Category Archives: Africa

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroAsianFukuDup


A very, very long compilation and perhaps the last of its sort, covering a panoply of notable developments in the economic, political, and environmental domains:.

For our first item, via the Press Gazette, proof there’s more than one way to control information:

Journalists seeking accreditation for Brit Awards asked to agree coverage of sponsor Mastercard

A PR company representing MasterCard, who are a major sponsor for tonight’s Brit Awards for pop music, appear to have asked journalists to guarantee coverage of their client as the price of attending.

Before providing two journalists from the Telegraph with accreditation to attend the event House PR has asked them to agree to a number of requests about the coverage they will give it.

They have even gone as far as to draft Twitter messages which they would like the journalists to send out – and asked that they include a mention of the marketing campaign #PricelessSurprises and @MasterCardUK.

And from the Los Angeles Times, What’s in Your Wallet?™:

Capital One says it can show up at cardholders’ homes, workplaces

  • The credit card company’s recent contract update includes terms that sound menacing and creepy.

Ding-dong, Cap One calling.

Credit card issuer Capital One isn’t shy about getting into customers’ faces. The company recently sent a contract update to cardholders that makes clear it can drop by any time it pleases.

The update specifies that “we may contact you in any manner we choose” and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a “personal visit.”

As if that weren’t creepy enough, Cap One says these visits can be “at your home and at your place of employment.”

The police need a court order to pull off something like that. But Cap One says it has the right to get up close and personal anytime, anywhere.

We switch to a global headline that overshadows pretty much defining the nature of life in the era of neoliberal austerity. From Reuters:

World risks era of slow growth, high unemployment: OECD

Sweeping reforms are urgently needed to boost productivity and lower barriers to trade if the world is to avoid a new era of slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment, the OECD warned on Friday.

In its 2014 study on “Going for Growth”, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said momentum on reforms had slowed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, with much of it now piecemeal and incremental.

From CBC News, another consequence of neoliberalism comes back to bites one its leading proponents in the bottom line:

Wal-Mart cuts growth forecast as poor shoppers spend less

  • Food stamp cuts in U.S. eat into same-store sales

Recent U.S. cuts in federal food stamps for the working poor and unemployed has led Wal-Mart Stores Inc to lower the forecast for its full-year profits.

The world’s largest retailer still expects net sales growth of three to five per cent this year.

But less food stamp aid, higher taxes and tighter credit are eroding its grocery sales, as its low-income customers struggle to get by on less.  As many as a fifth of Wal-Mart’s customers rely on food stamps, according to one analyst quoted by Reuters.

From Salon, more of the same, this time from the company founded by the new publisher of the Washington Post:

Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

  • You might find your Prime membership morally indefensible after reading these stories about worker mistreatment

Amazon equals Walmart in the use of monitoring technologies to track the minute-by-minute movements and performance of employees and in settings that go beyond the assembly line to include their movement between loading and unloading docks, between packing and unpacking stations, and to and from the miles of shelving at what Amazon calls its “fulfillment centers”—gigantic warehouses where goods ordered by Amazon’s online customers are sent by manufacturers and wholesalers, there to be shelved, packaged, and sent out again to the Amazon customer.

Amazon’s shop-floor processes are an extreme variant of Taylorism that Frederick Winslow Taylor himself, a near century after his death, would have no trouble recognizing. With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, scientific managers, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.

Amazon is also a truly global corporation in a way that Walmart has never been, and this globalism provides insights into how Amazon responds to workplaces beyond the United States that can follow different rules. In the past three years, the harsh side of Amazon has come to light in the United Kingdom and Germany as well as the United States, and Amazon’s contrasting conduct in America and Britain, on one side, and in Germany, on the other, reveals how the political economy of Germany is employee friendly in a way that those of the other two countries no longer are.

ProPublica covers the sadly predictable:

U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections

‘Permatemping’ cases highlight lack of U.S. protections for temp workers. Other countries limit the length of temp jobs, guarantee equal pay and restrict dangerous work.

Since the 2007-09 recession, temp work has been one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. But a ProPublica investigation into this burgeoning industry over the past year has documented an array of problems. Temps have worked for the same company for as long as 11 years, never getting hired on full-time. Companies have assigned temps to the most dangerous jobs. In several states, data showed that temps are three times more likely than regular workers to suffer amputations on the job. And even some of the country’s largest companies have relied on immigrant labor brokers and fly-by-night temp agencies that have cheated workers out of their wages.

In contrast, countries around the globe have responded to similar abuses by adopting laws to protect the growing number of temps in their workforces. These include limiting the length of temp assignments, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and restricting companies from hiring temps for hazardous tasks.

Badly Behaving Banksters pay their dues, via TheLocal.ch:

Credit Suisse to pay $196m US fine

Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse has admitted it violated US securities laws and will pay $196 million to settle the charges, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Friday.

The SEC action came as the Department of Justice investigates Credit Suisse for allegedly helping US citizens illegally avoid taxes.

The SEC said that Credit Suisse Group violated laws by providing cross-border brokerage and investment advisory services to US clients without first registering with the SEC.

According to the SEC, the Zurich-based global bank began conducting the unregistered services as early as 2002 and had collected about $82 million in fees on the accounts before completely exiting the business in mid-2013.

Belated action from United Press International:

California unveils legislation to help deal with drought

California officials Wednesday unveiled a $687.4 million plan to help the state cope with its severe drought.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders said the proposal would provide funds for direct relief for farm workers who will likely be out of a job for an extended period as growers cut back on their planting.

In addition, the legislation provides funding for water-conservation projects and a public-awareness campaign to remind Californians it is shaping up to be a long, dry summer.

The Christian Science Monitor adds context:

California drought: Farmers cut back sharply, affecting jobs and food supply

With drought limiting water deliveries from northern California and the price of irrigation skyrocketing, farmers’ fields lie fallow and the politicized debate over solutions rages.

And from the U.S. Drought Monitor, the latest image of California’s water crisis, with severity increasing with color darkness [the dark brown being the worst, “Exceptional Drought”]:

BLOG Drought

Al Jazeera America campaigns:

Push to boost wages at big LA hotels

  • City council to consider proposal to raise hourly rate to $15.37, which would be among nation’s highest if passed

Three Los Angeles City Council members have launched a bid to nearly double the minimum wage for hotel workers to $15.37 an hour, among the highest proposed minimums nationwide.

The living wage proposal, applicable to about 11,000 workers employed by Los Angeles hotels with more than 100 rooms, would help to lift employees out of poverty and benefit the city economy, proposal supporters said on Tuesday when the proposal was introduced.

California’s minimum wage is $8 an hour with a $1 bump coming in July. It will reach $10 in 2016. Cities and counties can set a higher minimum wage. In San Francisco, for example, the minimum is $10.74 with annual cost of living increases. Nationwide, a number of cities have adopted or are considering minimum wage proposals, including a citywide $15-per-hour rate urged by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Meanwhile, there’s another crisis in California, reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Many L.A. Unified school libraries, lacking staff, are forced to shut

Budget cuts leave about half of L.A. Unified’s elementary and middle schools without librarians, and thousands of students without books.

About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries are without librarians or aides, denying tens of thousands of students regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books, according to district data.

The crisis has exacerbated educational inequalities across the nation’s second-largest system, as some campuses receive extra money for library staff and others don’t. It has also sparked a prolonged labor conflict with the California School Employees Assn., which represents library aides.

Cashing in the Mile High City’s state with the London Telegraph:

Bumper cannabis sales in Colorado form billion-dollar industry

  • In America’s first cannabis-legal state sales are surging far ahead of predictions, bringing huge additional tax revenue

Cannabis is likely to become an annual billion-dollar legal industry in the sate of Colorado by next year after officials suggested greater volumes of the drug are being sold than anticipated.

Colorado was the first state in the US to licence and tax sales of the drug for recreational use, allowing dozens of shops to open for business on Jan 1, 2014.

In the lead up to legalisation it was estimated that sales would reach $395 million in the 2014/2015 financial year.

But in its first assessment since the New Year Governor John Hickenlooper’s budget office has dramatically increased that to $612 million.

When the $345 million in estimated sales of the drug to people with medical conditions is added that means a total of almost $1 billion.

The Hill concedes the despicably considered:

Obama drops proposal to cut Social Security from his budget

Yielding to pressure from congressional Democrats, President Obama is abandoning a proposed cut to Social Security benefits in his election-year budget.

The president’s budget request for fiscal 2015, which is due out March 4, will not call for a switch to a new formula that would limit cost-of-living increases in the entitlement program, the White House said Thursday.

“This year the administration is returning to a more traditional budget presentation that is focused on achieving the president’s vision for the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans, and the investments needed to meet that vision,” a White House official said.

Obama last year proposed the new formula for calculating benefits as an overture to Republicans toward a “grand bargain” on the debt.

Barry O continues his neoliberal trade crusade with BBC News:

Obama champions controversial North America-Asia trade deal

US President Barack Obama has vowed to expand trade agreements between North America and Asia, despite concerns within his own political party.

Ending a day of talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, Mr Obama said they must keep up their “competitive advantage”.

The three countries are negotiating a major Pacific trade deal.

But Mr Obama’s Democratic allies oppose the agreement amid concerns that American jobs could be lost.

Republic Report adds significant context:

Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks

Officials tapped by the Obama administration to lead the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations have received multimillion dollar bonuses from CitiGroup and Bank of America, financial disclosures obtained by Republic Report show.

Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the Under Secretary for International Trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.

Michael Froman, the current U.S. Trade Representative, received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman’s] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.”

Getting together with Kyodo News:

Crucial TPP ministerial meeting begins in Singapore

Ministers from the 12 countries involved in the envisioned Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord began talks in Singapore on Saturday seeking to achieve the challenging goal of reaching a broad agreement after missing an end-of-2013 deadline.

But the momentum for an early conclusion of the ambitious U.S.-led trade initiative has been overshadowed by U.S. frustration over Japan’s reluctance to open up its agricultural market, as well as Malaysian and Vietnamese opposition to reforming state-owned firms.

During a five-day working-level meeting through Friday, each country held bilateral meetings on the sidelines of plenary sessions to bridge gaps over outstanding issues, but officials made little progress on thorny issues.

The Japan Times covers amen choristers:

Don’t fold on TPP tariffs: senators

A bipartisan group of senators has sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman urging the Obama administration not to make tariff concessions to Japan during the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

The letter, dated Saturday and signed by 15 senators led by Michael Bennett, a Colorado Democrat, and Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, “asked for assurances that the TPP negotiations will not be concluded until Japan agrees to eliminate tariff and non-tariff trade barriers for agricultural products,” the National Pork Producers Council said the same day.

Tokyo and Washington are jousting over Japanese duties on five “sacred” farm product categories — rice, beef and pork, wheat, dairy and sugar — that Tokyo wants to retain under the TPP, which is based on the principle of abolishing all tariffs.

The Obamanations continue via The Guardian:

Obama begins Mexico summit with orders lowering trade barriers

  • Before meeting Mexican and Canadian heads of state, president bypasses Congress by signing trade liberalisation orders

Barack Obama begins a North American summit in Mexico on Wednesday with a gesture of defiance toward allies in Congress who are hampering his ability to negotiate controversial trade liberalisation agreements.

In the latest in a series of so-called executive actions promised in his state of the union address, the US president will sign new measures to speed up imports and exports for businesses by reducing bureaucratic barriers.

And from one Canadian province, a modest resistance to the tenor of the times, via CBC News:

Quebec proposes rules to prevent hostile takeovers

  • Budget sets out economic agenda that includes government taking stakes in mining sector

Quebec’s Parti Québécois government proposed measures to shield businesses headquartered in Quebec from hostile takeovers in a budget tabled Thursday.

It was one in a series of proposals geared at keeping Quebec business in the province that also included plans for the government to buy direct stakes in oil and mining companies with new finds in Quebec.

The proposal comes at a time when the minority government is expected to call a provincial election and may not last long enough to pass through the legislature.

From MercoPress, deserved anxiety:

IMF concerned with risks in emerging markets from pulling back stimulus too quickly

Advanced economies, including the United States, must avoid pulling back stimulus too quickly given the weak global economic recovery and recent market volatility highlights key risks in some emerging markets, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday.

The IMF said there was scope for better coordination of central bank exit plans, something many emerging market policymakers have called for as the Federal Reserve has begun to wind back its US support for the economy.

In a briefing note prepared for upcoming Group of 20 meetings, IMF staff said the outlook for global growth was similar to its last assessment in January, with growth of about 3.75% seen for this year and 4.0% in 2015.

More from China Daily:

Growth in emerging economies to decline: IMF

Anticipated growth in emerging surplus economies, including China’s, is “expected to decline” and output gaps in advanced economies remain negative, the International Monetary Fund said in a report released ahead of this weekend’s G-20 finance meeting in Australia.

Global recovery from the recession has been “disappointingly weak,” and G-20 countries are still producing “far below” the longer-term trend, the report said.

While global economic activity picked up in the second half of 2013 due to strengthening advanced economies, trade volumes remain below trend, decline in unemployment and strong private demand “did not materialize,” the IMF said Wednesday.

Against the backdrop of slower-than-anticipated global growth, emerging economies are experiencing bouts of volatility in the financial sector, influenced in part by weakening sentiment toward emerging economies, the IMF said.

On to Europe with another red flag from BBC News:

Eurozone business growth slowed in February, PMI study suggests

Business growth in the eurozone eased this month but the bloc’s economy continued to expand at a “robust pace”, a closely watched survey suggests.

The latest Markit eurozone composite purchasing managers’ index (PMI) dipped to 52.7 from 52.9 in January. A figure above 50 indicates expansion.

Within the bloc, Germany and France continued to see contrasting fortunes. German companies saw strong growth, but activity among French firms declined for the fourth month in a row.

Another from Deutsche Welle:

Eurozone January inflation too tame to please ECB

In January, price increases in the eurozone remained well below the rate desired by the European Central Bank. The timid inflation rate for the month points to a lackluster recovery in the recession-hit currency area.

Annual inflation in the 18-nation eurozone remained tame in January, recording 0.8 percent higher than in the previous month of December, according to Monday.

In the wider 28-nation European Union, inflation fell to 0.9 percent against 1 percent at the end of last year, Eurostat said.

Compared with January 2013, however, the rates for both areas were significantly lower, coming down from 2 percent and 2.1 percent annual inflation respectively a year ago.

And from Eurostat [PDF], the graphic that tells the deeper story [click to enlarge]:

BLOG Inflate

Another indicator of creepy europoverty from The Guardian [obesity rates rise as poverty increases, with the rates of obesity highest in Europe’s unfortunately named, crisis wracked PIGS]:

Overweight children could become new norm in Europe, says WHO

As many as a third of 11-year-olds in some countries are overweight, as well as two-thirds of UK’s adult population

Being overweight is in danger of becoming the new norm for children as well as adults in Europe, the World Health Organisation warns, issuing figures showing that up to a third of 11-year-olds across the region are too heavy.

According to the EU figures, Greece has the highest proportion of overweight 11-year-olds (33%), followed by Portugal (32%), Ireland and Spain (both 30%).

More anxieties from EurActiv:

Europe tries to reverse drift towards de-industrialisation

After a lost decade, Europe is trying to reverse a decline in manufacturing which has brought industrial output to a standstill. The issue will reach the EU’s top decision-making body in March when European leaders meet for their quarterly summit in Brussels.

Over the past few years, the European Commission has been the most vocal EU institution campaigning for the continent’s industrial revival, positioning itself as a driver of competitiveness and job creation.

Within the EU executive, the commissioner for enterprise, Antonio Tajani, has emerged as the winner of an internal debate opposing supporters of industry to environmentalists, whose policies were blamed for hampering the economy.

Another warning from New Europe:

North-South gap weakens employment and social cohesion

  • The latest European Vacancy Monitor revealed a growing North-South divide

A widening gap in job opportunities between Northern and Southern EU countries is threatening the employment and social cohesion of the EU.

On 24 February, the European Commission announced the latest issue of the European Vacancy Monitor (EVM), which indicated a shortage in labour supply in countries such as Austria, Denmark Sweden, Estonia and Latvia, and an increased competition for jobs in countries such as Greece, Slovakia and Spain.

László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said that the Northern-Southern employment gap indicates Eurozone’s employment and social asymmetries. “Diverging job prospects in Northern and Southern Europe underline mismatches in the European labour market, linked also to Eurozone asymmetries. Labour mobility might help to reduce those imbalances. Tools supporting workers mobility within the European labour market such as EURES are available to help job seekers find job opportunities,” Commissioner Andor said.

A shift in sentiment from EUobserver:

Poll: Socialists to top EU elections, boost for far-right

Europe’s socialists are set to top the polls in May’s European elections, according to the first pan-EU election forecast.

The projections, released by Pollwatch Europe on Tuesday (19 February), give the parliament’s centre-left group 221 out of 751 seats on 29 percent of the vote, up from the 194 seats it currently holds.

For their part, the centre-right EPP would drop to 202 seats from the 274 it currently holds on 27 percent of the vote across the bloc. If correct, it would be the first victory for the Socialists since 1994.

EurActiv takes a hit:

Financiers snipe at draft EU law against money laundering

Representatives of financial transactions services have criticised harshly the EU’s draft legislation to fight money laundering which will go through its first parliamentary vote today (20 February) and enjoys the support of the anti-corruption champion, Transparency International.

The European Commission proposal, tabled in February last year, is aimed at tightening EU rules on financial transactions in a bid to step up the fight against money laundering and terrorism funding.

One of the main elements of the proposal is the introduction of a mechanism to name the beneficial owners of companies, in order to prevent the illicit activities which are often carried out under anonymity.

The proposal also includes requirements to increase customer due diligence and tightening the rules obliging financial companies to identify their clients and the legitimacy of their activities.

Europe Online pulls back:

Iceland moves to withdraw EU application

Iceland’s centre-right government is to seek parliamentary approval to withdraw its application to join the European Union, opting not to restart accession talks that were put on ice a year ago.

A bill proposing the withdrawal was sent to parliament late Friday and was due to be debated next week, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told dpa on Saturday.

The move came after the parliamentary caucuses of the ruling parties – the centrist Progressive Party and the conservative Independence Party – voted Friday to withdraw the application.

In comments on the proposal quoted by online news site Visir.is, the government said it “did not have a support base” to complete the accession process.

Off to Britain, with a major policy reversal of the post-equine escape animal enclosure locking sort from Sky News:

Cameron: UK Ready To Fund New Flood Defences

  • David Cameron tells Sky News he is ready to open the Government’s “chequebook” to build new flood defences.

David Cameron has suggested that his “money is no object” pledge on the flood relief effort could be extended to cover the costs of new defences.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the Prime Minister said he was ready to take out his “chequebook” following a major review of what went wrong and how it could have been prevented.

“You’ve got to look at where the floods have been this time, compared with 2007, compared with 2003,” he said.

From the London Telegraph, the usual result:

Wages rise but still below inflation

  • Pay increase and a fall in unemployment a boost for the Bank of England

Wages are still failing to keep up with the rising cost of living despite climbing at a faster rate in the final quarter of last year.

Average weekly pay including bonuses edged up 1.1pc to £478 in the three months to the end of December, up from the 0.9pc rate of increase in the three months to the end of November, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

However, the Government’s preferred inflation measure, the consumer prices index (CPI), currently stands at 1.9pc – below the 2pc target – despite a surprise 0.1 point fall on Tuesday.

Another austerian consequence from The Observer:

Cash-strapped older women are forced back to work

  • Older women taking on more jobs, study finds, but pay gap between the sexes is growing wider

More than three-quarters of the rise in female employment, which hit record levels last December, is the result of women aged over 50 taking on jobs, a study has found.

A report by the TUC to be released this week has established that 2,278,000 more women are now working than in 1992, and that 1,645,000 (72%) of these are aged 50 or over.

Last week the government welcomed news that more women were in work, with the proportion – 67.2% – the highest since records began 43 years ago. The TUC study pinpoints how many older women have felt the need to return to work or to continue working until later in life, for a combination of reasons. These include the rising cost of living, the increase in the state pension age and the fall in value of workplace pensions.

While much of the rise in female employment is due to the greater number of over-50s in the population, the rate of employment has risen too. In 1992, 50.7% of women in the 50-64 age group were economically “inactive”, compared with 36.8% today.

The Observer follows hunger in posh places:

‘Most desirable’ district in the country has three food banks

  • In wealthy towns, families hit by falling incomes and benefit cuts are increasingly being forced to rely on charity handouts

Volunteers have sounded the alarm over a growing reliance on food banks in one of the richest areas in Britain.

Weekly earnings in Hart in Hampshire, recently named as the most desirable district in the country for quality of life, are a third higher than the national average. But the district also has three food banks, which have given out more than 1,000 emergency food parcels in the past six months.

Anti-poverty campaigners say that, even in wealthy areas such as Hart, benefit changes and low wages are creating growing pockets of desperate need.

EurActiv readies the trial:

Britain sets out new test to limit EU migrant benefits

Britain laid out new rules on Wednesday (19 February) designed to limit the access that migrants from other European Union states have to the country’s welfare system.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to curb immigration into Britain in an effort to quell concerns about migrants entering the country to claim benefits, referred to as ‘benefits tourism’. The move may also stop voters defecting to the anti-immigration UK Independence Party.

The new test, due to come into effect on March 1, sets a minimum income threshold to determine whether a migrant working in the UK should have access to the wider suite of benefits that comes with being classed as a worker rather than a jobseeker.

But the Usual Suspects are doing quite well, thankee kindly. Via Reuters, a case of Banksters Behaving Brazenly:

HSBC to announce bonuses totaling $4 billion: report

HSBC will announce staff bonuses totaling just under 2.4 billion pounds ($4 billion) globally for 2013 and is expected to report a significant rise in pretax profit, Sky News reported on its website on Saturday without citing its sources.

Referring to an unnamed source close to the bank, Sky also said Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver will receive a 1.8 million pound bonus as part of an overall pay deal worth more than 7 million pounds, though this would be less than his previous year pay deal of 7.4 million.

Europe’s biggest bank is expected to announce the size of its bonus pool on Monday along with its yearly results. Bonus payments remain a sensitive issue as many Britons still blame banks for the 2008 financial crisis, after which the state was forced to bail out RBS and Lloyds.

On to Scandinavia and some hard times intolerance from TheLocal.no:

Three men charged for racist attack in Norway

Three men in their twenties have been charged for assaulting a black man in northern Norway, allegedly telling him “we do not like immigrants in Verdal” as they hit him on the back with a snow shovel.

Jacob Kuteh, who was born in Liberia, was hospitalized after the  attack, which took place on Saturday night.

Kuteh claimed the men hit him, strangled him and kicked him in the head, before hitting him with a snow shovel, all the while telling him, “we hate you. We’ll take you.”

“I’ve lived here for ten years and have never experienced anything like this,” Kuteh told VG newspaper. “I have kids that go to school here and it’s no fun at all that someone has suddenly come and told me that they do not like the colour of my skin.”

Sweden next, with a demographic note from TheLocal.se:

Immigrants behind boom in Sweden’s population

The population of Sweden saw the biggest yearly increase in 70 years last year, according to new statistics, thanks largely to the almost 120,000 immigrants who arrived throughout the year.

Sweden’s population on the last day of 2013 was 9,644,864 – a 0.93 percent hike from 2012. The total increase was the largest since 1946, and statisticians at Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån – SCB) marked it down to a record-high level of immigration.

In total, 115,845 immigrants arrived in Sweden in 2013, many from Syria and Somalia. The figure is the highest Sweden has ever had in a one-year period. The men outnumbered the women by around 5,000.

TheLocal.se again, this time with a contrarian finding:

Romanian beggars cleared in court

A district court in central Sweden has cleared three Romanian nationals of begging following a previous indictment, saying they did not need the permission of the police to beg.

The trio had previously been prosecuted for begging on the streets of Södertälje, Stockholm county, in January. In court it was debated whether the three individuals had broken any local laws regarding the collection of money.

Local newspaper Länstidningen said that the case was unique as the issue has never been tested before by law.

According to local Södertälje regulations police permission is required for the “collection of money in boxes or similar.” In court the example of street musicians, who don’t require police permission, was raised and comparisons were made between the beggars and street performers.

And more academic austerity ahead with TheLocal.se:

Borg to cut student grants and pension perks

With autumn elections on the horizon, Sweden’s Finance Minister Anders Borg said his government would cut student grants and make alcohol and tobacco more expensive, part of a budget plan to fill Sweden’s coffers.

“You shouldn’t stoke the fire in good times,” Borg told reporters in Stockholm on Thursday as he mapped out the centre-right government coalition’s budget prognosis for the near- and medium term. He said he no longer saw the need to use stimulus measures to keep Sweden’s economy buoyant, and argued that it was time to strengthen public finances.

“Sweden needs proper levees in place before the next crisis,” Borg said, adding that Sweden’s reliance on liquidity and its high household indebtedness was “a big element of uncertainty in the Swedish economy”.

Off to the Netherlands with stagnation from DutchNews.nl:

House prices stabilise but building permits reach 60-year low

House prices were down just 0.5 percent in January, compared with January 2013, showing house prices have now stabilised, the national statistics office CBS says on Friday.

Month on month, there was a 0.4% rise in house prices.

House prices are now in line with 11 years ago, after reaching a peak in August 2008, the CBS says. Houses have gone down an average of 20% in price since then.

At the same time, the CBS says the number of permits for new houses reached a record low of 26,000 in 2013. This is 30% down on 2012 and 70% down on 2008. Permits for new housing have not been so low since 1953, the CBS says.

Germany next, and a pain in the wallet from TheLocal.de:

Wages fall for first time since crash

Wages in Germany fell by an average of 0.2 percent last year, the first drop since the 2009 economic crisis, the federal statistics office said on Thursday.

The calculation was in terms of the real buying power of wages, allowing for inflation, and the fall bodes ill for efforts to fire up domestic consumption to boost recovery in Europe’s biggest economy.

Germany has relied mainly on exports to drive growth.

Citing preliminary results, the statistics office said that nominal wages in 2013 were up 1.3 percent from the previous year, but that consumer prices rose faster, at 1.5 percent, over the same period.

“One reason for the decline in real wages in 2013 was a decline in bonuses which are frequently performance-related,” said a statement by the Wiesbaden-based agency which is known as Destatis.

Deutsche Welle tracks a booming business:

Arms manufacturer Rheinmetall logs lower profit but higher orders

Germany’s biggest arms maker, Rheinmetall, has defied weak defense spending in Europe in 2013 to surprise investors with higher-than-expected earnings. A massive order backlog for 2014 boosted company shares further.
Panzer

Last year, Rheinmetall’s performance had been stable, with consolidated sales of 4.6 billion euros ($6.3 billion). Before special items, Rheinmettal also boasted an operating profit of 213 million euros, the German defense and automotive industry conglomerate announced as it released figures for its 2013 fiscal year on Wednesday.

Rheinmetall’s 2013 operating result was about 55 million euros lower than in 2012, but higher than forecast for 2013, the Düsseldorf-based company announced. The decrease was the result of restructuring measures to the tune of 86 million euros, as well as a further 15 million euros in expenses for strategic portfolio measures, Rheinmetall aannounced.

Annual sales also fell in 2013, however, with the 2 percent decline mainly being a result of unfavorable exchange rates for the euro.

And a point we’ve made before, from EUbusiness:

Germany has ‘unfair’ edge with low salaries: minister

Germany’s low salaries have given Europe’s biggest economy an “unfair” competitive advantage over its partners and must be corrected, a junior German minister has said.

Michael Roth, state secretary for European Affairs, was commenting on Germany’s record trade surplus, which surged to nearly 200 billion euros ($270 billion) last year, and has seen Berlin placed under EU scrutiny.

He said in an interview with AFP Thursday that imbalances had appeared among EU members and there “was a duty not only for countries running a deficit but also for Germany to reduce them”.

The comments by the Social Democrat politician differ from the stance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, who disagree that Berlin has a problem with its trade surplus despite it consistently exceeding EU limits.

France next, and a uniquely Gallic form of action from Europe Online:

New “boss-napping” incident at a French factory

Workers at a French factory were holding three managers captive for a second day Thursday, after its owners announced that it would be shut down.

The managing director, technical director and financial director of Depalor, a company that produces wood panels in the north-eastern Lorraine region, were being held in an office building.

A trade union representative told France Info radio that the three were barred from leaving until the CEO of parent company Swiss Krono Group came to discuss redundancy terms for the 142 workers.

The incident is the second case of “boss-napping” in France within two months.

And the hidden disclosed, via TheLocal.ch:

France says thousands declare Swiss accounts

The French government says that nearly 16,000 people have declared funds hidden abroad after Switzerland curtailed its vaunted banking secrecy.

France’s Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Wednesday that the government was on track to collect 230 million euros ($316 million) from only 2,621 of the cases.

He told the finance committee of the lower house National Assembly that 80 percent of the newly declared accounts were from Switzerland, which has curtailed its banking secrecy traditions under international pressure.

France 24 ponies up:

French government, China’s Dongfeng to invest in Peugeot

Peugeot Citroën, which has been manufacturing automobiles in France for more than 100 years, has agreed to a deal that will see both the French government and Chinese carmaker Dongfeng buy large stakes in the struggling company.

Peugeot announced on Wednesday that its board had approved the agreement, in which the French government and Dongfeng will each invest €800 million ($1.1 billion) in exchange for 14 percent stakes in the company.

The move marks a huge transition for the carmaker, which until now has been controlled by the Peugeot family. Under the agreement, the family’s 25 percent stake and 38 percent of voting rights will now be reduced to equal the French government and Dongfeng’s stakes in the company.

On to Switzerland and a case of resigned to not being resigned from TheLocal.ch:

German professor quits over Swiss ‘xenophobia’

A German professor at the Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich (ETH) has made a splash in the media for quitting his job over the Swiss vote to limit immigration.

Christopher Höcker, who had taught at the university’s Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture since 1999, told his students this week he was stepping down.

The decision by Swiss voters in a February 9th referendum to narrowly support quotas for immigrants from the European Union was the last straw for the 57-year-old German citizen.

“I do not want more exposure to the increasingly xenophobic climate in Switzerland,” Höcker told 20 Minuten newspaper.

TheLocal.ch delays:

EU not compromising but gives Switzerland time

The EU said Thursday it cannot compromise on the principle of freedom of movement but will allow Switzerland time to find a solution after a controversial referendum approved immigration curbs.

“It is a serious . . . not a minor change which we have to assess calmly,” chief operating officer of the EU external affairs service David O’Sullivan said of the referendum outcome.

“Freedom of movement is a fundamental core value” of the European Union and as such is not open for negotiation, O’Sullivan said after talks with Yves Rossier, his counterpart in the Swiss department of foreign affairs.

On to Spain and onto the streets with United Press International:

Spanish marchers protest job cuts, law against protesting

Demonstrators in at least seven Spanish cities have called for an end to a “gagging law” that set large fines for protest marches.

The protesters were joined by factory workers due to be laid off and groups seeking to preserve access to universal healthcare, Think Spain reported. Monday.

The anti-demonstration law, which affects even peaceful protests, calls for fines of $41,000 to $823,000 for anyone staging the marches.

The protests, which drew thousands of supporters in each of the cities, also want the Spanish Parliament to reject a proposed law restricting abortions.

From Spanish Property Insight, the one group of immigrants eagerly sought:

First Chinese property investors get their “Golden Visas”

Chinese nationals investing in property in Spain are starting to get their residency visas, according to Spanish press reports.

A businesswoman from Shanghai who spent €520,000 on flats in Barcelona and Madrid has become one of the first Chinese nationals to get a Spanish residency via the new “Golden Visa” law that offers Spanish residency permits to non-EU nationals in return for real estate investments of €500,000 or more.

She invested in Spanish property via the Emigration Centre at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), which has a programme to help Chinese nationals invest in residency schemes abroad.

On to Lisbon and yet another austerian misery demanded from the Portugal News:

EU calls for Portugal wages to fall by a further 5%

The European Commission has argued that Portugal needs a further 5% average reduction in wages to ensure a balance between the unemployment rate and wage rates.

Portugal’s government responded by saying that it continued to disagree with that view, arguing that recent increases in exports show that wage adjustment in the private sector has been “sufficient”.

In its report on the 10th regular review of Portugal’s economic and financial assistance programme, released on Thursday, the European Union executive states that “Portugal needs wage moderation sufficient to absorb unemployment” and outlines some estimates.

According to the commission’s calculations, “a reduction of one percentage point in the unemployment rate demands a reduction in real wages of about 2.4%” – which it said means real wages falling 5% if the gap is to be closed between the current jobless rate and that at which wage levels will not lead to new increases in unemployment.

Deutsche Welle takes us to Italy and the latest regime:

Italy swears in its youngest-ever prime minister, Matteo Renzi

  • Italy’s new prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and his cabinet have been sworn into office at a ceremony in Rome. The new government is the youngest in the recent Italian history.

The swearing-in of the prime minister took place at a ceremony in Rome under the auspices of Napolitano.

At 39, Renzi is the youngest-ever person to take the reins in the eurozone’s third largest economy, and his cabinet, with an average age of 47.8 years, is also the most youthful in recent Italian history.

As a result, the government is facing widespread skepticism as to whether it has the political maturity to cope with the challenges currently facing the country.

And the road’s already getting bumpy, via TheLocal.it:

Grillo declares ‘war’ as Berlusconi backs Renzi

Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo has lashed out at Matteo Renzi, saying the prime minister designate is “not credible” and declaring a political “war” against the country’s prospective new leader.

Since being nominated for the premiership on Monday, Renzi has been meeting with party leaders to gain the political backing needed to push urgent reforms through parliament.

While some meetings, such as one with Go Italy (Forza Italia) leader Silvio Berlusconi, have gone relatively well, the same cannot be said of Renzi’s meeting with Grillo.

Visible to all by a live internet stream, their meeting appeared to be a dialogue of the deaf, with neither side appearing interested in the other.

ANSA raises an alarm:

Italian recovery slow, growth stalling, say industrialists

  • Urgent need to address competitiveness, demand and bank credit

Italy’s economic recovery is extremely slow and recent data shows that industrial production in the eurozone’s third-largest economy is close to stalling, according to a new report released on Wednesday by Italian employers’ association Confindustria.

“(The recovery is) moving ahead very slowly, almost at a standstill”, Confindustria’s economists said. “These are the harsh facts of the Italian economy”, with employment and industrial production data “confirming that the pick up from the extremely deep hole that has been dug by the recession is extremely slow”.

Fourth-quarter gross domestic product data, which showed the economy expanded 0.1% in the last three months of 2013, was “lower that expected” and “confirms the extreme weakness of the recovery”, according to the report drawn up by Confindustria’s economic research unit which is headed by economist Luca Paolazzi.

And another call for an increasingly mooted move from ANSA:

Re-open cannabis debate, hurt mafia, says ex-health minister

  • Ban on marijuana doesn’t work, says top oncologist Veronesi

It’s time that Italy re-opened the debate on liberalizing marijuana use, to cut out drug traffickers, permit its medical use, while acknowledging the current ban doesn’t work, former health minister Umberto Veronesi said Thursday.

In an opinion article published in La Repubblica newspaper, Veronesi, a prominent oncologist, said that liberalizing the drug would take away power from the mafia and other criminals who now profit greatly from its cultivation and sale.

It would make marijuana more safe for users, including those who need it for pain relief, added Veronesi, whose comments come amid debate about Italy’s illegal-drug laws.

And from New Europe, departures from Bucharest:

Romanian ministers resign

Romania is in the throws of a political crisis after two ministers from the junior party in the ruling coalition resigned.

Finance Minister Daniel Chitoiu and Economy Minister Andrei Gerea, both Liberal Party members, stepped down on Wednesday after Prime Minister Victor Ponta refused to accept the Liberals’ nomination of Klaus Johannis, the popular mayor of Sibiu city, as interior minister. The position, now vacant, was recently held by another Liberal Party official.

Ponta, leader of the Social Democratic Party, will temporarily head the finance portfolio. He named a party colleague as interim economy minister.

After the jump, the latest Greek debacles, unmentionable anxieties in Russia, the latest from Kyiv, an African GMO invasion, the latest turmoil from Latin America, India swings to the right, Thai troubles, worries down under, Chinese alarm bells, Abenomics on the rocks, nucelear woes in the U.S.A., Big Ag hits a roadblock, fracking woes go global, a Spanish snail invasion, and a globl arming cooler. . .plus Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: MegaloEconoPoliFuku


A verrryyyy long collection, with the latest global economic, political, and environmental news for your perusal.

First up, playing monopoly with Sky News:

Comcast To Buy Time Warner Cable For $45bn

The deal would create an entertainment superpower with 32 million TV subscribers, but there are calls for regulators to step in.

The two biggest US cable companies are joining forces in a $45bn (£27bn) deal, creating an entertainment giant with some 32 million TV subscribers.

Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable was confirmed at the start of trading on Thursday.

Its offer, which is subject to regulatory approval, is about 17% higher than the company’s closing share price on Wednesday.

The takeover bid trumps an earlier $38bn (£23bn) offer from Charter Communications, which appeared to concede defeat by announcing: “We’ve always maintained our greatest opportunity to create value for shareholders is by executing our current business plan.”

More from Business Insider:

What’s in it for Comcast Cable shareholders?

“This combination creates a company that delivers maximum value for our shareholders,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

How are they going to do that?

The company explains in one sentence that probably has every Comcast and Time Warner Cable employee nervous.

“The transaction will generate approximately $1.5 billion in operating efficiencies and will be accretive to Comcast’s free cash flow per share while preserving balance sheet strength.”

“Operating efficiencies” usually means the closing and combining offices, which also often comes with job cuts.

Still more from The Guardian:

Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable ‘will throttle choice on the web’

  • Angry consumer groups say proposed $45.2bn mega-deal will drive up costs for millions – and call on FCC to block takeover

Consumer groups reacted angrily to the merger of cable giant Comcast and Time Warner Cable on Thursday, claiming the combination could “throttle” choice on the internet.

Comcast’s proposed $45.2bn takeover of TWC will create a media behemoth that will dominate broadband internet access across the US. Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, will also cement its position as the pre-eminent force in cable TV.

Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at consumer rights group Public Knowledge said: “This is a deal that needs to be blocked.” She said Comcast was likely to use the extra leverage to “drive up costs and reduce choices for consumers.”, and claimed the new company would be too powerful, becoming a “gatekeeper” capable of “throttling competition.”

And from In These Times, a symbolic action taken years too late:

It’s Official: Obama Signs Minimum Wage Hike for Some Federal Contract Workers

Today, President Barack Obama honored his promise from last month’s State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage for some workers indirectly employed by the federal government. In a new executive order, he raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. The White House estimates the order will affect hundreds of thousands of workers employed by private companies with government contracts.

“Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty,” Obama said during a signing ceremony at the White House. He used the ceremony to repeat his calls for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers and for state and local governments and private businesses to also act to boost the income of low-wage workers.

Labor groups and union supporters reported they were pleased with the final shape of the executive order.

From The Hill, reversing idiocy:

Senate reverses pension cut

The Senate on Wednesday sent legislation to President Obama’s desk that would repeal the controversial $6 billion cut to military pensions.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in a 95-3 vote, undoing the spending cut that Congress had approved two months prior in the December budget deal.

The only senators to vote against the bill were Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

The legislation passed in the House just a day earlier in a 326-90 vote.

From MintPress News, necessary action:

Justice Department Sued Over Secretive JPMorgan Settlement

The agreement settled both “actual and potential” civil claims against the company brought by five federal agencies and several state attorneys general, thus offering broad immunity for years.

A public interest group is suing the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder over the agency’s recent record-busting settlement with JPMorgan Chase for the bank’s fraudulent conduct leading up to the 2007-08 bursting of the housing bubble and subsequent meltdown of the financial industry.

Better Markets, a watchdog group based here, alleges that the Justice Department broke both federal law and constitutional mandate when it agreed to and finalized the $13 billion settlement in November. The agreement process, reportedly decided upon personally by Holder and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, included no judicial oversight, despite what critics say are multiple statutory obligations to do so.

“There are certain statutes regarding certain violations of law that expressly state that the Department of Justice must seek court approval, and then there are others where it’s silent,” Dennis Kelleher, the head of Better Markets, told MintPress while announcing the lawsuit on Monday.

CNBC frets:

Wealthy more worried about being seen as wealthy

  • Is success being vilified in America? The successful seem to think so.

A new poll from American Express Publishing and Harrison Group finds that 1 percenters no longer like to be seen as such.

One-third of members of the group said they “like it when others recognize me as wealthy.” Though that number (taken in the fourth quarter of 2013) may sound high, it’s down from 40 percent a year earlier. And it’s far below the 53 percent who agreed with the statement in 2010.

Fully 28 percent say they worry about “being scorned for being in the top part of the economy,” versus 24 percent who were concerned about that in the first quarter of 2013.

From USA TODAY, that old hard times intolerance [the first of several in today’s compendium]:

Immigration debate is reignited in Fremont, Neb.

Voters in Fremont, Neb., are still trying to curb illegal immigration.

Residents voted 60%-40% on Tuesday to re-approve an ordinance that requires property owners not to rent houses or apartments to illegal immigrants and requires renters to declare their legal residency. Landlords who violate the ordinance face fines.

Fremont has a complicated history with the ordinance, which thrust this city of 26,000 people near Omaha into the national spotlight in 2010, when residents first approved the law after the City Council defeated the proposal. The law also requires employers to verify the legal status of employees; that part of the law is in effect.

After voters approved the measure, the City Council put the law on hold when the Nebraska ACLU and other groups sued. Lower courts upheld the law, and the council sent the housing portion back for another vote of the people.

Al Jazeera America protests:

Portland, Ore., residents tell mayor: ‘Stop arresting homeless people’

Residents of Portland, Ore., gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday to protest the government’s treatment of its homeless population. The group, a self-described “angry mob,” carried pitchforks and torches while demanding that Mayor Charlie Hales end policies that criminalize homelessness.

The city government has come under fire in recent months for enforcing an ordinance that prohibits camping on public property, which critics say unfairly targets the homeless.

A 2013 city count found nearly 1,900 individuals in the Portland metropolitan area to be homeless and unsheltered, a 10 percent increase from 2011.

From PandoDaily, paying the piper:

The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS’s news division

On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on  major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.

However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.

In recent years, Arnold has been using massive contributions to politicians, Super PACs, ballot initiative efforts, think tanks and local front groups to finance a nationwide political campaign aimed at slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. His foundation which backs his efforts employs top Republican political operatives, including the former chief of staff to GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX). According to its own promotional materials, the Arnold Foundation is pushing lawmakers in states across the country “to stop promising a (retirement) benefit” to public employees.

Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts. (note: the term “PBS officials” refers interchangeably to both PBS officials and officials from PBS flagship affiliate WNET who were acting on behalf of the entire PBS system).

United Press International sues:

Magazines sue Colorado over marijuana advertising restrictions

Two publications are challenging Colorado’s recreational marijuana rules about advertising, with a lawsuit filed in federal court, records said.

The national magazine High Times and the local weekly magazine Westword sued the state of Colorado Monday because of rules stating recreational marijuana stores can advertise only in publications aimed at a readership over the age of 21, the Denver Post reported Wednesday.

The lawsuit argues the rules, which also apply to outdoor and broadcast advertising, are restrictions of free speech, and notes there are no similar restrictions on medical marijuana businesses.

It marks the first time the state’s advertising rules have been challenged in court.

From MintPress News, a stunning development:

HIV/AIDS Cure May Be Found In Marijuana: Study

For years, many Americans with HIV/AIDS have used medical marijuana to relieve some common symptoms associated with the illness such as nausea, vomiting and appetite loss.

Now, a new study published last week in the journal AIDS Researcher and Human Retroviruses found that a daily dosage of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, may actually fight the HIV/AIDS virus itself.

In this most recent study, the team of researchers from Louisiana State University found that when HIV-infected monkeys were given THC daily during a 17-month time period, the monkeys had less damage in the immune tissue of their gut — an important site of HIV infection — than those given a placebo.

Researchers also reported that they found consuming THC had improved the monkeys immune tissue at a gene level as well, and was in a way, preventing the disease from killing healthy immune cells — a discovery other studies have found as well.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, blowing smoke:

Marijuana gets a show of support on Capitol Hill

  • Eighteen House members ask Obama to reclassify the banned drug

In the biggest show of support yet for legalizing marijuana on Capitol Hill, 18 House members today asked President Barack Obama to reclassify the drug, removing it from a list of banned substances deemed to have no medical value.

The letter, distributed by Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, argued that including marijuana in the Schedule 1 list of banned drugs, along with heroin and LSD, disregards the laws of 20 states that allow pot to be used for medical purposes.

It comes after Obama last month said that he doesn’t believe that marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol.

MintPress News cashes out:

Banking Regulations For Marijuana Industry “Imminent”

“Without access to basic banking services, many legitimate cannabis businesses are forced to manage sales, payroll, and even tax bills entirely in cash.”

On Tuesday U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, Wash., said the federal government’s new guidance for banks and bank regulators will be released “imminently.”

What Heck is referring to is Attorney General Eric Holder’s pledge that the Justice Department and the Treasury Department would issue guidance “very soon” to banks on how they can work with marijuana businesses.

Though the guidance had not been issued by the time of this article’s publication, Heck, a member of House Committee on Financial Services, who along with Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Colorado has pressed for marijuana banking reform, said legal marijuana businesses will be provided with a “full range of banking service, including accepting credit cards, direct depositing payroll checks and more,” under the guidance.

In other words, marijuana-related businesses will no longer be forced to operate on a cash-only basis.

On to latest in the global neoliberal trade agreement games from Jiji Press:

Japan, U.S. to Hold Working-Level TPP Talks Next Week

Working-level officials of Japan and the United States will meet in Japan next week to discuss sticky issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks ahead of key four-day TPP ministerial talks in Singapore from Feb. 22, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.

Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will arrive in Japan on Monday and hold talks with Hiroshi Oe, Japan’s deputy chief representative in the TPP negotiations, and other officials, according to the sources.

The two sides are expected to discuss the handling of tariffs on farm products and issues related to automobile trade, the sources said.

Another deal, with problems, via Deutsche Welle:

Tripping over TTIP: Obstacles overshadow EU-US trade pact

  • With talks on the EU-US transatlantic free trade deal set to continue next month, this week’s outrage over a European Parliament vote on genetically modified corn will hardly be the last obstacle negotiators face.

This coming Monday (17.02.2014), EU trade chief Karel de Gucht and his US counterpart Michael Froman are scheduled to meet in Washington to discuss the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a transatlantic free trade area. They are expected to make a political assessment of the past three rounds of US-EU trade talks and to discuss the upcoming fourth round of negotiations in March.

The pact would unify standards and licensing procedures across a EU-US trade zone and would waive tariffs on goods traded between the EU and the US. According to the Munich-based IFO institute, the treaty will create up to 400,000 new jobs in Europe – 110,000 of them in Germany alone. A done deal, it would seem.

But the deal is far from done: the EU and the US differ over a wide variety of issues, one of which is genetically modified food. On Tuesday (11.02.2014), a new type of genetically modified corn from the US was approved by the European Parliament amid great controversy. The decision paves the way for compromise over one of the differences in EU-US consumer attitudes that has been a stumbling stone in TTIP negotiations.

But opponents of the trade pact are becoming more vocal, and more debates over standards, consumer protection, cultural protectionism threaten to erupt when EU-US negotiators get down to the deal’s fine print and put the agreement up for domestic scrutiny.

From Canada, riches spurned from South China Morning Post:

Canada scraps millionaire visa scheme, ‘dumps 46,000 Chinese applications’

Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires in the queue will have their applications scrapped and their application fees returned

Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires face an uncertain future after Canada’s government moved to scrap its controversial investor visa scheme, which has allowed waves of rich Hongkongers and mainland Chinese to immigrate since 1986.

The surprise announcement was made in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget, delivered to parliament in Ottawa on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of Chinese millionaires in the queue for visas will have their applications “eliminated” and their fees returned.

The announcement came less than a week after the South China Morning Post revealed how the scheme was overwhelmed by an influx of applications from mainland millionaires at Canada’s Hong Kong consulate. Applications to the scheme were frozen in 2012 as a result, as immigration staff struggled to clear the backlog.

ANSAmed covers a ploy:

EU and southern Europe in re-industrialization pact

  • Italy, Spain, Portugal heads of State meet at COTEC in Lisbon

An EU Industrial Compact adopted in January has led to a ‘pact’ between the European Commission and southern European countries to speed up the re-industrialization of Europe by exploiting the first signs of economic recovery, European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani made known in a joint statement with ministers from Italy, Spain and Portugal on Wednesday in Lisbon.

The statement was issued on the sidelines of the annual COTEC conference, which was attended by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Spanish King Juan Carlos, and Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva.

The aim of the Industrial Compact is for the manufacturing sector to make up 20% of EU GDP, and this can be achieved by speeding up innovation and marketing, COTEC experts from Italy, Spain and Portugal said.

And from MintPress News, more of that old hard times intolerance:

The Rebirth Of European Racism

The mass influx of migrants has triggered a wave of nationalistic fervor goaded by public statements of right-wing leaders.

Bulgaria has recently seen a surge in xenophobic attacks since a wave of Syrian refugees escaping the horrors of the war started arriving. But it appears what these refugees have found in Bulgaria isn’t much better than what they left behind.

Last year, roughly 11,600 migrants and asylum seekers crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey, most of them Syrian. Human rights organizations expect tens of thousands to make the journey across the Turkish border in the coming months.

But the mass influx of migrants has triggered a wave of nationalistic fervor goaded by public statements of right-wing leaders. Last November, several neo-Nazi factions, including the local branch of the international Blood and Honor Skinhead network, formed the Nationalist Party of Bulgaria, which says it wants to “cleanse Bulgaria from the foreign and alien immigrant scum that have been flooding the towns of Bulgaria.”

The party has organized so-called “civil patrols,” which stop and check foreigners—and a portion of the general population thinks that this is a good idea.

And an admission from The Guardian:

Migration in the EU ‘has caused strains,’ admits José Manuel Barroso

  • President of the European Commission says free movement is open to abuse but that he will not compromise on citizens’ rights

José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, will on Friday acknowledge that the free movement of people across the EU has put “unintended strains” on public services and is open to abuse.

In a move to show that Brussels understands the concerns raised in Britain, Barroso will say in London that the commission has recently clarified anti-abuse rules to crack down on sham marriages which allow non-EU citizens to claim benefits as a family member.

But the commission president will make clear in a speech to the London School of Economics that he will not compromise on the right of all EU citizens to move across all 28 member states – one of the four founding pillars which guarantees the free movement of labour, capital, goods and services.

Reuters ponders:

ECB still assessing if lower inflation temporary: Coene

The European Central Bank is awaiting further information, particularly signs on whether the current easing of euro zone inflation is temporary, before it acts, Governing Council member Luc Coene said.

Annual inflation in the 18-member euro zone slowed to 0.7 percent in January from 0.8 percent in December, confounding expectations of a rise and matching a four-year low hit last October.

The ECB left interest rates at record low last week, but put markets on alert for a possible move in March, when the Governing Council should have new forecasts from the bank’s staff extending into 2016.

On to Britain and an ongoing disaster from the London Telegraph:

Flood-hit areas are a ‘battlefield’ as thousands of soldiers are deployed

  • Army chief says that commanding officers are applying ‘battle-group’ skills an ‘unparalleled natural crisis’

Britain is in the grip of an “unparalleled natural crisis”, the Army officer in charge of the flood recovery effort declared on Wednesday.

As hurricane-force winds gusting at more than 100mph lashed the country, forecasters warned that the weather will get worse this weekend as a month’s worth of rain falls in just 48 hours.

The chaos now threatens to derail Britain’s economic recovery, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England warned. His comments came as storms that have battered the South West and Wales for weeks spread to the north of England for the first time this winter, bringing parts of the country to a standstill.

A bankster alert from the London Telegraph:

RBS warned of credit rating ‘downgrade’

  • Royal Bank of Scotland has been told its credit could be downgraded by ratings agency Moody’s

Royal Bank of Scotland has been warned by one of the world’s main ratings agencies that its credit is at risk of being downgraded following the surprise revelation last month of weaker than expected capital levels.

Moody’s said it had put RBS’s debt “on review for downgrade” pointing to the taxpayer-backed lender’s “weaker than previously anticipated regulatory capital position”.

The move comes after RBS’s unscheduled announcement on January 27 of £3.1bn of extra provisions for issues ranging from its sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and interest rate hedging products.

More immigration tension, this time from Iceland and the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Newspaper Editor Defends Leaked Memo

Davíð Oddsson – the current co-editor of Morgunblaðið – defended the leak of a memo on an asylum seeker that launched a police investigation as “allowing the public to get the whole picture”.

In an editorial for Morgunblaðið, Davíð – who is also, amongst other things, the former chairperson of the Independence Party, from which Ministry of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir hails – argued in favour of government offices publishing personal information about refugees as a means to take part in the public discussion about asylum seekers.

“Is it not right that the public get the whole picture?,” Davíð wrote. “That nothing is hidden about what’s at stake?”

As reported, the police are currently investigating the Ministry of the Interior over a leaked memo which impugned the reputations of Nigerian asylum seeker Tony Omos and the mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph. It later came to light that the accusations in the memo were false. Whilst the ministry denies the memo came from their offices, all evidence indicates the ministry as the only source.

On to Norway with EUbusiness and a hard times intolerance rebuke:

Norway rules out referendum on immigration

Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen on Wednesday ruled out holding a referendum on immigration, rejecting a request by a fellow member of his populist party to follow in the footsteps of Switzerland.

“For many years, the (populist) Progress Party has claimed that more influence should be granted to the citizens. This proposition shouldn’t shock anybody,” Anundsen, a Progress Party minister was quoted by Norwegian news agency NTB during parliamentary question time.

“But within the government coalition, the Progress Party is sticking to our cooperation agreement (with the other right and centre-right parties) and does not plan a referendum on this matter.”

A Finnish proclamation from New Europe:

Finland: OECD wants more structural reforms

Most people would not associate Finland with past high-tech successes like Nokia and Ericksson with structural reforms that have come to be associated with the EU’s troubled south. But the latest report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) urged Helsinki to make more efforts in the structural reform to stimulate the economy, Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE reported on Wednesday.

OECD called for more measures in restructuring municipalities, raising retirement age and stricter mortgage rules, in order to promote the economic growth and deal with the aging population in Finland.

The report pointed out that the rising cost of pensions and healthcare for an aging population is one economic to Finland, suggesting higher retirement age and an end to part-time retirement.

On to the Netherlands and significant decision from DutchNews.nl:

The Netherlands to vote against approving the EU’s 2012 accounts

The Netherlands will join Britain and Sweden in voting against giving approval to the EU’s accounts for 2012 because of an increase in mis-spending, finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Thursday.

Dijsselbloem told MPs there are still too many uncertainties about the accounts and the error rate in the EU’s books has risen from 3.9% in 2011 to 4.8% in 2012. This is equivalent to €6.7bn being wrongly spent.

The problems centre on funds allocated to reducing the prosperity gap between different members states and money earmarked for rural development. In some cases, projects were not put out to tender properly or they were ineligible for grants under Brussels’ rules.

‘We cannot simply let this happen,’ Dijsselbloem, who also chairs the influential Euro Group, is quoted as saying by news agency ANP.

Germany next and higher hopes from Deutsche Welle:

German government revises growth forecast slightly upwards

The German government has confirmed the Economic Ministry’s 2014 growth outlook, saying that GDP will expand slightly more this year than previously predicted. It said the labor market would benefit as well.

German cabinet ministers on Wednesday adopted the 2014 Annual Economic Report, which included slightly higher expectations for growth in the course of this year.

The government said it expected the national economy to expand by 1.8 percent in 2014, marginally up from an earlier prediction of 1.7 percent. The report said the growth rate would increase to 2 percent next year.

Commenting on the report, conservative lawmakers in Berlin said everything should be done to avoid jeopardizing the growing economic momentum amid problems caused by the country’s energy transition and the aftermath of the protracted eurozone debt crisis.

And from Deutsche Welle, another chorus of that old. . .:

DW exclusive: Germans would vote just like the Swiss on curbing immigration

  • A survey commissioned by Deutsche Welle has found the majority of German citizens would vote for limiting immigration. The survey follows a decision in Switzerland to limit its annual immigration from the EU.

If Germans were to vote in a referendum on limiting immigration to Germany nearly half would support the measure (48 percent ) while almost as many (46 percent) would oppose it, according to a DW commissioned survey.

On behalf of DW, opinion research institute infratest dimap surveyed 1,001 Germans over the age of 18 on February 11-12, 2014. Three percent of those surveyed were undecided.

The survey showed that a particularly high number of Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party members (84 percent) would support an immigration limit. Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and its sister party the Christian Social Union voted 51 percent for a limit.

Paris next, and plutocratic woes from France 24:

French billionaire senator Dassault loses immunity over graft claims

The French Senate stripped billionaire industrialist senator Serge Dassault of parliamentary immunity on Wednesday, clearing the way for him to face possible criminal charges for allegedly buying votes.

The decision by a Senate committee means that UMP senator Dassault, 88, can be taken into custody for interrogation by judges investigating allegations dating from his 14 years as mayor of Corbeil-Essonnes, a Paris suburb.

The judges suspect Dassault of operating an extensive system of vote-buying that influenced the outcome of three mayoral elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by Dassault or by his successor and close associate Jean-Pierre Bechter, the current mayor of Corbeil.

Dassault is ranked by Forbes magazine as France’s 4th richest man and the 69th richest in the world, with an estimated fortune of 13 billion euros. He heads Dassault Group, which owns France’s prestigious conservative newspaper “Le Figaro” and holds a majority stake in Dassault Aviation, which makes business and military aircraft including the Rafale fighter jet.

Europe Online rakes it in:

Societe Generale nearly triples profits in 2013

France’s second-biggest bank Societe Generale nearly tripled its profits in 2013, helped by higher earnings in both its retail and corporate and investment banking units, the group said Wednesday.

Net income shot up to 2.2 billion euros (3 billion dollars), from 774 million euros in 2012. Group revenues were up 4.3 per cent to 22.8 billion euros.

Societe Generale ended the year on a high note, with fourth-quarter profits of 322 million euros far exceeding analysts’ expectations.

TheLocal.fr parks it:

French taxi drivers call for ‘indefinite strike’

The announcement will not go down well with Parisians or tourists but angry taxi drivers in France are clearly not willing to lie down without a fight. On Tuesday they called for an “indefinite strike”, saying they will take action “anytime, anywhere”.

Paris taxi drivers continued to vent their anger on Tuesday when they brought traffic to a standstill in the centre of the French capital leading to the arrest of dozens of drivers. The trouble comes as unions called for ongoing industrial action.

On Tuesday evening as cabbies fronted up to police at Place de La Concorde union leaders called for an indefinite strike, which could see wildcat blockades and go slows continue for the foreseeable future.

In a joint statement drivers’ unions said they “reserved the right to take action at any place at any time.”

Switzerland, and that old familiar tune from TheLocal.ch:

Populists urge more immigration controls

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which spearheaded the initiative narrowly accepted by Swiss voters to limit immigration from the European Union, is set on Friday to push for for more measures to tighten immigration as tensions mount in Switzerland over the issue.

The initiative against massive immigration, backed by 50.3 percent of the electorate, calls for an end to the freedom of movement agreement between Switzerland and the EU and the imposition of quotas.

But the deal is fuzzy on details. It does not, for example, stipulate how many foreigners would be accepted into the country and through what criteria the level of needed workers would be selected for different sectors of the economy.

The SVP is being prodded to clarify how it expects the quota system to work.

Spain next, and an affirmative declaration from thinkSPAIN:

Economy starts to grow as GDP predictions more optimistic

SPAIN’S Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase by 0.9 per cent this year and 1.9 per cent next year – signs that the economy is growing once again, according to figures released by the BBVA bank.

This will be enough for creation of ‘sustainable’ employment to begin, says the entity, but it warns that jobless figures are unlikely to drop below 25.6 per cent this year and 24.8 per cent in 2015.

Consumer spending in Spain is expected to rise in 2014 by 0.9 per cent and by 1.3 per cent next year, with lack of national demand gradually ceasing to pose barriers to micro-economic growth over the next two years and ongoing efforts in increasing exports will set the scene for the economy to begin its recovery, the BBVA reveals.

ANSAmed has a harsher take:

Spain: fewer jobs, lower wages two years after reform

  • Trade unions and ILO slam reform, OECD praises it

Two years to the day from Spain’s last labor reform, there are fewer jobs, more long-term unemployed, and fewer people paying into social security.

A negative balance according to trade unions and a ‘’not very encouraging’‘ picture according to the Savings Banks Foundation (Funcas), but the government says the reform is beginning to have positive effects within the context of a recovering economy.

Jobless benefit claims totaled 4,599,829 people as of January 2012, one month before the labor reform was enacted. Two years later, that number is at 4,814,435, up by 241,606 people or +4.6% as of January 2014. In the same period, the number of workers paying into the social security fund dropped by 769,627 people, or -4.5%, to a total of 16,176,610 people. A quarterly report by national statistics bureau INE showed 5,273,600 were unemployed when the reform was enacted in the fourth quarter of 2011, a number that rose to 5,896,300 in the same period of 2013, equal to 622,700 more unemployed people (+11.8%) in two years.

ANSAmed again, and a comedown for high-flyers:

Spain: Iberia; agreement with pilots, salaries down 14%

  • The deal provides for a salary freeze till 2015

Spanish carrier Iberia and pilots’ union Sepla have reached an agreement in principle ending years of conflict which provides for salary cuts by at least 14%.

The agreement also introduces ‘’permanent structural changes’‘ at the company to cut costs and allow the development of the airline and its low-cost company Iberia Express, Iberia’s Iag group said in a statement to the market authority committee on Thursday.

The deal provides for a salary freeze till 2015, previously rejected by pilots, and from that date onwards salary increases depending on the company’s results.

From El País, the bankster blues:

Failed lender CAM wants prison for two of its former executives

  • Bank’s lawyer seeks six to 10 years for ex-director general and oversight committee chief
  • Attorney accuses them of inflating expense accounts and favoring own interests

The lawyer of failed lender Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM), appointed by the government’s bank bailout fund, the FROB, wants prison terms for two of the bank’s former top executives.

Former director general Roberto López Abad and former chairman of the Valencian savings bank’s oversight committee, Juan Ramón Avilés, face the prospect of between six and 10 years in prison for misappropriation of funds and deliberate mismanagement.

The state prosecutor is seeking shorter jail terms for the two men.

And the social counterrevolution prevails, via TheLocal.es:

‘New abortion law to stay’: Spanish lawmakers

A controversial plan to ban women in Spain from freely opting for abortions overcame a key hurdle on Tuesday when lawmakers voted in secret against a motion to scrap the reform.

The plan has outraged pro-choice groups and brought thousands of people out onto the streets to protest, but has sparked division even within the conservative ruling party.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal submitted by the opposition Socialists to “immediately withdraw” the bill by 183 votes to 151. Six lawmakers abstained.

The ruling Popular Party (PP) holds a strong majority in parliament, but the abortion reform, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, has been delayed amid dissent by senior party figures.

And another sign of the times from El País:

House sales fall for third year in a row

  • Property purchases hit record low in December

The Spanish housing market remained locked in a trough in 2013, six years after a massive property bubble burst.

According to figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INE), the number of homes sold last year, excluding public housing schemes, fell 1.2 percent from a year earlier to 276,600 after falling 11.3 percent in 2012 and 18.2 percent in 2011. During the height of the boom over 800,000 houses were exchanged in a year. In December alone sales fell 11.0 from a year earlier to a new monthly record low of 18,619.

The only respite the market has had since boom turned to bust was in 2010 when sales increased 4.8 percent, driven by the purchase of new homes before the introduction of a hike in value-added tax.

And from TheLocal.es, an unconscionable demand:

Cancer drug maker wants 4000% Spanish price hike

Drug manufacturer Aspen Pharmacare has reportedly threatened to stop selling its leukaemia and ovarian cancer treatments in Spain if Health Minister Ana Mato refuses to raise fixed purchase prices by up to 4,000 percent.

According to online daily El Confidencial Digital, the habitual bargaining between Aspen and the Ministry of Health has taken a turn for the worse.

The South African manufacturer of generic medicines is currently undergoing a rapid expansion in international markets.

The company is allegedly insisting on massive price increases for a number of drugs but the Ministry has flatly refused.

On to Lisbon with EUbusiness:

Portugal passes new IMF rescue program review

The International Monetary Fund approved Wednesday the disbursement of 910 million euros ($1.24 billion) to Portugal after the country passed the 10th review of its bailout program.

The disbursement took the country a step closer to the May 2014 end of the European Union-IMF rescue program, with the country’s finances stabilizing.

But the IMF urged the Portuguese government not to give in to pressure to increase public spending and to keep pushing ahead on structural reforms to its finances.

“The Portuguese authorities’ implementation of their Fund-supported program has been commendable,” said IMF Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik in a statement.

And on to Italy with the New York Times:

Italy’s Prime Minister Announces Resignation Amid Party Revolt

Prime Minister Enrico Letta of Italy, whose weak coalition government has come under increasing criticism, announced his resignation on Thursday night after his own Democratic Party staged a dramatic insurrection and voted to replace him with the party’s new leader, Matteo Renzi.

The Democratic Party is the largest member of Italy’s coalition government, and the party’s decision to dump Mr. Letta will likely have to be put to a confidence vote in Parliament. Mr. Letta will meet with his cabinet on Friday morning and then present his resignation letter to Italy’s president, making way for Mr. Renzi, 38, to become Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Mr. Renzi, the mayor of Florence who recently won a nationwide primary to become leader of the Democratic Party, has a reputation for boldness and has long been considered Italy’s most promising young politician. He has spoken repeatedly about the need for sweeping political and economic changes. But few analysts foresaw that he would lead a revolt against his party’s sitting prime minister.

AGI has a skeptical take from the populist right:

M5S co-founder doubtful government will last until 2018

M5S co-founder, Gianroberto Casaleggio says he is doubtful the government can last until 2018: “I see a high instability situation. A 2018 forecast is very risky”.

The statement was made at the Termini train station, while Casaleggio was waiting for a train to Milan. Asked by journalists about the likelihood of a government lead by Matteo Renzi to survive until 2018, Casaleggio added: “One can never tell, but the beginning of this year seems to be marked by a great political instability”.

From TheLocal.it, austerian rigor:

Italians drop holiday plans as crisis bites

The number of trips taken by Italians since the economic crisis began in 2008 has plummeted by 48.6 percent, new statistics show.

Last year Italy’s resident population took just over 63 million trips with overnight stays, whether for work or holiday, the country’s statistics agency Istat said this week.

With a population of nearly 60 million one trip per person may seem like a fair ratio, but a broader look shows that Italians have nearly halved travel in recent years.

They took 48.6 percent fewer holidays or work trips last year than five years’ previously, continuing a year-on-year decline.

EUbusiness divides:

Catalonia, Scotland, Venice? Italian party eyes autonomy

The head of Italy’s Northern League on Wednesday said he supported the autonomy bids of Catalonia from Spain and Scotland from Britain, and hoped that the Venice region “will be next on the list”.

Matteo Salvini said two other regions of northern Italy — Lombardy and Piedmont — could also follow suit, adding that it was time to reduce the powers of the European Union and return to “national and regional sovereignty”.

Salvini also said that plans for a coalition of far-right parties including his own at the European Parliament after elections in May were “well advanced”.

The coalition “will not be Eurosceptic but will be in favour of a different Europe,” he said, adding however that he continues to support an abandonment of the euro. “The euro has massacred our economy,” he said.

TheLocal.it inhales:

Italy relaxes cannabis penalties

Italy’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down an anti-drug law from 2006 that imposed tough sentencing for the sale and possession of cannabis, putting it on the same level as heroin and cocaine.

The court declared “illegitimate” the law, which imposed sentences of six to 20 years for trafficking in cannabis, whereas the previous law which is now back in force included sentences of between two and six years.

Leftist lawmakers and civil society representatives immediately hailed the court ruling, saying it would help ease overcrowding in Italian prisons.

The scrapping of the law could affect 10,000 detainees who are in pre-trial detention or serving time and could see a revision of their sentences and their release.

After the jump, deeper misery in Greece, Blackwater creator’s African dreams, Venezuelan violence, Argentine inflation, Indian populist payoffs, parliamentary riots, and bankster woes, Thai turmoil prolonged, Aussie bubble alarms, Chinese marketeering and GMOs, Japanese desperate measures, environmental woes, and a jam-packed Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day I : EspioLegoPoliManiacs


We’ve been a bit under the weather, and consequently a very lonnngggg collection today of headlines for the world of spies, security, operators, militarists, hackers, and deep politics.

Our first headline comes from Al Jazeera America:

Report: Democratic countries curbing press freedoms in name of security

  • Countries like US, UK that pride themselves on media freedoms tumble in annual World Press Freedom Index

Pervasive national security and surveillance programs have scaled back press freedom in established democracies like the United States, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its World Press Freedom Index released Tuesday.

In an index that usually shifts incrementally from year to year, “for the first time, the trend is so clear,” Delphine Halgand, the group’s U.S. director, told Al Jazeera. She said the “chilling effect” on investigative journalists fearful of government prosecution is most palpable in the U.S.

“After 2013, we cannot deny any more that in the U.S., the whistle-blower is the enemy,” Halgand said. “The U.S. is going after confidential sources, compromising the only possibility to do a real journalist’s work.”

From the report:

BLOG Press freedom

More from The Guardian:

NSA actions pose ‘direct threat to journalism’ leading watchdog warns

  • Agency’s dragnet of communications data threatens to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, Committee to Protect Journalists said

The National Security Agency’s dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world’s leading journalism watchdogs has warned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based body that promotes press freedom around the world, has devoted the first two chapters of its annual report on global threats to an assessment of the impact of the NSA’s data sweep. Its internet advocacy co-ordinator, Geoffrey King, warns that the NSA’s dragnet threatens to put journalists under a cloud of suspicion and to expose them to routine spying by government agencies.

By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter’s research, retrace a source’s movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. “It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later.”

And then there’s the blunter approach. From Al Jazeera English:

The risk of reporting US drone strikes

  • Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yeen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

From EnetEnglish.gr, another journalist jailed:

Police detain journalist for divulging ‘military secrets’

  • Article based on information from law published in government gazette, journalist says

Police detained journalist Popi Christodoulidou on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, over a report claiming coastguard divers are involved in guarding sensitive sites along with the police, despite the fact that the law does not provide for that

A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove An Athens-based journalist was detained by police for a number of hours on Wednesday at Attica police headquarters on suspicion on disclosing military secrets in a blogpost, which she claims is based on information contained in a law published in the government gazette.

On the same day that Greece was ranked 99th in the World Press Freedom Index, Popi Christodoulidou was detained by police detectives shortly after 1pm, on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, who at the request of the Hellenic Coastguard’s state security directorate opened a preliminary investigation on the leaking of “military secrets” by a civilian “perpetrator”.

The journalist was released at around 6pm and has been ordered to remove the offending post on her Peiratiko Reportaz blog or face arrest.

More journalistic woes from Mashable:

Report: Ethiopian Government Hacks Journalists in U.S. and Europe

The Ethiopian government reportedly used surveillance technology created by an Italian company to hack into the computers of Ethiopian journalists in the United States and Europe.

Journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), a news organization comprised mostly of Ethiopian expatriates, were targeted with spying software made by the Italian company company Hacking Team, according to a new report by Citizen Lab, a nonprofit research lab that investigates surveillance technology across the world.

The investigation, released on Wednesday, is another example of how governments around the world are increasingly using hacking tools. These are often purchased from vendors that design and market them specifically for law enforcement agencies — but often governments end up using them against dissidents or journalists.

From EurActiv, a friend of The Guardian:

Media freedom watchdog defends the Guardian against government pressure

Europe’s main media freedom watchdog told Britain today (12 February) it believed that political pressure applied to the Guardian newspaper over its handling of leaked intelligence data could have a “chilling effect” on independent journalism.

Former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden’s disclosures about activities of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency and its cooperation with America’s National Security Agency (NSA) have embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron’s government which has said they damaged national security.

Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.

“The continual accusations and attacks on the Guardian, their editor-in-chief and journalists by leading politicians is nothing but harassment and intimidation,” Dunja Mijatovic, representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters.

And from euronews, when “liberals” meet:

Hollande and Obama stress common Syria-Iran stance as French state visit nears end

The French and American presidents have continued to stress their common ground as François Hollande’s state visit draws to a close.

Barack Obama said both had resolved to put more pressure on Russia and Iran over stopping the bloodshed in Syria.

The French leader tackled the thorny issue of data protection after the revelations of US spying exposed in the NSA scandal.

“We have worked towards cooperation which can enable the fight against terrorism and at the same time to respect principles. And we are making headway over this cooperation. And there is a mutual trust which has been restored and which should be based both on respect for each other’s country and also based on the protection of privacy,” François Hollande told a joint news conference in Washington.

And on to the world of that espio-Superstar, first from The Guardian:

Congressional trio criticise James Cole’s NSA testimony as misleading

  • Lawmakers write to deputy attorney general after Cole described limits on NSA’s power to surveil members of Congress

Deputy attorney general James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill. Deputy attorney general James Cole. Sensenbrenner, Issa and Nadler said Cole’s testimony was ‘not entirely accurate’. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Three powerful members of the House judiciary committee said James Cole, the US deputy attorney general, was “not entirely accurate” in testimony describing limits on the National Security Agency’s powers to surveil the US Congress.

The letter from former committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, oversight committee chair Darrell Issa – both Republicans – and New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, came as the Obama administration saw a new front open up in the battle over its surveillance powers: a class-action lawsuit filed by Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, who said he plans to contest the bulk collection of US phone records “all the way to the supreme court.”

Cole told the House judiciary committee on 4 February that while the NSA “probably” collects the phone records of members of Congress – a subset of the dragnet the NSA casts on practically all US phone data – the NSA only studied those records when it has “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of a number’s onnection to terrorism, a restriction imposed by the secret surveillance court overseeing the NSA.

From the New York Times, making excuses:

Spy Chief Says Snowden Took Advantage of ‘Perfect Storm’ of Security Lapses

The director of national intelligence acknowledged Tuesday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale.

The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Mr. Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Mr. Clapper said. “And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

But Mr. Clapper confirmed the outlines of a New York Times report that the former N.S.A. contractor had used a web crawler, a commonly available piece of software, to sweep up a huge trove of documents.

The Daily Dot makes an exit:

NSA employee resigns after admitting he gave Snowden access

A civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) has resigned his position after admitting he shared access to classified information with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A memo detailing the incident and signed by Ethan Bauman, NSA’s director of legislative affairs, was obtained by NBC News and published online.

According to the memo, which was labelled as sensitive but not classified, the unidentified NSA employee entered his password into Snowden’s computer terminal upon request. Allegedly, Snowden was then able to capture the password and use it to gain greater access to classified materials. The letter identifies the civilian as male, but does not refer to him by name.

“On 18 June 2013, the NSA civilian admitted to FBI Special Agents that he allowed Mr. Snowden to his (the NSA civilian’s) Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate to access classified information on NSANet; access that he knew had been denied to Mr. Snowden,” the memo reads.

From The Hill, the Aqua Buddha acolyte acts:

Paul sues Obama over NSA spying

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration for violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

Paul, a Tea Party star, called it the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.

He and FreedomWorks, the co-plaintiff in the case, have named President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander among the defendants.

“We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user all the time, without limits, without individualization,” Paul said at a press conference in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Paul, who has circulated a petition to build support for his case, said 386,026 people have expressed support.

From The Guardian, no taps for the NSA?:

Utah lawmaker floats bill to cut off NSA data centre’s water supply

  • Impending bill from Republican Marc Roberts highlights growing movement at state level against government surveillance powers

The National Security Agency, already under siege in Washington, faces a fresh attempt to curtail its activities from a Utah legislator who wants to cut off the surveillance agency’s water supply.

Marc Roberts, a first-term Republican lawmaker in the Beehive State, plans this week to begin a quixotic quest to check government surveillance starting at a local level. He will introduce a bill that would prevent anyone from supplying water to the $1bn-plus data center the NSA is constructing in his state at Bluffdale.

The bill is about telling the federal government “if you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you,” Roberts told the Guardian.

Here’s a video report about a similar measure on the other side of the country from RT America:

NSA headquarters could go dark if bill passes in Maryland

Program notes:

State legislators in Maryland have introduced a bill that would cut off water, electricity and other utilities to National Security Agency headquarters, which are located in the Old Line state. The bill is called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and supporters say the bill would block the NSA from spying on citizens in Maryland. Similar bills are being introduced in Washington, Utah and Missouri. RT’s Liz Wahl asks Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and who helped draft Maryland’s legislation, how the bill would impact NSA operations.

The Hill raises another legal issue:

NSA operating outside the law, panelist says

The collection of phone records by the National Security Agency has no basis in the law, a member of an independent federal advisory board said Wednesday.

“With all respect to both executive branch officials and judicial officials, nobody looked at the statute as carefully was we did,” James Dempsey, the vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I came to this conclusion slowly. I came to it a little bit to my own surprise. But if you read the statute, the words just don’t add up to this program.”

Members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) testified Tuesday for the first time since their 3-2 decision last month to condemn the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records as an illegal program that should be terminated.

Backtracking, via The Guardian:

Edward Snowden asylum demand dropped by European parliament

  • MEPs fail to reach consensus on amendment to inquiry calling on governments to assure NSA whistleblower of his safety

Edward Snowden Meets With German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele
The report will call for international protection for whistleblowers without mentioning Edward Snowden by name. Photograph: Sunshinepress/Getty Images

The European parliament is to ditch demands on Wednesday that EU governments give guarantees of asylum and security to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee is to vote on more than 500 amendments to the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ scandal, a 60-page report that is damning about the scale and the impact of mass surveillance.

And the result, via EUobserver:

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

A European Parliament committee on Wednesday (12 February) voted against calling for asylum protection for former US intelligence agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden leaked top secret documents last summer to the media exposing the scale of US and British global surveillance. He is in Russia to avoid prosecution from American authorities.

The vote was part of a larger, non-binding, resolution backed by the MEPs in the civil liberties committee. The resolution condemns the blanket collection of personal data on the scale he disclosed.

A short paragraph, buried among the hundreds of amendments in the committee’s National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry report, had requested that EU member states drop criminal charges against him, if any, and “offer him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition.” But it did not make the final cut.

The Guardian views Snowden from Down Under:

Scott Ludlam’s support of Snowden ‘celebrates treachery’, says Brandis

  • George Brandis says former NSA contractor’s disclosures about western intelligence gathering ‘put Australian lives at risk’

Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, has criticised a senator for celebrating “the American traitor Edward Snowden”, arguing the disclosures about western intelligence gathering has “put Australian lives at risk”.

Brandis asked in parliament how the Greens senator Scott Ludlam could hold his head up high while honouring the former US National Security Agency contractor’s “criminal conduct and treachery”.

The trigger for the criticism was a question from Ludlam about “indiscriminate government surveillance” and whether the government recognised the legitimate concerns of Australians and the need to follow the US in reforming intelligence practices.

And the target of that Aussie ire raises a question, via United Press International:

Snowden: Danes should question government about NSA surveillance

U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says Danes should not trust their government’s statement that there has been no illegal surveillance in Denmark.

Snowden, in an interview with the blog denfri.dk, said Danish citizens should not depend on the government or on journalists to reveal the truth, the Copenhagen Post reported Thursday.

“The Danes should start asking some serious questions when their government starts acting in the same way as the German one,” he said.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said publicly that the U.S. National Security Agency had assured him that on surveillance had been conducted in Germany in violation of its laws or against its interests. Documents leaked by Snowden revealed the NSA had done both.

And from TheLocal.se, a call to end another legal whistleblower nightmare:

‘Interrogate Assange in London’: lawyers

Lawyers representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden have demanded that he be questioned in London over rape and sexual molestation allegations made by two Swedish women.

“All Assange asks is that he be treated according to Swedish law,” lawyers Thomas Olsson and Per Samuelsson wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Assange broke bail and sought refuge at the Ecuador’s embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning under a European arrest warrant. He claimed that he would risk further extradition to the United States on espionage charges over his whistleblowing website if he went to Sweden.

From TheLocal.de, when a Hawk becomes a turkey:

Drone scandal costs another €200 million

Germany’s Euro Hawk drone scandal showed no sign of ending on Wednesday, with alternatives for the failed programme running €200 million over budget. It means the military may turn back to the discarded, original plan.

The Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, Volker Wieker, told a defence committee on Wednesday that the tests on four alternatives to Euro Hawk were not only taking longer than expected but were €200 million over budget. The budget had been set at €613 million.

It means that reactivating the discarded Euro Hawk programme could no longer be ruled out, he said.

The Euro Hawk scandal erupted in May last year when it emerged the drones were unlikely to get permission to fly in German airspace because of a lack of an anti-collision system to protect other aircraft. By that point more than €500 million had already been spent on the programme.

And from RT, class war declared:

Greece on high alert after extremists declare war on ‘German capitalist machine’

Greek authorities have stepped up security after a leftist extremist group declared war on the “German capitalist machine.” The group has claimed responsibility for attacks on a Mercedes-Benz branch and on the German ambassador’s residence in Athens.

An anarchist group calling itself the Popular Fighters has come forward, claiming to be behind a botched rocket attack on the offices of German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz in the Greek capital.

The attack itself was carried out on January 12. Investigators found evidence this week that showed the rocket was fired from the near vicinity of the factory, but veered off course and landed in a field.

On Tuesday the group sent a 20-page manifesto to Greek satirical magazine To Pontiki, explaining the attack was carried out in solidarity with the Greek people against the “German capitalist machine.”

After the jump, a lethora of Asia news, including Afghan anxieties, Sci Fi scenarios, cyberwar and hack attacks, a Spanish check, the Greek panopticon emerges, another Swedish info-expat, Twitter censorship, drones in your pocket, and Nazis on acid. . .and more: Continue reading

Emergency markets and the Federal Reserve


Jane D’Arista, researcher at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, former staff economist for House Banking and Commerce Committees and senior analyst for the Congressional Budget Office, talks with The Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor about the implications of central bank monetary policy.

From The Real News Network:

Tapering of Quantitative Easing Is Throwing Emerging Markets into Chaos — And Big Banks Are Getting Richer

From the transcript:

NOOR: And what’s your take on that? Do you believe the economy actually is growing?

D’ARISTA: Well, the economy is growing, but it’s growing in a very dysfunctional way. I mean, it is growing out of proportion. It is not growing in areas that affect Main Street, small businesses, wages, etc. And so it is a concern that that is going.

Now, part of the concern, I would like to say, is also where is this money that the Fed has created gone. And that’s where we get into the issue of emerging markets. We have had a pattern over the last two decades of which this is exactly a replica — not exactly, never exactly, but it’s pretty close. A core country, say, the hegemon, the United States, but others as well, will go into recession. The central bank will start pumping in liquidity. It brings down interest rates in that economy, in the core economy, the developed economy.

The investors turn around and start looking for better rates, more income, search for yield, as they called it. And they have started going, as of the 1990s, into emerging markets to find increased profits.

Now, the first major case, of course, was Mexico, and in that case the money flowed out of the United States. It was there in the international transactions accounts. It went to Mexico. It drove up the stock market in a couple of years by 400 percent. Over this time, of course, Mexicans were using their inflated stocks to borrow from their banks. The money that flowed in was, of course, gone into the peso, and therefore the exchange rate was rising. And so it looked like a wonderful thing for Mexico for a while.

But as in every other case, the Asian crisis, etc., and the one that we’re facing today, there’s a tipping point, the tipping point when the exchange rate becomes overvalued. And that means that while imports are cheaper, exports become more expensive, and you develop a current account deficit, meaning the difference between what the country imports and exports widens and it’s exporting less. And, therefore, to make up that difference it has to start using its foreign exchange reserves.

At this point, the investors look at the situation and they say, oh dear, this is not good and it’s time for us to go, and in the meantime, the core country, the developed countries, one or more of them, have begun to raise interest rates, and the investors flock home. And in that case–and today they’re flocking back into the euro, back into the dollar, etc., and this leaves the countries in crisis.

So we are at a point where we are at the tipping point now with many of these economies. And what we have seen over the last–well, since 2010, the figures are that there’s been about $1 trillion a year flowing into the emerging market economies. Well, it has not been doing a very good job of resuscitating the U.S. economy, because it’s gone away, and therefore it will come back, we’ll get growth, more growth in the U.S. as it begins to come back, but we will have crises elsewhere. And those crises will be severe. That pattern has been with us for 20 years, as I say.

So the question is: why? What are we doing? And why aren’t we stopping it? What’s wrong with this pattern? Who does it hurt? Well, it hurts everybody and it has delayed a recovery in the U.S. and in Europe, with particularly dire results for Southern Europe. And it is now about to do another whammy on the emerging market economies.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compendium of tales form the world of spooks and security with a video from RT America:

California to require warrants for drone surveillance

Program notes:

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would keep police agencies and other government entities from using drones to conduct warrantless surveillance in the Golden State. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to use drone surveillance, except in some emergency cases, and that those agencies notify the public when they intend to use drones. The data those drones collect would have to be destroyed within six months. RT’s Ameera David takes a look at the bill that would create some of the nation’s strictest standards on the use of drones in law enforcement.

And now, on with the latest blowback from those Edward Snowden NSA revelations, via The Guardian:

Obama admits intelligence chief fault over false Senate testimony

  • President continues to defend James Clapper in the face of calls for his resignation after ‘untruthful’ statement about bulk collection

President Barack Obama has said his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, ought to have been “more careful” in Senate testimony about surveillance that Clapper later acknowledged was untruthful following disclosures by Edward Snowden.

But Obama signaled continued confidence in Clapper in the face of calls for the director to resign from members of Congress who warn of the dangerous precedent set by allowing an intelligence chief to lie to legislative bodies tasked with overseeing the powerful spy agencies.

“Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded,” Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired on Friday.

From the Secretary of State via TheLocal.de, a plea to “trust us”:

Kerry in Berlin: ‘US is committed to privacy’

US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged on Friday that relations with Germany had gone through a “rough period” of late over NSA snooping but he said the US was “committed to privacy”.

After talks in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry told reporters that the United States took Germany’s anger seriously, which was sparked by revelations that US intelligence monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“I want to say to the German people that it’s no secret that we’ve been through a rough period,” Kerry said.

Asked whether the US administration would sign a no-spying agreement that Germany has demanded in the wake of the scandal, Kerry said only that Merkel and US President Barack Obama were in “consultations” on the issue.

Similar words and a response from China Daily:

Obama speech on NSA welcome, but effects remain to be seen: EU official

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem on Friday welcomed a speech made by US President Barack Obama on curbing the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), saying what that meant in practice was yet to be seen.

Malmstroem told participants at the 50th Munich Security Conference that there was a need to see the limits of the NSA and safeguards put in place.

Obama announced in a recent speech a reform of the NSA and its surveillance operations, mentioning the possibility of abuse while insisting operatives should consistently follow protocols.

Malmstroem made the remarks in a panel discussion about cyber security, which was joined by the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizieere, the US chairman of the house permanent select committee on intelligence Michael Rogers and others.

The ol’ “They’re just jealous ploy” from Deutsche Welle:

Hayden: Every agency wants to do what the NSA does

Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA, CIA and US national intelligence, tells DW he sees German anger at US spying as genuine and says the NSA shouldn’t have got caught tapping Chancellor Merkel’s phone.

“Have you been surprised how many Germans take this as a very personal issue? Do they take it very personally because they like the United States but they’ve been really taken aback by the surveillance?

“They have – and as I said before, that’s genuine. Also genuine is my belief that all nations conduct espionage and occasionally espionage gets conducted with people you truly do consider friends. So it’s a bit difficult having that discussion.

“Chairman Mike Rogers from our Intelligence Committee was here yesterday and I think he put a good program on the table. He said, “Let’s stick with the facts. Let’s actually have an adult conversation about what it is our security services do and don’t do.” And, frankly, in order for that to be a good conversation, I think German citizens are going to have to have a better idea about what their security organizations do and don’t do. I would be willing to bet that now, based on all these press accounts, most Germans know more about the NSA than about the BND [Germany’s federal intelligence service].”

Techdirt covers another ploy:

Canadian Gov’t Responds To Spying Revelations By Saying It’s All A Lie And Calling Glenn Greenwald A ‘Porn Spy’

  • from the wtf? dept

We’ve seen various government officials act in all sorts of bizarre ways after revelations of illegal spying on their own people (and foreigners), but none may be quite as bizarre as the response from the Canadian government, following the release late last night from the CBC (with help from Glenn Greenwald) that they’re spying on public WiFi connections. That report had plenty of detail, including an internal presentation from the Canadian electronic spying agency, CSEC. In the Canadian Parliament today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, decided to respond to all of this by by insisting it’s all a lie and then flat out insulting both the CBC and Glenn Greenwald.

Here’s the video via Maclean’s Magazine. Techdirt has the transcript. . .and more:

Paul Calandra calls Glenn Greenwald a porn spy

Program notes:

The Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, rose in the House before Question Period to bemoan the CBC’s journalistic integrity. Last night, the public broadcaster revealed top-secret documents that alleged a Canadian spy agency used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers’ wireless activity. Communications Security Establishment Canada isn’t supposed to monitor innocent Canadians.

Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist who lives in Brazil, collaborated with the CBC on its report. Greenwald retains copies of a trove of U.S. intelligence docs leaked by infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the journalist is working with the CBC—as a freelancer—to report stories relevant to a Canadian audience.

None of this impresses Calandra, who condemned the news report, questioned the CBC’s judgment, and mocked Greenwald’s past association with a porn company. He reacted in much the same way the first time the CBC published Greenwald’s work.

Calandra’s money line: “Why is furthering porn spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda and lining his Brazilian bank account more important than maintaining the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity?”

Hey, look at the bright side, CBC. He could have called you the state broadcaster.

SecurityWeek has saner umbrage:

Canada’s Eavesdropping Agency Blasts Tradecraft Leak

Canada’s ultra-secret eavesdropping agency on Friday blasted the disclosure of its tradecraft, after it was reported the agency had tracked airline passengers connected to Wi-Fi services at airports.

Communications Security Establishment Canada said: “The unauthorized disclosure of tradecraft puts our techniques at risk of being less effective when addressing threats to Canada and Canadians.”

On Thursday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said documents leaked by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the CSEC could follow the movements of people who passed through airports and connected to Wi-Fi systems with mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

The documents showed the agency could track the travellers for a week or more as they and their wireless devices showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and beyond.

While Deutsche Welle spurns:

Brazil continues to ignore Snowden asylum appeal

  • Over a million people have signed an online petition to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Brazil. However, experts doubt that the country will give in to this demand.

An online petition started in November on the websites of the civic activism Avaaz has attracted over 1 million signatures. The petition was initiated by David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who conducted the first media interviews with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda plans to present the petition to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff once it has attracted 1,250,000 supporters.

But it is not only the campaign’s signatories who believe Snowden would be in good hands if he received asylum in Brazil: Snowden himself has appealed for it. The request, however, has so far remained unanswered, according to Snowden’s official support website. In July 2013, Brazil’s foreign minister stated that Snowden would not be grated asylum in the country. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president has claimed that no official application has been submitted on Snowden’s behalf.

Rubbing the Belgians the wrong way, via De Standaard:

Belgian professor in cryptography hacked

A new Belgian episode in the NSA scandal: Belgian professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater, internationally renowned expert in data security was the victim of hacking. And, as was the case in the Belgacom hacking affair, there are indications the American secret service NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ might be involved.

There isn’t a card with an electronic chip available, or it has some sort of security technology that UCL professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater (67) was involved in developing. If you are able to withdraw money from a cashpoint safely, for example, that is to some extent due to Quisquater’s work on complicated mathematical algorithms. He was also involved in the development of the Proton payment system in Belgium. That very same Jean-Jacques Quisquater has now been the victim of a hacking attack, that has all the signs – as was the case in the Belgacom affair – of ‘state-sponsored espionage, De Standaard has discovered.

The authorities investigating the Belgacom hacking case confirm they have opened a case. Quisquater himself has lodged a formal complaint.

Earlier this week, whistle blower Edward Snowden gave an interview to German television channel ARD in which he claimed the NSA’s espionage activities are not only aimed at protecting US national security – in the so-called ‘war on terror’ – but also at companies and private individuals. The Quisquater case seems to indicate the Belgian justice department might be able to demonstrate Snowden’s claims are more than a mere figment of his imagination. As far as we are able to tell, this is the first instance in which a private person is seen as a victim in the NSA case.

And dis-Dane from Dagbladet Information:

For the NSA, espionage was a means to strengthen the US position in climate negotiations

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, the world’s nations were supposed to reach an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate change. But not everyone was playing by the rules. A leaked document now reveals that the US employed the NSA, its signals intelligence agency, to intercept information about other countries’ views on the climate negotiations before and during the summit. According to observers, the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations.

From BBC News, a story about a proposal with a peculiar motivation [see last line]:

David Cameron wants fresh push on communications data

David Cameron wants a fresh push after the next election to “modernise” laws to allow monitoring of people’s online activity, after admitting there was little chance of progress before then.

The prime minister told a parliamentary committee that gathering communications data was “politically contentious” but vital to keep citizens safe.

He said TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, drone, historical revisionism. Militarism, and secrecy crises. Plus Gitmo secrecy and a Canadian IP lawsuit, Fourth Estate under siege in UK and Russia, an Athenian terror scare, nuclear cheaters, drone warnings, email hacks, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II EuroGrecoSinoFuku


Before we begin our collection of headlines covering things economic, political, and environmental, we offer this prelude to the latest Fukushimapocalhpse Now! from Li Feng of China Daily:

BLOG Fukuzilla

We begin with global headlines, first with this from Reuters:

Trust in U.S., other governments plummets after state missteps

Trust in governments worldwide took a dive last year with Washington’s reputation a notable casualty as President Barack Obama grappled with a budget showdown, the Snowden spying crisis and the botched rollout of “Obamacare”.

Just 37 percent of college-educated adults told the Edelman Trust Barometer that they trusted the U.S. government – 16 points down on a year earlier and seven points below the global average.

The United States was not quite at the bottom of the heap as levels of trust in governments in some Western Europe countries including France, Spain and Italy were even lower, but the scale of the American decline was particularly dramatic.

CNBC dons rose-colored glasses:

Bill Gates: There will be no poor countries by 2035

As snowy Davos becomes engulfed in the hustle and bustle of another World Economic Forum, Microsoft founder Bill Gates took the opportunity to deliver an upbeat message in his annual newsletter.

The 25-page report, written by Gates and his wife Melinda, who are co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, argued that the world is a better place than it has even been before.

Gates predicted that by 2035, there would be almost no poor countries left in the world, using today’s World Bank classification of low-income countries — even after adjusting for inflation.

TheLocal.ch parties hearty:

‘Horizontal trade’ looks to upswing at Davos meet

In Davos, “shaping new models” is a popular theme for global change at the annual World Economic Forum gathering but on the margins of the event getting under way on Wednesday “shapely new models” are apparently also being sought.

The forum, bringing together presidents, prime ministers, monarchs, corporate tycoons, boffins and Hollywood actors, is also drawing a class of professionals to service, ahem, the needs of the elite.

Call girls, escorts, courtesans, hookers, prostitutes, call them what you will, look to be back in business for the event in the Swiss mountain resort town this year.

After several “rather dead” forum meetings in recent years, the “horizontal trade” looks to be picking up, says Swiss tabloid newspaper Blick, which monitors these kinds of activities.

On to the U.S., starting with a headline from Quartz:

The housing recovery leaves America separate and unequal, once again

Two years into the housing recovery, and a half-century since Martin Luther King fought for racial equality, it’s clear that homeownership doesn’t treat everyone the same.

While millions of homeowners of all races were affected by the burst of the housing bubble, from losing their homes to foreclosure or finding themselves in negative equity, many areas nationwide are now firmly in recovery as home values inch back toward peak levels. But that trend isn’t universal: neighborhoods that are predominantly black or Hispanic continue to lag behind today.

According to research from Zillow, home values in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods are down significantly from their peaks—by 23.3% and 32.6%, respectively. The recovery has been kinder to white and Asian neighborhoods, though, which are down 13.4% and 0.6%, respectively.

The Hill anticipates:

Supreme Court case could destroy pillar of union power

  • Labor unions are at risk of having one of their most successful organizing tactics nullified by the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the high court will hear oral arguments in Harris V. Quinn, a case that could upend agreements with state governments that allow taxpayer-funded home-care workers to unionize.

Those deals have helped boost public sector unions in several states at a time when overall union membership is declining.

Business and conservative-leaning groups are pushing the Supreme Court to overturn the deals, arguing they violate the Constitution by requiring workers to punch a union card.

Dust finally settling from the Oakland Tribune:

California foreclosures plunge to eight-year low

California home foreclosure activity plummeted to an eight-year low in the fourth quarter as price gains left fewer owners owing more money than their properties were worth, a real estate research firm said Tuesday.

There were 18,120 default notices filed on houses and condominiums from October through December, down 10.8 percent from 20,314 in the previous three-month period and down 52.6 percent 38,212 from the same period of 2012. It is the lowest number of default notices since 15,337 were filed in the fourth quarter of 2005.

A sharp rise in home values has left fewer people vulnerable to foreclosure. The median sales price for a California home was $364,000 in the fourth quarter, up 22.1 percent from $298,000 a year earlier. It is the fifth straight quarter that the median has risen at least 20 percent from the previous year.

San Francisco Chronicle-ing class warfare:

Protesters block tech buses before SFMTA meeting

Anti-gentrification protesters again blocked tech buses carrying workers out of San Francisco on Tuesday morning. This time, just after 9 a.m., they blocked a pair of shuttles downtown, near Eighth and Market streets and close to City Hall, where later in the day city transportation leaders are scheduled to consider a pilot program that would charge bus operators a fee to use Muni stops — $1 per day per stop.

For some, the buses, used by companies like Google and Apple, have become symbols of income disparity in San Francisco. Others credit the buses with taking cars off the road and reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

On Tuesday, the few dozen protesters — in front of a large pool of media — surrounded the buses and prevented them from moving. Some plastered a sign to one of the coaches that read “Gentrification and Eviction Technologies” in Google-type script. They chanted, “Stop evictions.” By 9:45 a.m., police had cleared out the crowd and the buses had departed, though their destination was not clear.

Un-Like-ing via Vocativ:

Facebook May Lose 80% of Its User Base by 2017

  • Social networks function like infectious diseases, according to Princeton researchers. They spread fast—and then disappear

Like the Bubonic Plague, Facebook will eventually come to an end.

According to new research from Princeton, which compared the “adoption and abandonment dynamics” of social networks by “drawing analogy to the dynamics that govern the spread of infectious disease,” Facebook is beginning to die out.

Specifically, the researchers concluded that “Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”

Dodgy dodging from The Guardian:

US tech firms make eleventh-hour attempt to halt tax avoidance reforms

  • Lobbyists representing leading US technology companies urge thinktank advising G20 not to close international tax loopholes

Silicon Valley has launched a last-ditch attempt to derail plans devised by the G20 group of countries to close down international loopholes that are exploited by the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple to pay less tax in the UK and elsewhere.

The Digital Economy Group, a lobbying group dominated by the leading US digital firms, has written to the OECD, the Paris-based thinktank tasked by G20 leaders with drawing up reforms, saying it is not true that communications advances have allowed multinational groups to game national tax systems.

Jiji Press embraces the darkness:

Japan, US Agree on Effort for Early TPP Deal

Akira Amari, Japanese minister in charge of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman agreed Monday to make efforts for an early conclusion of the regional free trade talks.

The agreement came at telephone talks between the Japanese and U.S. ministers held late in the night.

After the talks, Amari told reporters that he and Froman share the view that the two countries need to cooperate in helping conclude the TPP negotiations at the next ministerial meeting, likely to be held in late February.

While Deutsche Welle displays rare reserve:

EU freezes part of transatlantic trade negotiations with US

  • The EU has put one area of its negotiations with the US for a transatlantic free trade deal on hold. Brussels has expressed concern over provisions that would allow corporations to sue governments in private court.

The European Union on Tuesday temporarily halted one area of its free trade negotiations with the US, giving member states three months to provide input on provisions that would allow corporations to sue governments over violations of the potential trade deal.

“I know some people in Europe have genuine concerns about this part of the EU-US deal,” said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht in a press release. “Now I want them to have their say.”

“Some existing arrangements have caused problems in practice, allowing companies to exploit loopholes where the legal text has been vague,” De Gucht continued.

Monetary impoverishment from the London Telegraph:

Euro ‘increasing unemployment and social hardship’, says EC

  • Deepening economic divisions between North and South, rich and poor eurozone countries threaten to undermine the European Union itself, report states

Europe’s single currency is fuelling inequality, and the loss of sovereignty entailed in eurozone membership has led to “increased unemployment and social hardship” in many countries, a European Commission report has revealed.

The 496-page report, “Employment and social developments in Europe 2013″, warns that deepening economic divisions between North and South, rich and poor eurozone countries threaten to undermine the European Union itself.

The stark findings, published by Laszlo Andor, the EU’s social affairs commissioner, acknowledges that the loss of sovereignty involved in giving up national currencies has led to a loss of flexibility in tackling the economic crisis.

Reuters examines the odds:

IMF sees up to 20 pct chance of prices falling in Europe

There is as high as a one-in-five chance that prices could start to fall in the euro zone, the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist said on Tuesday.

“Our model gives a 10 to 20 percent probability to inflation turning negative (in the euro zone),” Olivier Blanchard told reporters on a conference call, adding that the IMF still sees positive price growth in its baseline forecasts.

He called on the European Central Bank to do all it can to anchor price expectations and boost demand in the euro currency bloc, where southern countries like Portugal and Greece continue to face weak demand.

Deutsche Welle alerts:

EU sounds alarm on poverty among working-age people

In its latest review of social developments, the European Commission has said finding a job increasingly has not pulled people out of economic hardship. It said poverty among people with jobs was a major problem.

The EU executive said Tuesday the European debt crisis had led to a significant rise in poverty among people of working age.

It stated that finding fresh employment only helped people out of poverty in 50 percent of all cases as those who managed to land a job tended to work fewer hours or for lower wages than before.

“Unfortunately, we cannot say that having a job necessarily equates with a decent standard of living,” EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor said in a statement. “A gradual reduction of unemployment is unlikely to be enough to reverse the increasing trend in poverty levels,” he concluded.

Reuters bubbles:

UK property asking prices see biggest ever jump for Dec-Jan

Asking prices for homes in Britain saw their biggest ever rise for the December-January period, property website Rightmove said on Monday, potentially adding to concerns about the risk of a housing bubble.

Rightmove’s figures show the price of properties coming on to the market rose 1 percent between December 9 and January 11. The data series began in 2002.

The rise contrasts with an average fall of 0.2 percent in similar timeframes over the last 10 years during the Christmas holiday period, Rightmove said.

Austerian fruits from the London Telegraph:

Lottery of NHS drugs punishes the dying

  • Thousands of patients denied life-extending treatments approved by health watchdog

Thousands of patients suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses are being denied the drugs they need from the NHS, according to a report.

Even though the treatments have been approved by the health service rationing body, at least 14,000 patients a year are not receiving them.

As many as one in three of those suffering from some types of cancer are going without medication that could extend their lives, the figures show.

Experts said the report, from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, a government quango that provides NHS statistics and analysis of trends in health and social care, exposed an “endemic and disastrous postcode lottery” of care within the health service.

Inflationary death from RT:

‘Can’t afford to die’: British families on low incomes struggle with ‘funeral poverty’

Over 100,000 people in the UK will hardly manage to pay for a funeral this year. With the average cost of dying having risen by 7.1 percent, the poor simply cannot afford to pay the costs of funerals, a survey has found.

The average cost of dying, including funeral, burial or cremation and state administration, currently stands at £7,622 ($12,528), a rise of 7.1 percent in the past year, according to the latest study at the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research.

“With growing funeral costs, quite simply growing numbers of people might find they can’t afford to die,” Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre-UK, Baroness Sally Greengross, stated on the University’s website.

On to Norway and that old time religion from TheLocal.no:

Christian GPs want right to refuse the coil

Christian doctors in Norway on Monday called for the right to refuse to offer their patients the contraceptive coil, arguing that for many of them it was tantamount to abortion.

Olav Fredheim, chairman of the Norwegian Christian Medical Association, made his demand on the eve of the publication of a controversial new law which will excuse Christian general practitioners from sending patients to have abortions on grounds of conscience.

“Doctors should not be forced to take actions that violate their moral integrity,” Fredheim told Aftenposten.

Sweden next, and state secrets from TheLocal.se:

Government to seal lid on secret donations

The Swedish government wants to protect the identities of political party donors, a proposal that left the opposition crying foul on Monday. Sweden remains one of few EU countries without total party-funding transparency.

The government coalition has proposed that the public be given access to the names of any donor that gives more than 22,200 kronor ($3,426) to a political party. The proposal’s failure to fully outlaw anonymous contributions has critics up in arms however, a predictable finale to months of wrangling and a cross-party stall in negotiations.

Sweden has no specific legislation pertaining to political party donations, which sets it aside from many of its neighbours and which has drawn criticism from the Council of Europe.

France 24 and that ol’ hard times intolerance:

Poll finds xenophobia on the rise in France

Over the past year, the English and American journalists have written widely on what they call the French “malaise”.

An Ipsos survey carried out earlier this month and published on Tuesday suggests that the description may be accurate, finding, in particular, that the French are increasingly pessimistic about their political leaders and wary of foreigners.

According to the poll, 65% of French people think that most politicians are corrupt (a three-point increase since last year) and 84% think they are motivated primarily by personal gain (a two-point rise).

Meanwhile, 78% of those questioned think “the political system does not work well” and “their ideas are not represented” (six points higher than last year). At the same time, the French seem eager for a politician who can fix things. A whopping 84% of those polled said they would like “a real leader to restore order”.

RFI hooks up:

Peugeot shares plunge as Dongfeng tie-up announced

Shares in French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën plunged 5.44 per cent on Monday, following the announcement of a radical tie-up its capital with Chinese Dongfeng and the French state.  The plan would mean a three-billion-euro capital injection.

The deal, which is expected to be presented to investors on 19 February, will open the door to a difficult three-way partnership, where Chinese state-owned carmarker and the French state will take over 14 per cent each of the PSA capital while the Peugeot family will reduce its from 35 to 14 per cent.

Both the Chinese and the French states will boost PSA capital and inject 750 millions euros each.

And that old time religion as well, via TheLocal.es:

‘Give us Spain’s abortion law’: French pro-lifers

Thousands of anti-abortionists took to the streets of the French capital on Sunday calling for France to adopt similar pro-life legislation to that drafted by the Spanish government last month.

Thousands of anti-abortionists took to the streets of the French capital on Sunday in an effort which they hope will see similar legislation to that passed in Spain last month make it into France next.

Participants marched through Paris on the eve of a parliamentary debate on a bill that would make terminations of pregnancy in France easier.

Organizers, among them right-wing religious groups, anti-gay activists and handicapped children associations, claimed 40,000 people took part.

Police put their number at 16,000.

And on to Spain, first with El País:

Actual retirement age in Spain rises due to new labor restrictions

  • Age at which people stop working increases on average to 64.3 in 2013
  • Number of people retiring at legal age rises 10.4 percent

The effective retirement age in Spain increased while the number of people taking early retirement decreased last year after further restrictions were placed on this possibility in March 2013, according to figures released Tuesday by Labor Minister Fátima Báñez.

The average age at which people ceased to work rose from 63.9 years to 64.3 years in 2013, while the number of people who retired at the stipulated legal age rose by 10.4 percent. The official retirement age in Spain is currently being raised in a phased fashion from 65 to 67.

Báñez said the number of people who took early or partial retirement last year fell 6.5 percent from 2012, while the number of people opting to combine receipt of some pension rights while continuing to work came to 9,094, of whom 83 percent were freelance workers.

TheLocal.es gives ‘em the business:

Hard times? Spain’s elite richer than ever

The 20 richest people in Spain earn as much as the poorest 20 percent, while the country’s wealthy elites have actually grown richer during the economic crisis, a major new global report into wealth inequality argues.

Almost half of the world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the richest 1 percent. Meanwhile, the fortunes of this richest 1 percent total $110 trillion (€81 trillion), or 65 times the combined wealth of the bottom half of the  world’s population.

These are the chief findings of a new report by UK charity Oxfam into the dangers of extreme economic inequality.

El País optimizes:

IMF triples its growth forecast for the Spanish economy

  • GDP to rise by 0.6 percent in 2013, according to Washington-based organization’s new report

The International Monetary Fund has raised its forecast for Spanish economic growth for this year from 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent.

The revision was included in the IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook released Tuesday. Only Britain saw a bigger upward revision of expected GDP growth, while Japan’s outlook was also improved by 0.4 percentage points.

And thinkSPAIN gets together over getting together:

Ibiza authorities give their blessing to Spain’s first ‘prostitution cooperative’

IBIZA has approved the creation of the first-ever cooperative for prostitutes, meaning they can pay taxes and Social Security guaranteeing them a State pension, sick and maternity pay.

They are protected from the hands of pimps and have legal and tax advisors on hand to offer them assistance, as well as qualified gynaecologists to give them specialist advice and regular examinations.

María José López Armesto, 42, has spent two years getting her plan approved, but is now celebrating her success with the Sealeer Cooperative.

And from the Associated Press, no homage for Catalonia:

Spain PM: No secession referendum for Catalonia

Spain’s prime minister has declared that he will not let the northeastern Catalonia region hold a referendum on whether it should secede and form a new European country.

Mariano Rajoy told Spain’s Antena 3 television network late Monday that the referendum many Catalans want “won’t take place and as long I am prime minister of Spain’s government there will not be independence for any Spanish territory.”

His comments came less than a week after the regional Catalan parliament made a formal request to the central government in Madrid for it to transfer powers to Catalonia so a referendum could be held.

Portugal next, and lethal austerianism from the Portugal News:

Waiting room woes

Hospital emergency departments, already struggling to cope with their normal patient numbers, are currently seeing their usually-packed waiting rooms even fuller as seasonal flu victims seeking medical care add to the break-back load. In some units, patients with health problems considered less serious by officials have waited almost a full day to see a doctor.

A report by state-run news channel RTP, broadcast on Tuesday, exposed the struggling state of ER waiting rooms from north to south of the country, containing a series of unflattering comments from patients, some of whom had been waiting more than 20 hours and were still counting to be seen by a doctor.

The report was chased up by a note from the Regional Health Administrative Board for Lisbon and Vale do Tejo (ARSLVT), which has asked units under its jurisdiction for more information regarding their waiting times.

Italy next, and lethal intent from TheLocal.it:

Sicilian mafia boss orders judges’ murder

Totò Riina, the Sicilian mafia boss, has been recorded telling a fellow mobster to kill anti-mafia magistrates, Italian media has reported.

The wiretapped conversations between Riina and Alberto Lorusso, speaking in October, are the latest threats targeting anti-mafia prosecutor Nino Di Matteo and others.

Speaking to Lorusso from a Milan prison, where he is serving a life term, Riina says: “We must take action [against the magistrates], make them dance the samba.”

ANSAmed impoverishes:

More than 12% of Italian workers don’t make living wage

  • Study says only Greece, Romania in worst position in EU

More than 12% of employed Italians cannot afford to live on what they earn, says a study issued Tuesday by the European Union. Only Greece and Romania are in worse positions in term of earning a living wage, with about 14% of workers in those countries unable to make ends meet, added the research.

Those findings are consistent with a report earlier this month issued by the national statistical agency Istat that said in the first nine months of 2013, the purchasing power of Italian households fell by 1.5% compared with the same period in 2012.

Overall, economic indicators suggest that 2013 will be remembered “as the worst year” in recent economic history, with spending on such necessities as medications falling by 2.5% in the first 10 months of the year and food spending falling by 1.3%, consumer group Codacons said earlier in January.

And TheLocal.it has Bunga Bunga disgust:

Top Italian leftist resigns after Berlusconi deal

The president of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party resigned on Tuesday in the latest sign of divisions exacerbated by a deal between party leader Matteo Renzi and disgraced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Gianni Cuperlo wrote an open letter to Renzi on Facebook in which he accused the new leader of responding to criticism with “a personal attack”.

“I want to be able to always say what I think,” he said.

Renzi, who only won the nomination to lead the party last month, has angered many leftists over his willingness to negotiate with Berlusconi to negotiate a reform of Italy’s widely criticised political system.

After the jump, the Greek tragedy continues, Ukrainian violence, Brazilian mall protests, Thai troubles, Chinese economic shifts, Japanese economic vows, envrionmental woes, and Fukushimapocalyse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliFukuRealism


Much happening, and the troubles continue at Fukushima.

We begin our econocentric coverage close to home [literally], with the Oakland Tribune:

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center to slash 358 jobs in Oakland, Berkeley

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center is cutting 358 positions and shutting down its skilled nursing facility.

Alta Bates Summit, which has several East Bay campuses, will eliminate 195 jobs at Summit in Oakland, 133 jobs at Alta Bates in Berkeley and 30 at Herrick in Berkeley, according to the state Employment Development Department.

The company also is closing its skilled nursing facility and infusion program at Summit in Oakland, a hospital spokeswoman said.

SINA English injects:

Chinese investment in US doubled in 2013: study

China’s investment in the United States doubled to $14 billion last year despite sometimes rocky political ties, with private firms leading the way, said a study out Tuesday.

About half of the value consisted of Shuanghui International’s takeover of prominent pork producer Smithfield Foods, a $7.1 billion deal that marked the largest ever Chinese acquisition of a US company.

But the report by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based firm that looks closely at Chinese investment, found that the total number of deals had also risen from 2012 to 82. It said that Chinese companies accounted for 70,000 full-time jobs in the United States.

The total value of investment hit a record high of $14 billion, with high-profile deals in real estate as well as Chinese investors took stakes in the General Motors Building and Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York.

Bloomberg View’s The Ticker finds bubbles in your bong:

Dude, This Pot Stock Is Totally in a Bong Bubble

Shares of Medbox Inc. soared 85 percent yesterday to $73.90, and have been on a wild ride today, trading as high as $93.50 and as low as $46.90. It seems investors got all stoked about the company’s prospects selling vending machines with fingerprint readers to dispense marijuana, now that recreational pot is legal in two states, Colorado and Washington. Yesterday the company, which trades on the Pink Sheets, issued a news release saying “it has improved on its products for use in recreational and medical marijuana facilities.” The day before that, it issued a news release to tout the appearance of its chief executive officer, Bruce Bedrick, on CNBC.

There hasn’t been much else to explain why Medbox’s stock market value suddenly topped $1 billion this week. As recently as Dec. 26, before Colorado’s new law took effect, the stock was trading for about $10. Nor does there seem to be much basis for believing the company should be worth so much now. Medbox had net income of about $23,000 on sales of $2.9 million during the six months ended June 30, according to a prospectus it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which it has since withdrawn.

Bloomberg covers other agricultural prophets:

Monsanto Profit Tops Estimates on Soybeans and Roundup

Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, reported fiscal first-quarter earnings that topped analysts’ estimates on rising sales of engineered soybean seeds and Roundup herbicide.

Net income in the three months through November increased to $368 million, or 69 cents a share, from $339 million, or 63 cents, a year earlier, Monsanto said today in a statement. Profit excluding a discontinued business was 67 cents, beating the 64-cent average of 17 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue rose 6.9 percent to $3.14 billion, topping the $3.07 billion average of 15 estimates.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant is focused on selling more genetically modified seeds in Latin America to drive earnings growth outside the core U.S. market. Sales of soybean seeds and genetic licenses climbed 16 percent, and revenue in the unit that makes glyphosate weed killer, sold as Roundup, rose 24 percent.

MintPress News sounds a Santayana alert:

Absence Of History, Social Studies Requirements In US Education System Causes Concern

Many have expressed concern that there is no federal requirement that students learn about history.

Creating universal education standards may have been President Barack Obama’s intent when he and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created the Common Core K-12 educational curriculum in 2009. But as education officials have begun to slowly integrate the program into private, public and home-schooled children in about 46 states so far, many education professionals are wondering why there is no social studies or history requirement.

Though some blame social studies teachers for a lack of history requirements — calling a bulk of social studies teachers underqualified — others say the reason the U.S. doesn’t have any history requirements is because Americans don’t always agree on what actually happened in American history.

Sociological Images is stunned:

Teachers Offered Personal Loans to Buy School Supplies

If you’re looking for just one image that says a thousand words about what’s wrong with America, here’s a contender.  It is a screenshot of an email sent to members of the Silver State Schools Credit Union:

BLOG Teacher loans

Yep, it’s an invitation to K-12 teachers to go into debt to do their job.

The London Daily Mail floats it:

The latest perk of working for Google – free private ferry service to work

  • Private passenger catamaran service launched across San Fransisco Bay
  • It carries up to 150 workers to and from the Google HQ near Redwood city
  • Firm’s shuttle bus service had been targetted by angry protesters
  • Employees already enjoy massages, free gourmet food and ‘20 per cent time’

Al Jazeera America blows back:

San Francisco to tax tech companies for employee shuttles

  • City will charge Google, Facebook and others that use public bus stops in an effort to combat traffic, public resentment

San Francisco plans to start regulating employee shuttles for companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, charging a fee for those that use public bus stops and controlling where they load and unload.

The influx of private shuttle buses, which transport thousands of San Francisco workers to their jobs, has created traffic problems on the city’s narrow streets, blocking public bus stops during peak commuting hours.

For some locals, these buses have become a tangible symbol of economic inequality and the aggressive wave of gentrification sweeping through large swaths of San Francisco and Oakland as a result of the burgeoning technology industry.

CNN Political Unit numbers a sea change:

CNN Poll: Americans say marijuana is less dangerous than booze or tobacco

According to a new national poll, marijuana is not as wicked as other illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and much less dangerous than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.

That’s one reason why a CNN/ORC International survey indicates that support for legalizing marijuana is soaring, and why that same support does not extend to hard drugs.

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed that 55% of all Americans think that the use of marijuana should be legal – a solid majority and more than triple the 16% who said the same thing a quarter century ago. But according to numbers released Tuesday, the percentage is nowhere near as high as the 81% who say alcohol should remain legal or the 71% who believe that tobacco use is OK.

Austerian NAFTA reality from the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy:

No Golden Pond for NAFTA Generation Retirees

Twenty years after the promoters of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) heralded a new age of prosperity, tens of millions of people in the member nations of the trinational trade and investment pact look forward to an impoverished retirement.  While in the United States and Mexico, huge segments of the working-age population could wind up with a retirement income-if any at all- befitting paupers, even in relatively better-off Canada the status of retirees is showing signs of slippage.

As all three NAFTA countries undergo workforce aging trends, the implications of a multinational retirement crisis in the coming years will be profound for the economic and social health of the region. Recent reports, including the one issued last month by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), carry somber warnings for the futures of millions as they approach their golden years.

For U.S Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), the emerging retirement crunch is a “crisis that is as real and as frightening as any policy problem facing the United States today.”

Across the Atlantic with a plateau from Europe Online:

Eurozone unemployment rate stuck at record 12.1 per cent

Unemployment in the eurozone remained stuck at a record high of 12.1 per cent in November, new data released on Wednesday showed, as the currency bloc struggles to recover from a debilitating economic crisis.

The jobless rate was initially believed to have dropped in October for the first time in almost three years, but Wednesday’s data – issued by the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat – showed that in fact it has remained unchanged since April 2013.

The eurozone managed to pull out of recession earlier this year, but unemployment has remains stubbornly high. The bloc experienced its last decline in the jobless rate in February 2011.

MarketWatch frets:

Draghi faces deflation threat as ECB, BOE meet

  • Euro risks selloff if Draghi mentions recent strength, hints at further action

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank are both expected to keep monetary policy on hold Thursday. What ECB President Mario Draghi says about low inflation could signal whether the bank expands stimulus at future meetings and move the euro.

The BOE will release its decision at 7 a.m. Eastern. The central bank doesn’t normally release a statement when there is no change in policy, but central-bank watchers say that the BOE could be compelled to do so in light of the rapidly falling unemployment rate and what it means for U.K. interest rates.

New Europe admonishes:

US tells EU, Germany to act on banks and surplus respectively

The US wants Germany to boost its domestic demand and Europe as a whole to strengthen its banks. This much has so far become clear during Jacon Lew’s, the US Treasure Secretary’s visit to the continent. Lew was in Berlin today and visited France on January 7.

“We continue to believe that policies that would promote more domestic investment and demand would be good for the German economy and the global economy,” Lew told a news conference after meeting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Even though the newly installed grand coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SDP has is planning to introduce a national minimum wage and invest in infrastructure, the fundamentals of its economic and European approached will remain unchanged.

Britain next, with a bubbly BBC News:

UK house prices rose by 7.5% in 2013, Halifax says

House prices across the UK rose by 7.5% last year, according to the Halifax, the country’s largest mortgage lender.

However, Halifax said prices actually fell by 0.6% in December, taking the average price of a property to £173,467.

Last week, the Nationwide building society said house prices had risen by 8.4% in 2013.

Sky News prepares for peasants massing:

Boris Wants Water Cannon For London’s Streets

Boris Johnson says the weapons will only be used in “extreme circumstances” but the 2011 riots show why police need them.

Boris Johnson has requested the Metropolitan Police to be able to use water cannon on the capital’s streets by this summer.

The London Mayor said the weapons would be used only in “the most extreme circumstances”, but there are fears the cannon could be deployed to break up small-scale legitimate protests. He said the water cannon were necessary in case there was a repeat of the summer riots of 2011.

The Guardian is buzzing:

UK faces food security catastrophe as honeybee numbers fall, scientists warn

Crop pollination via honeybees sinks to second lowest in Europe as study calls for greater protection of wild pollinators

Europe has 13 million less honeybee colonies than would be needed to properly pollinate all its crops, research shows. Photograph: Judi Bottoni/AP

The UK faces a food security catastrophe because of its very low numbers of honeybee colonies, which provide an essential service in pollinating many crops, scientists warned on Wednesday.

New research reveals that honeybees provide just a quarter of the pollination needed in the UK, the second lowest level among 41 European countries. Furthermore, the controversial rise of biofuels in Europe is driving up the need for pollination five times faster than the rise in honeybee numbers. The research suggests an increasing reliance on wild pollinators, such as bumblebees and hoverflies, whose diversity is in decline.

Iceland next, and a piteous lament from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Former Landsbanki Manager “Psychologically Tortured” By Government

The lawyer for former Landsbanki manager Sigurjón Þ. Árnason says that his client is being “psychologically tortured” by the state.

In a column he wrote for Fréttablaðið, Sigurður G. Guðjónsson, Sigurjón’s lawyer, contends the government is needlessly prolonging the legal process in his case, whilst at the same time “continuously blabbing about his guilt to the media.”

For the unfamiliar, Sigurjón was charged with market manipulation during his time as Landsbanki’s manager, leading to the eventual collapse of the bank. The resolution committee of the new Landsbanki is seeking compensation from Sigurjón for the damage the bank incurred under his watch.

Germany next with Europe Online:

German economy picks up speed as industrial sector gains ground

The German economy appears to have ended last year on a strong footing with a solid rise in both exports and factory orders helping to fire its key manufacturing base.

While figures released Wednesday by the Ministry of Economics showed monthly factory orders rebounded by 2.1 per cent in November, the statistics office said exports rose for the fourth consecutive month in November, climbing by 0.3 per cent.

The data provides “further evidence that the economy’s industrial backbone is strengthening again,” said ING Bank economist Carsten Brzeski.

Nationalist umbrage from EUbusiness:

Germany to probe welfare fraud by immigrants

The German government said Wednesday it will look into toughening measures against abuse of its welfare system by immigrants in light of fears of an influx from poor EU member states Romania and Bulgaria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel led a cabinet meeting of her new “grand coalition” where the government agreed to task a commission with making recommendations by mid-June.

“It will address the possible consequences of immigration and open borders — both things the government welcomes and wants,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

Deutsche Welle labors:

Amazon staff defend company against unions

For months, unions have been trying to pressure Amazon Germany to pay better wages. But now thousands of employees have come out defending Amazon. Are the unions fighting a lost cause?

The remarkable solidarity of the workers with their employer is in stark contrast to the picture painted by the media. That has focussed on the poor working conditions at Amazon Germany. For months, the company has been under fire for its poor wages, permanent stress and the lousy mood among the staff.

Yet when Verdi called strikes in recent weeks, only very few employees took part. The union wants to get a pay deal for them with a pay level similar to other companies in the mail order business. Currently, Amazon pays the lower rates applicable to the logistics sector.

France next, and schismatics from EurActiv:

French leftist coalition blows up ahead of EU, local elections

The French Left Party’s decision to suspend its membership of the European Left has highlighted tensions with their traditional communist allies, which could seriously damage both party’s results at the forthcoming EU elections in May.

As the EU elections approach, European political parties from all sides are gearing up to nominate their candidates for the European Commission’s top job.

The Associated Press convicts:

Frenchwoman fined after Muslim veil prompted riots

A French court has convicted a woman for insulting police who ticketed her for wearing a face-covering Muslim veil, banned by French law.

The confrontation between Cassandra Belin, her husband and police triggered riots in the Paris suburb of Trappes last year. Her lawyer, Philippe Bataille, says Belin was fined 150 euros and given a one-month suspended sentence Wednesday.

The lawyer also argued that the veil law is unconstitutional, and asked for it to be sent to the Constitutional Court. The lower Paris court Wednesday threw out that request.

Spain next, and another decline from El País:

Household savings rate falls further as income drops

  • Families cut back on spending in third quarter of last year

The household savings rate in Spain in the third quarter of last year declined further despite lower consumer spending as high unemployment and downward pressure on wages reduced income.

The National Statistics Institute (INE) said Wednesday that the savings rate in the period July-September of last year declined to 9.2 percent from 10.0 percent in the fourth quarter. That was the lowest rate for the third quarter since 2007. On a four-quarter moving basis, the rate dropped to 10.5 percent from 10.7 percent in the four quarters to June.

Gross disposable household income in the period declined 1.6 percent from a year earlier to 162.521 billion euros as a result of a fall of 1.9 percent in wages. Consumption declined an annual 0.4 percent to 147.037 billion euros.

El País again, this time in opposition:

PP deputy congressional speaker calls for free vote within ruling party on abortion

  • Celia Villalobos says she “represents many people who are against” the proposed restriction on terminations

The rift within the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) over its controversial proposed reform of the abortion law that greatly restricts the right to terminate pregnancy grew on Wednesday after a key figure in the group called for a free vote on the issue in parliament.

Deputy Congressional Speaker Celia Villalobos signaled her opposition to the proposed new law, which does not automatically give women the right to abort in cases of severe fetal malformation, during a meeting of the PP’s executive committee on Wednesday, according to sources.

“I represent many people who are not in agreement with the reform that has been presented,” Villalobos said. “I ask for a free vote.” Villalobos abstained during a congressional vote in 2009 on the abortion law put forward by the former Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and was sanctioned by the party for doing so.

Lisbon next, and a departure date from Xinhua:

Portugal could exit bailout program on May. 17: official

Portugal has received yet another thumbs up that the country’s 78-billion-euro bailout program is coming to an end.

Vice President of the European Parliament Othmar Karas, who is ending a visit to Portugal on Tuesday, said that the bailout program could terminate as soon as May. 17, one week before the European elections.

“I’m sure that Portugal can end the program on the 17th of May of 2014, one week before the European elections,” said Karas, quoted by Portugal’s Lusa News Agency Lusa.

Italy next, and a new record from the London Telegraph:

Italian joblessness hits record as it seeks higher foreign investment

Italian joblessness has hit a fresh high, underlining the challenge for the country’s fragile coalition in convincing the international markets it is on the path to recovery.

Unemployment hit 12.7pc in November, up from October’s 12.5pc and the highest on record. Youth unemployment, at 41.6pc, is also at an all-time high.

The figures show that tentative signs of recovery in Italy’s recession-battered economy have failed to benefit the labour market.

Corriere della Sera knows where the bodies are buried:

Parliamentarians, Priests and Gangsters in Tax Consultant’s Secret Files

  • List found on computers belonging to Paolo Oliverio, arrested on charges of laundering underworld funds

The files detail confidential relations with senior clerics, secret service and financial police officers, business figures and politicians. Paolo Oliverio, arrested in early November on charges of manipulating the internal appointments and business dealings of the Camillian religious order, was actually the go-to accountant for many institutional and business figures.

But, add investigators, he was also the man who laundered cash for ‘Ndrangheta gangsters and some of Rome’s home-grown criminals. Mr Oliverio was privy to a great many secrets, as has emerged from the thousands of files found on the computers and pen drives seized when he was arrested. Many now fear what those files could reveal.

After the jump, Greek posturing, Turkish purging, Israeli divestment, Brazilian numbers, African refocusing, India axes and politics, Thai and Cambodian troubles, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese economic questions and massive food contamination, and the latest Fukushimapocalyp;se Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, security, hacks


Our trip to the dark side begins with a warning from Greek Reporter:

Greek National Intelligence Anticipates Hit on IMF Rep

According to Kathimerini’s report, the Greek National Intelligence Security (EYP) anticipated an attack on the International Monetary Fund’s representative in Athens, Bob Traa.  An anti-regime group had targeted Bob Traa’s residence in Filothei.

The 55-year-old Dutch man was living in Greece as IMF’s representative from October 2010 until September 2013. At first he was staying in an apartment which was situated in Dionysiou Areopagitou street. He moved to a house in the Filothei region, in northern Athens, because his former address was leaked to the press.

From The Observer, privatized insecurity:

US could block MoD sell-off plans over security fears

Secrets of shared military technology could be jeopardised by privatisation of equipment repair and maintenance arm

The US could block plans by the British government to privatise the Ministry of Defence’s equipment repair and maintenance arm because of fears over the security of shared military technology, according to secret MoD papers seen by the Observer.

The documents also state that the British army is “understandably nervous” about the sale to a private company of the Defence Support Group (DSG), a team of 2,800 top-grade engineers who service military equipment including aircraft, armoured vehicles and tanks both at home and in theatres such as Afghanistan.

CNBC feels a breeze:

After ‘cataclysmic’ Snowden affair, NSA faces winds of change

The U.S. National Security Agency has made dozens of changes in its operations and computer networks to prevent the emergence of another Edward Snowden, including potential disciplinary action, a top NSA official said on Friday, as a White House review panel recommended restraints on NSA spying.

Former NSA contractor Snowden’s disclosures have been “cataclysmic” for the eavesdropping agency, Richard Ledgett, who leads a task force responding to the leaks, said in a rare interview at NSA’s heavily guarded Fort Meade headquarters.

From The Wire, unseen:

Edward Snowden Took Data from NSA Computers the NSA Wasn’t Watching

By now we know the National Security Agency watches nearly everything on the Internet, with a few exceptions. But apparently Edward Snowden was able to steal the information he did because the NSA failed to monitor its internal networks.

A security failure allowed Snowden, the former contractor now living in asylum in Russia, to move around the NSA’s computer system and steal an unimaginable trove of top-secret documents without leaving a trail behind, senior administration officials told The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Michael Schmidt.

The New York Times pleads ignorance:

Officials Say U.S. May Never Know Extent of Snowden’s Leaks

American intelligence and law enforcement investigators have concluded that they may never know the entirety of what the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden extracted from classified government computers before leaving the United States, according to senior government officials.

Investigators remain in the dark about the extent of the data breach partly because the N.S.A. facility in Hawaii where Mr. Snowden worked — unlike other N.S.A. facilities — was not equipped with up-to-date software that allows the spy agency to monitor which corners of its vast computer landscape its employees are navigating at any given time.

The Guardian illuminates:

CIA officials’ testimony sheds light on Benghazi consulate attack

Congress probes allegation CIA told to ‘stand down’
Private testimony bolsters White House denial of cover-up

CIA officers revealed a clash over how quickly they should go help the besieged US ambassador during the September 2012 attack on an outpost in Benghazi, in Libya, and a standing order for them to avoid violent encounters, according to a congressman and others who heard their private congressional testimony or were briefed on it.

From PandoDaily, a contradiction:

Team Omidyar, World Police: eBay puts user data on a “silver platter” for law enforcement

This past week, Wikileaks activist and close Snowden ally, Sarah Harrison, was quoted in the Guardian, asking “How can you take Pierre Omidyar seriously?”

Harrison’s outburst was prompted by the trial of the “PayPal 14,” and the company’s 2010 blockade of Wikileaks. PayPal is owned by eBay, the company that Omidyar founded and for which he still serves as chairman. Omidyar’s $250 million media startup, NewCo, recently hired Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the only two people with access to full cache of Edward Snowden’s NSA secrets.

From Frontera NorteSur, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s. . .”:

Drones over Tijuana

If Tijuana’s new municipal government has its way, drones will fly over the northern Mexican border city in 2014. In an interview with the Mexican press, Mayor Jorge Astiazaran Orci, a member of  President Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party who took office at the beginning of December, said his administration is working with a California firm to deploy small drones as a means of fighting crime and carrying out other public safety tasks like detecting fires.

“It’s a strategy against delinquency. The public complains about home burglaries and robberies on mass transportation,” Astiazaran said.  “These aircraft are very inexpensive compared with other types of technological instruments.”

From the Oakland Tribune, “Smile, you’re on candid camera!”:

Privacy and technology: How simple photos are leading to full profiles of ordinary people

Almost every day brings new revelations about how Big Brother snoops on us and Big Data mines our online activities for profit. Even so, we are only beginning to understand the power of these incursions. In a few years, our faces alone, snapped on a street, in a crowd, or posted by a friend on the Internet, will be the key for a search engine to reveal the stories of our lives.

There may be nothing that technology is changing more dramatically than privacy. What is happening with our images online is just one example of our digital reality: We’re living life out loud — secrets and all.

Nextgov covers up:

The New Armor That Lets You Sense Surveillance Cameras

We pass under surveillance cameras every day, appearing on perhaps hundreds of minutes of film. We rarely notice them. London-based artist James Bridle would like to remind us.

Bridle has created a wearable device he calls the “surveillance spaulder.” Inspired by the original spaulder—a piece of medieval plate armor that protected “the wearer from unexpected and unseen blows from above”—the surveillance spaulder alerts the wearer to similarly unseen, if electronic, attacks. Whenever its sensor detects the the type of infrared lighting commonly used with surveillance cameras, it sends an electric signal to two “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation” pads, which causes the wearer to twitch.

From Security Week and for our own good [wink, wink]:

DARPA Awards Tech Firms $4.8 Million to Help Government Find Backdoors

Raytheon and GrammaTech Partner to Help U.S. Government Detect Malware in IT Devices

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $4.8 million contract to two tech firms to help U.S. government agencies detect malicious code and hidden “backdoors” in commodity IT devices.

Firstpost covers punitiveness with impunity:

Saudi activist sentenced to lashes and prison – rights group

A Saudi judge sentenced a political activist to 300 lashes and four years in prison for calling for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia, his rights group said on Sunday.

Omar al-Saeed is the fourth member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) to be jailed this year after the group issued statements attacking the ruling family over its human rights record and calling for democracy.

From The Guardian, a spooky alert:

Venezuela grounds Air France plane over suspected terror threat

Minister says French authorities passed on intelligence that terrorist group was planning to put bomb on flight

Armed and dangerous? From EUbusiness:

EU defence cooperation takes flight at joint airbase

Much talked about but rare in practice, EU defence cooperation is becoming a reality at a Dutch air base where French, German and Benelux personnel mount thousands of missions each year.

“Small is beautiful” could be the motto for the European Air Transport Command, working at Eindhoven to offer a real joint capability to cash-strapped European Union states.

Now on to Asia for the latest in the developing security crisis from the Japan Times:

Japan extends patrol ship carrot to Vietnam, plus ¥96 billion loan

Japan and Vietnam will discuss the idea of providing Japanese patrol ships to the Vietnam coast guard to help counter China’s growing claims to contested reefs and islands in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday.

And to boost Vietnam’s economy, Abe pledged about ¥96 billion in new loans mainly for highway and port construction projects.

The Guardian covers a rebuttal:

China bitterly attacks Japanese prime minister over air zone remarks

Shinzo Abe’s comments that Beijing is violating freedom of aviation are condemned as ‘malicious slander’

China has condemned Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, for “maliciously slandering” its self-proclaimed air defence zone, ratcheting up the war of words between the neighbours over Beijing’s annexation of the skies over a group of disputed islands.

Want China Times eases:

US softens on Chinese ADIZ after South China Sea incident: Duowei

The United States appears to have softened its stance towards China’s decision to declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in an area that includes the disputed Diaoyutai (Senkaku to Japan, Diaoyu to China) islands since a run-in between the USS Cowpens and a PLA Navy ship in the South China Sea earlier this month, reports Duowei News, an outlet run by overseas Chinese.

American media revealed on Dec. 13 that the USS Cowpens, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, confronted a PLA tank-landing ship in the South China Sea when trying to monitor the movements of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, on Dec. 5.

And NHK WORLD catches a sign of the times:

Japan’s police monitoring nationalist groups

Japan’s National Police Agency says it will raise the level of alert for organizations employing hate speech in demonstrations against a particular ethnic minority.

The agency singled out the issue in a new section for the first time in its annual report on the security situation in Japan and abroad.

The Times of India covers a new front in the Asian crisis theater:

Chinese troops ‘detain’ Indian porters at Chumar in eastern Ladakh

Both Indian and Chinese armies have been conducting “aggressive patrolling” along all the three sectors of the 4,057-km long unresolved LAC – western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) – to strengthen their claims to disputed territories. India, for instance, has recorded close to 700 “transgressions” by PLA troops across the LAC in the last three years.

In the latest incident, the Indian porters were “detained” in the Chumar sector on December 4 by the PLA troops, who were apparently patrolling up to their “claim line” but which India considers as its own territory. “The porters were looking for their runaway mules when they were detained by the PLA patrol,” he said.

And The Guardian takes us to the Korean front:

John Kerry calls Kim Jong-un ‘reckless and insecure’ over uncle’s execution

Secretary of state pointed to the urgency of addressing the North Korean nuclear state amid the internal instability of regime

Want China Times gives a reason:

Jang Sung-taek executed for support of Kim Jong-un’s brother: report

A report from the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency has indicated that Jang Sung-taek, the uncle-in-law of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, may have been labeled a traitor and executed for working against the nation’s leader after scuppering attempts to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s eldest brother, Kim Jong-nam.

As the oldest son of Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-nam was originally selected to succeed his father’s position but he lost his father’s support after he tried to visit Tokyo Disneyland in 2001 and was arrested at the Narita International Airport in Japan using a forged Dominican Republic passport. Following the incident, Kim Jong-il decided to appoint Kim Jong-un, his youngest son to become the nation’s future leader.

And South China Morning Post hits the road:

North Korea orders businessmen home from China as Rodman trip to go ahead despite purge

Secretive regime summons home businessmen in apparent continuation of crackdown on those connected to executed Jang Song-thaek

And SINA English predicts:

Execution may hit Sino-DPRK projects in short term: Experts

The execution of the uncle of Pyongyang’s top leader may temporarily affect some cooperation projects with China, but economic ties between the neighbors will remain stable in the long run, analysts say.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s official news agency KCNA reported on Friday that Jang Song-thaek, uncle of supreme leader Kim Jong-un, was executed on Thursday for being a traitor. Jang was in charge of economic affairs and cooperation with China.

And in conclusion, Nextgov covers an embarrassment:

Data Stolen from 104,000 Energy Employees Was More Sensitive than First Thought

Hackers that breached an Energy Department personnel database in July got away with more sensitive data than first disclosed by the government, including some banking information and password security questions of the 104,179 individuals affected, according to internal investigators.

A special report released by the Energy Inspector General on Friday details the postmortem of an intrusion into the DOE Employee Data Repository, or DOEInfo, the main Rolodex of records on current and former department employees, dependents and contractors.

Voices From Robben Island: Mandela’s prison


A 1994 documentary for BBC by the Schadeberg Movie Company, the film features Nelson Mandela and other South African revolutionaries imprisoned in the infamous Robben Island prison by the apartheid regime.

Mandela was imprisoned there from 1964 to 1982.

The prison finally closed in 1996, and today serves as a museum.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Voices From Robben Island

Program notes:

Voices from Robben Island: A definitive documentary on what many consider to be the most infamous island of the 20th century.

For downloads and more information visit: http://www.journeyman.tv/?lid=56141 – private

Jurgen Schadeberg and the BBC teamed up to create this definitive documentary on possibly the most infamous island in 20th Century world history. In an age in which the freedom of the individual has arisen this island has become symbolic of the many fights that have taken, and continue to take place.

This film looks at the Island’s 400-year history through the eyes of people incarcerated there. From those lepers and lunatics that were first locked up in the 17th century to their most infamous inmates Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Kathrada, Mlangeni — the freedom fighters against Apartheid South Africa.

‘Voices of Robben Island’ reveals the great courage of some of its prisoners through the personal accounts of individuals such as Nelson Mandela and Mbeki. The result is not simply a moving character led film, but a piece of history in itself.

Contrary takes on the death of Nelson Mandela


First, this editorial cartoon Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader:

BLOG Mandelatoon

And then there’s this, with the ineffable narcissistic spun:

BLOG TrumpmandelaFinally, via Open Culture, Nelson Mandela’s first appearance on international television, 21 March 1961, on Britain’s ITN:

From Open Culture:

In May of 1961, a 42-year-old Mandela gave his first-ever interview to ITN reporter Brian Widlake as part of a longer ITN Roving Report program about Apartheid. At that point, the police are already hunting for Mandela, but Widlake pulls some strings and arranges to meet him in his hideout. When the reporter asks Mandela what Africans want, he promptly responds:

“The Africans require, want the franchise, the basis of One Man One Vote – they want political independence.”

But perhaps more interesting is the dialogue towards the end of the interview, where Mandela explores the complex relationship between peace and violence as protest and negotiation tactics. We’re left wondering whether his seemingly sudden shift from a completely peaceful campaign strategy up to that point towards considering violence as a possibility may be the product of South African police going after him with full force that week. Violence, it seems, does breed violence even in the best and noblest of us.

The WTO and the push for global serfdom


That’s our headline, and it strikes to the heart of a very informative video from The Real News Network, featuring an eloquent and highly informed Indian journalist and author.

The subject is the further enshrinement of the neoliberal regime that’s on the agenda for the crusial 3-6 December ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Bali.

Lynn Fries of TRNN talks with former chief editor of thePress Trust of India
Chakravarthi Raghavan, a trade and development expert and author who later served as chief editor and now editor emeritus of the South-North Development Monitor [SUNS].

From The Real News Network:

Pope Denounces ‘A New Tyranny’ of Markets, But Will Trade Ministers at Bali?

From the transcript:

FRIES: In a prior word of advice, our guest reached out to all nations with an accessible and comprehensive analysis critical of the trade negotiations at the time of the Uruguay Round. I ask our guest for his thoughts today on part of that critique, when in 1990 he wrote, “Cumulatively, Third World governments would not only be unable to act positively in the economic fields to advance the well being of their peoples, but would be obliged to protect the interests of the TNCs [transnational corporations] and foreign enterprises and foreign nationals against their own peoples. The only role left for governments would be maintaining law and order, and keeping labor under control. Governments of independent countries in the Third World would thus be left doing what the metropolitan powers did during colonial days.”

RAGHAVAN: In a sense it has even become worse. It is not even what developing countries are forced to do in response to governments of the United States and Europe. Even corporations are now dictating terms to the developing countries, whether it be through these so called various rating companies, etc., etc. They are told that if you want to have XYZ, you carry out this kind of a thing. If I come and establish an enterprise in your country, you have to control your workers so that they don’t demand rights. In fact there has been a major fight going on in this matter, for example, in India, in South Africa, etc. For South Africa, we recently saw the disasters relating to mines, in the mines [incompr.] the workers and shooting et cetera.

What exactly are the foreign corporations demanding? The foreign corporations are demanding that we have to make money and profit through our work, and your labor must be kept under check, they must carry out our orders, and you must force them to do exactly what we want to do — they shouldn’t demand to go on strike for the purpose of higher wages, they shouldn’t demand any particular benefits for themselves. This is what they are asked to do, they are being asked to do, and they are being forced to do it today. And they are now going to be asked to do more as a result of what they will agree to in Bali.

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFuku


Because of time and energy limits, we skip the banter and mainly introduce our entries with the source link.

A lot happening, with much from Greece, Asia, Latin America, and Asia, plus environmental headlines and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now! After the jump.

From OpEd News, proof of the endurance of the noxious beliefs of social Darwinism:

The Rich and Educated Believe Wealth Correlates with Virtue, Says Study

A study of social class — defined by annual income and by education-level — finds that “Social class rank was positively associated with essentialist beliefs [beliefs that genetics is more important than environment in explaining social class]. … Social class rank was also positively associated with both belief in a just world … and meritocracy beliefs, … suggesting that upper-class … individuals are more likely to believe that society is fair and just than are their lower-class rank counterparts.”

MarketWatch covers the consumption:

More shoppers, but spending drops: survey

4-day weekend sales seen at $57.4 billion, down 2.8% from year ago

From The Guardian, a warning:

Nobel prize economist warns of US stock market bubble

Sharp rises in equity and property prices could lead to a dangerous financial bubble Robert Shiller tells Der Spiegel

From the Washington Post:

Puerto Rico, with at least $70 billion in debt, confronts a rising economic misery

The economy here has been in recession for nearly eight years, crimping tax revenue and pushing the jobless rate to nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, the government is burdened by staggering debt, spawning comparisons to bankrupt Detroit and forcing lawmakers to severely slash pensions, cut government jobs and raise taxes in a furious effort to avert default.

World Socialist Web Site:

Inequality and poverty on the rise in New Jersey

A recent report found that poverty in the state of New Jersey continued to grow in the years following the financial crash of 2008, and has now reached levels not seen since the 1960 census.

The report, issued several months ago by Legal Services of New Jersey, uses a poverty threshold of $37,060 for a family of three, a figure that is twice the federal poverty level because of the higher cost of living in the state. It found that 24.7 percent of New Jersey residents, 2.1 million people, are classified as poor. This is based on 2011 data, and is certain to have risen since then, especially considering the impact of Hurricane Sandy on economic statistics as well as housing and homelessness.

Al Jazeera America:

US push on intellectual property conflicts with international norms

Revelation of secret agreement shows need for transparency and accountability

The Washington Post:

Supreme Court declines case on making online retailers collect sales taxes

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to get involved in state efforts to force online retailers such as Amazon.com to collect sales tax from customers even in places where the companies do not have a physical presence.

Bloomberg News:

Black Friday Online Spending Reached Record $1.2 Billion

Online spending on Black Friday increased 15 percent to a record $1.20 billion as more consumers opted to shop from their couches rather than battling long lines at stores.

Total e-commerce sales reached $20.6 billion in the first 29 days of this holiday season, according to ComScore Inc. (SCOR) That’s about a 3.1 percent increase from Nov. 1 to Black Friday last year, the research firm’s data showed, noting that 2013 numbers include a few more shopping days because Thanksgiving fell on a later date this year.

McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama spends $600 million on rail projects that benefit private companies

The railroad industry brags in its national publicity campaign that it spends billions of dollars improving its infrastructure “so taxpayers don’t have to.”

But the ads don’t tell everything. The nation’s freight rail network has been the quiet recipient of more than $600 million in federal investment during the Obama administration.

USA TODAY:

Fast-food strikes planned for 100 cities

Fast-food workers in about 100 cities will walk off the job this Thursday, organizers say, which would mark the largest effort yet in their push for higher pay.

Techdirt:

Hollywood Studio Bosses Ask Obama To Help Improve Relationship With Silicon Valley… While Pressing TPP That Will Harm Silicon Valley

from the yeah,-so-that-first-bit… dept

USA TODAY:

SEC puts corporate political disclosure on back burner

Liberal activists pledged Monday to lobby the Securities and Exchange Commission to reconsider its move dropping corporate political disclosure from the agency’s priority list.

Last week, the agency eliminated political disclosure from its list of regulatory priorities for early 2014, a potential setback for campaign watchdog groups looking for ways to force some of the anonymous money in elections into public view. The measure had been on the SEC’s 2013 list of possible rulemaking.

POGOBlog:

SEC Delays Revolving Door Restriction

Months ago, bowing to concern about regulators who leave government and then work their former colleagues on behalf of industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was tightening restrictions on the revolving door.

Specifically, the SEC decided to close a loophole in the ethics rules that allowed some “senior” SEC personnel to lobby the agency immediately after leaving instead of staying on the sidelines for a year or more, as employees at other federal agencies must do. The change in the rules—revoking a longstanding exemption for some SEC officials—appeared to be a rare stand against the revolving door at an agency that has long blurred the lines between the regulators and the regulated.

But not so fast.

A notice published in Monday’s edition of the Federal Register said that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) was withdrawing the new rule at “the request of the SEC” so that the agency could have more time to “effectively educate affected employees before the exemption revocation takes effect.”

But there’s one really booming economic sector, reports MintPress News:

Pentagon Approves Record Sale Of Advanced Arms To Countries At War

Congress will decide if deal first struck by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in April should go through.

Today’s high-tech weapons manufacturers are enjoying record sales. The State Department’s Military Assistance Report stated that it approved $44.28 billion in arms shipments to 173 nations in the last fiscal year.

And whilst hyping booms, consider this from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Fracking-led energy boom is turning U.S. into ‘Saudi America’

A surge in U.S. oil production has in just a few short years propelled the United States from a country largely dependent on oil imports to one that soon could become the world’s top oil producer. The goal of North American energy self-sufficiency, the holy grail of American politics since the Arab oil boycott of 1973, seems to be within grasp.

And then there’s this bit of national euphorics from USA TODAY:

Manufacturing expands strongly in November

Increased manufacturing activity bodes well for the economy’s health as the year ends.

The ISM’s closely watched index of the nation’s factories rose to 57.3 in November from 56.4 the previous month. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists was 55.1. A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding.

The Guardian:

Toronto mayor Rob Ford plans online chatshow series

Mayor’s brother Doug, who will co-host show, says they aim to get their message out to supporters without media distortion

On to Europe, first with an EUbusiness report on a message coming out about five years too late:

Europe raps ratings agencies

The EU’s securities market regulator on Monday rapped ratings agencies for numerous shortcomings in how they evaluate the creditworthiness of sovereign countries, but did not move to sanction them under new regulations.

New Europe:

The European Consumer Centre Network highlighted the problem

Discrimination in cross-border shopping

The European citizens face several difficulties and experience discrimination on the basis of residence or nationality when proceeding in cross-border shopping activities.

CBC News:

Former Harper adviser blasts Keystone XL support

Economist Marc Jaccard calls Canada a ‘rogue state’ for its pipeline support

The environmental economist delivered a lengthy rebuke of Canada’s climate-change performance at the event near the White House, as the Obama administration continued to grapple with whether to approve the Alberta-U.S. pipeline.

London Telegraph:

More than a thousand care home residents die thirsty

Official figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the full extent of neglect as the vulnerable are left dehydrated

Sky News:

RBS And NatWest IT Problems On Cyber Monday

Many people vent their anger on Twitter, complaining that the high street banks’ cards, apps and websites have failed.

Bloomberg News:

Osborne Pledges Reduction in British Consumers’ Energy Bills

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne pledged that domestic power customers will benefit from a reduction in government levies for energy companies.

The proposal, outlined by Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in an article in the Sun newspaper today, will cut the average energy bill by about 50 pounds ($82) per year with the government funding some of the costs currently included in consumer energy bills. The full details of the plan will be announced in Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Dec. 5.

The Independent has a key piece of the puzzle:

800,000 people ‘lifted’ out of fuel poverty – by redefining it

The new definition, which could come into force before Christmas, will instantly reduce the percentage of fuel-poor households in England by nearly a third, from 15 per cent to 11 per cent, according to calculations by MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

London Telegraph:

EU guilty of ‘power grab’ against British justice system, says Dominic Grieve

Attorney General sends warning to EU that is must play within the rules

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, warned that EU attempts to seize ever-greater powers from member states like Britain are damaging the Continent’s prosperity and alienating its population.

The Independent:

Stephen Hawking: NHS is Britain’s finest public service and must be preserved from commercial interests

The NHS “must be preserved from commercial interests who want to privatise it”, Professor Stephen Hawking has warned, in a heartfelt tribute to the health service, recorded to accompany a new documentary about his life.

Professor Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, said that he would not be alive today without the NHS, which he described as “Britain’s finest public service”.

The Guardian:

David Cameron calls for new EU-China free trade agreement

PM says the UK will be China’s biggest advocate in the west, hoping to appease leaders angry at Dalai Lama meeting

The London Telegraph:

Popularity of Royal baby names wane as Breaking Bad inspires parents

RT:

Iceland thumbs nose at international opposition to advance $1.2 billion debt relief plan

Iceland’s government has announced that it will be writing off up to 24,000 euros ($32,600) of every household’s mortgage, fulfilling its election promise, despite overwhelming criticism from international financial institutions.

The measure was introduced by the country’s prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the leader of the Progressive Party which won the late-April elections on a promise of household debt relief.

The Guardian:

Iceland’s armed police make first ever fatal shooting

A 59-year-old Reykjavik man died in hospital after reportedly firing at police in country’s first fatal shooting by officers

TheLocal.no:

“Slow TV” attracts record audiences in Norway

Images of knitting, fishing and panoramic landscapes are attracting record audiences in Norway after public broadcaster NRK replaced some of its usual prime time drama with “slow TV”.

The Guardian:

Why is Sweden closing its prisons?

Sweden’s prison population has dropped so dramatically that the country plans to close four of its prisons. What lessons can the UK learn?

The Copenhagen Post:

New rules drive up the cost of love

With new laws set to kick in that require co-habitating couples to live up to the same obligations as married couples, one young couple wonders why they don?t get the same benefits

TheLocal.de:

Telekom puts up to 8,000 jobs in firing line

Deutsche Telekom is planning to cut at least 6,000 and possibly as many as 8,000 jobs at its IT subsidiary T-Systems, the business newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Monday.

The New York Times:

Germany, Austerity’s Champion, Faces Some Big Repair Bills

Germany was once known for its superfast autobahns, efficient industry and ability to rally public resources for big projects, like integration with the former East Germany. But more recently, it has been forced to confront a somewhat uncharacteristic problem: Its infrastructure — roads, bridges, train tracks, waterways and the like — is aging in a way that experts say could undermine its economic growth for years to come.

Spiegel:

Purity Pride: Germany Wants World Heritage Status for Its Beer

No additives: Before the beer purity law came into force in 1516, beer could cause hallucinations, says the brewing federation.

Germany’s brewers are so proud of their 500-year-old beer purity law, which states that it must consist only of water, malt, hops and yeast, that they want it inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage list — alongside the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and Flamenco dancing.

EUobserver:

Germany used Irish shell companies to lower deficit

The German finance ministry between 2005 and 2007 used Irish letter box companies and complex financial “securitisation” schemes to bring down its public deficit, which in the end failed, Spiegel reports. Germany is currently a fierce critic of Ireland’s tax regime and wants to reign in investment banking.

Europe Online:

German states unveiling new bid to ban right-wing extremist party

Germany’s 16 states were set to unveil on Monday the country’s second attempt to ban the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD), claiming it has adopted the same aggressive anti-foreigner stance as Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.

Spiegel:

Sex Law Reform: Johns to be Prosecuted for Forced Prostitution

A prostitute in Böblingen. Johns are facing action over forced prostitution

Germany’s new coalition government, which is yet to come into office, has agreed to push through a reform of the controversial Prostitution Act in early 2014. For the first time in German history, johns will be prosecuted if they knowingly use the services of prostitutes forced to work in the sex trade.

TheLocal.ch:

More French ‘fraudsters’ declare Swiss accounts

The tax service in France has seen a flood of requests to regularize funds hidden abroad, a minister said Monday, as Switzerland pledges to end its vaunted banking secrecy under international pressure.

TheLocal.fr:

Consular staff sue British Embassy in Paris

Several aggrieved staff members who lost their jobs at the British Consulate in Paris have launched legal action against the embassy, who it accuses of breaking French law when they were made redundant.

The four employees were made redundant along with 17 others when the passport processing office at the Consulate closed down at the end of August and was relocated to London as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Xinhua:

Spanish gov’t mulls second labor reform for 2014: economy minister

The right wing Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy was preparing a second round of labor reforms for the new year, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said Saturday.

Speaking at an event in Catalonia, De Guindos said that the second labor reform, which follows on from the first reform passed in February 2012, would simplify the different work contracts and also make part-time contracts more flexible.

TheLocal.es:

Foreign investors return to Spain

A year after fleeing Spain as its economy tottered on the brink of a full-blown sovereign bailout, foreign investors are coming back.

The prospect of relatively high returns in a eurozone economy emerging from recession with a strong corporate presence in Latin America is apparently proving irresistible.

El País:

Spanish manufacturing suffers renewed decline in November

First contraction in four months highlights “fragility” of sector

The Spanish manufacturing sector contracted again in November as new orders fell for the first time in six months, underscoring the anemic state of the incipient recovery.

TheLocal.es:

Spain’s top parties won’t govern alone: Poll

Spain is facing an increasingly splintered political future with neither of the country’s two major parties likely to be able to form government alone in a future election, a new poll published on Sunday shows.

ThinkSpain:

Canal Nou closes for good provoking massive demonstrations in Valencia and Alicante

DESPITE thousands of employees putting up a fight, blocking liquidators from entering their premises, occupying their old workplace and continuing to broadcast despite orders to the contrary, Canal Nou (Valencia’s Channel 9) and Ràdio Nou have finally been taken off air and the company responsible for them, Radio Televisión Valenciana (RTVV) shut down.

The Portugal News:

Unemployment heads downwards for seventh consecutive month

The Portuguese unemployment rate retreated for the 7th month in a row although still coming in at the historically high 15.7%, according to the latest figures from the European Union number crunchers Eurostat.

The Guardian:

Italian textile factory fire deaths highlight conditions for migrant workers

At least seven people died and three were injured when a clothing factory in an industrial zone in the Italian town of Prato burned down on Sunday, killing workers trapped in an improvised dormitory built on the site.

TheLocal.it:

Italy’s graduates turn to domestic works

More Italians, and especially those with a degree, are turning to domestic work – a sector usually dominated by foreigners – according to a survey by Assindatcolf, the National Association of Employers of Domestic Workers.

Assindatcolf said that almost 10 percent of those providing household services, whether it be cleaning, babysitting or looking after the elderly, are Italian – a jump from 3.73 percent in 2011 and 8.62 percent last year, Corriere reported.

New Europe:

Putin hopes Russia will boost trade with Italy

On 26 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow and Rome hope that bilateral trade will reach $50 billion this year.

“Italy is fourth among Russia’s largest trade partners,” Putin said after talks in Trieste with the Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.  “Bilateral trade has been growing. This year, despite problems in the global and European economy, it will grow by another 24%. I think it will reach or even exceed the $50 billion mark,” he added.

TheLocal.it:

Opening brothels could give Italy tax boost

The council in Italy’s northern Lombardy region is pushing to overhaul the country’s law against prostitution, in order to gain tax revenue, Italian media has reported.

After the jump, Grecomeltdown, Ukrainian crisis, Iranian changes, Latin American economics and political tensions, Asian treaty tensions, space shots by India and China, Thai turmoil, the rise of the Asian neoliberal national security state, Chinese numbers, mixed Japanese economic signals, environmental news, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Greco/Fukufolly


We open with a cartoon from Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

BLOLG toon

Over the top and bubblicious, from the Christian Science Monitor:

Dow closes above 16000, but some economists are worried

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended Thursday at a record 16009.99, which was up 109.17 points. But some see the stock market as an ‘asset bubble’ fueled by the Fed’s bond-buying program.

Canada next, with the latest numbers, via National Post:

Ford Nation still standing strong despite scandals as mayor’s approval rating hits 42%

Indeed, support for Ford, who has had much of his authority stripped by city council over the past week, is still comfortably in the 37-49% range, Forum said

That number is one percent more than President Barack Obama is polling.

On to Europe, with bribe offers in the works. From Reuters:

Exclusive: Euro zone mulls cheap loans as incentive for economic reforms -document

Euro zone states are considering cheap loans to member governments as an incentive to carry out painful economic reforms, an EU document showed, introducing a discussion on fiscal transfers.

Yet anther dressing down, via EUbusiness:

Eurozone warns Spain, Italy to deliver on commitments

The eurozone Friday warned five countries led by Spain and Italy to deliver on promises to hit deficit and debt targets in national spending plans next year.

From the London Telegraph, the end of a British dream?:

Dream of property abroad dies as sales fall up to 42pc in crisis years

Incomes in the UK are squeezed and mortgage lenders in Europe are reluctant to lend to non-residents

Germany next, with a big bounceback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

German business confidence rises strongly in November: Ifo

German business confidence contrasted with worries about eurozone recovery on Friday, showing a surprisingly strong rebound in November to the highest level for more than 18 months.

Of course it’s not [wink, wink], via EUbusiness:

German surplus is not harmful: Bundesbank

Germany’s trade surplus, a source of tension with European neighbours, is not harmful to the economy, but helpful, a top official of the German central bank or Bundesbank said on Friday.

Spiegel takes us to Switzerland and a divisive weekend vote:

‘Fat Cat’ Backlash: Swiss Executive Pay Debate Gets Ugly

Switzerland votes this weekend on whether to limit executives’ pay at twelve times that of their lowest-paid worker. In the run up to the referendum, the issue has become a national talking point, with both sides stoking public resentments and fears.

Spain next, as the scandal around the reigning neoliberal Popular Party heats up, via El País:

“Circumstantial” evidence exists that PP kept parallel accounts, High Court says

Undeclared payments to architect recorded in ex-party treasurer’s secret ledgers correspond to bills seized from architect’s office

More PP problems from TheLocal.es:

Weed dealing officials kicked out of ruling party

Two city councillors from the northern Spanish city of León have been expelled from the country’s ruling Popular Party after being arrested for allegedly trafficking a kilo of marijuana

From thinkSPAIN, Hispanoskeptics:

Faith in Spanish justice system ‘among lowest in Europe’

NEARLY two-thirds of residents in Spain have ‘no faith whatsoever’ in the country’s justice system and a similar proportion find the process takes too long and is outside the reach of most people’s pockets.

TheLocal.es cites an austerian consequence:

Cuts to medical spending hurting Spaniards: OECD

Spaniards are getting healthier but spending cuts could hurt the country’s most vulnerable citizens in the longer term, a new OECD study shows.

And El País covers an IP takedown:

First arrest made in Spain for leaking music online

Pirate copy of album by heavy rock band Extremoduro appeared on the web one month before planned release

While ANSAmed finds a driver:

Tourism driving economic recovery in Spain

54.3 mln foreign visitors this year so far, highest ever

And El País cites a Mariano prime ministerial musing:

Rajoy mulls strike law reform to guarantee minimum services

PM says Popular party has “made mistakes” in handling of Bárcenas corruption affair

Conservative leader defends reforms and says education minister “has complied with electoral program”

From the Portugal News, austerian opposition:

Transport Turmoil

Strikes staged by Portugal’s transport sector have already soaked up more than half of the time that the incumbent government has been in power and, in protest to measures drawn up for next year’s State Budget, further action is on the cards for the impending festive season which threatens to blight travel plans over Christmas and New Year.

More of the same from New Europe:

Portuguese police demonstrate against austerity measures

Thousands of Portuguese policemen staged a protest in downtown Lisbon Thursday night against government’s austerity measures adopted in the 2014 draft budget.

The policemen from across the country marched from Luis Camoes Square toward the parliament building, holding placards and chanting slogans against austerity measures, which include salary and benefit cuts for civil servants.

Ialy next, and coming unwired with TheLocal.it:

Copper theft on the rise in crisis-hit Italy

Italy is cracking down on copper thieves, an ever-growing problem amid rising poverty in the crisis-hit country that has cost the railways alone some €31 million over the last three years.

TheLocal.it notes yet another austerian consequence:

Money woes drive more Italians to suicide

There has been a rise in the number of Italians committing suicide as they grapple with money problems amid a recession that is showing little sign of letting up, with 119 taking their lives since the start of 2013, new figures reveal.

After the jump, Grecocollapse, Latin American transitions, more neoliberal changes in China, the Japanese economic shakeout, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Enviro/Fukuquake


The pace accelerates, especially in Greece and Asia, which the Fukushima reactor complex undergoes a tremendously dangerous spent fuel removal. . .after the jump.

We begin at home, via China Daily USA:

China increases US debt holdings

Figures released on Monday showed that after shedding US debt in August and hitting a six-month low at $1.28 trillion of holdings, China picked up $25.7 billion in September, remaining the largest foreign holder of US debt at $1.29 trillion.

From Bloomberg, Bankster Behaving Badly pays the piper:

JPMorgan Reaches Record $13 Billion Mortgage Pact With U.S.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. reached a $13 billion deal with the U.S. Justice Department that ends probes into the bank’s sale of mortgage bonds, the largest amount paid by a financial firm in a settlement with the government.

From Bloomberg, plutocratic kitchen porn:

Espresso Machines at $20,000 Bring High Design Into Homes

“A Kees van der Westen is pretty much the holy grail,” says Dave Ringwood, head of equipment customization, restoration and design at Olympia, Washington–based Espresso Parts LLC.

They’re also among the most expensive on the market. Van der Westen’s smallest, least-costly model, the Speedster, retails for about $8,800, while his largest, the Spirit, goes for $20,000.

Bloomberg also covers reality for the 99%:

Wal-Mart Touts $98 TV in Weakest Holiday Season Since ‘09

U.S. retailers are discounting earlier than ever as they brace for the weakest holiday shopping season since 2009.

From Quartz, a much-needed reminder:

Beware the looming corporate debt cliff

US corporations are issuing more bonds than ever (paywall), rushing to take advantage of rock bottom interest rates before the Federal Reserve winds back its loose monetary policy. But with every binge comes a hangover, and 2018 could be the year when the real impact of this year’s borrowing bonanza begins to hit home.

From the Lodi News-Sentinel, another harsh reality:

Ties to military take a toll on teens, study shows

Teenagers with family members in the military were more likely to contemplate suicide if their relatives were deployed overseas multiple times, according to researchers from the University of Southern California.

After analyzing survey data from 14,299 secondary school students in California — including more than 1,900 with parents or siblings in the military — the researchers found a link between a family member’s deployment history and a variety of mental health problems, including “suicidal ideation,” or thoughts about suicide.

Salon notes another ongoing tragedy:

Privatization is undoing Brown v. Board of Education

Our school system is increasingly “separate and unequal” — and we have Michelle Rhee’s political allies to thank

And from Quartz, great expectations unfulfilled:

US cars won’t be running on low-carbon biofuels next year as planned—because there aren’t any

The US government is bowing to the reality that the biofuel-powered future is not going to arrive as soon as it had hoped. In 2007, Congress passed a law setting quotas for the production of low-carbon biofuels to fight climate change. This year, for instance, the country should be producing 1.75 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels – go-go juice made from the inedible parts of plants. It has not quite worked out that way.

The Contributor covers big box thuggishness:

Labor Board: Walmart Threatened, Disciplined or Terminated Employees for Participating in Strikes and Protests

Federal officials said Monday they are prepared to file formal complaints against Walmart for allegedly violating the legal rights of protesting workers last year.

To Canada next, with a  National Post update:

Locked out: Rob Ford loses key staff and office access in mayoral shakeup at Toronto City Hall

‘The locks have been changed, security has been changed,’ Deputy Mayor Kelly said as the mayor’s office was physically split up

And the take from David Horsey, editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Ford

BBC News has the latest:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he has given up alcohol

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he has given up alcohol after a “come to Jesus moment”, as city councillors all but stripped him of power.

A summation from The Guardian:

The political brilliance of Rob Ford

The Toronto mayor took hard drugs and admitted it – and still the voters are fond of him. His ‘typical guy’ act has revealed Canada’s renegade side

The Financial Post covers an interesting development:

OECD calls for Bank of Canada rate to more than double to 2.25% by end of 2015

Just last month, the Bank of Canada dropped a mini-bombshell by adopting a neutral position on interest rates, after long insisting that any eventual move would be up.

A global story from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

OECD lowers growth outlook on risks for emerging markets

Growth in advanced economies will pick up speed this year and next, but mostly at a slower pace than forecast as new risks loom, especially from emerging economies, the OECD said on Tuesday.

Another from Kyodo News, covering a sorry story continuing:

TPP chief trade negotiators begin talks to sign deal by year-end

From New Europe, the bankster solution:

Organisation predicts modest growth for eurozone but stubbornly high unemployment

OECD: fixing Europe’s banks key for global growth

The Independent carries a similar opinion:

Satyajit Das: Zombie banks are just one of the problems the eurozone still faces

Das Capital: European governments are resorting to tricks to resolve their banking problems

EurActiv covers a seemingly hopeful European sign:

Furore over tax evasion opens door to new EU proposal on corporate tax

EU leaders responding to the public outcry over tax evasion by multinational companies have triggered a quest for pan-European solutions to tax fraud, but the debate has also enabled the European Commission to return to a controversial proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

Reuters offers another mixed message:

Eurozone recovery fragile but no deflation risk: ECB’s Praet

There is no risk of deflation visible in the euro zone economy but its recovery is fragile with inflation low and credit subdued, ECB Executive Board member Peter Praet said on Tuesday.

And New Europe points to another weakness:

However, VW is the world’s largest R&D investor

EU firms stay behind in R&D

From EurActiv a rebuff to intolerance:

Commission: Refugee push-backs are illegal

The European Commission indirectly warned Greece and Bulgaria today (19 November) to stop turning down Syrian refugees at their borders with Turkey, after the UN issued a similar call just a few days before.

The London Telegraph takes us to Old Blighty and private security contractors behaving badly:

Government refuses G4S’s £24.1m for ‘wrong’ tagging bills

NAO report finds G4S and rival Serco continued to charge for tagging criminals many years after removing the electronic equipment from their homes

Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister, launched an investigation in July after discovering evidence that the taxpayer had been overcharged, in some cases for tagging prisoners who were dead or back in prison.

And The Independent points to a massive threat:

£1,430,000,000,000: Britain’s personal debt timebomb

Britain faces a timebomb as the cost of living crisis forces more people into crippling debt they will not be able to repay, according to a major study published today.

Another real estate bubble threat-in-the making via the London Telegraph:

Help to Buy must be ‘carefully monitored’, warns OECD

OECD revises up growth UK forecasts by more than any other G7 country over the next two years but warns Government mortgage subsidies could undermine affordability

Ireland next, with hard tiimes ahead for seniors, via the Irish Times:

Pensioners in troubled schemes to face cuts under new law

Insolvent and restructured schemes to balance brunt of cuts between workers and retired members

On to Iceland, with a political dispute from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Central Bank And Prime Minister At Odds Over Debt Relief

The Central Bank of Iceland believes Iceland’s economy could be greatly damaged if the bank is required to fund government debt relief plans. Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson dismissed the objections as politically related.

Vísir reports that Már Guðmundsson, the chairperson of the Central Bank of Iceland, told reporters that if the government intends to legislate funding to pay down household debts across the country through the use of a Central Bank-funded “debt correction fund”, this would be equivalent to simply printing more money. “And I don’t need to explain to you what effect that would have,” he said.

Norway Next, with Reuters:

Norway needs to wean economy off oil: finance minister

Weak productivity growth is the Norwegian economy’s biggest challenge and reducing reliance on its massive offshore oil sector is the new government’s main priority, finance minister Siv Jensen said on Tuesday.

To Holland next, with bad news from DutchNews.nl:

OECD sees Dutch economy contracting next year

The Dutch economy remains weak and will contract by 0.1% next year, according to new forecasts from the OECD.

On to Germany with a warning from Deutsche Welle:

Denmark’s populists on the rise

The latest surveys indicate that Denmark’s far-right Danish People’s Party is poised to do well in local elections. This could be a boost for similar parties across Europe, which aim to join forces.

An upbeat story from Bloomberg:

German Investor Confidence Rises for a Fourth Month

German investor confidence rose to the highest level in more than four years, signaling that the economic recovery in Europe’s largest economy remains on track even after a third-quarter slowdown.

Spiegel covers another political development:

SPD-Left Rapprochement: A Time Bomb in Merkel’s Government

The Social Democrats sowed mistrust among Angela Merkel’s conservatives last week by declaring themselves open to a future alliance with the left-wing Left Party. Her new government could be more fragile than thought, with the SPD already positioning itself for the post-Merkel era.

And Deutsche Welle points to another obstacle:

German employers’ chief criticizes thrust of coalition talks

The newly elected leader of Germany’s employers’ federation says current talks in Berlin to form a coalition government do not have the right focus. Ingo Kramer fears industry’s interests are being given short shrift.

France next with TheLocal.fr and high anxieties:

France set to reform its ‘unreadable’ tax system

With much recent talk of France being at risk of a “social explosion” over the country’s high taxes, its under pressure Prime Minister made a promise on Tuesday to overhaul the fiscal system, admitting that it was almost “unreadable” and “very complex”.

Xinhua covers a fast shuffle:

France’s Hollande defends policies as popularity hits record low

With record low approval ratings as most of his economic promises in tatters, French President Francois Hollande justified his decisions to fix economic troubles and improve the country’s social welfare in a fresh attempt to convince discontent public.

From TheLocal.fr, yet another anxiety for Paris:

Angry French farmers set to blockade Paris

French farmers are set to bring traffic in the capital to a standstill on Thursday, as their frustration at rising taxes reaches breaking point. Their announcement comes amid widespread protests and an “explosive” social atmosphere in France

RFI English covers a labor action:

French midwives on strike for pay and status

France’s midwives deliver the vast majority of the country’s babies. But since 26 October over 70 per cent of the sector has been on strike. Minister of Social Affairs and Health  Marisol Touraine has set up a working group to address midwives’ concerns, including lack of recognition and low pay.

Spain next, with ANSAmed offering a kinder, gentler assessment:

Spain: OECD revises 2013-2015 estimates for the better

Madrid will reportedly make its EU commitments

TheLocal.es covers an admission:

We got it wrong on Spain: Goldman Sachs

Global investment bank Goldman Sachs admitted recently its 2012/13 predictions for Spain had been wrong and that the country had outperformed expectations.

El País has another boost in a bankster endorsement:

One-year bill yield falls to record low at Treasury auction

Demand comfortably exceeds the 4.55 billion euros sold

From TheLocal.es, provocative diversion:

Spain orders arrest of China’s former president

Spain’s National Court authorized on Tuesday the arrest of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and four of his officials as part of an investigation into the alleged genocide of Tibetans in the 1980s and 1990s

Portugal next, with an austerian landmark from EUbusiness:

Eurozone releases EUR 3.7 bn as Portugal bailout nears end

The eurozone approved Tuesday the disbursement of 3.7 billion euros in rescue loans to Portugal, taking Lisbon’s bailout to its final stage, the EFSF said in a statement.

ANSAmed brings action:

Portuguese subway employees announce more strikes

In wave of anti-austerity public sector protests

Italy next, with an austerian reality from TheLocal.it:

Italians slash spending on food

Italians are spending €2 billion a year less on food, a figure that is expected to remain stable in 2014, according to a study by Unioncamere, Italy’s chamber of commerce.

ANSAmed delivers a message:

OECD joins EU in telling Italy to cut debt

But chief economist says Rome ‘on right track’

And TheLocal.it captures despair:

Almost half of young Italians want to flee

Italy’s stagnant economy is driving its best talent overseas, with almost 50 percent of young Italians wanting to work abroad, according to a new report on Monday.

And a rare Czch headline from EUbusiness:

Czechs award first licence to import medical marijuana

The Czech health ministry said Tuesday it had awarded its first licence to import marijuana, months after the European Union member legalised the drug for medical purposes.

After the jump, Greek disaster deepens, warnings for Africa, Latin American political moves, Indian inflation and industrial weakness, the Chinese neoliberal rush, Japanese economic woes, the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEnviroFukuWho?


Today’s roundup of human economic actions and their consequences continues our exploration of events on the cusp begins with a wonderful summation of a process that’s been transpiring in industrial economies in the wake of crash-and-bail in the form of a graphic from the Wall Street Journal via Real World Economics Review Blog. Ponder, then weep:

BLOG wealth gains

From Newswise, grim evidence that food stamps aren’t enough, though they’re certainly much worse since the GOP forced their reduction;

Enrollment in SNAP Does Not Substantially Improve Food Security or Dietary Quality

According to a New Study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

From The Guardian, the door revolves:

Former Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner to join private equity firm

Key member of first-term Obama administration will join Warburg Pincus as president and managing director in March

Xinhuanet reports on an investor, with a growing foreign direct investment [FDI] in America:

Nation’s FDI in US getting more diverse

Although the scope of Chinese investment in the United States is broadening and diversifying, the amounts involved are still a drop in the bucket when it comes to foreign direct investment in the world’s largest economy, officials said.

“As of the end of September, Chinese businesses’ cumulative direct investment in non-financial sectors in the US accounted for 2.9 percent of China’s total outward direct investment, which wasn’t in line with the huge markets in both countries,” said Wang Chao, vice-minister of commerce, during the High-Level Forum (Beijing) on Sino-US Investment Promotion on Friday.

The Guardian covers business as usual:

JP Morgan to pay £2.8bn to settle claims by investors

The bank has reached agreement with 21 institutional investors in 330 residential mortgage-backed securities trusts

From Businessweek, a curious uptick:

U.S. Car Buyers Lever Up to Record Levels

Auto-loan debt held by U.S. consumers has swelled to $845 million, the highest level on record since the Federal Reserve started tallying car loans in 1999.

The Guardian with the latest on ObamaErr:

Health insurers bemoan Obamacare ‘fix’ as adding confusion to rollout

President meets top insurers a day after announcing they could continue offering policies that fall short of new standards

Another consequence, the massive paring of insuror doctor roles, reported by the Wall Street Journal:

UnitedHealth Culls Doctors From Medicare Advantage Plans

Physicians in 10 States Notified; Insurer Cites ‘Funding Pressure’ From Federal Government

From Bloomberg Businessweek, the biggest welfare queen of them all:

Why Wal-Mart Really Needs Food Stamps

Walmart, it turns out, is a big beneficiary of the food-stamp program. Almost half of all redemptions are in big-box super-centers such as Walmart and Target (TGT), according to Bloomberg Industries; in total, Americans spent about $73 billion worth of food stamps last year. If Walmart received one-quarter of that, the amount would come to about $18 billion. Walmart didn’t respond to a request for comment.

From In These Times, pace-breaking:

Trans-Pacific Partnership Opponents Score Major Victory

This week, 174 House members declared their opposition to fast-tracking the free-trade agreement.

Canada next, with CBC News:

Jobless Canadian teachers look abroad for employment

Newly qualified Canadian teachers frustrated with the over-saturated teaching market in many major Canadian cities are setting their sights on international schools abroad, where they say professional and personal benefits far outweigh those back home.

And a trans-Atlantic transition from BBC News, evidence that the NSA outrage was largely ornamental:

EU and US edge toward trade deal

A week of trade talks in Brussels have taken the European Union and the United States a little closer to a deal to liberalise bilateral trade.

Deutsche Welle was more muted in their coverage:

Mood good, but no results in EU and US trade talks

The European Union and the United States still have a long way to go: After a second round of talks on the free trade agreement, TTIP, many questions remain unanswered. And, data protection was not even addressed.

From the New York Times, a glum assessment:

Young and Educated in Europe, but Desperate for Jobs

Dozens of interviews with young people around the Continent reveal a creeping realization that the European dream their parents enjoyed is out of reach. It is not that Europe will never recover, but that the era of recession and austerity has persisted for so long that new growth, when it comes, will be enjoyed by the next generation, leaving this one out.

The Guardian looks at hard times intolerance:

The rise of the far right is overplayed – but austerity increases the threat

If the Wilders-Le Pen alliance succeeds in the European elections, it will partly be thanks to the harsh economic policies of political elites

From Deutsche Welle, stellar achievements?:

Spain and Ireland become Europe’s star debtors

Spain and Ireland are leaving Europe’s bailout program. Economists are not convinced that this represents a turning point, but it could be proof that the EU’s bailout mechanism actually works.

Britain next, with a Tory move at a time when the National Health Service is stressed and fraying. From BBC News:

Doctors and nurses may face jail for neglect

Doctors and nurses found guilty of “wilful neglect” of patients could face jail, the government is proposing.

The Guardian captures yet another instance of compassionate conservatism in action:

Home Office issues ‘end of life plan’ to hunger-striking asylum seeker

Decision to keep mentally ill Nigerian man in immigration detention centre seen as part of hardline approach by ministers

The London Telegraph notes a visual problem in the looting of the commons:

Clearer privatisations demanded after ‘opaque’ Royal Mail sell-off

Chairman of the Business Select Committee calls for more transparent processes for Lloyds and RBS sales

Ahead of a series of high-profile hearings at which Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will be questioned on his role in the Royal Mail’s £3.3bn sale, the chairman of the Business Select Committee said that the present system was “opaque”.

The Irish Independent invokes an oddly apt term to describe the Emerald Isle’s peculiar status:

Europe ramps up surveillance as cracks begin to show in master plan

WELCOME to the era of “relative independence”. It was a phrase used by Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup chair Jeroen Dijsselbloem (pictured) on Thursday, as he described the path that Ireland and Spain would take to recovery.

Germany next, and more of the latter day intolerance from Spiegel:

Football Violence: Neo-Nazis and Hooligans Find Common Ground

Football is increasingly becoming a platform for right-wing extremist violence across Germany. Alarmed sociologists and security experts warn of a new danger: a network of neo-Nazis and hooligans.

France next, with a resurgence of those anti-road-use taxes that brought out violence last weekend. From RFI:

French motorways blocked by ecotax protests

Traffic slowed to a snail’s pace on several French motorways on Saturday as road-freight companies joined protests against the ecotax on lorries transporting goods on the country’s roads.

France 24 brings us more Hard Times Intolerance:

UN slams ‘racist attacks’ on French black politician

The UN human rights body condemned France on Friday for the “racist attacks” on Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, including a far-right magazine cover likening her to a monkey, warning that “xenophobia and intolerance” are on the rise in Europe.

More from RFI:

French left calls anti-racist protest after minister monkey insults

Trade unions and anti-racist groups have called for a day of demonstrations across France after a series of insults to Guyanese-born Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. The minister’s security has been stepped up after she has received a number of insulting and threatening letters.

Spain next, and raising a stink with El País:

Madrid calls in public firm to clear up mounting garbage

Ultimatum given to striking companies by Mayor Ana Botella expired on Friday evening

One of the reason for the mayoral action from thinkSPAIN:

Madrid cleaning strike: Tourists cancel hotels and Christmas breaks in the capital at the last minute

DOZENS of international tourists have cancelled their planned trips to Madrid at the last minute now that the cleaning strike has hit the world’s headlines.

On to Italy with BBC News and more woes for the Baron of Bunga Bunga:

Italy split spells setback for Berlusconi

The centre-right faction of Silvio Berlusconi has split, dealing another political setback to the former Italian prime minister.

Angelino Alfano, the deputy prime minister, said he and colleagues were forming a new centre-right party.

But Berlusconi rebounds, with BBC News:

Former PM Silvio Berlusconi resurrects Forza Italia

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has relaunched his old party Forza Italia following a split in the centre-right movement.

And still more from Deutsche Welle:

Berlusconi’s new party breaks away from Italy’s ruling coalition

Embattled Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi has said his center-right party has split from Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s ruling coalition. However, the withdrawal is not enough to bring the government down.

And still more from the Associated Press:

Berlusconi invites former allies into alliance

Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi is inviting defectors from his party to at least back his shrunken center-right power base to oppose his enemies on the left.

Abandoning his characteristic defiance after setbacks, the media mogul reached out Saturday to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who broke ranks a day earlier to form his own `’New Center-Right” party.

And the perfect accompaniment from BBC News, in a Rome where tree-trimmers and avian dispelling technology have been lost to austerity:

Italy: Rome drowns in bird droppings as austerity bites

Rome is facing a “guano alarm” as millions of starlings leave the city covered in a thick layer of droppings, Italian media report.

Reuters takes us to an impoverished and divided Bulgaria:

Tens of thousands rally for and against Bulgarian government

Tens of thousands of opponents and supporters of Socialist-led government rallied on Saturday, underscoring the widening political divide and uncertainty in the European Union’s poorest country.

After the jump, the ongoing Greek meltdown, Latin American troubles, the latest Chinese neoliberal moves, Japanese economic woes, an environmental potpourri, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Fuku/Ecotastrophe


Much happening, and a very long post today, including some ominous environmental developments after the jump.

The Greek meltdown continues, and the Troika is out for blood, while Japan’s economy stalls and the government creates the framework for a national security state — and both China and Japan are creating parallels to the institutions of the world’s reigning national security state, the U.S.A, including their own spankin’ new national security councils.

We’re playing with the relatively limited typographical options, hence the change. [We're not quite happy with either of the two options. . .]

We begin at home with a four-alarm alert from Business Insider:

Moody’s Cuts Ratings For Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Credit

Moody’s has downgraded the credit ratings for notes issued by Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and BNY Mellon, citing updated views of government support and issues within the banks themselves.

From Common Dreams and U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of Manhattan, a breath of fresh air:

Federal Judge Slams DoJ for Not Prosecuting Wall Street Execs

The “’too big to jail excuse’ is mindboggling in what it says about the department’s disregard of fundamental legal principles,” said Rakoff

From MarketWatch, a chuckle:

J.P. Morgan tweet idea gone horribly wrong: #AskJPM

J.P. Morgan Chase as set to host a Twitter conversation on career advice with Jimmy Lee, a vice chairman and one of Wall Street’s top deal makers. But it cancelled the session after a massive backlash: The hashtag #ASKJPM that was supposed to field questions solicited hundreds of snarky comments from every corner of the globe.

From USA TODAY, an unbalancing act:

U.S. trade deficit widens 8% in September

The U.S. trade deficit widened in September as imports increased to the highest level in 10 months while exports slipped.

Sky News notes a pronouncement:

Fed Nominee Says Economy Still Needs Support

In Senate confirmation hearings, Janet Yellen alludes to agreement with the Federal Reserve’s bond buying and low interest rates.

From the Christian Science Monitor, yet another good argument for single-payer:

Businesses cut full-time workers to meet Obamacare mandate, study says

A study of small businesses found that many are cutting full-time workers or worker hours to comply with Obamacare. Franchises are making the biggest cuts.

Form the Oakland Tribune, dashing hopes:

Gov. Brown to UC: Don’t count on state for another budget increase

Gov. Jerry Brown handed the University of California and its new president, Janet Napolitano, what he called “a reality sandwich” on Thursday, saying it’s unlikely state politicians will give the system the extra funding it wants for next year.

From Salon, Christian compassion. Or not:

Arizona prison horror: “Critically ill” inmates told to “pray” for healing

“To say that I’m terrified would be an understatement. But I simply do not know what to do,” one inmate writes

Techdirt raises faint [feint?] hopes:

Congress May Not Be So Eager To Simply Hand Over Its Own Authority To The Obama Administration To Approve TPP

from the a-good-sign dept

From the Washington Post, an ax falls:

Lockheed Martin to cut 4,000 jobs

Defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin announced Thursday that it would eliminate 4,000 jobs and close several facilities in an effort to cut costs in a climate of reduced federal spending.

From IllinoisTimes, the ultimate neoliberal indignity for Honest Abe:

Mayor talks with company about Oak Ridge

StoneMor Partners, a Pennsylvania based cemetery company, has been quietly talking with Springfield Mayor Mike Houston and other top city officials about taking over management of Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Calling StoneMor “a good company,” Houston acknowledged Tuesday that he has spoken with no other firms about taking over cemetery operations. He has said that the city plans to issue a request for proposals aimed at soliciting bids to privatize Abraham Lincoln’s final resting place. The city council must approve any management deal

Up to Canada for something we’d like to see here from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Conservatives take first step on unbundling cable channels

Canadian Heritage Minister Shelley Glover is taking the first step towards forcing television service providers to let subscribers pay for only those channels they want.

From CBC, an exception:

Canadian tourism declines despite world travel boom

Tourism is one of the world’s fastest-growing businesses, yet the number of international travellers to Canada has declined 20 per cent since 2000, according to a report from Deloitte & Touche.

Oh, and what about our ongoing coverage Toronto Mayor Bob Ford?

The following brief press encounter [NSFW] is all we’ve got to say on the matter:

Off to Europe with the Japan Times:

Eurozone recovery grinds to a near halt; tough slog lies ahead

The recovery from recession in the 17-country eurozone nearly came to a grinding halt in the third-quarter, raising concerns that the region faces a long slog back from its five-year economic crisis.

But the eurobankster raises hopes, via EUbusiness:

ECB survey sees lower eurozone inflation, higher growth

Eurozone inflation will remain below target in the next years, while growth will gather momentum, according to a new survey published by the European Central Bank on Thursday.

But it’s not just “lower inflation,” reports The Guardian:

Deflation fears stalk eurozone as Spain reports fall in prices

Economists fear low inflation plus high unemployment and the economic malaise may drag eurozone towards Japan-style slump

Some austerity at the top from MercoPress:

EU approves 2014 budget 7% lower; 62bn Euros to stimulate growth and jobs

The European Union has clinched a deal on a sharply trimmed 2014 budget after a marathon 16-hour session ending a long dispute over how best to spend taxpayers’ money. After decades of growth, next year’s EU budget is set to be around 7% lower than this year’s at 135.5 billion Euros in contributions by member states.

Reuters reports resistance from the primary beneficiary:

Germany challenges use of euro zone cash to repair banks

Germany challenged a central plank of plans to forge a banking union in the euro zone on Thursday, arguing against the use of the currency bloc’s funds to help lenders exposed as dangerously weak by health checks next year.

On to Britain and a falling ax from BBC News:

Barclays plans to cut 1,700 jobs Barclays sign

Barclays is cutting 1,700 jobs from across its branch network in the UK, saying it is in response to changes in the way people use the bank.

Ireland next, with EUobserver:

Ireland becomes first euro country to quit bailout programme

Ireland will become the first eurozone country to exit a bailout programme, after deciding that it will not request a temporary credit line when its €85 billion rescue ends.

A declaration from Michael Noonan delivered by TheJournal.ie:

“The purpose of the programme was actually to exit the programme” – Noonan

The Finance Minster says that Ireland’s decision not to take a post-bailout credit line was because this was a “benign” time. The Troika say Ireland is in a “strong position”.

From DutchNews.nl, a Dutch coming out?:

The Dutch economy is out of recession – just

The Dutch economy managed to creep out of recession and grew by 0.1% in the third quarter of this year compared with Q2, according to new estimates from the national statistics office CBS on Thursday.

Germany next, with eviction notices in the wind via Spiegel:

Exit Clause: Merkel’s Partners Want Broke Countries Out of Euro

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the next government to be unified on its EU policy, but her sister party is resorting to populism. Bavaria’s Christian Social Union wants tougher provisions against deficit offenders and the ability to drive them out of the euro zone.

From EUbusiness, heightened interest in lack of interest:

Germany feeling pinch of low interest rates

Banks and insurers in Germany are increasingly feeling the negative side-effects of ultra-low interest rates, the German central bank or Bundesbank warned on Thursday.

Europe Online delivers a German ax blow:

German energy giant RWE to cut 6,750 jobs

German energy giant RWE AG is to cut 6,750 jobs, around 10 per cent of its workforce, by 2016 amid falling profits, a company source said Thursday

BBC News delivers another:

Volkswagen recalls 2.6 million cars

German carmaker Volkswagen has announced a recall of about 2.6 million cars worldwide, including 640,000 in China, a crucial growth market.

France next, with a raging alarm from the London Telegraph:

French officials warn of social tinderbox as economy contracts again

Francois Hollande called on France to judge him on his success in “bending the curve in unemployment”, but this has come back to haunt him

BBC News takes a slice of the commons:

France sells stake in jet engine firm Safran

The French government is selling a 3.6% stake in jet engine maker Safran worth 937m euros ($1.3bn). The government will remain Safran’s biggest shareholder with a stake of more than 22%.

And Reuters delivers a major blow:

French economy contracts 0.1 percent in setback for Hollande

France’s economy unexpectedly returned to contraction in the third quarter as investment dropped, dealing a new blow to President Francois Hollande’s efforts to revive the euro zone’s second biggest economy.

New Europe delivers another:

Electorate looking for radical political solutions to get them out of the crisis

Poll: French want parliament dissolved or PM change

And France 24 has numbers:

Hollande’s popularity hits new low of 15%

After falling to a record low of 26 percent in October, approval for French President François Hollande has collapsed even further, with a poll published Thursday giving him just 15 percent support.

Spain next, with The Local.es, reaching for favorable comparison:

Spain doing better than ‘stagnant’ France

For the first time in nearly five years, the Spanish economy is outperforming that of France, official French figures released on Thursday show.

El País cofers a blessing:

Europe endorses Spain’s exit from bailout program

Economy minister heralds January end to 18-month banking rescue plan

From thinkSPAIN, another emergence:

CAM bank boss pays 1.5-million-euro bail release and leaves prison

HEAD of the now-defunct CAM bank Roberto López Abad has paid a 1.5-million-euro bail release to get out of jail.

El País covers an action against an action:

Madrid mayor gives cleaning companies strike ultimatum

Botella says contractors have 48 hours to cut a deal and meet minimum services in capital’s streets

The Portugal News brings us the same old story with the same old beneficiaries at a time when everyone else has been bled dry:

Rich get richer

The number of multi-millionaires in Portugal soared by more than 10 percent in 2012 alone, while their fortunes swelled even further (11.8 percent), a report by Swiss bank UBS has revealed. The definition of multi-millionaire for the purpose of the study is a person who has a fortune of 25 million euros or more.

El País notes continuing emergence:

Portuguese economy grows for second quarter in a row

GDP rises 0.2 percent in the period July-September as the IMF suggests the need for yet more wage cuts

The Portugal News looks at the victimology:

More than half of Portuguese on some form of benefits

While taxes show no signs of decreasing and wages remain stagnant at best, resulting in widespread social unrest, it has now emerged that the number of Portuguese receiving taxpayer-funded handouts has risen to 57 percent of the total number of the country’s inhabitants.

The Portugal News again, with a note of caution:

House prices fall in September, but optimism remains

While the Portuguese residential market has in modern history often accompanied trends established elsewhere in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom and Germany, it has so far failed to match the spiralling house prices recorded in 2013 over much of northern Europe.

Italy takes a hit, from Europe Online:

Italy posts ninth straight quarter of negative GDP growth

Italy suffered negative growth in the third quarter of the year, official data showed Thursday, confounding earlier expectations that the country would finally exit from a record-length recession.

From Corriere della Sera, the Baron of Bunga Bunga strikes out with Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano:

Berlusconi’s Crucial Rome Meeting with Alfano

Forty-eight hours for reflection. PD warns expulsion from Senate will not be postponed. Former PM’s lawyer rules out request for pardon

From Bulgaria, out-of-sight/out-of-mind with the Associated Press:

Hungarian capital bans homeless from public areas

Budapest’s city council has banned the homeless from living in many public areas of the city, including playgrounds, train stations, cemeteries, and the Hungarian capital’s largest park.

The decision was made possible by a constitutional amendment adopted in March which allows municipalities to ban homeless from public places for security, health and other reasons. A similar law had been earlier declared anti-constitutional by Hungary’s highest court.

After the jump, Greek tensions, Latin American warnings, Indian economic woes, onrushing Chinese neoliberalism amidst mixed signals, Japanese downslides, environmental alarm bells, and the lastest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Enviro/Enormo


Plus Fukushimapocalypse Now!

The pace is picking up again, and major changes are on the way in China, where the regime seems intent on rapid conversion to the neoliberal regime. The Greek meltdown continues, Japan struggles, and much, much more.

We begin at home with the Los Angeles Times:

More anxious retailers will open earlier on Thanksgiving

Black Friday? Try Thursday. More retailers, fearful of slow sales, are opening earlier on Thanksgiving, but some analysts warn of a consumer backlash.

The Washington Post with an all-time record:

Congress’s approval rating hits new low: 9 percent

Congress is now in the single digits, according to Gallup. After seeing its approval rating fall to an all-time low of 10 percent in 2012, Congress has hit an even lower low: 9 percent.

Bloomberg Businessweek brings us too little, too late:

Student Loan Borrowers May Get Relief From For-Profit Colleges

The U.S. Department of Education has signaled it wants to be more aggressive in policing for-profit colleges by proposing rules that would make it easier to cut off funding to low-performing schools and, in some cases, force colleges to help borrowers who are stuck with large debts and low earnings.

From The Guardian, common sense in Obama’s own party:

Elizabeth Warren challenges Obama to break up ‘too-big-to-fail’ Wall St banks

Amid speculation that she might run against Hillary Clinton in 2016, firebrand senator attacks regulators for multiple failings

The Toronto Globe and Mail foresees an energy revolution:

U.S. to lead world in oil production by 2015, but OPEC to rise again: IEA

Expanding production of unconventional oil outside OPEC will diminish the importance of Middle East production over the next decade, but the region will reclaim its leverage over oil markets after 2020, the International Energy Agency said in a new report Tuesday.

Eyes on the Fed from the Economic Times:

Emerging economies to suffer more from US taper: Jim Yong Kim, World Bank

Emerging markets are likely to see considerably more impact from higher US interest rates when the when the Federal Reserve pulls back from its massive monetary stimulus,  World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said on Tuesday.

Financial Post takes us north of the border:

Canada to emerge as the fourth-fastest growing oil player in the world: IEA

Canadian oil sands production could “easily” surge by an additional one million barrels per day if key pipeline projects are approved, according to the International Energy Agency.

From National Post, comic relief:

Buoyed Ford promises a ‘rumble in the jungle’ as council prepares a vote on forcing him out

The Rob Ford-crack cocaine sideshow will make it before city council Wednesday, with the beleaguered mayor promising a ‘rumble in the jungle’ vote

And the Financial Post sounds an alarm:

Canada headed for ‘huge economic crisis’ if no action taken to improve pensions, warns Ontario premier

Canada is headed for a “huge economic crisis” if the provinces and federal government don’t take action now to improve retirement incomes, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne warned Tuesday.

Next, a story with a global focus from RT:

What crisis? Billionaires’ fortunes doubled since 2009

Amidst a sea of lost jobs, slashed wages and austerity measures, the super-rich seem super-resistant, with their wealth doubling since the financial crisis, adding $226 billion to their wealth in the last year alone.

International Business Times records the peculiar environment from which their wealth flows:

Global GDP Growth Will Likely Fall To 2.9 Percent In 2013

It isn’t just Europe that’s still suffering from the repercussions of the 2008-2009 recession. Global GDP growth slowed to 3.2 percent in 2012 and will likely fall further, to 2.9 percent, in 2013, according to estimates from the Conference Board Global Economic Outlook 2013.

Jiji Press bridges the Pacific:

Japan, U.S. Confirm Efforts to Conclude TPP Talks by Year-End

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso and visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Tuesday agreed on the two countries’ continued cooperation to help conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations by the end of this year.

And New Europe takes us across the Atlantic and the machine at work:

Commission wants to promote trade deals with S.Africa, Cameroon and Ivory Coast

EU aims to promote FTA with African countries

From Deutsche Welle, reaffirming?:

EU leaders reaffirm resolve to boost youth employment

At a follow-up conference in Paris, top EU policy makers have renewed their pledge to bring down youth unemployment considerably in the bloc. Right now, one in four people under 25 is without work.

More from euronews:

EU youth jobless crisis – the human cost

Tepid economic growth in the European Union and people working longer as pension ages are raised means 5.6 million under the age of twenty five are without work in the region. And it is getting worse, in the last four years the overall employment rates for young people declined three times as much as for over twenty fives.

New Europe discerns division:

Homophobia splitting EU into West and (South) East

From Europe Online, at least something’s accomplished:

EU member states, parliament bury hatchet over 2014 budget

The European Union’s governments and parliament ended months of budget wrangling early Tuesday by agreeing on how much the cash-strapped bloc should spend in 2014.

Corporate Europe Observatory casts a critical eye:

A Year of Broken Promises

Big business still put in charge of EU Expert Groups, despite commitment to reform

Should speculators be given privileged access to dominate advice on financial regulation, beverage companies on alcohol policy, or fossil fuel companies on climate change?

The Associated Press conveys caution:

EU official: bank bailouts remain possible

The vice president of the European Commission said Tuesday that taxpayer-funded bank bailouts remain a possibility if the latest stress test of Europe’s biggest banks reveals significant capital shortfalls _ or if the debt crisis were to really flare up again.

From EUobserver, the odd coupling:

EU commission ups pressure on Germany, France

Germany’s trade surplus and France’s “unacceptably” high taxes are set to be at the heart of the European Commission’s economic policy recommendations on Wednesday (13 November).

Whilst on the subject of France and Germany, consider this from New Europe:

New poll finds many French voters would vote to leave the euro

Euroscepticism on the rise in France, waning in UK

And from the article, the graphic evidence. And note how much happier Germans have become with the status quo:

BLOG Euroskeptics

More evidence of the changing British views via Reuters:

Britain’s Cameron could persuade skeptical voters to stay in EU: poll

A majority of British voters would choose to stay in the European Union if Prime Minister David Cameron succeeds in renegotiating London’s ties with the 28-nation bloc, a poll found on Tuesday.

EUobserver covers a move with potentially momentous consequences:

German negotiators suggest EU referendums for major decisions

German government coalition negotiators have suggested that national referendums be held on decisions transferring major powers to Brussels, Reuters reports. “The population should be asked directly on European policy decisions of special importance,” says the document, drafted by a working group led by senior members of the centre-right and centre-left.

On to Old Blighty, with a downtick from BBC News:

UK inflation falls to 2.2% in October

The UK’s inflation rate, as measured by the consumer prices index (CPI), fell to 2.2% in October from 2.7% the month before.

The Independent counts another austerian cost:

Coalition cuts blamed for shortage of 20,000 NHS nurses

Spending cuts have created a shortage of 20,000 NHS nurses, the Government has been warned, as fears grow that hospital wards may struggle to cope as winter approaches.

From The Independent, an austerian declaration:

David Cameron insists that squeeze on public-sector spending is permanent

The squeeze on public spending should continue and result in a permanently slimmed-down public sector, David Cameron said on Monday night as he staked out economic battle-lines with Labour ahead of the election.

Contractors conspicuously demonstrating the neoliberal desideratum, from The Independent:

Atos and G4S pay no corporation tax despite profiting from billions pounds worth of public sector contracts, as auditors warn of ‘crisis of confidence’ over private contractors

Private contractors carrying out billions of pounds worth of Government work face a “crisis of confidence” from the public, the National Audit Office (NAO) said, as it emerged that two of them paid no corporation tax last year.

Criminalizing childhood, via RT:

Kids too annoying? UK bill seeks to criminalize children’s ‘nuisance’

The Anti-Social Behavior, Crime and Policing Bill will grant powers to police, local authorities, and even private security firms to restrict any activity deemed to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.”

Ireland next, with some sad numbers from Independent.ie:

Less than half happy with how lives have turned out

THE VAST bulk of our 30-somethings are struggling to make ends meet, with 90pc revealing that coping with day-to-day living expenses is a key concern.

TheJournal.ie brings us another austerity cost:

Department of Health to increase cost of health insurance policies

The stamp duty for health insurance products providing ‘advanced’ cover will increase from €350 to €399 per adult and from €120 to €135 per child from 1 March

And the Independent.ie finds bubble blowhards building:

Economist warns that Dublin property prices are being ‘talked up’

EARLY signs of recovery in the Dublin property market are being exploited by those interested in talking up the market as a whole, it has been warned.

From the Reykjavík Grapevine, another kind of austerity:

Foreign Aid To Be Cut

Vísir reports that the previous government approved a measure that would pay 24 billion ISK to developing countries over the next four years – or about 1,500 ISK per Icelander, per month, for four years.

The Copenhagen Post takes us to Denmark:

OECD: Crisis had only modest impact on Denmark

Annual ‘How’s Life’ study shows that Danes weathered the storm with life satisfaction taking just a minor dip and work-life balance still on stop

And a pair of headaches from EUbusiness:

EU to hold France, Germany to account in push for growth

The EU will this week test a new system to ensure states toe economic rules when it decides whether to challenge eurozone giants Germany and France over their growth and deficit policies.

EurActiv aims for connections:

Commission claws back up to €200 million broadband funding in budget

The EU executive hailed victory in winning back vital funding for its European broadband funding rollout programme following trilogue talks last week that saw up to €200 million in spending secured over the 2014-2020 budget period.

From Capital.gr, a call for consumption:

EU’s Rehn: More Domestic Demand In Germany Would Aid Eurozone

European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn said Germany’s high trade surplus may warrant closer scrutiny and said boosting domestic demand would benefit the Eurozone and Germany itself.

RFI covers a French failure-in-progress:

Hollande under pressure to make changes amid mounting social discontent

The sight of protestors jeering at President François Hollande during the solemn Armistice Day Commemorations has stirred talk in France that the activities of various groups with different grievances are coalescing to form a more generalised revolt against the current government.

Spain next, and labor struggles from El País:

Spain’s great wage freeze reaches collective bargaining accords

  • Purchasing power on the slide for Spanish workers as even those with union protection join devaluation tendency

  • Business forum sees Spanish labor costs falling further

thinkSPAIN covers privatization of another commons by a Dutch firm with a booming business across the continent:

‘Themed’ and colourful toilets with their own souvenir shop cost 60 cents to use

‘FUN’ new public toilets have opened outside Madrid’s central Atocha station – which cost 60 cents to use.

Pay toilets were once ubiquitous in the U.S., but became victims of 1960′s activism. Addition of the pay pots reminds us of doggerel once spotted on a pay toilet wall:

Here I sit,
all broken-hearted.
Paid a quarter
and just farted.

From El País, another action:

Arrests made as Madrid garbage strike enters second week

Street cleaners facing personnel reduction plan accused of vandalism and failing to maintain minimum service

And thinkSPAIN covers an action to come:

Countrywide strike and protest marches next weekend ‘to save the people’

UNION bosses have called for as many residents as possible in Spain to join in protest marches and strikes on November 23 and 24 to ‘save the people’.

Off to Lisbon with the Portugal News:

Former finance minister criticises ‘socially unacceptable’ cuts

Portugal’s former finance minister, Manuela Ferreira Leite, has criticised the “socially unacceptable” measures imposed on pensioners and public sector workers on Monday, in exchange for “things that will not be reached”, meaning the deficit objectives for 2014.

The Portugal News again, and another piece of the commons going, going. . .:

State Secretary reveals conditions for Salgados mega-development

Portugal’s State Secretary for the Environment has today (12 November) told The Portugal News that while a provisional green light has been given for a contentious tourism development to take shape in one of the Algarve’s most important nature spots, a number of conditioning factors including “100 measures of minimisation” have been imposed.

ANSAmed takes us to Italy and an emerging austerian plateau?:

Italy’s finances improving, central bank says

Moody’s improves outlook for GDP, OECD optimistic

From Europe Online, populist Beppe Grillo, Five Star Movement leader, goes hyperbolic:

Italy opposition leader says government is Germany’s puppet regime

Italy is in the hands of a “puppet government” controlled by Germany, the country’s opposition leader charged on Tuesday, comparing Prime Minister Enrico Letta to Vidkun Quisling, Norway’s wartime pro-Nazi leader.

After the jump, the Greke meltdown continues, Latin American alarms, India agonies, Chinese neoliberalism, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day III: U.S./Euro/austeriorampage


Our third and final headlines post features that latest from the U.S. and Europe, with the emphasis on the continuing deconstruction of Greece.

We start here in the Golden State with Salon:

California Wal-Mart workers strike today, following stunning Florida victory

West Coast Wal-Mart workers walk off the job as the union-backed campaign says Florida strikers won major changes

From Salon again, recognizing the obvious:

The super-rich no longer need a middle class

They now inhabit a privatized economy and have left us at the mercy of the market

SINA English watches from across the Pacific:

U.S. poverty rate remains high, 50 million are poor

The number of poor people in the United States held steady at nearly 50 million last year, but government programs appear to have lessened the impact, especially on children and the elderly, federal data released on Wednesday showed.

More numeration from the Contributor Network:

American Riches: Three Million More Poor People Than Previously Reported

The number of poor people in America is 3 million higher than the official count, encompassing 1 in 6 residents due to out-of-pocket medical costs and work-related expenses, according to a revised census measure released Wednesday.

Reuters gives us a mixed report card:

U.S. growth picks up in third quarter as restocking offsets weak spending

U.S. economic growth accelerated in the third quarter as businesses restocked shelves but the slowest expansion in consumer spending in two years pointed to an underlying weakness.

The Colorado Independent cover the Centennial State’s tax coffers going up in smoke:

New pot tax will pay for enforcement and satisfy the feds

Coloradans on Tuesday passed a meaty statewide sin tax on pot in Proposition AA, handing a windfall to the state’s emerging marijuana regulatory regime and some yet-to be determined amount to local school budgets.

For our next drugs story we turn to Al Jazeera America:

US patients again look to Canada in quest for affordable medication

Maine is first state in nation to pass law allowing its citizens to buy mail-order drugs from foreign countries

Raw Story brings the latest Randian rapaciousness:

Fox Business’ John Stossel ‘upset’ poor people aren’t selling kidneys for $1,200

Libertarian Fox Business host John Stossel on Thursday said he was outraged that most government services like the military and “organ selling” had not been turned over to private business.

And the Associated Press covers the pathetic consequences of the U.S. 2011 decision to stop funding UNESCO because members allowed Palestine to join their ranks:

US to lose vote at UNESCO, incurs debts

American influence in culture, science and education around the world is facing a blow with the United States expected to lose its vote on Friday at UNESCO.

North of the border, where the National Post reports a career tripped up by a crack [pipe]:

Rob Ford’s senior policy advisor quits after his boss’s crack cocaine confession

Rob Ford’s longtime policy advisor has quit, one day after the mayor’s stunning admission that he had used crack cocaine after months of denials

And it gets worse, as BBC News reports:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in video murder rant

Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is embroiled in fresh controversy over a video which shows him threatening to commit “first-degree murder”.

The National Post has more:

New Rob Ford video surfaces: ‘I need f—ing 10 minutes to make sure he’s dead’

A new video has surfaced that features the mayor rambling incoherently about an unidentified person, whom he apparently threatens to ‘kill’ and ‘murder’

And Salon sums up:

Butt-groping, bachelorette parties and rape threats: Rob Ford’s non-crack scandals!

Yes, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s a crack-smoking, vicious, xenophobic, Tea Party hack. But it actually gets even worse

Another Canadian, another dream, from the Globe and Mail:

Canadian mining tycoon follows Hollywood dream

Canadian mining tycoon Robert Friedland, who made billions from discoveries in Labrador and Mongolia, is embarking on a new career: Hollywood film mogul.

On to Europe with a desperate move from The Guardian:

ECB surprises markets by cutting eurozone interest rates to 0.25%

European Central Bank cuts interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point amid fears over deflation in the currency bloc

Bloomberg Businessweek comes to a conclusion:

Why the ECB’s Surprise Rate Cut Probably Won’t Help

European Union data show that the cost of credit in the euro zone’s weakest economies has risen steadily even as the ECB repeatedly cut its benchmark refinancing rate to record lows. Currently, businesses in Italy and Spain are paying about three times as much for credit as their counterparts in Germany. Those in Greece and Portugal pay about seven times as much.

World Socialist Web Site casts a jaundiced eye on motivations:

Euro zone officials: No let-up in economic stagnation, mass unemployment

Continuing stagnation and mass layoffs across the euro zone’s devastated economies constitute a condemnation of the economic irrationality of capitalism.

From Deutsche Welle, an inter-raptor feud:

Troika tensions heat up

Plagued with power struggles and in-fighting, the Troika faces its own internal woes and external criticism as it audits loan recipients.

Reuters brings us more Banksters Behaving Badly:

Exclusive: EU to levy record fines on Libor banks: source

EU antitrust regulators will levy a record fine of at least 1.5 billion euros on six financial institutions, including Barclays (BARC.L) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), for rigging the yen Libor interest rate benchmark, a banking industry source said on Wednesday.

And the London Telegraph conjures consolidation:

One hundred big banks could go, warns McKinsey

A fifth of the largest global banks could be broken up or bought within the next few years, according to McKinsey

From EUobserver, usual suspects, usual games:

Corporate interest dominates EU ‘expert groups,’ transparency NGO says

People with close connections to top banks implicated in the financial crisis are said to have helped steer the European Commission’s response to the economic meltdown.

EUobserver records another assault on sovereignty:

Economic governance tool to be part of regional aid

MEPs in the regional affairs committee Thursday (7 November) gave the go-ahead to an overhaul of the EU regional aid policy, including its most controversial element – linking payouts to good economic governance.

Reuters rings an alarm:

Euro zone Sept retail sales fall more than expected

Euro zone retail sales fell more than expected in September, data showed on Wednesday, as shoppers held back with purchases amid a slow economic recovery weighed down by record high unemployment and tight access to credit.

And New Europe hints at designer genes to come:

EFSA had already submitted six positive opinions on the matter

  • Commission passes GMO cultivation request to the Council of Ministers

  • Following the General Court’s ruling finding that the Commission failed to act on a Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) cultivation request which had been submitted in 2001, the European Commission has today referred this cultivation request to the Council of Ministers.

England next, starting with a report from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Bank of England freezes interest rate, stimulus levels

The Bank of England held its key lending rate at a record-low point of 0.50 per cent and froze its cash stimulus level on Thursday, as Britain’s economic recovery gathers pace.

From the London Telegraph, more designer genes:

Vince Cable boosts Britain’s science firms with £10m biology fund

Business Secretary Vince Cable has created a £10m synthetic biology fund to target financial support at the UK’s early-stage science companies.

And Channel NewsAsia Singapore covers a fleeting resistance:

Austerity protesters target Buckingham Palace

Hundreds of Anonymous protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks protested outside Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II’s London home, as part of a global demonstration against austerity on Tuesday.

From the Emerald Isle, the Irish Times covers a warning to the national health service [HSE]:

Dublin hospitals warn HSE cuts threaten patient safety

Chief executives say it is unsustainable to cut staff and waiting lists on reduced resources

And Reuters has some good news:

Euro zone’s Ireland gets green light for bailout exit

Three years after going cap in hand to international lenders, Ireland got the green light on Thursday to step out on its own as the first euro zone country to exit its bailout program.

But Independent.ie hints that “exit” may be too strong a word:

Department of Finance chief says no deadline for discussions with Troika on ‘backstop’ deal

John Moran indicates that talks can continue after December 15 date

TheJournal.ie has more:

The reviews are over but we may not leave for “a number of years” — IMF Mission Chief

Ireland remains on track to exit the bailout following the final review, but the IMF says it has no immediate plans to withdraw its officials from Dublin.

Sweden next, with TheJournal.ie a a headline with what we presume is a typo in the second line, with “beg” instead of “bed”:

Swedish political party seeks to ban foreigners from begging

The far-right Sweden Democrats party said the main reason beggars go to Sweden is to bed in a “professional manner”.

From the Los Angeles Times, French tradition gets the chop:

French fight making Wednesday a school day

The French government’s decision to no longer give schoolchildren Wednesdays off has parents up in arms. Reformers say the move is aimed at reversing France’s slide in international education rankings.

And Europe Online reports another chop:

French transport and energy company Alstom to cut 1,300 jobs

French energy and transport company Alstom said Wednesday it would cut 1,300 jobs worldwide, mostly in Europe, as part of a plan to dramatically cut costs.

To Germany next, with a setback from Europe Online:

German industrial output posts surprise slump in September

German industrial output posted a surprise fall in September following a slump in the production of investment goods, data released Thursday showed.

From Spiegel, another German woe:

No Training, No Work: Unemployment Rising Despite More Jobs

Although there are more jobs than ever before, unemployment continues to rise in Germany. Many long-term unemployed are looking for work again, but their lack of qualifications means they hardly stand a chance in a highly specialized industrial society.

After the jump, conflicting news from Spain and Portugal, Bunga Bunga hubris, and the ongoing disaster in Greece continues, plus Latin America and Africa. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econ/pols/Fukumania


We begin with a notable conversion, that of the world’s largest bond investor, managing $2 trillion in funds, via MarketWatch:

Bill Gross, feeling bad he’s so rich, says tax policy shouldn’t favor capital over labor

The bond guru and co-chief investment officer at Pimco devotes his latest investment letter to the question of wealth inequality. More precisely, the wealth inequality exemplified by the fortune that he’s amassed over the years.

From USA TODAY, Banksters Behaving Badly:

Fannie sues 9 banks over Libor-related losses

The lawsuit is the latest legal action focused on suspected bank manipulation of crucial financial benchmarks.

From Spiegel, appearances and reality:

Taking Stock: Why Bankers Still Aren’t Chastened

Bankers have gone from being global elites to universally despised villains. Recent headlines suggest authorities are finally cracking down on illicit practices — but the truth is very different.

A quick trip north of the border, with the latest on a deepening governance scandal from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he has no reason to resign over video

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said he will not resign after Toronto Police announced on Thursday they have recovered a video that appears to show him smoking crack cocaine and have charged his friend and occasional driver with extortion in relation to efforts to retrieve the recording.

And on to Europe, starting with more bad news form The Guardian:

Unemployment rise in eurozone puts pressure on European Central Bank

Unemployment across 17 nations rose by 60,000 in September to 19.4 million – the 29th consecutive monthly increase

More from ANSAmed:

EU: eurozone youth unemployment increases to 24.1%

Overall unemployment stable at 12.2%, Greece and Spain leading

More from Deutsche Welle:

Eurozone jobless rate steady at record high

Economic recovery in the 17-member eurozone has been too weak to improve the employment situation in the bloc. The overall jobless rate remained unchanged at a high level in September.

From the Economic Times, another warning:

Europe faces deflation threat’

Deflation, or even low inflation, is particularly bad news for Europe, whose particular burden is too much debt.

More form the London Telegraph:

Europe moves nearer Japan-syle deflation trap with shock price falls

ECB warned it must take immediate and pre-emptive action to head off he risk of full-blown deflation by next year.

An alarm for Britain from the London Telegraph:

Harsh truths about the decline of Britain

All the indicators of progress are heading in the wrong direction, and time is running out

Some ominous numbers from the Emerald Isle via Independent.ie:

One third of mortgage holders in arrears extending loans with banks

Just over one third of mortgage holders in arrears are doing deals to extend their home loans with the banks, new figures from the Department of Finance show.

On to Germany, and the blame game, via the London Telegraph:

US says German exports harming eurozone economy

US Treasury attacks Germany for harming global economy and says China has not done enough on yuan appreciation

More from Deutsche Welle:

Is Germany exporting others to economic death?

Export-oriented Germany is facing harsh criticism from the United States over its excessive trade imbalance. Washington and Brussels fear German shipments abroad might eventually unhinge the European market.

Still more, this time from Spiegel:

Raw Nerve: Germany Seethes at US Economic Criticism

German policymakers are striking back at the United States, after a US Treasury report blasted the country’s massive trade surplus. Sensitivities in Berlin are still high over US spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Next, Lisbon, with the Portugal News:

Portuguese banks still under threat – Moody’s

Rating agency Moody’s said on Wednesday that the Portuguese banking system would continue with a negative outlook, as it had done since 2008.

The Portugal News again, with qualified good news:

Unemployment drops slightly to 16.3%

The unemployment rate in Portugal dropped slightly in September to 16.3%, a minor improvement on the 16.5% seen in August and the 16.4% a year ago, Eurostat announced on Thursday.

Really bad numbers for Italy form ANSAmed:

Italy’s youth unemployment climbs to new record of 40.4%

National rate reaches record high of 12.5%

Some context from Quartz:

Italy has lost nearly a decade’s worth of jobs

And bankster Antonio Guglielmi has a warning, via the London Telegraph:

Mediobanca hints at Italian euro exit unless Germany shifts on EMU policy

The exchange rate is bringing Italy’s worrying matters to a head.

While People’s Daily notes a pending sell-out:

Speculation raised by Italy’s privatization plan draws public attention

Facing the need to pay down debts in a sluggish economy, the Italian government has begun mulling the sale of state assets, in a move that has proven to be controversial in the country that has a long history of state participation in the economy.

After the jump, the Greek debacle deepens, Ukrainian worries, African numbers, Latin disorder, India anxieties, Chinese bubbles, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo-Greco-Fuku-crisis


We begin with a bombshell, then traverse through a landscape cratered by past bombshells, finally winding up in Fukushima, where’s it’s hot-hot-hot all the time. And note the pairing of two words you never hoped to see in a single sentence, Fukushima and mobsters.

First, the major bombshell from White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling via Bloomberg Businessweek:

Obama’s Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They’re Going to Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts

The latest Banksters Behaving Badly summary, via International Business Times:

The $100 Billion Mistake: Bank Of America’s near $50 Billion Contribution Moves American Banks Closer Towards The Milestone Mark For Payments And Fines

Xinhua, covering the next step:

U.S. Fed to require banks to hold more liquidity as risk buffer

U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday said that it would require American banks to hold minimum amounts of cash and high-quality liquid assets to help the financial system better cope with risks during market turbulence.

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau finally catches on:

Not so fast: The improving unemployment rate masks problems

The monthly unemployment rate holds almost mythical importance as a barometer for the health of the U.S. economy. But what if it’s not telling us what we thought?

From MercoPress, Corporateers Craftily Cheating:

US company pays heavy fined for bribing in several countries, including Argentina

The United States company Stryker Corp., the second-largest seller of orthopaedic devices, will pay more than 13.2 million dollars to settle U.S. regulatory claims that subsidiaries paid bribes in five countries to gain or retain business.

From the Associated Press, an expansive move [not to the West Bank, we hope]:

Texas A&M plans Israel campus

Texas A&M University says it hopes to open a branch campus in Israel, a first-of-its-kind project that will expand the American university’s growing overseas presence.

From Los Angeles Times, reminding us of that 1960′s Republican bumper sticker, “If it’s Brown, flush it”:

Gov. Brown wants Supreme Court to allow private-prison deals

Gov. Jerry Brown is back on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking an order to let him go ahead with contracts that would send thousands more inmates to private prisons out of state.

North of the border, with a pronouncement from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canadian dollar slips, CIBC sees 94-cent currency early next year

The Canadian dollar continued to sink today, and some observers suggests this isn’t the end of its decline.

And off to Europe, starting with Spiegel:

EU Apathy: Leaders Fail to Make Progress at Summit

This week’s European Council summit was sidelined by new accusations of US spying in Europe. But despite the distraction, it’s clear EU leaders have deferred plans for greater integration, and lack the political will to address pressing concerns like migration.

From EUobserver, the unsurprising:

Germany shows little sympathy for Italy on migration

Germany voiced little sympathy for southern EU countries’ migrant problems at the summit on Friday, despite more high drama in the Mediterranean.

EurActiv covers a neoliberal circus stunt:

Cameron stages ‘cut red tape’ stunt at EU summit

During his press conference following the EU summit, which ended today (25 October), UK Prime Minister David Cameron focused on a British initiative to cut red tape in the Union, snubbing the other issues reflected in the conclusions, such as the economic and monetary union or the migration crisis.

While Corporate Europe Observatory proves there’s not much that separates the Old and New Worlds these days:

Unhappy meal. The European Food Safety Authority’s independence problem

Over half of the 209 scientists sitting on the agency’s panels have direct or indirect ties with the industries they are meant to regulate. A much clearer and stricter independence policy needs to be set up and rigorously implemented to restore the Authority’s reputation and integrity.

From New Europe, the border surveillance is rarin’ to go:

European leaders agree to a shared responsibility with the member states most affected by migration flows

European Council calls for swift implementation of EUROSUR legislation

New Europe again, making a point we make at least five times a week:

Finds that acute financial instability makes people more open to extremist ideologies

Anti-racism watchdog warns of a rise in hate speech on the Internet

On to Old Blighty with a spot of good news, at least for some, via BBC News:

UK GDP: fastest growth for three years

UK economic output rose by 0.8% between July and September, official GDP figures show.

From The Independent, noting a likely consequence:

Analysts expect earlier interest rate rise as speed of economic growth is revealed

GDP expanded by 0.8 per cent between July and September, the biggest quarterly jump in output since 2010

Ireland next, with the dark side of the widely proclaimed austerity success story from TheJournal.ie:

Pregnant mothers protest against maternity benefit cut outside Dáil

The Social Welfare Bill passed its final stage in the Dáil today though Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea said it’s not too late for the government to reverse this cut.

Here ‘s a video report from Trade Union TV:

Protest at cuts to maternity benefit, Dáil Éireann, Dublin Ireland

Program notes:

The cut to Maternity Benefit is an attack on women and families. A reduction of €32 a week on top of the Budget 2012 measure to tax the benefit will have a serious impact on families struggling with reduced income and increasing costs. It will force many women to return to work earlier than they wish and have a negative impact on the family as a whole. This measure may in fact prevent women from having children.

On to France, with a call for more austerity via the Associated Press:

French business lobby promises 1M jobs in 5 years

In an open letter released Friday, the Medef, however, said companies cannot be expected to lower 11-percent unemployment by themselves. It is calling on the government to lower taxes and spending to give companies the room to act.

Spain next, with austerian backlash from El País:

Cutbacks and PP government’s reform plans fuel students’ strike

  • Unions say vast majority of teachers stayed away

  • Education Ministry describes protest as a failure based on “simplistic” slogans

From CNN, sleep on it — or not:

Spain turning back the clock on siestas

As Spain continues its drive to slash budgets and cut spending, one of the nation’s favorite pastimes — the siesta — is under threat as ministers look for ways to boost productivity.

And a failure to launch from El País:

Spanish bad bank reorders property sale as bids fall short: sources

Sareb received over 30 offers for commercial real estate

The Portugal News takes us across the Iberian Peninsula:

Concerns grow over “significant rise” in child refugees

Last year the Portuguese Council for Refugees (CPR) inaugurated a centre that was purposely-designed to accommodate unaccompanied child refugees who arrive in Portugal from conflict-stricken countries. Twelve months later that centre is operating above its maximum capacity, reflecting a global scenario that currently has the highest refugee figures of the past two decades.

After the jump, the intensifying crisis in Greece, Latin America’s Ministry of Happiness, more deals from China, and the latest dismal chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading