Today’s compilation of economic, political, and environmental developments opens with a somber statement from the Economic Times:
US economy may be stuck in slow lane for long run
Two straight weak job reports have raised doubts about economists’ predictions of breakout growth in 2014. The global economy is showing signs of slowing _ again. Manufacturing has slumped. Fewer people are signing contracts to buy homes. Global stock markets have sunk as anxiety has gripped developing nations.
Some long-term trends are equally dispiriting.
The Congressional Budget Office foresees growth picking up through 2016, only to weaken starting in 2017. By the CBO’s reckoning, the economy will soon slam into a demographic wall: The vast baby boom generation will retire. Their exodus will shrink the share of Americans who are working, which will hamper the economy’s ability to accelerate.
At the same time, the government may have to borrow more, raise taxes or cut spending to support Social Security and Medicare for those retirees.
From the Daily Dot, the latest from the party of family values:
Are fake candidate websites the new political attack ads?
Republican politicians finally figured out how to use the Internet as a campaign tool, and they’re really proud of themselves. Unfortunately, the GOP’s newfound Web savvy has taken the form of a campaign program that’s ethically questionable, intensely negative, and may or may not be against the law.
The National Republican Congressional Committee created a spate of fake websites for Democratic candidates that at first glance look like normal, legit sites, but then rip into the candidate in the text. The faux sites also have donation forms that send funds to the NRCC. There are several fake microsites up now, and the committee says it’s buying up URLs to create even more.
So is this shit even legal? It’s not an easy thing to answer. The spoof sites teeter on the fine line between parody and fraud, and the devil is in the details of the election law. According to Federal Election Commission regulations, political groups can’t use a candidate’s name in a “special project”—like a website—unless it “clearly and unambiguously shows opposition to the named candidate.”
Cementing class divisions with the San Jose Mercury News:
High prices sending Bay Area renters and homebuyers to outlying communities
Squeezed by astronomical home prices and rents that are almost as unaffordable, a growing number of Bay Area residents are pulling up stakes and trading long commutes for cheaper housing.
They’re heading to places like Tracy, Mountain House, Patterson, Hollister and Los Banos. Some are buying bigger homes and others are renting for much less, hoping to put money aside for a down payment of their own one day, in a replay of the eastward migration during the dot-com boom.
“Rentals in the Bay Area are just too high,” said Alma Gomez, an administrative assistant for Union City who’s heading east with her family.
The San Francisco Chronicle covers another kind of costly leak:
Bay Bridge’s new problem: leaks
The just-opened eastern span of the Bay Bridge, already beset by questions about flawed welds and cracked steel rods, has a new problem: It leaks.
Rainwater is dripping into the steel structure beneath the road deck on the suspension stretch of the span, which is supposed to be watertight, Caltrans said. Outside experts say that could pose a risk of corrosion on a bridge that cost $6.4 billion and is supposed to last well into the 22nd century.
“That’s a problem, a big problem,” said Lisa Thomas, a metallurgical engineer who studies material failure at a laboratory in Berkeley and analyzed bridge rods that snapped last year. “They want it to last 150 years, but with water coming in, something is going to corrode until it’s too thin and weak.”
From the Washington Post removing pedal appendage from orifice:
AOL chief reverses changes to 401(k) policy after a week of bad publicity
AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong told employees in an e-mail Saturday evening that he was reversing the company’s 401(k) policy and apologized for his controversial comments last week.
“The leadership team and I listened to your feedback over the last week,” Armstrong wrote in his e-mail to the company. “We heard you on this topic. And as we discussed the matter over several days, with management and employees, we have decided to change the policy back to a per-pay-period matching contribution.”
The policy change would have switched 401(k) matching contributions to an annual lump sum, rather than being distributed throughout the year with every paycheck. The switch would have punished employees who quit or were fired mid-year. It would also have cost employees who stayed, since they would not see the benefits of compounding in their retirement accounts.
The Financial Express covers funny money:
Bitcoin gang inches towards 100-member mark, hits $13-bn value
Enhanced regulatory oversight in India and other countries seems to be having little impact on spread of bitcoins and other virtual currencies, whose number is fast moving towards a century with a total valuation of close to USD 13 billion.
A number of new entrants, such as bitgem, catcoin, unobtanium and sexcoin, have arrived on the scene even as regulators across the world grapple with risks posed by such currencies and transactions conducted through them.
At least 93 virtual currencies are at present being used by people across the world over the internet, as also for some offline transactions, and their total valuation has reached USD 13 billion (over Rs 80,000 crore), out of which bitcoin alone accounts for over USD nine billion, according to market estimates.
At end of December last year, the number of virtual currencies stood at 67.
Of to Europe and a cautionary note from the London Telegraph:
Eurozone banks face £42bn ‘capital black hole’
Government adviser Davide Serra says this year’s stress tests by European authorities are likely to find fresh problems in the eurozone banks.
Eurozone banks are facing a new capital black hole of as much as €50bn (£42bn), according to one of the UK’s most respected financial analysts.
Davide Serra, the chief executive of Algebris, who advises the Government on banking, said that this year’s stress tests by the European Banking Authority and the European Central Bank were likely to find fresh problems in the eurozone banks.
He said that Germany had one of “the worst banking systems in the world” and that three or four regional Landesbanken were likely to be wound up. He also said banks in Portugal and Greece were likely to need more capital.
Britain next and life at the bottom of the pyramid from The Independent:
Working poor trapped in unbreakable cycle of poverty turn to food banks in their lunch breaks
Millions of low-paid workers are trapped in an unbreakable cycle of poverty, and are even turning up at food banks in their lunch breaks asking for help to feed their families, the Archbishop of York warns.
Dr John Sentamu, writing in The Independent, says low pay is a “scourge on our society” and challenges David Cameron to back up his “warm words” with action to boost the incomes of the working poor.
An independent commission chaired by the Archbishop says the economic recovery will make no difference to the lives of the five million lowest-paid workers unless they paid the so-called “living wage”.
They are being suffering a “double squeeze” on their incomes as their wages remain stagnant and their and living costs rise steadily.
Bankster insecurity from The Guardian:
Barclays blasted over ‘catastrophic’ theft of thousands of customer files
- Files containing names, addresses, medical details and NI numbers have allegedly been sold for use by scammers
Barclays is under scrutiny by regulators and could face a hefty fine after thousands of confidential customer files were stolen in a data breach described as catastrophic by an adviser to the business secretary, Vince Cable.
The files, containing details on 2,000 individuals including their names, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers, mortgages and levels of savings, were allegedly sold for use in boiler-room scams, in which vulnerable savers are snared into fraudulent investments.
“This is catastrophic, just awful,” the Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, who is parliamentary private secretary to Cable and has campaigned on mis-selling by banks, told the Guardian. “What protections have Barclays got in place? Are the police going to pursue this, are they going to prosecute, and is someone going to go to jail for this? They should do.”
From The Independent, playing to the base of the base:
David Cameron accused of ‘pandering’ to xenophobia with rhetoric on immigration
Laszlo Andor, the Employment Commissioner, who has previously attacked the Government for its “nasty” curbs on benefits for foreign nationals, will step up his attack during a visit to Britain.
He will accuse politicians of avoiding the “inconvenient truth” that most migrants move for work and are an “asset” to economies like Britain’s with an ageing population.
Mr Andor will warn the Prime Minister he cannot base policy on “perceptions, gut feelings or anecdotes”.
In a speech in Bristol, he will say: “Politicians should be responsible enough to talk about facts, rather than to pander to prejudice, or in the worst cases, xenophobia.”
The Observer crowns hypocrisy:
Royal estates ‘fail to meet targets to build affordable homes’
- Study finds Crown Estate and Duchy of Cornwall regularly get councils to cut ratios of affordable homes on cost grounds
Two of Britain’s largest landowning bodies, which between them generate millions of pounds a year for the Queen and Prince Charles, are regularly failing to meet affordable housing targets when building new homes on their land.
Amid an escalating housing crisis, planning documents unearthed by the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveal that both the Crown Estate and the Duchy of Cornwall are persuading councils to allow them to cut their affordable housing quotas on the grounds that meeting them would be too expensive.
An investigation by the bureau for the Observer has examined the two landowners’ plans to build 4,299 homes in 31 schemes. Of these, 14 developments, set to produce 2,470 units, fail to meet local targets, resulting in at least 213 fewer affordable homes being built. The bureau also found that 10 of the 19 largest Crown Estate developments have not or will not meet affordable housing targets.
And New Europe bubbles:
London housing market under price bubbles risk
Housing market in London is beginning to show signs of bubble-like conditions, said a research report issued by Ernst and Young Item Club (EY ITEM Club) on Monday, while asking the government to monitor the trend closely and be prepared to intervene.
The EY ITEM Club forecast showed the average house price in London is expected to reach nearly £600,000 by 2018, some 3.5 times the average price in Northern Ireland and more than 3.3 times the average in the North East.
It said the average house prices in Britain growing by 8.4% this year and 7.3% in 2015, before cooling to around 5.5% in 2016. House prices would show a regional divergence. Outside of London and the South East, the regions with the highest levels of house price growth are expected to be the South West and East of England, both set to grow by 6.2% from 2013-18.
Switzerland next and job-creating electoral results from TheLocal.ch:
Voters back national rail infrastructure plan
A project to boost financing for passenger rail infrastructure won widespread support from Swiss voters in a national referendum on Sunday.
More than 62 percent of the electorate voted for the improvements designed to improve train service through 6.4 billion francs’ worth of projects between now and 2025.
The plan will also add an extra billion francs a year to the four billion francs already allocated annually for rail infrastructure and maintenance.
It will allow for improvements to service on Lausanne-Geneva, Bern-Lucerne, Zurich-Chur, Lucerne-Giswil, Bellinzona-Tenero and Zurich-Fiesch routes, according to the federal government, which backed the proposal.
The expansion gives the green light for the financing of such projects as the expansion of Geneva’s main train station Cornavin (790 million francs) and a billion-franc modernization of the Lausanne station and its links with Renens, the nearby suburb.
While BBC News has another electoral result, and a possible Swiss miss:
Swiss immigration: 50.3% back quotas, final results show
Swiss voters have narrowly backed a referendum proposal to bring back strict quotas for immigration from European Union countries.
Final results showed 50.3% voted in favour. The vote invalidates the Swiss-EU agreement on freedom of movement.
Fiercely independent Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but has adopted large sections of EU policy. Brussels said it regretted the outcome of the vote and would examine its implications.
A Yes vote of more than 50% was needed for the referendum to pass.
On to Spain and life on the sombra side from TheLocal.es:
Spain’s shadow economy flourishes in downturn
Spain’s shadow economy — where cash is king, there are no contracts and the taxman is cut out of the equation — is flourishing amid an economic downturn that has pushed the jobless rate to 26 percent.
Economists estimate Spain’s underground economy equals 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The parallel economy “unfortunately is a longtime problem” in Spain, which “has worsened due to the economic crisis”, said Santos Nogales of the UGT, Spain’s second-largest labour union.
“Undeclared work does not distinguish between nationalities. It touches immigrants and many Spaniards,” he added.
thinkSPAIN delivers a shock:
New electricity bill structure ‘penalises energy saving’ and increases costs for low-use households, say consumer groups
CONSUMER protection groups have criticised the government’s new electricity billing structure as it ‘penalises’ those who use the least power and does not provide any incentive to save on energy consumption.
A year ago, the ‘fixed’ part of a household bill accounted for 35 per cent and the variable part, relating to consumption, was 65 per cent, but this was changed last July with a gradual move towards the standing charge taking up a higher percentage of what is paid by residential homes.
Now that this gradual migration has finished, from this week onwards, the fixed charge will be 60 per cent of the bill and the variable consumption-related part 40 per cent.
While New Europe lays off:
Jobless total spikes
Spanish government figures show that the number of people registered as unemployed has risen by 113,097 as temporary job contracts created over Christmas come to an end, AP reported.
On 4 February, the Labor Ministry said the reduction put the total number of those registered in unemployment offices at 4.81 million in January. Year-on-year, the figure was down 166,343.
Quarterly unemployment surveys – seen as more accurate by economists – show Spain’s unemployment rate was 26% in the fourth quarter of 2013, with six million people out of work. The rate is the second highest in the 28-country European Union after Greece.
Spain is battling to recover from a two-year recession. However, the government insists the economy is improving and will create jobs in 2014. Almost 100,000 people were laid off from the services sector, while employment also fell in agriculture, by 8,110 people and in industry, by 3,577.
And from TheLocal.es, not a crowning glory:
Spain princess ‘evasive’ in fraud hearing
Spain’s princess Cristina tried to distance herself from unprecedented fraud accusations Saturday, telling a judge she had simply trusted her husband, one of the lawyers in the courtroom said.
Spanish King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter was “evasive” as she testified as a criminal suspect in the Palma de Majorca court, said Manuel Delgado, a lawyer for a civil party in the case, left-wing association Frente Civico.
The first direct member of the Spanish royal family in history to face such a hearing, the 48-year-old blonde Cristina said she “had great trust in her husband”, the lawyer told reporters during a break in the proceedings.
Long thought untouchable as a royal, Cristina finds herself at the centre of the scandal, accused of being complicit in the allegedly fraudulent business dealings of her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, who is also under investigation.
While Al Jazeera America covers the culture wars:
Thousands protest proposed abortion restrictions in Spain
Thousands of women marched in the streets of Madrid Saturday to protest against the Spanish government’s plan to limit access to abortion, which could force many women to travel abroad to obtain the procedure.
Protesters chanted “Freedom of abortion!” and waved signs such as “MPs and rosaries, out of my ovaries”, targeting the Catholic Church as the supposed driver of the new restrictions.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government said in December it would eliminate a 2010 law that allows women to opt for an abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The new legislation would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.
After the jump, Greek protests and woes, outrage in Bosnia, crisis in the Ukraine, Mexico rising, hard times in South Korean heavy industry, Chinese austerity and an exodus, Japanese corporate games, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading