Category Archives: Agriculture

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroEcoFuku


Today’s coverage of economics, politics, and the environment commences with a headline from the New York Times:

Patients’ Costs Skyrocket; Specialists’ Incomes Soar

Specialists earn an average of two and often four times as much as primary care physicians in the United States, a differential that far surpasses that in all other developed countries, according to Miriam Laugesen, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. That earnings gap has deleterious effects: Only an estimated 25 percent of new physicians end up in primary care, at the very time that health policy experts say front-line doctors are badly needed, according to Dr. Christine Sinsky, an Iowa internist who studies physician satisfaction. In fact, many pediatricians and general doctors in private practice say they are struggling to survive.

Studies show that more specialists mean more tests and more expensive care. “It may be better to wait and see, but waiting doesn’t make you money,” said Jean Mitchell, a professor of health economics at Georgetown University. “It’s ‘Let me do a little snip of tissue’ and then they get professional, lab and facility fees. Each patient is like an ATM machine.”

Booming business from The Wire:

The Denver Broncos’ Playoff Run Has Been Good for Legal Pot Sales

The New England Patriots were warned by head coach Bill Belichick about avoiding the temptation of legal marijuana in Colorado ahead of their big game against the Denver Broncos tomorrow. Patriots fans, on the other hand, seem to be having a blast.

That this year’s NFL postseason has overlapped with both the historic legalization of marijuana in Colorado and a deep playoff run by the Denver Broncos—who earned home-field advantage this season—is a kind coincidence. One result: A happy marriage between football tourism and pot tourism.

According to reports, marijuana shops have been enjoying the crush of out-of-town visitors who, football loyalties notwithstanding, have been embracing Colorado’s new policies. Justin Staley, who owns a shop near the stadium, claims to have hosted hundreds of San Diego Charger fans last week when the Chargers were in town to square off against the Denver Broncos.

The Guardian blows smoke:

Obama says marijuana is a bad habit but minorities are unfairly punished

  • ‘I don’t think it’s more dangerous than alcohol’ says president
  • Colorado and Washington have decriminalised pot use

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he is quoted as saying in a New Yorker magazine article. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

The president said he has told his two daughters that smoking marijuana is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy”.

However, he said he is concerned that marijuana-related arrests fall far more heavily on minorities than on others. Legalisation of pot should go forward in the states of Colorado and Washington because “it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished,” he said.

A ray of sunshine from the Miami Herald:

Florida Legislature may back in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Across the Atlantic to Britain with New Europe:

UK wants to impose new ban on Bulgarian, Romanian workers

Workers from Bulgaria and Romania finally have the right to enjoy one of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union – the right to work and to claim unemployment benefits in any EU country – thanks to a lift on a ban that was put in place when the countries joined the EU in 2007. But this could soon change.

According to the UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, his government is working with several other European governments (Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland) to delay the entitlement of benefits that Bulgarian and Romanian workers can claim when they move from one EU member state to another.

In an interview with the Sunday Times last week, Duncan Smith said the UK is concerned about what he called “benefit tourism” despite a new three-month ban recently imposed by the UK to new EU immigrants.

According to Duncan Smith, there is “a growing groundswell of concern about the [immigration] issue” and Britain is “right in the middle of a large group of nations saying enough is enough”.

The Independent gets real:

Exclusive: ‘Police corruption cannot be eliminated’ admits head of special Met unit following Independent stories

Corruption inside law enforcement agencies is impossible to eliminate, according to the man charged with tackling malpractice inside Scotland Yard.

Detective Chief Superintendent Alaric Bonthron, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Professional Standards Unit, told The Independent the threat from organised crime groups infiltrating the force is “very challenging”. However, he denied the Yard still suffered from the “endemic police corruption” outlined in the leaked report from Operation Tiberius in 2002, extracts of which have been revealed by this newspaper.

The document disclosed that some of Britain’s most notorious crime syndicates were able to infiltrate the Met “at will”, leading to compromised murder investigations, leaks of intelligence and covert informants being identified.

Germany next, and a downturn from BBC News:

Deutsche Bank reports surprise loss as legal costs mount

Deutsche Bank has reported a surprise loss for the fourth quarter of 2013, after releasing its latest results before they were expected.

Overall Deutsche said it posted a pre-tax loss of 1.153bn euros for the final quarter of 2013. The bank said that litigation costs and restructuring had weighed heavily on its financial performance.

Litigation costs mounted up to 623m euros (£950m) for the period, while revenue fell 16%.

And on to Spain with a rebuff from El País:

Catalonia’s plea to endorse independence falls on deaf ears abroad

  • Region’s network of foreign delegations fails to recruit supporters for the cause
  • US headquarters moved from New York to Washington in bid to ramp up campaign

The Catalan government’s drive to find international support for its sovereignty plan is running into a wall of silence and rejection. The nationalist premier, Artur Mas of the CiU coalition, needs such endorsement if he finally decides to hold a referendum without permission from Madrid, where the central authorities are arguing that it would be unconstitutional.

That is why Catalonia’s network of foreign delegations has been working double shifts to seek allies in Brussels, France, Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

But so far, the independence drive has met with little sympathy abroad, where silence has been the most common response — so much so that when European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso merely acknowledged receipt of a letter from Mas on the issue, the Catalan government hailed it as a resounding success.

TheLocal.es gives in:

Spanish mayor scraps protest-hit street works

The mayor of Spain’s northern city of Burgos on Friday scrapped a costly street redevelopment that sparked a week of spreading protests and scattered violence.

“It is physically impossible to carry out this reform and we have decided to halt the works indefinitely in favour of harmony in the city,” Mayor Javier Lacalle told a news conference.

Thousands of protesters around the country turned out in sympathy with the demonstrators in Burgos, many of them denouncing corruption and Spain’s 26-percent unemployment rate.

From thinkSPAIN, that old time religion:

MEPs slam Spain’s abortion reform as ‘patriarchal’ and ‘fundamentalist Catholic’

NEARLY all European Parliamentary groups have expressed their total rejection of Spain’s abortion law reform, which only allows women to terminate a pregnancy where it is the result of a rape – within just 12 weeks – or where her life is in danger, and does not permit her to do so where the foetus is deformed, however severely.

Social Democrats, Liberals, Ecologists and members of the Unitarian Left are among the MEPs who have called for Spain to scrap its plans to restrict legal abortion.

“If a woman is capable of running the German State, she is capable of making decisions about her own body,” said Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In’t Veld.

El País does business as usual:

US tech giants dodge Spanish taxman, paying just €1.2m on 2012 profits

  • Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft use fiscal tactics to minimize filings

Large US technology corporations continue to dodge the Spanish taxman through fiscal engineering tactics that channel the profits of their sales in Spain to countries with lower corporate tax rates.

The Spanish affiliates of seven major companies — Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft — paid a joint total of just 1,251,608 euros on their 2012 profits derived from their Spanish business activities.

This aggregate figure is not taken from their tax filings but from their annual accounts at the Spanish Business Register, which reflect the money that the companies earmark in a given year for tax on profits.

TheLocal.es shocks:

‘Hair-rising’ electric prices jolt Spaniards

Struggling Spaniards are rebelling against high electricity prices, which have soared by 42 percent since an economic crisis erupted in 2008 reports AFP’s Anna Cuenca.

Buckling under a 26-percent unemployment rate after five years of stop-start recession, many Spaniards battle to pay their electricity bills, the third highest in the European Union after Cyprus and Ireland.

The increase in prices is “hair-raising”, said Cote Romero, coordinator of Platform for a New Energy Model, which unites 270 groups including protesters against economic inequality, leftists, unions, cooperatives and ecological organisations.

Some 1.5 million homes were left without electricity in 2012 for failing to pay bills, she said, leaving families with no hot water or cooking facilities.

Italy next and a Bunga Bunga comeback from BBC News:

Italy reform deal puts Berlusconi back centre stage

Italy’s controversial ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi has returned to the centre of the political stage, striking a reform deal with a centre-left rival. Berlusconi was thrown out of parliament in 2013 after a tax fraud conviction.

But he still heads the opposition Forza Italia party and held lengthy talks with Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi late on Saturday. Under their agreement, he will back electoral and constitutional proposals aimed at making Italy more governable.

The current electoral system has left Italy with a series of shaky coalitions.

After the jump, Greek meltdown redux, Ukrainian violence, Russian homophobic purging promises, Indian uncertainty, hints of a Chinese slowdown, mied news form Japan, contaminated children’s clothing, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoHydroFukuFrack


We begin close to home with a headline from Salon:

California faces water shortages and wildfires as “mega-drought” gets even worse

  • The fire danger is “about as high as it can be,” one meteorologist warned

The year 2013 was California’s driest on record, featuring the least rainfall since the state started keeping track in 1849. And so far, 2014 is off to a bad start.

A full 63 percent of the state is in extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor — up from 23 percent just last week and extending into northwestern Nevada. Precipitation for the water year (which begins October 1) is less than 20 percent of normal levels in the areas of most extreme drought. Up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, snowpack — a major repository for the state’s water supply — is between 10 and 30 percent of normal, with many locations now in the bottom 5th percentile. Two of the state’s lakes are only 36 percent full; the San Luis Reservoir in Central Valley is down to 30 percent.

“It’s really serious,” Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday. “In many ways it’s a mega-drought; it’s been going on for a number of years.” Any day now, he’s expected to announce that California is officially in the midst of a drought.

More from the New York Times:

As California’s Drought Deepens, a Sense of Dread Grows

On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown made it official: California is suffering from a drought, perhaps one for the record books. The water shortage has Californians trying to deal with problems that usually arise midsummer. With little snow in the forecast, experts are warning that this drought, after one of the driest years on record last year, could be as disruptive as the severe droughts of the 1970s.

Under state law, that would allow the governor to “waive laws or regulations and expedite some funding,” said Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager for the state Department of Water Resources. “It does not create a new large pot of money for drought response or make federal funding available.”

Reuters gets defensive:

Latest perk on Google buses: security guards

  • First, San Francisco-based commuters to Google Inc got buses with plush seats and free WiFi. Now, they are getting security.

In recent days, men with earpieces have closely monitored passengers boarding Google commuter buses at the site of at least one bus stop in San Francisco’s Mission District. Their presence comes a few weeks after Google buses were targeted by protesters who blame tech-industry employees for rising city rents.

Gone are the days when mentioning Google as an employer gave young technology workers a certain counterculture credibility. As the company has expanded well beyond its Web search-engine roots to become a behemoth encompassing advertising, smartphones, finance and social networking, it has gone from scrappy start-up to a Goliath that many resent for its power.

In San Francisco, many long-time residents believe the influx of richly compensated workers at Google and other big technology companies such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc has pushed rents to unaffordable levels in neighborhoods that once were homes to the working class.

The Denver Post bites:

Edible marijuana sales shattering sales projections in Colorado

A one-month supply of marijuana edibles, gone in the first three days of January; that’s what the area’s largest supplier is saying about the incredible demand for the product since recreational sales were legalized in Colorado on Jan. 1.

“We are working hard,” said Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer for Dixie Elixirs and Edibles. “We like to call ourselves the future of cannabis.”

There is so much demand for edibles right now, they limit customers to two edible products a day at recreational pot shops like LoDo Wellness at 16th St. and Wazee in downtown Denver.

The Guardian pays out:

Goldman Sachs pays employees average of $383,000 after profits rise 5%

  • US bank’s 32,900 global employees to hear size of individual bonuses, while fixed-income trading operation had fall in profits

Goldman Sachs paid its bankers an average of $383,000 (£233,000) in 2013, after profits for the year rose by 5% to $8bn.

Putting a fresh focus on the debate over bankers’ pay, Goldman’s 32,900 global employees will be told the size of their individual bonuses on Thursday.

The bank set aside $2.19bn in the quarter ending December 31 to compensate employees, up 11% from a year earlier but down 8.1% from the previous quarter. Goldman partners were told about their bonuses on Wednesday.

From the Los Angeles Times, class debt:

Banks embracing a housing-bubble favorite: interest-only loans

Customers for interest-only loans are often self-employed and capable of making big down payments and maintaining fat bank accounts.

Most of the risky mortgages that triggered the financial crisis have disappeared from the marketplace, and lenders will have even more reason to avoid them because of a new federal crackdown on loose lending.

But one housing-bubble favorite — the interest-only loan — will remain a common offering to well-heeled home buyers, despite new rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The rules, which took effect last week, exclude interest-only loans from “qualified mortgage” status, which protects lenders from liability over defaults.

Bankers don’t seem worried about affluent clients missing payments. With high-end home prices on the rise, they have recently embraced jumbo mortgage lending, including interest-only mortgages. That trend continued this week as the banks reported earnings, with Bank of America Corp. saying 36% of its fourth-quarter mortgages were jumbo loans, up from 23% of originations in the first quarter.

Bloomberg Businessweek retaliates:

Scandal Bowl: UNC Suspends Research by Academic Fraud Whistle-Blower

The most outrageous scandal infecting the business of big-time college sports just took a turn for the much worse. The University of North Carolina, famed for its outstanding academics and championship-winning basketball team, announced late Thursday that it had suspended research on athlete literacy by Mary Willingham.

A campus tutor employed by the university, Willingham has done more than anyone else to shed light on classroom corruption at Chapel Hill related to keeping sports stars eligible to play. The shadow cast on her research speaks volumes about the university’s unwillingness to come to terms with the undermining of academic standards in the service of athletics.

From Romenesko, more blood on a California newsroom floor:

Orange County Register owner names new newsroom leaders, confirms 32 layoffs

Orange County Register owner and publisher Aaron Kushner confirms in a memo that 32 newsroom employees were laid off today, and that Ken Brusic and other top editors have resigned. (I’m told they quit in protest of the layoffs.)

Local editor Rob Curley has been promoted to top editor.

CNBC cops out:

Battle over police pensions in US cities takes ugly turn

A drive by some American cities to cut costly police retirement benefits has led to an extraordinary face-off between local politicians and the law enforcement officers who work for them.

Another copout from Al Jazeera America:

NYPD agrees to ‘largest protest settlement in history’

  • New York City civil rights activists hail settlement over 2004 RNC demonstrations as a victory against mass arrests

In what civil rights lawyers have called “the largest protest settlement in history,” New York City has agreed to pay $18 million to protesters who said they were wrongly arrested at the 2004 Republican National Convention, where then-president George W. Bush was nominated for a second term.

The settlement ends nearly a decade of legal battles between the New York Police Department and plaintiffs who said police forces mishandled their arrests and violated their First Amendment rights.

Approximately 1,800 people were arrested, out of nearly 800,000 protesters, mostly on charges of parading without a permit or disorderly conduct. The circumstances of those arrests were heavily disputed, according to a statement from the New York City law department.

Red state blues from The Guardian:

North Carolina’s poorest hit by federal cuts: ‘Unless someone helps, we’re bust’

  • As Congress wrangles with whether to restore long-term unemployment benefits, North Carolina is already experiencing the hardship likely to unfold unless the program is restored

Debt for the rising generation from Bloomberg Businessweek:

Student Loans, the Next Big Threat to the U.S. Economy?

Outstanding student debt topped $1 trillion in the third quarter of 2013, and the share of loans delinquent 90 days or more rose to 11.8 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. By contrast, delinquencies for mortgage, credit card, and auto debt all have declined from their peaks.

The New York Federal Reserve’s move to measure the size of the student loan load says a lot about how concerned the central bank is about a possible threat to the economy. “Our job is to really understand what’s happening in the financial system,” and the “very rapid rise in student loan debt over the last few years” can “actually have some pretty significant consequences to the economic outlook,” New York Fed President William Dudley told reporters in November. “People can have trouble with the student loan debt burden—unable to buy cars, unable to buy homes—and so it can really delay the cycle.”

The federal government is the source and backer of most of the loans. “I’m always made very nervous by a credit market that benefits from government guarantees and is expanding very rapidly,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said on Jan. 10 at a Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event in North Carolina. “That’s what we’re seeing with student loans, and it’s what we saw with housing.” As the New York Fed’s Dudley explained in November, “to the extent that student loan burdens become very, very high, there are presumably going to be losses” to the federal government.

For our first global story, this from TheLocal.ch:

Inequality poses world’s greatest risk: report

The growing gulf between the rich and the poor represents the biggest global risk this year, the World Economic Forum declared on Thursday ahead of this month’s Davos summit.

The Geneva-based institution issued the gloomy warning in its annual Global Risks survey, published before its annual get-together of decision-makers at the Swiss mountain resort of Davos from January 22nd-25th.

“The chronic gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest citizens is seen as the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage globally in the coming decade,” the WEF concluded.

In its Global Risks 2014 report, which is based on a survey of more than 700 experts from industry, government, academia and civil society, the WEF outlined possible events that could damage the world economy this year.

The London Telegraph heads to the MINT:

How to invest in the ‘MINT’ emerging markets

Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey have been tipped as the next economic giants. Can savers make money or is this the latest investment fad?

The chances are you have probably heard that Mint is no longer just a peppermint sweet; it is now also an investment acronym which in the next decade or two could prove extremely profitable for investors.

The concept, which groups the countries of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, has been popularised in recent weeks by respected economist Jim O’Neill, the man who also coined the BRIC term in 2001, identifying Brazil, Russia, India and China as the next global economic powerhouses.

Splitting the difference with EUbusiness:

Bundesbank sees ‘limited’ risk of eurozone deflation

There is only a “limited” risk of deflation — or falling prices — in the 18 countries that share the euro, the head of Germany’s central bank or Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, said on Thursday.

His remarks came after, and in contrast to, a warning from the head of the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday that the “ogre” of deflation was a potential threat to the world economy.

Eurozone inflation slowed to just 0.8 percent in December from 0.9 percent in November, according to the latest data published by the Eurostat statistics agency.

Auto anxieties from the London Telegraph:

Car sales in Europe at lowest level since 1995

  • New registrations fell 1.7pc in 2013, the sixth consecutive year of decline, although sales picked up at the end of the year

Car sales in the European Union were at their lowest level for 18 years in 2013, as slumps in certain crisis-hit eurozone states outweighted an improvement in other countries including the UK.

New registrations fell by 1.7pc to 11.9m, according to ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. This was the worst level since ACEA begin recording data for the enlarged EU in 2003, and the worst for the block of 15 European countries the body had previously measured since 1995.

Car sales have slumped since the financial crisis and are now 26pc down on 2008, although sales rebounded towards the end of the year as the eurozone exited recession.

Disestablishmentarianism from EUobserver:

MEPs call for dismantling of EU bailout ‘troika’

The “troika” of international lenders, which sets the terms of eurozone bailouts with little or no democratic oversight, should be replaced by an EU system which is accountable to the European Parliament, MEPs say.

“All European instruments that are not based on EU law are provisional. EU instruments should be based on the community method, with the European Parliament acting as democratic legitimator and control body,” Austrian centre-right deputy Othmar Karas told press in Strasbourg on Wednesday (15 January).

Karas is drafting a report together with a French Socialist colleague, Liem Hoang-Ngoc, on the work of the troika.

Gimme shelter from New Europe:

MEPs ask for an EU wide strategy for the homeless

The MEPs once again asked from the European Commission to form an EU-wide strategy for the homeless.

On 16 January, the MEPs adopted a resolution asking from the Commission to finally establish a European strategy for the homeless. According to the resolution adopted by 349 votes to, 45, with 113 abstentions an EU homelessness strategy should focus on housing, cross-border homelessness, quality of services for the homeless, prevention and homeless young people. According to the MEPs even though the responsibility for tackling homelessness lies with EU countries an EU strategy for the homeless must have a complementary role to play.

The European Commission has already acknowledged that homelessness levels have risen recently in most parts of Europe and the crisis seems to have aggravated the situation. Moreover, the profile of the homeless population has been changing and now includes more young people and children, migrants, Roma and other disadvantaged minorities, women and families are increasingly at-risk of homelessness.

Another new record from EUobserver:

Poverty in Europe at ‘unprecedented levels’

EU social affairs commissioner Laszlo Andor told MEPs in Strasbourg Thursday that poverty in Europe is at an all time high. “Poverty has risen in Europe, mainly in the more peripheral countries and regions, reaching unprecedented levels among those who are more vulnerable, such as homeless people,” he said.

More Banksters Behaving Badly from The Guardian:

HSBC and Citigroup suspend foreign exchange traders amid rigging probe

  • US regulators arrive in London to step up joint investigation with Financial Conduct Authority into alleged market manipulation

HSBC and Citigroup have both suspended foreign exchange traders as a global probe into possible currency market manipulation intensified.

Regulators from the United States arrived in London this week, stepping up an investigation in which they are working with Britain’s financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, to determine whether traders at some of the world’s biggest banks colluded to manipulate the $5.3 trillion-a-day (£3.2tn) foreign exchange market.

The investigations centre on senior traders’ communication of client positions via electronic chatrooms, which also featured prominently in a probe into the rigging of a key interest rate known as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

Sky News bubbles selectively:

House Prices ‘Risk Becoming Unsustainable’

  • A report warns of the consequences of the growing gulf between homes for sale and demand in some areas of the UK.

Surveyors have warned that house prices risk becoming unsustainable in some areas because low home supply is failing to meet high demand in the market.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) measured the strongest level of sales in six years ahead of Christmas.

Its report predicts prices will rise by 5% on average in each of the next five years but warns that a lack of properties for sale risks people paying far more than market value to secure a home.

From The Independent, so much for du seigneur?:

Calls to abolish outdated rights for lords of the manor that ‘serve no purpose in the 21st century’

  • The title is a hangover from the feudal era and does not automatically bring with it physical property, but entitlements and duties that would have once been held by a medieval seigneur are often included

And along that line, one of those entitlements or duties? From the London Times:

Fancy-dress dogging on duke’s estate upsets villagers

Police have been called to an aristocrat’s estate to crack down on sex parties involving groups of men dressed in fairy wings, tutus and PVC.

The Badminton Estate, owned by the Duke of Beaufort, is being plagued by groups of men congregating in farm buildings in fancy dress.

Nick Bush, a tenant farmer, asked the police to intervene after battling in vain to deter the men.

RT bets on the come line:

UK worsens global hunger crisis by ‘blocking reforms on food speculation’

The UK is being accused of attempts to block EU reform to prevent food speculation. It took EU negotiators three years to agree on a regulation against speculation by banks and hedge funds which drives up food prices, aggravating the global hunger crisis.

The deal introduces new rules to limit speculation on products linked to what people eat, such as wheat, corn, soybeans or sugar. The new controls will set limits on the number of food contracts that banks and other finance institutions can hold, pushing traders to open their activity to greater public scrutiny.

Representatives of the EU’s 28 governments and EU lawmakers clinched the deal on the outlines of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFiD) in Strasbourg late on Tuesday. The bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, has promised that the rules on agricultural derivatives would “contribute to orderly pricing and prevent market abuse, thus curbing speculation on commodities and the disastrous impacts it can have on the world’s poorest populations.”

An Irish booster shot from Independent.ie:

Moody’s upgrades Ireland to Investment Grade after bailout exit

  • RATING agency Moody’s has upgraded Ireland’s government debt from “junk” to higher quality “investment grade” status.

International money markets reward Ireland with low interest rates, bailout chief says

The country is now regarded as a lower risk investment by all of the main credit agencies for the first time since 2011.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the move will help to lower borrowing costs for companies and individuals.

Norwegian anxieties for naught from TheLocal.no:

Norway’s open border brings few Romanians

Norway has seen few extra Romanians and Bulgarians since it lifted border restrictions at the end of 2012, belying fears in the UK of a floods of migrants.

The richest country in Europe with a generous welfare state,  Norway could be expected to be a top draw for low-salaried Eastern Europeans.

But between January and December 2013, it saw just 4,904 Romanians and Bulgarians registering for work using their European Economic Area (EEA) citizenship, a rise of just 24 percent on the year before, when they needed to apply for special work permits.

Amsterdam next, with a not of disapproval from DutchNews.nl:

Dutch business leaders slam cabinet polices, support at record low

Dutch business leaders are extremely unhappy with the current right-left coalition’s policies and think the cabinet is failing to tackle the crisis.

Employers’ organisation VNO-NCW questioned 471 company bosses about their attidudes to the VVD-PvdA government and current policy. In total, the cabinet scored just 4.9 out of 10 – a record low according to the Telegraaf.

Prime minister Mark Rutte was rated 5.4, well below most of his senior ministers. Top ranked minister was finance chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who scored 6.6.

Germany next, where TheLocal.de restores a commons:

Hamburg buys its energy grid back for €400 million

Energy giant Vattenfall said on Thursday it had “unwillingly” agreed to sell the electricity grid in Hamburg back to the city, as approved by a referendum last year.

The value of the transaction, still to be determined, is expected to be about €400 million. Vattenfall has a 74.9 percent stake in the electricity grid company, Stromnetz Hamburg, while the remaining 25.1 percent belongs to the German city.

“The value of the entire electricity grid company has preliminarily been agreed at €550 million euros,” the Swedish company said. “However, both parties have agreed on a minimum value of €495 million.”

France next and the origin of the feces from TheLocal.fr:

Tonnes of dung dumped at French parliament

As if President François Hollande didn’t have enough crap to deal with right now, protesters sent tonnes more his way on Thursday when they dumped a lorry-load of manure outside the French parliament.

Weeks after hundreds of chickens were let loose, several tonnes of steaming dung were dumped from a lorry in front of the parliament building on the Quai d’Orsay on Thursday morning during what French police termed “un attentat à la crotte” or “poop attack”.

The lorry carried a simple message to President François Hollande and his buddies in parliament: “Hollande and the political class should get out, make way for the Fifth Republic”. The driver was arrested soon after dropping the steaming cargo.

Spain next, and another austerian demand from El País:

Eurogroup and EC insist Spain needs second round of labor reform

  • EU commissioner Rehn says Brussels engaging in “constructive dialogue” with Rajoy government on the issue

The president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on Thursday reiterated calls for Spain to undertake a second round of reforms of the labor market in order to strengthen the country’s recovery from a deep recession.

As Dijsselbloem himself told reporters during a visit to Beijing accompanied by the European Union commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, he had already made a speech in Madrid in October along the same lines. “New labor reforms will work, not only in Spain, but also in other countries,” he said.

In a report released in December, the OECD also suggested that severance pay remains high in Spain and that more cuts were necessary to tackle high unemployment, which currently stands at 26 percent.

The labor reform introduced in February 2012 cut severance pay for permanent workers from 45 days of wages for each year of service to 33 days, and the maximum amount from 42 months’ salary to 24 months. It also introduced a series of so-called “objective causes” such as falling sales and technological and organizational changes that allow companies to lay off workers en masse with severance pay of only 20 days’ wages for every year worked, up to a maximum of one year’s salary.

From EurActiv, schismatic:

Spanish ruling party rebels launch new conservative party

Rebels from Spain’s ruling conservative People’s Party launched a new political party on Thursday (16 January), hoping to tap into public discontent over sky-high unemployment, graft scandals and surging separatism in Catalonia.

Leaders of the new party, named Vox (voice in Latin), accuse Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of being too soft on Catalan and Basque separatism and of breaking election promises by, for example, raising taxes.

“Millions of Spaniards … feel abandoned by the political system, which is infested with corruption scandals and at the beck and call of private interests,” Santiago Abascal, a former PP member on the Vox executive committee, told reporters.

More schismatics from El País:

Catalan assembly approves motion to seek leave to hold self-rule referendum

  • Three Socialist lawmakers break with party line to vote in favor of proposal

“We are not voting on the political future of Catalonia, but the form in which Catalans will decide it”

The Catalan regional assembly on Thursday approved a motion to ask the national Congress for permission to hold a referendum on the independence of the region from the rest of Spain.

The proposal was approved by members of the ruling center-right nationalist CiU bloc, the Catalan Republic Left (ERC) and the ICV leftist-green group. Three members of the Catalan branch of the main opposition Socialist Party (PSC) broke ranks to vote in favor of the motion, while the center-left Candidature for Popular Unity (CUP) abstained. The conservative Popular Party (PP) and the centrist Citizens party voted against.

TheLocal.es gets going:

Spain’s expat exodus continues

Spain lost nearly 200,000 registered foreign residents in 2012 as the country’s economic crisis continued to bite, official figures released on Friday show.

The new figures from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) highlight the continuing fall in the number of registered foreign residents in Spain.

According to the data, there were 190,020 fewer foreigners registered with Spain’s local town halls on January 1st 2013 than on the same date a year earlier.

While these figures fail to take into account the huge number of foreigners in Spain who fail to register on their local civil register (padrón), the decline suggests many people are leaving because of the country’s economic crisis

And thinkSPAIN tracks turmoil:

Burgos burns as boulevard riots leave 40 in custody

VIOLENT protests in the central Spanish city of Burgos over controversial works on a main boulevard have led to 40 arrests and widespread damage.

Five days of riots, with wheelie-bins set alight and bottles smashed as well as physical fights have blackened the otherwise peaceful and picturesque city’s landscape – but as yet, calls for the work to stop have not been answered.

Some 8,000 residents have formed a working party to fight plans to spend in excess of eight million euros on revamping the C/ Vitoria in the Gamonal neighbourhood, money they feel could be better spent on public services.

On to Lisbon and a boost from El País:

S&P removes threat to further cut Portugal’s debt rating

  • Agency sees growing signs of economy stabilizing

Standard & Poor’s on Friday affirmed its junk-status BB rating for Portugal’s long-term sovereign debt after withdrawing a threat to further downgrade it, but maintained its negative outlook on the rating.

Portugal is aiming to successfully exit its 78-billion-euro bailout program later this year and return to the long-term debt markets. The IGCP debt-management arm of the government successfully tested the waters last week with a 3.25-billion-euro issue of five-year bonds

S&P said it expects the center-right Social Democrat-led coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to have met its deficit-reduction target of 5.5 percent of GDP last year and make progress on achieving its 4.0-percent target for this year.

Italy next, with diplomatic debauchery from TheLocal.it:

‘Bunga bunga’ claims hit US consulate in Italy

An ex-employee of the US consulate in Naples has claimed her former boss slept with his staff and gave prostitutes free access to the property, Italian media has reported.

Kerry Howard, who worked at the consul until 2012, said she was forced to quit after whistleblowing about the behaviour of former Consul General Donald Moore.

During his time in Naples, Moore allegedly slept with a number of staff and prostitutes, Il Sole 24 Ore reported. The diplomat also allegedly gave the women the code to enter the consulate at night without being detected.

“Women are like candy, unwrap them and throw them away,” Moore was quoted as saying.

Retro racism from The Independent:

Italian MP Gianluca Buonanno ‘blacks up’ to deliver racist anti-immigration rant in parliament chamber

  • Northern League politician asks parliament whether people needed to ‘go around painted black’ in order to receive state benefits

An Italian MP has “blacked up” to deliver a staggering anti-immigration rant in the country’s parliament, smearing his face from a makeup pad and asking whether “we need to be a bit darker” to get benefits from the state.

Gianluca Buonanno, a politician with the right wing Northern League party, took the opportunity on Wednesday night to criticise “latecomers” and “non-EU” citizens who receive pensions despite, he claimed, having “never worked a day in their lives”.

Looking for the Toxic Avenger with Spiegel:

The Mafia’s Deadly Garbage: Italy’s Growing Toxic Waste Scandal

For decades, the Mafia has been dumping toxic waste illegally in the region north of Naples. Recently declassified testimony shows that leading politicians have known about the problem for years, yet done nothing about it — even as the death toll climbs.

After the jump, Greek crimes and crises, Ukrainian repression, Latin American violence, Indian inflation, Thai violence, Chinese “reforms,” environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGloboFuku


Today’s compendium of notable headlines from the realms of economics, politics, and their impacts on the rest of the planet begins with the latest of Banksters Behaving Badly via Reuters:

Deutsche, Citi feel the heat of widening FX investigation

Global investigations into alleged currency market manipulation intensified on Wednesday as U.S. regulators descended on Citigroup’s London offices and Deutsche Bank suspended several traders in New York, sources told Reuters.

The presence of Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency officials at Citi’s Canary Wharf office in the east of London this week comes after Citi last week fired its head of European spot foreign exchange trading, Rohan Ramchandani, following a prolonged period on leave, one source familiar with the matter said.

The suspensions of staff at Deutsche Bank in New York and possibly elsewhere in the Americas followed investigations into “communications across number of currencies,” a second source said.

Al Jazeera America reaps gold:

Banks report record profits despite massive legal fees

  • Wells Fargo becomes most profitable bank, knocking out JPMorgan from the top spot

The nation’s major banks reported record fourth-quarter profits Wednesday, with Bank of America announcing that its profit jumped to $3.44 billion from $732 million in the same quarter in 2012, and Wells Fargo edging out JPMorgan Chase as the nation’s most profitable bank.

The jump represents a major turnaround for Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, the country’s second-largest bank, which was hit last year by an $11.6 billion settlement with home mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

The settlement is the result of the bank’s involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-08, which contributed to the massive financial crisis and subsequent economic recession in the U.S. As a result of the crisis, more than 6 million homeowners have an underwater mortgage, meaning they are paying more than what their houses are worth.

Bloomberg Businessweek reads between the lines:

The Accounting Wizardry Behind Banks’ Strong Earnings

Wells Fargo (WFC) reported a personal-best $5.6 billion in fourth-quarter earnings today, overtaking JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as the most profitable U.S. bank. JPMorgan reported $5.3 billion in fourth-quarter income and $17.9 billion for all of 2013, not too shabby for a year in which the bank spent $23 billion on legal settlements.

Upon further review, however, these profits don’t look quite as robust. More than 31 percent of JPMorgan’s 2013 earnings, or $5.6 billion, and about 10 percent of Wells Fargo’s, $2.2 billion, weren’t really earned last year. That money came instead from the banks’ so-called loan-loss reserves, an accounting accrual that’s kind of like a rainy-day fund.

Lenders set aside that cash during and shortly after the financial crisis to cover future losses in case the U.S. economy got worse and consumers couldn’t pay their credit card bills, mortgages, and other loans. But collections on most consumer loans have never been better—banks tightened lending standards, plus people went back to work—so the banks are using that money to bump up earnings.

Bloomberg bubbles:

Fed Student-Loan Focus Shows Recognition of Growth Risk

Outstanding education debt exceeded $1 trillion in the third quarter of 2013, and the share of loans delinquent 90 days or more rose to 11.8 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. By contrast, delinquencies for mortgage, credit-card and auto debt all have declined from their peaks.

“I’m always made very nervous by a credit market that benefits from government guarantees and is expanding very rapidly,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in response to audience questions after a speech at a Jan. 10 Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event in North Carolina. “That’s what we’re seeing with student loans, and it’s what we saw with housing.”

Economists at the New York Fed are analyzing student debt as part of their quarterly reports on national household credit. That project emerged six years ago as the credit crisis unfolded, when the researchers and their then-boss, Timothy F. Geithner, realized there wasn’t a good way to study total consumer borrowing.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, futility:

Obama fails in bid to change IMF

Congress has rejected a funding request from the Obama administration that would have overhauled the International Monetary Fund. The action leaves the 188-nation group without additional resources and blocks an increase in voting power for China and other emerging markets.

The proposal was left out of the $1.01 trillion spending bill that congressional negotiators approved Monday. Both the Obama administration and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde expressed disappointment but pledged to keep working to win congressional support.

The overhaul was adopted by the IMF’s governing board in 2010. The plan would have doubled the IMF’s lending capacity to about $733 billion.

From Bloomberg, a lack of compassion:

Moms in ‘Survival Mode’ as U.S. Trails World on Benefits

[O]nly 12 percent of workers get paid time off to care for a baby or a sick parent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Rhode Island this month became the third state to start a paid family leave insurance program, which was initiated by California in 2004 and by New Jersey in 2009.

A bill introduced last month in Congress would create a similar model nationally. That would make more women eligible for a benefit usually offered in the U.S. only at large companies such as Bank of America Corp. or Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Papua New Guinea is the only other nation that doesn’t provide or require a paid maternity leave, according to information on 185 countries compiled by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. It recommends 14 weeks off at a level no lower than two-thirds of previous earnings.

And more bad news for California’s Fourth Estate from LA Observed:

Register to lay off 39 more at Riverside P-E

A second round of layoffs at the Riverside Press-Enterprise since the purchase last fall by Freedom Communications includes 39 back-office, newsroom, information technology and production workers, the OC Register reports. The story explains that the newsroom losses involve “eight full-time and four part-time copy editor/designers,” but that some expected hiring of new reporters will even it out with “no net loss of jobs in the newsroom.”

Last month, the new Freedom management team in Riverside laid off 42 employees as part of the paper’s restructuring. That reduction included some newsroom positions.

Meanwhile, the nation heads further down the neoliberal road charted by the Reagan administration, with Obama even emulating the Gipper’s so-ca;;ed “enterprise zones.” From The Jacobin:

President Obama’s “Promise Zones” anti-poverty program is a Trojan horse for deregulation.

Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a handful of “Promise Zones” in deprived areas of the United States. While the policy sounds like a euphemism from a forty-year-old sex ed pamphlet, it is in fact the administration’s most recent attempt to tackle poverty in the country.

Obama has promised more than twenty such zones before the end of his term — the first five in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, and eight counties in Kentucky. Residents of the zones can expect a bundle of deregulatory measures designed to speed up their access to pre-existing programs and encourage capital investment. These areas will be given bonus points when competing with other locales for aid from various federal programs, and businesses will be given tax breaks as incentives for moving to “Promise Zones.” Some of the locations will receive a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers as part of the program. The policy will also remove “financial deterrents to marriage” for couples on a low income as part of an attempt to “strengthen families.”

Crucially, no new federal money will be allocated.

Big boxing from The Guardian:

US files complaint against Walmart for allegedly violating workers’ rights

  • Board points to disciplinary action against striking employees
  • Walmart fired 19 workers who took part in protests

US officials filed a formal complaint Wednesday charging that Walmart violated the rights of workers who took part in protests and strikes against the company.

The National Labor Relations Board says Walmart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions at the nation’s largest retailer.

In These Times tallies trade pact costs:

NAFTA’s Trail of Destruction

Twenty years after NAFTA, income inequality and the trade deficit have skyrocketed.

That giant sucking sound predicted by Ross Perot commenced 20 years ago last week. It is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) vacuuming up U.S. jobs and depositing them in Mexico.

Independent presidential candidate Perot was right. NAFTA swept U.S. industry south of the border. It made Wall Street happy. It made multi-national corporations obscenely profitable. But it destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of American workers.

NAFTA’s backers promised it would create American jobs, just as promoters of the Korean and Chinese trade arrangements said they would and advocates of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal contend it will. They were—and still are—brutally wrong. NAFTA, the Korean deal and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization killed American jobs. They lowered wages. They diminished what America cherishes: opportunity. They contributed to the very ill that President Obama is crusading against: income inequality. There is no evidence the TPP would be any different. American workers need a new trade philosophy, one that protects them and puts people first, not corporations.

Canada next, and a depreciation from CBC News:

Loonie expected to spiral lower in 2014

  • Exporters happy, but travellers and shoppers may pay

The Canadian dollar is expected to spiral lower throughout 2014, after a 3.1 per cent slide in the first two weeks of the year has taken the loonie to its lowest levels since 2009.

On Wednesday, the loonie was down 0.07 to 91.27 US before recovering to 91.42 at midday.

The stronger U.S. economy is putting pressure on the loonie, with earnings from bellwether stock Bank of America rising and U.S. job numbers in recovery. A report from the World Bank showing a recovering global economy also reflects badly on Canada.

And a global headline from the Associated Press:

IMF head urges caution to avoid harming recovery

The head of the International Monetary Fund warned policymakers on Wednesday to avoid mistakes that could derail a fragile global recovery.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that Congress should promptly increase the U.S. government’s borrowing limit and the Federal Reserve should avoid withdrawing its financial support too rapidly.

Lagarde noted that the world economy is still feeling the impact of the Great Recession and 2008 financial crisis.

Europe next, and beyond the pale from Spiegel:

Green Fade-Out: Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals

Europe may be backing away from its ambitious climate protection goals.

The EU’s reputation as a model of environmental responsibility may soon be history. The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking — jeopardizing Germany’s touted energy revolution in the process.

The climate between Brussels and Berlin is polluted, something European Commission officials attribute, among other things, to the “reckless” way German Chancellor Angela Merkel blocked stricter exhaust emissions during her re-election campaign to placate domestic automotive manufacturers like Daimler and BMW. This kind of blatant self-interest, officials complained at the time, is poisoning the climate.

But now it seems that the climate is no longer of much importance to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, either. Commission sources have long been hinting that the body intends to move away from ambitious climate protection goals. On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported as much.

On to Britain and a declaration from EUobserver:

‘Reform or we leave EU,’ warns British chancellor

The UK will leave the European Union if the bloc refuses to reform, the country’s chancellor George Osborne said on Wednesday (15 January).

Speaking at the start of a two day conference on EU reform organised by the Open Europe think tank, Osborne said that the EU had to decide whether to “reform or decline”.

“It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline,” he added.

Contra-bluster from EUobserver:

UK to benefit from Bulgarian and Romanian migrants, study says

A Swedish economist has said Bulgarians and Romanians who work in other EU states are likely to contribute more to the economy than they take out in benefits.

A study published last week by Joakim Ruist, a research fellow at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, found that the UK and Ireland stand to benefit the most from the net contributions.

“The UK and Ireland seem to be two countries in which there are good reasons to expect even more positive results,” Ruist told this website on Wednesday (15 January).

The Independent gets real:

UK immigration: Fewer than 30 Romanian arrivals since border restrictions lifted, says country’s ambassador to Britain

Diplomat also says ten UK companies had been in touch with his embassy, wanting to employ Romanians

Fewer than 30 Romanians have arrived in the UK since the lifting of border restrictions on New Year’s Day, the country’s ambassador to Britain estimates.

Ion Jinga offered the estimate in a comment piece in the Telgraph, insisting that the restictions’ lifting was “the beginning of a win-win game” for both countries.

On 1 January this year, people from Romania and Bulgaria gained the same working rights as other European Union citizens in eight countries, including the UK, Germany, Austria and France. It was hyped in some sections of the press as the day floods of migrants would sweep the country, further encumbering the welfare state.

But Mr Jinga wrote that these floods never materialised, though exact numbers aren’t available. In the UK, new arrivals aren’t made to register with local authorities, but he inferred the numbers from those arriving in the Netherlands, where registration is required.

Sky News offers bounties:

Vouchers For Officials Who Block Asylum Cases

The reward scheme has been set up to encourage Home Office staff to get failed asylum seekers removed from the UK.

Gift vouchers, holiday days and cash bonuses are being offered to Home Office staff who stop failed asylum seekers staying in Britain.

High street shopping vouchers worth up to £50 are dished out to immigration officers who win appeals against Government decisions that the asylum seekers should leave the country.

The incentives are offered as part of a Home Office reward scheme under which all the Whitehall department’s staff are able to win the perks.

Norway next, and business as usual from TheLocal.no:

Yara fined for ‘extraordinary corruption’

Norwegian fertiliser giant Yara International has been fined 295 million kroner ($50m) for bribing high-ranking government officials in Libya and India after an investigation by Norway’s economic crime agency Økokrim.

“It is an extraordinarily serious case of corruption,” Økokrim said in a statement. “The company bribed the oil minister in Gaddafi’s government in Libya, and a senior government official in India. The use of bribes was not a one-time event, but was used in three different countries and for contracts running over many years.”

EurActiv backs off:

Norway backpedals on EU single market compliance pledge

Though Norway promised in November it would live up to its obligations under the EU single market, the Liberal Party which supports the Norwegian government has changed its mind and said it would forge ahead with punitive taxes on imported EU goods.

For more than a year, the European Commission has complained that Norway, a country which is not an EU member state but has access to the single market via its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), has put extra taxes on imported goods from the EU and failed to implement more than 400 directives, effectively obstructing the EU’s single market.

On 1 January 2013, Norway introduced a tax on certain imported goods, bringing the price of imported EU cheese up by 277% and the the price of imported hydrangea flowers by 72%.

Bernt Reitan, Yara’s chairman, said that the company’s own investigations backed up the bribery charge.

On to Germany, feebly, with BBC News:

German economic growth weaker than expected

Porsche cars ready for export Improvements in the eurozone and US economies are expected to boost German exports this year

Germany’s economy grew by a weaker-than-expected 0.4% in 2013 according to the first official estimates. That is down from the 0.7% growth Europe’s largest economy saw in 2012.

The preliminary figure from the German statistics agency suggests Germany saw little or no growth in the final three months of the year. However, most economists expect the economy to bounce back in 2014 with growth of up to 2%. The government is forecasting 1.7%.

Knockin’ at the door with Spiegel:

Welfare for Immigrants: EU Wants Fortress Germany to Open Up

Brussels is demanding that even foreigners who have never worked in Germany should have access to the country’s unemployment benefits if they hail from an EU member state. The EU is firing Germany’s already overheated immigration debate.

Officials with the Commission, the EU’s executive body, said last week they in no way want to water down “clauses designed to protect against benefit tourism.” At the same time, they also reiterated that they consider one of the central provisions of German social security law to be illegal. The idea that Germany can reject social support to EU nationals without a job runs counter to current EU law, they argue.

On to France with a neoliberal endorsement from the London Telegraph:

Francois Hollande vows ‘supply-side’ assault on French state, doubles down on EMU austerity agenda

French leader Francois Hollande stuns left-wing of his own Socialist Party by calling for a new economic strategy based on “supply-side” policies

French president François Hollande has vowed an “electro-shock” to lift the French economy out of deep slump, promising to shrink the elephantine state and push through a raft of pro-business reforms.

The embattled French leader stunned the left-wing of his own Socialist Party by calling for a new economic strategy based on “supply-side” policies, accompanied by €30bn of fresh spending cuts by 2017 to pave the way for lower taxes and charges on companies.

Endorsement, from EUbusiness:

Hollande measures ‘right direction’ for French economy: EU

Measures announced by French President Francois Hollande to cut public spending and business costs go “in the right direction” and will help the economy, the European Commission said Wednesday.

The steps “are in line with recommendations we made last year … they will boost competitiveness … and have a positive effect on growth and jobs in France,” Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said.

“We share (President Hollande’s) position that substantial savings have to be found … we are happy to see these measures going … in the right direction,” Bailly said.

Another endorsement from RFI:

Germany welcomes Hollande’s turn to austerity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-wing party, the CDU, has welcomed French President François Hollande’s announcement of budget cuts and help to business at a much-publicised press conference on Tuesday. The French right has given the package a mixed reception.

“What the French president presented yesterday is, firstly, courageous,” Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters. “That seems to me to be the right way, not only for France, but it can also be a contribution that brings Europe as a whole a bit stronger” out of the region’s financial crisis.

And that old hard times intolerance, as administered with socialist [snicker] Hollandaise sauce by GlobalPost:

France evicted record 19,000 Roma migrants in 2013

France forcibly evicted a record 19,380 Roma migrants in 2013, more than double the figure the previous year, two rights groups said in a joint report on Tuesday.

“In comparison 9,404 Roma were forcibly evicted by authorities in 2012 and 8,455 in 2011,” the Human Rights League (LDH) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) said.

“Forced evictions continued almost everywhere without credible alternative housing solutions or social support,” they said.

TheLocal.fr finds a parallel:

Big business and Europe hail ‘France’s Tony Blair’

The French President François Hollande’s planned reforms to cut labour costs for businesses by €30 billion were hailed by big business, European finance chiefs, and even his enemies on the right on Wednesday and led many to conclude that France had found its own Tony Blair.

Business leaders, European finance chiefs, the Germans and even his sworn enemies on the Right of French politics were all happy. However, there were few smiles on the Left .

This was the general reaction to Hollande’s speech given during a high profile press conference, in which he managed to dodge a grilling about his private life, to announce several planned economic reforms that included cuts to taxes, labour costs and public spending.

And on another note, this from EurActiv:

Defiance against the EU reaches record levels in France: Poll

Trust in national and European institutions has hit a record-low in France, according to a recent poll, leading to a feeling of “gloom” among a growing number of citizens, and perhaps even a rise in support for the reinstatement of the death penalty, EurActiv France reports.

“It’s not a confidence but a defiance poll this time,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of SciencesPo University’s Centre of French Political Studies (CEVIPOF).

Perrineau was addressing the press as he presented the results of a new survey about French people’s confidence in politics, carried out at the end of November among 1,803 citizens.

Since the polls began in 2009, the feeling of exasperation has become more widespread among those surveyed. For the first time, the people surveyed used the word “gloom” to define their current environment.

On to Switzerland with TheLocal.ch and the inevitable suspects:

Swiss scrap social aid for European job seekers

Bern moved on Wednesday to scrap aid for European jobhunters, as rapidly rising immigration to the country fueled fears of “benefits tourism”.

EU citizens as well as those from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway “who come to Switzerland to look for work will have no right to social assistance,” the Federal Office for Migration said in a statement.

Those who hold a Swiss residency permit but who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, would also lose the permit after five years in the country, it added.

Foreigners made up almost a quarter of Switzerland’s eight million residents last year — 3.3 percent more than in 2012, according to official data.

Spaon next, with labor news from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s first prostitute union formed in Ibiza

Prostitutes in the Spanish tourist island of Ibiza have formed a sex workers’ cooperative to pay taxes and gain social security benefits — the first such group legally registered in Spain, they say.

Eleven women registered with local authorities as working members of the Sealeer Cooperative providing sexual services, said their spokeswoman, María Josí López.

“We are pioneers,” she told AFP. “We are the first cooperative in Spain that can give legal cover to the girls.”

Europe Online continues deflating:

Spain reports lowest inflation rate in more than 50 years

Spain finished 2013 with an inflation rate of 0.3 per cent, the lowest annual increase in consumer prices since 1961, data released Wednesday by the National Statistics Institute showed.

The rate is a stark contrast to the consumer price increase of the past few years. Spain recorded an annual inflation rate of 2.9 per cent in 2012, preceded by 2.4 in 2011 and 3 per cent in 2010.

Consumer prices in most areas stagnated over the past year, including prices for culture, entertainment and apparel. Only the transportation sector recorded price increases, and a rise in fuel costs contributed to a small bump in the overall index in December.

TheLocal.es states a demand:

‘Spain must step up war on corruption’: EU

Spain needs to ramp up its fight against corruption by introducing key reforms aimed at greater transparency, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group said in a new report released on Wednesday.

Corruption in Spain is threatening institutional credibility, said the Council of Europe anti-corruption group (Greco) in its new report.

Citing the numerous corruption scandals in the country and a general lack of public faith in the country’s politicians, the group noted that Spain was slipping in the annual ratings issued by Transparency International.

And more blowback to planned laws to restrict abortions via El País:

Extremadura PP urges government to shelve abortion reform

  • Eurodeputies open new front in Brussels in united rejection of “human rights violation”

The voices of opposition to the government’s proposed reform of the Abortion Law within the Popular Party grew to a chorus Wednesday when the conservative group in the Extremadura regional assembly drew up a motion urging Mariano Rajoy’s administration to “open a process of dialogue and debate with other political forces” to seek a less divisive reform “in keeping with today’s plural and educated society, and that is in line with legislation in neighboring countries.”

Regional premier José Antonio Monago, of the PP, also stressed that the government should not push ahead with its reform unilaterally and that the new law must include “the rational combination of time periods with the regulation of specific scenarios such as fetal abnormalities, pregnancy of minors and instances of rape.”

The Portugal News brings theatrical woes:

Box office struggling

Portuguese movie theatres attracted 1.3 million fewer spectators in 2013 than the year before, translating into a year-on-year loss of more than 8.5 million euros.

According to figures from the Cinema and Audiovisual Institute last year’s drop in occupied seats is even more pronounced when compared with 2011.

After jump, the latest from Greece, Russian stagflation, Ukrainian sanctions, Latin American inflation, Aussie dollar woes, Indonesian healthcare, Chinese finances, nuclear power proliferation, GMOs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuMania


We begin today’s headlines close to home with Al Jazeera America:

North California drought threatens farmers, ag workers, cities – and you

  • Driest conditions in 100 years could hit the nation’s food basket hard, affecting half of US fruits and vegetables

Water shortages are affecting urban areas too. Voluntary and mandatory water restrictions are in effect in Northern California cities and counties. Mendocino declared a state of emergency. The city of Folsom’s 72,000 residents are under mandatory water restrictions: Limit lawn watering to twice a week, use a shutoff valve on hoses when washing cars.

Meanwhile, in Santa Cruz, residents can’t wash paved surfaces and may be cited if they water their yards between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Local restaurants may serve water only on request, and swimming pools may not be drained and refilled. If the drought continues, restrictions will get tighter, said Eileen Cross, the city’s community-relations manager.

The Globe and Mail delivers a blow:

Internet neutrality rules struck down by U.S. appeals court

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday struck down the government’s latest effort to require internet providers to treat all traffic the same and give consumers equal access to lawful content, a policy that supporters call net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission did not have the legal authority to enact the 2011 regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit brought by Verizon Communications Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in its ruling.

“Even though the commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates,” Judge David Tatel said.

MIT Technology Review parses consequences:

Net Neutrality Quashed: New Pricing Schemes, Throttling, and Business Models to Follow

Depending on who you ask, a court loss for “net neutrality” will mean either a new era of innovation or preferential treatment and higher costs.

The Internet was built on the principle that all packets of data should be treated equally, which shaped the products and companies built on top of it.

A decision issued today by a U.S. federal appeals court struck down parts of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet, or “net neutrality,” rules issued in 2010. Accepting much of a challenge by Verizon, the court killed the FCC’s policies that aimed to prevent data-discrimination or data blocking. But the ruling does require carriers to disclose when they block, slow, or expedite various kinds of traffic in the future.

The results could be far-reaching. Consumers may see new offerings such as free content from companies willing to pay carriers extra for delivery; app companies could find themselves charged a fee to ensure that their videos get glitch-free performance; and e-commerce companies could be asked to pay to make sure their bits go through quickly enough to close a sale.

Quartz stays:

Jamie Dimon says he has no plans to step down as CEO after $22 billion in fines

A feisty Jamie Dimon said that he’s not planning on resigning in the wake of a raft of fines that has plagued JP Morgan over the past year. Asked if he would consider resigning on a conference call this morning to discuss the bank’s fourth-quarter results with reporters, the chairman and CEO fired off: “No, no and no.” He qualified his comments in the same breath, “And it’s all up to the board.”

JP Morgan has faced a litany of legal fines related to its business practices—resulting, last quarter, in its first-ever loss under Dimon’s tenure. Most recently, the firm was fined $2.6 billion for charges that it had turned a blind eye to signs of fraud in the massive Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. That fine, the firm reported today, drove down quarterly profits for the latest quarter by 7.3%. Overall, the sprawling firm has been hit with $22 billion in fines and penalties in the past year.

Sources have also told Quartz that Dimon has no intention of stepping down. So far both of directors of the firm and investors have expressed support of the 57-year old exec, who took the helm of the bank in 2005, the sources say.

From Salon, academia vanquished:

GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms

  • In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

TheLocal.no invests:

Oil fund in $480m San Francisco office deal

Norway’s Oil Fund has struck a $480m deal to buy stakes in office blocks in San Francisco and Washington DC, as it continues its push to increase the proportion of property investments in its portfolio.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages Norway’s Government Pension Fund or Oil Fund, teamed up for the deal with the US insurer MetLife, with whom it did a deal to buy stakes in a financial centre in Boston in December.

“With these two investments, we are expanding our joint venture with MetLife in line with our strategy and original intent,” Karsten Kallevig, chief investment officer for real estate at Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), said.

“Our growing partnership with NBIM speaks to our strong capabilities in the asset-management business,” said Robert Merck, global head of real estate investments at New York-based MetLife.

On to Canada with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canadian home prices return to record high

Canadian home prices ticked back up to a record high in December, thanks entirely to Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index.

The 0.1-per-cent rise in home prices in December reversed a 0.1-per-cent decline in November, and returned the index to its all-time high.

But the majority of the 11 cities that the index tracks have seen prices edge down in recent months. Winnipeg, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec City, Montreal, Hamilton, Halifax and Vancouver each saw prices decrease from November to December.

On to Europe, first with a tussle from EUbusiness:

Euro-MPs take ‘Troika’ to task

EU lawmakers took the ‘Troika’ to task Tuesday, seeking answers about how the controversial trio of international creditors ran painful eurozone debt bailouts which encouraged austerity instead of growth.

European Parliament deputies asked who among the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund should be held to account for the policies followed since 2010.

They were also keen to hear how economic forecasts, key to the bailout programmes and aid payments, fell short, especially in the case of Greece which required a second massive rescue marked by even more tough austerity provisions.

And a Troikarch spins it, from EUobserver:

Former ECB chief blames governments for euro-crisis

The former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet, has blamed EU governments for what he called the “worst economic crisis since World War II” and said the eurozone is still at risk.

Trichet, who led the ECB between 2003 and 2011, spoke out on Tuesday (14 January) at a European Parliament hearing on the “troika” of international lenders which managed bailouts in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Echoing EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn’s remarks to MEPs ealier this week, Trichet underlined the “extraordinary” and unpredictable nature of the euro-crisis.

A threat assessed with TheLocal.se:

Extreme right ‘biggest threat to EU’: Malmström

An EU push to counter extremism will give member states cash to help defectors, with Sweden’s European Commissioner identifying right-wing extremists as the biggest threat in the union today.

“The biggest threat right now comes from violent right-wing extremism,” Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Tuesday. “For example in Greece and in Bulgaria, but also in Hungary.”

Malmström said both right-wing and left-wing extremists were radicalizing in Europe.

On to Britain with an ultimatum from The Independent:

George Osborne to tell EU to ‘reform or decline’ in speech to Tory party’s Eurosceptics

  • The latest outbreak of infighting over Europe has placed fresh strain on Coalition unity, with one senior Lib Dem figure likening David Cameron to Neville Chamberlain in his willingness to appease

The European Union will be challenged by George Osborne today to “reform or decline”, as backbench pressure intensifies on the Tory leadership to demand the return of widespread powers from Brussels.

The latest outbreak of infighting over Europe has placed fresh strain on Coalition unity, with one senior Liberal Democrat figure provocatively likening David Cameron to Neville Chamberlain in his willingness to appease Eurosceptic critics.

The source claimed that continuing concessions by the Prime Minister echoed his predecessor’s behaviour in negotiating with Hitler ahead of the Second World War.

The Guardian stiffs the poor:

Warning that fund for poorer students faces £200m cutback

  • Treasury targets cash for disadvantaged students as Labour says coalition is punishing the poorest again

Funds to help disadvantaged students attend university could be slashed by as much as 60% as the Treasury seeks to close the budget deficit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), according to a group that represents universities.

The student opportunity fund – a £327m programme for disadvantaged students paid to universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) – could be slashed by about £200m, it fears, after wrangling between the Treasury and BIS over the latter department’s shortfall, caused in part by an explosion in course fees paid to private further education providers.

The million+ policy group, which represents many new universities, claimed that the Treasury and the Cabinet Office were pressing for the reductions as part of the cost savings being imposed on BIS.

Ireland next and another no from the Irish Times:

New party seeks euro exit and end to immigration

  • National Independent Party to run European election candidates in new South constituency

Ireland’s newest political party, the National Independent Party, has said it favours exiting the euro and opposes economic migration.

Formally launched in Dublin today, it has an estimated 120 members and lodged its registration papers as a political party to run a limited campaign in Dublin and Limerick for the local elections.

It then aims to reach a 300-member threshold and run in the 2016 general election.

Austerity to come from the Health Service Executive via the Irish Times:

HSE chief raises prospect of further cutbacks in health service

  • O’Brien tells Oireachtas committee it will not be possible to meet fully all demands

HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien held out the prospect of further health cutbacks this year given the financial challenge facing the service.

Mr O’Brien said this evening it will not be possible to meet fully all of the growing demands being placed on the health service this year.

Addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, he said that “some service priorities and demographic pressures may not be met”.

On to Germany, with a bonus from EurActiv:

German banks too slow to cap bonuses, says watchdog

Germany’s banks have made little progress on efforts to curb bonuses of top managers ahead of new European rules designed to control the type of risky behaviour that fuelled the financial crisis, the country’s financial watchdog said on Monday (13 January).

Only four of the 15 banks that Bafin examined last year capped bankers’ bonuses at the level of their base salaries, in line with the European Union-wide rule that came into force this year.

“We are not entirely happy with any bank,” Bafin chief Raimund Röseler told journalists.

France next, and another presidential promise evaporates, from TheLocal.fr:

France doubles number of Roma evictions

France’s controversial expulsions of Roma, which has drawn condemnation from the European Commission, hit a record high in 2013. A new report says nearly 20,000 were deported – double the number that were expelled in 2012.

France expelled nearly 20,000 Roma people in 2013, which is not only a record, but more than double the number kicked out of the country the previous year.

Despite President François Hollande’s criticisms of his predecessor’s policy towards the Roma, the number of expulsions has been climbing since he took office in 2012, French newspaper L’Express reported. About 9,400 were expelled in 2012 and 8,400 were forced out in 2011.

“The expulsions are part of a policy of refusal,” of the Roma, “that has got worse since the left-leaning government took power,” the report says. “The authorities want only one thing: send the Roma back to their country of origin.”

Spain next, and class war from El País:

Wage gap in Spain widens hastening the decline of the middle classes

  • Remunerations of directors rose seven percent last year as middle management salaries fell, according to a study

The salary gap in Spain is getting bigger. While directors saw their remuneration rise by 6.9 percent last year, middle management suffered a fall of 3.8 percent and workers a drop of 0.4 percent.

The figures released Tuesday, in an annual report carried out by Barcelona business school Eada and the consultant ICSA, are further proof of the unraveling of the middle classes, according to the director of the study, Ernest Poveda. “What we’re seeing is a clear polarization trend: with a rise in what directors receive and a fall in the rest — two segments where wages are moving downward to the same level, that is where the trend is one of homogenization, while those who earn the most earn even more.”

The study, which is based on 80,000 interviews, shows that the average salary of directors has been on the rise in spite of the crisis, with the exception of 2009. The average annual gross salary of this group rose from 68,705 euros to 80,330 last year. Workers and middle management saw an increase in what they earn in 2008 and 2009 before experiencing falls thereafter. The average gross salary of middle managers last year was 36,522 euros, and for other employees it was 21,307 euros.

Along the same line, from TheLocal.es:

Credit squeeze ‘killing’ 90 Spanish firms a day

Spanish banks, alarmed by multiple bankruptcies and mass unemployment, are keeping a tight rein on loans and potentially choking off the lifeblood of a longed-for economic recovery, analysts say.

Insufficient credit threatens to throttle Spain’s fragile recovery, they warn, after a double-dip recession triggered by a 2008 property crash, which left banks awash with bad loans.

Last year, Spain shored up its tottering banks’ balance sheets with a €41.3-billion ($56 billion) programme financed by its eurozone partners.

But the banks have shown reluctance to lend, economists and industry say, as the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy struggles with a 26-percent unemployment rate and, according to official data compiled by auditors PwC, a 20-percent rise in bankruptcy filings in 2013.

Bloomberg totals the tab:

Spain Says CAM Savings Bank Rescue Cost May Reach $21 Billion

Spain’s 2011 bailout of savings bank Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM) may cost as much as 15 billion euros ($21 billion) because its assets performed worse than expected, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said.

Banco Sabadell SA (SAB) bought the failed savings bank known as CAM for 1 euro after Spain’s deposit-guarantee fund, financed by the nation’s banks, injected 5.25 billion euros into the lender and offered guarantees against certain assets souring, shielding the national budget from losses.

De Guindos said yesterday the assets included in the so-called asset-protection plan had performed worse than predicted, and the total cost of the cleanup may amount to as much as 15 billion euros. By comparison, Bankia SA, the lender whose nationalization in 2012 pushed Spain to seek a European banking bailout, took 18 billion euros of European rescue funds and transferred about 22 billion euros of real estate-linked assets to the nation’s so-called bad bank.

El País notes a decline:

House sales in November plunge close to lowest levels since the crisis broke

  • Transactions declined an annual 15.7 percent in the month to 21,847, the second lowest figure since the real estate boom bust

Just a day after Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said that the housing market was beginning to touch bottom in a recovery that is gathering pace, the National Statistics Institute (INE) on Tuesday announced that home sales plunged in November of last year to their second-lowest level since the crisis began around the start of 2008.

The INE said housing transactions in the month shrank by 15.7 percent to 21,847, a figure only above that of April 2012, which coincided with that year’s Easter holidays and therefore had fewer working days.

Despite an accumulated fall in prices since the highs set in 2007 of around 40 percent after a decade-long boom that suddenly burst, house sales have fallen for the last seven straight months. In the first 11 months of last year, home sales dropped 2.1 percent.

On to Lisbon and another decline from the Portugal News:

Bad year for national vehicle production

Last year saw a 5.8 percent slide in overall vehicle production, 3.1 percent below the average for the last five years, with a total of 154,016 vehicles coming out of multinational owned factories in Portugal according to figures from ACAP – the National Car Association published this week.

Adding to glimmers of life flickering back into the economy, December did see a sharp improvement with a total of 9,440 vehicles produced, up 92.3 percent year-on-year as last year automobile firms were mothballing in the run up to the Christmas period having already built up reserve stock levels.

Annual passenger car production was down 5.2 percent year-on-year while the vans, heavy-goods and commercial vehicles shed 6.6 percent, 14.9 percent and 7.3 percent of their output respectively.

ACAP added that 2013 saw car production at “15.4 percent of the average for the last ten years and 3.1 percent below the five-year average.”

Italy next, and a ray fo sunshine from AGI:

Finance Minister reports modest signs of growth

Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, speaking in Milan at a conference on the euro, reported weak and modest signs of growth in the economy. Saccomanni does not underestimate anti-European feeling in various countries just a few months before the elections for the European parliament.

“These feelings are not a surprise considering the unprecedented economic crisis and we must now concentrate on revival and unemployment,” he added.

TheLocal.it blows smoke:

Turin votes in favour of legalizing cannabis

Turin’s city council has approved a motion in favour of making the drug legal for therapeutic purposes, making it the first of Italy’s large cities to do so.

The proposal is an appeal to the Italian Parliament that they “move from a prohibitionist structure to one where soft drugs, particularly cannabis, are legally produced and distributed”. This means that while the vote doesn’t make it legal to consume, buy or sell cannabis for individual use yet, it paves the way for a more tolerant view of the drug in the eyes of the law.

There are two parts to the proposal; the first called for the right to use cannabis for ‘therapeutic’ purposes, something already permitted in Tuscany, Liguria and Veneto, where as well as authorizing pharmacies to sell cannabis-based products, experimental distribution of free medications containing cannabis has been approved in hospitals, as well as direct production of marijuana.

The second part is more drastic: it overrules the Fini-Giovanardi law, by which offences involving cannabis are treated in the same way as those involving cocaine or heroin. This would pave the way for legalization of recreational cannabis use.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, a Turkish proposal, Latin American trade and travails, Indian finance, Thai troubles, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese deficits, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFuku


Our excursion into the world of economics, politics, and their impacts on the world we live in begins on a downbeat note from CNBC:

New report says millions of women at risk of falling into poverty, economic ruin

Although in recent decades women have made historic advances in nearly all areas of American public life, a staggering number of women across the country are still teetering on the verge of poverty and economic disaster, a new report released Sunday shows.

The report, co-authored by NBC News special anchor Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, takes a wide-angle snapshot of a national economic crisis — seen through the eyes of women. The key findings paint a portrait of an estimated 42 million women — and 28 million dependent children — saddled with financial hardship.

“These are not women who are wondering if they can ‘have it all,’” Shriver wrote in her introduction to the report. “These are women who are already doing it all — working hard, providing, parenting, and care-giving. They’re doing it all, yet they and their families can’t prosper, and that’s weighing the U.S. economy down.”

The Guardian covers banksters being banksters:

Bank bonuses: brace yourself for the great Wall Street trousering

  • The big US banks are about to reward their employees again, to the tune of another £4bn

This is a big week. A very big week. A several-billion-dollar week, in fact, if you happen to be a Wall Street banker.

Yes, it’s the time of year when US banks reveal how much they’ve stuffed into their bonus pools and – by extension – how robust their employees’ trademark braces must be as we realise how much they trousered.

In the first nine months of 2013, the big US banks set aside about £40bn to top up their staffers’ meagre stipends. Analysts reckon Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will pour in another £4bn when they report results this week – meaning little work will be done as bankers focus on pretending they got more than they actually did.

The Progressive has the spreadsheet:

Millionaires: Officially the Real Majority in Congress

For the first time ever, a majority of America’s elected officials in Congress are millionaires.

“Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012,” a new analysis of financial disclosure forms by The Center for Responsive Politics explains. “The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 — an increase from the previous year when it was $966,000.”

The Senate is where most of the monied members reside, with a median net worth of its current members coming to over $2.7 million. Members of the House tended to be somewhat less wealthy, with a median income of $896,004. With the House and Senate totals averaged together, however, the median net worth in Congress comes out to $1,008,767.

On to Britain with union in name only from Sky News:

IDS Wants Two-Year Ban On Migrant Benefits

  • The Work and Pensions Secretary says he has held talks with other EU countries to forge alliances to prevent “benefit tourism”

EU immigrants may have to wait for up to two years to claim benefits in the UK – rather than the current period of three months, Iain Duncan Smith has said.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, the Work and Pensions Secretary said he had been speaking to other member states including Germany, Italy and the Netherlands who were supportive of the idea.

He said Britain should ask migrants to “demonstrate that you are committed to the country, that you are a resident and that you are here for a period of time and you are generally taking work and that you are contributing”.

BBC News follows up:

Nick Clegg backs ‘eminently sensible’ EU benefit changes

It is “sensible” to consider further curbs to the benefits EU migrants can claim, the deputy prime minister says.

It comes after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said he was talking to other EU governments about trying to restrict access to welfare.

Nick Clegg told BBC Radio 5 live it was right to insist migrants “jump through hoops” before claiming benefits.

And The Observer delivers a setback:

Brussels slaps down British threats to rewrite immigration rules

  • President of European parliament says UK has ‘no chance of curbing basic principle of free movement’

Brussels has stepped up its fightback against UK attempts to curb EU immigration as leaders of the European parliament declared that rules on freedom of movement were completely non-negotiable, and made clear that attempts to change them would be blocked.

In the latest response to calls from UK politicians to unpick the EU treaties and rewrite one of its founding principles, the European parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, said that while he took UK demands for reform of the EU “very seriously” there was no question of the parliament agreeing to reopen the rule-book on free movement.

The Independent talks divorce:

House of Lords warned not to ‘ignore the public’s wishes’ on EU referendum debate

The House of Lords has been warned that it would be “ignoring” the wishes of ordinary people if it blocks a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

Peers are debating the Conservatives’ bid to lay down in law a public vote on membership.

James Wharton, the Tory MP for Stockton South who steered the Bill through the Commons, said: “It is extremely important that the House of Lords recognise that this Bill, which has been passed through every stage of the democratically-elected House of Commons, needs to pass in order to give the British people a say on this very important issue.

“It would be strange indeed for the unelected House of Lords to block a Bill which is to legislate for a referendum.”

And The London Telegraph renegotiates:

Chancellor to back Britain staying in a ‘reformed EU’

  • George Osborne will say UK has allies in its push for more liberal regulations from Brussels

George Osborne is to say that Britain should remain in a reformed European Union and that the UK has allies in its push for liberalisation of regulations that could hinder growth.

In a major speech on Europe next week, the Chancellor will say that as the economic recovery puts Britain at the top of growth league in the European Union, the reform agenda is gaining momentum.

He will also make it clear that Britain is gaining support as it pushes for changes in the way the EU operates.

Sky News sells out:

Jaguar Land Rover: Record Breaking World Sales

Midlands-based manufacturer JLR sets sales records in 38 countries worldwide as demand rises sharply in the last year.

It is thought sales have been doing particularly well in Germany, as well as the rapidly growing developing economies of India and China.

In the UK Jaguar sales were up 15% and Land Rover sales were up 13%.

Globally Land Rover is proving the firm favourite among customers representing the largest share of sales with 348,383 sold in 2013, an increase of 15%. But demand for the luxury Jaguar has surged over the last 12 months, almost doubling its international sales to 76,668.

The Observer again, with inflation:

Childcare costs soar by 19% in just one year – survey

  • Parenting expert says increase is ‘triple whammy’ and financial burden on families is like a ‘second mortgage’

The cost of childcare in Britain has soared by 19% over the past year, according to research given exclusively to the Observer, which also found that a quarter of unemployed parents want to return to work but cannot afford to have their children looked after.

Findababysitter.com, a childcare search website, said parents were struggling with returning to work because of the availability and cost of childcare, which often amounted to a “second mortgage”.

The Observer again, with business as usual:

Lobbying bill will tarnish Britain, says UN official

  • UN rapporteur on freedom of assembly launches fierce attack on bill, while charities demand further concessions

A top UN official has made an outspoken attack on the government’s controversial lobbying bill, describing it as a “stain” on democracy that will undermine elections in the UK, as leading charities demand fresh concessions on the proposals from coalition ministers.

Before key votes on the bill in the House of Lords this week, Maina Kiai, the UN rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, says the legislation, if not amended further, will reduce the ability of people in civil society to express their views before elections, while doing little or nothing to tighten controls on corporate lobbyists.

In an article published on Sunday on this newspaper’s website, Kiai, a Kenyan lawyer appointed by the UN’s human rights council, said: “Although sold as a way to level the electoral playing field, the bill actually does little more than shrink the space for citizens – particularly those engaged in civil society groups – to express their collective will. In doing so, it threatens to tarnish the United Kingdom’s democracy.”

On to Sweden and raw reality from TheLocal.se:

‘Sweden’s mineral wealth is sold too cheaply’

Critics argue that Sweden is selling its vast mineral resources far too cheap, raising the idea that the country should follow neighbouring Norway and establish a wealth fund to invest for future generations.

While concession fees are kept deliberately low in order to attract miners, critics say all nine million Swedes could and should benefit the same way that their Norwegian neighbours all profit from their national oil wealth.

“This is something we own together,” said Jesper Roine, associate professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Besides, he added, minerals have an intrinsic value even before they are dug out of the earth, and they should be priced accordingly, the way all other raw materials are priced.

Seeking alliance from The Independent:

France’s Marine Le Pen wants her far-right party to join forces with Ukip and destroy ‘European Soviet Union’

The leader of the France’s Front National believes the far-right party and Ukip share a common set of values and should join forces to bring down the “European Soviet Union”.

Marine Le Pen said she expected the “European system… to explode” and suggested Ukip might decide to form a partnership with the Front National and other far-right parties in the future to help make this happen.

However Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage, who insists his party is “strictly non-racist” and “libertarian”, dismissed the idea.

Spain next, and TheLocal.es, blinded by love:

In-love Spanish princess ‘innocent’ of graft: lawyer

Spain’s Princess Cristina loves and trusts her husband “come hell or high water” as he faces a corruption probe and is innocent of wrongdoing herself, her lawyer said Friday.

King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter, the blonde-haired, 48-year-old Cristina, was summoned this week to appear on March 8th at a court in Palma de Mallorca as a suspect in alleged tax and money-laundering crimes.

Cristina is suspected of being tied to the activities of her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, a 45-year-old former Olympic handball player who has been under investigation since 2011 over the suspected embezzlement of money from public bodies.

El País chats up:

Royals relieved that Cristina will testify in tax fraud case

  • Princess drops appeal plan after being made aware of need to address growing scandal by king’s palace circle

Spain’s royal family is relieved that Princess Cristina will not appeal the preliminary charges against her and will instead testify in court over allegations of tax fraud and money laundering.

Her decision is “very positive,” said the Royal Household in a statement Saturday.

Cristina de Borbón’s lawyer had said on Tuesday that they would appeal the judge’s decision to make her a formal target in the investigation, as had occurred on a previous occasion in April 2013. But on Friday Miquel Roca announced in writing that his client was renouncing this right and would testify voluntarily on March 8.

thinkSPAIN sets limits:

Out-of-work Spaniards abroad see healthcare entitlement capped at 90 days

LONG-TERM dole claimants in Spain will lose their entitlement to free medical care via their European health cards after they have been out of the country for three months in a new government ruling.

This does not apply to students or tourists, but does apply to Spaniards and other EU nationals resident in Spain and entitled to healthcare cover there who leave the country with the intention of this being a longer-term arrangement.

After 90 days, they will be required to have registered as residents in the country they have travelled to and secured their entitlement to healthcare in their destination.

TheLocal.es protests:

Crowds defy Madrid in sensitive Basque demo

Tens of thousands of protesters in Spain’s Basque Country defied Madrid on Saturday by holding a mass demonstration marked by tensions over jailed members of the armed separatist group ETA.

Crowds filled the streets in the northern city of Bilbao in a march for “human rights, understanding and peace”, after a judge banned another demonstration planned to demand concessions for the prisoners.

The treatment of imprisoned ETA convicts is one of the most delicate issues in a standoff between the authorities and western Europe’s last major armed secessionist movement.

Europe Online has numbers:

Poll: Spain’s Socialists more popular than ruling conservatives

Spain’s opposition Socialists have the lead over the ruling conservative party for the first time since its election defeat two years ago, an opinion poll showed Sunday.

The survey published in El Pais newspaper showed 33.5 per cent of voters support the Socialists while 32 per cent were behind Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP).

Elections are scheduled for next year.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga blast from AGI:

Beppe Grillo decries continued presence of Berlusconi

Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, decried Silvio Berlusconi’s continued presence on the Italian political scene.

“There’s a guy walking around Italy with the arrogance of someone who has gone unpunished. The Five Star Movement kicked him out of parliament after 20 years of dividing up Italy with the PD (centre-left Democratic Party). But it’s as though he never left. Actually, he’s risen from the ashes as Mr Renzi (leader of the Democratic Party) considers him his main interlocutor for the new electoral law. The dummy from Florence and the author of the pig’s ear of an electoral system (which changed Italy’s majority system into a proportional one) united for a New Italy. Isn’t it just wonderful?” he posted on his blog.

TheLocal.it covers a shakeup shakeup:

Mayor of Italy earthquake town quits over graft

The mayor of the Italian town of L’Aquila, which was partially destroyed in a 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people, stepped down Saturday following a corruption scandal involving members of his team.

“I have no legitimacy left. I am tired. I am angry. I have suffered a full-on media attack. That is why I am resigning,” Massimo Cialente told reporters. “I have understood that I am no longer useful in this town and I am maybe even an obstacle,” he added.

Four people from his administration were placed under house arrest Wednesday for alleged bribery linked to reconstruction contracts following the earthquake in the central Italian town.

Four more have been notified they are under investigation, including deputy mayor Roberto Riga and a local official in charge of restoring damaged monuments.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian protest, wealth and servitude in the Gulf, an Argentine appeal, Pakistani peace talks, Indian uncertainty, Thai troubles, Chinese “reforms,” Japanese numbers, and Fukushimapocalypse 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

Chart of the day II: Massive West Coast drought


From the National Drought Mitigation Center. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

Bubbles in your beer: NAFTA’s Mexican impacts


From The Real News Network, Jaisal Noor gives us an enlightening interview of Timothy A. Wise, director of the Policy Research Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.

Want to understand NAFTA? Here’s something to consider the next time you hoist a glass of Modelo Negro:

20 Years on, Mexico is NAFTA’s Biggest Lie

From the transcript:

NOOR: And, Tim, so, in a recent piece you wrote, you talk about attending a lush cocktail reception, and you were talking to a U.S. embassy attache, and he argued that Mexico is now exporting more food to the U.S. And beer factors into that. Talk about why you argue that kind of demonstrates everything that’s wrong with NAFTA and its effects on Mexico.

WISE: Well, it’s a little bit of a sleight of hand to say that—you know, if you ask, how has trade, how has agricultural trade between the two countries fared, and you look at the trade deficit for Mexico, it’s grown significantly. The trade deficit was over $4 billion in recent years with the price spikes. He said to me, well, they’re going to run an agricultural surplus with the United States this year. And I—in 2013. And I said, well, you mean the agri-food trade balance. And that’s a technical category that’s a meaningful category, but it includes everything produced in the food sector. So, notably—and I said to him, so you’re including beer and tequila, two of Mexico’s great NAFTA success stories, as exports. And he said, well, of course, and they are agricultural exports. And I said, well, why? And he said, well, because, you know, it’s great for—this is a case of NAFTA’s success, because not only is Mexico increasing its beer exports to the United States, it’s actually importing all of the barley malt to make them, to make all that beer, from the United States. And I said, well, where is the agricultural benefit for Mexico, then? There’s nothing agricultural in Mexico coming from Mexico for that beer. The barley’s from the U.S, the malt-making’s from the U.S, and effectively Mexico’s contributing water and bottling. And Mexico doesn’t have water. It’s short of water.

So this is—what’s classic about it for the kind of problems it represents for the ways that countries like Mexico have approached an agreement like NAFTA is that even where Mexico has a comparative advantage, making a very good, competitive beer—you know, you’re talking about Corona and Modelo and a lot of the—Dos Equis and a lot of the brands that have really been success stories—if they can’t export, they give away the value that’s gained from that. They don’t grow the barley to make it. They don’t even import the barley and grow the malt and produce the malt to make it. And now the two main Mexican companies have been bought up with controlling shares by foreign beer-makers, so even the profits don’t really stay in Mexico.

So where is the development impact from the North American Free Trade Agreement if you’ve given away all the valuable parts of the production process?

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPhobe


We begin with the global stories, first with a warning from CNBC:

1930s-style debt defaults likely, says IMF research

Many advanced economies are likely to require financial repression, outright debt restructuring, higher inflation and a variety of capital controls, a new research paper commissioned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.

The magnitude of today’s debt in Western economies will mean fiscal austerity will not be sufficient, Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff said in the report, as policymakers continue to underestimate the depth and duration of the downturn.

“It is clear that governments should be careful in their assumption that growth alone will be able to end the crisis. Instead, today’s advanced country governments may have to look increasingly to the approaches that have long been associated with emerging markets, and that advanced countries themselves once practiced not so long ago,” they said.

More from the London Telegraph:

IMF paper warns of ‘savings tax’ and mass write-offs as West’s debt hits 200-year high

Debt burdens in developed nations have become extreme by any historical measure and will require a wave of haircuts, warns IMF paper

New Europe has the winners:

Top 300 billionaires worth $3.7 trillion

Billionaires got richer in 2013

The top 300 billionaires on the planet got richer in 2013 by $524 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaire index.

According to the index, the aggregate net worth of the world’s top 300 billionaire stood at $3.7 trillion at the market close on December 31. Overall, only 70 billionaires recorded a fortune loss in 2013 compared with last year. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire founder of real estate and energy conglomerate Red Apple Group Inc., told Bloomberg in a telephone interview. “The rich will keep getting richer in 2014…Interest rates will remain low, equity markets will keep rising, and the economy will grow at less than 2 percent.”

The year’s biggest gainer was Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who saw his fortune increasing by $15.8 billion to $78.5 billion. The 58 year old tycoon, is officially the richest individual on the planet. In Europe, Amancio Ortega held once again on to his title as Europe’s richest person. His company, Inditex, the world’s largest clothing retailer, rose 14 per cent during 2013. Bloomberg reported that the richest man in Europe bought an office building in London’s West End for 410 million pounds, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

“Billionaires are asking what they should do with their money in 2014,” Mark Haefele, Global Head of Investment for UBS AG’s wealth-management unit, said by phone to the US financial news agency. “Central banks will continue to be supportive, so equities will likely continue to rise during the year,” Mr. Haefele stressed.

Off to the U.S., first with SINA English:

U.S. sees slowest population growth rate since the Great Depression

America’s population is growing at its slowest rate in decades, and the sluggish economy is mostly to blame, according to one expert.

The U.S. population grew by just 0.72 percent in the year ended July 1, 2013, the Census Bureau reported Monday. That’s the slowest growth rate since 1937. Population growth has hovered at super-low levels for the past few years, according to William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan research organization. The trend is “troubling,” Frey said, and is due largely to the weak economy.

“This real sharp decline has to do with recession-related issues,” Frey said. “Fewer people come into the country because there aren’t as many jobs, and people are postponing child-bearing.”

The Guardian covers the losers and what their losses mean:

US economy losing ‘up to a $1bn a week’ after jobless benefits cut

  • Harvard economist warns of ‘fiscally irresponsible’ decision
  • Benefits for long-term unemployed allowed to expire last week

The US economy is losing up to a billion dollars a week because of the “fiscally irresponsible” decision to end long-term unemployment benefits, a Harvard economist said on Friday.

Professor Lawrence Katz based his assessment on official forecasts of the impact to the economy of 1.3 million jobless Americans losing benefits

The Times of India covers less-than-minimum wages from Uncle Sam:

US missions abroad paid some local staff less than $1 a day

For all the complaints about India and its diplomats underpaying domestic help on their postings abroad, a 2009 state department evaluation of practices in US embassies and missions abroad revealed that some local employees they hired earn less than $1 a day. In fact, some of them were so poorly paid they had to cut back to one meal a day or send their children to peddle on the streets, the report said.

The report from the state department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which has been dusted off for scrutiny by some Indian officials amid a flaming row between Washington and New Delhi over the l’affaire Devyani, looked at how the US pays more than 51,000 local, non-American employees in about 170 missions abroad. In addition to the hardship caused to the workers because of inadequate pay, the report found that the US pays in what in some cases amounts to universal below-poverty level wages.

China Daily covers a coming loss:

China set to overtake US as world’s biggest goods trader

The value of trade in China’s goods in 2013 is set to exceed that of the United States, making the world’s second-largest economy the world’s top trader for the first time, certainly in modern times.

“Judging from the current statistics, there is a very high possibility that the value of China’s goods trade will have exceeded the US in 2013,” said Wang Haifeng, a researcher with the Institute for International Economic Research at the National Development and Reform Commission.

Jia Huaiqin, deputy president of the Statistical Society for Foreign Economic Relations and Trade of China, echoed the view that China’s overall goods trade value did overtake the US in 2013 unless there was a late and big fluctuation, China Business News reported.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau gives a “F”:

Most Americans say this Congress is worst in their lifetime, CNN poll says

The current Congress is not only unproductive, but most Americans see it as the worst they’ve ever known, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday.

Two-thirds said the 113th Congress, which left for the year last week, is the worst in their lifetime. Twenty-eight percent disagreed.

Nearly three in four said this Congress has done nothing to deal with the nation’s problems.

The Independent.ie covers more winners:

Big bonuses for Wall Street staff as stocks reach 16-year high

SHARES of US financial firms just staged their biggest annual rally since 1997, creating a bonanza for Wall Street employees who receive bonuses in deferred stock — though the new year doesn’t hold the same promise.

The KBW Bank Index of 24 lenders increased 35pc in 2013, the most in 16 years. All of its companies rose, the first time that’s happened in a decade. Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Capital Markets Index of 13 securities firms and asset managers surged 49pc, the most on record.

The rise in share prices began in October 2011 and has proved to be a real earner for traders and dealmakers at firms like Morgan Stanley which retooled bonuses after the financial crisis to include more deferred stock.

The Economic Times covers winners-in-the-making:

2014 still promises an abundance of opportunity for Wall Street bankers

The next 12 months may not prove as rich for initial public offerings as the last year. But to Wall Street bankers, 2014 still promises an abundance of opportunity.

And that could include what may be one of the biggest market debuts in years: that of Alibaba, the Chinese Internet behemoth.

Even as global merger activity turned in another lackluster performance, the business of taking companies public soared. The amount raised by IPOs in the United States in 2013 jumped 40 per cent over 2012, to $59.3 billion, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

Quartz has more winners:

Investment banks just had their best year since 2007

Over the past year investment banks have faced a welter of lawsuits and intrusive new rules, suffered costly missteps in the bond market and slashed pay and staff numbers. It may seem surprising, then, that 2013 was actually the best year for the global investment banking industry since 2007, in terms of fees. Total fee revenue rose by 3.1%, to $79.8 billion, according to recently released data from Thomson Reuters.

While Al Jazeera America covers the hopeful:

Amendment would let local Colorado governments regulate big industry

Gas and oil drilling, fracking, mining and other industries would need local approval to operate if amendment is passed

A proposed amendment to the Colorado state constitution would give local governments around the state the authority to restrict or ban oil and gas drilling and other industrial activities – even those permitted by state law – if they pose a threat to the health and safety of residents.

The “right to local self-government” act is being proposed by the Colorado Community Rights Network (CCRN), a new organization that is gaining considerable traction, and will be submitted to the state in its final form within the next week. The act will need 86,105 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

And 9NEWS has green winners:

Pot sales exceed $1 million on first day

Pot shops did record sales compared to the “medical marijuana days” on Wednesday when recreational marijuana opened. Pot shop owners across Colorado believe they collectively made more than $1 million statewide.

Supporters, critics and other states are waiting to see what will happen in Colorado on day two and beyond. In Perth, Australia, headlines say “Move Over Amsterdam.”

The Contributor Network covers other winners:

TX’s Self-Regulated Pay Day Lenders Now Collecting Tolls on El Paso Roads

Just when you thought you had heard it all with the recent report that a payday lender is in charge of running the regulatory agency for the industry in Texas, score one more for the pay day lending industry.

In El Paso, according to a recent agreement made with the local metropolitan authority, the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, Ace Cash Express will begin selling toll tags and collecting tolls on behalf of the transportation authority beginning January 8th.

Across the Atlantic with New Europe:

Eurozone manufacturing records strongest growth in over 2.5 years

Markit economics reported that Eurozone manufacturing recorded the strongest growth in December over the last two and half years.

According to the Markit report, the recovery in the eurozone manufacturing sector accelerated further at the end of 2013. The seasonally adjusted manufacturing index rose for the third month running to post 52.7 in December, up from 51.6 in November. According to Markit, since the index is above 50 it means that the Eurozone manufacturing sector is expanding. For the final quarter as a whole, the sector is recording its best performance in two-and-a-half years, consistent with a quarterly pace of output growth of around 0.6 per cent.

The strong growth of the Eurozone manufacturing was underpinned by solid growth in the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and Italy, while Austria continued to expand at a robust pace. Meanwhile the Spanish PMI also moved back into expansion territory. More importantly Greece managed to improve its manufacturing output, as her national index rose to a 52-month high and close to the 50 stabilisation point (49.6). However, France moved in the opposite direction with its index falling to a seven-month low and signalling contraction for the twenty-second successive month (47).

Quartz issues a warning:

The euro zone’s credit crunch will get worse before it gets better

Another month, another grim data point on bank lending in the euro zone. The latest numbers, covering November (pdf), show that loans to companies in the euro zone are falling at a 3.9% annual pace, the fastest rate of decline in more than a decade. Loans to households are holding up better, but growth is still only barely positive.

As far as business lending goes, only Finland, Estonia and Belgium managed to eke out growth in November. In Spain, meanwhile, bank loans for businesses are falling by nearly 20% per year.

Spiegel draws lines:

Isolated in Brussels: Merkel Clashes with EU Commission

Angela Merkel at the recent EU summit on Dec. 19 in Brussels: The chancellor has become bogged down in her attempt to lead the Europe.

Even as the euro crisis grows less acute, Europe is stuck. The European Commission is resisting any loss of its power, and many member states are tired of German dominance. Opponents of Europe, including those in Merkel’s camp, sense an opportunity.

On page 157 of the coalition agreement between Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), at the beginning of the section on Europe, there is an oldie that many German governments have crooned in the past. It has to do with the German language — that is, its use in the European institutions. “German must be put on equal terms, in practice, with the other two procedural languages, English and French,” the document reads.

And New Europe has no surprise:

Bribery of foreign officials goes under-punished in the EU

Recent revelations concerning the bribery of the former Secretary-General for Armaments of the Greek Ministry of National Defense, Antonis Kantas, by German and other EU based companies have underlined the need for the EU’s executive body to take action, Greek MEP says.

Thodoros Skylakakis (ALDE, GR) addressed the European Commission with a question about the non –or under implementation- of international and European agreements on bribery and corruption on international level.

While El País notes a consequence of financial polarization:

The specter of racism in Europe

Gypsies and Jews are facing growing institutional discrimination in the former Soviet bloc countries

In the west, far-right parties are pushing an anti-immigration agenda

Within the European Union, where the depression continues unabated, having already left 25 million people without work and 80 million in poverty, racism is apparently on the rise.

Gypsy children living in the former industrial city of Ostrava, in the Czech Republic, are sent to special schools. They and their families live in what are effectively ghettos, and they are denied the same rights as other Czechs. The situation is similar in Hungary, where 90 percent of Gypsies are unemployed. In Poland, many restaurants refuse them service. It’s the same story in Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria.

On to Britain, first with The Guardian:

Bulgarian and Romanian immigration hysteria ‘fanned by far-right’

  • Former Bulgarian foreign minister says talk of surge of eastern Europeans into UK is politically motivated and highly unlikely

Bulgaria’s former foreign affairs minister has criticised the “mass hysteria” surrounding the immigration debate driven by the “far-right”.

Nikolay Mladenov, who was Bulgaria’s foreign affairs minister until last spring, said claims of a sudden influx of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to Britain in 2014 were “politically motivated”.

TheLocal.it instructs:

Italians get ‘lessons on UK life’ as arrivals surge

The Italian Embassy in London is set to roll out a series of seminars on British life as the number of Italians fleeing their homeland for the UK continues to grow. The move was prompted by the murder of an Italian teenager in the county of Kent in October.

There a 220,000 Italian inhabitants in the UK, with 85,000 living in London, according to figures from the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (AIRE).

However, the Embassy estimates there could be as many as 550,000, with 250,000 being in the capital, when taking into account those who are not officially registered, Il Fatto Quotidiano reported.

One of the first lessons they’ll learn, via BBC News:

Migrants to face NHS emergency care charges in England

Migrants and overseas visitors are to face new charges for some NHS services in England, ministers say.

They include extended prescription fees, the introduction of charges for some emergency care and higher rates for optical and dental services.

However, GP and nurse consultations will remain free, and nobody will be turned away in an emergency.

The London Telegraph notes a lack:

UK has fewer doctors per person than Bulgaria and Estonia

The UK has fewer working doctors per head of population than almost all other EU countries, according to EC statistics

The UK ranked 24th out of the 27 European nations, only beating Slovenia, Romania and Poland according to the data, published by the EU Commission as part of its ‘Eurostat regional yearbook 2013′.

RT thinks wishfully:

Bankers need to shift to principles of ‘justice and hope’ – Archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the principal leader of the Church of England, has urged bank bosses to make a “massive cultural change” in their management style. He says many refuse to accept how they dragged the world economy into crisis in 2008.

Speaking on BBC radio on Tuesday Archbishop Justin Welby said the banking leadership should be serving society as a whole, and not just pursue the interests of shareholders.

“Leadership must have a vision based in justice and hope so that everyone at every level is committed to change,” he said.

The Independent despairs:

Unemployed young people feel they have ‘nothing to live for’

One in three long-term unemployed young people have contemplated suicide

Three quarters of a million young people in Britain believe they “have nothing to live for”, the Prince’s Trust has warned.

The findings showed that 40 per cent of young people have faced symptoms of mental illness, including self-loathing and panic attacks, as a result of being out of work.

The survey also found that long-term unemployed young people across the UK are more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed antidepressants.

The London Telegraph inflates:

Bubble fears as house prices jump most in four years

House prices stage biggest monthly jump in four years, adding to worries of a bubble

House prices have staged their biggest monthly jump in four years, adding to concerns that a new bubble could develop this year.

The average cost of a home rose by 1.4pc in December, the biggest monthly jump since August 2009. This brought the year-on-year increase to 8.4pc.

The Telegraph again, this time with helpful household hints:

Shower together and go to bed early to cut energy bills, supplier First Utility says

Energy supplier that raised prices by 18 per cent last year also advises consumers to give up tea and coffee and play Monopoly

First Utility, Britain’s biggest independent energy supplier, which has about 300,000 customers, issued its advice in a “5:2 energy diet” plan that it said would cut £150 from a typical bill.

It suggested consumers reduce their energy usage on two days of each week by following the tips, such as to “opt for an early night”.

“Up to you what you do,” it said, “but putting out the lights and turning off the box can save you £18 a year – and it could be lots of fun…”

Sky News readies the ax:

Floods: Row Over Environment Agency Job Cuts

Unions said axing around 550 staff from the flood team would “impact directly” on the UK’s ability to deal with future storms.

The Government has been forced to deny claims that austerity cuts will hit flood defences – despite reports that hundreds of frontline jobs are being cut.

On to Norway, with a protest form the right with TheLocal.no:

Economist’s Jensen – le Pen comparison ‘crude’

The Economist has ruffled feathers in Norway after describing the country’s finance minister as a “a sort of Norwegian Marine Le Pen”, in reference to the leader of France’s far-right National Front.

In an editorial in its latest edition, the British magazine drew comparisons between Jensen’s Progress Party and other populist parties in Europe, including the Freedom Party of Austria, Vlaams Belang of Belgium and Britain’s UKIP. It did, however, point out the huge difference between Progress and the Hungarian far-right party Jobbik.

“To the consternation of liberal Scandinavians, Norway’s nationalist-right Progress Party, which secured 16 percent of the vote at recent elections, has been welcomed into a minority government,” it wrote. It also quoted Jensen’s reference to the “rampant Islamification” of Norway.

Sweden next, with intolerance from TheLocal.se:

Mosque swastika attack ‘no isolated incident’

The Nazi graffiti daubed on the central Stockholm mosque on Wednesday night was no isolated incident, with all religious groups in Sweden reporting an increase in hate crimes.

“We receive hate mail, threatening letters or suffer vandalism around twice a month,” said Omar Mustafa , president of the Islamic Association of Sweden. “This type of racist messages are quite common against Muslim communities.”

Statistics from the National Crime Prevention Council (Brottsförebygganderådet – Brå) showed that police reports of hate crimes have increased in recent years, including those against Jewish and Christian groups.

DutchNews.nl covers an unusual trend:

Most workers will be better off in 2014 but high earners take home less

Most workers will have higher take-home pay in 2014 and low earners will benefit most, according to salary processor ADP.

The organisation looked at the impact of government policy on wages and concluded people on salaries of up to €1,750 a month will benefit most from tax cuts and other benefits in 2014.

For example, someone earning the minimum wage – €1,485.60 for an adult – will be €55 a month better off because of lower taxes and a higher tax-free allowance.

Germany next, hungering with Spiegel:

Storming the Food Banks: Charities Struggle with Growing Demand

Food banks and soup kitchens in many German cities are having trouble keeping up with growing demand. Some are now abandoning their free food models in their effirts to continue helping the needy.

Across the country, food pantry workers, most of them volunteers, are sounding the alarm that charitable donations are no longer enough to pay for storage space, delivery trucks and rents. Some are also having trouble stocking enough food to satisfy demand. In Hamburg, for example, food banks have been forced to turn some people away in recent weeks.

Deutsche Welle has discipline:

Chancellor Merkel seeks to nip coalition partners’ row in the bud

Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced the creation of an inquiry to look into whether German laws are sufficient to ward off ‘benefits tourists.’ This seems designed to end a spat between two of her coalition partners.

Deutsche Welle again, with anxiety:

Germany’s fear of job seekers from new EU members

Germany has tried to keep Romanian and Bulgarian job seekers out as long as possible. Other countries seem to be a lot more comfortable with integrating new EU citizens into their labor market.

It’s one of the fundamental rights of EU citizens that they can look for work in any of the member states. By joining the bloc, the people of any new member are granted this right – though not necessarily with immediate effect. Other countries in the 28-member bloc have to the option to somewhat restrict that freedom of movement for a maximum of seven years. In the case of members Romania and Bulgaria, nine of the older members have done so – among them Germany and the United Kingdom.

Since the beginning of the year, this restriction has been lifted, which has reignited a debate in Germany over the country’s immigration laws. It’s a discussion triggered by the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Prominent party members have been warning of what they described as “poverty immigration.” UK Prime Minister David Cameron has raised similar concerns, warning of social welfare “tourism.”

That old revolving door, the German version, with Spiegel:

Conflict of Interest? Ex-Merkel Deputy’s Career Move Under Fire

Ronald Pofalla, until recently Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, is reportedly mulling a €1 million a year board position at national railway Deutsche Bahn.

News organizations are reporting that Angela Merkel’s recently departed chief of staff may be heading to German national railway Deutsche Bahn. The move has sparked calls for a ban on government officials from moving to the private sector so quickly.

In recent months, moves by former German ministers and senior politicians into lobbying positions have been a lightning rod for criticism, drawing allegations that these high-profile former decisionmakers are being bought by the private sector. The latest politician to draw unwelcome headlines is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s outgoing chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, following reports this week that he may join the board at Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s partly government-held national railway.

Europe Online declines:

German car sales slumped in 2013, full-year data shows

German car sales dropped by 4.2 per cent in 2013, full-year data released on Friday revealed, adding to concerns about the troubled European auto industry.

The KBA federal motor licensing authority said it had registered 2.95 million new car sales last year, down from 3.08 million in 2012. That year’s sales already marked a decline of 2.9 per cent from 2011.

On to France with angst from the London Telegraph:

French borrowing costs rising at ‘worrying’ rate

France’s borrowing costs continued to rise as latest figures revealed the manufacturing sector underperformed even Greece

France’s borrowing costs have continued to rise as latest figures revealed the manufacturing sector underperformed even Greece.

France’s manufacturing PMI slipped to 47, lower than the flash estimate of 47.1, and below the 50 mark which separates expansion from contraction. That marks the 22nd consecutive month of contraction for factory activity in the eurozone’s second largest economy.

France, along with Greece, were the only nations to report lower levels of new export business, despite the overall level for the eurozone rising for the sixth consecutive month and at a pace close to November’s two-and-a-half year peak.

TheLocal.fr makes a case:

Firms urge Hollande to act on New Year pledge

Business leaders in France have called on French President François Hollande to act quickly on his New Year pledge to lower burdensome labour costs in return for firms stepping up their recruitment drive. “He must move quickly,” says the head of the leading business union.

“We need to mobilise everyone to win the battle [against unemployment],” Hollande said, in a now familiar rallying call. “That is why I am proposing a responsibility pact for corporations. It is founded on a simple principle: fewer labour taxes on business, fewer restrictions on corporate activities [in exchange for] more recruitment and greater dialogue with trade unions.”

Spain next, with optimism from El País:

Labor market showing signs of strength, government says

On the basis of the latest official jobless claim and Social Security affiliation figures for December released Friday, the government believes that not only has the hemorrhaging in employment been staunched but also that the labor market is starting to show signs of strength.

According to the Labor Ministry, the number of people signed on with the Social Security system declined by 85,041, or 0.52 percent last year, the smallest decline since the current crisis began in 2007. In December alone, the number of workers affiliated rose by 64,097 to 16.357 million. The ministry said the increase was the highest for December since the current comparable historical series was initiated in 2001.

But CNN notes the reality:

Temporary jobs lift Spanish gloom

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has predicted a recovery in 2014. And in a radio interview earlier this week, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said job creation could beat government forecasts.

But labor unions say most of the jobs being created in Spain each month are part time and temporary, with a third providing less than four hours work a day.

Some 92% of new employment contracts last year were temporary, and the number of permanent jobs being created has been in decline for 12 months.

thinkSPAIN has the bill:

Outpatient drugs to be funded by users from this month onwards

ALL regional health authorities across Spain will be required to charge for medication dispensed to outpatients in hospitals from this month onwards after being given a three-month stay of grace.

Whilst the requisite for payment towards hospital drugs was confirmed on October 1, Spain’s 17 autonomously-governed regions were given until January 2014 to put a system in place to allow this to happen.

It will affect anyone who has regular hospital consultation appointments for cancer, eczema, hepatitis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and AIDS, degenerative conditions, or who has had a transplant.

El País calls for dismissal:

Socialists call for PP’s draft abortion law to be thrown out

PSOE also wants secret vote on the bill to allow dissident deputies to express their opposition

The congressional spokeswoman for the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE), Soraya Rodríguez, on Thursday described the ruling conservative Popular Party’s proposed amendments to the abortion law as “pitiful” and “shameful.”

Rodríguez also announced a parliamentary initiative aimed at making congressional voting on the draft law secret, to allow dissident members of the PP to express their opposition to the bill.

TheLocal.es has more:

Spain’s opposition calls for secret abortion vote

Spain’s largest opposition party, the socialist PSOE, is hoping to block the progress of the country’s controversial draft abortion law by making the ballot secret.

The party on Thursday called for an extraordinary session in Spain’s parliament to discuss what PSOE parliamentary spokesperson Soraya Rodríguez called a “shameful” draft abortion law.

The PSOE petition was backed by the left-wing IU with both parties calling for Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón to face questioning in parliament.

El País delivers the juice:

The shocking price of Spanish electricity

A decade of poor regulation has sent bills soaring and left growing numbers of families unable to pay

Last year, some 1.4 million homes had their electricity cut off for non-payment. Two weeks ago, the government blocked an initiative to prevent utility companies from leaving families without electricity in winter.

Spain’s electricity bills are among the highest in Europe, having risen 60 percent between 2006 and 2012, with only the Irish and Cypriots paying more. Following two price rises in August and October, electricity companies announced just before Christmas that prices would go up a further 11 percent in January; in the face of the outcry that followed, the government intervened, preventing the increase.

On to Lisbon with a declaration from the Portugal News:

President declares recession’s end

President Cavaco Silva has declared the end of the recession and decided not to send the budget for 2014 to the Constitutional Court.
President declares recession’s end

In a televised New Year’s Day address to the nation, the President once again called on political parties to put aside their differences in order to safely negotiate Portugal’s release from the bailout programme scheduled for this summer.

But opposition parties showed no signs of adhering to the presidential call, saying immediately afterwards that Cavaco Silva was merely following reinforcing government rhetoric, saying they were preparing to submit the 2014 budget to a series of independent audits.

And some inflationary alarm from the Portugal News:

New Year, more price hikes for cash-strapped Portugal

2014 will stretch most family funds to their limits as the cost of electricity and water, public transport, rent, watching TV, making phone-calls, health care, smoking and drinking, among others, is to rise.

As of this month (January 2014) the price of electricity will go up by 2.8 percent and will be reviewed every three months. This hike means the average €46.50 household bill will increase by more than €1.21, and will apply to some four million consumers on the regulated market, paying so-called transitory fees.

Electricity hikes will, however, cease for good in 2016 when the free market will be open to all consumers. Quarterly revisions mean the prices could fluctuate throughout the year.

Water bills will also rise following a thorough restructuring of the sector. New governing statuses and the reorganisation of national water group Águas de Portugal are being highlighted as the main reasons for the changes.

Changes to water bills depend on the benchmark tariffs being charged by water supply and sanitation companies but should that price be of between two of three euros per cubic metre then up to eight million people could be affected.

Off to Italy with permissiveness from Reuters:

Italy can breach EU deficit limits if it reforms, Renzi says

Italy can negotiate a relaxation of European Union deficit limits if it shows it is serious about effective reforms to its economy and political system, Matteo Renzi, the new head of the center-left Democratic Party said in an interview on Thursday.

Renzi is not in the government but as head of the biggest party in Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s left-right coalition, he will have a decisive role to play in shaping the political agenda and has already called for quicker action on reforms.

TheLocal.it appeals:

Silvio Berlusconi appeals Ruby sex trial verdict

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday lodged an appeal against a conviction for paying for sex with a then-underage prostitute nicknamed “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, his lawyers said.

The media magnate’s defence team had previously announced their intention to appeal the July verdict, which saw the former premier sentenced to seven years in jail and banned from holding public office.

The punishment was suspended pending the appeal process, which is likely to take years.

ANSAmed soars:

Fiat flies on Chrysler takeover

Deal expected to be finalized January 20. Italy hopes for investments on home turf

Fiat stocks soared as much as 16% before the close of trading Thursday, a day after the Italian automaker announced it had gained full control of American carmaker Chrysler in a $4.35-billion deal, raising questions at home about the future of production for Italy’s biggest private corporation. T

After the jump, Greek woes continue, Turkish wages, Russian barriers, Latiin trade worries, Tahi troubles, Cambodian violence, Chinese anxieties, Japenese woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, drones, bellicosity


We begin today’s tour of the black realm with a look, up in the sky! from CBC:

U.S. drone testing sites to be developed in 6 states

Test sites will work on how to introduce drones to U.S. skies

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft’s march into U.S. skies. The agency said Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia as states that will host research sites.

The Independent adds another draconian Orwellian touch to life in Old Blighty:

MoD tightens security at American spy bases linked to drone strikes

‘Draconian’ laws would help the US cover up illegal activities

The Ministry of Defence is set to introduce “draconian” new powers to tighten security and limit access to US airbases in Britain implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes, The Independent can reveal.

The measures, which include powers to arrest for offences ranging from taking photographs to failing to clean up dog mess, would be put in place through a little-known project to overhaul the by-laws surrounding military facilities across the country.

Among the sites where the new rules are set to be imposed are two US Air Force bases used as key communication hubs for clandestine eavesdropping.

And the really big story the latest Snowden leaks bombshell, first from Spiegel:

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a “sustained TAO operation,” one document states.

This TAO unit is born of the Internet — created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world’s population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning — to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

More from The Guardian:

NSA ‘hacking unit’ infiltrates computers around the world – report

  • NSA: Tailored Access Operations a ‘unique national asset’
  • Former NSA chief calls Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’

A top-secret National Security Agency hacking unit infiltrates computers around the world and breaks into the toughest data targets, according to internal documents quoted in a magazine report on Sunday.

Details of how the division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), steals data and inserts invisible “back door” spying devices into computer systems were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The magazine portrayed TAO as an elite team of hackers specialising in gaining undetected access to intelligence targets that have proved the toughest to penetrate through other spying techniques, and described its overall mission as “getting the ungettable”. The report quoted an official saying that the unit’s operations have obtained “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen”.

Here’s one of the NSA slides revealed by Spiegel, revealing both the name of a TAO program and the peculiar attutudes of cybersnoopers:

ACHTUNG SPERRFRIST 30.12.2013 Quantum-Biga #01 Foxacid

The Verge takes its own focus:

NSA reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy malware

According to a new report from Der Spiegel based on internal NSA documents, the signals intelligence agency’s elite hacking unit (TAO) is able to conduct sophisticated wiretaps in ways that make Hollywood fantasy look more like reality. The report indicates that the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA’s TAO group is able to divert shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” in a method called interdiction, where agents load malware onto the electronics or install malicious hardware that can give US intelligence agencies remote access.

While the report does not indicate the scope of the program, or who the NSA is targeting with such wiretaps, it’s a unique look at the agency’s collaborative efforts with the broader intelligence community to gain hard access to communications equipment. One of the products the NSA appears to use to compromise target electronics is codenamed COTTONMOUTH, and has been available since 2009; it’s a USB “hardware implant” that secretly provides the NSA with remote access to the compromised machine.

And the Verge finds still another focus:

The NSA’s elite hackers can hijack your Wi-Fi from 8 miles away

Attendees at the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this weekend got a surprising rundown of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, courtesy of security researcher Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum, who co-wrote the Der Spiegel article that first revealed the NSA catalog, went into further detail onstage, describing several individual devices in the catalog and their intended purposes.

Alongside pre-packaged exploits that allowed control over iOS devices and any phone communicating through GSM, Appelbaum detailed a device that targets computers through packet injection, seeding exploits from up to 8 miles away. He even speculated the exploits could be delivered by drone, although he conceded that in most cases, an unmarked van would likely be more practical.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

While PandoDaily gets philosophical:

Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

That the US and Britain spy on our allies (and on each other) is not in and of itself a shocking revelation, but this is more important than mere novelty. What matters most about the Snowden leaks is what will come of them, and what we’ll do with them, if anything. There is no guarantee that leaks lead to positive change, nothing inherently transformative about leaking, not without a larger political movement – what Joe Costello would call “a politics” — pushing it. And right now, the only thing close to a politics around leaking is libertarianism, the worst of all political worlds.

Even with a politics, there’s no guarantee leaks end up making things better without a long fight. The last time frightening NSA spying programs (SHAMROCK, MINARET) were leaked in the 1970s, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before: namely the secret FISA courts. The FISA courts were supposed to provide judicial check on the NSA, but instead turned into a nightmarish secret court that not only rubber stamps nearly every surveillance warrant the NSA asks for, but worse, has been used to restrict Americans’ constitutional rights.

Away from NSA and off to Moscow with the Buenos Aires Herald:

Russia calls for unity in fight against ‘terrorists’

Russia has likened two deadly suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd to attacks by militants in the United States, Syria and other countries and called for international solidarity in the fight against “terrorists.”

“We will not retreat and will continue our consistent fight against an insidious enemy that can only be defeated together,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

From BuzzFeed, the latest and possibly terminal entry in a long series:

Administration Won’t Comment On Israeli Report About Imprisoned Spy

An Israeli TV report says Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to offer to release Jonathan Pollard. The White House and State Department refuse to comment.

The White House and State Department on Friday refused to confirm or deny an Israeli report that Secretary of State John Kerry was offering the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israel freeing Arab Israeli prisoners as part of its next round of Palestinian prisoner releases.

Pollard was convicted in 1987 of stealing classified information and passing it on to the Israeli government while working as an intelligence analyst. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and his eventual release has become a cause in Israeli politics, with 106 members of the Knesset signing a letter to Obama this week calling for Pollard to be freed from prison.

After the jump, tensions heat up n Asia with Afghan gloom, Pakistani violence, moves and countermoves in the China sea, more blowback from the Japanese prime minister’s visit to a war shrine housing remains of war criminals, hardening of the Japanese security state, corporate intel, and much more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliFukuFail


Another eventful day, but especially notable is a global alert that is, if anything optimistic, according to another petroleum geologist of our acquaintance. From The Guardian:

Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies’

Industry expert warns of grim future of ‘recession’ driven ‘resource wars’ at University College London lecture

A former British Petroleum (BP) geologist has warned that the age of cheap oil is long gone, bringing with it the danger of “continuous recession” and increased risk of conflict and hunger.

At a lecture on ‘Geohazards’ earlier this month as part of the postgraduate Natural Hazards for Insurers course at University College London (UCL), Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 before retiring in 2008, said that official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil had most likely peaked around 2008.

Dr. Miller critiqued the official industry line that global reserves will last 53 years at current rates of consumption, pointing out that “peaking is the result of declining production rates, not declining reserves.” Despite new discoveries and increasing reliance on unconventional oil and gas, 37 countries are already post-peak, and global oil production is declining at about 4.1% per year, or 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) per year:

“We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply… New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover – but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].”

From Reuters, American optimism:

Confident consumers brighten economic outlook

Consumer sentiment hit a five-month high heading into the end of the year and spending notched its strongest month since the summer, the latest signs of sustained vigor in the economy that are fostering hopes of a strong 2014.

Consumer spending rose in November at the fastest pace since June and an upbeat sentiment reading for December suggests consumers will keep shopping despite tepid income growth.

From Fox5NY [H/T to Undernews], green felt ghost towns?:

The next Detroit? Atlantic City and Las Vegas facing catastrophic collapse

With the closure of the recent Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, rumors of the bankrupt Revel being sold to Hard Rock, more than half of the mortgages in Las Vegas under water, casinos opening up all around the country and online gambling legislation underway in various states, it seems as if the reasons for the very existence of Atlantic City and Las Vegas are in serious jeopardy.

Los Angeles Times with our Christmas story of the day:

Stockton mall brawl over new Air Jordans caught on video

The release of the new Air Jordans tennis shoes — the 11 Gamma Blues — sparked a violent skirmish over the weekend at a mall in Stockton.

Video footage from the melee has gone viral on social media, showing thrown punches, tackles and mayhem.

The fights broke out at the Finish Line shoe store in Stockton’s Weberstown Mall, where people were lined up to get a pair.

The Guardian advises:

Expiration of unemployment benefits threatens US recovery, adviser warns

  • Congress fails to extend programme for long-term jobless
  • Economists concerned over persistently high unemployment

The expiration of benefits for 1.3 million jobless Americans this weekend will exacerbate the worst period of chronic unemployment in post-war history, the chairman of the White House council of economic advisers warns.

The expiring programme, which provides emergency help for the long-term unemployed, was introduced after the banking crash in 2008 to cushion the impact of the recession but is due to end on Saturday. Congress had an opportunity to continue it, but failed to agree on an extension before breaking for Christmas.

Although recent improvements in the economy have boosted overall job growth, economists are concerned that long-term unemployment rates remain higher than at any time between 1948 and the recent financial crisis. Republican critics claim that ending the programme will force recipients to find work, but new research suggests it will have the opposite effect, and will encourage them to drop out of the labour market entirely, according to Jason Furman, chairman council of economic advisers.

From Salon, blockaded:

Activists blockading Fresno sheriff station to protest record deportations

Immigration reform activists are currently attempting to physically block a Fresno sheriff station by tying and locking themselves to a ladder, the latest in a series of civil disobedience protests aimed at forcing President Obama to take executive action against deportations.

“As the movement continues, we feel that if he’s not going to take action, that we’re going to take action in our hands and try to stop these deportations,” Alessandro Negrete, a spokesperson for California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, told Salon Monday. Along with Obama, the activists are targeting Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims, whom they’re urging to suspend collaboration with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “We demand she recognize that our families belong together,” protester Luis Ojeda told Salon in an e-mailed statement Monday morning. “It’s police and ICE that should be separated.”

Computerworld paints a bleaker future:

Your next job, next year, may be self-employment

Tech industry sees a shift to independent workers — and different kinds of opportunities for IT pros

The tech industry is seeing a shift toward a more independent, contingent IT workforce. And while that trend might not be bad for retiring baby boomer IT professionals, it could mean younger and mid-career workers need to prepare to make a living solo.

About 18% of all IT workers today are self-employed, according to an analysis by Emergent Research, a firm focused on small businesses trends. This independent IT workforce is growing at the rate of about 7% per year, which is faster than the overall growth rate for independent workers generally, at 5.5%.

Canada next, with red ink from CBC News:

Canada’s deficit ticks higher to $13.2B

Ottawa maintains the government remains ‘on track’ to balance the budget in 2015

The Canadian government has spent $13.2 billion more than it has taken in so far this year, a slightly larger deficit than the one for the same period in 2012.

The Department of Finance said Monday the federal deficit was $13.2 billion for the fiscal year up to October. That’s ahead of the $11.9 billion during the same period in 2012.

Exiting the European stage in a cloud of smoke, via EUobserver:

Tobacco lawyer steps down from EU ethics panel

A corporate lawyer with Big Tobacco clients stepped down as head of the European Commission’s ad hoc ethics committee last week, but he says it has nothing to do with conflict of interest.

“I had informed the commission [of the resignation] in advance and this has been done in perfect agreement,” Michel Petite, who works for the Clifford Chance law firm, told this website from Paris on Friday (20 December).

The three-member ethical committee monitors departing commissioners who are looking for new jobs. Set up in 2003, the idea is to make sure outgoing commissioners do not end up working on the same topics they legislated on.

Britain next, with hoarders, via the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

The Housing Crisis

London councils sit on millions meant for building cheaper homes

London councils receive cash payments worth tens of millions of pounds from developers meant specifically for the building of affordable homes. But much of this money remains unspent despite the capital’s worsening housing crisis.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that a total of £161m of so-called commuted sums has not been spent by local authorities. Of this, tens of millions has been lying in London councils’ coffers for over five years.

The £161m affordable housing council cashpile – enough to build over 1,600 affordable homes – has alarmed housing campaigners concerned that local authorities are failing to use the money quickly enough to reduce the capital’s escalating accommodation crisis.

Open Europe delivers appropriate riposte to Prime Minister David Cameron:

Tories’ Polish allies label Cameron’s migration comments as “unacceptable”

Today, even Poland’s largest opposition party Law and Justice (allied with the Conservatives in the European Parliament) stuck the boot in, letting it be known that leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski had personally written to Cameron to complain after the Prime Minister described Labour’s decision not to apply transition controls to the A8 countries in 2004 as a “mistake” and a “shameful dereliction of duty”.

In an interview with Polish Radio today, Law and Justice MP Marcin Mastalerek described Cameron’s comments as “unacceptable”, adding that:

“If Cameron does not revise his view on this subject it will make working together in the European Parliament exceptionally difficult”.

From New Europe, the cost of Tory intolerance:

Study finds that by 2060 taxes will rise and net wages will fall

UK GDP down 11% by reduced immigration

UK GDP will decrease by 11% should David Cameron’s government achieve its goal of reducing immigration from “hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands” an experiment by the country’s National Institute for Economic and Social Research shows.

The findings, published today, come as the Conservatives, the major partner in the British ruling coalition, are engaged in an apparent effort to by-pass the freedom of movement principle and limit both the numbers of EU and non-EU immigrants entering the country.

Ireland next, with kudos from Independent.ie:

Irish state bonds still top of eurozone performance chart

IRISH government bonds are close to marking their second year as the eurozone’s top- performing debt, rewarding investors who trusted this country to successfully exit its bailout deal.

Running close behind, and potentially still with a chance to top the charts in terms of total annual returns at the end of the year, are Spanish bonds. Madrid has lured investors by implementing some painful reforms and getting back to growth.

Irish bonds have returned 11.7pc in the year to date while Spanish bonds have returned 11pc, according to data compiled on Markit’s iBoxx EUR benchmark index, one of the most tracked bond indexes by investors worldwide.

The Irish Times delivers one of the prices, assessed by the government’s Number Two:

Government would have fallen if promissory note deal had not happened, Tanaiste says

Eamon Gilmore says weeks around payment deadline were the lowest of the year for him

The Government would have fallen early this year if it had not secured a deal on the promissory note for the failed Anglo Irish Bank, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has revealed.

In his first public disclosure of how perilous the situation was, the leader of the Labour Party says the two-year Coalition would not have survived if forced to pay some €6 billion to the European Central Bank by the end of March deadline.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Gilmore says the weeks in which there was uncertainty about the payment were the lowest of the year for him and for his Labour ministerial colleagues. The Government was faced with repayments for two years, comprising €3 billion for each year.

Iceland next and thumbs down from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

More Unions Reject New Collective Bargaining Agreement

More labour unions have joined the chorus of those who believe the new collective bargaining agreement does not do enough to raise wages for the lowest paid in Iceland.

Last Saturday, as reported, the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA) signed a new collective bargaining agreement. The new agreement calls for a 5% wage increase for those making the lowest wages, and a 2.8% increase for everyone else. Union proposals for higher wages than this, as well as tax relief for minimum wage earners, was rejected by management.

However, Vísir reports, the new agreement actually does more for higher income earners than for working class people. By the new agreement, a person making 246,000 ISK per month will see 8,000 ISK more per month, before taxes, and no rebates on their taxes. At the same time, another person making 1 million ISK per month will get an extra 28,000 ISK per month, plus 3,500 ISK taken off their monthly taxes.

While The Wire disabuses one of yesterday’s headlines:

Iceland’s ‘Elf Lobby’ Isn’t Real, According to Icelanders

On Sunday the Associated Press published a piece on Iceland’s elf lobby, a group of believers who object to a road being built near Reykjavík. Media outlets on the island nation found fault with the piece.

The Reykjavík Grapevine, another English language paper, said the story had “cobbling together” quotes to paint a picture of elf obsessed pseudo-environmentalists. The Grapevine also collected responses from Iceland’s media. The state-run news channel, RÚV, said the AP story had “numerous misrepresentations,” and implied that one woman quoted by the AP is not a representative source of Icelanders’ view on elves. Then again, the AP introduces her as “a self-proclaimed ‘seer,’ [who] believes she can communicate with the creatures through telepathy.” Alda Sigmundsdóttir of the Iceland Weather Report told The Grapevine that thanks to the AP article a conservation effort “is turned into something trite and superficial.”

Germany next and an episode of class warfare from TheLocal.de:

Hundreds injured in Hamburg riots

Hundreds of police officers and protesters were injured in the worst riots Hamburg has seen for years over the weekend in a mass demonstration over gentrification.

A protest took place on Saturday afternoon over the eviction of squatters from the Rote Flora building in the Schanze district. The building has served as a home for squatters as well as a cultural and political meeting point for left-wing activists for more than 24 years. But the owner of the building, Klausmartin Kretschmer, has demanded that they leave.

This prompted a demonstration which turned violent. Police put the number of protesters at 7,300 and said 4,700 were from the far-left scene, while organizers said more than 10,000 people took part.

According to police, 120 of their officers were injured, 19 of whom badly. They came under attack from stones, bottles and fireworks. Police reacted with water cannon and tear gas. Left-wing groups said 500 protesters were injured.

Hit the road, Jack, with TheLocal.de:

Austria threatens Germany with legal action

Austria is considering legal action against Germany to prevent the Germans introducing a charge on foreign drivers on motorways.

The Austrians claim that making foreigners pay to drive on Germany’s roads is against European Union law.

On Monday the country’s transport minister Doris Bures said: “We will not allow Austrian drivers to be discriminated against.”

Geneva next, with the Swiss baring all from TheLocal.ch:

40 Swiss banks agree to reveal hidden accounts

Swiss banks are scrambling ahead of a December 31st deadline to decide whether to join a US programme aimed at zooming in on lenders that helped Americans dodge taxes.

Around 40 of Switzerland’s some 300 banks have already said publicly they will take part in a US programme set up to allow Swiss financial institutions to avoid US prosecution in exchange for coming clean and possibly paying steep fines.

“What are the others going to do? That is the very big question,” Swiss business lawyer Douglas Hornung told AFP.

French action from Reuters:

French strike keeps a third of oil refining sector shut

A strike at three of Total’s (TOTF.PA) five oil refineries in France held firm for an 11th day on Monday, but the risk of a repeat of fuel shortages seen during a 2010 walkout receded after staff at a fourth plant returned to work on Sunday.

The strikers, led by the CGT union, demand an improved pay offer from Total but the company has refused to reopen talks after other unions approved a deal this month.

The Economic Times wants a piece of the cultural action:

French broadcast watchdog targets YouTube, Dailymotion

France’s CSA broadcasting authority said today it wants to target video-sharing sites like YouTube and Dailymotion to force them to contribute to financing French culture.

In a report, the CSA said the sites fall in the same category as video-on-demand services so would be subject to French cultural protection laws that require distributors to hand over some of their revenues to help subsidise productions.

“These platforms… have for years been developing partnerships with audiovisual publishers and content providers, with which they share revenues from advertising,” the report said.

On to Spain, and culture war with El País:

Abortions fell in 2012 under law PP is set to quash

More permissive legislation did not lead to increase as some sectors forecast

There were some 6,000 fewer abortions in Spain last year under the legislation adopted by the previous Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which the ruling Popular Party intends to replace with a much stricter law. The figure represents a five-percent decrease in the number of voluntary terminations, contradicting forecasts from conservative sectors that the 2010 law, which allowed a woman to abort freely at any time up to 14 weeks of gestation, would lead to a spike in the number of Spaniards doing just that.

The Health Ministry’s annual report shows that 12 out of every 1,000 women of childbearing age terminated a pregnancy in 2012, a half-percentage point fewer than the previous year. Experts attribute the drop to several factors, including a decrease in the number immigrants in the population and the increased use of contraceptives.

TheLocal.es takes it to the bank:

Bankia rides rollercoaster from ruin to riches

Bankia, after dragging the entire Spanish financial system to the brink of catastrophe, is about to make a remarkable comeback to the top ranks of the Madrid stock market.

On Monday, Bankia will enter the IBEX-35 index of top listed companies, capping a rollercoaster ride for the bank, and the country.

Born in 2010 from the merger of seven troubled savings banks, including Caja Madrid, Bankia listed in July 2011 with great ceremony, touting its “enormous potential” and its likely role in “dynamising” the Spanish economy.

Less than a year later, in May 2012, Spain’s government had to nationalise Bankia and pump in €20 billion ($27 billion) to avert its collapse as the lender drowned in bad loans and revealed ever deeper financial losses.

El País gets disreputably sporty:

Spain’s image gets another kicking

Brussels’ investigation into alleged illegal state aid to top Spanish clubs, and the government’s swift and heated denial, could further damage the nation’s reputation

Last week, the European Commission has launched an investigation into seven Spanish soccer clubs, including Barcelona and Real Madrid, after complaints they accepted illegal state aid. Unsurprisingly, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has denied any irregularities, even before an investigation has taken place, while at the same time admitting: “It is obvious that the government will do everything it can to defend our soccer clubs, which are also part of the Spain brand.”

Brussels will look into whether Real Madrid received state aid in property transactions linked to their stadiums, and whether Valencia, Hercules and Elche unlawfully received loans from local authorities.

Iberian departures from the Portugal News:

Emigration settles

Up to 120,000 Portuguese nationals left the country during the past 12 months in search of a brighter future, Government authorities admitted this week.
Emigration settles

Lisbon said this figure is in line with those recorded in 2012, when just under 120,000 Portuguese emigrated.

José Cesário, State Secretary for Portuguese Communities, said he believed this number did not increase in 2013, not because of improving conditions in Portugal, but because jobs in traditional immigration hot spots are starting to dwindle.

The Portugal News occupies, briefly:

‘Jobless’ invade supermarket

A group of about 30 people, who identified themselves as being unemployed, invaded a Pingo Doce supermarket in downtown Lisbon over the weekend in a demonstration called on Facebook to demand free Christmas hampers and requesting to make entries into the store’s complaints’ book.

The protest lasted for two hours, and despite PSP police being summoned to intervene, the action resulted in the store’s closure for two hours on Saturday evening.

Italy next, with TheLocal.it and a reasonable plea:

Renzi calls for two-year benefits for jobless

Matteo Renzi, the new leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, has called for unemployment benefits to be guaranteed for two years.

“I think of the greater flexibility in output, but the state must guarantee benefits for the first two years of unemployment, so that people can maintain a family and a serious system of professional development,” Renzi said in a TV interview on Sunday.

The Democratic Party (PD) leader said a “labour revolution is possible”, adding that the party’s full employment plan would be announced in January.

AGI moves to soothe:

Letta states criticism of president at unacceptable levels

Speaking at his end of year press conference, Prime Minister Letta said, “I wish to be extremely clear and forceful in saying that attacks and criticism are legitimate and that no institutions are exempt, criticism is normal. I do, however, believe that in recent weeks attacks against the head of the state, Giorgio Napolitano, have gone well beyond the acceptable limit. The words used by Beppe Grillo are totally out of place.”

The prime minister also reiterated that Italy has in Napolitano a fundamental reference point, “firm and respectful of the constitution.”

Bloomberg assesses:

Italy Approves ‘Google Tax’ on Internet Companies

Italy’s Parliament today passed a new measure on web advertising, the so-called “Google tax,” which will require Italian companies to purchase their Internet ads from locally registered companies, instead of from units based in havens such as Ireland, Luxembourg and Bermuda.

The tax has stirred controversy, with some lawyers saying it probably violates European Union laws regarding non-discrimination over commercial activity and could be subject to legal challenges.

In July, at the request of the Group of 20 nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development proposed a blueprint to fight strategies used by companies such as Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) to shift taxable profits into havens. Italy is the first major European government to pass legislation to combat the problem of moving corporate taxable earnings into havens, which costs Europe and the U.S. over $100 billion a year, since the OECD proposal.

And TheLocal.it confesses:

Enrico Letta admits Italy has ‘social fatigue’

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta admitted on Monday his country was suffering from “social fatigue” but said his government had brought “a stability dividend” worth billions of euros due to lower borrowing costs.

“We have to respond to social fatigue,” he said at an end-of-year press conference, as the country tries to recover from its longest recession since World War II.

“The shock of these years has been very tough. It is hard to recover even after figures improve,” he said.

From AGI, an austerian outcome:

Italian families spend 5,000 euros less than six years ago

Codacons has said that it shares Confindustria’s assessment of the economy. “To speak of the end of the recession just because of a miserable and insignificant rise in GDP predicted for 2014 is, to say the least, offensive to the unemployed and to families who can not make it to the end of the month,” declared the environmental and consumer assocation.

Codacons finds Confindustria’s figures released on Thursday disconcerting. According to these, six years into the economic crisis, families have reduced consumption by seven weeks worth, or 5,037 euros a year, a figure that confirms what Codacons has been saying for a long time. “Until fiscal pressure is reduced on the 50 percent of the poorest, families will not make purchases, businesses will not sell, companies won’t produce and the unemployed will not find work”

After the jump, Grecodecline, Turkish threats, Maltese refinement, Libyan decline, Brazilian woes, Pakistani scofflaws, inflationary worries in India, Malaysia, and China, Fukushimapocalypse Now! and more. . . Continue reading

Ralph Nader on wealth, power, and politics


This is the first of three segments from The Real News Network featuring an extended Paul Jay interview of Ralph Nader:

McCarthyism Made Us Veer Away From a Systemic Doctrine for Change – Ralph Nader

From the transcript:

JAY: But now, you know, as we see capitalism in its–the ’08 financial crisis and the sort of recovery of Asia, you start to see–and let me add another big thing is there’s no longer this–even if it’s hypothetical–or was it theoretical?–but there wasn’t this supposed socialist Soviet Union that was going to guarantee jobs and insurance, health insurance, and this and that. I mean, the message of European capitalism and America to Europe, not so much to Americans: well, you don’t need socialism to get all this; capitalism can do it for you.

NADER: Yeah, social democratic politics they called it.

JAY: But now Europe is now turning on itself, and they’re doing everything they can to get rid of all this stuff. And now they want to be like the American model, to be more competitive.

But I guess where I’m going with this is: have we entered a kind of new stage of history of capitalist development?

NADER: Well, basically it was globalization that did it to Western Europe. Once they took in the model of the World Trade Organization, once they in effect financialized more of their economy–derivatives, speculation, stock market, all that–that’s when they started going down. I warned them: do not accept the U.S. multinational model, ’cause it’s going to happen to you. And the effect of the multinational model was exacerbated by the European common market. So if they got in one country, they’d get in a lot of the other countries.

However, they still have a safety net. And it’s frayed badly in England. For example, they’re charging students now as high as $12,000 a year for tuition. But by comparison with us, nobody dies in Western Europe–nobody dies in Western Europe because they don’t have health insurance. They’re insured from the cradle to the grave. In this country, 800 Americans die every week, every week, ’cause they can’t afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.

And that’s–figure comes from a Harvard Medical School peer-reviewed study in the December 2009 Journal of American Public Health. This is not some wild figure. Eight hundred a week, and not a single major politician is talking about it in the election year last year.

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFukuFoils


Another imposing compendium with momentous headlines after the jump from Greece, the Ukraine, Latin America, India, China, Japan, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin at home with a notable intellectual property crime from South China Morning Post:

Prosecutors in US Midwest charge six Chinese with plot to steal seed corn

Court hears some suspects were found on their knees in farmers’ fields stealing ears of corn patented by one of world’s leading crop developers

From Daily Ticker, a windfall:

Denver Post Marijuana Editor: Pot to Generate $40 Million in Tax Revenue

Beginning January 1, residents of Colorado should be able to legally purchase recreational marijuana. Colorado joins Washington as one of the first states to give the drug a greenlight purely for pleasure. Washington is set to begin sales later in 2014.

So what will this mean for Colorado’s businesses and economy? We consulted the Denver Post’s marijuana editor Ricardo Baca (yes, that’s his real job and title).

Quartz covers a significant move:

Upstate New York could get its very own multi-billion dollar, 600-acre Chinese city

The Catskills, in upstate New York, are known for their natural beauty and quaint lifestyle. But they could become a lot flashier, thanks to one businesswoman’s proposal for the area: a multibillion-dollar “China City of America,” complete with an amusement park, mansions, a casino, retail centers, a college, and more.

Creator Sherry Li says the plan would attract domestic and foreign tourists, residents, and investors. Back in May, she introduced her concept to Thompson, a town of 15,000 people 90 miles north of New York City. At that initial council meeting, she spoke of the 3,000 jobs that would be created and emphasized the development’s family attractions—Chinese Zodiac themed areas, buildings and rides that correspond with 16 different Chinese dynasties.

From the Los Angeles Times, infrastructural momentum shifts:

Foes of bullet train are gaining momentum

In recent weeks, the $68.4-billion project has been dealt major blows by a state court judge and federal regulators.

The state’s strategy of tapping $3.2 billion in federal money to begin construction of an ambitious bullet train project may be legally flawed and could put the state in financial jeopardy, key lawmakers say.

After recent legal rulings that bar the use of state money for the project, legislators from both political parties say that even the use of federal funds is questionable and the entire project needs to be reassessed.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a gesture:

Boy, 8, opens lemonade stand to feed homeless

Lately, 8-year-old Conall Lane of Burlingame has been asking a lot of questions.

A few months ago he saw transients living on the streets of San Francisco with their tattered sleeping bags and shopping carts and wanted to know why they couldn’t go home.

“Because they have no home,” his mother, Olga Lane, told him.

From USA TODAY, others have homes:

Sky’s the limit: New towers for the rich soar in New York

The 432 Park penthouse has sold for $95 million; two duplex apartments at One57, now nearing completion, also are under contract, each for more than $90 million. Even a studio apartment on a lower floor at 432 Park (designed for staff — a maid or butler) costs $1.59 million.

Such prices seem incongruous in a nation that has yet to recover from the 2008 financial crisis; that lost its lead in skyscraper construction decades ago; and that suffered a terrorist attack in 2001 that seemed to dampen enthusiasm for high-rise living.

And these mansion-size apartments with 30-mile views will go unoccupied much or most of the time. Not since the Gilded Age, when Vanderbilts and Astors spent only a few months each summer at their marble Newport “cottages,” will so much expensive space be so little inhabited.

From Newsfeed, a criminal excuse for the one percenter:

The Affluenza Defense: Judge Rules Rich Kid’s Rich Kid-ness Makes Him Not Liable for Deadly Drunk Driving Accident

He got 10 years probation for causing a wreck that devastated three families

For most people, conviction for vehicular manslaughter due to drunk driving warrants a lengthy sentence, but not in the case of Ethan Couch, a wealthy young man from the state of Texas.

The Keller, Tex., 16-year-old has a rare condition that a judge believes is best remedied with anything but dealing with the consequences for causing a DWI wreck that killed four people, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Couch suffers from “affluenza,” according to his lawyers, a term which means that his wealthy parents pretty much let him get away with everything. The defense saved him from a 20-year sentence; State District Judge Jean Boyd bought it at his sentencing on Tuesday and gave Couch probation instead.

Another perspective from the London Daily Mail:

Teenager who was paralyzed when his drunk driving friend killed four pedestrians is suing the driver’s ‘affluent’ family for $20m as doctors never expect him to recover

  • Ethan Couch, 16, faced 20 years behind bars for klling four people in a car crash but walked away with 10 years probation Tuesday
  • Youth pastor Brian Jennings; mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles; and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell all died in the June 15 accident
  • Sergio Molina, now 16, was in the back of Couch’s pickup truck and survived the accident but is now paralyzed and was in a coma
  • A psychologist called by the defense blamed Couch’s behavior on ‘affluenza’ claiming his parents gave him too many freedoms
  • Molina’s family are now suing Couch and his father’s business- as the car was owned by the company- for $20 million

On to Canada and red ink from CBC News:

Personal debt ratio hits record high of 163.7%

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the level of household credit market debt to disposable income increased to 163.7 per cent in the third quarter from 163.1 per cent in the second quarter.

That means Canadians owe nearly $1.64 for every $1 in disposable income they earn in a year.

Policymakers are fixated on the debt ratio in part because it was at above 160 per cent that households in the United States and Britain ran into trouble about five years ago, contributing to defaults and the financial crisis that triggered the 2008-09 recession.

Aviation Week takes a flyer:

IATA Predicts Highest-Ever Industry Profit

Next year will be the most profitable ever for the airline industry in absolute terms, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts.

IATA upped its profit forecast for 2013 and 2014 based on several factors that are benefitting the industry. The group believes that the industry will post a combined net profit of $19.7 billion in 2014, $3.3 billion higher than the last forecast in September. This year is also going to be better than expected as profits will rise to $12.9 billion, up from the previous prediction of $11.7 billion.

Deutsche Welle shows remorse:

Amnesty International deplores ‘pitiful’ EU response to Syrian refugees

Human rights group Amnesty International has slammed the EU for what it calls a ‘pitiful’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis. It called on the bloc to greatly increase its intake of people fleeing the civil war.

New Europe decides:

Landmark ruling for countries that do not yet allow gay marriage

Gay civil partnerships couples must be granted same benefits as hetero ones Court says

Employees who enter into a civil partnership with a partner of the same sex must be granted the same benefits as those granted to their colleagues upon their marriage, where marriage is not possible for homosexual couples, the European Court of Justice has ruled it was announced on December 13.

Quartz hovers:

Holding pattern

The euro zone isn’t creating jobs, but at least it’s no longer losing them

It could be better, but it could also be worse. That’s the story of the latest data  on employment in the euro zone. In the third quarter, as in the second, there was no change in the number of people with jobs in the region. As a percentage of the population, employment is still lower than it was a year ago, but not by as much as before.

More from Reuters:

Euro zone employment shows no change in third quarter

he number of people with jobs in the euro zone was unchanged for the second consecutive quarter in the three months to September, showing the bloc’s economic recovery has not yet filtered through to the labor market.

But euro zone employment was shrinking more slowly than a year ago on a year-on-year basis — it contracted 0.8 percent in the third quarter against -1.1 in the previous three months, data from the EU’s Eurostat showed on Friday.

Xinhua declines:

EU real agricultural income per worker down by 1.3 pct

The real agricultural income per worker in the 28 member states of EU has decreased by 1.3 percent in 2013, after an increase of 0.3 percent in 2012, according to first estimate issued Friday by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The decrease is mainly the result of higher increase in real terms in input cost (+0.8 percent) than in the value of the output of the agricultural sector at producer prices (+0.1 percent).

EUbusiness questions:

Europe’s ‘crisis after the crisis’ poses uncertainty in 2014

Is Europe on the verge of a popular uprising? The question was asked by one of Greece’s most respected newspapers as another year of painful austerity drew to a close.

If public anger does explode on the streets, wrote Kathimerini, it will not be provoked by politicians or labour unions, but come from ordinary people who “never imagined themselves doing such a thing”.

Desperation is weighing not just on Greece, but on countries across Europe facing the same paradox: despite the end of the Great Recession, people continue to struggle with the daily reality of unemployment and poverty.

ANA-MPA campaigns:

Tsipras: European Left the only alternative to ‘barbaric neoliberalism’, rise of far right

The European Left is the only alternative to “barbaric neoliberalism” and the rise of the far right, Greek main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, head of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party, stressed in his address to the European Left’s 4th Congress in Madrid on Saturday. He predicted that 2014 will be a year of change.

Tsipras, who is to be formally nominated as the EL’s candidate for European Commission president at the end of the two-day congress on Sunday, stressed that the alternatives were clear:

“Either we stay motionless or we move forward. Either we consent to the neoliberal status quo and pretend that the crisis can be resolved by policies that have recycled it, or we proceed to the future with the European Left,” he stressed.

Reuters divides:

Austria’s Freedom aims to enlarge Eurosceptic bloc

A core of six Eurosceptic parties is aiming to win over another four right-wing parties to create a new political group in the EU parliament, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party said.

In the run up to May’s EU-wide elections to the parliament, momentum is building to create a grouping of nationalist parties which would entitle members to more office space and support staff as well as EU funds for meetings and publicity.

On to England with woe from The Guardian:

Number of homeless in England has risen for 3 years in a row, report says

185,000 a year affected, say Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, because of benefits cuts and a shortage of housing

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Crisis found almost one in 10 people experience homelessness at some point in their life, with one in 50 experiencing it in the last five years.

The London Telegraph inflates:

Tenant plight: rents rise twice as fast as mortgage costs

The average monthly spend on rent will soon overtake the average mortgage cost, official figures suggest, making it even harder to buy

The data, from the Office for National Statistics, looks at the average sums paid for housing in the form of both mortgage and rent. It covers the years 2010 to 2012 and shows that during that period the average rent paid – £121.50 per week rising to £136 per week – rose 12pc.

Mortgage costs rose from £130.80 to £138.60, or a 6pc increase.

The Irish Times has more:

UK property market could go “scalding hot”

Bank of England economist says recovery in housing market is down to improved availability of credit

MercoPress worries:

Bank of England concerned about potential for a UK housing market bubble

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said he is concerned about the “potential” for a UK housing market bubble, but will tighten lending requirements if necessary. Meanwhile, a survey suggested house prices will continue “surging ahead”.

Deutsche Welle doubts:

UK economy: Is all that glitters really gold?

As people in Britain throng the high streets hunting for Christmas presents, critics of the government’s claims of a solid recovery warn the economic upswing is not as solid as the Chancellor claims.

The London Telegraph bemoans:

Why Britain is in the wrong type of recovery

An accompanying graphic explains why:

BLOG Capu econ

Sky News demands:

Migrants Told ‘Speak English Or No Benefits’

A tougher test is to be introduced for migrants looking to claim benefits amid fears of an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians.

Migrants who cannot speak English well enough to get a job face being denied benefits under a new tougher test, the Work and Pensions Secretary has said.

The Guardian takes us to Ireland and a qualification:

Bailout exit does not mark end of Ireland’s financial crisis, says Noonan

As Ireland prepares to become the first country to exit eurozone bailout, there are still several reasons why its finance minister Michael Noonan thinks the crisis is not over just yet

More from BBC News:

Ireland’s tough economic policies to continue, says finance minister

The Irish Republic’s exit from its bailout rescue is a “milestone” but not the end of the road, the country’s finance minister has said.

Michael Noonan told a press conference marking the exit that Ireland’s deficit and debt was still far too high.

Numerical concern from the Irish Times:

Trade data is weaker than expected

Decline in pharmaceutical exports pushes trade surplus down

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) this morning released weaker than expected trade data, with the trade surplus for the first ten months of the year down by 12.2 per cent, driven by a 6.4 per cent fall in exports.

While Independent.ie builds up:

Builders get biggest boost since 2006

THE construction industry is on course to record a first full calendar year of growth since 2006. New figures show that in the first nine months of the year activity in the sector is up 15.5pc.

However, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) says 2013 is likely to be the worst performing year on record for home building. Home building currently stands at around 7.5pc of what it was at the peak of the boom. Building projects are mainly being undertaken for business purposes.

On to Iceland and a demurral from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

PM Criticises IMF’s Criticism Of Debt Relief Package

Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has dismissed concerns from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that his debt relief package could stress the economy, saying that the IMF does not have a good track record “in many, if not most, countries”.

“This isn’t really new,” the Prime Minister said. “The IMF has expressed opposition to public debt relief in recent years. For my part, I have many times said I am completely opposed to the politics of the IMF, which has unfortunately not done especially well by homes in many, if not most, countries where the IMF has gotten involved.”

Norway next, and a refusal via TheLocal.no:

Former bishops resign after gay marriage call

Two former bishops have resigned from the body that represents priests in Norway in protest at its decision to call for gay church marriages.

Per Lønning and Fredrik Grønningsæter, the former bishops of Fredrikstad and Bodø respectively, said they had no choice but to resign their membership of the Norwegian Association of Clergy, which represents 95 percent of the country’s priests.

TheLocal.no airs an eccentric view:

‘Legalize polygamy’: Progress youth wing

Youth activists from Norway’s governing Progress Party have voted to push for men and women to be allowed to marry as many partners as they desire, in a move described as “a pretty bad idea” by the party’s national leadership.

“We want a neutral law that says that everyone should be able to marry whoever they want, and how many they want,” Katrine Jakobsen Solberg, head of the Progress Party youth wing in the country of Hedmark, said shortly after voting through the proposal at the group’s annual meeting.

Sweden next, and a puzzler from TheLocal.se:

Foreign-born Swedes join anti-immigration party

Men with roots outside of Sweden are increasingly attracted to the tough migration stance of the minority Sweden Democrat party, with one new Persian-Swedish member telling The Local why he decided to join.

TheLocal.se again, with a note of regret:

Sweden ‘open’ to slave trade reparations

Sweden’s top diplomat in the Caribbean said an effort by a group of countries in the region to seek reparations from former colonial powers for the effects of the Atlantic slave trade should be “taken seriously”.

Earlier this week, a commission by regional governments to look into seeking reparations for “native genocide, the transatlantic slave trade and a racialized system of chattel slavery”, identified Sweden as one of eight European countries that should “address the living legacies of these crimes.”

Germany next with a decision from Reuters:

German SPD members vote to join Merkel despite misgivings

Germany’s Social Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining a “grand coalition” with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Saturday, clearing the way for a new right-left government that will take office on Tuesday.

The SPD said 76 percent of its grassroots members who took part in the unprecedented postal ballot voted to join forces with the conservatives despite initial misgivings. The SPD said 256,643 voted “yes” while 80,921 voted “no”. Some 32,000 ballots were invalid.

Another decision from EUobserver:

Schaeuble to stay on as German finance minister

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new cabinet will keep Wolfgang Schaeuble as finance minister and see the return of Frank-Walter Steinmeier as foreign minister, according to Bild newspaper. The formal announcement will be made Sunday after the Social Democrats present the results of a party vote on the Grand Coalition.

BBC News trolls:

Porn users targeted by German law firm over copyright

Thousands of Germans are reported to have been sent letters asking them to pay a fee for porn they are alleged to have streamed illegally online.

Law firm Urmann (U+C) is acting on behalf of Swiss copyright protection firm the Archive, and is asking for one-off payments of 250 euros (£210).

On to Spain with El País declining:

Spaniards’ wealth compared to EU partners falls to levels of 1998

New figures reveal that Spain’s GDP per capita figures for 2012 are at 96 percent of the EU average

Spain hit its peak in terms of GDP per capita compared to other EU countries in 2007, when it exceeded the average by six percentage points. The economic crisis, however, from which Spain is yet to emerge, put paid to that prosperity.

El País again, with an excuse:

Economy Ministry official defends merits of wage moderation

Spain’s secretary of state for trade, Jaime García-Legaz, on Thursday said it was a “mistake” to believe that a rise in salaries would guarantee more consumer spending, which would, he argued, come once the labor market recovered.

The Guardian reports with a withdrawal:

Spain’s EuroVegas plan: US casino operator pulls plug

Proposed $30bn mega-resort outside Madrid abandoned after Spanish government rejects some of Las Vegas Sands demands

A US casino operator has abandoned plans to build a $30bn (£18bn) mega-resort, dubbed EuroVegas by the Spanish press, bringing an end to one of Spain’s largest investment projects in recent years.

Las Vegas Sands, led by 80-year-old American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, had proposed a project outside Madrid that was to include 12 hotels, six casinos, a conference centre, golf courses, cinemas, shopping malls, bars and restaurants.

More from El País:

Eurovegas not coming to Madrid after company demands rejected

Casino tycoon Adelson wanted guarantees of financial compensation in the event of future legislative changes

Sources familiar with the situation said that some of the conditions imposed by representatives of the business tycoon Sheldon G. Adelson were laid out at the last minute, and have no precedent in any other of the countries where Adelson owns similar mega-resorts. Providing compensation for future legislative changes, thereby ensuring that the company’s profits do not fall, would have violated European competition laws. But company officials said the conditions were not negotiable.

El País doubly declines:

Home sales continue to decline despite price drops

Buyers finding it hard to secure loans, say experts

From RT, separation anxiety:

Spain ‘won’t have enough tanks’: Catalonia to vote on independence, defy Madrid

The Catalan regional parliament has set November next year for a referendum on the Spanish province’s independence. The government in Madrid blandly said the vote won’t happen, but activists wonder how it might be stopped.

Catalonia’s four pro-independence parties, which hold a majority in the regional parliament, announced Thursday that the rich industrial Spanish province will hold a referendum on whether to gain greater autonomy or even total independence from the country’s central government.

New Europe takes us to Portugal and the upbeat:

Portuguese PM optimistic about bailout exit

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho on Thursday expressed cautious optimism about the country’s bailout exit, saying that the country was in right conditions to exit the bailout program.

“The effort we’ve taken all this time didn’t indicate that the country will have to find help abroad,” the prime minister told national broadcasters TVi and TSF in a live interview.

Xinhua seeks egress:

Troika say Portugal to exit bailout program next year

Portugal’s international lenders believe that the bailedout country will exit from the bailout program mid next year when it expires, according to Portuguese lawmakers on Friday.

Miguel Frasquilho, spokesperson of Portugal’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), said the troika has left Portugal a very “positive message”that the country will exit the program in a “favorable” way and “on the date scheduled” for June 2014.

The Portugal News predicts:

More jobs and more pay?

Projections issued this week by the Bank of Portugal have confirmed an outlook of a gradual recovery of the Portuguese economy for the period 2013 to 2015. The institution caught many observers by surprise when it forecast both increased jobs and a rise in wages paid to workers in the private sector. However, the news has received a mixed reaction. While the Government said the forecast “is good news”, the largest opposition party, the PS, said the outlook “lacked credibility”.

On to Italy and a a dose of the dour from Europe Online:

Standard & Poor’s pours cold water on Italy government growth hopes

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) on Friday poured cold water on the Italian government’s hopes to lift the country out of recession, saying that the eurozone’s third-largest economy was set to grow at less than half the rate expected by authorities.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta has been touting the news this week that gross domestic product (GDP) stopped shrinking in the third quarter of 2013 as the end of a record-length recession. His grand coalition government expects GDP growth of at least 1 per cent next year.

TheLocal.it declines to pay:

Italy’s government to scrap party funding

Italian prime minister Enrico Letta said on Friday that the coalition government had agreed to scrap public funding for political parties.

The announcement came via his Twitter account ahead of a cabinet meeting on Friday morning.

And from the London Telegraph, another March on Rome?:

‘Pitchforks’ plan Rome march as Italian government survives confidence vote

Italian government wins confidence vote but the real threat comes from the Pitchfork movement, a loose coalition of disaffected Italians calling for the coalition to be toppled

The emergence of the movement only deepened the sense of crisis in Italy, as it faces zero economic growth, 40 per cent youth unemployment, growing poverty, questions over the long-term viability of Mr Letta and surging anger over taxes, austerity and the perks enjoyed by a cosseted political class.

More from The Guardian:

Italy hit by wave of Pitchfork protests as austerity unites disparate groups

Demonstrations point to frustration with traditional politics, with minister warning parliament of a country in ‘spiral of rebellion’

They blocked roads and stopped trains,occupied piazzas, clashed with police and closed shops. From Turin and Milan in the north to Puglia and Sicily in the south, Italy was hit this week by a wave of protests that brought together disparate groups and traditional foes in an angry show of opposition to austerity policies and the government.

TheLocal.it shocks:

Italy is a ‘slave of Jewish bankers’

Andrea Zunino, a spokesman for Pitchfork, the movement behind a wave of anti-austerity protests across Italy this week, said the country is a “now a slave of the bankers, like Rothschild” and that “five of the world’s six richest people are Jews”.

The farmer, from Biella in northern Italy, made the comments during an interview with the daily newspaper, La Repubblica.

Linkiesta sees a parallel:

Fascism at the end of a pitchfork

The “Forconi movement” – meaning pitchfork waving protesters – that has been paralysing Italian cities for days has taken almost everyone by surprise. But their non-partisan protests against austerity and elites hide echoes of the start of Mussolini’s authoritarianism.

Here’s the accompanying editorial cartoon by Mauro Biani:

‘March on Rome’

‘March on Rome’

After the jump, the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian crisis, Moscow anxieties, Indian economic woes, Bangladeshi turmoil, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese economic anxiety, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuCrisis


Lonnggg selection today because. . .well, read ‘em and weep.

First, a global agenda delayed from the Japan Times:

Bridging Japan-U.S. gaps key to keeping TPP ball rolling

After failing to reach a deal by the much-touted 2013 deadline, the 12 economies negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership have pledged to keep striving for solutions to thorny issues, with the prospect of Japan-U.S. talks over farm products and cars as one of the keys for an early conclusion of the free trade pact.

A Japanese official said the TPP members could become even less motivated to make concessions after they missed the pledged deadline at a crucial four-day ministerial conference that ended Tuesday in Singapore, suggesting negotiations could now stretch on.

More from PCWorld:

Secret TPP intellectual property agreement misses deadline

Negotiators on a secret trade treaty, which includes controversial intellectual property proposals, could not meet their year-end deadline for an agreement this week at Singapore.

The intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, being negotiated by 12 countries, apparently has controversial proposals that would increase the term of patents and copyright, reduce requirements for patentability and increase damages for infringements of patents and copyrights.

On to the U.S., first with a headline from Independent.ie:

US jobless claims surge, erase prior weeks’ declines

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose sharply last week, reversing the prior three weeks declines, but a recent strengthening of the labor market likely remains intact.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 68,000 to a seasonally adjusted 368,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the largest weekly increase since November 2012. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

And their potential plight from Salon:

How GOP neglected the jobless, while giving the 1 percent a raise

Republicans declared extending unemployment a deal breaker, but happily protected wealthy doctors from any hardship

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, another way to the same agenda:

Next U.S. ambassador to Canada will make intellectual rights a priority

Canada can expect increased pressure from the next U.S. ambassador on the vexing issue of imposing tougher intellectual rights protections.

“I know the Canadians are working harder to try and do better in this area,” said Bruce Heyman, President Barack Obama’s pick as the next U.S. ambassador to Canada, said Wednesday.

Postage due no longer from the BBC News:

Canada Post to end home delivery in five years

Canada Post will phase out home delivery in urban areas over the next five years as the postal service struggles to rein in persistent losses.

Under a five-year plan released on Wednesday, the cost of stamps will also rise and as many as 8,000 jobs will be eliminated.

From the Globe and Mail, bubble bubble:

Canada’s housing market most overvalued in the world, Deutsche Bank says

Canada is home to the world’s most overvalued housing market, Deutsche Bank says in a new study that suggests overvaluation to the tune of 60 per cent.

Other groups have put Canada near the top of the list, but the German bank puts it at the top, ahead of Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Australia, France, Britain, Sweden, Finland and Spain, which make up the rest of the top 10.

The Globe and Mail again, with a serious number:

Bank of Canada’s Poloz warns of risk of deflation

  • Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz still expects a soft landing in the housing market and a pickup in exports and business investments.
  • Sees household imbalances stabilizing, and then gradually unwinding in coming years.
  • Says it will take about two years to get inflation back up to 2 per cent, adding that a stable financial system is necessary to “limit the risk of falling into a deflationary trap.”

Off to Europe, starting with a regional headline from Independent.ie:

Eurozone industrial output slumps

Industrial output across the 17 countries that use the euro slumped by a monthly rate of 1.1 % in October, official figures showed in the latest sign that the region’s recovery from recession is failing to gather momentum.

The fall reported today by the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, was unexpected and affected all sectors, notably energy. The consensus in the markets was for overall output to rise by 0.3%.

More from the London Telegraph:

Surprise fall in eurozone industrial output

Worst industrial output figures since height of eurozone crisis show economy is struggling to regain momentum

A companion headline from the Independent.ie:

Economic recovery in Europe still tentative, says ratings giant

STANDARD & Poor’s has warned that the European Central Bank (ECB) may have to take further unconventional measures to maintain recovery in the eurozone.

The ratings giant said that while the currency bloc is climbing out of recession, the recovery will be arduous and unevenly balanced.

EUbusiness opts for a bankster:

MEPs back Frenchwoman Nouy to head new bank supervisor

Frenchwoman Daniele Nouy won approval Wednesday from the European Parliament to head the eurozone’s new bank supervisor, a key element in efforts to prevent failing lenders bringing down the economy.

The 63-year-old Nouy, a senior official at the Bank of France, will head the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) under the European Central Bank, directly overseeing some 130 of the eurozone’s largest banks.

EUbusiness again, with a job for her:

EU nations agree rules on bank bailouts

EU nations agreed new rules for bank bailouts or “bail-ins” late Wednesday, to save taxpayers from paying for the rescue of ailing financial institutions, an official said.

The new directive will eventually dovetail with the EU’s “Banking Union”, which is currently being hammered out.

But then there’s this, also from EUbusiness:

S&P says 50 European banks need EUR 110 bn

The 50 biggest European banks need a total of 110 billion euros ($151 billion) to ensure that their shareholders’ funds are strong enough to sustain their credit ratings, Standard & Poor’s said on Thursday.

S&P acknowledged in a statement that the banks had acted to boost their ratios of shareholder funds to risks, by retaining part of their profits or by reducing their balance sheets.

From EUobserver, confronting intolerance:

Cities show leadership on Roma inclusion

Roma migrants often gravitate towards cities. Like other migrants, they know that metropolitan areas offer greater opportunities for employment and upward social mobility. Cities also offer access to better, more integrated support services.

So when a number of countries with large Roma populations joined the EU in and after 2004, many Roma chose to exercise their right to borderless travel to escape poverty and discrimination and headed to urban centres elsewhere. This has brought a sharp increase in Roma numbers in various cities across Europe. And it has had a fundamental impact in the way these cities now address social cohesion.

Spiegel covers a policy refined by Krupp:

Self Defense: Protectionism Rules in EU Arms Industry

German Chancellor Angela Merkel loves to preach economic prudence to her European Union partners. But she looks the other way when it comes to the bloc’s wasteful defense policy, and Europe’s citizens are footing the bill — to the tune of at least €26 billion a year.

Off to Britain and ornamental umbrage from Sky News:

Cameron: 11% MPs’ Pay Rise Is Unacceptable

A furious Prime Minister slams the proposed increase and warns the parliamentary watchdog to reconsider it.

BBC News has Banksters Behaving Badly:

Lloyds bank fined record £28m for ‘serious failings’

Lloyds Banking Group has been fined £28m for “serious failings” in relation to bonus schemes for sales staff.

The Financial Conduct Authority said it was the largest fine that it or the former Financial Services Authority had imposed for retail conduct failings.

BBC News again, with prices inflating:

We are in a housing bubble, claims economics professor

Most regions of the UK are already in a house-price bubble, according to an economics professor from Warwick University.

Prof James Mitchell said house prices were overvalued when compared with incomes, raising the risk of a fall at some stage in the future.

Sky News catches another painful form of austerian-inflicted inflationary pain:

Spending Squeeze: Household Priorities Shift

Official figures provide an insight on family budgets as weak pay increases fail to keep up with rising prices.

Household spending on housing (excluding mortgages), fuel and power has surpassed transport for the first time in recent years, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show. We are cutting back most on transport, only spending £64.10 a week in 2012, compared with £67.20 the previous year.

The Independent catches another austerian symptom:

Stay-at-home drinking and socialising on the rise as Britons avoid paying premium of being served food or drink in pubs and bars

According to the Office for National Statistics last year an average of £7.80 went on wine, beer and spirits brought from the off licence or supermarket – up 50p – compared to £7.40 spent in licensed premises.

The change marks a reversal from 2011 when households spent 10p more drinking in public each week than they did within their own four walls.

From BBC News, profits soar on a privatized commons:

Royal Mail to join FTSE 100 after share price surge

Royal Mail, the newly-privatised postal service, will be joining the FTSE 100 index of blue-chip companies. The company’s share price has surged more than 80% since its first day of public trading on 15 October, giving it a market capitalisation of nearly £6bn.

The privatisation was controversial and opposed by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), even though employees were given shares in the company.

Off to Ireland with another piece of the commons on the auction block. From  Independent.ie:

Government to sell Bord Gais for €1.125bn

Independent.ie has learned that it will sell the company to a consortium made up of British Gas owned Centrica, Brookfield Renewables and iCON Infrastructure.

It is understood that Bord Gais has begin contacting staff at the state owned company to update them on how the sale will affect their jobs at the company.

Independent.ie again, with yet more of the public’s assests set for sale:

State will sell more banking assets to claw back cost of bailout – Davy

THE State is set to recoup a substantial portion of the cost of bailing out AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB by selling assets over the coming two years, according to a new report from Davy Stockbrokers.

Selling banking assets to the markets is now the more likely route to recover part of the cost of the bank rescues than a deal to transfer loans to the European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM), which is being sought by the Government, according to Davy bond strategist Donal O’Mahoney.

Independent.ie one last time, with an end run around landlords in mortgage arrears:

Banks appointing rent collectors to bypass landlords not paying mortgage arrears

Rent receivers appointed on over 2,000 properties

BBC News brings us a pale shade of the joy we’d experience were the hoosegow-bound Wall Street weasels:

Iceland jails former Kaupthing bank bosses

Four former bosses from the Icelandic bank Kaupthing have been sentenced to between three and five years in prison. They are the former chief executive, the chairman of the board, one of the majority owners and the chief executive of the Luxembourg branch.

They were accused of hiding the fact that a Qatari investor bought a stake in the firm with money lent – illegally – by the bank itself.

On to Scandinavia, first with TheLocal.no:

Ethnic Norwegians in population decline

The number of ethnic Norwegians has dropped over the past decade, with Norway’s population growth attributable solely to immigration and children born to Norwegians with an immigrant background, according to figures from Statistics Norway.

“The group without any element of immigration, either from their parents of grandparents, has declined in recent years,” Minja Dzmarija, a researcher at Statistics Norway, told Aftenposten. “This means that among ethnic Norwegians there are more who die or move abroad than those who are born or move back to Norway.”

Swedish neoliberal ploy [arried from TheLocal.se:

Government loses fight over divisive tax cut

Sweden’s minority government coalition on Wednesday lost a fight to lower taxes for high-earners in a vote that may have long-term “ugly free-for-all” consequences for how budget decisions are made.

In a 159-156 vote in the Riksdag, the left-of-centre opposition parties, with the help of the Sweden Democrats, stopped the right-of-centre government’s plans to raise the salary cut-off point after which Swedes must pay state tax, which is imposed on high earners.

Swedish eurodoubts from TheLocal.se:

Swedes ‘less certain’ about EU membership

Swedish eurozone entry is off the cards and its EU membership would be in danger if Swedes went to the polls today, according to a new survey that also reveals increasingly hesitant opinions about European institutions.

Almost one in three Swedes said they were unsure how they felt about Swedish membership of the European Union.

On to Amsterdam with DutchNews.nl:

Student loan plan unlikely to succeed without further changes

The cabinet’s decision to scrap student grants and replace them with loans will be discussed in parliament later on Wednesday but is unlikely to win support in the senate as it now stands.

Education minister Jet Bussemaker wants to scrap grants for Master students from 2015 and for Bachelor students in 2016 but has so far been unable to remove opposition concerns.

The D66 liberals and minor opposition party GroenLinks both want the government to put more cash into education in return for its support. They also want changes to the way interest over the loan is calculated.

EUobserver delivers a blow:

Dutch firm ends Israeli co-operation

Dutch firm Vitens has said it is terminating its partnership with Israeli water company Mekorot due to “national and international law and regulations.” The move comes amid reports that Mekorot is pumping water from Palestinian areas to Jewish settlements. It also follows an EU ban on grants to settler-linked entities.

DutchNews.nl delivers a Dutch rub:

New rules allow ‘unjustified’ bonuses to be clawed back

From next year, financial institutions will be able to claw back ‘excessive bonuses’ from senior staff, the justice ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

The upper house of parliament, or senate, on Wednesday accepted draft legislation which centres on bonuses paid out on the basis of wrong information or which are otherwise ‘unjustified’. Supervisory boards will have the right to amend bonuses and to claw them back if they are higher than acceptable. The boards will also have to justify why bonuses are being paid.

Germany next, with labor delivery woes from Spiegel:

Tepid Welcome: Germany Struggles to Lure Skilled Workers

Germany must look abroad to make up for its shortage of highly skilled workers. But a series of obstacles, including daunting bureaucracy, stand in the way of foreign specialists looking to relocate.

On to French, with a slice from TheLocal.fr:

Crisis leaving the French ‘bitter and divided’

France may be the home of fraternité and solidarité, but according to two recent surveys, the French people are anything but happy and united, as the financial crisis leaves them feeling bitter towards one another, and less trusting of government.

Some 74 percent of the French feel that France is “in decline”, according to a survey published on Wednesday by polling firm Ipsos, in collaboration with left-leaning newspaper Le Monde. What’s more, nearly one third believe that this process of decline is irreversible.

Among the principle targets of this French anger were “scroungers” or “profiteurs” in French – a term referring to those who benefit from social welfare payments – political parties, and the country’s main unions, according to CSA.

TheLocal.fr tracks delays:

French train strike set to cause major disruption

France’s rail network will be hit by a nationwide strike on Wednesday evening and Thursday with passengers being warned to expect delays.

Three main rail workers unions – CGT, UNSA, and Sud-Rail – called their members to strike and will be joined by two others, FO and FiRST, who are protesting against rail reforms as well as working conditions and wages.

On to Spain with an angry response from El País:

Finance Minister goes on offensive over criticism of Tax Agency reshuffle

Cristóbal Montoro accuses media of attempting to divert attention from its own tax bills

The media have reported widely on the issue, and the leftist group United Left even holds that it may amount to a “political purge,” because Montoro himself at one point noted that the agency department that was mostly affected by the reshuffle was “full of Socialists” who had disagreements with the new agency director, Santiago Menéndez.

GlobalPost anticipates:

Spain hopes to export its way out of recession

Overseas sales are surging, but recovery could take years.

The latest figures from the Economy Ministry in Madrid show exports rose 8.3 percent in September compared to a year before, a spurt that’s prompting hopes that overseas sales could drag the Spanish economy out of its deepest recession in decades.

El País depopulates:

Why a drain in Spain will lead to population shrinkage by 2017

In five years’ time, fewer births and more emigration will mean a lower number of inhabitants

Some 2.6 million people are expected to leave the country over the next decade

More from thinkSPAIN:

Spaniards leaving the country to get jobs top 40,000 in six months

OVER 40,000 Spaniards abroad to find work in the first six months of this year, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE)’s Migration Report. Most of them headed to the UK and France, although in terms of residents leaving the country for good, the majority went to Ecuador, since this was where they were originally from. Of the 259,227 people who moved away from Spain between January and June 2013, more than 40,000 were Spanish nationals, whilst 134,312 foreigners moved to the country to live.

As a result, the country’s ‘migration balance’ fell into negative figures – 124,915 more people left than arrived. Those abandoning Spain increased in number by 50 per cent on the previous six months, from July to December 2012, resulting in a fall in immigration of 11 per cent and an increase in outward migration of 10.7 per cent.

El País bottoms out:

Spain at tail end of EU educational mobility ranking

Just half of most disadvantaged citizens improve on parents’ level of studies

In 2011, 50 percent of Spaniards aged between 25 and 59 whose parents received a low level of education had not improved their status, 24 percent had progressed to an intermediate level and 27 percent had reached higher education.

Only Malta (73 percent), Portugal (68 percent), Luxembourg (52 percent) and Italy (50 percent) recorded worse results for their most disadvantaged citizens.

ANSAmed declines:

Financial crisis: Spain, 10% drop on property sales in Oct

The Spanish real estate market continues to spiral downward, with a 10% drop in homes sold in October 2013 compared to October 2012, according to data released Thursday by the National Statistics Institute.

October, with 22,770 total transactions, marks the lowest month of the year following March, and is one of the lowest since 2007, when statistical records began. Compared to September, home sales decreased by 4.4%.

And Sky News stymies:

Spanish PM To Block Catalan Independence Poll

The prime minister says the referendum to create a new independent state between Spain and France is “unconstitutional”.

The Portugal News has a pricey thirst:

Water bills set to soar for 1.3 million people

Water bills could be on the up next year following impending shake-ups within the water and waste treatment sectors which include the re-structuring of national water supply company Águas de Portugal (AdP), new governing statuses, and the privatisation of AdP’s sub-holding company EGF.

Italy next with austerian affliction from ANSAmed:

Italy’s kids stunted by recession, says Save the Children

More teenage moms, obese kids, school dropouts

Italy’s children are growing up physically, emotionally, and intellectually stunted by the recession, which has brought poverty, unemployment, and a lack of emotional, psychological, and environmental support in its wake, according to a new Save The Children report issued Tuesday. Titled ‘’Italy Upside Down’‘, the report documents a 7.4% drop in the country’s fertility rate along with a rise in childhood obesity, teenage motherhood, and the rate of high-school dropouts.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore boosts:

Italy’s Letta wins lower house confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta won a confidence vote on Wednesday in the lower house of parliament after promising to push a pro-European agenda, boost economic growth and fight against populism.

ANSAmed departs:

Italians flocking abroad soars 70% in two years

Lombardy leads exodus with more than 20% of total

The number of Italians leaving the country rose 70% in two years, from 40,000 in 2010 to 68,000 in 2012, an Italian foundation for multi-ethnic studies reported on Tuesday.

Lombardy has topped Italy’s regions for generating expats since 2007, according to the annual report of the Ismu Foundation, presented in Milan.

After the jump, Greek crisis continues; Ukraine smoulders; Latin American unrest, selloffs, and weedy questions; Indian inflation and electoral upsets; Thai turmoil countdown; Chinese neoliberalism marches on, smoggily; Japanese questions; environmental worries. . .and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroGrecoSinoFuku


Whole heckuva lot happenin’, including the deepening of the Greek implosion, the Chinese neoliberal revolution, Ukrainian furor, That troubles, and lots more.

We begin with global stories, starting with this headline from La Via Campesina:

The WTO pushes through bad deal in the final hours; Developed countries and TNCs are the big winners

Hailed as a victory by the WTO for unlocking the deadlocked negotiations, the Bali Package delivers a legally binding agreement on Trade Facilitation that is costly to developing countries and ensures easier access and profits for Transnational Corporations (TNCs). Trade Facilitation, or the easing of customs procedures and borders, clearly benefits only the big TNCs that already control exports and imports. As the 2013 World Trade Report data shows, “80% of US exports are handled by 1% of large exporters, 85% of European exports are in the hands of 10% of big exporters and 81% of exports are concentrated in the top 5 largest exporting firms in developing countries.”

From Kyodo News, a deadline in doubt:

TPP countries to miss year-end deadline, continue talks

Countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks will miss the pledged deadline of reaching a full agreement by year-end, failing to find political solutions on contentious issues, a source familiar with the negotiations said Monday.

Ministers from the 12 TPP countries, who are holding a four-day meeting through Tuesday in Singapore, shared a view Monday that it is impossible to solve all remaining issues during the latest session including tariffs and intellectual property rights, adding the countries will have to continue negotiations next year, the source said.

PCWorld covers the latest bombshell from WikiLeaks:

Wikileaks exposes secret, controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations

Anyone not closely connected to the talks is being kept in the dark about the exact proposals being discussed. The Australian government, for instance, refused to give the Senate access to the secret text of the draft treaty being negotiated in a final round of talks in Singapore, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday. The results of the negotiations will only be made public after the treaty has been signed, the Australian government said, according to the paper.

But texts of purported drafts of the treaty have been leaked to the public, most recently on Monday by Wikileaks, which published two documents said to show the state of negotiations after talks held in Salt Lake City from Nov. 19 to 24.

More from The Daily Dot:

WikiLeaks reveals every country’s negotiating positions on the TPP

They certainly show that the U.S. disagrees with other TPP countries on a number of issues. It’s the sole country to refuse to eliminate subsidies for economic exports, for example. It also stands alone in its opinion on a few issues that aren’t fully clear from the document, on subjects are varied as agreeing on a “central reserve bank” in the investment chapter, technical consultations on the “sanitary and phytosanitary” chapter, and how to settle disputes when a country violates the environmental chapter.

Techdirt has the bottom line:

Latest TPP Leaks Reveal That US Is Isolated In Its Desire To Push Through Corporate Exceptionalism

from the good-to-see dept

Wikileaks has posted its latest bombshell here.

MintPress News covers another sorry aspect of the global neoliberal agenda:

Justice Increasingly Distant for Victims of Corporate Abuse

Some countries’ legislatures have proposed laws to shield companies of liability for foreign abuses, or create obstacles to victims seeking redress.

Two years after the international community unanimously agreed to a landmark safeguards framework known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, scholars and rights defenders are warning that governments have either failed to implement or gone backward on a key provision of this agreement.

And heading to the U.S., Gawker outFoxes:

Fox News Paid Fired Executive $8 Million to Keep Quiet

Roger Ailes’ secrets command a heavy price. Last week, the New York Times reported that Fox News had reached an out-of-court settlement with Brian Lewis, the former Roger Ailes aide who was abruptly fired in late July. A Fox News executive with knowledge of the negotiations told Gawker that Lewis was paid approximately $8 million in hush money.

While The Hill throws the jobless under the Obama bus:

Durbin: No ultimatum on jobless benefits

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and a Republican member of the budget conference committee on Sunday strongly signaled that an emerging budget deal would not include new spending on unemployment benefits.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he hopes extended jobless benefits will be part of the budget deal, but Democrats are not, at this point, insisting on it.

From Reuters, them that has got even more:

Household net worth hits record high in third quarter

U.S. household net worth hit a record high in the third quarter as home prices marched higher and the value of stocks and mutual funds surged, boosting the economic outlook.

The Federal Reserve said on Monday net worth increased $1.9 trillion to $77.3 trillion in the third quarter, the highest level since records started in 1945.

Bloomberg covers a bubble diagnostic:

Jumbos Surge 34% With Record ARMs Belying ‘08 Anxiety: Mortgages

Jumbo loans, both adjustable and fixed-rate, increased by 34 percent to $216 billion in the first nine months of this year, with ARMs comprising the majority of the gain, said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication in Bethesda, Maryland. Cash-rich banks, including Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp., are using ARMs as a hedge: the loans’ longer-term payments will move in tandem with the lenders’ expected increases in borrowing costs as interest rates rise, said Greg McBride, a senior analyst at mortgage-data firm Bankrate Inc.

From the London Telegraph, a warning:

World’s biggest investor BlackRock says US rally nearing exhaustion

BlackRock has advised clients to be ready to pull out of global stock markets at any sign of serious trouble

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers a downturn:

McClatchy-Marist Poll: Obama gets worst ratings of his presidency

The American public is unusually pessimistic about the direction of the country and increasingly fed up with Washington gridlock, a sour mood reflected in the worst disapproval ratings for President Barack Obama since he took office nearly five years ago.

People give elected officials unusually low grades – 31 percent rated them “D” and 38 percent gave them an “F,” according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

CBC News merges:

American Airlines comes out of bankruptcy as No. 1 airline

$11B merger goes ahead despite challenges with consumer groups worried about higher fares

American Airlines emerged from bankruptcy protection Monday as the world’s largest airline after completing its long-awaited $11-billion US merger with US Airways.

From the London Daily Mail, more than liking:

Is ‘sympathize’ the new ‘like’? Facebook boffins come up with new emotion button for sad occasions

Users would select a negative feeling like ‘depressed’ from a set list of emotions when commenting on something. Instead of ‘like’, your status would then be changed to ‘sympathise’ instead.

Bloomberg Businessweek discovers the obvious:

Harvard Study Finds: The Rent Is Way Too High

If you can’t afford to own, you can rent. But what if you can’t afford to rent, either? Millions of Americans are in precisely that situation, according to a study released today by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The availability of apartments, especially cheaper ones, hasn’t nearly kept up with demand, and the problem has worsened since the 2007-09 recession, the study says.

“In 1960, about one in four renters paid more than 30 percent of income for housing. Today, one in two are cost burdened,” according to the study, America’s Rental Housing.

And MintPress News counts Tea Party casualties to come:

Budget Cuts Could Lead To Surge In Homeless Vets

Officials warn that the number of homeless may soon skyrocket as budget cuts negatively impact federal agencies’ ability to work to end homelessness.

While Oakland Local notes a California austerian toll:

Majority of Oakland Public School libraries are closed, FOPSL hosts community dialogue series to restore them

The nonprofit Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries, or FOPSL, works to fill the funding void for in-school libraries that often is supplemented in more affluent neighborhoods by the PTA.

From Talk to Action, a blast from the past:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Worked at Group Vilifying Mandela & Supporting Apartheid

On to Canada with CBC News and notable omissions:

TSB says CN Rail failed to report hundreds of derailments, collisions

Authorities first noticed discrepancies in 2005

A continuing CBC News investigation into rail safety has found that Canada’s largest freight carrier CN Rail did not report to authorities more than 1,800 derailments and accidents, including 44 on key rail arteries.

New Europe takes us across the pond:

Extreme poverty: a contemporary plague for the EU

But is homelessness a problem only in the Southern European countries, which have been criticised with contempt by politicians in the rich northern countries?

No. Even the rich northern European countries are struggling to cope with a growing army of poor and homeless.

Reuters notes the obvious:

Analysis: ‘Brussels consensus’ widens gulf with EU electorates

Call it the Brussels Consensus. A system of beliefs rooted in European Union treaties helps explain the growing gulf between policy elites and ordinary citizens that may cause a political earthquake in European Parliament elections next May.

These articles of faith are widely regarded as self-evident truths in the European Commission and the European Central Bank but are often regarded by voters as the cause of their misfortunes rather than the solution to them.

And EurActiv captures corporations acting the way corporations act:

EU losing power struggle with national telecoms bodies

The European Commission will this week issue a rebuttal against the Italian telecoms regulator for its proposed reduction of broadband fees. The move comes after several similar actions aimed at asserting EU powers against national authorities, but it risks proving ineffective.

From Reuters, bankrolling bad bank shutdowns:

Exclusive: Euro zone bailout fund should be allowed to help close failing banks – document

The euro zone’s bailout fund should be allowed to lend to help finance the closure of banks in the bloc, a proposal prepared for euro zone finance ministers showed on Monday.

European countries are seeking to reach a deal before the end of the year on how to close failing lenders, as part of an ambitious plan to create a banking framework and fix broken banks, whose problems have festered since the financial crisis.

And New Europe notes the enshrinement of yet another corporate desideratum:

Council backs unitary patent protection directive

The Justice Ministers of the EU Member States endorsed the unitary patent Directive which will establish the first European patent court (the Unified Patent Court.)

The European Commission announced that the Unified Patent Court will be specialised in solving patent protection issues, avoiding multiple litigation cases in up to 28 different national courts. This will cut costs and lead to swift decisions on the validity or infringement of patents, aiming to ensure unitary patent protection in the Single Market.

On to Britain and grim news from The Independent:

The poorest pay the price for austerity: Workers face biggest fall in living standards since Victorian era

The biggest drop in living standards since the Victorian age is seeing low and middle earners suffering an unprecedented squeeze on their incomes as austerity measures continue to bite, with women and part-time workers disproportionately affected, research reveals today.

The London Telegraph has more banksters behaving badly:

Pensioners are being ‘burgled’ by insurers on annuities

A scathing report calls for regulators to launch an unprecedented investigation into the “excessive” profits insurers are making from consumers dazed and confused by the retirement market

From the ‘Oh, poor baby’ department, via The Independent:

‘I’m experiencing austerity as well’, says Princess Michael of Kent

Princess Michael of Kent has explained how she and her husband have been hit by austerity; meaning they can no longer dine out as it’s “too extravagant”.

The Princess, who is an interior designer and author, told The Times in an interview to promote her debut novel: “I am in very austere economic times too, thank you very much!”

From Want China Times, mammon on a mission:

UK top European destination for Chinese investment

The United Kingdom has become China’s top destination for investments in Europe due to its comparatively looser labor regulations and market liberalisation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron concluded a three-day trip to China on Dec. 4, leading a group of representatives from over 130 UK businesses, with deals signed that reached ?6 billion (US$9.8 billion).

Sky News takes us to Scotland and a warning:

Independent Scots ‘Will Pay More For Food’

Supermarket bosses say the cost of doing business is higher in Scotland and they fear that burden will rise if it leaves the UK.

And the Irish Times brings us the most outrageous austerian measure yet:

Batteries not included: patients asked to bring AAs for monitors

Blood pressure machines require two batteries

It was confirmed last week that Ennis General Hospital in Co Clare had been telling patients who required to be fitted with mobile blood pressure monitors, to bring two AA batteries. The hospital has since stopped the practice under instruction from the HSE.

On to Sweden and a schooling call from TheLocal.se:

Swedes’ support for nationalization high as school choice debate rages

Over 60 percent of Swedes think schools should once again be controlled by the state amid a debate about school choice following Sweden’s poor showing in the OECD’s Pisa rankings.

Sweden’s schools are currently run at the munipality level, meaning that each of the country’s 290 municipalities  take responsibility for everything from pre-school to adult education. Each municipality funds the schooling through local tax revenues, with the help of a general government grant.

DutchNews.nl notes a modest shift:

Central bank sees 0.5% growth in 2014, spending power to rise in 2015

The Dutch economy will return to modest growth of 0.5% next year after contracting 1% in 2013, the Dutch central bank said on Monday.

Growth will reach 1% by 2015, when employment will also rise for the first time since 2011, the bank said in its latest half-yearly statement.

DutchNews.nl again, this time with deception:

Graduates often keep student loan quiet in mortgage applications

Four out of 10 graduates do not tell their bank they have an unpaid student loan when applying for a mortgage, according to research by debt registration agency BKR.

Switzerland next, with a handover demand via TheLocal.ch:

Swiss banks urged to hand records to US

Three hundred or so Swiss banks had until the end of Monday to decide whether to hand over records to Washington, in a bid to skirt US legal action for assisting American tax dodgers.

“I can confirm that the deadline is this evening, at the end of the business day,” a spokesman for Swiss financial market regulator FINMA, told AFP, refusing to say how many banks had already signed up to take part in the programme.

Numbers tell the tale, via TheLocal.ch:

Expats continue hardest hit as jobless rate grows

The overall jobless rate increased in November for the second consecutive month, rising to 3.2 percent from 3.1 percent in October and the same period a year earlier, the state secretariat for economic affairs (Seco) said.

The unemployment level among foreigners jumped to 6.2 percent, up from 5.8 percent in October and 5.6 percent in September, Seco said. The rate among Swiss citizens inched up to 2.3 percent from 2.2 percent.

From TheLocal.de, a German uptick:

Record German exports exceed €99 billion

Germany exported more than €99 billion worth of goods in October, a record high – but its trade surplus shrank as imports rose faster than exports.

Federal statistics office Destatis said in a statement on Monday that exports grew by 0.6 percent compared to October 2012 to reach €99.1 billion. This pushed the figure above the previous record set in March 2012.

Although imports were down by 1.6 percent over the figure from last October, they have accelerated hugely since then, and reached a value of €81.2 billion this October – an increase of 2.9 percent since a month previously.

Contrarian indications from Europe Online:

German industrial output slows at onset of fourth quarter

German industrial output was down at the start of the fourth quarter of 2013, with a 1.2-per-cent drop recorded for the month of October, data released Monday showed.

The industrial output data comes alongside a 1.9-per-cent drop in energy production, as well as a 1.7-per-cent decrease in the construction sector. Investment goods production dropped by 3 per cent in October, while consumer goods production contracted by 0.8 per cent.

On to France and some optimism from BBC News:

Bank of France ups quarterly growth forecast

President Francois Hollande French President Francois Hollande’s government predicted economic growth of at least 0.1% during 2013

The French economy will grow by 0.5% in the final three months of the year, said the country’s central bank.

Rising industrial production prompted the Bank of France to raise its quarterly growth forecast from 0.4%.

TheLocal.fr delivers the ax:

Airbus-maker EADS set to cut 1,000 French jobs

Some 1,000 jobs are set to to be lost in France, after European aerospace giant and the maker of Airbus aircraft, EADS announced on Monday that it would be cutting some 5,800 European posts from its defence and space division.

TheLocal.fr again, this time with a grim depiction:

‘Paris is becoming like the Bronx’: ex-top cop

Just months before mayoral elections in Paris, focus has turned to the city’s crime rate, after a former French police chief-turned-election candidate caused a stir by comparing the French capital to the notorious New York borough of the Bronx.

Frédéric Péchenard, the former chief of France’s national police, and candidate for mayor of the 17th arrondissement of Paris, has caused controversy with comments comparing crime in the French capital with that of the New York borough of the Bronx, with its reputation – outdated according to some – of being a hotbed of violent crime.

On to Spain and an austerian mantra via TheLocal.es:

‘Falling wages are saving Spanish jobs’

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Sunday that falling wages had allowed Spain, which is grappling with an unemployment rate of nearly 26 percent, to save jobs.

Lower wages were “one of the keys” to overcome the economic crisis, he said in an interview with several European newspapers including Spain’s left-leaning El Pais daily.

The New York Times covers a sale:

Spanish ‘Ghost Airport’ Goes on the Block

A barely used Spanish airport that cost some 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) to build and became a symbol of the country’s wasteful spending ahead of an economic downturn has gone on sale for a minimum price of 100 million euros.

Ciudad Real’s Central airport, about 235 kilometers (150 miles) south of Madrid, opened in 2008. The airport’s operator went bankrupt last year after it failed to draw enough traffic, becoming known as one of the country’s “ghost airports.”

While El País finds banksters bemoaning:

International offensive launched against Madrid over renewable energy cutbacks

Two major investment funds take Spanish government’s decision to cut subsidies to World Bank’s arbitration agency

Investors may sue Spain over green energy subsidy cuts

From thinkSPAIN, a closure of the commons contested:

Socialists’ appeal over Canal Nou shutdown accepted by Constitutional Court

SPAIN’S Constitutional Court has accepted an appeal from the socialist party over the closure of Radio Televisión Valenciana (RTVV) which led to the region’s Channel 9 (Canal Nou) being taken off air.

The shutdown means several thousand reporters and support workers will be on the dole from February, although they will be paid up to then ‘for doing nothing’, say staff.

TheLocal.es blows smoke:

Deadly pollution ‘a threat’ to Spanish cities

The health risks of long-term exposure to air pollution are more serious than previously thought, a high-profile new study shows. The Local spoke to one of the researchers to find out what this means for Spain.

On to Portugal with another Chinese play from the Portugal News:

Renewables firm sells 49% stake to China Three Gorges

EDP Renováveis announced Friday that it had agreed the terms of sale of a 49% stake in the ENEOP – Elétricas de Portugal consortium with China Three Gorges, a key shareholder in Portugal’s EDP electricity generating company.
Renewables firm sells 49% stake to China Three Gorges

In a statement sent to the CMVM stock market authorities, EDP Renováveis said that the sale for an undisclosed amount fell under the auspices of the deal that saw China Three Gorges acquire its stake in EDP as the government sold off its remaining stake in the once state owned firm.

From the Portugal News again, this time with less drive:

Tolls down a quarter since 2008

Portugal’s largest motorway operator, Brisa, has said it had lost about a quarter of its traffic over the past five years, but there were signs that business was slowly picking up again in 2013.

On to Italy with The Independent and a search for an analogue:

Is this Italy’s Tony Blair? Meet Matteo Renzi, the rising star of Italian politics

Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is celebrating after rising star Matteo Renzi was crowned as its secretary at the party primaries on Sunday night with a crushing 68 per cent of the vote.

The big question now is whether the charismatic, 38-year-old “post ideologue” can live up to his reputation as the new Tony Blair and finally give Italy’s centre-left – and its political system – the credibility it’s been missing for decades.

More from TheLocal.it:

Renzi leads youthful overhaul of centre-left

The new head of Italy’s Democratic Party on Monday signalled his determination to push for change as he unveiled his leadership team for the centre-left party, a key force in the coalition government.

euronews covers one protest:

Italy: ‘Pitchfork protesters’ disrupt road and rail travel in protest at state of economy

Thousands of farmers, lorry drivers, pensioners and unemployed people have taken to the streets in Italy as part of a series of protests against the government and the European Union.

Demonstrators stopped train services by walking on the tracks while striking lorry drivers disrupted traffic by driving slowly and blocking roads.

And TheLocal.it covers another:

Police clash with anti-tax protesters in Turin

Stone-throwing protesters clashed with police in the northern Italian city of Turin on Monday, in one of dozens of rallies called to demand tax cuts for small businesses, media reported.

After the jump, Greek crisis intensifies, Ukrainian turmoil, Russian media crackdown, a Venezuelan victory, Indian upsets, Thai elections, Chinese neoliberalism deepens, Jpanaese anxieties, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Costa Rican bans on GMOs


From Tico Times, which reports that with the just-passed ban on genetically modified crops in the township of Siquirres, GMOs have been banned by municipalities comprising 81 percent of Costa Rican land:

BLOG CR GMOs

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuFolly


Starting with a blast at so-called “free trade Agreements” from on high, to the ongoing collapse of Greece, the rise of neoliberalism in China, Japanese corruption worries, and on to the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with one issue where esnl and the Holy See are in firm agreement. From Techdirt:

Holy See (The Pope) Criticizes TPP And TAFTA/TTIP In WTO Speech

from the nobody-expects-the-Spanish-Inquisition-or-Holy-See dept

A quote from the speech:

While a minority is experiencing exponential growth in wealth, the gap is widening to separate the vast majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and of financial speculation. Consequently, there is an outright rejection of the right of States, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. An even worse development is that such policies are sometimes locked in through trade rules negotiated at the WTO or in bilateral or regional FTAs.

From MarketWatch, some aren’t happy with the Vatican:

Rush Limbaugh: The pope is giving President Obama an orgasm

“The pope is ripping America, the pope ripping capitalism, the pope ripping Ronaldus Magnus, the pope ripping trickle-down economics” Limbaugh said during his radio program. “And Obama’s having an orgasm.”

But Rush has good reason to be happy as L.A. loses its only progressive talk radio station, notes LA Observed:

Rush Limbaugh moves stations, ending progressive talk in LA

Clear Channel is moving Limbaugh from KFI to KTLK — which will drop ‘progressive talk’ and become The Patriot 1150, with Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck also on board.

From Bloomberg, another asusterian gift from the Tea Party:

Unemployment Benefit Lapse Will Cut Jobs, Report Says

The Obama administration, bolstering a sustained push by Democrats to extend emergency unemployment benefits, said today that a lapse may cost the U.S. as many as 240,000 jobs in 2014.

An estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers would immediately lose benefits if the emergency program — extended repeatedly since its inception in 2008 — is allowed to expire on Dec. 28, according to the report drafted by President Barack Obama’s Council on Economic Advisers and the Labor Department. During 2014, 3.6 million more would have their benefits cut off.

The Los Angeles Times covers a job action:

County social workers strike over pay, high caseloads

Los Angeles County social workers took to the picket lines on Thursday, the first county strike in more than a decade and a sharp escalation of a labor dispute between the county and its biggest employee union.

The New York Times covers another:

Fast-Food Workers Walk Off Jobs, Rally for Higher Minimum Wage

Fast-food workers in hundreds of cities across the United States kicked off a day of strikes and rallies on Thursday to demand a higher minimum wage. The largest job actions were expected in New York and Washington, organizers said.

Workers want the federal minimum wage raised to $15 from $7.25, saying the current rate is not enough to live on. Critics counter that doubling the minimum wage would cost jobs, forcing employers to cut back on the number of workers.

And CNBC sounds a very sour note:

McFail: McDonald’s out-of-touch tipping advice to employees

Fast-food giant McDonald’s has committed yet another employee advice blunder, listing pricey suggestions for tipping au pairs, personal fitness trainers and pool cleaners from etiquette maven Emily Post on its worker resource website.

This advice comes as fast-food workers from 100 cities across the nation push for $15-an-hour pay, a far cry from the wages most earn, in a mass strike on Thursday.

But the question is, just how long willl those jobs even exist. Consider this from Slate:

Look Out, Waiters: Applebee’s Is Putting a Tablet at Every Table

Score one for the machines. On Tuesday, Applebee’s announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States. Customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and ignore their dining companions by playing video games.

Chili’s unveiled basically the same plan three months ago.

CNBC look at a key feature of the new workforce, the harsh realty behind those so-called improved jobs numbers:

How ‘on-call’ hours are hurting part-time workers

The Great Recession changed the American workplace. More and more jobs that used to be full time are now part time, with lower pay and limited or no benefits.

The number of “involuntary” part-time workers—people who want a full-time job but can’t find one or have had their hours cut back by their current employer—has nearly doubled since 2007. There were 8.1 million involuntary part-time workers in October, versus 4.3 million in October 2007, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From the New York Times, boosted by necessity:

U.S. Growth Faster Than Estimated as Businesses Stock Up

The economy expanded much faster than first thought in the third quarter, as the government on Thursday revised its estimate of growth in the period to a 3.6 percent annual rate from 2.8 percent.

That was significantly better than the 3.1 percent pace economists had been expecting, and it marked the best quarter for growth since the first quarter of 2012, when output jumped by 3.7 percent. It also marked the first time since then that growth had exceeded 3 percent.

Much of the improvement came from additional stocking up on inventory by businesses as well as a slightly improved trade picture.

Bloomberg takes us to Europe and a bankster’s worries:

ECB Cuts Inflation Forecast as Draghi Pledges Low Rates

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi re-affirmed that interest rates will stay low for the foreseeable future, after officials cut their inflation forecast for next year.

“We may experience a prolonged period of low inflation,” Draghi said at a news conference in Frankfurt today, echoing language he used last month after the ECB unexpectedly cut interest rates. Today, the ECB kept its main rates unchanged.

More from Deutsche Welle:

ECB keeps powder dry to battle weak growth and low inflation in 2014

The European Central Bank has left its key interest rate at a historic low, pausing to assess the impact of its recent rate cut on the eurozone economy. But more monetary action might be needed to spur growth in 2014.

Still more from Spiegel:

Weapons of Last Resort: ECB Considers Extreme Crisis Measures

The European Central Bank wants to spur lending by banks in Southern Europe, but conventional methods have shown little success so far. On Thursday, ECB officials will consider monetary weapons that were previously considered taboo.

And then there’s this delightfully meaningful headline from EUobserver:

Central bankers don’t want their names published

A promise by the European Central Bank to publish the minutes of its meetings has been delayed by the “complexity of the issue,” one stumbling bloc being whether to publish the names of the central bankers or not, ECB chief Mario Draghi said Thursday in a press conference.

And then there’s this from EUbusiness:

Schaeuble to discuss banking union with France, EU: source

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will meet his French counterpart Pierre Moscovici and Eurogroup finance chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem Friday for talks on a planned European banking union, a source close to the talks said.

The meeting in Berlin will also include EU Commissioner Michel Barnier, the source told AFP, confirming a report in Handelsblatt business daily which said ECB board member Joerg Asmussen would also attend.

East meets West in the London Telegraph:

Europe repeating all the errors of Japan as deflation draws closer

The whole eurozone must have a higher inflation rate to lift the South far enough above the deflation line to gain breathing room

Leading the list with DutchNews.nl:

Dutch, Czechs least at risk of poverty and exclusion in Europe

More people may be classed as poor in the Netherlands but in European terms, the Dutch have the lowest risk of living in poverty and social exclusion, figures from European statistics office Eurostat show.

The figures show almost one in four people in Europe were at risk of living in poverty and isolation last year, a marginal rise on 2011.

The highest risk was in Bulgaria (49%), Romania (42%) and Latvia (38%). The Netherlands and Czech Republic had the lowest risk at 15%, followed by Finland on 17%.

From Deutsche Welle, intolerant exceptionalism:

Germany, Britain press for inner-EU migratory curbs

Germany has told EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels that it continues to oppose any inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the passport-free Schengen area. Britain has called for EU limits on freedom of movement.

More from Europe Online:

Britain demands curbs on free EU movement at Brussels talks

British Home Secretary Theresa May on Thursday demanded limits on free movement within the European Union – widely considered one of the bloc’s greatest achievements – ahead of a meeting of interior ministers in Brussels.

“We need to change the way free movement operates within the EU,” May said ahead of the talks, which were also set to tackle the recent migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.

EurActiv has a response:

Romania tells EU: ‘We are ready for Schengen when you are’

Faced with stiff opposition from older EU members, Romania is no longer asking for an accession date to the Union’s borderless Schengen area. “We are ready for Schengen when you are”, Romanian Interior Minister Radu Stroe will tell his colleagues at a meeting in Brussels today (5 December).

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has asked Stroe to tell EU ministers that Romania remains ready for Schengen accession, but will not beg for a date, as it is sick and tired of being told “next time”, the Romanian press reports.

EurActiv sounds a warning:

EU threatened by ‘rampant right-wing populism’, warns German think tank

Right-wing populist parties have established themselves with solid electorates in almost all European countries, representing a growing threat for next year’s EU elections, according to a study by the German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

Almost everywhere in Europe, right-wing populist parties have “established themselves as relevant political forces”, says a study released on Monday (2 December) by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a foundation associated with the conservative political party the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

And on another front, corporations consolidate power via New Europe:

Consultation on the modernization of EU copyright rules

The European Commission has today launched a public consultation with a view to gathering input on the modernization of EU copyright rules. Stakeholders are invited to provide their views on areas identified in the Communication on Content in the Digital Single Market, such as territoriality in the Single Market, harmonization, limitations and exceptions to copyright in the digital age; fragmentation of the EU copyright market; and on how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of enforcement in the wider context of copyright reform.

On to Britain and a bankster with BBC News:

Bank of England holds UK interest rates at record low

The Bank of England has kept interest rates at a record low of 0.5%, despite signs that the UK economy is improving.

The decision was widely expected, given governor Mark Carney’s pronouncements that the Bank would not even consider raising rates until unemployment falls below 7%.

From BBC News, the government lays out its latest agenda:

Autumn Statement: Welfare spending cap to start in 2015

Housing benefit will be included in the spending cap

The precise limit will be set in the spring of 2014, and the cap will be imposed a year later.

BBC News again with more:

Autumn Statement: Wait longer for your state pension

A life of ease will move further away for millions of workers in their 40s

In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that it would now go up to 68 sometime in the mid-2030s, rather than between 2044 and 2046 as originally planned.

That is about 10 years earlier than originally planned.

And more to come, with the London Telegraph:

State pension age: The logic that suggests it will rise to 84

The Autumn Statement outlined faster rises in the state pension age. Experts have been suggesting how high the age could eventually rise

The Irish Times takes us to Dublin and a debt demand:

Central Bank sets new, tougher mortgage resolution targets

Lenders have until next June to find solutions for 75% of customers more than 90 days in arrears

There are just under 100,000 Irish mortgage accounts more than 90 days behind in their repayments.

Germany next and another bankster story, this one from Europe Online:

Credit Suisse divests German private banking business

Credit Suisse is set to shed its German private banking branch amid efforts to divest operations with low growth potential and to focus on ultra-wealthy clients, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank said Thursday.

France next, with ominous numbers for an increasingly troubled presidency from France 24:

French unemployment hits 16-year high in third quarter

France’s unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage points to a 16-year high of 10.9 percent in the three months through September, the INSEE national statistics agency said Thursday.

Span next, with more banksters from El País:

IMF highlights solvency of Spanish banks after restructuring

The IMF’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, on Thursday had some reassuring words to say about the solvency of the Spanish banking system after restructuring. But IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission officials, in Madrid to check on Spain’s compliance with the bailout program for the sector, fretted about lenders’ weak profitability.

thinkSPAIN foresees a long, cold winter:

Spain is a nation of happy homeowners, but heating can be a problem, says INE

HOME is where the heart is in Spain, but not necessarily where the hearth is – 88.1 per cent of property owners are happy with their pad, but 18 per cent cannot heat it enough in winter, according to recent figures released by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

Much of the problem concerning heating is financial, with 25.8 per cent of households where the total income was less than 15,000 euros a year after tax being unable to get warm enough in winter, falling to 10.8 per cent among those homes with a total income of 28,800 euros a year.

El País covers the fall of another neoliberal:

Former Popular Party minister found guilty of influence peddling

A jury on Thursday found the former Popular Party (PP) premier of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, guilty of abusing his position to coerce a company into paying his wife 42,000 euros for a job she never carried out.

Portugal next with an infusion update from Xinhua:

Portugal under review for next tranche of bailout fund

International lenders arrived here Wednesday for a new review of Portugal’s progress in implementing the bailout program agreed two years ago.

During their stay in Lisbon, the representatives of the troika — comprising of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — are to meet with Portugal’s leading political party leaders, lawmakers and trade union leaders on measures and plans for the implementation of the 78 billion euro (105 billion U.S. dollars) bailout program.

Ongoing privatization news from Bloomberg:

Portugal’s Postal Service Rises as Five-Year IPO Dearth Ends

Portugal’s mail service, CTT-Correios de Portugal SA, rose on the first day of trading after the 493-year-old company held the country’s first initial public offering in five years.

The stock climbed 0.4 percent from the IPO price of 5.52 euros to close at 5.54 euros in Lisbon, giving the company a market value of 831 million euros ($1.14 billion). Earlier in the day, the shares jumped as much as 7.8 percent.

Action averted from the Portugal News:

Train strikes shelved

Portuguese train operator, CP, has revaled it has signed agreements with a raft of unions so strikes that had been announced for December and early January were now off the table.

The train operator said that the agreements covered “about 80% of the company’s work force” and ensured normal train operations.

Italy next and an upbraiding from ANSAmed:

EC berates Italy on debt again after Letta clash

Rehn’s office says supplementary budget adjustment needed

The office of European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said Thursday that Italy must do more to reduce its massive public debt, returning to an issue that has caused considerable tension between the European Commission and Rome in recent weeks.

Xinhua covers another eurocratic conversation:

Italian PM meets Van Rompuy, pledges a confidence vote on reforms

Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta met with the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy on Wednesday and pledged to step up reforms in the recession-hit country.

“I will ask a confidence vote next week to design a new majority in Parliament and bind it on a 2014 based on reforms, in order to make Italy more competitive,” Letta said in a press conference after the talks with Van Rompuy.

And TheLocal.it looks to the future:

‘Tourism is our industrial future’: Italian tycoon

Italian tycoon Diego Della Valle on Wednesday called for a vast plan to restore monuments and support tourism to boost the economy, as he announced the long-delayed start of an overhaul of the Colosseum.

The billionaire, who has built a luxury goods empire around his shoe company Tod’s, is funding the repairs on the iconic and dilapidated 2,000-year-old amphitheatre with €25 million.

“We don’t have the steel, chemical and car industries that we had 30 years ago. All that has flown away. Now we have tourism as our industrial future,” he said at a press conference with Culture Minister Massimo Bray.

Europe Online looks to the increasingly cloudy political future:

Italy’s Democratic Party set for weekend vote to elect new leader

Italy’s biggest political force, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), is set to elect a new leader on Sunday, in a process that could destabilize the grand coalition government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

The frontrunner is Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, 38, a media-savvy modernizer, who is popular in the country at large but viewed with suspicion by hardline PD voters on the grounds that he is not left-wing enough.

After the jump, Greek strikes, misery and a surrender, Black Friday comes to Russia, India’s fight for food sovereignty, Thai truce, smog and neoliberalism in China, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoAusterioFukulala


A great deal happening, so straight to it.

We begin with a peculiarly belated recognition from The Hill:

Obama: ‘Profoundly unequal’ economy a ‘fundamental threat’

President Obama on Wednesday declared that addressing income inequality would be the focus of “all” of the White House’s efforts “for the rest of my presidency.”

In a sweeping address that touched on raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure and ending tax breaks for the wealthy, Obama warned that the American economy has become “profoundly unequal,” declaring economic mobility the “challenge of our time.”

From the New York Times, more inequality on the way:

Pension Ruling in Detroit Echoes West to California

A judge’s decision in Michigan is resonating all the way to California.

The ruling by Judge Steven W. Rhodes, who is presiding in Detroit’s bankruptcy case, that public pensions are not protected from cuts could alter the course of bankrupt cities like Stockton and San Bernardino, Calif., that had been operating under the assumption that pensions were untouchable.

From Mother Jones, a good idea:

Elizabeth Warren: Big Banks Should Reveal Their Donations to Influential Think Tanks

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on the biggest US banks to disclose their donations to think tanks, which influence laws that affect them.

Under current law, banks and other corporations are not required to publicly report their contributions to think tanks. That means that lawmakers who use think tank data and analysis to shape laws and regulations designed to police banks do not know how much bank money influences that research.

From Salon, confirmation:

GOP debunked on food stamps: Everything they say about SNAP is wrong

Forget the nonsense about them breeding dependency. Food stamps increase self-sufficiency, research shows

From CNN, a well-connected not-so-newcomer:

Obama’s uncle wins immigration battle, gets OK to stay in U.S.

Onyango Okech Obama – an uncle of President Barack Obama who has been in the United States illegally for decades – has gotten a federal court’s OK to stay in his adopted country, according to an attorney representing the uncle.

Federal immigration Judge Leonard I. Shapiro in Massachusetts agreed without argument Tuesday to allow the uncle, who has been living and working in U.S. for 50 years, to stay and obtain a green card, said attorney Margaret Wong.

The Guardian covers Kochs:

ALEC calls for penalties on ‘freerider’ homeowners in assault on clean energy

  • Documents reveal conservative group’s anti-green agenda
  • Strategy to charge people who install their own solar panels
  • Environmentalists accuse Alec of protecting utility firms’ profits

From International Business Times, ars gratia, and all that:

Detroit Institute Of Arts Vows To Prevent City From Auctioning Its Collection To Pay Creditors

Declared eligible for the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy Tuesday, Detroit has found itself in the spotlight of the art world with onlookers concerned that a portion of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ precious collection may be headed to the auction block to satisfy creditors of the financially distressed city.

From Reuters, more belated action to come:

Exclusive: U.S. plans new bank fraud cases in early 2014 – attorney general

The U.S. Justice Department plans to bring civil mortgage fraud cases against several financial institutions early in 2014, using as a template the case that ended last month in JPMorgan Chase & Co’s (JPM.N) $13 billion settlement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Reuters, Holder would not say which companies or how many could face lawsuits but said the Justice Department was in contact with them and it was hard to say whether the talks would lead to settlements.

Bloomberg Businessweek covers another side of the banking world:

A Third of Bank Tellers Rely on Government Assistance, Study Says

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley calculate that almost a third of all bank tellers receive some form of government assistance, according to the Washington Post. That includes $534 million for health insurance through Medicaid and coverage for low-income children, $250 million in tax credits for low and moderate earners, and more than $100 million in food stamps. They qualify for government aid because, on average, the country’s half a million tellers earn about $25,790 a year, or $12.40 an hour (if they work a 40-hour work week), according to the most recent government data. That’s less than similar administrative jobs, and tellers are also more likely to be part-time employees.

From Reuters, just doin’ business:

Wal-Mart pays lawyer fees for dozens of executives in bribery probe

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is paying for lawyers to represent more than 30 of its executives involved in a foreign corruption investigation, according to people familiar with the matter, an unusually high number that shows the depth of the federal probe.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether Wal-Mart paid bribes in Mexico to obtain permits to open new stores there, and whether executives covered up an internal inquiry into the payments. The department is also looking into possible misconduct by the world’s largest retailer in Brazil, China and India.

From My Budget 360, reality:

Top 10 percent of US households control nearly 75 percent of all wealth – Average Americans pretend to be temporarily embarrassed millionaires by going further into debt.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore with upbeat numerals:

US trade gap shrinks to US$40.6b in October

The US trade deficit narrowed to $40.6 billion in October on a strong rise in exports, the Commerce Department reported on Wednesday.

And from the Los Angeles Times, where you can “drive right up and put a great big hot dog in your face”:

First Wienerschnitzel, symbol of L.A. car culture, now a landmark

North of the border with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Bank of Canada frets over low inflation, cites retail competition

Disinflation has become the Bank of Canada’s new worry as the central bank again left its key rate unchanged at 1 per cent.

The bank pointed to a persistent and unexpected drop in inflation caused by excess supply in the economy and heightened competition in the retail sector, where an influx of new U.S. chains is shaking up the industry.

CBC News drops a media ax:

Sun Media announces 200 layoffs

‘Cost containment’ continues at parent company Quebecor Media

And National Post has the latest Toronto mayoral folly:

Rob Ford may have offered $5,000 and car for ‘crack video’: new police documents

One of the men suspected of peddling the “crack video” of Mr. Ford said he also had pictures of the mayor “doing the hezza,” usually used as a slang term for heroin;

The New York Times covers Banksters Behaving Badly:

E.U. Imposes $2.3 Billion in Fines Over Rate-Rigging Scandal

Joining a chorus of regulators worldwide, the European Union fined a group of global financial institutions — including for the first time two American banks — a combined 1.7 billion euros to settle charges they colluded to fix benchmark interest rates.

The widely anticipated settlement, worth about $2.3 billion and announced by European Union antitrust officials on Wednesday, is the largest combined penalty ever levied by European competition authorities and marks the culmination of an investigation that dates back more than two years.

From New Europe, feeble numbers:

In the EU28 GDP increased by 0.2 per cent

Second estimate in Eurozone’s GDP

Eurozone’s GDP only grew by 0.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2013 compared with the second, recording a 0.4 per cent fall compared with the same quarter in 2012.

From Salon, a neoliberal desideratum nears completion:

Austerity is Americanizing European labor markets

Workers throughout Europe are losing their rights as their nations race to reduce the costs of labor

On to Britain with an ultimatum from the London Telegraph:

Goldman Sachs would ‘drastically’ cut its London office if the UK quits the EU

The Independent covers a national shame:

Food poverty in UK has reached level of ‘public health emergency’, warn experts

Hunger in Britain has reached the level of a “public health emergency” and the Government may be covering up the extent to which austerity and welfare cuts are adding to the problem, leading experts have said.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be “urgently” monitored.

And the BBC News covers another austerian move:

Autumn Statement: Plan to raise state pension age sooner

The date when people must be 68 to draw a state pension – formerly scheduled for 2046 – will be brought forward to the mid-2030s, Chancellor George Osborne will announce later.

Plans to be announced in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement mean the age could rise again to 69 by the late 2040s.

On to Sweden with TheLocal.se:

Sweden’s health system ‘worst in the Nordics’

Long queues to see a doctor and get treatment in Sweden have dragged the country far down a European ranking of healthcare providers, with Sweden now the worst among its Nordic neighbours despite efforts to cut waiting times.

TheLocal.se again, with another gain for the far right:

Sweden Democrats gain most in key voter survey

Sweden’s two largest political parties suffered drops in voter support, the country’s most-watched opinion poll revealed on Wednesday, while the far-fight Sweden Democrats solidified their position as Sweden’s third-largest party.

TheLocal.no covers another sign of dark feelings rising:

Foreign criminals who return face two years’ jail

Norway is set next week to vote in a ten-fold increase in the penalty for deported foreign criminals who illegally return to the country, VG newspaper has reported.

According to the proposal the penalty for breaking an expulsion order is to be increased from 35 days in prison to a maximum of two years.

On to Germany, and a Banksters Behaving Badly headline from Spiegel:

Rate Scandal: Deutsche Bank’s First Big Fine Won’t Be Its Last

Subprime mortgages, currency tricks, interest rate fixing: Wherever supervisory authorities have probed crooked deals of the past, Deutsche Bank comes up. Now Germany’s biggest bank has had to pay its first big fine. It won’t be the last.

Al Jazeera America covers terror from a quarter with deep roots:

Neo-Nazis may have been behind hundreds of unsolved German murders

Police launch review into killings first linked to immigrant groups, now thought to have involved the far right

And EUobserver has yet another instance of anti-Roma sentiments stirred up by demagogues:

German conservatives stir up ‘welfare tourism’ row

Several German conservatives are following the footsteps of their British colleagues, stoking fears about “welfare tourism” by Romanian and Bulgarians.

From Spiegel, the Americanization of German politics:

The Deal Makers: Coalition Deal Shows Rising Clout of Lobbyists

As the dust settled in Berlin, one group came out of last week’s coalition deal an unequivocal winner: Germany’s lobbyists. When it comes to shaping policy, corporate interests are wielding ever more influence on national politics.

On to France and a frayed icon from Spiegel:

Disneyland Paris: Europe’s Magic Kingdom Loses Its Magic

Disneyland Paris is currently besieged by unflattering headlines and faltering finances. Now an attempted suicide by a park employee is drawing attention to its labor practices. French unions are furious and an outspoken Belgian visitor is campaigning for big changes.

TheLocal.ch notes Swiss spending:

Swiss ready to spend more this Christmas

Swiss consumers retain a cautious outlook for the economy but are ready to spend a little more this Christmas than in the previous year, according to the 2013 Christmas retail survey by accounting and consulting company Deloitte.

The survey shows that Swiss households are budgeting an average of 807 francs (€656 or $893) for this yuletide season, up three percent from a year ago.

On to Spain, and a mob scene outside of Valencia via the London Telegraph:

IKEA gets 20,000 applications for just 400 jobs amid Spanish unemployment crisis

IKEA store’s computer servers crash after it gets 20,000 online applications for 400 jobs in just three days

TheLocal.es offers a dire assessment from a major player:

‘Spain won’t recover from crisis until 2033′

It will take Spain two decades, or until 2033, to see pre-crisis unemployment and growth levels, consultants PWC argue in a new report.

While Spain’s gross domestic product will grow 42 percent by 2033, or higher than the 26 percent of Germany and France’s 33 percent, the country won’t see pre-crisis growth levels until 2033, the PWC report argues.

A contrary view from BBC News:

Spain’s economic outlook improving, says Moody’s ratings agency

Ratings agency Moody’s has raised its outlook for Spain’s economy from “negative” to “stable”.

Moody’s said there had been a real improvement in the economy and government finances.

El País covers a neoliberal dream legally stricken:

Court rules one-year trial work contract without compensation illegal

Judgment applied to case of a laborer who was dismissed eight days before the 12-month period ended

thinkSPAIN conveys a reprimand:

Spain’s 600,000-euro fines for unauthorised demonstrations ‘problematic’, and austerity ‘a threat to human rights’, says European Commissioner

COUNCIL of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks says Spain’s controversial Public Safety Law is ‘highly problematic’ and that if it ‘goes any further’, he will ‘take it up with authorities’ in the country.

From El País, secession alliance:

Catalan pro-sovereignty parties seek deal for united ballot front

ERC will consider joint candidacy for EU parliamentary elections if independence vote goes ahead

The Portugal News covers the sale of a cherished piece of the commons:

Maximum price for CTT post office privatisation

The price of shares in the privatisation of CTT, the Portuguese postal service operator, has been set at €5.52, according to a statement from the CMVM stock market regulator.

With the first day of trading in the shares due on Thursday, the price turns out to be at the very top end of the price range set for the shares available to the public, which the government had said would be in the range of €4.10 and €5.52 earlier in November.

Italy next, and Bunga Bunga resurgence from New Europe:

Berlusconi considering running as a Bulgarian MEP

The former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is considering running in Bulgaria for the 2014 European elections.

According to the Italian media, Berlusconi is thinking to run as a candidate for the European Parliament by taking advantage of the EU law, which allows every EU citizen to run in any EU country in the European elections. The controversial Italian politician, who is banned from holding public office in Italy is also considering running in Hungary or Estonia.

Europe Online has another Bunga Bunga tale:

Berlusconi’s poodle a hit with Russia’s Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is smitten with Silvio Berlusconi’s adopted white poodle, pictures published Wednesday show.

Putin paid Berlusconi a two-and-a-half-hour visit on November 26, a day before the Italian conservative leader and former prime minister was expelled from parliament due to a tax fraud conviction.

EUbusiness covers intolerance rising:

Italy minister hit by racist slurs warns over populism

Italy’s first black minister Cecile Kyenge, who has been deluged with racist slurs since her appointment in April, urged Europe’s leaders on Wednesday not to spread populism or use it to win votes.

“There has a been a rise in episodes of racism in many countries, probably linked to the economic crisis but also to a lack of knowledge about what European values really stand for,” Kyenge said at a press conference.

After the jump, the Greek meltdown continues, India fights for food, Chinese neoliberalism deepens, Japanese uncertainty vexes, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Eco/Fukububble


The impetus behind these headline collections is our personal drive to understand currents at work in this world we share, and to share our understandings with whoever cares to pay heed.

That’s about as neat a way of defining the journalist-by-avocation, a deeply endangered species in this austerity-dominated environment.

We were driven to try to understand by the circumstances of our childhood, and we are possessed of both a certain set of skills and a persistence driven by an imperative that has, too often, run afoul of forces that prevail in a once significantly more secure and economically rewarding.

One of the great joys of the newsroom in those analog days where folks got modestly but comfortably paid to spend their das turning over rocks was the access to an ongoing flow of uo-to-the-minute news — provided first by noisy impact printers fueled by ink ribbons impressing letters on rolls of paper.

We spent good portions of our days in “wirerooms,” reading the news as keys hammered out the letters on constantly fed newsprint.

Computers came next, with newswires feeding into newsroom mainframes and out to terminals. Between stories, green character danced on blackbackgrounds on cathode ray tubes as you searched the queues for the latest works of wire service reporters and member media.

With a wide range of input, our own experience from years of digging, and a relentless curiosity, we have been working a long list of global news sources, seeking threads to weave together in a sort of linear gestalt in which we discern patterns for your consideration.

On with today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental, starting with a telling headline from Spiegel:

Feeding the Bubble: Is the Next Crash Brewing?

Twitter executives and founders at the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7 clap as their company launches its initial public offering.

Central banks around the world are pumping trillions into the economy. The goal is to stimulate growth, but their actions are also driving up prices in the real estate and equities markets. The question is no longer whether there will be a crash, but when.

Another telling sign of bubbledom from Business Insider:

Institutions Have Been Dumping Billions Of Dollars Of Stocks All Year, But Now The Selling Is Really Accelerating

Ditto, from SINA English:

Global housing market returns to bubble territory

It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis, along with the severe recession that followed. While the US is the best-known case, a combination of lax regulation and supervision of banks and low policy interest rates fueled similar bubbles in the UK, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Dubai.

Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London). In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centers in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

From the New York Times, reconsidering another form of austerity:

Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance

Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.

From the New York Times, unhealthy inflation:

As Hospital Prices Soar, a Single Stitch Tops $500

A day spent as an inpatient at an American hospital costs on average more than $4,000, five times the charge in many other developed countries, according to the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurance industries. The most expensive hospitals charge more than $12,500 a day. And at many of them, including California Pacific Medical Center, emergency rooms are profit centers. That is why one of the simplest and oldest medical procedures — closing a wound with a needle and thread — typically leads to bills of at least $1,500 and often much more.

From NBC News, have we got a deal for you:

Wal-Mart’s hottest Black Friday seller was a 29-cent towel

The must-have item at Wal-Mart on “Black Friday” wasn’t a mega TV, sleek tablet or the latest giggling Elmo. It was towels.

It’s a sign of the times that consumers battered by a recovery that has boosted corporate profits but has done little to raise their own bottom lines are reduced to scrapping over basic bathroom supplies.

From the Contributor Network, corporate parasitism:

Fast Food Giants Starve Workers’ Wages, Gorge on Taxpayers

As the nation’s largest fast food giants continue to push back against the ongoing fight for better wages by fast food workers across the country, a report released Monday reveals a world in which those companies are “pocketing massive taxpayer subsidies” as they feed their CEOs’ growing paychecks.

According to the report, Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay, published by the Institute for Policy Studies, current tax code allows corporations such as Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s “to deduct unlimited amounts from their income taxes for the cost of stock options, certain stock grants, and other forms of so-called ‘performance pay’ for top executives,” meaning that the more corporations pay their top earners, the less they pay in federal taxes.

From Al Jazeera America, stirrings in the new underclass:

Workers of the (finance) world unite – and unionize

New effort to organize low-wage bank workers in US targets entire industry

Gettin’ by with Bloomberg:

Americans Due to Replace Oldest Goods Since JFK; Jewelry? FDR

Americans have been holding on to their wobbly washing machines and sagging sofas even longer than their grandparents did 50 years ago, setting the stage for a rebound in consumer spending as old household goods wear out.

The average age of consumer durable goods — long-lasting items such as furniture, appliances and computers — is the highest since 1962, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis dating to 1925. Among things Americans are keeping for the longest time: jewelry and wristwatches and home and garden tools like lawnmowers.

From The Guardian, what we suspect is more a temporary setback than signs of defeat [think rebranding]:

ALEC facing funding crisis from donor exodus in wake of Trayvon Martin row

  • Rightwing lobby group appealing to major donors to return
  • Internal documents reveal so-called ‘Prodigal Son Project’
  • Network lost almost 400 state legislators over past two years

CNBC covers a candidate:

Detroit eligible for bankruptcy protection: Judge

A federal judge presiding over Detroit’s bankruptcy hearing said on Tuesday the city is eligible for bankruptcy protection.

The long-awaited decision will pit the city’s finance officials against its unions, creditors and retirees, ahead of what are expected to be steep cuts in pensions, as well as fire sales of treasured assets. The ruling is expected to be appealed.

From Reuters, another diagnosis:

Companies, academics say budget cuts threaten U.S. competitiveness

Mandatory U.S. budget cuts known as sequestration are resulting in job losses across the country and threaten to undermine U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, industry executives and academics said on Monday, urging Congress to reverse the cuts.

The Guardian covers a related cause for concern:

‘A picture of educational stagnation’: study finds US teen students lagging

US students scored at international average in science and reading and far below in math, while Asian nations dominated

Al Jazeera America covers another austerian cost:

Arizona’s privatized prison health care under fire after deaths

A year and a half ago, the state handed over prison healthcare to a private, for-profit company. Legislators who supported the privatization promised that it would save taxpayers money, while maintaining adequate levels of care for inmates. At least 27 other states have also privatized prison health care, rewarding private companies for keeping costs down.

But there are studies showing prisoners could be suffering as a result. An October report from the American Friends Services Committee in Arizona found that since the state privatized its prison health care, medical spending in prisons dropped by $30 million and staffing levels plummeted. It also found a sharp spike in the number of inmate deaths. In the first eight months of 2013, 50 people died in Arizona Department of Corrections custody, compared with 37 deaths in the previous two years combined.

Heading north of the border with Boing Boing and another corporate power-and-wealth grab:

ACTA about to be quietly written into Canadian law

Widespread, global protests killed ACTA, the secretive, over-reaching “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement,” which imposed brutal copyright rules on its signatories. But now, the Canadian Conservatives have introduced Bill C-8, which turns ACTA’s provisions into Canadian law, and they’re fast-tracking it through with little debate or public input.

From BBC News, UC Berkeley’s corporate sponsor recruits a powerful ally:

BP gets UK government support over US contracts ban

The UK government has intervened in support of BP over a US ban on the oil major seeking federal contracts. In a court filing lodged as part of BP’s appeal against the ban, the document says the move could be “excessive” and “destabilising”.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) barred BP from new contracts last year, after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster in which 11 workers died.

Quartz covers a parallel regional development:

How US trade negotiators are secretly changing intellectual-property law

If someone buys a book in Thailand, should she be able to sell it to a used bookstore—or anyone else—in the US? The US Supreme Court says yes. But US trade negotiators say no, and they’re working to make sure the same prohibition would apply around the world.

From EurActiv fears of another corporate power-and-wealth grab in progress:

NGOs fear TTIP clauses will affect EU chemicals regulation

Last week, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could include Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures which will not allow foreign investors to go to court in the US. Green Party observers have called the statement ‘astonishing’.

Speaking at a committee meeting in the European Parliament, de Gucht reportedly promised to check whether such settlements would allow lawsuits over health sector privatisations.

On to Europe, starting with an alert from ANSAmed:

Austerity poses a risk to citizen rights, Council of Europe

The austerity measures brought in by European governments are threatening the economic, social, political and civil rights of its citizens, said Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks

From EUbusiness, another alert:

Commissioner warns of far-right surge at May polls

European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem voiced concern Tuesday that the EU Parliament will shift toward the far right in elections set for May.

While Reuters covers a fine time for Banksters Behaving Badly:

EU readies multi-million euro benchmark rigging fines: sources

EU antitrust regulators will impose record multi-million euro fines on six banks including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland on Wednesday for rigging key interest rate benchmarks, sources said.

British news begins with a headline from Global Times:

Cameron backs free trade

British Prime Minister David Cameron commenced a three-day visit to China on Monday with a 100-strong business delegation, the largest of its kind, and pledged to lay the groundwork for a free trade deal between Beijing and the European Union.

Cameron said the scale of the business delegation “mirrors the scale of the ambition that we have for the British-China partnership.”

While South China Morning Post covers the reception give Tory grandiosity:

Tiny old Britain? It’s only good for study and travel, says China’s state media

As British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a charm offensive at Shanghai Jiao Tong University yesterday, a state-owned newspaper derided the United Kingdom as merely a destination for Chinese students and tourists.

From The Guardian, British bubbling:

Bank of England committee flags up housing market concerns

Financial policy committee ‘concerned about potential risks to financial stability’ from possible housing bubble

From BBC News, selling off the commons to fix the commons:

UK government’s infrastructure spending plan unveiled

A plan to boost infrastructure spending in the UK over the next two decades is being unveiled by the government. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) includes the government selling off its 40% stake in the Eurostar rail service.

In all, about £375bn of investment in energy, transport, communications, and water projects is planned.

An Irish item from Independent.ie:

Squeeze on household finances hits consumer confidence

Consumer sentiment fell to 71 in November from 76.2 in October, according to the KBC Bank/ESRI index.

Austin Hughes of KBC Bank said the fall indicated that the recovery in the economy was still fragile.

On to the Netherlands, with anti-Roma xenophobia from EUobserver:

Dutch against opening up to Romanians and Bulgarians

Eighty percent of Dutch people are against lifting restrictions on 1 January to allow Romanians and Bulgarians to come and work in the Netherlands. The poll of 1,800 people, carried out by Maurice de Hond, found that among supporters of the PVV – an anti-EU party – it is 100%.

From DutchNews.nl, poverty numeration:

1.2 million Dutch households below poverty line, 11% of children are poor

At least 1.2 million people were living in poverty in the Netherlands last year, a rise of over 150,000 people on 2011, according to a new report.

Research by the national statistics office CBS and the government’s socio-cultural think-tank SCP, shows 7.6% of the population is now living below the poverty line. Last year’s rise is the sharpest since the economic crisis began in 2008.

Germany next, with more bankster news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Germany’s Commerzbank raided in client tax probe

German authorities on Tuesday raided some 40 branches of Commerzbank, the country’s second biggest bank, over suspected tax fraud by hundreds of clients, the bank and prosecutors said.

From TheLocal.de, inflationary:

Crop failures push up German food prices

Food in Germany was more expensive this year, with some crops such as potatoes costing nearly half as much again as in 2012.

The cold winter, floods in June and a particularly hot summer are being blamed for crop failures leading to an above-inflation jump in German food prices over the past 12 months.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, another sign of the times:

Refugee Protests Leave Berlin Divided

A refugee slams a briefcase down on the table, snaps it open and takes out a series of plastic cards. “Here,” he says, “health card from Italy, residence permit, identity card. We have everything. Our asylum cases are complete. We’re allowed to move around in Europe, but we’re not allowed to work, not at all.”

It is Thursday morning in the Berlin district of Wedding. We are in a former retirement home that is now run by charity organization Caritas, and houses 80 refugees. Almost all are men from African countries. Many made the perilous journey from Libya to Lampedusa, and from there were sent on an odyssey through Europe. They were most recently living in tents on Oranienplatz square in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, protesting against deportations and unfair asylum laws.

France next, with austerian receptivity from TheLocal.fr:

Most French ‘ready to sacrifice public services’

Traditionally the French place a high value on their public services but as the economic crisis takes hold it appears the mood might be changing, according to the results of new poll published this week that were described “taboo-breaking”.

A majority of French people believe that it is now necessary to close some public services and lay off civil servants in order to help reduce public deficit, according to a new poll.

TheLocal.fr again, with another sign of the times:

Inequality on the increase in French education

The three-yearly Pisa report by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) published on Tuesday revealed that France has dropped three places in the global rankings compared to 2009, the last time the study was carried out.

The overall rankings for 2012, based on the performances of 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading, were dominated by Asian countries with France coming in 25th place out of 65.

On to Spain with El País and banksters behaving frugally:

Lending to households suffers record fall as banks remain parsimonious after bailout

Company credit also slumps to lowest level since 2007

ThinkSpain has Bankster Behaving Badly:

Novagalicia Bank fined for selling shares to baby

A BANK has been ordered to pay compensation after knowingly selling shares to a four-month-old baby.

The court of Ponferrada (León province) has declared the sale contract between the infant and Novagalicia Banco (NGB) null and void, and instructed the entity to refund the 4,800 euros it invested in subordinate shares, plus interest and legal costs.

From TheLocal.es, divisions:

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.

El País has mixed signals:

Unemployment falls in November for the first time in decades

Opposition points to falling Social Security affiliation as sign of declining active population due to emigration

And from ThinkSpain, going down?:

Spain falls 10 places on world corruption index, reveals Transparency

SPAIN is 40th out of a list of 177 countries on the world ‘corruption scale’, with number 177 – the most corrupt – being Somalia, according to figures released by a German charity.

On to Italy with TheLocal.it, and company for Spain:

Italy among most corrupt countries in Europe

Italy has been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, although it is slightly less corrupt than a year ago, according to Transparency International’s annual index released on Tuesday.

Italy came 69th in the list of 177 countries and territories in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The country’s public sector is perceived to be more corrupt than dozens of other nations including Saudi Arabia and Cuba, which came in joint 63rd place.

TheLocal.it with one reason why:

‘Anti-mafia’ mayor arrested for mafia ties

A mayor described as an “anti-mafia icon” has been put under house arrest for allegedly buying votes of the mafia she campaigned against, Italian media reported on Tuesday.

Carolina Girasole was arrested on Tuesday morning in Isola Capo Rizzuto, where she served as mayor from 2008 to 2013, La Repubblica reported.

A troikarch delivers a slam, via TheLocal.it:

Italy ‘failing to cut debt quickly enough’

Italy is failing to cut debt quickly enough but is past the worst of its crisis, the EU’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an interview in La Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday.

“Italy should respect a certain speed of debt reduction, and it is not doing so. The structural adjustment should have been equal to half a percentage point of gross domestic product, and it is only 0.1 percent,” he said.

The New York Times has the response:

PM Letta Raps EU’s Rehn for Sceptical Comments on Italy

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Tuesday criticised European Commissioner Olli Rehn for expressing scepticism about Italy’s ability to respect pledges to cut its public debt.

The economic and monetary affairs commissioner warned in a newspaper interview that Italy was not cutting its debt fast enough and he “had to be sceptical” over its plans to cut spending and sell state assets.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Ukrainian upheaval, Russian violence, change in Cuba, Brazilian slowdowns and setbacks, Indian concerns, Thai troubles, the Chinese neoliberal push, mixed Japanese signals, environmental notes, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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