincides with the biggest reconfiguration of health and social care services, reductions in preventative and early intervention budgets and local CAMHS budgets and therefore spending, in a generation.”

And over to Ireland, where concerns about mental health patients under the austerian regime have led one Irish hospital director to resign, reports Independent.ie:

Hospital’s clinical director resigns due to his concerns for ‘patient safety’

The clinical director of Beaumont Hospital has resigned citing his concerns for patient safety. Professor Shane O’Neill emailed his resignation to management on Friday.

In his role as clinical director, he was the hospital’s most senior doctor.

The Sunday Business Post reported Mr O’Neill’s previous correspondence with management, saying assessment of psychiatric patients in their busy accident and emergency department was “entirely unsafe”.

From Independent.ie, another diagnostic criterion of austerity on the Emerald Isle:

‘Tsunami of homelessness’ beyond crisis point, warns campaigner

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has claimed the “tsunami of homelessness” is the worst he has ever seen.

He said that in his 40 years working with homeless people in Dublin, the housing shortage has never been as problematic as it is now and is being forced into turning people away due to a lack of capacity.

His charity – The Peter McVerry Trust – is struggling to cope with demand and says the problem is getting worse. “There are six new people becoming homeless every day and that’s the official figures. It may be more than that”.

German next, with a cash infusion from Reuters:

Deutsche Bank enlists Qatar in 8 billion-euro capital hike

Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) said on Sunday it would raise 8 billion euros in new capital, with the Qatari royal family lined up as a major new investor, in a bid by Germany’s largest bank to end questions about its capital position.

The bank had already raised 10.2 billion euros in equity in 2010 and a further 3 billion euros in 2013, but that had not been enough to assuage investor concerns about its capital position as if faces increased regulatory demands.

A stake worth 1.75 billion euros has already been placed with an investment vehicle owned and controlled by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al-Thani of Qatar, Deutsche Bank said in a statement. It plans to raise another 6.3 billion euros in a rights issue to existing shareholders.

Austerity in Germany, only at the bottom, via New Europe:

OECD: Germany needs more jobs, less poverty

A new report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on May 13 calls on Germany to implement more measures aimed at reducing poverty.

According to the OECD, recent labour market reforms have increased the rate of unemployment and widened the social inequality gap.

“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 reported.

On to Austria with New Europe and a boost for the right:

Austria: Populist Freedom Party strong in EU vote

Despite its Euroskeptic stance, the Freedom Party is only a few percentage points behind the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party in the May 25 race for EU Parliament seats. That’s in line with expectations of a generally strong showing of right-leaning populist parties in the EU parliamentary race.

But pollsters also say that if national elections were held now, the Freedom Party would actually win them, a stunning upset of the two establishment parties that have traditionally governed Austria.

The party’s popularity clearly reflects unhappiness with the status quo. And that’s hard to explain, when looking only at Austria’s metrics.

From Deutsche Welle, Swiss nix both guns and butter:

Swiss referendum turns down minimum wage and new fighter jets

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal that would have introduced the world’s highest minimum wage. They also turned down a plan to buy more than twenty new fighter jets.

The vote count by Swiss TV showed some 77 percent of voters and 24 of the Alpine nation’s 26 cantons (states) rejecting the idea mooted by trade unions to create a minimum wage of 22 Swiss francs (20.22 euros, $24.70) per hour. Votes from the capital Bern and business center of Zurich are still to be announced.

Trade unions had argued the wage would be a way to fight poverty in a country known for its very high cost of living.

Business leaders had argued the minimum wage rate would cost jobs and erode economic competitiveness, driving Switzerland’s high costs even higher. The median hourly wage is about 33 francs (27 euros, $37) an hour.

From France, a chutzpah alert from TheLocal.fr:

French rogue trader demands to see Hollande

Rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, facing a Sunday deadline to return to France to begin a three year prison term, has demanded an audience with President Francois Hollande.

Issuing a statement from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, Kerviel said he wished to detail “all the serious failings” that led to his conviction after he brought one of Europe’s biggest banks to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008.

Aides to Hollande said Saturday they would consider a request from Kerviel for a presidential pardon over his role in the loss of nearly five billion euros through wildly risky trades.

From FRANCE 24, a belated act of resistance:

France extends veto power over foreign takeovers

The French government on Thursday changed its policy to increase the state’s influence in foreign buyouts and investment in key sectors, which will allow it to intervene in GE’s controversial bid for French giant Alstom.

The new rules will come into effect on Friday and cover the key sectors of energy, transport, water, health and telecoms.

“The choice we have made, along with the prime minister (Manuel Valls), is the choice of economic patriotism,” Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg told daily newspaper Le Monde.

Portugal next and an upgrade form New Europe:

Moody’s raises Portugal’s rating to Ba2

Portugal has received its first ratings upgrade since the sovereign-debt crisis pushed it into a €78 billion rescue programme in 2011.

Moody’s Investors Service said on 9 May it upgraded Portugal’s government bond rating to Ba2 from Ba3. In addition, the rating agency placed the Ba2 rating on review for possible further upgrade.

Moody’s said  Portugal’s fiscal situation has improved more rapidly than initially targeted and the public debt ratio will start declining this year, albeit from a very high level. The budget deficit was reduced a full percentage point of GDP more than envisaged last year, indicating the government’s strong commitment to fiscal consolidation.

Off to Italy and a Bunga Bunga rebuke from Europe Online:

Ex wife lashes out at Berlusconi over unflattering tabloid shots

The ex-wife of Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday charged that following her divorce, she was being subjected to “miserable” hounding from a gossip magazine published by the family of the former Italian premier.

Earlier this month, Chi magazine printed unflattering paparazzi pictures of Veronica Lario, under the headline “The new life of Veronica.” It noted that she had “put on a bit of weight,” and asked plastic surgeons how they would operate on her.

“It hurts me that the weekly responsible for this miserable ambush belongs to my ex-husband,” the 57-year-old Lario said in a rare interview to Il Messaggero newspaper.

Next up, off to Eastern Europe with Sky News:

Balkans: Worst Floods In A Century Kill Dozens

Tens of thousands have fled their homes after Serbia and Bosnia experienced three months of rainfall in just three days.

The worst floods to hit the Balkans in more than a century have killed dozens, and there are fears that number could rise as a major river is set to be hit by a new flood wave this evening.

Tens of thousands have fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia after three months of rain fell on the region in just three days. Thousands have also been evacuated in Croatia, where one person has died and two remain missing.

A video report form euronews:

Dozens dead, tens of thousands evacuated from Balkans flooding

Program note:

The death toll continues to rise from the flooding in the Balkans. In central and western Serbia, the rains did start to ease and waters receded in some of the worst-hit areas on Sunday, May 18.

But essential services, like power stations, have been submerged. Serbia’s EPS power utility said fresh flooding is threatening the Nikola Tesla and Kostolac power plants in Obrenovac, 30 kilometres southwest of the capital, Belgrade. Kostolac currently supplies 20 percent of Serbia’s electricity needs.

From the Washington Post, a headline that could’ve gone in our companion compendium of headlines:

Russian President Putin builds ties in Moldova, Kazakhstan and Baltics

Vowing to defend ethnic Russians wherever they live, President Vladimir Putin has embarked on an aggressive campaign to rebuild the pride and assertiveness of the Russian people, which he says was lost in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

A week ahead of a presidential vote in Ukraine that will help determine that nation’s relationship with Russia, Putin has been devoting new power to redressing what he has called the historical tragedy that shattered the Soviet Union into 15 nations.

From annexing Crimea to collecting separatist petitions in Moldova to handing out passports to compatriots in the Baltics, Putin has spent recent weeks focused on neighboring countries, many of which have substantial ethnic Russian minorities.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Cypriot relief, Ukrainian questions, Russian political moves, Turkish troubles, Iranian woes, African measures and countermeasures, Latin American troubles and deals, Thai turmoil, China slowdown signs, Abenomics in question, environmental woes, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

The Guardian gives us our first Greek headline, and an electoral rebuke:

Greek voters spell out their disapproval of austerity

Anti-bailout candidates backed strongly in local and regional elections in major setback for Greece’s governing coalition

Greek voters gave a clear sign of their disapproval of the government’s austerity policies on Sunday , voting heavily in favour of anti-bailout candidates in local and regional elections that are widely seen as offering a foretaste of next week’s European elections.

Exit polls put candidates backed by Syriza, the radical-left party that is the main opposition, ahead in Athens and the wider Attica region, in what was seen as a major setback for the country’s governing coalition.

Before next week’s much-anticipated European election, a Kapa research poll showed Gabriel Sakellaridis, the radicals’ candidate for Athens mayor, leading by 1.8 percentage points over the moderate leftwing incumbent, George Kaminis.

More from Greek Reporter:

SYRIZA Surprise In Greek Exit Polls

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government hopes of holding off a challenge from the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in the May 18 first round elections for Greek municipalities got an early shock when exit polls showed the Leftists ahead in the Athens area.

SYRIZA’s candidates for Athens mayor and regional governor in greater Athens were ahead in the race against the incumbent socialist office-holders, the televised polls showed, also indicating greater support than expected for the Greece ‘s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, all of whose 18 Members of Parliament have been arrested or jailed pending trial on charges of running a criminal gang.

In Athens, SYRIZA’s candidate for Mayor, Gavriil Sakellaridis showed a range of 20-24 percent, ahead of incumbent George Kaminis, an Independent who has the backing of the PASOK Socialists and Democratic Left (DIMAR) at 19-23 percent.

And another rebuke to the Troika’s agenda from Keep Talking Greece:

Thessaloniki: 98% say NO to water privatization in unoficial rerendum

An unofficial referendum about the water privatization was held in Thessaloniki on Sunday. The ballot boxes were set up outside the polling stations where citizens cast their vote municipality and regional elections.

Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis sent a circular to several acting mayor in the area asking them not to allow a third ballot box and not to use the voters’ lists. At the same time,  the prosecutor threatened with arrests.

But many mayors  ignored the circular and described it as “insulting”.

Greek Reporter covers other costs of austerity:

Rise in Cardiovascular Diseases During Crisis

Research presented on May 18 at the Heart Failure Congress 2014, held May 17-20 in Athens, Greece, showed that the financial crisis has caused an increase in cardiovascular diseases. The Congress is the main annual meeting of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology.

“Greece plunged into an economic crisis in 2008 and since then there have been rises in unemployment, wage reductions and a fall in standard of living. Previous studies have shown that cardiovascular disease is more frequent during crises such as wars and natural disasters.” stated Dr Alexios Samentzas

The researchers analyzed all admissions to the cardiology department of Elpis General Hospital in Athens during two periods. The first time period, from 2003 to 2007, was defined as the pre-crisis period, while the period from 2008 to 2012 was the crisis period.

Cyprus next, and ameliorating news from EUbusiness:

Cyprus recession shallower than expected

The recession in Cyprus looks set to be shallower this year than expected, but recovery will also be slower than anticipated, the country’s international lenders said on Saturday.

At the same time, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, or troika, said Cyprus continued to meet its targets under an austerity plan adopted in exchange for their 10 billion euro ($13.7 billion) bailout in March 2013.

“While the recession this year is expected to be somewhat less severe than anticipated, the outlook remains challenging,” a joint statement said after a team of experts from the troika completed its fourth review of the economy since the bailout.

Russia next, and tempering news from RT:

‘It’s a dead end’: German FM joins chorus of discontent over Russia sanctions rhetoric

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called for restraint in imposing new sanctions on Russia, as politicians, businesses and the general public in Germany grow ever more skeptical of putting more pressure on Moscow.

Steinmeier defended the already imposed sanctions against Russia, but said that he still preferred “cooperation instead of confrontation” with Moscow, according to a Saturday interview with Thüringische Landeszeitung.

“We must avoid falling into an automatic [sanctions] mode, which leads only to a dead end and leaves no more policy options,” Steinmeier said.

RT again, adding more cements in a BRICs partnership:

Russia-China ties at highest level in history – Putin

Russia-China cooperation has reached its highest level ever, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in an interview with Chinese media on the eve of his visit to Shanghai, where a record package of documents is expected to be signed by the two nations.

The New York Times covers a Ukrainian question from one perspective:

In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves

When Russia seized Crimea in March, it acquired not just the Crimean landmass but also a maritime zone more than three times its size with the rights to underwater resources potentially worth trillions of dollars.

Russia portrayed the takeover as reclamation of its rightful territory, drawing no attention to the oil and gas rush that had recently been heating up in the Black Sea. But the move also extended Russia’s maritime boundaries, quietly giving Russia dominion over vast oil and gas reserves while dealing a crippling blow to Ukraine’s hopes for energy independence.

Russia did so under an international accord that gives nations sovereignty over areas up to 230 miles from their shorelines. It had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to energy resources in the same territory in a pact with Ukraine less than two years earlier.

RT covers it from another:

Shale gas and politics: Are Western energy giants’ interests behind Ukraine violence?

Economic interests, such as untapped shale gas resources, already sliced and diced by Western energy giants, are behind the Kiev government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ operation against the pro-federalist regions, foreign policy expert Nebojsa Malic tells RT.

The eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions cut ties with Kiev and declared independence from Kiev after a popular vote last Sunday. Yet federalist activists have no doubt that a new wave of government crackdown is on its way.

And they do have every reason to think so, because, as RT’s Gayane Chichakyan reports, reinstating control over the restive regions isn’t the only agenda driving Kiev’s ongoing offensive, as the core of the conflict is probably only business as usual.

Turkey next, and the latest in an unfolding tragedy from Deutsche Welle:

Turkish government softens stance on mine disaster

At first, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed reluctant to take steps to pacify protesters, but now, with his presidential candidacy in the picture, he appears to have slightly changed course.

Following the mining disaster in Soma, Turkish authorities have banned all demonstrations in the city. At the same time, the government is organizing financial aid for the affected families.

It is assumed that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to minimize the disaster’s negative impact on his anticipated presidential candidacy. Protests and humiliated people are not the images that would help his campaign.

With the salvage work at the mine drawing to a close, the Turkish government hopes to come across as driven and strong-willed. According to media reports, Erdogan is coordinating financial help for the families of the 301 workers who died in the accident.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore covers one response:

Students occupy Istanbul university over mining disaster

“This faculty is occupied,” reads a huge banner hanging from the mining department of an Istanbul university, where Turkish students have been holding all-night vigils over a devastating mine disaster that claimed over 300 lives.

What started as a small protest against the prestigious Istanbul Technical University’s links with the company that operates the mine in the western town of Soma evolved into a full-fledged occupation on Friday after around 1,000 students chained the doors shut.

The occupation has already born some fruit, with the university announcing it would cut ties with the Soma Komur mining company, which used to have employees on the faculty’s advisory board. But that is not enough for the students.

Deutsche Welle covers another:

Turkey charges three over Soma mining disaster

A Turkish prosecutor says three people have been charged over last week’s mining disaster in the western town of Soma that killed 301 people. This comes as the last of the victims were buried.

Prosecutor Bekir Sahiner said on Sunday the three people had been charged with negligence and the crime of causing the death of more than one person.

At a news conference in the town of Soma, where the disaster took place, he also said six of the 25 people detained over the disaster had been released.

The charges and the detentions are the first in the inquiry into the accident, which occurred five days ago.

The Independent adds yet another perspective:

Turkey mine explosion: Workers accuse owners of culture of bullying and cutbacks

Turkish miners have rejected government and company claims that the Soma mine where hundreds died last week was safe and subject to proper inspection.

On Friday, the mine company management denied claims of negligence but yesterday workers accused mine owners of operating in a culture of bullying and cost-cutting which caused regular injuries and deaths. The mine company said in a statement last week: “We are facing such an accident for the first time in the history of the mining sector. A fire that has never been seen before and cannot be explained technically has taken place.”

Elsewhere in the Mideast,via the Guardian:

Iran is at breaking point under US sanctions – and its leaders feel the heat

Despite talk of a defiant ‘resistance economy’, the consequences may be dire if a nuclear deal with the west does not come soon

Officially speaking, the government of President Hassan Rouhani, which took office last August, maintains that the punitive UN, US and EU sanctions imposed in the row over Iran’s nuclear programme, which have steadily intensified since 2006, have had little or no impact.

In particular, it says, sanctions have played no role in forcing Tehran back to the nuclear negotiating table. The talks, which resumed last week without making progress, are expected to continue in June in Vienna.

But on the streets of Tehran, and in the capital’s shops, garages, markets, businesses and private homes, the story is very different. Isolated and ostracised to an unusual degree, Iran is a nation under appalling stress. The strains are telling. The ties that bind are fraying. The leadership is feeling the heat.

Africa next, and a denial from Xinhua:

China’s agricultural investment in Africa not “land grabbing”: expert

China’s investment in African agriculture has nothing to do with “land grabbing,” an agricultural expert said at a seminar on China’s agricultural investment in Africa Friday.

“I think the land grabbing idea is a little hard to sustain because there has been quite a little China’s agricultural investments in Africa,” said Deborah Brautigam, a professor and director of the International Development Program of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Brautigam, who has followed China’s agricultural relationship with Africa for 30 years, said some farmlands that Chinese companies have bought or rented are quite old, as some were even set up in colonial period.

From the Guardian, African unrest:

Gunmen storm Libyan parliament amid anti-government uprising

Militia allied to renegade general Khalifa Hiftar hit the building with anti-aircraft guns and rockets, causing MPs to flee

Gunmen stormed Libya’s parliament on Sunday in an anti-government rebellion that is spreading across the country.

Members of a militia allied to renegade general Khalifa Hiftar hit the building with anti-aircraft guns and rockets, causing MPs to flee in panic as parts of the complex caught fire.

The attack followed three days of fighting in the eastern capital, Benghazi, between Hiftar’s forces and pro-government militias that has left 70 dead.

On to Latin America, first with an action by a guy we’ll dub the Loan Ranger via the Independent:

Chilean activist destroys student debt papers worth $500m

An activist in Chile has burnt documents representing $500 million (£300 million) worth of student debt during a protest at Universidad del Mar.

Francisco Tapia, who is also known as “Papas Fritas”, claimed that he had “freed” the students by setting fire to the debt papers or “pagarés”.

Mr Tapia has justified his actions in a video he posted on YouTube on Monday 12 May, which has since gone viral and garnered over 55,000 views.

From the Mainichi, troubled waters:

Rio official: Water pollution targets won’t be met

Brazil will not make good on its commitment to clean up Rio de Janeiro’s sewage-filled Guanabara Bay by the 2016 Olympic Games, state environmental officials acknowledged in a letter obtained Saturday by The Associated Press.

In the May 7 letter addressed to Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo, Rio’s state environment secretary, Carlos Francisco Portinho, asks for more funding for depollution efforts but acknowledges that at current investment rates, it will take more than a decade to significantly reduce the levels of pollution in the bay, where the Olympic sailing events are to be held.

In Brazil’s 2009 Olympic bid, officials promised that the city’s waterways would be cleaned up, “setting a new standard of water quality preservation for the next generations.”

BBC News gives release:

Brazilian prisoners release 122 hostages

Prisoners at a maximum-security jail in north-eastern Brazil have released 122 hostages they had been holding since Saturday in Aracaju, the capital of the state of Sergipe.

Four prison officers and visiting prisoners’ families were taken hostage during a riot on Saturday.

The inmates were demanding a transfer to prisons with better treatment and more flexible visiting hours.

From Al Jazeera English, electile dysfunction:

Scandals overshadow Colombia polls

Incumbent president’s campaign chief resigns over bribery claim, while opposition fights off hacking scandal.

The campaign to decide who will be President of Colombia for the next four years ends on Sunday.

Campaigning has been marred by spying and bribery scandals that have overshadowed the major issues.

No candidate has been able to whip up much enthusiasm in the run-up to the May 25th vote, and while President Juan Manuel Santos remains the front-runner, a runoff is almost certain.

Off to Asia with a regional headline from Kyodo News:

APEC to craft road map for realization of new free trade area

At a time when maritime tensions involving China are under the spotlight, Asia-Pacific trade ministers agreed Sunday to promote regional economic integration and create a road map, possibly by the end of 2014, for the realization of a new free trade area.

“We are committed to further advancing the Asia-Pacific’s role as an engine of the global economy through increased cooperation and mutual support,” the ministers said in a statement released after a two-day meeting in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao.

The meeting effectively marked the start of China’s chairmanship this year of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and came at a time when the region, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, is fraught with maritime tensions, most recently between Beijing and Hanoi in the South China Sea.

Next up, Thailand and more turmoil from the Bangkok Post:

State unions to stop work; Capo on ‘high alert’

State enterpriState unions to stop work; Capo on ‘high alert’se labour unions will stop work from May 22 to show disapproval of the Thaksin regime and those government officials that “serve as its lackeys”, State Enterprises Workers’ Relation Confederation secretary-general Komsan Thongsiri said on Sunday.

Mr Komsan said this was one of five resolutions made at a meeting between representatives of state enterprise labour unions and People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban at the Government House’s Santi Maitree building on Sunday.

The meeting was intended to lay down an operational plan to retake sovereign power.

Indonesia next, and a change in the capital from the Jakarta Globe:

A First for Indonesia, Ethnic Chinese Leader Takes Charge in the Capital

Indonesia’s presidential race isn’t until July. But there’s already one winner.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has taken over as acting governor of Jakarta, the first ethnic Chinese to do so.

A Christian, Basuki succeeds Joko Widodo who has stepped aside to run for the presidential election on July 9, which opinion polls suggest he will win. Basuki will automatically take over to complete Joko’s five-year term if he does win.

Indonesia’s Chinese make up only about 2 percent of the 240 million population.

Off to China and reduced expectations from Want China Times:

China’s economy entering ‘new normal’ of moderate growth

During his recent visit to central China’s Henan province, Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke about the nation’s economic development, reports Shanghai’s China Business News.

“China is still in a significant period of strategic opportunity. We must boost our confidence, adapt to the new normal conditions based on the characteristics of China’s economic growth in the current phase and remain cool-minded,” Xi said.

The term ‘new normal’ was first used by Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive and co-chief investment officer at global investment firm PIMCO, and the term is generally used to refer to the slow and painful process of economic recovery in the wake of a crisis.

From GlobalPost, the world’s most wanted:

The world is falling all over itself to attract Chinese tourists

Here’s a look at all the ways governments and companies are doing whatever it takes to woo the valuable Chinese tourist.

Chinese tourists have caught the international travel bug — and the rest of the world is desperately hoping they never lose it.

The number of tourist departures from China hit a whopping 97.3 million in 2013, up more than nine fold from 2000, according to the Germany-based China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.

To put this staggering figure into context, that means about one in 10 international tourists is now Chinese.

Chinese globetrotters also spend more than any other country: $129 billion in 2013, up 26 percent on the previous year and well ahead of the $86 billion spent by American travelers.

Want China Times offers another slowdown sign:

Turning point for China’s housing market this year?

Recent figures indicate that following a “golden decade,” China’s real estate market may see a turning point this year. Renowned economist Li Daokui said the major uncertainty in China’s economy is concentrated is the housing and financial markets.

Statistics released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics on May 13 showed that the floor area for houses sold between January and April this year had dropped by 6.9% compared with a year ago, indicating that the housing market has continued to post a decline.

In more economically developed areas of east China the decline was more evident as the floor area for housing sold during the same period fell by 13.5% from a year earlier.

From South China Morning Post, where the elite meet to eat:

Mainland Chinese investors pushing up membership prices at Hong Kong’s elite club

Hong Kong’s private clubs, once the domain of rich local businessmen seeking a place to relax, entertain and – perhaps – flaunt their wealth and status, are attracting a new type of member.

The increase in the number of mainland investors looking for a solid return on their money by buying and selling second-hand memberships has resulted in many prices more than doubling in as few as six years.

A second-hand individual membership at the Aberdeen Marina Club has jumped from HK$1.2 million in 2008 to about HK$2.7 million today.

Want China Times craps out:

Casino stocks nosedive amid China’s crackdown on gambling

After years of smooth sailing, casino-related stocks on the Hong Kong market have finally seen their wild party coming to an end, with the eight major casino stocks seeing their market value nosedive by HK$191.5 billion (US$24.7 billion) this year as of May 12, reports Guangzhou’s 21st Century Business Herald.

What triggered the crash was concerted action between China’s central government and the Macao government in cracking down on underground gambling of Chinese mainlanders at Macao casinos.

High rollers from mainland China account for two thirds of the region’s gambling income, and Macau has become a hotbed for money laundering. Most of these gamblers are paying for their stakes via China UnionPay cards, often with the use of mobile devices, also known as point-of-sale (POS) devices, in order to cover up their gambling and money laundering activities, the paper said.

Japan next, and a peculiar twist from the Japan Times:

Success of ‘Abenomics’ hinges on immigration policy

In March, Hidenori Sakanaka, a former director of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, was contacted by — and met with — a group of people he had never dreamed of crossing paths with: asset managers from global investment firms.

Sakanaka, who now heads the Japan Immigration Policy Institute in Tokyo, was asked to explain Japan’s notoriously tight immigration policies and his proposal to drastically ease them to save Japan from the severe consequences of its rapidly aging and shrinking population.

Sakanaka said the asset managers showed strong interest in a remark made the previous month by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and that they were wondering if they should buy Japanese assets, such as stocks and real estate.

The Yomiuri Shimbun tweaks in the corporate interest:

Govt mulls new worker health scheme

The government has begun considering the introduction of a new system that will reduce the financial contributions that companies have to pay to the government to finance public health insurance schemes if their employees become healthier.

By encouraging companies to step up efforts to improve the health of their employees, which will result in better states of well-being across the nation, the government aims to prevent its medical care spending from ballooning in the future.

The government will include the plan in its economic growth strategy to be compiled in June and then discuss the details. The government plans to roll out the new system in fiscal 2015 at the earliest.

The Japan Times raises anxiety:

Two-thirds of Japanese fear going bust in retirement

Around two-thirds of Japanese aged 35 to 64 are concerned they will not have enough money to last through retirement, according to the results of a government survey obtained by Kyodo News.

The Cabinet Office survey of around 6,000 people late last year revealed growing anxiety among people that savings, retirement payouts and public pensions will prove insufficient in old age, the results, obtained Saturday, said.

Some 66.9 percent said they feel they will have inadequate economic resources to fall back on after they retire, with three-quarters of that group stating their provisions are “quite inadequate.”

From the Japan Times, neoliberalism advances:

More private firms entering nursery school business

The number of authorized nursery schools run by private companies is rising, offering fresh hope to parents whose children are on waiting lists in urban areas.

As of April 2013, there were 474 such nurseries, up 24 percent from a year ago, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

The sharp rise came after some municipalities started letting private firms open nursery schools that met state-set standards, just like social welfare corporations.

Nikkei Asian Review prescribes:

UBS Japan chief sees change in industrial structure as vital for renewed growth

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, dubbed “Abenomics,” have lifted business and consumer sentiment in Japan. But the country is running up a trade deficit as its exports fail to grow as vigorously as had been expected, even with the weakened yen.

What is the outlook for Japan’s current-account balance, a key measure of the country’s ability to earn money, in the coming years? In an interview with The Nikkei, Japan Country Head of UBS Zenji Nakamura discussed this and other issues from the viewpoint of a global financial institution.

And now, Fukushimapocalypse Now!

From the Asahi Shimbun, let’s make a deal!:

Government sweetening the pot for storage of Fukushima radioactive waste

The central government is compiling a generous compensation plan to overcome the reluctance of two towns to host intermediate storage facilities for radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Measures being considered for the municipalities of Okuma and Futaba include buying or renting properties at inflated real estate values and covering the costs to relocate the grave sites of relatives.

Okuma and Futaba are hosts to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The two towns and the Fukushima prefectural government have not given their consent for the intermediate storage facilities, with many residents fearing the facilities will become permanent fixtures in their backyards.

From the Asahi Shimbun, another oopsie:

Work on frozen soil walls at Fukushima plant hits glitch

Plans to start construction in June of frozen underground soil walls at the crippled Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant are now askew after concerns were raised by the nation’s nuclear watchdog body.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has yet to submit documents demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the project, which is unprecedented in scale.

Announced in May 2013, the frozen walls are intended to stem the flow of groundwater into the nuclear complex.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, a hot time to come?:

Summer without N-plants means unstable power supply

The nation is almost certain to walk a tightrope as it tries to accommodate a rise in power demand this summer, as there are no prospects of resuming operations at any nuclear power plant.

This means no nuclear power plant will be in operation this summer, with no power-saving targets set by the government.

The government’s latest decision not to include numerical targets in its request for corporations and households to conserve energy this summer apparently reflects its concern that setting such goals could restrict corporate activities and hinder the recent economic recovery, according to experts.

Vice gets punitive:

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

In 2012, more than 15,000 people living near the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant filed a criminal complaint at the Fukushima prosecutors’ office. They alleged that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese central government were criminally negligent for the March 2011 Fukushima meltdown and the way in which the resulting cleanup was handled.

The Fukushima police, however, declined to investigate. And prosecutors quietly dropped all charges against TEPCO, arguing that it was too difficult to prove criminal negligence even though several third-party watchdogs found that TEPCO and government officials had failed to carry out measures necessary to prevent the disaster despite knowing that a devastating earthquake could potentially strike near the plant. Even an independent investigative commission set up by the Japanese National Diet had concluded, “The meltdown was a manmade disaster.”

Meanwhile, Fukushima police and prosecutors have set their

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