Today’s compilation of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with a bubble inflating, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

S.F. hot housing prices back, bidding wars fiercer than ever

Prices have climbed 33 percent since 2011, with many neighborhoods exceeding that.

And while bidding wars have long been part of buying a home in Noe Valley, Glen Park and Cole Valley, they are now just as fierce in less fashionable areas such as the Excelsior, Mission Terrace and Ingleside.

Citywide, properties are now commanding an average of 10.7 percent more than asking price, according to Paragon Real Estate Group, with Bernal Heights leading the pack at an average of 21 percent over asking. That’s up from April 2012, when homes were selling for an average of 3.5 percent over asking.

The Wall Street Journal covers the other side of the coin:

Poor Americans Direct 40% of Their Spending to Housing Expenses

Housing and food expenses absorb more than half of low-income Americans’ annual spending. Even the wealthiest Americans devote a sizable share of their spending to keeping a roof over their heads and food in their refrigerators.

That’s according to the Labor Department’s latest survey of Americans’ buying habits. The consumer expenditure survey report released Friday contained data on spending from July 2012 through June 2013.

On average, the report found, Americans upped their spending on food, transportation, health care, housing and “cash contributions” like child support payments and charitable donations. Overall, they spent 1.5% more compared with the previous 12 months, while average income ticked down 0.2%.

While The Hill finds cause for rejoicing:

Bankers breathe sigh of relief as Tea Party power fizzles

Banks are breathing a sigh of relief after established GOP incumbents bested a handful of Tea Party challengers at the polls recently.

Industry sources said the establishment wins improve Republican odds of retaking the Senate, which would in turn lead to a friendlier climate for the long-beleaguered sector. But some note that the Tea Party has left a mark on the Republican Party, presenting a challenging landscape for the industry.

The Tea Party movement can trace its roots back to fury about bailouts and banks, but the force that pulled the Republican Party right in recent years is finding less success at the polls recently.

And from the East Bay Express, a sign of rationality:

Californians Overwhelmingly Support a Ban on Fracking

A new poll shows that a super-majority of California residents — 68 percent — say they support a ban on fracking in the state. Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial oil- and natural gas-extraction method that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals into the earth. It’s been linked to groundwater and air pollution and to causing earthquakes. The new survey was published earlier this week by public policy opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, or FM3. Of the 807 California voters who were polled over the phone at random, 68 percent suppored a moratorium on fracking, with 45 percent of respondents stating that they “strongly” supported it.

Just a week after FM3 conducted its poll — and on the same day that the firm released its poll results — Californians learned that the estimate of extractable oil via fracking or acidization in the state was significantly lower than originally thought. The Monterey Shale, a 1,750 square-mile rock formation stretching from Sacramento to Los Angeles, was expected to provide 13.7 billion barrels of oil. A new estimate by the US Energy Information Administration lowered the number to 600 million barrels — about four percent of the original estimate.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, Proposition 13 strikes again [the measure limiting property taxes used to find the state’s schools]:

Governor’s teacher pension plan shocks school districts

When local school district officials pulled out their calculators and started crunching the numbers based on the governor’s new plan to shore up the state’s teacher pension fund, their jaws hit the floor.

The proposal, part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision, would more than double the 8.25 percent of payroll that districts now pay toward teacher retirement each year. Phased in over seven years, districts would end up paying 19.1 percent.

For San Francisco, that would mean spending $34 million each year above the current $25.8 million for teacher pensions, district officials said Friday.

From Bloomberg, a dire warning?:

U.S. Retailers Missing Estimates by Most in 13 Years

U.S. retailers’ first-quarter earnings are trailing analysts’ estimates by the widest margin in 13 years after bad weather and weak spending by lower-income consumers intensified competition.

Chains are missing projections by an average of 3.1 percent, with 87 retailers, or 70 percent of those tracked, having reported, researcher Retail Metrics Inc. said in a statement today. That’s the worst performance relative to estimates since the fourth quarter of 2000, when they missed by 3.3 percent. Over the long term, chains typically beat by 3 percent, the firm said.

Extreme winter weather through February and March forced store closings and stifled sales, Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics said. Lower- and moderate-income consumers had little discretionary spending power, and chains also faced price competition from e-commerce sites.

And from CNN, the first of two headlines in what we suspect will be a stream to come as the long, hot summer commences:

Arizona residents evacuate as fierce wildfire rages

The online Incident Information System reported Friday night that much of the fire burned with lower intensity throughout the day, allowing firefighters to make some progress.

However, despite that progress, the total area scorched climbed to 8,500 acres that night, and the containment level held steady at 5%.

The equivalent of a battalion of firefighters, including 15 hotshot crews and three air tankers, have been fighting the fire between Flagstaff and Sedona — a tourist and retirement destination famed for its red rock formations — since Tuesday afternoon.

CNN again:

Wildfire scorches nearly 80,000 acres in Alaska

A days-long wildfire had covered more than 78,000 acres of Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge by early Saturday, a state agency said.

The Funny River Fire began burning Monday evening and was 20% contained by early Saturday, Alaska’s Interagency Incident Management Team said.

No evacuations or injuries have been reported. There were more than 409 firefighters battling the blaze.

North of the border, and an all-too-familiar headline south of the border, via CBC News:

39% of unemployed have given up job search, poll suggests

In a poll carried out by Harris Poll and published Friday by employment agency Express Employment Professionals, the company surveyed 1,502 unemployed Canadians. None of them had a job, and not all of them were receiving EI benefits.

The results were eye-opening.

Some 39 per cent of those polled were in agreement with the statement that “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job” with five per cent saying they “agree a lot” 11 per cent saying they “agree somewhat” and 17 per cent saying they “agree a little.”

In the poll, which saw people respond to questions online over a week in April, more than a third responded they hadn’t had a job interview in over a month. A full 13 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t had a job interview since 2012 or before — well over a calendar year ago.

Britain next, and another slap on the wrist from BBC News:

Barclays Bank fined £26m for gold price failings

Barclays Bank has been fined £26m by UK regulators after one of its traders was discovered attempting to fix the price of gold. The trader, who has been sacked, exploited weaknesses in the system to profit at a customer’s expense, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

The incident occurred in June 2012, the day after the bank was fined a record £290m for attempting to rig Libor. Barclays said it “very much regrets the situation” that led to the fine.

The FCA found the bank failed to “adequately manage conflicts of interest between itself and its customers”, in relation to fixing the price of gold.

The Independent sets a precedent:

Slovak Roma parents fail in attempt to block same sex couple adopting their children

A Slovakian couple who have accused Kent County Council of social engineering have failed in their bid to block the adoption of their two sons by a same sex couple.

The Catholic couple, who are of Roma origin, took their case to the High Court earlier this month in an attempt to prevent their sons, aged two and four, from being adopted by a same sex couple in Kent.

In the judgement – released on Friday –Sir James Munby, the most senior judge in the Family Court, refused the pair’s request, saying that they had no grounds in law to appeal the decision.

And Sky News covers hard times populism resurgent:

Parties Reel From UKIP Election Success

The establishment faces up to the fallout from UKIP’s election “earthquake” as it wins more than double the seats many predicted.

UKIP’s haul of seats in the council elections is up to 184 with the main parties now mulling the prospect of four-party politics in next year’s general election.

Nigel Farage has said his anti-EU party is a “serious player” for 2015 after they added 167 councillors at the expense of the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

UKIP made gains in traditional Labour and Conservative heartlands, including strong showings in Rotherham – where it returned 10 out of 21 councillors.

One reaction from EUbusiness:

British deputy PM faces calls to quit

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg came under pressure Sunday to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats after the centrist party took a pounding in local elections.

Two would-be Lib Dem parliamentary candidates — staring at a much-reduced prospect of winning a seat at nexy tear’s general election — have put heir names to an online letter, signed by more than 200 party members, calling for Clegg to step aside.

He insisted Friday he would not quit despite being down 307 seats to 427 in the English local authority seats voted for on Thursday, with two of the 161 councils still to declare.

Sweden next, and a surge to the left form TheLocal.se:

Greens, feminists surge ahead of EU vote ‘thriller’

The Green Party climbed ahead of the Moderates into second spot in the polls ahead of Sunday’s EU elections with the upstart Feminist Initiative taking a further step forward in what promises to be a tough election to forecast.

The Green Party (MP) now has the support of 15.5 percent of the Swedish electorate ahead of Sunday’s vote, according to the latest opinion poll by Novus. The poll shows that the party has overtaken the Moderates who came in at 15 percent and now trails only the Social Democrats on 25.1 percent.

“We have not seen anything like it. I think that in Sweden, this is unique in itself,” said Torbjörn Sjöström at Novus to Sveriges Radio.

The Feminist Initiative (Fi) continued their dramatic success of recent months to claim a statistically significant rise to 5.4 percent and look set to claim their first seats in the parliament.

From BBC News, more of that hard times intolerance:

Brussels fatal gun attack at Jewish museum

Police have cordoned off the area but will not confirm if the gunman is still being pursued, as Duncan Crawford reports from the scene

A gunman has shot dead two men and a woman at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital Brussels.

A fourth person was seriously wounded, emergency services said.

The attacker arrived by car, got out, fired on people at the museum entrance, and returned to the vehicle which then sped away, Belgian media report.

Germany next, and political idiocy rebuked from EUbusiness:

Schulz mocked for ‘German’ appeal in EU election ad

The Socialists’ top candidate in European elections, Martin Schulz, drew online ridicule Sunday for telling Germans only a vote for his party would ensure one of their compatriots runs the European Commission.

“Only if you vote for Martin Schulz and the SPD (Social Democratic Party) can a German become president of the EU Commission” read an advertisement published in Germany’s top-selling Bild daily ahead of the election.

The appeal to national sentiment in the pan-European polls quickly sparked derisive commentary on Twitter under the hashtag #NureinDeutscher (Only a German).

“Youth unemployment in Europe is a huge problem, only a German can solve it,” quipped journalist and blogger Tilo Jung.

From Reuters, deals undone:

Germany stops numerous arms exports, risks compensation fees: report

Germany’s national security council declined two-thirds of applications for arms export licenses at its most recent sitting three weeks ago, German news weekly Spiegel said on Saturday.

The economy ministry had prevented a license application to export to Saudi Arabia 500 million euros worth of sight devices for armored personnel carrier guns from even being discussed in the council, it said.

Spiegel said the sights were made by a unit of Airbus. A spokesman for Airbus said: “We have no information about any government decision. We hope however for a swift and positive decision.”

And TheLocal.de protests:

Thousands protest at Erdogan German rally

Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Germany on Saturday, splitting the large Turkish community between passionate street protesters and conservative supporters flocking to what was widely seen as a campaign speech.

Erdogan is expected to run for the presidency in August, and Germany – with a Turkish community of three million, about half of them eligible voters – would be a strong constituency for the controversial leader.

Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have polarized Turks at home and abroad over what critics call his authoritarian style, a crackdown on civil liberties and corruption scandals under his rule.

On to Eastern Europe and epidemic apathy from New Europe:

Record abstention in Chech Republic reaches 80%, exit poll

Right wing TOP 09 leads with 18%

Right wing opposition party TOP 09 is taking the first place in the European Elections in the Czech Republic, according to exit polls. Czech news agency CTK calculates abstention to have reached record levels at around 80%

According to the exit poll done on behalf of the Dnes newspaper, TOP 09 gets 18% of the poll, while the ruling Social Democratic party (CSSD) follows with 17%.

Spain next, and significant symbolism from the Guardian:

Why Spain’s goal to leave racism behind could be decided by 56 villagers

A mayor’s quest to change his village’s name could help to alter attitudes in the country as a whole

At 4pm on Friday, it’s eerily quiet in this tiny village. The blinds on the stone houses are drawn and there’s not a person to be seen wandering the few streets that make up Castrillo Matajudíos.

It’s a sharp contrast to the noisy, relentless chatter about the place in the outside world. Ever since the mayor announced his intention to hold a referendum on changing its name, the spotlight has been on this Spanish village near the northern city of Burgos. Hundreds of media outlets around the world have shared its story. Thousands have taken to social media to opine on the name change. And come Sunday evening, when journalists are expected to outnumber residents at the announcement of the referendum result, millions around the world will hear about the outcome.

For 400 years, this place has borne the name of Castrillo Matajudíos, or Fort Kill the Jews in English. Starting at 9am on Sunday, the village’s 56 residents will have the chance to decide whether the time has come to change the name to Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or Hill of Jews. “We had no idea that this would be something that would gain worldwide attention,” said Lorenzo Rodríguez Pérez, mayor of Castrillo Matajudíos.

After the jump, mixed Latin American signals, That turmoil, serious Chinese economic uncertainty, Japanese Olympic fraudsters, the tragic loss of play, pre-cooked chickens, and fears of another Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

For our first Latin American headline, financial hands across the Pacific from the Rio Times:

Brazil Seeks Railway Investments from China

Brazilian officials on visit to China to attract investors for country’s rail system.

Brazil’s Transports Minister, Cesar Borges, and BNDES (Brazilian National Development Bank) president, Luciano Coutinho, arrived in China on Saturday seeking to attract Chinese financiers to invest in Brazil’s railroad infrastructure system.

According to the Ministry the objective of the trip is to “straighten relations between the two countries in regards to bilateral investments in infrastructure.” The two officials are scheduled to meet with China’s Transport Minister, the president of the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) and the Minister for National Development and Reform. For Minister Borges, it “will be a great opportunity to promote investments in Brazil.”

The two countries are expected to discuss Asian investments in new rail lines and infrastructure in Brazil. Despite being announced in August of 2012, the PIL (Program of Investments in Logistics) that included investments of R$99.6 billion to construct or improve rail lines has never left the drawing board.

The Rio Times again, a law certain to provoke what it promised to curtail gets curbed:

Brazil Delays Review of Anti-Vandalism Law

The bill that increases penalties for those who engage in vandalism at protests will be discussed after the World Cup.

Discussion of a Senate bill that would change Brazil’s penal code to include harsher sentences against those who engage in vandalism during protests has been postponed until after the FIFA World Cup, Agência Brasil reported this week.

The news comes just three days after the federal government said it would no longer support any of the two anti-vandalism bills that are up for discussion in Congress. Earlier this year, President Dilma Rousseff’s aides had made it clear that the president wanted to see the anti-vandalism bill in the Senate passed before Brazil hosts the international soccer tournament this June and July.

“[President] Dilma [Rousseff], listening to society, as is good practice in any democratic government and listening to the government, to its areas, reached the conclusion that it is not for us to make a new law regarding protests,” Gilberto Carvalho, Minister Secretary-General of the Presidency, told reporters on Thursday, May 15.

From the Santiago Times trans-Pacific anticipation:

Market wrap: Chilean mining stocks fall on likely Chinese slowdown

Potentially lower demand from China, Chile’s largest trading partner, causes concern for some Chilean companies whose first quarter earnings reports already reflect Chile´s reduced GDP growth. While some heads turn east, others announce mergers and asset sales.

On to Asia and the latest from Thailand, first from the Independent:

Thailand coup: Clashes as military junta tightens its grip

Protesters in Thailand confronted troops face to face and demanded they “go back” as anger over the army’s seizing of power and the declaration of a coup sparked heated protests in different parts of the country today.

In Bangkok, hundreds of anti-coup demonstrators rallied and a small number of them clashed with heavily armed troops, who dragged a number of the protesters away. There were also demonstrations in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Meanwhile, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the armed forces, announced that he was scrapping the Senate, the upper house of Thailand’s parliament, and assuming all law-making responsibility. He also transferred the national police chief, the head of a special investigation unit and a senior bureaucrat in the defence ministry to so-called “inactive posts”.

More from Reuters:

Opposition to Thai coup simmers, ex-PM in ‘safe place’

Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in a “safe place” on Saturday after being held by the army following a coup, an aide said, as opposition to the takeover grew among her supporters and pro-democracy activists.

The army moved on Thursday after failing to forge a compromise in a power struggle between Yingluck’s populist government and the royalist establishment, which brought months of sometimes violent unrest to Bangkok’s streets.

Consolidating its grip, the military dissolved the Senate on Saturday, the only legislative assembly still functioning in Thailand. It also sacked three senior security officials who were seen as close to the ousted government.

Xinhua foresees:

Yingluck expected to be released within one week

A number of prominent Thai political figures, including former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, have been detained by the military junta, and are expected to be released within a week, deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said on Saturday.

These people are now safe and are being taken good care of, Winthai said.

They will be released at different times, some in three days, some in five days, but no one is expected to be detained for more than a week, he said.

Kyodo News curtails:

Thai coup makers abolish Senate

Thailand’s coup makers led by army chief Gen. Prayut Chan-Ocha on Saturday announced the stoppage of the country’s Senate, transferring administrative and legislative powers to the army chief.

In the announcement, the coup makers explained that the Senate was dissolved to benefit the country’s administration. As the lower house of parliament has already been dissolved, the country no longer has a parliamentary function.

Prayut earlier said the newly established National Council for Peace and Order planned to set up a legislative council and a reform council. However, the country’s independent agencies will continue to function.

And cancellation from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Pentagon cancels military exercise, visits after Thai coup

The Pentagon on Saturday cancelled an ongoing military exercise and planned visits by officials after Thailand’s army seized power in a coup.

“While we have enjoyed a long and productive military-to-military relationship with Thailand, our own democratic principles and US law require us to reconsider US military assistance and engagements,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

The Pentagon said it cancelled the Cooperation of Afloat Readiness and Training exercise, known as CARAT, which involves several hundred US Marines and sailors. It began on Monday and was due to run for a week.

On to China and more anticipatory anxiety from SINA English:

Overcapacity a serious challenge: experts

China’s economy is facing an unprecedented challenge from industrial overcapacity, and it will take a long time to solve the problem, economists from government think tanks said Thursday.

A new round of overcapacity in China has emerged at a time when many developed countries are seeking to revive their own manufacturing industries, so China can no longer rely on low costs to provide a competitive advantage, Huang Qunhui, director of the Institute of Industrial Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Previously, overcapacity could be absorbed during a period of fast economic growth, but now, as the economy has cooled, China cannot count on growth to absorb excess capacity, Huang said.

Want China Times continues bubble reinflation exertion:

Easing of property controls expected outside China’s largest cities

More than 30 Chinese cities, excluding Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, plan to relax restrictions imposed on housing purchases because of the slowdown in the country’s real estate market.

In April 2010, in response to mounting housing prices, the State Council issued a notice to constrain skyrocketing housing prices whereby Chinese nationals were limited in the number of houses they could purchase.

It was estimated that over 40 cities implemented such measures, which effectively controlled the number of houses sold as well as prevented housing prices from increasing too rapidly.

More from SINA English:

Reports of property easing lift listed firms

Market reaction to reports that China will ease property curbs in most cities has underscored the depth of anxiety over the danger of a plunge in the housing market, one of the economy’s biggest growth engines.

The Guangzhou-based weekly newspaper Southern Weekend reported on Thursday that except for the four largest cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen), cities will be allowed to “adjust” housing control policies as they see fit.

The shares of China Vanke Co and Poly Real Estate Group Co advanced more than 3 percent on Friday, while the Shanghai property sub-index climbed 2.1 percent for the biggest gain in a month. The Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.7 percent.

Want China Times sees the Blue Screen of Death, or Diminution at best:

Microsoft’s golden era in China coming to an end

Chinese authorities announced on May 16 that Windows 8 will be banned from government computers.

Microsoft will not only lose government purchase orders, but will also lose the central enterprise purchases and OEM market–the three major revenue sources for Microsoft in China, according to Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald.

This means that Microsoft’s golden era in the Chinese market is coming to an end, the paper said.

In the context of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, Microsoft began changing its strategy in China, making conciliatory moves where it had previously been confrontational. Such a strategy eventually won the support of the government, collaborative partners, as well as customers.

On to Japan, and the unsporting from Jiji Press:

Tokyo Olympics-Related Fraud Increasing in Japan

Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency is urging people to pay attention to an increasing number of investment fraud cases related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The agency warns that more and more consumers are deceived by alluring words such as “Why don’t you buy bonds for the construction of a new Olympic stadium?” or “Share prices of Olympic-related companies will rise.”

From Fukushimapocalypse Now!, anxious opposition from NHK WORLD:

Civic groups against restart of Sendai plant

Civic groups are urging the government of Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan to rethink plans to restart a nuclear plant. They cite the risks of volcanic eruptions near the facility.

Representatives of 7 groups from Kagoshima and Tokyo visited the local government office on Thursday. They submitted a petition with 3,000 signatures against restarting the Sendai nuclear power station. Kyushu Electric Power operates the plant in Kagoshima.

Their visit came a day after a court in central Japan ruled against plans to restart the Ohi nuclear plant, citing insufficient safety measures. The Sendai plant is at the top of a list of facilities across the country undergoing safety checks, one precondition for restarting.

From the Independent, thoughts we’ve had for years:

When we stop children taking risks, do we stunt their emotional growth?

A Danish conference hall gently buzzes with grown men and women trying to replicate the exact pattern of six coloured plastic bricks being held up on stage. About 150 people have gathered in Billund, Lego’s HQ, at the invitation of the brickmaker’s philanthropic arm, the Lego Foundation, because they are worried that children are being short-changed when it comes to that “p” word, the right to which is enshrined in a UN declaration no less. They range from Harvard professors to ambitious entrepreneurs; all are united in their concern that children are paying the price for our parental panicking. In other words, playtime is over.

The upshot, warns Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, is anxiety and depression; even suicide is increasing. And it’s all because children feel “their sense of control over their lives has decreased”. He should know: now 70, he recalls growing up in the US in the 1950s. “By the time I was five, I could go anywhere in town on my bike. I could go out of town as long as I was with my six-year-old friend.” His research links the rise of emotional and social disorders with the decline of play: “If we deprive children of play they can’t learn how to negotiate, control their own lives, see things from others’ points of view, and compromise. Play is the place where children learn they are not the centre of the universe.” And in case you’re not sure: “When there’s an adult there directing things, that is not play.”

And to close, a pre-cooked story from the Guardian:

Wanted: a breed of chicken that can survive crippling heatwaves

US scientists fear climate change could have devastating effects on poultry farmers as temperatures reach scorching levels

American scientists are racing to develop chickens that can cope with scorching heat as part of a series of government-funded programmes looking to adapt to or mitigate the effects of extreme weather patterns on the food supply.

A University of Delaware project is developing ways to introduce climate hardiness to the US domestic breed stock before summer heatwaves predicted under climate change models kill or spoil the meat of billions of birds.

Backing for lead scientist Professor Carl Schmidt’s programme comes from the top. This month President Barack Obama, seeking to make stricter regulations on carbon emissions a centrepiece of his second term, described the effects of climate change as “a problem affecting Americans right now”.

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