Category Archives: Development

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFukuFolly

We begin today’s headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms with the inevitable outcome of a healthcare system that isn’t public, via the New York Times:

Health Care Law May Result in 2 Million Fewer Full-Time Workers

A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office says that the Affordable Care Act will result in more than 2 million fewer full-time workers in the next several years, providing Republican opponents of the law a powerful political weapon leading up to this years midterm elections.

The law is also expected to have a significant effect on hours worked, the nonpartisan budget office said in a regular update to its budget projections released Tuesday. With the expansion of insurance coverage, more workers will choose not to work and others will choose to work fewer hours than they might have otherwise, it said. The decline in hours worked will translate into a loss of the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time positions by 2024, the budget office said.

Republicans immediately seized on the report as evidence of the health care law’s adverse effect on the economy.

From USA TODAY, third third state?:

Alaska moves toward August vote on legal pot

Alaska could be the next state to reconsider the prohibition on marijuana, following legalization votes by Colorado and Washington last year.

Alaska elections officials posted data Tuesday showing that a petition for a statewide vote on marijuana legalization has gained enough signatures and met legal thresholds needed to put the issue before voters.

Under Alaska law, the petition when officially certified would appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot. No formal opposition to the initiative has emerged thus far.

Reuters readies the job ax:

RadioShack to close about 500 stores: WSJ

U.S. electronics chain RadioShack Corp is planning to close about 500 stores within months, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The struggling retailer, which is due to report results for the fourth quarter later this month, said it could not comment on rumor or speculation.

RadioShack has been working with bankers from Peter J Solomon Co to boost its liquidity and with AlixPartners on its operational turnaround.

Its sales have been in free-fall amid executive departures, strong competition and an image problem. Despite its ubiquitous presence in the United States, analysts say it has not done enough to transform itself into a destination for mobile phone shoppers, nor has it become hip enough to woo younger shoppers.

And another ax-wielder from the New York Post:

500 layoffs expected today at Time Inc.

Tuesday is D-day at Time Inc.

Around mid-morning, staffers are expected to start hearing how deep the cuts will be as Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp unveils what is likely the last big downsizing before Time Warner spins off the publishing group as a separate company later this year.

“It’s very nerve racking,” said one source inside the company that publishes People, Time, Sports Illustrated and In Style.

The recently acquired American Express Publishing and the London-based IPC subsidiary, are expected to be particularly hard hit.

Out first global headline, via The Independent:

Das Capital: Trust in banks wanes as savers find other ways to protect their money

  • The ultra-rich are switching to real assets – gold, commodities, farm land

All systems – social, cultural, spiritual, economic and financial – rely on trust. Policy makers are now systematically undermining trust in institutions, turning to financial repression in attempting to deal with the economic crisis.

Current government policies focus on low interest rates, with returns artificially set below the true inflation rate. Where interest rates are near zero, governments print money, manipulating the amount rather than the price of money.

These measures reduce borrowing costs allowing borrowers to maintain high levels of debt. Rates below that of inflation help reduce the value of the debt, effectively decreasing the amount that must be paid back in economic terms. The policy subsidises borrowers at the expense of savers.

The London Telegraph sounds a warning:

Emerging markets more vulnerable than ever to Fed tightening, warns BIS

  • Bank for International Settlements says there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries

Emerging markets may be even more vulnerable to an interest rate shock today than they were during the East Asia crisis in 1998, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has warned.

The Swiss-based watchdog said there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries, leaving them exposed to “powerful feedback” risks as borrowing costs rise in the West.

“The deeper integration of emerging market economies into global debt markets has made emerging market bond markets much more sensitive to bond market developments in the advanced economies,” the BIS said in a working paper.

New Europe pontif-icates:

Pope warns that ‘unjust’ unemployment can lead to sin, moral destitution and even suicide

Francis discussed three types of destitution — material, moral and spiritual — in his first message for Lent, the solemn period leading up to Holy Week and Easter, that was released Tuesday.

Moral destitution, he said, “consists of slavery to vice and sin” such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.

He noted that sometimes “unjust social conditions” like unemployment lead to this type of destitution by depriving people of the dignity of work and access to education and health care.

“In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide.”

How, then, about folks who are doing quite well, Say, such as the consumers of this little joy from the London Daily Mail:

The Mile-Low Club: Travel company launches £175k Valentine’s Day submarine package with interior design of your choice and aphrodisiac menu (flights to the mooring not included)

  • Luxury travel company unveil submarine treat whereby couples can choose to harbour wherever they like
  • Also includes aphrodisiac menu featuring champagne and oysters
  • The bespoke submarine will actually travel 200m under the water
  • Price for a basic vessel starts at £175,000
  • Extras including helicopter transfers, entertaining rooms and champagne breakfast available

And from, the crabby old man was right:

Too much reality TV ‘harms pupils’ grades’

Have you ever been worried that too much reality TV might be frying your brain or more to the point your kids’ brains? Well you better read on.

Parents everywhere have been muttering it under their breaths for years and now French researchers claim to have dealt conclusive proof.

A study by the Ministry of Education linked body DEPP (Direction of Evaluation, forecasting and performance) shows a dramatic reduction in results for 15-year-old pupils who watch too much reality TV.

The study, which relied on stats from the Ministry of Education, looked at the impact on grades of the typical activities of young kids in France from playing video games to listening to music and sending texts to friends but it was watching shows like The Voice,  Koh Lanta (the French version of Survivor)  or the Infamous Angels of Reality TV, featuring Nabilla (pictured) that appears to have the most detrimental impact on standards.

“It is the frequent watching of reality TV programmes that impacts the most negatively on the cognitive and academic performances,” said the study.

On to Europe and intolerant umbrage from EUobserver:

MEP receives 41,000 emails against gay rights

An MEP who drafted a resolution on securing the basic rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) people in the EU has so far received almost 41,000 emails against the proposal.

“My website was hacked as well, I don’t know who it was from. It might be coincidence, it might not be a coincidence,” Green Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek told the Strasbourg assembly on Monday (3 February).

A large banner which says “Warning – visiting this website may harm your computer!” has replaced her personal site since last week.

Her office said they are working to get it back to normal. They suspect it was hacked by ultra-conservative groups.

Casting a cynical eye with EUbusiness:

Ombudsman wants EU probed for corruption

The European Union’s own institutions should be probed for corruption, the EU’s watchdog said Tuesday, a day after Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem described the bloc’s graft problem as “breathtaking.”

“The EU administration has to live up to the very highest standards,” European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in a statement, adding that it largely does so and compares favourably with many member states.

However, it should not be complacent, and accordingly, O’Reilly encouraged the European Commission to “include the EU institutions in the next Anti-Corruption Report.”

On to Germany and action in Berlin from MintPress News:

Fed Up With Agribusiness, Protesters Take To The Streets In Berlin

The protesters said agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes, and damages the environment and biodiversity.

United under the declaration, “we are fed up,” around 30,000 people from several associations representing farmers, beekeepers and consumers, as well as environmental, development and food organizations, gathered in Berlin to demonstrate against large-scale agribusiness.

The protesters said that agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes and damages the environment and biodiversity. They demanded environmentally friendly farming, protection for bees, access to land and healthy, affordable food for all. They’re also seeking fair prices for farmers, an end to hunger, food scandals, monocultures, GMOs and land grabs by governments and investors.

Escorted by some 70 tractors, they marched through the streets of the German capital, from Potsdamer Platz to the government buildings of the Ministry of Agriculture and the offices of the federal chancellor. The demonstrators expressed their demands to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

On to France and a taxing threat from EUbusiness:

French to make 1 bn euro tax claim against Google: report

French authorities have decided to make a tax claim of 1 billion euros against Google following a probe into the tax strategies by the US Internet giant, Le Point magazine reported Tuesday.

A Google spokesman in France declined to comment on the report, saying the company does not comment on rumours.

The French finance ministry also declined to comment, citing tax confidentiality.

France is one of a growing number of cash-strapped nations to pursue more aggressively what they see as abuse of tax and accounting rules that allows some multinational companies to pay less tax.

What Ailes France from France 24:

Is a new Tea Party brewing in France?

Interior Minister Manuel Valls has warned that France was seeing the birth of its own version of the grassroots, anti-tax Tea Party movement amid a surge of anti-government demonstrations by right-wing groups and religious conservatives across the country.

“We are witnessing the creation of the French version of the Tea Party. By exploiting the political and leadership crisis on the right, and the National Front party’s move away from the far-right, a conservative and reactionary right has been set free,” Valls, a Socialist, told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview published on Sunday.

The eye-opening comparison came hours ahead of massive rallies in defence of traditional families in Paris and the eastern city of Lyon. They were organised by the so-called “Manif Pour Tous” (Protest for all) group that staged massive protests against gay marriage last year.

Sunday’s march, which police said drew 80,000 people in Paris, was just the latest public display of anger against President François Hollande’s government in recent days.

EUbusiness goes medical:

France announces EUR 1.5 bn anti-cancer plan

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday announced a 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) anti-cancer plan aimed at reducing inequalities in treatment of the disease.

The 2014-2019 plan aims to give “the same chances to everyone everywhere in France” in preventing and fighting cancer, Hollande said in a speech to medical professionals.

His announcement comes a day after the United Nations warned that new cases of cancer will rise by half by 2030, reaching 21.6 million per year compared to 14 million in 2012.

On to Spain and a new low from El País:

Number of people in work in January declines to lowest level in 12 years

  • Jobless claims in Spain climb by 113,097 in first month of year

The number of people signed up with the Social Security system in Spain declined by 184,031, or 1.13 percent, in January from the end of last year to 16.173 million, the lowest figure since April 2002, according to figures released Tuesday by the Labor Ministry.

In what is traditionally a bad month for the labor market, jobless claims rose by 113,097, or 2.4 percent, from December to 4.814 million.

The ministry said that on a month-on-month basis, this January was the “least negative” since 2007, given that since the current comparable statistical series began there has never been an increase in the number of people signed up with the Social Security system. On a year-on-year basis, the number of affiliates declined by 5,829, or 0.04 percent. looks for resolution:

UN urges Spain to drop Civil War taboos

A UN expert on Monday urged Spain to break a decades-long taboo by investigating atrocities allegedly committed in its 1936-39 civil war and the Franco dictatorship that followed.

UN justice rapporteur Pablo de Greiff said Spain should scrap a 1977 amnesty law that stops victims from prosecuting the alleged perpetrators of such atrocities, which divide Spaniards to this day.

In a report, he urged Spain to scrap the amnesty and called on “the state institutions to show a decisive and determined commitment” to investigating and making sure that victims are compensated.

The amnesty was seen as a necessity by the leaders tasked with unifying Spain after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

Portugal next and a temporary halt to a sale of the commons from Deutsche Welle:

London auction house cancels sale of Miro paintings

Citing legal uncertainties stemming from the lawsuit in Portugal, auction house Christie’s said on Tuesday that it had decided to cancel the sale of the Miro paintings pending the resolution of the dispute.

“While the recent injunction to stop the sale was not granted, the legal uncertainties created by this ongoing dispute mean that we are not able to safely offer the works for sale,” Christie’s said in a press release.

Hours before the auction’s scheduled start time, a judge denied the opposition Socialist Party’s request for an injunction to stop the sale. Portugal’s government pleaded that harsh austerity measures have left the country short of cash, and it could not make retaining the collection of the Catalan surrealist Miro one of its priorities.

Portugal’s public prosecutor backed the appeal to stop the sale, which accused the administration of ignoring “the immeasurable immaterial value” of the collection to the country, forced into austerity measures following a 78-billion-euro ($105 billion) rescue by international creditors in 2011.

The Portugal News charts reduced losses:

BCP stems losses by around half a billion

BCP, Portugal’s largest private sector bank, announced a €740 million loss for 2013, down from €1.219 billion in 2012, following the closure of the stock market on Monday.

“This loss is significant but also substantially below that of the previous year. This reflects the macroeconomic situation and is in accordance with the restructuring plan agreed with the General Directorate of Competition of the European Commission,” BCP President Nuno Amado told a press conference.

The loss also includes €126 million in provisions for early retirement and redundancy payoffs as the bank advances with its plan expected to see several hundred employees leave the firm over the first half of this year.

On to Italy and an austerian declaration from AGI:

President Napolitano says Italy must stay course on debt

Italy cannot afford to let up its efforts to keep its public debt in check, President Giorgio Napolitano said in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Despite the government’s concerted response to financial market pressure and significant achievements in 2013, Italy cannot afford to relax in its efforts to further curtail its public debt, he said.

After the jump, the latest from tghe Greek meltdown, a Turkish retraction, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, a Latin American trade deal push and Brazilian woes, Australian immigration profits and environmental havoc, Indian protests, Thai warnings, troubling Chinese numbers, Japanese neoliberalism, toxic spills and criminal probes, ecocidal costs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFukunoma

Today’s collection of headlines economic, political, and environmental begins with on ominous note with The Independent:

Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment, warn experts

  • Academics say half of US jobs could be automated within a decade or two

Experts have warned that rapidly improving artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment just days after Google revealed the purchase of a London based start-up dedicated to developing this technology.

Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, Dr Stuart Armstrong from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford said that there was a risk that computers could take over human jobs “at a faster rate than new jobs could be generated.”

“We have some studies looking at to which jobs are the most vulnerable and there are quite a lot of them in logistics, administration, insurance underwriting,” said Dr Armstrong. “Ultimately, huge swathe of jobs are potentially vulnerable to improved artificial intelligence.”

Dr Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, agreed, noting that improvements in artificial intelligence were creating “short term issues that we all need to be talking about.”

BBC News booms:

US economy growing at 3.2% in the fourth quarter, official figures show

The US economy grew at a 3.2% annual rate for the final quarter of 2013, according to the country’s Commerce Department.

Many predict that 2014 will produce the strongest growth since the end of the US recession in mid-2009.

Optimism over the health of the world’s largest economy led to a further easing of the Federal Reserve’s stimulus measures on Wednesday.

A cautionary note from Reuters:

Exclusive: U.S. banking regulator, fearing loan bubble, warns funds

A U.S. bank regulator is warning about the dangers of banks and alternative asset managers working together to do risky deals and get around rules amid concerns about a possible bubble in junk-rated loans to companies.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has already told banks to avoid some of the riskiest junk loans to companies, but is alarmed that banks may still do such deals by sharing some of the risk with asset managers.

“We do not see any benefit to banks working with alternative asset managers or shadow banks to skirt the regulation and continue to have weak deals flooding markets,” said Martin Pfinsgraff, senior deputy comptroller for large bank supervision at the OCC, in a statement in response to questions from Reuters.

Among the investors in alternative asset managers are pension funds that have funding issues of their own, he said.

Banksters behaving badly from Reuters:

U.S. seeks $2.1 billion from Bank of America in fraud case

The U.S. government has raised the amount it is seeking in penalties from Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) to $2.1 billion after a jury found the bank was liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit.

The request in a court filing late on Wednesday was based on gross revenue generated by the fraud, the government said. The Justice Department had previously asked for $863.6 million.

The initial request was based on gross losses it said government-sponsored mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) incurred on loans purchased from Countrywide Financial Corp in 2007 and 2008.

Tapering with BBC News:

US Federal Reserve slows monthly bond-buying to $65bn

The US Federal Reserve announced a $10bn (£6bn) reduction in its monthly bond purchases from $75bn to $65bn in the second straight month of winding down stimulus efforts.

The central bank had been buying bonds in an effort to keep interest rates low and stimulate growth.

In a statement, the Fed said that “growth in economic activity picked up” since it last met in December.

Although the move was expected, US shares still fell on the news.

Screwing the poor with The Guardian:

Congress axes $8.6bn from food stamps in farm bill

  • Richer farmers get bigger subsidies in immediate snub to Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for action on inequality

Congress has agreed to cut $8.6bn from the federal food stamp program while increasing government subsidies for richer farmers, dealing a swift rebuke to Barack Obama’s call for a year of action on economic inequality.

Within hours of the president’s State of the Union speech, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to adopt the measures as part of a wide-ranging farm bill that passed by 251 to 166 votes and has already been endorsed by the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

The cuts to federal food stamps come on top of a $5bn cut in November and will reduce payments to 1.7 million of the poorest Americans by an estimated $90 a month.

Golden State woes from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Amid one of the worst droughts in California’s recorded history, state officials say 17 communities and water districts could run dry within 100 days

The threatened towns and districts are mostly small and in rural areas. They get their water in a variety of ways, from reservoirs to wells to rivers. But in all cases, a nearly rainless winter has left their supplies approaching empty.

In the greater Bay Area, Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County are among those at risk of running out of water. The small Lompico Water District in the Santa Cruz Mountains is also on the list.

Bloomberg itemizes:

California Farms Going Thirsty as Drought Burns $5 Billion Hole

The drought in California, the top U.S. agricultural producer at $44.7 billion, is depriving the state of water needed to produce everything from milk, beef and wine to some of the nation’s largest fruit and vegetable crops, including avocados, strawberries and almonds. Lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion, according to estimates by the 300-member California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group.

The state was the driest ever in 2013, a third straight year of little moisture. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17 as arid conditions he called “unprecedented” continued well into the annual rainy season that runs from October through March. Reservoirs on Jan. 27 were at 61 percent of average, while the mountain snow-pack as of Dec. 30 that supplies most of the state’s water was at 20 percent of normal for that time of year, data show.

And a global story from New Europe:

UNDP: Income inequality increased compared with 1990s

UNDP published a report on income inequality in the developing countries stressing that inequality increased by 11 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

According to the report, more than 75 per cent of the population in developing countries is living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. The report underlined that inclusive growth policies are important policy tools for reducing income inequality.

Helen Clark, administrator of the UNDP said according to a press release that “inequalities on today’s levels are unjust in both developing and developed countries…Over the last few decades, poverty rates have declined in every region of the world; emerging market countries have grown with unprecedented speed; and life

Advice from China Daily:

Replace dollar with super currency: economist

The World Bank’s former chief economist wants to replace the US dollar with a single global super-currency, saying it will create a more stable global financial system.

“The dominance of the greenback is the root cause of global financial and economic crises,” Justin Yifu Lin told Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy-research think tank. “The solution to this is to replace the national currency with a global currency.”

Lin, now a professor at Peking University and a leading adviser to the Chinese government, said expanding the basket of major reserve currencies — the dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and pound sterling — will not address the consequences of a financial crisis. Internationalizing the Chinese currency is not the answer, either, he said.

On to Europe and a regulatory call from Deutsche Welle:

EU presents more proposals to curb risky banking activities

  • The European Commission has proposed measures to rein in risky banking activities in heeding the lessons from the global financial crisis. It focused on stopping dubious trading by lenders “too big to fail.”

The proposals presented in Brussels on Wednesday centered on 30 large European banks, accounting for more than 65 percent of the EU’s total banking assets.

According to the suggestions made, these lenders would be banned from proprietary trading, a practice under which banks make bets using their own money and not that of customers.

The lenders could be forced to also separate other risky trading activities from their deposit-taking business which would make them far less vulnerable in a crisis situation.

Deutsche Welle again, with labor action:

European air traffic controllers go on strike over EU initiative

Air traffic controllers have begun a two-day strike over an EU initiative they fear will cause job cuts and more difficult working conditions, causing some delays. The EU is to vote on the measure on Thursday.

Air traffic controllers across several EU nations were expected to go on strike on Wednesday. The move was prompted by the EU’s Single European Sky initiative, which seeks to centralize the continent’s airspace and reduce congestion and inefficiencies costing airlines an estimated 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) annually.

Some 20 flights out of Lisbon in Portugal were cancelled on Wednesday, while Rome’s Fiumincino hub was also hit with cancelations and delays. In anticipation of the focus turning to Paris, the civil aviation authority asked airlines to reduce traffic into the French capital by 20 percent.

German workers had originally planned on joining the strike action. However, an injunction filed by German flagship carrier Lufthansa last week prevented them from doing so.

Britain next and an alarm from Xinhua:

Warning bells ring over British current account deficit

The British economy performed well in 2013 with 1.9 percent GDP growth, and some economists predict growth of up to 3 percent this year, but warning bells are sounding over the size of Britain’s current account deficit.

Simon Wells, chief UK economist with HSBC Global Research, raised worries over the unbalanced nature of growth in the British economy and the current account deficit, which stands at 5.1 percent of GDP in Q3 2013, close to a peacetime record.

Wells said, “Of the 40 countries covered by HSBC economists, the UK has the fifth largest current account deficit. And while most countries have narrowed deficits over the past five years, the UK’s is one of the few that have widened.”

The Guardian takes note:

Mortgage lending at six-year high

  • Bank of England says £12.4bn of new mortgages were approved in December 2013

The number of mortgages taken out to buy homes reached its highest level in almost six years in December, figures from the Bank of England showed, as the housing market continued to gather speed despite the slide into winter.

A total of 71,638 loans were approved for house purchase, above the previous six-month average of 65,001 and the highest monthly figure since January 2008 when the credit crisis and economic slowdown started to take hold of the market.

The government’s Funding for Lending scheme to offer cheap fund to banks and building societies, and the second part of Help to Buy which offers a taxpayer-backed guarantee on mortgages up to 95%, have both made home loans cheaper and more accessible to those with small deposits.

And a polyglot headline from the London Telegraph:

The 800,000 people living in Britain with little or no English

  • Analysis of census figures shows how most people living in Britain who do not have a good command of English do not have a job

Migrants with little or no English are 50 per cent more likely to be unemployed than native speakers and three times as likely to have no formal qualifications.

The study also showed that those who do work are condemned to the lowest paid and most laborious jobs if they do not have a working command of English.

Significantly the problem is most acute among women. Overall 60 per cent of those living in England and Wales but unable to speak the national tongue are female.

Bordering on controversy with

UK and Germany locked in immigration debate

The UK and Germany are locked in the same debate over the arrival of a new wave of immigrants from eastern Europe. But despite their arguments being the same, their presentation is very different, argues The Local’s Tom Bristow.

A conservative party calls for new measures to prevent migrants moving abroad to access welfare benefits. The left hits back, defending freedom movement as a cornerstone of the European Union.

A slogan from the conservative party in the ruling coalition government is deemed populist, even racist by the pro-immigration camp – “Those who cheat are out.”

That slogan could have come from UK Prime Minister David Cameron – yet it came from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Profiteering with The Independent:

Passports for profit: British company to make ‘disgusting amounts of money’ from controversial EU passport sale

A British company has been accused of making “disgusting amounts of money” from a controversial scheme by Malta to sell European Union passports to tycoons and celebrities ranging from a former Formula One world champion to a Chinese billionaire.

Henley & Partners, a private company registered in Jersey which specialises in “citizenship solutions”, stands to make at least €60m (£49m) from its role as the designer and principal contractor for the scheme, which will sell passports for €1.15m a piece.

The programme, which is due to begin processing its first applicants next month and will provide a right to reside anywhere in the EU, including Britain, has attracted sharp criticism both within the Mediterranean island and abroad.

Iceland next, and a counterfactual from Bloomberg:

Let Banks Fail Is Iceland Mantra as 2% Joblessness in Sight

Iceland let its banks fail in 2008 because they proved too big to save.

Now, the island is finding crisis-management decisions made half a decade ago have put it on a trajectory that’s turned 2 percent unemployment into a realistic goal.

While the euro area grapples with record joblessness, led by more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain, only about 4 percent of Iceland’s labor force is without work. Prime MinisterSigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson says even that’s too high.

“Politicians always have something to worry about,” the 38-year-old said in an interview last week. “We’d like to see unemployment going from where it’s now — around 4 percent — to under 2 percent, which may sound strange to most other western countries, but Icelanders aren’t accustomed to unemployment.”

Denmark next, and a walkout over a bankster win from The Guardian:

What would Birgitte do? Socialists quit Denmark coalition over energy deal

  • Goldman Sachs’s investment in state-owned energy prompts walkout and Borgen-esque political crisis

With Borgen no longer around to keep British audiences entertained, real-life politics in Denmark continues to give the fictional version a run for its money when it comes to drama.

After a recent spate of controversies and ministerial resignations, the Danish centre-left government suffered another blow on Thursday when the Socialist People’s party (SF) left the ruling coalition amid anger over Goldman Sachs’s investment in Denmark’s state-owned energy company.

Goldman’s 8bn kroner (£900m) purchase of a 19% share in Dong Energy has been championed by the government but caused a revolt among SF’s parliamentary group. After a night of tension and discussions, SF’s leader, Annette Vilhelmsen, announced her resignation and said her party was leaving the coalition.

Germany next, and do as we say, not as we do from

Germany loosens own pension rules while demanding austerity from rest of EU

Germany’s coalition government presented a pension reform plan today that will cost €160bn to 2030 by letting some workers retire earlier, loosening the purse strings at home when Berlin has demanded austerity from its euro zone partners.

Despite criticism from industry and the pro-business wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the cabinet endorsed what is likely to be the most expensive single measure of the legislative period when it moves through parliament in May.

An additional 900,000 workers will be able to retire earlier than expected aged 63 over the next two years provided they have worked for 45 years. Some mothers will get pension increases. has income:

Foreign investment floods into Germany

Foreign investment into Germany increased by almost 400 percent last year, rising to €23.4 billion, a UN report revealed on Tuesday. It comes amid rising consumer and investor confidence.

In 2012 foreign direct investment stood at just €6.5 billion.

But 2013′s rise was helped by major deals including the purchase of Kabel Deutschland by Vodafone for €5.6 billion.

Germany also rose up the global rankings of the world’s most attractive foreign investment locations to 14th from 40th the year before.

Europe Online admonishes:

Deutsche bank warns of challenging year ahead

Deutsche Bank is making progress in restructuring its operations but faces further costs as a result of a string of lawsuits, the co-chief of Germany’s biggest bank said Wednesday.

The coming 12 months “will be another year of challenges,” Juergen Fitschen said in Frankfurt.

Deutsche announced earlier this month a surprise fourth-quarter loss because of a weak performance by its key investment banking operations and hefty legal costs following the bank’s involvement in a series of scandals.

New Europe exudes:

Record-high for consumer confidence in Germany

Consumer confidence in Germany is rising, and according to the latest data by a research group it reached to a level, last seen in 2007.

According to international market research group GfK, consumer confidence in Germany reached 8.2 points in January from 7.6 points in December. The research group said that the January reading was higher than expected by analysts and propelled the consumer index to a level last recorded in August 2007. German citizens were more optimistic regarding their economic and income expectations and their willingness to buy was improved.

According to the press release, Germans consider the national economy to be clearly on the upturn at present and this is reflected in the fifth consecutive improvement in economic expectations. “In the wake of this, income prospects climbed to reach a 13-year high. Willingness to buy also improved and surpassed its seven-year high of the previous month,” the report says.

While Deutsche Welle declines:

Beer sales in Germany lowest since early 1990s

Over the past years, Germans have drastically reduced their beer consumption. Fresh figures showed 2013 was no exception, with sales reaching their lowest level since the country’s unification.

With Germany still considered to be a major beer-drinking nation, annual sales of alcoholic beer in the country reached a new low in 2013, the National Statistics Office ( Destatis) announced Thursday.

While the nation still had 1,300 breweries making about 5,000 varieties of the beverage, they sold only 94.6 million hectoliters last year, a fall of 2 percent compared with 2012 and a drop to levels last reached shortly after German unification in 1990.

On to Amsterdam and an increasingly common trend from

Postal deliveries could be cut to three days a week, if EU says yes

If the European Union gives permission, Dutch postal company PostNL could cut its deliveries to three days a week, a spokesman says in Wednesday’s AD.

European Union rules state post must be delivered five days a week but moves are being made to relax this, the AD says. PostNL stopped Monday deliveries at the beginning of this year.

‘If the EU allows it, we will cut back to four or perhaps even three delivery days,’ spokesman Werner van Bastelaar told the AD. falls off:

Dutch savings are down for the first time in 20 years

For the first time in 20 years the Dutch have less in their savings accounts, Nos television says on Wednesday.

Figures from the Dutch central bank, ING and national statistics office CBS show the total amount of savings has gone down €1bn a month since reaching a high point of €330.5bn last summer.

There are four main reasons for the decline, the CBS says: one in 20 households are so hard up they have no more money to put aside; others are using savings to pay off debts and mortgages; investing in the stock market is popular again; and people who have lost their jobs are using up their savings to live on.

France next and an economic sweet spot from

French arms industry enjoys boom in trade

Crisis, what crisis? While certain sectors in France continue to suffer in the downturn France’s arms industry is doing a roaring trade. A new report, that won’t be welcomed by pacifists, revealed this week that sales of arms abroad have rocketed.

Despite the seemingly endless stream of bad economic news for France, there is at least one sector that’s booming: weapons. French arms makers confirmed €6.3 billion in orders to foreign countries in 2013, which represents a 31 percent jump on the previous year.

The figures released on Wednesday by the Ministry of Defence ensure France keeps its spot at number four among the world’s largest providers of weapons. The United States, the United Kingdom and Russia all sold more weapons than France in 2013.

Departures note from

Foreign investors desert France in 2013: report

As if high unemployment, heavy public debt and an unhappy populace weren’t enough, France also saw a double digit drop in foreign investment in 2013, according to a new United Nations report on Wednesday.

Signalling yet more bad news for France’s troubled economy, a United Nations report said the country saw a 77 percent decline in direct foreign investment last year, while the global average was an 11 percent increase.

France’s results were the worst in the European Union, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade Development report released on Tuesday.

A culture war panic from France 24:

French parents pull children from school over ‘gender theory’ scare

France’s education chief threatened Wednesday to summon parents who pull their children from school after a wave of absenteeism. The row was sparked by a rumour about sex education classes that could become a new ideological battleground in France.

Thousands of parents in France received a text message on their mobile telephones last week urging them to keep their children from school on Monday. The collective action was to protest an alarming development in French primary schools: the attempt to teach students that “they are not born as boys or girls, but can choose to become one or the other.”

The grassroots campaign opposing teaching of so-called “gender theory” in French schools asked parents to go further by taking their kids out of school one day every month. It recommended this be done with no prior warning to teachers.

Hints of things to come? From

‘First ever’ bill proposes legal cannabis in France

France is no Amsterdam when it comes to marijuana laws, in fact it has some of the toughest possession statutes in Europe, but a first of its kind bill proposed this week could change that. The lawmaker behind the legislation tells The Local why marijuana should be legalized in France.

People smoking a joint in France face a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a €3,750 fine for the first offence, yet 13.4 million French people admit to sparking up at least once in their life. Even France’s top cop, Interior Minister Manuel Vallls, said in a recent interview, he’d tried it “maybe once.”

The numbers go up as you look at the younger portion of the population. France had the unhappy distinction of being the European “champion” of teen pot smokers in 2011 when 24 percent of its 16-year-old kids admitted to smoking at least once a month, daily Le Monde reported.

Swiss hard times intolerance from

Support for immigrant quotas rises before vote

A plan by Swiss right-wing populists to reimpose immigration quotas for citizens from the European Union has won increased support ahead of a referendum, raising the prospect of a clash with Brussels, a new poll shows.

A total of 43 percent of those surveyed said they backed the “Stop Mass Immigration” measure which goes to a vote on February 9th, according to the survey released on Wednesday by public broadcaster SRG. That marked a major gain on the 37 percent support shown in a poll released just two weeks ago.

The survey was commissioned from the GfS Bern public opinion institute, which found that opposition to the measure had dropped by five points to 50 percent.

On to Spain and a warning from El País:

Brussels warns of risks to Spain from the crisis in emerging markets

  • Report says economic recovery “remains fragile”
  • Commission expects bad bank to have posted losses last year

The upbeat message Economy Minister Luis de Guindos gave to his colleagues at an Ecofin meeting on Tuesday on the Spanish economy contrasts with the more cautious tone of the final report on Spain’s compliance with the bailout program for its banks, made public on Wednesday by the European Commission (EC).

De Guindos told fellow European economy and finance ministers that he expects the economy to grow 1 percent this year, above the Spanish government’s official forecast of 0.7 percent, with the pace of activity sufficiently strong to allow net job creation. He also minimized the possibility of fallout from the latest crisis in emerging markets, particularly Argentina. “We can’t fall any more. Now the recovery begins,” De Guindos said, arguing that Spain “has scarcely any exposure to Argentina and other emerging markets.”

However, Brussels’ report, based on a joint mission by the EC and the European Central Bank to Madrid in the period December 2-13, warns that: “The economic recovery […] remains fragile as imbalances continue to be worked out, and subject to external risks such as a reversal of the current benign global financial environment and a slowdown in emerging markets, especially in Latin America, to which Spanish companies are particularly exposed.”

More misery demanded from

‘Spain’s record wage cuts not enough’: IMF

The International Monetary Fund has asked Spain to further reduce salaries even though it has already slashed average wages by 20 percent over the past two years – the fastest drop in the country’s democratic history.

The International Monetary Fund has revised up its 2014 growth forecast for Spain to 0.6 percent, or more than triple the figure it forecast in October last year, but this is still very modest and it continues to expect more.

The monetary body claims the 20 percent drop in average wages over the past two years does not make up for the excessive salary increases seen prior to that, a factor which they claim has contributed to Spain’s ailing unemployment rate.

El País reduces:

Spanish banks drastically cut exposure to sovereign debt

  • Sector sold 22.4 billion euros in government bonds in December
  • Lenders gearing up for ECB stress tests later this year

Spain’s banks in December picked up the pace at which they have been offloading their holdings of sovereign debt ahead of the solvency tests they will be subjected to by the European Central Bank later this year.

According to ECB figures released Wednesday, Spain’s banks took advantage of improved market conditions to sell 22.4 billion euros worth of government bonds, more than double the 10 billion they sold in November and October’s 8.9 billion. After the latest sell-off, the exposure of Spain’s banks to sovereign debt stands at 272 billion euros.

The extent of European banks’ exposure to sovereign debt will be one of the key features in the stress tests to which they will be submitted. If banks are required to write down the value of sovereign debt not being held to maturity to current market levels, this might entail them having to increase their capital to enhance their solvency.

Off the books with the London Telegraph:

Untaxed work equal to 25pc of GDP in Spain

  • Cash transactions carried out behind the Spanish taxman’s back in 2012 hit nearly €253bn

Untaxed transactions in Spain have surged to equal nearly a quarter of the country’s output as unemployed workers scrape a living in the black economy.

The cash economy has flourished since 2008, when the collapse of a building boom hurled Spain into a double recession, a report by Treasury experts and academics said.

Cash transactions carried out behind the taxman’s back in 2012 hit nearly €253bn, or 24.6pc of gross domestic product, according to the report released by GESTHA, a tax inspectors’ union.

More cultural warring from thinkSPAIN:

Mass protest outside European Parliament in Brussels over Spain’s abortion reform

AT least 2,000 people staged a demonstration outside the European Parliament building in Brussels yesterday (Wednesday) evening in protest over Spain’s abortion law reform.

As well as members of the public of all nationalities, organisations including the European Women’s Lobby, Abortion Right, the European Humanist Federation, Catholics for Choice and the International Planned Parenthood Federation were joined by MEPs from the socialists, liberalists, the ‘greens’ and United Left.

Banners read, ‘Rights for men, but also for women’; ‘Free abortion’, and ‘All of us are Spanish women’ – a message of support meaning restrictions on legal abortion could one day affect any of them.

El País draws the line:

Five regions rebel against Popular Party’s education reform

  • Commissioners claim Minister Wert’s law is step backward and segregates students

The regions not governed by the Popular Party on Wednesday objected to the controversial new Education Law, known as the LOMCE — the seventh overhaul of the public system since the restoration of democracy in Spain — as retrogressive and divisive, and lamented the lack of debate on the legislation.

Initially drawn up to address high dropout rates, the law also enhances the role of religion in schools and permits state funding for educational centers that segregate students by gender. The law was passed in Congress with only the votes of the PP, which has an absolute majority in the lower house.

At a news conference, the educational commissioners of the Basque Country, Andalusia, Asturias, Catalonia and the Canary Islands accused Education Minister José Ignacio Wert of a “lack of institutional loyalty” in failing to adequately consult the regions on the changes. The regions are responsible for the education and health services. enumerates:

One third of Spanish kids at risk of poverty

More than a third of children in Spain live at risk of poverty, the aid charity Save the Children said on Wednesday, blaming austerity measures for worsening the situation.

The number of under-18s “at risk of poverty or marginalization” — an official EU measure of various aspects of economic hardship — soared to more than 2.8 million in 2012, the charity said.

That was equivalent to 33.8 percent of Spain’s children, it said in a report that used the latest official European Union data.

El País deplores:

Council of Europe slams Spain for denying healthcare to illegal immigrants

  • Organization’s Committee on Social Rights concerned about general slide on basic protection

The economic crisis has undermined social protection in Spain. The Council of Europe, which oversees respect for human rights in 47 countries on the continent, on Wednesday expressed concern over “regressive legislative developments concerning access to health care by foreigners illegally present in the country.”

The conclusion is part of a wide-reaching report by the European Committee on Social Rights that examines whether national laws conform to the European Social Charter.

The 2013 conclusions, released on Wednesday, found that Spain was one of several countries that had regressed on social rights compared with earlier periods. Other states where healthcare, social welfare and occupational safety have been curtailed included Austria, France, Finland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia.

On to Lisbon and a demand from the Portugal News:

Socialists demand pension cut clarification

The Portuguese Socialist (PS) party has demanded that the prime minister specify what pension and wage cuts were considered to be temporary and accused the government of acting with a lack of transparency and creating uncertainty among the population.

These criticisms were made by António Galamba MP, a member of the PS national secretariat at a press conference where he also accused the centre-right coalition of rehearsing “propaganda manourvres” and trying to “sell illusions”.

“Isn’t it time for the government to clarify what cuts are temporary and what are definitive? “, he asked, after accusing the government of a lack of transparency by creating a work group to prepare definitive cuts to the pension system.

Italy next and a rebuke from ANSAmed:

Council of Europe blasts Italy on pensions, poverty

  • Lacks ‘overall and coordinated approach’

Italy is failing to address growing levels of poverty and to provide retirees with an adequate level of subsistence, a Council of Europe committee said in a report released on Wednesday.

The report, drawn up by the European Committee of Social Rights, noted that Rome had not demonstrated ‘’the existence of an overall and coordinated approach providing adequate measures to combat poverty and social exclusion’‘.

Italy’s national statistics bureau Istat reported in late December that the number of people in crisis-hit Italy living in absolute poverty had doubled between 2005 and 2012 and tripled in the industrial north, up to 6.4% from 2.5%. More than 1.7 million families live in a state of absolute poverty – for a total of 4.8 million individuals – amid rising unemployment and a stubborn recession, Istat said.

Raising a ruckus with The Guardian:

Italian parliament erupts amid vote on central bank capital

Opposition MPs storm government benches after speaker cuts short debate on measure to boost commercial banks

There have been chaotic and at times violent scenes in the Italian parliament after the lower house speaker made unprecedented use of her powers to cut short a filibuster by deputies of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S).

Late on Wednesday, M5S MPs stormed the government benches, put on symbolic gags and kept up a barrage of whistling after the speaker, Laura Boldrini, cut short the debate and ordered a vote on a complicated and intensely controversial measure to square Italy’s public accounts. One of Grillo’s followers said an MP from the governing majority had slapped her during the disorder.

Opposition MPs claim that the measure would hand more than €7bn (£5.8bn) of taxpayers’ money to the banks.

Emulation from

27 percent of Italians want to be more German

Over a quarter of Italians would like their country to be more like Germany, while some would prefer Italy to resemble Cuba or China, a poll this week has found.

Despite the anti-German rhetoric of populist politicians, targeting the country’s leader Angela Merkel, this week’s Ipsos poll showed that Italians may be warming to Europe’s economic powerhouse.

Twenty-seven percent of Italians said they would like Italy to more closely resemble Germany, swiftly followed by 19 percent opting for a more Norwegian approach.

After the jump, the latest on the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian uncertainty and admonitions, Turkish anxieties, Indian inflation, Thai turmoil, mixed news from China, Japanese easing, ecological alarms and woes, plus the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroEcoFukuFails

In line with the previous post, we begin today’s compendium of things economic, ecologic, and politic with the idiotic — another clueless quote from the very, very rich, this time via The Verge:

Kleiner Perkins founder says Silicon Valley elite are being treated like Jews in Nazi Germany

Tom Perkins, one of the co-founders of the Silicon Valley powerhouse venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, is afraid the next Kristallnacht — a night of violence against Jews before the start of World War II — will happen in the Bay Area.

Perkins, who is 81, perceives a “rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent” that mirrors the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, he says in a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal.

Class tensions in the San Francisco Bay Area recently flared up over the area’s skyrocketing rent and “Google buses,” private luxury coaches that shuttle wealthy tech workers to the office. Perkins specifically calls out the Occupy movement and the San Fransciso Chronicle for perpetuating anti-one percent rhetoric. This “progressive radicalism” is just like the fascist backlash against the Jews, Perkins argues.

On to the purely economic with a warning from CNBC:

US ‘out of ammunition’ to tackle economic ‘rut’: Phelps

The U.S. economy is in a “rut” and has been in stagnation since 1972, a Nobel Prize-winning economist told CNBC.

Edmund Phelps, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2006, said the U.S. government has run out of ideas about how to fix the economy.

“Governments have thrown all sorts of ammunition at it including concocting the housing boom. And we are kind of out of that ammunition and we have to dig deeper if we are going to get out of this rut,” Phelps told CNBC in a TV interview.

Reuters gives us another case of Banksters Behaving Badly, or so it’s claimed:

Exclusive: Bank of America’s trading practices have been probed, filing shows

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have both held investigations into whether Bank of America engaged in improper trading by doing its own futures trades ahead of executing large orders for clients, according to a regulatory filing.

The June 2013 disclosure, which Reuters recently reviewed on a website run by the securities industry regulator FINRA, sheds light on the basis for a warning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on January 8.

The warning, in the form of an intelligence bulletin to regulators and security officers at financial services firms, said that the FBI suspected swaps traders at an unnamed U.S. bank and an unnamed Canadian bank may have been involved in market manipulation and front running of orders from U.S. government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Reuters has since learned that Bank of America’s trading practices regarding Fannie and Freddie are the subject of probes, and that the investigations are ongoing.

From USA TODAY, cause for anxiety:

Why emerging markets worry Wall Street

The big bull market in U.S. stocks is confronted with an unexpected headwind: a fresh bout of financial turbulence in emerging markets.

Wall Street is a world away from Turkey and Argentina and the other developing economies dotting the globe. But recent news of financial tumult and plunging currencies in some emerging markets, coupled with bad memories of past crises over the past 20 years that began in Mexico, Asia and Russia, has imported a boatload of financial angst back to the United States.

Indeed, the great bull market on Wall Street has suddenly run into a stumbling block that few investment strategists were even talking about at the start of the year: swooning currencies and capital flight out of vulnerable emerging markets like Turkey and Argentina.

The financial turbulence, which is being greatly exacerbated by a slowdown in growth-engine China, has raised fears of a potential crisis that could inflict damage on these developing countries’ economies and perhaps infect other nations as well. That lethal combination could ultimately crimp earnings of U.S. multinationals. It could also prompt investors to dump risky assets, a response that already seems to be underway.

Bloomberg admonishes:

BlackRock’s Fink Warns of ‘Too Much Optimism’ in Markets

BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Laurence D. Fink warned there is “way too much optimism” in financial markets as he predicted repeats of the market turmoil that roiled investors this week.

“The experience of the marketplace this past week is going to be indicative of this entire year,” Fink, 61, told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. “We’re going to be in a world of much greater volatility.”

Fink, who runs the world’s largest asset manager, spoke after a selloff in emerging markets that was triggered by concern about China’s economic growth and the Federal Reserve’s tapering of its monetary stimulus later this year. The MSCI World Index slid the most this week in five months.

The London Telegraph chimes in from on high:

Emerging market rout turns serious, punctures exuberance in Davos

  • IMF’s deputy-director says the Fund is watching the violent gyrations around the world “very carefully”

The worst emerging market rout in five years has raised fresh fears of global contagion, puncturing the mood of exuberance at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff sought to reassure investors that this week’s currency collapse in Argentina would not spread to the Brazilian real, insisting that all contracts would be honoured and that foreign funds would be “treated well”.

“Today, the stability of our currency is a central value of our country,” she said. The real has weakened by 20pc against the dollar this year, breaking through the crucial line of 2.40 in trading on Friday.

The IMF’s deputy-director, Min Zhu, said in Davos that the Fund is watching the violent gyrations around the world “very carefully”, saying the effect of bond tapering by the US Federal Reserve is causing global liquidity to dry up.

Another ominous warning, this time from The Guardian:

ILO warns young hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise

  • International Labour Organisation says firms are increasing payouts to shareholders rather than investing in new workers

The world could face years of jobless economic recovery, with young people set to be hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise this year, a report from the International Labour Organisation warns.

As the World Economic Forum kicks off in the Swiss town of Davos on Wednesday with a focus on growing inequality, the ILO has highlighted a “potentially dangerous gap between profits and people”.

The UN agency forecasts millions more people will join the ranks of the unemployed as companies choose to increase payouts to shareholders rather than invest their burgeoning profits in new workers.

And from Jiji Press, more job killing pushed for the fast-track:

Japan, U.S. Confirm Cooperation for Early TPP Accord

Japanese Minster of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman agreed Saturday that the two countries will continue cooperation in helping conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks as early as possible, Motegi told reporters after the meeting.

At the meeting held in the Swiss resort of Davos, Motegi called on the U.S. side to show flexibility for the early conclusion of the trade talks among 12 countries.

Froman responded by saying that both Washington and Tokyo should flex their muscle, according to Motegi.

On to Europe and bankster wishes from the Irish Times:

Draghi favours quick break in link between sovereign and bank debt

  • Leaders have taken euro out of crisis despite end-of-the-world scenarios, says Schäuble

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi told global leaders in Davos yesterday he favoured an “accelerated time line” in breaking the link between euro area sovereign and bank debt.

Despite a “largely positive” economic outlook for 2014, he warned of a punishing market reaction if euro countries rolled back their reforms.

Discussing a European banking union to oversee and wind up banks, Mr Draghi said struggling institutions could access public money after bailing in creditors.

BBC News misses the number:

Davos 2014: Eurozone inflation ‘way below target’

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that deflation remains a real risk to economic recovery in the eurozone.

Despite signs of recovery across the world, Christine Lagarde said that potential risks must not be ignored. One of these was the fact that eurozone inflation, at 0.8%, remained “way below” the 2% target set by the European Central Bank (ECB).

She was speaking on the final day of the World Economic Forum, in Davos.

On to Britain and more austerian misery from The Independent:

‘Bedroom tax’ and benefits cuts draining councils’ emergency funds

  • Authorities had been forced to dip into funds allocated to other services to cope with the surge in numbers of households appealing for help

Councils have been hit by a dramatic increase in requests for emergency financial help from people struggling to make ends meet following the introduction of the “bedroom tax” and other cuts to benefits.

More than 200,000 contacted their town halls in the six months after the latest benefits squeeze came into effect, the Local Government Association has estimated.

It also said that many authorities had been forced to dip into funds allocated to other services to cope with the surge in numbers of households appealing for help.

The parliamentary outs long for the good old days, via RT:

UK shadow govt eyes reintroducing 50% tax rate for top earners

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls says Labour will reintroduce the 50 percent tax rate for people earning over £150,000. This comes as part of an election vow, together with promises to balance the government’s books and to clear the budget deficit.

A promise to bring back the tax on bank bonuses and reduce pension tax relief for the highest earners came in a speech to the Fabian Society Balls delivered on Saturday. However, he admitted that these measures would not be enough to balance the books.

“And when the deficit is still high, when tough times are set to last well into next parliament, when for ordinary families their real incomes are falling and taxes have risen, it cannot be right for David Cameron and George Osborne to have chosen to give the richest people in the country a huge tax cut,” he said.

The last Labour government, under Gordon Brown, raised the upper tax band from 40% to 50% in response to the recession in 2010, but the coalition cut it back to 45% in April 2013.

And from the Lancashire Telegraph, expressive downsizing:

Thwaites sign leaves Blackburn brewery bosses redfaced

BREWERY bosses were left red faced when their iconic lighted sign was turned into a profanity.

Some of the Thwaites Brewery letters atop the Blackburn building fell into darkness as people left town centre shops and offices last night.

With just the words H, I and E blacked out, the embarassing message was broadcast to the entire town.

It comes after news this week that the brewery is to axe up to 60 jobs.

The sign in question, via Nothing to do with Abroath [and, yeah, th word’s sexist, but there were just those letters to work with, so we’ll give a pass and a smile]:


On to Sweden and a refreshing note from CBC News:

Bastion of tolerance, Sweden opens wide for Syria’s refugees

  • Asylum offer testing Swedes’ patience, but forcing Europe to respond

On the northern fringes of Europe, Sweden has offered its hand to more Syrian refugees than any other Western nation, granting those who make it here permanent residency. And while its generosity has caused some tensions on the home front, including a modest rise in the anti-immigrant right, that has not stopped the Swedish government from lobbying its European counterparts to open their doors as well.

By way of contrast, here’s how Carlos Latuff sees the immigration policies of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras:

Samaras’ anti-immigration policy

Samaras’ anti-immigration policy

From Deutsche Welle, fighting the right:

Demonstrations against Viennese right-wing ball turn violent

  • Several protesters have been arrested during protests against a ball in Vienna that is a traditional venue for right-wing figures. Police reported a number of arrests and cases of vandalism.

Police in the Austrian capital, Vienna, say they arrested about a dozen people on Friday evening after initially peaceful protests, involving some 6,000 demonstrators, against the so-called Academics Ball (Akademikerball) in the city’s Hofburg palace turned violent.

“We have several arrests and also injured police officers,” a police spokeswoman said. Police also reported damage to storefronts and at least one police vehicle.

Police closed off large sections of the inner city ahead of the ball, which forms the focus for left-wing protests every year. Parts of the area were also closed to journalists, a move that drew criticism from Austrian news organizations as limiting media freedom.

On to Paris and holding steady with

Moody’s maintains French debt rating

Moody’s held its French credit rating at Aa1 Friday but maintained a negative outlook, days after President Francois Hollande announced a batch of business-friendly measures to fire up growth.

The US agency affirmed the bond rating one notch below the top AAA rating.

Moody’s voiced scepticism about the reforms Hollande announced earlier this month, a “responsibility pact” which includes lowering labour taxes in exchanges for fresh hiring by companies.

“The implementation and efficacy of these policy initiatives are complicated by the persistence of long-standing rigidities in labour, goods and services markets as well as the social and political tensions the government is facing,” the agency said in a statement.

But the London Telegraph sounds an alarm with a backhanded compliment:

France could destroy the euro, says Christopher Pissarides

  • Nobel laureate believes the ability of France to reform will decide the eurozone’s fate

France could destroy the euro if the government’s gamble on supply side reforms fails to pull the economy out of its chronic malaise, Nobel laureate Sir Christopher Pissarides has warned.

Sir Christopher, who won the the 2010 Nobel Prize for economics, said the ability of Europe’s second largest economy to implement sweeping changes would decide the fate of the single currency.

He warned French president Francois Hollande’s special blend of “supply-side socialism” would leave the fragile economy vulnerable to shocks for several years.

A more upbeat take from

Schaeuble ‘very optimistic’ on France economy after Hollande plans

GERMAN Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said today that he was optimistic France would emerge stronger once it implements the economic reforms announced last week by President Francois Hollande.

“France is and remains a strong country and France will make the right decisions,” Schaeuble said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in response to a question about whether Germany’s neighbour had done enough to bolster its struggling economy.

“We’ve seen that the French president has made the necessary decisions and I think it is the right path,” Schaeuble added. “I am very optimistic that the role of France will be strengthened through this and that we can bring Europe forward together.”

And from FRANCE 24, wiseguys on the farm:

Organised crime targets French countryside

On January 21, French gendarmes broke up a highly specialised international criminal organization. It wasn’t robbing armoured cars, luxury jewelry stores in Place Vendôme or tourists on the Paris Métro – it was stealing tractors.

The gang had mainly targeted dealerships for John Deere farm machinery, later selling the stolen tractors in Germany, Hungary and Romania.

The robbery that led to the network’s undoing occurred on the night of November 2-3, 2012, when three tractors were stolen from a farm machinery dealership in Haute-Vienne in the centre of France. Despite the apparently unusual nature of the crime, the local police quickly realized that this was not an isolated phenomenon. They suspected the existence of a criminal organization, and passed the case to the gendarmerie’s Central Office for the Fight against Itinerant Crime, which uncovered a network of international scope.

Off to Spain and business as usual from El País:

Tech giants taunt the taxman

  • Major US technology groups paid Spain’s revenue agency just 1.2 million euros in 2012
  • Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay and others use fiscal engineering to avoid payments

All the major US technology groups continue to dodge the Spanish taxman. The fiscal engineering tactics developed by their advisors allow them to pay hardly any tax on their business operations in Spain. Financial data for the main Spanish affiliates of Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft show that their joint provisions for tax on profits in 2012 — the last year for which figures are available — was just 1,251,608 euros. That’s to say: 1.2 million in taxes among seven giants of the industry.

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

This aggregate figure conceals the fact that some companies paid taxes while others claimed tax credits or deferred tax payments after incurring losses. The accounting provisions may slightly differ from the actual tax filings because of timing issues.

thinkSPAIN departs:

Exodus of foreign residents from Spain rises 13-fold in one year

FOREIGN residents in Spain who have left the country due to lack of work have multiplied in number by 13 in the last year, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

By the end of 2011, a total of 15,229 non-Spaniards had returned to their countries of origin or moved to other nations altogether due to being unable to find a job – but by the end of 2012, this number had grown to 190,020.

Figures for 2013 will not be known until this time next year.

And El País looks for help from above:

Saint “might help Spain out of crisis,” says interior minister

  • Jorge Fernández Díaz says he is convinced 16th-century nun is “interceding”

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Friday disclosed the existence of a previously unknown factor that might help Spain pull out of its deep economic crisis.

Speaking at the tourism fair FITUR in Madrid, Fernández Díaz said he was convinced that Saint Teresa of Ávila, the 16th-century nun, is “interceding” for Spain “during these harsh times.”

The revelatory statement was part of the presentation of “Huellas de Santa Teresa” (or, Traces of Saint Teresa), a project to celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth through a tour of 17 cities where the saint established outposts for the Discalced Carmelites, a branch of the Carmelites that she founded.

While thinkSPAIN downsizes:

Coca-Cola staff facing redundancy go on strike

STAFF at the four Coca-Cola factories due to be shut down in Spain have gone on an ‘indefinite’ strike after hearing the firm planned to axe 1,250 jobs.

The plants in Fuenlabrada (Madrid), Alicante, Palma de Mallorca and Colloto (Asturias) are set to go at the end of February and 500 employees will be relocated whilst the rest will join the dole queue.

A series of demonstrations are planned by the Fuenlabrada workers, and it is expected staff from the other three plants will join in.

The company, Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, is financially healthy, but wants to ‘consolidate’ its operations by centralising production more ‘to improve efficiency’.

After the jump, the Greek crisis continues, Ukrainian compromise, Indian economic woes and cola wars, Thai elections, Singapore in a sling, Chinese inflation and austerity, Japanese bankster profits, toxic microbeads in California water, tar sands pushes, purple GMNO tomatoes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliFukunomia

Very late, so we’ll skip the preambles and take the minimalist approach with preambles. . .

Numbers and hopes from Reuters:

Weak imports drive U.S. trade deficit to four-year lows

The U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in four years in November as exports hit a record high and weak oil prices held down the import bill, the latest evidence of strengthening economic fundamentals.

Tuesday’s report left economists anticipating a far stronger growth pace for the fourth-quarter than previously expected, with some predicting trade could contribute as much as a full percentage point to output during the period.

“The report should dispel worries that fourth quarter growth will be really weak,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. “It may not be robust, but should set us up for even better growth this year.”

The Washington Post with a fine story:

Government extracts $2 billion in fines from JPMorgan in Madoff case

Years of high investment returns at Madoff Securities left bankers in the London office of JPMorgan Chase skeptical of the methods of company chief Bernard L. Madoff. While the bank reported its suspicions to British authorities in 2008, it never said a word to anyone in Washington, the Justice Department says.

On Tuesday, Madoff’s primary banker agreed to pay federal prosecutors and regulators more than $2 billion to resolve criminal charges that it failed to alert the government about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

From Al Jazeera America, chilling:

Deep freeze in eastern US places heavy burden on nation’s homeless

Shelters struggle to keep beds open as extreme cold brings potential for frostbite and even death

For a majority of Americans, the record low temperatures that descended across much of the United States on Tuesday were cause for little more than an annoyingly frigid morning commute. But for the nation’s often overlooked homeless population, the weather was more than just bothersome; it was potentially deadly for the 600,000 who find themselves without a place to call their own.

In small towns and large cities alike, homeless-service organizations grappled with unprecedented numbers of men and women seeking warmth and respite from the intense cold. Smaller organizations struggled not to turn people away from overcrowded shelters and churches, where some organizations began to pull out extra cots and blankets to meet the demand.

San Diego’s daily journalists take the hit from MediaWire:

Citing Obamacare, U-T San Diego cuts contributions to employee retirement accounts

In a memo to employees sent last Monday, U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch said the company would suspend matching contributions to employees’ 401(k) accounts. In the note, Lynch cites “the challenges of a difficult economic recovery.” But, he says, “The Company also has experienced significant additional expense due to Obamacare.”

Lynch hasn’t yet replied to a query about how the new healthcare law was affecting U-T San Diego specifically — David Nather reported in Politico last year that businesses employing more than 50 people will have to pay some per-employee fees. In a speech last summer, Lynch reportedly said it would cost the company a half-million dollars.

Class war from Al Jazeera America:

Classes clash as San Franciscans blame tech for rising rents

  • Evictions are up as longtime residents say they are being squeezed out by a new wave of Internet millionaires

Housing prices and rents here are on the rise, and they are the source of tension that is boiling over between classes.

The average price of buying a home now tops $1 million, and it costs more than $3,000 a month to rent an apartment, leading to one question dominating the minds of many who call this coveted city home: Who exactly can afford to live here?

The answer is starting to define a growing conflict among the city’s inhabitants that many are blaming on a tech-industry boom that is dramatically shifting the socioeconomic demographics of the city.

Booming business anticipation from Aerospace Daily & Defense Report:

U.S. Defense Contracting Rebound Seen In 2014

U.S. defense contracting opportunities once again make up the vast majority of overall potential federal contracting awards in fiscal 2014, with 73% of more than $160 billion across the government seen coming from the national security realm, according to consulting firm Deltek.

The $118 billion in defense opportunities is double the total for the previous year, and the percentage is above the five-year average of 69%. Within the defense sector, the Army dominates, with 57% of the total contract value.

Overall, Deltek, in its latest annual review of the top-20 federal award opportunities in the fiscal year ahead, sees other interesting trends, including U.S. government contracts making a rebound from 2013. Fiscal 2014, which ends Sept. 30, is the year of the agency-specific, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) follow-on awards, Deltek notes.

Canada next with CBC News:

Long-term rates may rise soon, Stephen Poloz says

  • Bank of Canada governor predicts pressure on bond yields as Fed continues tapering

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says he expects long-term interest rates to rise this summer as the U.S. Federal Reserve continues tapering, but he believes that would be a positive development.

Poloz, who was named Canada’s top central banker in May, said he believes that the U.S. Fed will continue to taper its bond-buying program throughout the year and that will create market pressure on bond yields.

Loonie loses from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Sliding loonie a big adjustment for businesses and consumers

Businesses and consumers alike should prepare to readjust to life with a lower currency.

The Canadian dollar tumbled by more than a penny to 92.83 cents U.S. Tuesday, hitting its lowest level in more than three years, and several economists say it has further to fall.

The latest drop, triggered by weak trade data, comes as the currency has shed about 7 per cent in the past year.

Bloomberg spots a bear:

Goldman to JPMorgan Say Sell Emerging Markets After Slide

Wall Street’s biggest banks say the slump in emerging-market assets that left equities trailing advanced-nation shares by the most since 1998 last year will prove more than a fleeting selloff.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. recommends investors cut allocations in developing nations by a third, forecasting “significant underperformance” for stocks, bonds and currencies over the next 10 years. JPMorgan Chase & Co. expects local-currency bonds to post 10 percent of their average returns since 2004 in the coming year, while Morgan Stanley projects the Brazilian real, Turkish lira and Russian ruble will extend declines after tumbling as much as 17 percent in 2013.

While the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China symbolized the increasing power of the developing world during the worst of the global financial crisis and delivered outsized returns, Morgan Stanley says some of the same nations may now prove to be laggards as the U.S. Federal Reserve scales back unprecedented stimulus and interest rates rise. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is down 3.1 percent this year, compared with a 0.8 percent drop in the developed-market index, and hit a four-month low yesterday as data from China showed weakness in manufacturing and services.

A rosy perspective from the London Telegraph:

IMF to revise up global growth forecasts, says Christine Lagarde

  • Christine Lagarde refuses to say how much IMF will raise growth forecasts by during visit to Kenya

The International Monetary Fund will revise upward its global growth forecast in about three weeks, Managing Director Christine Lagarde has revealed.

“We will be revising upwards the global forecast of the economic growth,” she told a press conference in the Nairobi, adding that it would be premature to say any more.

Ms Lagarde, who was wrapping up a two-day visit to Kenya, gave no reason for the revision.

Regionaly rosy with New Europe:

Markit: Eurozone economic recovery accelerates

The economic research firm Markit announced that the Eurozone economic recovery accelerates as the Eurozone PMI Composite Output Index rose at a three month high in December.

The PMI Index stood at 52.1 in December from 51.7 in November. According to Markit, the index rose to its second highest level during the past two and a half years, marking a signal that the Eurozone economic recovery accelerates. Manufacturing continued to lead Eurozone’s recovery in December as growth of production accelerated to its fastest since May 2011. Service sector business activity also increased further, although the rate of expansion cooled to a four-month low.

According to the news release, the economic recovery of the Eurozone Member States varied. Ireland and Germany were the best performers, while Spain was the biggest mover over the month with its PMI output index surging to a near six-and-a-half year record. Output in the third largest economy in Eurozone, Italy held steady while France was the only one of the big-four nations to report contractions of both output and new orders.

Less rosy, from the London Telegraph:

Eurozone losing ‘safety margin’ against deflation trap as core gauge falls to record low

Fall in inflation raises fears that eurozone is ‘sleepwalking into a deflation trap’
Eurozone losing ‘safety margin’ against deflation trap as core gauge falls to record low

Eurozone inflation has fallen to the lowest recorded under two key measures, raising the risk of a textbook deflation trap if recovery falters or there is an unexpected shock.

Core inflation – stripping out food and energy – fell to 0.7pc, lower than at any time following the Lehman crisis.

“It’s lower than when the European Central Bank was forced to cut rates in November,” said David Owen from Jefferies Fixed Income.

More from Reuters:

Surprise drop in euro zone inflation shows deflation risk

Euro zone inflation fell in December after a small increase the previous month, increasing the European Central Bank’s challenge of avoiding deflation as well as supporting the bloc’s recovery.

Sky News prepares to conclude a bailout:

Treasury Takes Step Towards £19bn Lloyds Sale

The taxpayer-backed bank has been asked to draw up plans for a sale of the Government’s remaining stake, Sky News learns.

The agency which manages taxpayers’ £19bn stake in Lloyds Banking Group has asked Britain’s biggest high street lender to work on plans for a share sale to the general public.

Sky News has learnt that UK Financial Investments (UKFI) wrote to the Lloyds board during the Christmas break to ask it to write a prospectus that would accompany a major retail offering.

The development underlines the Treasury’s intention to sell a large chunk of its remaining 33% shareholding in Lloyds this year, although an insider said the timing had not yet been decided.

The Independent grows insular:

Boris Johnson calls for two-year wait before migrants can claim benefits

David Cameron is under pressure to extend the Government’s three-month ban on migrants claiming state benefits when they arrive in Britain.

Only three weeks after the Prime Minister announced his crackdown,  Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London,  called for a two-year wait before new arrivals could claim social security.

Mr Johnson said that he backed immigration but had a “problem” with the free movement of workers in an expanded, 28-nation EU much bigger than the club Britain joined in 1973.  He told LBC 97.3 radio: “We don’t want to be slamming up the drawbridge being completely horrible to people.  If you want to come and work here you can do that but there should be a period before which you can claim all benefits and it seems entirely reasonable to me that they should extend that to two years.”

RT keeps count:

Britain to fail government immigration target – Business Secretary

UK PM David Cameron’s pledge to cut net migration to below 100,000 has been branded impractical by the UK business secretary. He added the country will fail to meet the target of less than 100,000 migrants entering per year.

Cameron made the pledge in the lead up to the 2010 general election, and hoped that the figure would be reduced to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015.

The government has been taking a progressively harsher stance against the issue. 2013 saw controversial measures such as sending vans bearing the sign ‘go home or face arrest’ into six London boroughs. In December, the UK government introduced measures that would force EU migrants to wait for three months before they could apply for benefits.

Ireland next, in bondage with CBC News:

Ireland raises $5.5B in triumphant return to bond markets

After exiting bailout program, country sees surge of demand for its 10-year bonds

There was a surge in demand Tuesday for Irish 10-year bonds, the first issued on debt markets since the country exited its international bailout program last month.

The Irish treasury said it sold 3.75 billion euros ($5.5 billion Cdn) in bonds, with an average yield of 3.54 per cent, considered low among EU’s crisis-hit countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Investors from around the world placed 14 billion euros of orders for the 10-year bonds, giving Ireland leeway to pick from what one analyst called “a who’s who of northern European real money investors.”

The Associated Press blows Swedish smoke:

Swedish minister spreads satire marijuana article

Sweden’s justice minister is facing ridicule for posting a spoof article about marijuana-linked deaths on her Facebook page along with comments about her zero-tolerance against drugs.

Beatrice Ask of Sweden’s ruling Conservative Party linked to the Daily Currant’s satire article, which claimed (falsely) that marijuana overdoses killed 37 people in Colorado on the first day of legalization.

Above the link she wrote: “Stupid and sad. My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven’t changed opinion at all.” shows grace:

Flowers cover swastikas after mosque attack

Several swastikas scrawled on the facade of the Stockholm mosque were covered by flowers on Monday, leading the Islamic Association’s chairman to hope “the quiet majority” is finally speaking up.

Last Thursday morning, members of the Stockholm Muslim congregation arrived at the mosque on Södermalm to find the doors were covered in Nazi graffiti. By Monday morning, however, a much more positive display had taken their place: bouquets of pink and white flowers were taped over the black swastikas, and a note of solidarity was tied to the door.

“For every hate crime there is a flower,” the sign read. “An attack on you is an attack on Sweden! We stand together!” spots a Norse quitter:

Anti-immigrant Progress Oslo head resigns

Christian Tybring-Gjedde, one of Norway’s most controversial anti-immigration politicians, has resigned his position as head of the Progress Party in Oslo.

He would not be drawn on the reasons for his departure, saying only that “many episodes have been arduous.”

“It’s tough being the head of the Oslo Progress Party,” he told Aftenposten newspaper. “It is natural that someone else should take the baton and run continue the race.”

Tybring-Gjedde has been one of Norway’s most outspoken critics of multiculturalism and Islamic fundamentalism.  In contrast to Progress’s party leader Siv Jensen, he has refused to moderate his rhetoric following the twin terror attacks mounted by far-right  Anders Breivik in 2011.

A Dutch plea with BBC News:

Dutch Foreign Minister calls for new EU policy on Cuba

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans has urged the European Union to take a new look at its relationship with Cuba.

Mr Timmermans, who is on a visit to Cuba, said the best way to promote change on the Communist-run island was through dialogue, not isolation.

The EU restricts its political ties with the Cuban government to try to encourage multi-party democracy and an end to human rights violations.

Germany next, with PR from EUbusiness:

New German FM aims to ‘correct’ country’s poor image in Europe

New German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday said he hoped to rectify his country’s image in Europe, where Berlin is often accused of being behind tough belt-tightening economic policies.

“Communication is very important in politics and misunderstandings can be avoided if people speak to each other often,” he said after talks in Brussels with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who is also a member of the German Social Democrats.

Spiegel goes for the gold:

Super Subs: The German Defense Industry Discovers Asia

The German defense industry is increasingly looking to Asia as a growing market for its products. Conflicts in the Far East have led to a demand for the kind of giant — and expensive — submarines that come from shipyards in northern Germany.

The entire region is expected to become one of the world’s most important focal points for security policy. The conflicts that play out there relate to fishing areas, island groups and large mineral deposits believed to lie at the bottom of the ocean.

It is a state of affairs that promises big business for the German defense industry. Next to the Gulf region, the Pacific is increasingly becoming one of the few global growth markets for defense firms. According to a 2013 report published by the Swedish research institute SIPRI, three of the worlds five biggest arms importers are West Pacific states: China, South Korea and Singapore. For the German economy, the sale of large submarines is especially lucrative. Each vessel costs €400-800 million, depending on size.

The German government supports the business with benevolence. Each contract is given its own federal export guarantee. In the case of Singapore, the German state guaranteed the value of the submarines. It’s a risk that pays off: In the end, the state also profits off global exports through tax revenue. In addition, long-running jobs for the North German HDW shipyard, a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp, means secure jobs for the otherwise structurally weak region at the Kiel Fjord.

France next, and a pseudo-socialist neoliberal twist from RFI:

Hollande says French public sector too expensive

French president François Hollande told a gathering of civil servants on Tuesday that he hoped to make savings of 50 billion euro in the state sector by 2017.

On Tuesday Hollande told his audience of public sector workers that they must all play their part, and that for services to be “more efficient” the state must “spend less”.

Xinhua springs eternal:

French consumer sentiment slightly improves in Dec.

At the end of December 2013, French consumer confidence recovered slightly as people became more optimistic over the country’s economic prospects and expressed less concerns on unemployment, the French national statistics institute Insee said Tuesday.

Insee data showed consumer confidence rose by one point to 85 in December from a month earlier with economic situation outlook moving up to minus 49, up by four points. liberates:

Goodyear workers free ‘kidnapped’ French execs

After spending more than 24 hours being held hostage by their angry employees, two executives from a doomed Goodyear tyre plant in northern France were set free on Tuesday afternoon.

Workers at a French tyre factory facing closure released two executives on Tuesday a day after the pair were taken hostage as part of an effort to win better pay-off terms for employees.

Some of the 1,173 workers facing layoff at the Goodyear factory in Amiens locked the bosses in an office at the site on Monday morning, but by Tuesday afternoon the executives were set free, French daily L’Express reported.

And the London Telegraph fumes:

Gallic uproar over ‘Fall of France’ Newsweek article

Newsweek article ignites media storm in France over claims country is being choked by sky-high taxes and prices, costly perks such as free nappies for mothers

Milk costs a sky-high six euros a litre, mothers receive free nappies and the nation’s brightest brains are fleeing a sinking ship — such are the claims about France made in a recent Newsweek article, unleashing a storm of outrage in the country’s media.

For the French, to see their punitive taxes and costly social model mocked at home and by the “Anglo-Saxon” press, particularly with the economy at a near standstill and record unemployment, is nothing new.

However, an article entitled The Fall of France, by journalist Janine di Giovanni, has proved beyond the pale even for the most sanguine of Gallic commentators, who this week have unleashed their fury against “le French bashing” and heaped ridicule on some of the piece’s more questionable claims.

Spain next with El País:

Foreign investors pile into Spanish sovereign debt

  • Overseas investors increased their holdings by a record 21 billion euros in November

Foreign investors’ holdings of Spanish government bonds and bills increased by a record of almost 21 billion euros in November to 273.172 billion, the biggest figure in absolute terms since 2011, according to the latest Treasury figures.

As a result of increased investor confidence, in relative terms foreigners’ holdings of sovereign debt increased by three percentage points to over 40 percent, a level last seen in the middle of 2012.

The main driving force behind this development is the liquidity provided to lenders by the main central banks and the search for higher-yielding debt instruments, which has particularly favored euro-zone peripheral countries such as Spain.

euronews charges:

Spanish princess in the dock rocks the country

The decision by Judge Jose Castro to charge Princess Christina of Spain, the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos, with money laundering and tax evasion has sent shockwaves through every strata of Spanish society.

After a lengthy investigation, Judge Castro believes that there is evidence that crime has been committed. Miquel Roca, a lawyer for the princess, is not so sure: “ I am totally convinced Judge Castro has carried out his duties, but I have to disagree with the decision.”

Her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Udangarin, was earlier charged with embezzlement of six million euros among other charges, all of which he denies.

El País relents:

Cracks in PP begin to show as third baron comes out against abortion legislation

Regional premier in Castilla y León says government should have awaited Constitutional Court ruling

A day before the Popular Party’s top officials were due to hold their first meeting of the year, a third PP “baron” on Tuesday came out against the government’s proposed controversial changes to the abortion law, which indicates growing rifts inside the ruling party.

Juan Vicente Herrera, the regional premier in Castilla y León, said that the government should wait until the Constitutional Court rules on a challenge the PP filed on the current abortion law soon after it was passed in 2010 under the previous Socialist government.

Herrera joins the ranks of his colleagues, Extremadura premier José Antonio Monago, and Galician premier Alberto Núñez Feijóo, in calling on the Rajoy government for restraint.

Italy next, and Bunga Bunga hucksterism from

Silvio Berlusconi gives jobless couple €50k

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi gave an unemployed couple €50,000 after receiving a letter from them explaining their dire economic situation.

Tommasina Pisciottu and Mario Padovan received the money after writing to the billionaire in December, Il Gazzettino reported on Monday.

“Neither me nor my husband have work. He lost his job due to the economic crisis and became depressed. In early December, I wrote a Christmas letter to Berlusconi in which I recounted my life and my story,” Pisciottu was quoted in the newspaper as saying.

A few days ago the 40-year-old, who refers to her benefactor as ‘president’, received a letter from Berlusconi’s Milan residence including three cheques to the sum of €50,000, which she has already cashed, Il Gazzettino reported.

Poland next, intolerantly with EUbusiness:

Poland’s fledgling far-right to run for EU parliament

Poland’s nascent nationalist movement RN said Tuesday it would put forward candidates for the first time ever at the 2014 European Parliament elections.

The bloc is made up of dozens of small nationalist, ultra-Catholic and eurosceptic groups that joined forces last year with an eye on the vote in May.

The RN hopes to form a coalition with the eurosceptic UK Independence Party led by Nigel Farage, the anti-immigration French National Front (FN) party led by Marine Le Pen or the far-right Hungarian Jobbik party led by Gabor Vona.

After the jump, Greek meltdown, Turkish uncertainty, Indian desperation, Thai turmoil, mixed Chinese news, Japanese anxieties and crimes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFoibles

On with our compendium of headlines of this in the world of economics, environment, and politics — plus the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!.

From the Department of Wretched Excess via the London Daily Mail, the perfect $98,466 accessory for the modern plutocrat:

Perfect for people with deep pockets: Supercar maker Bugatti reveals a trouser belt that costs £60,000 (more than it costs to buy a Porsche)

  • The belt is a collaboration with Swiss luxury company Roland Iten
  • Only 11 of the precision-made belts will be available to buy

More plutocratic sumptuary delights from The Guardian:

Sunseeker, the UK yachtmaker catering to a new wave of multimillionaires

  • At the London Boat Show, company boss Stewart McIntyre explains why countries such as China are key to its future

Sunseeker’s real boom is from newly minted millionaires and billionaires emerging from China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico. More than half of the 35-year-old British company’s customers now come from outside Europe, a “huge increase on a few years ago”.

The fastest growing market is Mexico, and the company will open new sales offices this summer in Colombia, Panama and Venezuela, which he said “would never have happened five years ago”. Demand is also booming in the Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago in Indian Ocean, which is “the latest playground for Middle Eastern investors”.

And The Independent looks to a growing green power:

As cannabis is widely legalised, China cashes in on an unprecedented boom

The country holds hundreds of patents relating to the drug, which means more profits as decriminalisation spreads globally

Almost 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions including gout and malaria. Today, as the global market for marijuana experiences an unprecedented boom after being widely legalised, it is China that again appears to have set its eyes on dominating trade in the drug.

The communist country is well placed to exploit the burgeoning cannabis trade with more than half of the patents relating to or involving cannabis originating in China. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 patents relating to the drug.

And others hope to capitalize as well. From the Denver Post via the Los Angeles Daily News:

High Times launches investment fund for marijuana business

Executives at High Times, a New York magazine that has covered the marijuana scene for four decades, are launching a new private-equity fund expected to boost a burgeoning American marijuana industry.

The HT Growth Fund plans to raise $100 million over the next two years to invest in cannabis-related businesses.

“What we are looking to do is provide capital and credit to companies that are established and have grown and reached their potential as much as they can without access to traditional capital markets,” said Michael Safir, managing director of the new fund and former business manager of High Times.

CNBC coverts the increasingly left behinds:

Six years post-recession, a tale of Wall St. and Main St.

Heading into a new year and six years after the Great Recession began, small-business owners are modestly growing and adding jobs—not roaring back to life like the stock market.

“It feels totally different to be a small-business owner in America on Main Street than on Wall Street, where they’re popping Champagne corks,” said Beth Solomon, president and CEO of the National Association of Development Companies (NADCO), a Washington-based trade group that supports Small Business Administration lenders.

Job creation among smaller employers traditionally has jump-started recoveries. But this time, the trend has remained largely absent.

From the Washington Post, corruption incarnate:

Koch-backed political network, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012

The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents.

The filings show that the network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially outpaced other independent groups on the right and, on its own, matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions that serves as one of the biggest sources of support for Democrats.

And for a look at the networks, here’s the accompanying graphic, “Inside the $400-million political network backed by the Kochs‘”

South China Morning Post covers a news play:

Chinese tycoon ‘serious’ about buying New York Times

Chen Guangbiao, listed as one of China’s 400 richest people, penned an op-ed in the state-run Global Times newspaper yesterday headlined: “I intend to buy The New York Times, please don’t take it as a joke”.

“The tradition and style of The New York Times make it very difficult to have objective coverage of China,” Chen wrote. “If we could purchase it, its tone might turn around. Therefore I have been involved in discussing acquisition-related matters with like-minded investors.”

One man’s sure to be upset if the Times takeover happens. From The Contributor Network:

Anti-Immigration Advocate Isn’t a Racist, He Just Wants to Preserve White Rule

William Gheen, head of the anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC), explained to an Idaho radio host last month that he’s not a racist, he’s just opposed to the people who are trying to change America’s  history of being “predominately governed by people of European descendancy.”

The people who call him a racist, Gheen told host Kevin Miller, are just “looking for any way to create division among any group,” a practice that he claims has increased under the Obama administration.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore offers another uptick:

US factory orders hit 1992 high

New orders for US manufactured goods surged in November to their highest level since 1992, lifted by rises in aircraft and ship orders, the Commerce Department said on Monday.

New factory orders rose 1.8 per cent from October to $497.9 billion in November, the highest monthly level since the current data series began in 1992, the department said.

Excluding transportation, new orders were up 0.6 per cent in November.

The New York Times takes note:

The Bubble Is Back

IN November, housing starts were up 23 percent, and there was cheering all around. But the crowd would quiet down if it realized that another housing bubble had begun to grow.

Almost everyone understands that the 2007-8 financial crisis was precipitated by the collapse of a huge housing bubble. The Obama administration’s remedy of choice was the Dodd-Frank Act. It is the most restrictive financial regulation since the Great Depression — but it won’t prevent another housing bubble.

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

Company earnings warnings are at record-highs

Either Corporate America has reached its most pessimistic outlook in years in regard to earnings, or executives are pushing the envelope of the low-ball game. How bad are the forecasts? It depends on who you ask, but one thing is certain: companies are lowering expectations as much as they can.

According to John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, 94 out of the 107 companies on the S&P 500 Index SPX -0.25% that have issued an earnings outlook for the fourth quarter have fallen below Wall Street consensus. That’s a negative rate of 88%, the most pessimistic reading since FactSet started tracking the data in 2006.

It also marks the seventh quarter in a row that the number of companies issuing negative earnings guidance has risen, Butters said. By his count, the estimated earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 in the fourth quarter is 6.3%.

Across the Atlantic with somber news from New Europe:

Bloomberg survey: Eurozone unemployment above 12 per cent

According to a Bloomberg news survey, the Eurozone unemployment rate will stand at 12.1 per cent in November.

Tobias Blattner, senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London told Bloomberg that Eurozone unemployment rate will remain high. “Unemployment is bound to remain high amid a sluggish recovery…and with credit remaining scarce and expensive in large parts of the euro area, inflation will fail to creep higher. Deflation fears, however, are unlikely to materialize,” Mr. Blattner said.

Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Global insight in London agreed with Mr. Blattner saying that Eurozone unemployment “is likely to stay at a very high level for some considerable time to come.” Mr. Archer stressed that the high levels of unemployment will not have a drastic impact on consumer spending in Eurozone, as the wage growth in most Eurozone countries is particularly weak. “That’s got to have a limiting impact on consumer spending (high unemployment rate), particularly when you think how weak wage growth is in most countries,” the IHS economist stressed.

Spiegel invokes the green monster:

Crisis Management: Europe Eyes Anglo-Saxon Model with Envy

Should the European Central Bank follow the Anglo-Saxon model and buy up vast quantities of sovereign bonds in attempt to finally overcome the euro crisis? ECB head Mario Draghi is under pressure to act now. But what are his options?

Draghi now has two options: Either he can once again pump huge quantities of money into European banks as the ECB did in the winter of 2011/2012, but this time with the condition that the money must be loaned to companies in need of financing. That, however, would be a significant intrusion into the business operation of the banks, which would be forced to take on additional risks. Or the ECB could buy sovereign bonds, thus sinking long-term interest rates, a move which would only work were the bank to focus on purchasing debt from those euro-zone states that are struggling the most.

A bankster victory ahead, from EUbusiness:

EU won’t seek law to separate banking activities: FT

The European Union is set to drop financial reforms that would force big banks to ringfence their retail departments from riskier investment operations, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

A draft European Commission paper, seen by the business paper, would no longer make banks automatically split operations and would give national supervisors more leeway in applying the reforms.

But the draft proposal, drawn up by EU Commissioner Michel Barnier, does add a “narrowly defined” ban on 30 big banks using their own money for trading, so-called proprietary trading.

On to Old Blighty, where The Independent spots a familiar pattern:

Hard-hit high street retailers ‘subsidising’ Bond Street elite

Rate delay helps the likes of Armani but costs Greater Manchester shops £61.5m

Struggling retailers on some of Britain’s most deprived high streets are effectively “subsidising” the likes of Burberry and Chanel following the Government’s two-year delay on business rate revaluation, it has emerged.

The Government was supposed to have revalued all business properties by 2015, a process that takes place every five years. The rental values are used to calculate business rates, but this has been postponed until 2017.

The delay benefits one of the UK’s richest shopping streets, Bond Street in London. Stores will save £66m over two years, according to research by Grimsey Review co-author Paul Turner-Mitchell.

Sky News spots a need:

NHS ‘Needs £1bn’ For Longer GP Opening Hours

The new head of the Royal College of GPs issues a warning over the Prime Minister’s plans for surgeries to open seven days a week.

More than 20,000 extra GPs, nurses and other NHS staff are needed if the Prime Minister wants his plan for longer surgery opening hours to work, the head of the Royal College of GPs has warned.

Sky News again, with the ax in hand:

Hundreds Of NHS Direct Staff Face Job Losses

The 111 phone service for urgent but non-emergency NHS help has been beset with problems and complaints since it started in April. NHS Direct announced in July that it was planning to pull out of its contracts due to severe financial problems.

In October it said it would close after projecting a £26 million deficit for this financial year. Some 200 of its 700 staff have already been told their jobs are safe, as they move to other providers. Of the remaining 500, many may also escape redundancy, with back office staff most likely to lose their jobs.

The Australian Financial Review goes austerian:

UK’s Osborne pushes for more welfare cuts

Britain’s finance minister announced major cuts to the country’s future welfare spending, spelling out the next phase of a push to fix public finances and straining ties within the coalition government.

More from CNNMoney:

More austerity for U.K. despite recovery

Britain faces fresh government spending cuts worth $41 billion, signaling the scars of the financial crisis in one of Europe’s strongest economies have far from healed.

In a speech Monday, Chancellor George Osborne said £25 billion ($40.9 billion) would be cut over two years through to early 2018, equivalent to nearly 2% of government spending over that period.

Faster growth is not generating enough revenue to allow the U.K. to start reducing its debt mountain, and the government doesn’t want to raise taxes further.

Around half of the cuts will hit welfare programs, putting more strain on some of the country’s most vulnerable residents.

South China Morning Post takes a hike:

Lawyers in walkout over plan by UK government to cut legal aid fees

Courts disrupted as barristers and solicitors protest over UK government’s proposal to reduce legal aid charges by up to 30 per cent

Criminal courts across England and Wales were severely disrupted [Monday] as barristers and solicitors staged an unprecedented mass walkout in protest at British government plans to slash legal aid fees by up to 30 per cent.

It is the first time UK barristers have withdrawn their labour, the Criminal Bar Association said, and the first time the two wings of the legal profession have taken co-ordinated, national action.

And The Guardian stalls:

UK services sector growth slows – but still outpaces eurozone average

  • Britain’s services sector maintains year-long surge in output, while France suffers second successive fall

Britain’s services sector maintained its year-long surge in output during December as businesses reported a rise in confidence for the coming year.

The rise in activity was a little weaker than the previous month and the pace of growth was slowest since June, but still outstripped the eurozone average and especially France, which suffered a second successive month of falling services output – and at an accelerating rate.

Off to Ireland and another pattern from

Service sector activity at highest level since 2007

The latest services Purchasing Managers’ Index has now shown expansion in each of the past 17 months.

The services sector ranges from banks and hotels to restaurants and bars and accounts for about 70pc of economic output.

According to the Investec figures, the PMI rose to 61.8 in December up from 57.1 the previous month – any figure above 50 indicates growth.

Germany next, where the Australian Financial Review reforms:

Deutsche Bank on road to reform

Deutsche Bank’s corporate banking chief says investment banks will rack up more fines for misconduct this year, but maintains the industry has curbed behaviour that led to the GFC.

A shift perceived from EUobserver:

EU power shifts from Brussels to Berlin

While the eurozone crisis in 2013 lingered in most countries, Germany seemed to be doing better than ever.

It had low unemployment, high productivity and exports so strong that the European Commission asked it to do more to help ailing periphery countries in the single currency bloc.

Chancellor Angela Merkel – the most powerful leader in Europe – was elected once again and took up a third mandate in a coalition government with the Social Democrats. fetes:

Inflation falls in boost for economy

German savers celebrated on Monday after figures showed inflation fell to its lowest rate since 2010 in 2013.

Germany still remembers how millions lost their savings in the hyperinflation chaos of the early 1920s – and so are traditionally wary of the potential damage inflation can cause to the economy.

Yet figures released on Monday showed inflation in 2013 was at its lowest rate since 2010, due a fall in petrol and heating costs.

Upbeat news with

German employment hits record high in 2013

The number of people in employment in Europe’s biggest economy hit a record high for the seventh consecutive year in 2013, although the increase was smaller than in the last two years, Germany?s Statistics Office said on Thursday.

According to Reuters, with 41.8 million people in work, some 232,000 jobs were created last year but the rise was roughly half the size of the average for 2012 and 2011, the office said.

Germany’s jobless rate has held steady at just below 7.0 percent for the last two years and is the envy of crisis-hit euro zone partners such as Spain and Greece where more than one in four people is officially out of work.

While World Socialist Web Site gets a harsh glimpse behind the curtain:

Poverty in Germany hits new high

A few days before the Christmas holidays, the Joint Welfare Association published a report on the regional development of poverty in Germany in 2013 titled “Between prosperity and poverty—a test to breaking point”. The report refutes the official propaganda that Germany has remained largely unaffected by the crisis and is a haven of prosperity in Europe.

According to the report, poverty in Germany has “reached a sad record high”. Entire cities and regions have been plunged into ever deeper economic and social crisis. “The social and regional centrifugal forces, as measured by the spread of incomes, have increased dramatically in Germany since 2006,” it says. Germany faces “a test to breaking point.”

“All the positive trends of recent years have come to a standstill or have reversed. Germany has never been as divided as it is today,” said Ulrich Schneider, executive director of the Joint Welfare Association at the launch of the report.

Kathimerini English investigates:

Germans will also probe tank deal after bribe claims

Prosecutors in Munich are to investigate claims that German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) paid bribes to at least one Greek official for the sale of 170 Leopard 2 tanks more than a decade ago, Kathimerini understands.

The probe is being launched after Apostolos Kantas, deputy head of procurements at Greece’s Defense Ministry between 1996 and 2002, admitted that he accepted about 16 million dollars in kickbacks from a number of suppliers during his time in office.

According to Deutsche Welle, KMW has also launched its own internal probe into the Leopard 2 deal but the company has so far rejected allegations that bribes were paid as part of the agreement. It also points out the sale of the tanks was agreed in 2003, after Kantas had left his position.

On to France and yet another discreditation of pseudo-socialism from The Independent:

Francois Hollande makes drastic U-turn on tax cuts and welfare in bid to save presidency

François Hollande will try to relaunch his foundering presidency in the next 10 days with plans to cut public spending and reduce taxes – especially taxes on jobs and business.

The French President’s new approach, though vague so far, is being compared with the abrupt U-turn towards more market-driven policies enacted by his Socialist predecessor, François Mitterrand, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of the 1980s.

In a series of speeches, Mr Hollande will lay out the main lines of a policy to reduce the cost of labour and try to halt the slide in French industry. His new approach is described as an “acceleration” of the timid reforms undertaken since he was elected in 2012.

The policy has been welcomed by employers but castigated by unions and the left as a break from the President’s statist approach of the past 20 months. Until now, Mr Hollande’s government has been reducing the deficit with tax increases and modest spending cuts. He has tried to push back the rise in unemployment by projects such as job-creation schemes for the young.

Bloomberg Businessweek diagnoses:

More Evidence France Is the New Sick Man of Europe

While Europe’s economic recovery is slowly gaining traction, France is sliding backwards.

That’s the inescapable conclusion about newly reported data on business activity, including a survey released today by Markit Economics showing that France’s service-sector output contracted sharply in December, to a six-month low. An earlier report showed a steep drop in French manufacturing activity during December as well.

Those figures, along with rising French unemployment claims, suggest that France may have “slid back into recession late last year,” says Markit’s chief economist, Chris Williamson. resists:

French workers hold Goodyear execs hostage

French workers facing job cuts rarely lie down without a fight and are often prepared to resort to extreme measures, which was the case at a doomed Goodyear tyre factory in northern France on Monday, where two bosses were being held captive.

Workers have taken two executives hostage at a Goodyear tyre factory in Amiens which was the subject of an international row between a French minister and an American CEO last year.

Union representatives have promised to keep the men captive until they have come to better terms for the 1,173 workers who face unemployment with the proposed closure of the site.

Spain next, and a familiar pattern from El País:

Services sector grows at fastest pace since start of economic crisis

  • Survey also indicates labor market is showing signs of stabilizing

Activity and new orders in the key Spanish services sector, which accounts for over half of the country’s GDP, grew at the fastest pace in over six years in December, further fuelling expectations that the economy is on track for a significant recovery this year, according to a survey released Monday by consultant Markit.

Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbed from 51.5 points in November to 54.2 points in the last month of 2013. That was the second successive month in which the index was above the 50-point mark that denotes expansion, while the increase was the sharpest since July 2007, before the current crisis took hold.

A Swiss miss from Sky News:

Swiss Central Bank Loses £10bn On Gold Plunge

The Swiss central bank stops dividend payments to cantons and the capital after suffering significant losses on its gold holdings.

Switzerland’s central bank has revealed losses of £10bn in its gold holdings, after prices for the precious metal plunged 28% last year.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) said the value of its reserves dropped by 15bn francs and as a result would not pay dividends to local ruling cantons – the members of the federal state – or the capital Bern. cautions:

Employer groups warn against immigrant quotas

Switzerland’s business, farm and hospital lobbies Monday urged voters to reject a law drafted by right-wing populists that would reimpose immigration quotas for European Union citizens.

Passing the “Stop Mass Immigration” proposal in a referendum on February 9th would be a big mistake, hitting a swathe of sectors that rely on foreign labour, a 12-organization coalition warned.

“We owe our success to a flourishing, high-performance labour market,” said Valentin Vogt, head of Swiss employers’ federation UPS.

A recent poll showed that 36 percent of voters oppose the measure, down from 52 percent in October.

After the jump, the latest grim Greek news, Turkish troubles, Latin American elections, Indian angst, Bengali violence, Thai turmoil, Chinese anxieties, Japanese stoicism, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFuku’all

Today’s tour of things econcomic, ecologic, and politic begins with questions from Hearst Newspapers:

Critics question desirability of relentless economic growth

Fresh-faced tech millionaires snap up glitzy new condos in San Francisco. Across America, construction is up and unemployment is down. Consumers are buying. The economy is growing.

Yet instead of applause, voices from across the political spectrum — Berkeley activists and Beltway conservatives, Pope Francis and even some corporate CEOs — are criticizing economic growth and its harm to the well-being of humans and the planet.

Ecologists warn that economic growth is strangling the natural systems on which life depends, creating not just wealth, but filth on a planetary scale. Carbon pollution is changing the climate. Water shortages, deforestation, tens of millions of acres of land too polluted to plant, and other global environmental ills are increasingly viewed as strategic risks by governments and corporations around the world.

Profits up in smoke from Raw Story:

Bummer: Colorado pot shops will run out of marijuana within days

Marijuana dispensaries in Colorado are finding it impossible to keep up with the demands of recreational users.

The first five days of days of legalized sales of marijuana have been big business for dispensary owners — so much so that some shops even closed early last Wednesday, the first day on which such sales were legal.

Supply simply can’t keep up with demand.

Off to Britain with a promise for Boomers from BBC News:

David Cameron pledges to ‘protect’ state pension

The state pension will continue to rise by at least 2.5% a year until 2020 if the Conservatives win the next election, David Cameron has said.

The PM pledged to keep the “triple lock” system, which ensures the state pension goes up by whichever is higher – inflation, wages or 2.5%.

He said it was “fair” to prioritise pensions even at a time when benefits for younger people were being slashed.

The London Telegraph offers a dire prescription:

George Osborne to cut taxes by extending austerity and creating smaller state

George Osborne will set out plans to cut taxes by extending the austerity programme and creating a permanently smaller State.

The Chancellor will say in a speech in Birmingham that Britain must face up to “hard truths” about the need to make more cuts and reforms to get a stable economy.

His comments come after David Cameron hinted that a future Conservative government will seek to cut taxes for “the lowest paid” before helping those on high salaries.

Despite almost four years of Coalition austerity, the Government is still borrowing too much and spending too much on interest on the national debt, Mr Osborne will say.

The Guardian offers another side of the austerian dream:

Buy-to-let property supremo shuts door on housing benefit tenants

One of Britain’s best-known landlords has issued eviction notices to every tenant who is on welfare, and told letting agents that he will not accept any more applicants who need housing benefit.

Fergus Wilson, who with his wife Judith owns nearly 1,000 properties around the Ashford area of Kent, has sent the eviction notices to 200 tenants, saying he prefers eastern European migrants who default much less frequently than single mums on welfare. He says the move is purely an economic decision and points out that private landlords are running a business.

One response, via The Observer:

Eviction of tenants on welfare ‘will create benefit blackspots’

A big landlord’s decision to reject housing benefit claimants is the latest symptom of a trend that could see the low-paid excluded from whole areas of the country, says a leading charity

Britain is witnessing the emergence of “benefit blackspots” as welfare claimants are forced to move out of the towns of their choice after being evicted from rented housing by private landlords.

Housing charity Shelter has warned that entire UK communities could become claimant-free zones, after the Guardian revealed on Saturday that one of Britain’s best-known landlords has sent out eviction notices to every tenant who is receiving benefits. Fergus Wilson, who owns almost 1,000 properties in Kent, has also informed letting agents that he now refuses to accept applicants who need housing benefit.

From Sky News, a rare concession?:

Barclays Poised To Back Down Over Pay Plans

The UK bank is expected to modify plans to award new role-based pay in cash after investor complaints, Sky News understands.

Barclays is expected to bow to demands by leading investors to revamp plans for a new pay scheme as it seeks to avoid reigniting a long-running feud over the remuneration of its top employees.

Sky News has learnt that several institutional investors have urged Barclays to alter a new role-based allowance for senior staff so that it is paid in shares instead of cash.

The shareholders have said that plans mooted by the bank to award share allowances to only its chief executive and chief financial officer do not go far enough.

On to Ireland and Banksters Behaving Badly from the Sunday Independent:

Bank staff fired after exposing corrupt official

ULSTER Bank fired a whistle-blower who lifted the lid on a senior official who took tens of thousands of euro to feed his addiction to gambling and luxury holidays, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

The official helped himself to thousands of euro from customers’ accounts as well as cash he received from clients to pay off loans. He also helped himself to an illegal loan during a gambling spree on the horses.

But instead of supporting a member of staff whose diligence led to the detection, Ulster Bank fired her, it has been alleged.

The Sunday Independent again, with more bankster news:

Banks ramp up pressure on families in arrears

DISTRESSED homeowners are coming under unprecedented pressure to cave in to repossessions following “massive escalation” of litigation by banks against struggling borrowers.

In the past four months, lenders have been demanding full or partial payment of arrears to “halt the legal process” and lift the threat of repossessions, documents obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

Off to France and the fast shuffle from New Europe:

Hollande goes abroad to shake off domestic criticism

French President Francois Hollande is hoping to score some overseas diplomatic victories after failing to convince critics at home of the merits of his socialist government’s economic measures as an engine of growth.

Hollande, who is the most unpopular French president on record, appears to be shifting gears by focussing more on the crisis in Syria and Iran and less on France’s economic revival. He became the first European leader to recognise Syria’s new opposition coalition as the sole representative of its people and as the “future government of a democratic Syria”. He has also called for a strong international response to allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

On to Spain and another unpopular personage with The Guardian:

Six in 10 Spaniards want king to abdicate, poll shows

Almost two-thirds of Spaniards want their king to abdicate and hand the crown to his son, according to a poll released on Sunday, the monarch’s birthday.

King Juan Carlos, who has been on the throne for 38 years, was once one of the world’s best-loved sovereigns, respected for his common touch and for helping guide Spain to democracy in the 1970s after the death of Francisco Franco.

But Spaniards have become increasingly frustrated by a long-running corruption investigation into the king’s daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin – particularly at a time of economic crisis and widespread unemployment. Urdangarin has been charged with embezzling €6m in public funds. The couple deny any wrongdoing.

Curious obstructionism by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy alleged, via El País:

Basque abertzale left accuses Rajoy of trying to block peace talks

Former ETA inmates accept responsibility for violence, say they will join the political process
Terrorist organization expected to issue a statement over ex-prisoners’ announcement

Just one day after a large group of former ETA inmates publicly announced that it was willing to abide by a democratic process and give up the armed struggle, the Basque abertzale left on Sunday accused the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of “stonewalling” the peace process.

The abertzale’s main organizations — the Sortu coalition, LAB labor union and Emai youth group — said that thanks to the steps they have made, as well as the commitments announced by former inmates, there is “no stopping the peace” in the Basque Country.

On to Greece with a warning from MacroPolis:

Greece could still leave euro, says Simitis, PM who engineered entry

The threat of “Grexit” was supposed to have disappeared in 2013 but the man who led Greece into the euro, ex-Prime Minister Costas Simitis, believes that a departure from the single currency should not be ruled out.

In an op-ed in Sunday’s To Vima newspaper, Simitis cited the disastrous state of the Greek economy, public dissatisfaction in debtor and creditor countries and the unsustainability of Greek debt as three of the key reasons that the threat of a euro exit remains.

Simitis ruled out the possibility of Greek public debt being reduced to 124 percent of GDP by 2020, as the country’s European Union and International Monetary Fund programme aims to do. Greek debt stood at 321.8 billion euros, or almost 180 percent of GDP, in Q3 of 2013.

Questions from Neos Kosmos:

Budget surplusses questioned

US analysts claim a Greek default is possible in 2014

Amid record levels of unemployment and increasing poverty the better than expected primary budget surplus posted by Greece in 2013 is one of the few ‘success stories’ of Memorandum policies. However, influential analysts are saying that the surplus should give Greece’s lenders cause for concern as it will actually increase the likelihood of a default.

Kathimerini English confers:

Samaras and Venizelos to meet as coalition’s to-do list grows

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos are to hold their first meeting of the New Year on Tuesday, just over a week before the troika is due to return to Athens and with a growing number of issues troubling their two-party government.

Among the matters to be discussed by the two men are the complaints about a new 25-euro charge for patients who are treated at public hospitals and developing a fiscal plan for 2014 to 2017.

Greek Reporter fortifies:

Venizelos Under Siege in PASOK

PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who is a partner in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative chief, is facing growing unrest in his party that he’s working with his archrival as his party has plummeted to 5 percent in the polls.

Venizelos was named Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister by Samaras last year after abandoning his opposition to the firing of state workers at the national broadcaster ERT, which was shut down, and for supporting more crushing austerity measures which have created record unemployment and record poverty while ramping up anger against the ruling parties.

“Today’s situation is not the destiny of PASOK. Those people who are content with a small PASOK disconnected from society, a small store for personal gains, are ignoring the fact the new left was never small in this country,” it was reported his critics said, with the imbroglio becoming critical Greek news for the wobbly government.

And New Europe hits the road with neoliberal theft of the commons:

Happy New Year Suckers!

The Looting of Europeans

This is the end section in Greece (Patras-Athens) of European Highway E65, one of the main Trans European Networks (TEN). It is a two-way road; one lane for each direction, with no separation in the middle. Euphemistically, it is called a highway, but the Greeks call it a carmagnole (the Greek word for death-trap).

The European Commission has financed, so far, the construction of the Greek E65 and other highways with over €8bn.

In October 2007, the Greek Parliament ratified a law providing the concession of E65 and another four highways – all part of the famous, notorious for south Europe, TENs. The ratification provided the concession of the existing finished parts of the five highways for 30 years, giving the beneficiaries the right to collect tolls from the first day against the implementation of their construction. Until now, it is estimated that tolls collected amount to €3.5bn. The concession gives the prerogative to the beneficiaries to increase the tolls at will. National and EU contributions are also provided by the concession and are regularly paid.

After the jump, Ukrainian protest, Latin transformation, Asian privatizations, turmoil in Bangladesh, Thailand, and Cambodia, Chinese slowdown, vanishing sardines, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoGMOFuku

As the shakeout settles into its consolidation phase, patterns emerge.

We open with a warning from the Economic Times:

Retreating US stimulus poses risk to world recovery

The world economy should finally overcome its hangover from the global financial crisis this year as growth picks up and house prices rise, but reduced US monetary stimulus will pose a challenge.

After months of angst, investors will see how the US Federal Reserve handles its decision to curtail its policy of easy money, starting from this month.

From CBC News, a sad reality:

Good-looking CEOs may attract better stock returns

U.S. research finds correlation between how S&P 500 companies perform and CEOs’ attractiveness

Companies with attractive CEOs perform better on the stock market, especially in the early days of their tenure or just after any time they appear on television, new research from two American economists suggests.

Joseph T. Halford and Hung-Chia Hsu from the University of Wisconsin published a paper recently that found a correlation between how companies listed on the S&P 500 performed, and the attractiveness of their CEOs.

The Guardian notes a potential political advantage:

Leading Republicans’ states among worst hit by jobless benefits cuts

Analysis shows rolling cuts to unemployment benefits will severely hurt constituencies of prominent GOP leaders

Senior Republican senators including Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul represent some of the states most affected by the controversial cancellation of long-term unemployment benefits, according to a Guardian analysis of data released this week.

More from the Christian Science Monitor:

Obama asks Republicans to offer holiday charity to jobless. Dare they say no?

The US unemployment rate has been steadily dropping, but millions of Americans remain jobless and many of those are losing unemployment benefits. President Obama is urging lawmakers to extend such benefits.

Fault-finding with the Los Angeles Times:

L.A., Santa Monica buildings may sit atop quake faults

The cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica in the last decade have approved more than a dozen construction projects on or near two well-known faults without requiring seismic studies to determine if the buildings could be destroyed in an earthquake, according to a Times analysis.

The structures include a 49-unit apartment complex on the Westside and a three-story office building near the Mormon temple, whose landmark hill was formed by the Santa Monica fault.

State law prohibits construction on top of faults and requires extensive studies before approval of any building within about 500 feet of faults zoned by the state. But the state has not created fault zones for the neighborhoods around the Hollywood or Santa Monica faults, so the cities are not required to enforce the law there.

CNBC makes an exception:

US put China-made parts in F-35 fighter program

The Pentagon repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392 billion Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter program on track in 2012 and 2013, even as U.S. officials were voicing concern about China’s espionage and military buildup.

According to Pentagon documents reviewed by Reuters, chief U.S. arms buyer Frank Kendall allowed two F-35 suppliers, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell International, to use Chinese magnets for the new warplane’s radar system, landing gears and other hardware. Without the waivers, both companies could have faced sanctions for violating federal law and the F-35 program could have faced further delays.

From euronews, a pathetic choice — your money or your livelihood:

Boeing workers vote to save jobs but lose pensions

Boeing’s machinists narrowly approved a labour contract that secured thousands of jobs worth billions of dollars but will cost workers their pensions.

The deal means Boeing will build its new 777X jetliner and wings in Seattle where the company has build aircraft for 90 years.

Europe Online delivers a demand:

US: EU members must share risks, costs in banking union

The banking union being gradually assembled for the fragile eurozone economy must go beyond the planned centralized regulator and resolution process for failing banks, a US Treasury senior official said Friday in Washington.

To fully restore confidence in Europe’s financial institutions, the banking union must further establish a capacity to recapitalize banks and forge credible deposit insurance, the Treasury official told reporters on condition of anonymity. Those measures would require “significant” sharing of risk and cost among the eurozone’s member countries.

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is expected to discuss Washington’s perspectives on the eurozone’s long-running financial crisis during a transatlantic trip next week.

Off to Britain with a bonus from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Goldman Sachs raised pay for top U.K. bankers amid cuts

The average pay for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s top British bankers rose 77 percent in 2012 even as it declined at U.S.-based peers amid calls from governments and the public to reduce executive compensation.

Goldman Sachs paid an average of $4.67 million in 2012 to British employees deemed by regulators as risk-takers, as well as their managers, up from $2.64 million in 2011, according to figures disclosed by the firm. For similar staff at Citigroup Inc., average pay climbed 9 percent to $2.38 million. At Bank of America Corp. it fell 2 percent to $2.36 million, and at JPMorgan Chase & Co. it slid 3 percent to $3.4 million, totals disclosed separately show.

The largest U.S. banks reported their figures for 2012 as recently as last week under European disclosure rules that are part of a regulatory push to alter pay practices blamed for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis. The filings show a divergence between Goldman Sachs, which shrank headcount while boosting revenue 19 percent in 2012, and competitors such as JPMorgan, which lost more than $6.2 billion that year on botched derivatives bets by London traders. Figures for 2013 won’t be released until later this year.

From the London Telegraph, inflating the bubble:

Business lending slump deepens, as mortgage approvals hit fresh high

  • Slump in business lending deepens in November, even as British banks approve highest number of mortgages in five years

The slump in business lending has deepened, it has emerged, further sharpening the contrast with a surging mortgage market.

Companies took £4.7bn less in loans in November, the biggest drop in more than two years and nearly five times the recent average monthly decline of £1bn, according to figures from the Bank of England. The slide was due to a fall in lending to large businesses, as loans to small and medium-sized companies actually edged up slightly.

And what have those mortgages accomplished? From The Guardian:

Housing bubble fears renewed after price surge of 8.4% last year

London and Manchester areas showed greatest rise, as survey finds average home deposit grew to £31,000

House prices across the UK rose by an average of 8.4% last year, helped by a late surge in property values which recorded £40 a day being added to the price tag of an average British home in the final weeks of last year.

However, the headline data on prices, collected by the Nationwide Building Society, masked huge regional variations, with the value of homes in Manchester soaring by 21% in the past 12 months, and some London boroughs surging by as much as 25%. At the other end of the scale large cities such as Newcastle, Coventry, Edinburgh and Glasgow managed annual growth of 1% to 2%. In a few areas, such as the north-east coast of Northern Ireland, Herefordshire and the Isle of Wight, property prices remain in decline.

The Independent delivers an austerian blow:

Ancient woodland could be destroyed to make way for building in ‘offsetting’ push

  • The Environment Secretary has suggested that ancient woodland over 400 years old could be cut down if younger trees are planted elsewhere

Developers could be granted permission to destroy ancient woodland if they agree to plant new young trees elsewhere, the Environment Secretary has suggested.

Despite admitting that it would be impossible to recreate in the present highly developed ancient woodland habitats, Owen Paterson argued that the loss could be mitigated by a “huge offset” of planting elsewhere.

Ancient woodland is classed as areas that have been continuously wooded for over 400 years. A third of all woods in England are ancient, covering 350,000 hectares.

From the London Telegraph, blast with the past:

Britain flaunts triumph of Waterloo in heart of Euroland

  • British diplomats in Brussels flaunting Duke of Wellington’s triumph at Battle of Waterloo as David Cameron seeks to wrest back powers from the European Union

It was an audacious and cunning victory that put paid to French ambitions for a European superstate.

Nearly two centuries later, British diplomats in Brussels are flaunting the Duke of Wellington’s triumph at the Battle of Waterloo, as David Cameron seeks to wrest back powers from the European Union.

The Independent counts austerian costs:

George Osborne’s ‘stealth cuts’ will force millions to miss economic recovery

More than three million low-income families risk missing out on the economic recovery even if wages start to keep pace with inflation, according to an analysis for The Independent.

The Resolution Foundation, an independent think-tank which aims to improve living standards for the less wealthy, accused George Osborne of burying a £385m “stealth cut” in the small print of last year’s Autumn Statement, which will force the working poor to  “run uphill” and earn an  extra £1,000 a year just to stand still.

The foundation has analysed the impact of the Chancellor’s decision to freeze the “work allowance” – the amount people can earn before their payment under universal credit starts to be withdrawn. The freeze means that even if their wages rise in line with the cost of living, their income will  fall in real terms because the allowance does not keep pace with inflation.

Off to Finland with a warning via Bloomberg:

Bank of Finland Warns Debt Level Poised to Double: Nordic Credit

The Bank of Finland is warning that the euro area’s best-rated economy risks sliding down a path that could see its debt burden rival Italy’s.

Finland has little room to deviate from a proposal to fill a 9 billion-euro ($12.3 billion) gap in Europe’s fastest-aging economy if it’s to avoid debt levels doubling in the next decade and a half, according to the central bank.

The northernmost euro member risks joining the bloc’s most indebted nations if the government fails to reform spending, according to calculations by the Helsinki-based Bank of Finland. Without the measures, debt could exceed 110 percent of gross domestic product by 2030, according to the bank. The ratio was 53.6 percent in 2012. Success with the plan would help restrain debt levels to about 70 percent by 2030, the bank said.

Germany next, with the winning numbers from

German employment hits record high in 2013

The number of people in employment in Europe’s biggest economy hit a record high for the seventh consecutive year in 2013, although the increase was smaller than in the last two years, Germany’s Statistics Office said on Thursday.

According to Reuters, with 41.8 million people in work, some 232,000 jobs were created last year but the rise was roughly half the size of the average for 2012 and 2011, the office said.

Germany’s jobless rate has held steady at just below 7.0 percent for the last two years and is the envy of crisis-hit euro zone partners such as Spain and Greece where more than one in four people is officially out of work. stigmatizes:

‘Fingerprints for foreigners’ sparks outcry

The debate over Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants arriving in Germany reached a more sinister level on Friday, when one leading Conservative politician called for finger prints to be taken to stop eastern Europeans getting benefits.

Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Elmar Brok, told newspaper Bild: “Immigrants who only come to Germany for Hartv IV (unemployment benefits), child benefit and health insurance must be sent back quickly to their home countries. To prevent multiple entries we should think about taking finger prints.”

Brok, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), was criticized by his own party for the comments.

Fallout from Europe Online:

German coalition infighting over EU immigration policy escalates

A German debate over so-called benefit tourism escalated on Saturday, with Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer accusing his centre-left coalition partners of “ignorance” about their own immigration policies.

The infighting between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the CSU and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), comes after Bulgarians and Romanians gained access to the European Union’s labour market on January 1.

The disagreement relates to calls by Merkel’s conservatives to issue a three-month ban on welfare payments for immigrants from Eastern European member states. A CSU pamphlet suggesting that “those who commit fraud are out” is a particular cause for concern among centre-left Social Democrats.

Lisbon next, where the cost of austerity is written on your face. From the Portugal News:

Portuguese smiling less

The Portuguese smile very little and have done so ever less in the last year or so, according to a study whose author said had found a “drastic and worrying reduction in the frequency and intensity” of their smiling.

The study, titled “A decade of smiling in Portugal” analysed almost 400,000 photographs published in the press from 2003 to 2013 and concluded that “the Portuguese smile very, very little and this behaviour has been frightening accentuated in the past two years,” according to Freitas Magalhães, director of the Laboratory of Facial Expression of Emotion at the Faculty of Health Sciences of Fernando Pessoa University.

In particular, the results of the analysis in the second half of 2013 reveal “a sharp reduction in the frequency and intensity, the greatest since the start of the study in 2003″, he said at the study’s launch, adding that this was “extremely worrying in terms of the health of the Portuguese.”

On to Italy, and wiseguy pollution from

Bishops plea for aid in Italy’s Triangle of Death’

A cardinal and bishops in Italy’s so-called “Triangle of Death” have called for urgent action to tackle toxic mafia dumps blamed for rising cancer rates near Naples.

“Act quickly. We urge the authorities to intervene and be decisive, to stop the spread of worry, fears and ills,” Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, wrote in an open appeal to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, along with bishops from the affected areas.

The local Camorra crime syndicate has been burning and secretly burying millions of tonnes of waste in the Campania countryside for decades but the extent of the problem has only recently been revealed – sparking furious protests from citizens who insist the government take action.

After the jump, the Greek crisis continues, Turkish anger, Israeli arms, , NAFTA shafting, Brazilian worries, Indian tweaking, Bangladeshi turmoil, Indochinese upset, the latest Chinese neoliberal moves and warnings, Japanese economic priorities, GMOS, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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 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”. 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

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

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. 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. 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. 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. 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 II: EconoGrecoSinoFukutopia

On with the show. . .

We start at home with palatial via the Los Angeles Times:

New Bel-Air mansion reflects resurgence of behemoth L.A. homes

At 60,000 square feet, Chateau des Fleurs is not even the city’s largest. ‘It’s no question’ houses are getting bigger, says one high-end real estate agent.

Nearby is the contemporary colossus where Tony Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, lives with his wife, Jeanne, and their seven children in nearly 40,000 square feet, including a seven-car garage, according to the city. (Real estate blogs have put the Pritzker manse at closer to 50,000 square feet. Pritzker declined to comment on the size.)

International Business Times covers class war and housing on San Francisco Bay:

Bay Area Protesters Attack Google Shuttle Bus

Incident reflects rising tensions over high rents spurred by tech boom.

Protests against rising rents and real estate in the Bay Area due to the influx of high-tech workers in Silicon Valley escalated today, with an attack on a Google employee shuttle bus in West Oakland. National Public Radio affiliate KQED confirmed the incident, in which the rear window to the shuttle was smashed, along with other unconfirmed damage.

Today’s incident comes on the heels of earlier protests in San Francisco and Oakland, which previously had been  focused on the issue of tenants being displaced due to rising rents and real estate prices. The character of the West Oakland incident seemed to many to be more aggressive toward Google and its employees than other bus-related protests in San Francisco, which have been characterized as nonviolent.

More from The Register, including a second target:

‘F*** off, Google!’ Protest blockades Google staff bus AGAIN – and Apple’s

Second ruckus in two weeks as ‘anti-gentrification’ movement spreads to Oakland

Today’s brouhaha comes just two weeks after a Google bus was blockaded in San Francisco by protestors seeking to raise awareness of the distortions filthy rich tech workers are enforcing on San Francisco’s constricted rental market.

Activists stopped buses earlier today throughout the bay, though according to reports many of these blockades were broken up by the police within half an hour or so.

And what else is Google doing? From Computerworld, another story featuring a company bus:

Google seeks to commercialize humanoid robots

Google rolls in to give star treatment to Boston Dynamics at DARPA Robotics Challenge

The first sign that Google now owns robotics heavyweight Boston Dynamics was when the Google bus rolled into the DARPA Robotics Challenge to offer engineers a place to kick back and take a nap.

Officials at Google, a company known for offering extravagant perks like meditation pods and beach volleyball courts to employees, showed up at the Homestead Miami Speedway in southern Florida today to show support for their new team and to get a look at the Atlas robot, built by Boston Dynamics, and one of the stars of the challenge.

Last week, Google confirmed reports that it had acquired Boston Dynamics, a company known for creating impressive robots like the four-legged BigDog robot, as well as Atlas, a six-foot-tall, 330-pound two-legged robot designed to function much like a human.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, self-defeating labor:

BART union dismayed by proposal to ban strikes

BART union leaders expressed more dismay than anger Thursday at new board President Joel Keller’s proposal for an advisory ballot measure that would urge state legislators to prohibit strikes by public transportation workers.

“I want to say how disappointed I am,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, who has known Keller for years. “You have become a person I do not recognize. You have used this board and this board meeting to make a political statement to advance your positioning for candidacy to regain your seat next year.”

USA TODAY covers another phase of economic war, the bakster/city front:

Detroit might sue Bank of America, UBS over ‘swaps’

City says it will sue if banks don’t agree to better settlement that led to bankruptcy.

The city of Detroit threatened to sue Bank of America and UBS if the banks don’t agree to a better settlement over a disastrous 2005 debt deal that helped plunge the city into Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Jones Day lawyer Thomas Cullen told Judge Steven Rhodes Friday that the city has already notified the banks that it may sue if the banks don’t agree to settlement terms that are more favorable to the city.

More on Detroit from Sky News:

Detroit Artwork Valued As City Faces Bankruptcy

Masterpieces by Van Gogh and Rembrandt and other works from Detroit’s museum get a price tag as a result of the city’s bankuptcy.

Christie’s auction house has valued some of the most valuable artworks in the Detroit Institute of Arts, after the city filed for bankruptcy.

The appraisal put Van Gogh’s Self Portrait With Straw Hat at between $80m and $150m (£490m and £918m); Bruegel the Elder’s The Wedding Dance is valued at between $100m and $200m (£61m and £122m). Rembrandt’s The Visitation is worth between $50m and $90m.

Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr Emergency manager Kevyn Orr ordered the appraisal. The auction house valued around 2,800 paintings, sculptures, pieces of pottery and other city-owned artwork, and estimated an overall fair market value of between $454m and $867m.

From CNBC, surgin’ sales:

Sales of bank-owned homes surge

The steep jump in home prices this year is benefiting the big banks, pushing them to sell their repossessed properties at a faster pace.

Sales of bank-owned (REO) homes accounted for 10 percent of all residential property sales in November, according to RealtyTrac. That is up from 9.1 percent in October and accounted for the third consecutive month of increases in REO sales.

Behind the numbers from MarketWatch:

All-cash home sales reach new high

Why the Fed tapering may help drive more all-cash buyers

More Americans are buying homes in all-cash deals, according to a new report. But real-estate experts say this increase may not be a good sign for the health of the housing market, which may also be impacted by the Federal Reserve’s decision to pull back on its bond-buying program

All-cash purchases accounted for 42% of all sales of residential property in November 2013, up from 39% during the previous month, according to data from real-estate data firm RealtyTrac released Friday. “This is still a very cash- and investor-driven market,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

Reuters has Banksters Behaving Badly:

Deutsche Bank to pay $1.9 billion to settle U.S. mortgage case

Deutsche Bank said on Friday it will pay $1.9 billion to settle claims that it defrauded two U.S. government-controlled companies in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis.

The sum, equal to 1.4 billion euros, is the second-largest settlement disclosed in litigation brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency covering allegations that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were deceived into buying debt whose risks had been hidden.

And USA TODAY has Bankster Behaving Badly:

Judge: Ex-Morgan exec owes company $31.1M

A former hedge fund manager at Morgan Stanley has to fork over $31.1 million to the bank for engaging in insider trading, a federal judge ruled.

The amount is the compensation that Joseph “Chip” Skowron III received during the three-and-a-half year period he was engaged in insider trading as a portfolio manager at bank-owned FrontPoint Partners, said the ruling from the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

The New York Times covers an escalation:

An Easing of Rules on Charges by Amex

After a decade of legal battles, the three major credit card companies are backing away from longstanding policies that prevented merchants from charging customers extra for paying with plastic.

Developments in two cases in the last week have the potential to change pricing practices everywhere from big box retailers to corner coffee shops — but whether they actually do remains to be seen.

On Thursday, a group of small and midsize businesses reached a settlement agreement with American Express in a class-action lawsuit. Under the agreement, which a judge must approve, Amex will allow surcharges to its cardholders as long as the same amount is levied on other credit and charge card users. It agreed to drop a measure that required debit card surcharges at the same level, according to a lawyer representing the company.

Reuters rules:

U.S. spat looms with foreign regulators over swap rules

The United States is on a collision course with regulators abroad as it plans to force foreign banks to comply with a host of new rules for risky derivatives, two sources close to the European Union said on Friday.

The U.S. swaps regulator has temporarily lifted many of the rules it drew up after the credit crisis, but they kick back into force on Saturday, and there is little sign the agency will allow much more leeway.

With only one more day to go, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission must also hammer out Memoranda of Understanding, documents that say how it cooperates with foreign regulators, one of the sources said.

From MercoPress, Obama pushes yet another trade deal — or, rather, the vast expansion of an existing one:

US planning a new trade agreement with Latam, but through NAFTA

The President Barack Obama administration is “exploring” a regional trade plan for the Americas that would be the most ambitious hemispheric initiative in years, but contrary to the failed experience of George Bush’s FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), this time it would be instrumented through Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement) partners Mexico and Canada, according to a Miami Herald interview of Andres Oppenheimer with Secretary of State John Kerry.

North of the border next and a major decision from CBC News:

Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s prostitution laws

Parliament has 1 year to bring in new law as Criminal Code provisions remain in place

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws in a unanimous decision, and given Parliament one year to come up with new legislation — should it choose to do so.

In striking down laws prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients, the top court ruled Friday that the laws were over-broad and “grossly disproportionate.”

On to Europe and semantic antics from New Europe:

EU negotiator “at pains” to point out negotiations are not about deregulating markets

EU: TTIP no deregulation agenda

The EU’s Chief Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) said the mammoth EU-US trade deal is not about deregulation, as a third round of talks wrapped up in Washington on December 20.

“I think we can be very satisfied by the end of this third round of talks. We remain on track to deliver an ambitious trade and investment deal which will boost our economies, deliver growth and, more importantly, create jobs for both Europeans and Americans at a time when they’re most needed,” said Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

The EU’s Chief Negotiator added “I am again stressing that any deal would uphold the highest standards of consumer, environment, health and labour protection.”

CNNMoney puts Google in a fine fix:

European Union regulators have rejected Google’s latest proposals to settle an antitrust case, raising the risk of a hefty fine for the U.S. company.

At the heart of the three-year old case is the way Google presents search results. EU antitrust authorities say Google is breaking the law by not giving enough prominence to competitors such as Microsoft and Expedia.

Google submitted revised proposals in October to give more space to its rivals. On Friday, EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia said the proposals were “not acceptable.”

And then there’s the continental downgrade, via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

S&P’s cut of EU triple-A rating disputed by European officials

Credit agency Standard & Poor’s cut its long-term rating of the European Union by one notch to AA+ on Friday, saying it had concerns about how the bloc’s budget was financed, a view EU leaders and other officials dismissed as misguided.

“In our opinion, the overall creditworthiness of the now 28 European Union member states has declined,” S&P said in a statement that came 11 months after it announced it had a ‘negative’ outlook on the bloc.

“EU budgetary negotiations have become more contentious, signalling what we consider to be rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states.”

Britain next, with a downgrade rationale from the London Telegraph:

Britain’s euroscepticism is a major factor in EU’s loss of triple-A rating, says S&P

The European Union has lost its AAA credit rating after the Standard and Poor ratings agency warned that David Cameron’s referendum promise and increased squabbling over Brussels spending raised doubts over its future.

The agency downgraded the debt rating from “AAA” to “AA+” in a blow to the EU as it struggles to restore its credibility amid the lingering eurozone economic crisis and a decision by national governments to cut long-term European spending.

More from The Independent:

David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe

The Prime Minister reveals he’s prepared to block the entry of new member states unless stricter ‘freedom of movement’ controls are imposed

David Cameron raised the stakes in his fight to curb migration by threatening to veto the admission of new members to the European Union unless they accept tough new controls on their citizens moving to the UK.

The Prime Minister’s dramatic move fuelled tensions with other EU nations at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels.  In yesterday’s session,  Mr Cameron was greeted with silence when he called for the need for stricter transitional controls on the right to work  throughout the EU when countries join the 28-nation bloc in future.

He went further at a press conference, revealing that he would be prepared to block the entry of new member states unless stricter “freedom of movement” controls were imposed. He said: “I would make the point that on new accessions, they are by unanimity so they don’t happen unless everybody agrees. So you do have a real opportunity, irrespective of treaty change, to insist on a different approach.”

From the London Telegraph, a disconnect:

Rents rise twice as fast as wages

Average rents rose 1.6pc in November, driven by ‘acute’ property shortages
To Let signs

Rents are rising at twice the annual rate of earnings, as tenants jostle for limited accommodation – especially around urban centres offering better employment prospects.

Average rents across England and Wales reached £753 a month in November, up 1.6pc from November 2012.

Wages have risen by just 0.8pc – average regular monthly pay before tax stands at £1,941.

Bloomberg News declines:

U.K. Consumer Sentiment Declines for Third Month, GfK Says

U.K. consumer confidence unexpectedly fell for a third month in December as Britons’ outlook on the economy worsened and the climate for purchases of big-ticket items deteriorated.

A consumer sentiment index by GfK NOP Ltd. dropped 1 point from November to minus 13, the London-based research group said today. The median forecast of 24 economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 1-point increase to minus 11.

On to Ireland and a warning from

Ratings agency S&P pours cold water on Government’s growth forecasts

It said GDP would rise by 1.5pc, not the 2pc forecast by the Department of Finance. That forecast also puts it at odds with the bullish assessment by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) earlier this week of 2.7pc growth.

It shows that some of the international observers are not as confident about growth levels as the domestic experts.

Scandinavia next, and another sort of downgrade from

Statoil slashes estimate of giant North Sea oil find

Norway’s Statoil has slashed the estimate of the oil held in its largest Norwegian find in decades as it delays the start of production by a year.

The company reduced the top range of its estimate for oil resources in the Johan Sverdrup field from 3.6 billion barrels to 2.9 billion barrels, a cut of almost 20 percent as it updated the market on its development plan.

The field, one of the largest discoveries in the world in 2010/2011, was first made by Statoil’s partner, Lundin Petroleum, which like Statoil has a 40 percent stake in the field. is trustworthy:

SKF sets aside millions for anti-trust probe

The world’s largest industrial ball bearing makers on Friday said it would set aside almost half a billion dollars to pay a possible fine, as the European Commission looks into whether SKF broke anti-trust laws.

Swedish ball bearing manufacturer SKF, under investigation for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, said it would book a $455 million provision to cover a potential fine.

SKF, the world’s biggest maker of industrial bearings, said in a statement that a European Commission investigation into “possible infringements of
European competition law by certain bearing manufacturers” supplying the European car industry could lead to a fine in 2014. again, case closed:

Prosecutor shuts down probe into Roma register

A Swedish prosecutor has closed an investigation against two police officers suspected of crimes in connection with a Roma register operated by Skåne police, arguing that the police had a legitimate legal reason for the lists.

“The main question is whether this was an ethnic register. The answer to that question is that there is no longer any reason to believe that,” prosecutor Mats Åhlund explained to news agency TT.

“There are problems with the method, but that does not mean that someone should be charged.”

The Copenhagen Post counts paychecks:

New figures show gender income inequality still an issue

Danish women continue to earn less than men, new report shows

Danish women earn less than their male counterparts, according to a new report from Statistics Denmark.

Whether looking at ordinary employees, the self-employed or retirees, the disposable income of women in 2012 was less than that of men. Only among the unemployed do women bring in more money than men.

According to the report, the average annual disposable income for women in 2012 was 186,000 kroner – roughly 36,000 kroner less than men’s. The difference between women and men is even greater when comparing the employed. Working women had 241,000 kroner in disposable income – 42,000 kroner less than employed men. And according to a consumer economist at Sydbank, men’s disposable income increased at a rate higher than women’s throughout 2012.

Holland next, and growing hopes with

Councils join forces to call for legalised marijuana production

The mayors of 25 Dutch local authority areas have increased their pressure on the cabinet to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

The initiative is being powered by the mayors of Eindhoven and Heerlen and a Utrecht alderman, the Volkskrant said.

The manifesto is a reaction to justice minister Ivo Opstelten’s decision not to approve experiments with regulated growing. He said on Thursday this would be illegal and would not solve the problems. again, deflating:

House prices fell 4.7% in November

House prices were down 4.7% in November compared with the year earlier period, the national statistics office said on Friday.

The drop is slightly higher than in October, when houses were 4% cheaper than in 2012. Compared with August 2008, when house prices reached a peak, prices are now down by over 20%.

On to Germany and a downsizing we sorely lament from

Spiegel Online slashes English section

The online English language section of famous German news magazine, Der Spiegel, is to be drastically cut. It is not making enough money, magazine bosses decided.

The online English language section of famous German news magazine, Der Spiegel, is to be drastically cut. It is not making enough money, magazine bosses decided.

Despite Spiegel Online International having experienced a surge in demand as a result of the internet monitoring scandal involving US intelligence agency, the NSA, a spokeswoman said the section’s outgoings were more than it was making.

Deutsche Welle covers retreat:

German utility giant Eon mulls pullout from Southern Europe

Germany’s biggest utility company, Eon, has been reported to be moving out of Southern Europe. It’s allegedly planning to sell its assets there amid a drive to refocus it efforts on more lucrative markets.

German electricity conglomerate Eon was planning to sell its asset stakes in Italy and Spain, an unconfirmed report by the new magazine “Der Spiegel” claimed Friday. It said the company’s CEO, Johannes Teyssen, had made up his mind to use the freed resourced for strategic investments in its home market Germany plus Russia, Britain and Sweden.

Back in 2008, Eon spent more than $9 billion (6.59 billion euros) to acquire Southern European interests, with “Der Spiegel” maintaining that hydroelectric power generation plants in Italy would be among the assets that the utility company was putting up for sale.

France next, and a rejection from

France will not ‘copy’ UK economic model: PM

British economic policies have created mass poverty and inequality and France will not be copying them. That was the view of none other than France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Read what else he had to say about the UK.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Thursday that his government will not copy British economic policies as they had created poverty and inequality.

“I see a lot more poverty, more inequalities and if I was to look for a model to reform France I would want to save the French model reforming it and certainly not copy what others do, especially not if we’re not talking about the best,” Ayrault told French private TV network TF1.

Spain next, with a knock on the door from Europe Online:

Spanish police raid ruling party headquarters

Spanish police conducted a 14-hour search at the headquarters of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP), part of an ongoing corruption probe that has rocked the government.

The raid, ordered by judge Pablo Ruz, began late Thursday and ended on Friday.

Ruz said he was looking for evidence related to the alleged channelling of bribes from construction companies to the party and its leaders.

El País takes a great step backward:

Government approves most restrictive abortion laws since return of democracy

  • Justice minister announces that terminations in cases of deformity of fetus will no longer be allowed
  • Legislation means an end to access to the procedure on demand up to 14 weeks into term

As was expected, the Cabinet on Friday approved a series of controversial modifications to Spain’s current abortion law, which was passed by the Socialists in 2010 and was the subject of harsh criticism from the conservative Popular Party (PP) when it was in the opposition.

Lisbon next, with a boost from the Portugal News:

Economy reaches pre-bailout high

The economic climate indicator has recorded its third successive month of growth. This latest increase has now pushed this figure to levels last seen in the spring of 2011, when Portugal was forced into seeking international financial assistance in order to pay its dues.

Statistics Portugal (INE) has for the third consecutive month released numbers revealing renewed optimism in the national economy. After a slight increase this past August of 0.3 percent, every passing month since has reported stronger results, with September seeing growth in the economic indicator of 0.8 percent followed by 1.3 percent in October.

In accordance with the economic outlook released by the INE late Wednesday, all areas reported increases, except for construction and public works, which continue to struggle.

El País notes an austerian rejection:

Top Portugal court throws out retirement payment cut

Decrease was meant to apply to benefits of state workers

The Portuguese Constitutional Court has thrown out one of the key aspects of next year’s state budget, forcing the center-right government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to go back to the drawing board and find other measures to meet the deficit-reduction target agreed with the IMF and the European Union as part of its 78-billion-euro bailout program.

The court ruled as unconstitutional the government’s decision to cut the state pension of civil servants in order to bring what they receive in line with private-sector workers.

The response was quick and firm. From New Europe:

Eurogroup president says rigorous bailout implementation “crucial” after court rejects pension cuts

Dijsselbloem: Portugal must stick to reforms

Portugal’s Constitutional Court rejected government plans to converge state and private sector pensions , a reform outlined in the country’s €78 bailout program. Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on December 20 that rigorous implementation of the program is crucial for the success of Portugal’s bailout efforts.

“The reform effort must be sustained. An ambitious and credible fiscal consolidation strategy as well as the rigorous implementation of structural reforms will be crucial to ensure investors’ confidence in the government’s policies, with a view to a successful conclusion of the adjustment programme,” said Dijsselbloem in a statement reacting to the decision.

Next, Italy, with another blow to Google from

Italy backs ‘Google tax’ in 2014 budget

Italy’s parliament approved a controversial law on Friday forcing tech giants like Google to sell advertising online only through Italian intermediaries, provoking anger from digital economy experts.

The new law is part of the 2014 budget and is a watered-down version of a bill that would have imposed sales tax on all e-commerce activities in Italy and now applies only to the sale of advertising space.

ANSAmed sells out:

Etihad aims to buy 49% stake in Alitalia, board OKs increase

Emirates company confirms deal; govt, others interested

Etihad Airways is in advanced talks with Alitalia to buy a 49% stake in Italy’s cash-strapped national carrier. However, the government has assured other companies are interested in a strategic alliance with Alitalia.

Meanwhile a capital increase worth 300 million euros has been wrapped up with Poste Italiane giving their green light to the deal, which depended on reaching a 225 million threshold from partners.

After the jump, Greek chaos continues, Ukrainian pardons, Latin American commodity freezes and labor news, a U.S.-Indian spat heats up, China;s neoliberal push continues, Japanese gansters, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFoil

Today’s compendium of economic, political, and environmental events is a doozy. Starting with a taper at home we cover the latest developments in Europe, the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian angst and Russian manuvers, Latin American politics, Indian economic anxieties, the latest Chinese neoliberal move, Japanese conundra, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, here’s David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times on the discomfort Rush Limbaugh and his fellow loudmouths of the Right are feeling over the new occupant of the papal throne:

BLOG Horsey

The Globe and Mail covers the lead story on the global economic front:

Fed surprises Wall Street with plans to taper massive U.S. stimulus program

  • U.S. Federal Reserve will reduce its $85-billion a month in bond purchases by $10-billion starting in January, citing a stronger U.S. job market.
  • U.S. stocks rose on the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average climbing more than 150 points.

One reaction, via Reuters:

Dow, S&P end at record highs after Fed’s stimulus cut

The Dow and the S&P 500 closed at all-time highs on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve announced a small reduction in its stimulus program, confirming that the U.S. economy was on firm footing.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 293.03 points or 1.85 percent, to end unofficially at 16,168.29, a record closing high. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 29.65 points or 1.66 percent, to finish unofficially at 1,810.65, also a record closing high. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 46.384 points or 1.15 percent, to close unofficially at 4,070.064.

And just how much debt has been bought? From Reuters:

BLOG Bond debt

BBC News see bright numbers:

US sees strong house building recovery as economy grows

US new home being built US new home construction activity is at its highest level for five years

US house building activity recovered strongly in November, nearly a third higher than in the same period last year, official figures show.

New construction of homes hit 1.091 million, up 29.6% compared to November 2012, the Commerce Department reported.

From the Progressive, neoliberal resurgent:

Wisconsin School Privatization Gets Shot of Rocket Fuel

The education committee in the Wisconsin state senate passed Senate Bill 76 on Wednesday, loosening the process for authorizing new charter schools in Milwaukee and allowing these schools to replicate themselves automatically if they outperform average Milwaukee Public Schools on test scores by 10 percent.

Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school company that aims to open new schools in Milwaukee, lobbied for the bill and appears to be its primary beneficiary.

Bloomberg Businessweek covers downbeat numbers for would-be corporateers:

MBA Salary Outlook: Pay Stays Flat in 2014

The value of an MBA isn’t keeping up with inflation for many new graduates. According to research by the Graduate Management Admission Council, 42 percent of employers plan to pay the latest crop of MBAs the same salaries in 2014 as they did this year.

Among the companies that responded to the GMAC survey, 45 percent said they would increase wages for new MBAs to keep up with inflation (about 1 percent in the U.S.). Only 11 percent said they planned greater-than-inflation bumps for new MBA hires, compared with 20 percent that plan similar raises for positions filled by workers recruited from other companies. Two percent said they would pay MBAs less in 2014 than what they offered this year. GMAC researchers surveyed 211 employers in 33 countries.

Of to Canada for the ultimate in neoliberal excuses for downsizing the commons, via CBC News:

Canada Post’s Deepak Chopra says seniors want exercise from picking up mail

An emergency parliamentary committee is asking questions about cancellation of urban mail delivery

The head of Canada Post says seniors have told the corporation they want more exercise and fresh air in answer to an MP’s question about how the elderly will be especially hard hit by the cancellation of home mail delivery.

And from Jiji Press, though perhaps better never than late:

TPP Ministerial Talks May Be Put Off to Feb. or Later

The next ministerial session of Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, currently planned for January, could be put off to February or later due to a delay in preparatory work among Japan, the United States and 10 other countries involved, informed sources said Wednesday.

Uncertainty over the negotiations is growing as the 12 countries are failing to conclude the trade talks by the end of this year.

Off to Britain with BBC News and better numbers:

UK unemployment rate at lowest since 2009

At 7.4%, this is the lowest rate since the February-to-April period in 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people out of work fell by 99,000 to 2.39 million in the three months to October, the ONS said.

BBC News covers a darker side of the jobs picture:

Curbs on EU benefits to come into force on 1 January

New rules on how long EU jobseekers will have to wait to claim benefits are to be brought in early, No 10 has said.

The change to a three-month wait before EU citizens can apply for UK out-of-work benefits is being rushed through Parliament to start on 1 January. It coincides with the date people from both Romania and Bulgaria will be able to work in the UK without restrictions.

David Cameron said the move sent a “clear message”, but Labour said it had been left to the “very last minute”.

While The Independent raises questions about the nature of the so-called recovery:

Food poverty is creating ‘hidden country’ that is being ignored by the Government, MPs claim

Food poverty is creating a “hidden country” that is being ignored by the Coalition government, MPs have claimed, reporting shocking cases of fights breaking out over discount vegetables in Tesco and cancer patients forced to use food banks because of a lack of Government support.

Speaking as MPs debated the causes behind a huge increase in food bank use since the recession, Labour MP Fiona McTaggart reported that hungry people in her Slough constituency were now “fighting each other in Tesco” when discount fruit and vegetables are  made available at the end of the day.

And The Guardian can’t stomach it:

Horsemeat dinner is served, courtesy of the mafia

Organised crime has taken a hold on Britain’s food, banking and other industries, which are now effectively beyond the rule of law

Organised crime and mafia-type networks penetrate the heart of a country’s mainstream economy when there is a breakdown of the rule of law, or so the criminology theories go. We like to think that the breakdown of law is something that happens elsewhere – in fragile states where political instability and weak institutions allow criminals to operate with impunity, and ordinary people have little access to justice – not the sort of thing that would happen here, surely.

Yet last week a government-commissioned review of the horsemeat scandal warned that organised crime had penetrated our mainstream food manufacturing and retailing sectors. Food fraud is such a risk, it said, that we need a new, specialised police force to deal with it, because criminals laundering meat know they are likely to go undetected and, even if detected, likely to go unpunished.

BBC News tackles a hot question:

Europe launches probe into Hinkley Point nuclear plan

European Union regulators are to investigate whether UK support for a plan to build a new nuclear power plant breaks state aid rules.

French energy giant EDF is leading a consortium building a £16bn plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The UK government has guaranteed power prices from the plant for 35 years.

The European Commission said it wanted the views of third parties because of the unprecedented nature and scale of the Hinkley deal.

One to Ireland and a rosy scenario from

ESRI: we’ve turned a corner and end of austerity in sight

THE country’s leading thinktank has given its most upbeat assessment since the crisis began, saying the economy has “turned the corner”.

The analysis from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) comes as the Government vowed to end austerity the year after next.

In another sign of our return to normality in the EU countries since leaving the troika programme, Ireland will now begin to contribute to the bailout for Greece. is somewhat less rosy:

Moody’s downgrades Bank of Ireland’s deposit ratings

The investment service said the results of the stress test that will be undertaken by the ECB next year are “difficult to anticipate”.

MOODY’S INVESTMENT SERVICE has downgraded Bank of Ireland’s (BOI) deposit ratings reflecting Moody’s view of an increased risk to bondholders.

In a statement they said “deposit ratings to Ba2/NP from Ba1/NP and senior debt ratings to Ba3 from Ba2, prompted by the concurrent lowering of the bank’s baseline credit assessment (BCA) by two notches to b1 from ba2.

From The Guardian, banksters behaving badly, in this case allegedly playing €7.2 billion in numbers games at Anglo Irish Bank to make things seem much rosier than reality:

Three former Irish bank executives appear in court on conspiracy charges

Denis Casey, Peter Fitzpatrick and John Bowe all granted bail by Dublin’s district court and are due to appear again in March

Three former Irish bank executives, including the ex-chief executive of one of the country’s largest lenders, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud in the run-up to the country’s banking crisis, a court heard on Wednesday.

Former chief executive of Irish Life and Permanent, Denis Casey, the lender’s former finance director Peter Fitzpatrick, and former head of treasury at Anglo Irish Bank, John Bowe, were granted bail by Dublin’s district court and are due to appear again next March.

From, a notable warning:

Government must act urgently to detect foreign bribery, OECD warns

THE IRISH Government must urgently increase its resources to detect and investigate foreign bribery more efficiently, a global economic think-tank has warned.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said Ireland had not prosecuted a foreign bribery case in the 12 years since the offence came into being.

Norway next, with the straight dope from

Bergen hospital to hand out free heroin

A hospital in Bergen is planning to give out heroin to hardened addicts in an effort to reduce the number of overdoses and other health complications.

“The solution has been tested in several large cities in Europe, such as Amsterdam and Zurich. We intend to have the same general approach,” Ola Jøsendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital, told the Bergens Avisen newspaper. takes us to Sweden and more of that hard times intolerance:

Nazi activity increases in Sweden: report

Swedish neo-Nazi groups were more active in 2012, according to a new report, while the number of groups operating within the white power movement has declined.

According to a new report by the Expo Foundation, neo-Nazi groups carried out 1,824 activities in 2012, an increase of 24 percent on 2011 and signifying a break in a downward trend since 2008.

At the same time the number of groups operating within the racial ideology movement has declined from 25 active organisations in 2011 to 18 in 2012, continuing a decline from 40 groups registering activities in 2008. According to Expo this trend indicates a concentration with several groups having merged

The Copenhagen Post smells a rat:

New trade agreement would give US influence over Danish law

US and business lobby could have major influence on trade regulations

A proposal hidden in a proposed trade agreement between the US and EU could give the business community and the US major influence on future regulations in Denmark and other EU countries. According to a report by the Brussels-based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the Regulatory Co-operation Council (RCC), a joint regulatory commission that the agreement would put in place to oversee the agreement, will allow industry lobbyists to get very close to the legislative process.

“This model allows business organisations a seat at the table with regulators,” Kenneth Haar, a researcher at CEO told Information newspaper. “It will probably result in a deregulation offensive.” concludes:

Nationalised SNS Reaal to be split into a bank and an insurer

Nationalised financial services group SNS Reaal is to be split into a bank and an insurance company, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The plan to split up the company was presented to the commission by finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem in August. The aim is to create an independent SNS Bank which will focus on retail activities. The insurance side, Zwitserleven, will be eventually sold off and the property loans are being placed in a ‘bad bank’.

SNS Reaal was nationalised in February after running into financial problems caused by its property investments. In total, saving the bank cost the Dutch taxpayer €4.8bn.

EUbusiness sells out:

Belgium sells European Commission HQ for nearly 640 mn euros

Cash-strapped Belgium is nearly 640 million euros richer after selling the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters building to BNP-Paribas-Fortis bank and AG Insurance, a report said Wednesday.

The giant metal-clad Berlaymont dominates the area around the Schuman district in Brussels which is home to many of the main European Union institutions.

Futuristic when built in the 1960s as a symbol of European resurgence, the Belgian government sold the building to the Commission in 2004 for some 553 million euros on a 27-year lease, L’Echo said.

On to Germany and a Merkelian mandate from

Merkel: ‘EU must be ready for treaty changes’

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that European Union members must be ready for treaty changes to strengthen the 28-member bloc, speaking on the eve of an EU summit.

“Since the Lisbon Treaty we have a situation in Europe where everyone says, ‘we can develop everything but we can’t change the treaties’”, Merkel told parliament. “I don’t think that we can build a truly functioning Europe that way.”

The Iron Chancellor fires a broadside, from Europe Online:

Merkel attacks EU investigation of electricity subsidies

Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked Wednesday a likely European Commission investigation into Germany’s system of subsidized electricity for big industry.

“As long as there are European nations where electricity for industry is cheaper than it is in Germany, I can’t see how we can be contributing to a distortion of competition,” she told the Bundestag parliament in Berlin.

From RT, better late than never:

Bavarian town revokes Hitler’s honorary citizenship – 80 years on

A small German town council has finally voted to strip Adolf Hitler of honorary citizenship after criticism sparked by the officials’ failure last week to nullify the title awarded to the Nazi leader 80 years ago.

The full council of the Bavarian town of Dietramszell voted 21-0 to adopt a resolution that denounces the decision made in 1933, the year when President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor, reports Associated Press.

Europe Online swaggers:

German business confidence strengthens in December, Ifo says

German business confidence rose in December, the Munich-based Ifo economic institute reported Wednesday.

The gain was in line with analysts’ forecasts, following a November rebound. Ifo’s indicator rose 0.2 points to 109.5.

On to France and more bad news for workers from EUbusiness:

France adopts reform of debt-ridden pension system

Lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a reform of France’s debt-ridden pension system after the country faced pressure from the European Union.

The reform, adopted in final reading by the National Assembly in a show-of-hands vote, raises the pay-in period for pension contributions from the current 41.5 years to 43 years by 2035, meaning employees will need to work longer to be eligible for full pensions.

Switzerland next, and a freeze from

Bern extends freeze on former leaders’ assets

The Swiss government on Wednesday extended by three years a freeze on the assets of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

The freeze, first ordered in 2011, applies to all assets held in Switzerland by the toppled leaders and by “politically exposed persons in their entourage,” the foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the decision.

Spain, with pain, from El País:

OECD calls on Spain to make layoffs even cheaper

Despite the labor reforms introduced by the Spanish government in February last year, the OECD suggested in a report released Wednesday that severance pay remains high and that more cuts are needed to tackle high unemployment, which stands at 26 percent.

The report also recommends that the government rein in the discretionary power of labor courts to declare dismissals null and void to “extreme cases.”

Deutsche Welle has more pain:

Spain bad loan ratio hits 50-year high

Spain’s central bank has released fresh figures revealing that the eurozone nation’s lenders have been unable so far to keep the amount of bad loans from rising steadily. The ratio has reached a new all-time high.

Spanish lenders’ non-performing credits hit the highest level since records started back in 1962, the country’s central bank reported Wednesday. The ratio of bad loans judged highly unlikely to ever be repaid rose to 13 percent of all outstanding credits in October, up from 12.68 percent in the previous month.

This meant the value of risky assets climbed by three million euros ($4.12 billion) month-on-month to a total of 190.97 billion euros.

And ThinkSpain says Show me the money!:

Brussels to investigate Real Madrid and Barcelona over illegal state aid

Real Madrid and Barcelona, along with five other Spanish football clubs, are to be investigated by the European Union over alleged illegal state aid.

Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia, Elche and Hércules are also going to be scrutinised by the European Commission, according to an announcement from the Spanish foreign ministry today.

And from El País, getting by with a little help from his friends?:

Madrid premier’s wife named in tax-fraud and money-laundering case

The premier of the Madrid region, Ignacio González, on Wednesday defended his own innocence and that of his wife, Lourdes Cavero, after a judge named her as an official suspect in an investigation into possible money laundering and tax fraud in connection with a luxury penthouse the couple owns in the area of Estepona, on the Costa de Sol.

The couple had been renting the 500-square-meter property in question since 2008 for 2,000 euros a month but bought it at the end of last year for 770,000 euros. Similar properties in the upmarket Alhambra del Golf residential area are being let for 6,000 euros a month.

The apartment was purchased for a million euros in 2008 by a trustee named Rudy Valner, a Mexican businessman, on behalf of a company called Coast Investor LLC, which is registered in Delaware, a US state that is attractive to businesses thanks to its low tax rates.

Italy next, and taking it to the streets with

Thousands rally at Rome anti-austerity protest

Thousands of protesters from the Forconi (Pitchforks) movement including far-right activists rallied in Rome on Wednesday for an anti-austerity protest.

Protesting against Italy’s widely discredited political class, they chanted “Go home!” and “Go and work!”

“For everyone’s good, you should all resign,” read a placard held up by one of between 2,000 and 3,000 people on Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo square. Organisers said they had expected 15,000.

From Al Jazeera America, righteous anger:

EU threatens Italy with legal action over migrants from Africa

Officials denounce conditions of refugee detention centers, but can’t agree on common immigration policy

The European Commission threatened Italy with legal action Wednesday for possible breaches of the EU’s rules on granting asylum, over its treatment of migrants arriving from Africa on the island of Lampedusa.

A video showing migrants standing naked in the cold while being sprayed for scabies at a detention center stirred outrage in Italy on Tuesday.

After the jump, Greek meltdown, Ukrainian angst, Russian manuvers, Latin American politics, Indian economic anxieties, the latest Chinese neoliberal moves, Japanese conundra, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoFuku

Straight to it, since it’s very late. . .

First up, McClatchy Washington Bureau covers the Obamagap:

Minorities disproportionately represented in health care ‘coverage gap’

New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that minorities will make up 53 percent of the estimated 4.8 million low-income Americans who will fall into the “coverage gap,” leaving them without viable options to obtain health insurance next year.

In the 25 states that won’t expand eligibility for the Medicaid program, many adults earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for tax credits that would help them purchase marketplace insurance.

China Daily USA possesses:

China’s US debt stake tops $1.3 trillion

China’s holdings of US government debt in October eclipsed the $1.3 trillion mark for the first time, before a Chinese banking official signaled a cut in the accumulation of foreign-exchange reserves could be at hand, a move some saw as presaging a drop in the country’s massive purchases of US Treasury securities.

China increased its Treasury holdings by $10.7 billion from September to remain the US’s largest creditor, the US Department of the Treasury said. Japan remained the second-largest US creditor, even though it cut its holdings by $3.7 billion.

The Economic Times questions:

Quantitative easing is a very experimental policy: Harvard professor

Quantitative easing is a very experimental policy as policymakers do not “really know” what they are going to deliver through such an easy money policy, a senior Harvard University professor said here today.

“Quantitative easing is a very experimental policy. That is because policymakers never really know what they will deliver through it,” Kenneth Rogoff, the Thomas D Cabot Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard University said.

Bloomberg Businessweek gets organized:

Amazon May Get Its First Labor Union in the U.S.’s (AMZN) labor problems have mostly been confined to the online retailer’s warehouses in countries such as Germany—until now. For the first time, employees in a U.S. Amazon facility have successfully petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold union elections.

On Dec. 6, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), a trade union of the AFL-CIO, filed a union election petition with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of 30 equipment maintenance and repair technicians working at the year-old Amazon fulfillment center in Middletown, Del. The fact that the petition was filed suggests, according to the union, that it has interest from at least a majority of those 30 workers, who are seeking to vote on whether to hold elections to establish a union.

Quartz has a bar tab:

Law school enrollment is collapsing

The life of a budding American lawyer isn’t what TV shows like “L.A. Law” once made it out to be.

Fresh numbers from the American Bar Association show US law school enrollment tumbling 11% over last year to 39,675. That’s the number of full-time and part-time students who started law school studies in the fall of 2013. Overall, enrollment is down 24% from the 2010 peak.

From The Hill, dissension:

Senators vow to stop military pension cuts

A group of Republican defense hawks are vowing to fight cuts to military pensions after the Senate easily approved the reductions as part of the budget deal Tuesday.

Just before Tuesday’s 67-33 vote on the bill, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) held a press conference with service member and veterans organizations to slam Congress for including military retirement pay as part of the deal.

North of the border and a social Darwinian gaffe from BBC News:

Canada minister apologises for child hunger remarks

Canada’s industry minister has apologised for suggesting it was not the Canadian government’s job to feed hungry children.

James Moore told a Vancouver radio programme, “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation, another corporate grab:

The TPP’s Attack on Artists’ Termination Rights

There are any number of controversial proposals in the leaked text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) chapter on intellectual property. Here’s one that’s not getting enough attention: the TPP appears to contain yet another attempt to undermine “termination rights,” which grant artists the ability to regain control over copyrights they’ve assigned away after 35 years.

Termination rights are, under U.S. law, an inalienable counterweight to the power imbalance built into many content industry contracts. Not surprisingly, those same industries have been pushing for years to eliminate these rights, including a notorious 1999 incident where a Congressional staffer, later hired as an RIAA lobbyist, snuck anti-artist language into an entirely unrelated bill.

On to Europe with banksters doubts from EUobserver:

Draghi sceptical on German bank union plan

European Central Bank (ECB) boss Mario Draghi has given a sceptical reaction to a German-led compromise on banking union, saying that it could create a regime “that is single in name only.”

Speaking at a hearing with the European Parliament’s economic affairs committee on Monday (16 December), Draghi urged deputies to agree “a strong and credible resolution mechanism” with ministers.

RFI coveys a curious judgment:

European court backs right to deny Armenian genocide as France prepares new law

Prosecutions for denying that massacres of Armenians in Turkey during World War I were genocide are an attack on freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday. The ruling comes as France prepares a law that would do just that.

On to the U.K. with chilling news from Deutsche Welle:

Eating or heating: the stark choice for many Brits as energy prices soar

In the UK thousands are struggling with rising energy costs. After last winter’s record number of deaths from cold weather, pressure is mounting on the government to force energy companies to help the most vulnerable.

An estimated 31,000 people died from the effects of cold weather last winter, many of them elderly people living in poorly insulated homes and faced with skyrocketing gas and electricity costs.

People have seen their energy bills soar by 150 percent over the past ten years, and some now say they must make a choice between buying food or keeping their homes warm.

RT eats into the principle:

Worse-off than parents: Britons born in ‘60s and later to ‘depend on inheritance’

UK citizens born in the 1960s and ‘70s will be the first pensioners since WWII to be worse off than their parents, a study has shown.

The next generation of retirees will have to subsidize their pensions with inheritance to achieve the same quality of life.

The survey carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) comes off the back of their yearly report which documented the falling standard of living in the UK this year. One of the predominant factors behinds the drop in the quality of retired life is stagnancy of wages following the financial crisis, the study reports.

Reuters discriminates:

UK rushes out welfare curbs to deter East European migrants

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he was rushing out regulations to stop migrants from the European Union being able to immediately claim welfare benefits amid public fears of an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

With his Conservative party trailing in opinion polls ahead of a 2015 election and polls showing most Britons don’t want the labor market to be further opened up to east European workers next year, Cameron is under pressure to act on the issue.

From The Guardian, heartwarming news:

UK banks benefited from £38bn ‘too big to fail’ state subsidy

New Economics Foundation argues despite huge government subsidies, big banks are not supporting the real economy

Britain’s biggest banks benefited from a “too big to fail” subsidy from the taxpayer of £38bn last year, according to a leading economic thinktank which argued that they are not giving enough back to the public.

The New Economics Foundation (Nef) said the big four – Barclays, HSBC and the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – were “failing to make themselves useful in the economy” despite the 10% rise in the value of the taxpayer’s implicit support.

Iceland next and an unexpected endorsement for the government write-off of a goodly chunk of the citizenry’s mortgage debts via the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Moody’s Approves Of PM’s Debt Relief Package

Credit rating agency Moody’s believes that Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s debt relief package will actually have a positive effect on the Housing Financing Fund (HFF) – directly contradicting the International Monetary Fund on the same subject.

RÚV reports that Moody’s does not believe the plan will negatively effect the economy, because the money is coming from a tax on a company (in this case, Landsbanki) rather than raising individual income taxes. The resulting cuts to loan payments will, they also contend, give people more spending money and more purchasing power.

Norway next and notable news from

Typical worker in Norway earns most in world

The typical worker earns a higher salary in Norway than in any other country in the world, with Norwegian wage earners taking home more than double the median per-capita global income, a Gallup survey of household incomes published on Tuesday has revealed.

The median income in Norway came out at just under 120,000 kroner per year ($19,300), according to Gallup, well ahead of a typical income of $18,630 in Sweden, the next highest earning country.

The survey highlighted huge wage disparities across the European Union, with workers in Portugal reporting median incomes of just $5,500, barely more than a quarter of what their counterparts enjoy in Norway.

Sweden next, with a follow to yesterday’s report from

Half of arrested neo-Nazi rioters are teens

There were sweeping arrests following the incident that marred an anti-Nazi demonstration by local residents, including families with children, in the Kärrtorp neighbourhood of the capital. Members of the far-right Swedish Resistance Movement (Svenska motståndsrörelsen) attacked the peaceful protest, which left three people hospitalized.

Police in Stockholm are holding 26 people in custody on suspicion of violent rioting and serious assault. More than half of those detained are under the age of 20 including one minor, reported Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Tuesday.

The response from

Swedes plan new anti-Nazi rally after attack

Several thousand Stockholmers say they will take to the streets of Kärrtorp on Sunday to protest racism anew, after a plethora of scrawled swastikas sprouted up again after last weekend’s violent counter-demo by neo-Nazis.

“See you on Sunday at 12! Because Nazism and racism have no place in our society, because the streets and the squares belong to all of us, and because we will never be scared into silence,” the event organizers Linje 17, named after the local metro line, wrote on their new event page on social media site Facebook. By Tuesday, more than 5,000 users had said they would attend the event, which was posted on the site only hours prior.

The Netherlands next with a body count from

Bankruptcies reach record levels in 2013

There was a record number of bankruptcies in 2013, according to the bankruptcy website

The website reports 12,800 bankruptcies in 2013, 6% more than in 2012.

However, there has been a drop in the number over the second half of the year. Preliminary figures for December show 781 companies went bankrupt, the lowest number since July 2011.

On to Germany with a dour report from the London Telegraph:

German economists fear complacent coalition risks national decline

German government attacked for doing nothing to stop the slow erosion of dynamism and for insisting rigidly on further austerity for Europe

Germany’s Grand Coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel takes the helm on Tuesday under a blizzard of criticism from economists of all stripes, attacked for doing nothing to stop the slow erosion of German dynamism and for insisting rigidly on further austerity for Europe.

Deutsche Welle takes action:

Amazon workers in Germany continue strike action

Employees at logistics centers of US retail giant Amazon have continued their strike action as they hope to see management agree to talks on higher wages. Unions said it might extend the walkouts beyond this week.

Amazon workers continued their strikes on Tuesday at two locations, upholding their demand the company should accept a collective bargaining agreement for the mail order and retail sector.

More from

Amazon plays down ‘record’ German strikes

Online retailer Amazon has played down strikes by hundreds of workers in Germany in the run up to Christmas, claiming there had been no impact on deliveries. It put the number of employees involved far below union estimates.

Amazon said that 1,115 out of 23,000 workers had chosen not to come to work Monday at its logistics centers, including 14,000 temporary employees hired for the holiday season.

The London Telegraph takes us to France and a woeful headline:

Fresh recession risk in France threatens political crisis

The threat of recession is a major upset for President François Hollande, who has talked up recovery and confidently declared the crisis over

France is on the cusp of a triple-dip recession after a key gauge of manufacturing and services buckled in December, leaving the country trailing far behind Germany and most of the eurozone

AP World News collars:

Sarkozy allies detained in French corruption probe

A top aide to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been detained in an investigation into alleged misuse of public funds.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Claude Gueant is under questioning Tuesday along with the former national police chief, Michel Gaudin.

According to French media reports, the probe centers on envelopes full of 10,000 euros in cash delivered to Gueant every month from 2002-2004, when Sarkozy was interior minister and Gueant was his right-hand man. Gueant went on to serve as presidential chief of staff.

More French woes from EurActiv:

Falling cereal value hits French farmers’ income

France’s agricultural income per farmer dropped by 16.4% in 2013, largely due to the country’s dependence on revenue from cereals, according to the European Commission.

A large proportion of French farming revenue this year came from cereals, whose real price dropped by 23.5% following a small harvest, down 1% compared to 2012. with more discontent:

Unions slam €12 a month rise in minimum wage

The French government has been forced to defend the meagre rise in the minimum wage, which will see workers’ pay packets boosted by just €12 a month in 2014.

“There’s no Christmas present underneath the tree for France’s 3.1 million minimum wage earners,” was how one French newspaper described the news of the rise on Tuesday.

The minimum hourly rate, currently at €9.43 will rise to €9.53 gross and the monthly rate will rise from €1,430.22 before tax to €1,445.38, meaning a hike of just €12 per month net for those working a 35-hours week.

On to Spain with declining numbers from El País:

Wages in Spain fall for record four quarters in a row

Average monthly income now at levels of two years ago as internal devaluation continues

Average wages in Spain fell for the fourth quarter in a row in the period July-September as part of what is known as an internal devaluation to recover competitiveness.

The National Statistics Institute’s (INE) latest labor cost survey, which was released Tuesday, showed that average monthly wages in the third quarter declined 0.2 percent from a year earlier to 1,801 euros, the lowest level since the third quarter of 2011. The fall was the first time salaries have declined for four quarters in a row since the current statistical series began in 1996.

Action from ThinkSpain:

Rail board workers plan series of strikes in the run-up to Christmas

TRAIN traffic could be severely disrupted over the next few days with strikes planned from 09.00hrs to 11.00hrs on Wednesday (December 18) and from midnight to 04.00hrs.

And workers will down tools for 24 hours this coming Friday (December 20), to cause maximum disruption at the start of the festive season, given that many workers will take Monday and Tuesday off to enjoy a break of several days for Christmas.

ANSAmed inflates:

Crisis: Spain, electricity costs to rise

To cover deficit, new rates go into effect in January

Electricity costs will go up in Spain starting next January to pay interest charges on tariff debt, totaling 3.6 billion for 2013. Minister of Industry and Energy Josè Manuel Soria announced the increase without specifying the exact amount of the rate hike. The yield on 15 years of debt has an annual interest of 300 million euros.

Italy next, with high anxiety from the London Telegraph:

Italy’s president fears violent insurrection in 2014 but offers no remedy

Events in Italy are turning serious. President Giorgio Napolitano has warned of “widespread social tension and unrest” in 2014 as the Long Slump drags on.

Those living on the margins are being drawn into “indiscriminate and violent protest, a sterile lurch towards total opposition”.

His latest speech is a veritable Jeremiad. Thousands of companies are on the “brink of collapse”. Great masses of the working people are on the dole or at risk of losing their jobs. Very high rates of youth unemployment (41pc) are leading to dangerous alienation. perseveres:

Severely sick Italians fear job loss

Almost half the number of Italians suffering from severe illnesses prefer not to take time off work over fears they will lose their job, according to figures from the Associazioni dei malati cronici (association of the chronically sick).

The association said 49 percent prefer not to take time off work for treatment, while 43 percent are forced to hide their condition, according to a report on ArticoloTre. Meanwhile, another 43 percent are in jobs that could worsen their health condition.

The Guardian deplores:

Outcry in Italy over video of naked refugees being disinfected in public

Parliamentary speaker Laura Boldrini condemns treatment of migrants seen stripping naked at Lampedusa reception centre

Broadcast by the Rai 2 television channel on Monday night, the pictures appeared to show a practice that was labelled “unworthy of a civilised country” by Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the lower house of parliament. Coming barely two months after hundreds of people died in two separate disasters in the Mediterranean, the footage provoked renewed criticism of Italy’s creaking reception system for asylum seekers and refugees.

ANSAmed declines:

Italy: construction spending fell 6.9% in 2013, says Ance

About 12,600 companies in sector bankrupt since crisis began

Construction spending fell by 6.9% in 2013 compared with the previous year, while the number of bankruptcies has increased, an industry group said Tuesday.

That is worse than the 5.6% drop previously forecast, said the Italian construction association Ance. Since the global economic crisis began in 2008, jobs in construction have fallen by 10.4% with about 480,000 positions lost, according to Ance. As well, about 12,600 companies – roughly one in four – have fallen into bankruptcy, the group said.

After the jump. Greek wins a payoff, meltdown continues; a Russo-Ukrainian deal; Indian inflationary worries; the latest Chinese neoliberal moves; Japanese financial profits; environmental news, and the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Tory goverment to UK: Frack you!

Here’s a development that hits on a number of our favorite themes, ranging from Big Energy to the environment and the impact of the former on the latter, of which Homo sapiens just happens to belong.

First, from RT:

License to frack: UK govt to radically expand shale gas test drilling

The UK government is planning to open up thousands of square miles of countryside to fracking in spite of mass protests, UK media report. Local communities will be offered 100,000 pounds for every shale gas well where test drilling is conducted.

On Tuesday the Conservative-led government issued a 49-page energy roadmap outlining ways in which oil and natural gas, including shale deposits, could be exploited in the country.

More from The Guardian:

Fracking companies entitled to licences on more than 60% of British land

Assessment finds major fracking effort would create jobs and income for local communities, but require thousands of wells to be drilled and dozens of daily tanker journeys

And a headline that touches on a long-term focus here at esnl, the actions of human-created/unleashed endocrine disrupting chemicals on the biosphere, ourselves included. From The Guardian:

Fracking may increase health risks, scientists warn

Study of water pollution at sites in the US finds hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment. . .

Scientists sounded the warning after studying water pollution at sites in the US where the controversial natural gas drilling technique is used. The team looked at 12 suspected or known “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs) used in fracking operations and measured their ability to mimic or block the effects of reproductive hormones.

Water samples from drilling sites with a record of spillages had levels of the chemicals high enough to interfere with the body’s responses to male hormones, as well as oestrogen.

And that’s not even considering the possibility of earthquakes induced by fracking. And there’s the simple fact that fracking is just another attempt to fuel a consumption-mad culture driven by corporate controlled mass media and fueled by exponentially accruing oceans of debt. Another piece of the commons vanishes for the sake of private profit.

Huxley had it right, in the epigram flown on  our flag:

Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.

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

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

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

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

Government to sell Bord Gais for €1.125bn 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. 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. 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

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

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

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

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. 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

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. 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

The WTO and the push for global serfdom

That’s our headline, and it strikes to the heart of a very informative video from The Real News Network, featuring an eloquent and highly informed Indian journalist and author.

The subject is the further enshrinement of the neoliberal regime that’s on the agenda for the crusial 3-6 December ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Bali.

Lynn Fries of TRNN talks with former chief editor of thePress Trust of India
Chakravarthi Raghavan, a trade and development expert and author who later served as chief editor and now editor emeritus of the South-North Development Monitor [SUNS].

From The Real News Network:

Pope Denounces ‘A New Tyranny’ of Markets, But Will Trade Ministers at Bali?

From the transcript:

FRIES: In a prior word of advice, our guest reached out to all nations with an accessible and comprehensive analysis critical of the trade negotiations at the time of the Uruguay Round. I ask our guest for his thoughts today on part of that critique, when in 1990 he wrote, “Cumulatively, Third World governments would not only be unable to act positively in the economic fields to advance the well being of their peoples, but would be obliged to protect the interests of the TNCs [transnational corporations] and foreign enterprises and foreign nationals against their own peoples. The only role left for governments would be maintaining law and order, and keeping labor under control. Governments of independent countries in the Third World would thus be left doing what the metropolitan powers did during colonial days.”

RAGHAVAN: In a sense it has even become worse. It is not even what developing countries are forced to do in response to governments of the United States and Europe. Even corporations are now dictating terms to the developing countries, whether it be through these so called various rating companies, etc., etc. They are told that if you want to have XYZ, you carry out this kind of a thing. If I come and establish an enterprise in your country, you have to control your workers so that they don’t demand rights. In fact there has been a major fight going on in this matter, for example, in India, in South Africa, etc. For South Africa, we recently saw the disasters relating to mines, in the mines [incompr.] the workers and shooting et cetera.

What exactly are the foreign corporations demanding? The foreign corporations are demanding that we have to make money and profit through our work, and your labor must be kept under check, they must carry out our orders, and you must force them to do exactly what we want to do — they shouldn’t demand to go on strike for the purpose of higher wages, they shouldn’t demand any particular benefits for themselves. This is what they are asked to do, they are being asked to do, and they are being forced to do it today. And they are now going to be asked to do more as a result of what they will agree to in Bali.

Headlines of the day II: Econo/Fuku/Fuelishness

Today’s headlines being at home, starting with hints of a bubble brewing from CNBC:

A new wave of US mortgage trouble threatens

U.S. borrowers are increasingly missing payments on home equity lines of credit they took out during the housing bubble, a trend that could deal another blow to the country’s biggest banks.

And from Al Jazeera America, stuffing turkeys:

Hundreds of protests planned to mark Black Friday

Labor groups hope to capitalize on a year of controversy surrounding Wal-Mart and other big retailers

Bloomberg Businessweek covers harsh realities:

McDonald’s Worker Says She Can’t Afford to Eat at McDonald’s

For a piece on the potential economic and social consequences of raising the federal minimum wage in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, I interviewed several low-wage workers about how they manage. As we’ve learned from recent studies, they often rely on public assistance; sometimes they turn to their extended family and friends or charity. One told me she donates plasma when she needs a little cash; a second sleeps in her car. One, Shawndraka Mack, works full-time at McDonald’s, but noted she can’t afford to eat there.

From ThinkProgress, uncharitable politics:

Los Angeles Considering Proposal To Ban Feeding Homeless People In Public

The proposal will need to pick up more support among the 15-member Council in order to become law. If passed, though, Los Angeles would join a growing number of other cities that have banned or passed significant restrictions on charities attempting to feed the homeless, including Raleigh and Orlando.

From South China Morning Post, more allegations of banksters behaving badly — in this case, hiring the progeny of Chinese leaders as a wedge to opening doors for deals:

US expands China hiring probe to Morgan Stanley and Citigroup

US authorities are expanding their probe into the hiring practices of American financial institutions, with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now looking into whether Morgan Stanley and Citigroup hired children of well-connected mainland officials with an intent to win business.

Meanwhile, mouth farts from blowviator via Salon:

Rush Limbaugh: The pope sounds like a Marxist

“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope”

Meanwhile, Rush might ponder this from the New York Times:

Breadlines Return

The Great Recession was the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  And yet, throughout the recent decline and today’s sluggish recovery, conditions have never seemed as bad as they were in the 1930s. Breadlines, for example, have not been commonplace.

That may be about to change.

An encouraging sign, via Salon:

Breaking: Whole Foods strike wins Thanksgiving day off, workers say

“I think it will be disruptive, but that’s kind of the point,” says one of Chicago workers striking today

Canada next, with the Toronto Globe and Mail, and cross-border ties:

Canadian growth to accelerate but U.S. well-being still key: IMF

The IMF pegs Canadian growth at 2.25 per cent next year following modest growth of 1.6 per cent this year as exports and business investment “disappointed.”

Next, feet enter oral orifices, via Techdirt:

TPP Defenders Take To The Internet To Deliver Official Talking Points; Inadvertently Confirm Opponents’ Worst Fears

from the TPP-doesn’t-do-anything-opponents-claim-it-does,-except-for-all-this dept

Seeking friends in need, via EUbusiness:

France, Spain seek European push for jobs, growth

France and Spain’s leaders, both suffering in the polls as they grapple with feeble economies, united Wednesday in pressuring the European Union to do more to help boost activity and create desperately needed jobs.

BBC News takes us to Britain and austerian arrogance:

David Cameron defiant over tougher EU benefit plans

David Cameron has defended plans to toughen welfare rules for EU migrants, saying he was sending a “clear message” to people that the UK was not a “soft touch” for claiming benefits.

He said he shared public concerns about the end of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians next month.

More Cameron Tory neoliberalism from The Independent:

David Cameron to lobby for support on migration restrictions at EU summit in Lithuania

From the London Telegraph, Mariano Rajoy scotches hopes:

Spanish PM: Independent Scotland would be kicked out of the EU

Scotland would be kicked out of the European Union if it voted for independence, the Spanish Prime Minister has said in a devastating blow to Alex Salmond’s claims membership would be seamless.

Sweden next, with a burgeoning bubble from

Swedes’ mortgage debt continues to swell

Swedes are borrowing money more than ever, data from Statistics Sweden revealed on Wednesday, as household indebtedness reached new heights.

The annual growth rate of household indebtedness was calculated to be 4.9 percent in October this year, a 0.1 percentage-point increase in one month. Statisticians at the state agency predicted that the increase will continue, and cited the upswing from 4.5 percent in January 2013., planning ahead and raising hopes for Sweden’s braceros:

Swedish opposition to scrap migrant-worker law

The left-wing opposition stands ready to tear up the controversial Laval Law, which differentiates between domestic and foreign workers, if the Social Democrat party wrests power from the government in next year’s elections.

“Swedish collective bargaining agreements should apply in Sweden,” said party leader Stefan Lövfen on Wednesday at a press conference. “It does not matter from which country the employee comes from nor where the employer is registered.” covers a seminal embargo:

China blocks semen of hardy Norwegian Red

China has cancelled a project to import semen from the hardy Norwegian Red diary cow, in a move put down to continuing poor diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Holland next, and troubling news from

Healthcare freedom of choice under threat, entire hospitals excluded

Health insurance companies are limiting patient access to some hospitals, and some policyholders will have to pay a contribution to be treated in hospitals with a better reputation, according to research by the AD and insurance comparison website Independer.

On to Germany and high hopes from Europe Online:

German consumer confidence hits six-year high

Consumer confidence in Germany hit a six-year high in December, a survey released Wednesday showed as retailers in Europe’s biggest economy are gearing up for the key Christmas shopping period.

The mood among German households rose to a bigger-than-forecast 7.4 in December from 7.1 in November, the Nuremberg-based market research group GfK said.

BBC News covers a done deal:

Deal reached on new government for Germany under Merkel

Angela Merkel will return as German chancellor for a third term under a coalition deal hammered out with her old Social Democrat (SPD) opponents.

Her conservative Christian Union (CDU/CSU) signed a 185-page agreement with the SPD entitled “Shaping Germany’s Future”

From Spiegel, making virtue of necessity in the peculiar German miracle:

Living Large on a Little: Campgrounds Go Residential in Germany

An increasing number of people are moving to German campgrounds permanently to save money. The little communities of motorhomes and trailers offer a comfortable yet affordable lifestyle that residents say they couldn’t find elsewhere. notes banksters behaving badly:

Watchdog probes gold and silver price-fixing

The German financial watchdog, BaFin, said on Wednesday it was looking into allegations of possible manipulation by banks in gold and silver price-fixing.

“In addition to the Libor and Euribor interest rates, BaFin is looking at other bench-marking processes such as gold and silver price fixing at individual banks,” the watchdog said in a statement.

From, righteous anger:

Outrage over €21million pension for French CEO

Plans to award the CEO of struggling French car giant Peugeot Citroen with a €21 million pension ($28.5million) has provoked uproar among trade unions, who have spent the last year battling in vain against factory closures and mass job cuts at the firm.

A culinary invasion with

Burger King set to open 400 outlets in France

US fast food giant Burger King looks set to take a big bite out of the French market, after they announced this week they would be opening up to 400 new restaurants throughout the country.

And on to the Alps with Channel NewsAsia Singapore and more BBB:

UBS Paris office raided in Swiss tax fraud probe

French investigators on Wednesday raided the Paris headquarters of the local arm of Swiss bank UBS, which has been placed under investigation for allegedly helping rich clients hide money in undeclared accounts.

Spain next, with El País and a central bankster’s assurance:

Recovery continued at start of fourth quarter, Bank of Spain says

Spanish export sector remains buoyant with some signs of an improvement in domestic demand while salaries flatline

The London Telegraph reports a con:

Spanish government accused of pushing illegal homes to Britons

A register with details of Spain’s three million empty homes fails to flag all of those earmarked for demolition

From El País a singular act of resistance to the reigning neoliberal Popular Party:

Madrid Socialist leader resigns Senate seat over PP-linked judge

Gómez stages “act of rebellion” against privatization of public healthcare and carve-up of legal watchdog’s membership

The leader of the Socialist Party in Madrid (PSM), Tomás Gómez, on Wednesday announced he is resigning his seat in the Senate to “be consistent with” his principles. Gómez’s decision came in response to the national party’s pact with the Popular Party (PP) over the reshuffling of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), by which Judge Francisco Gerardo Martínez Tristán will be elevated to the legal watchdog’s panel. Martínez sits on the 50-magistrate panel of the Madrid regional High Court that has been charged with deciding the fate of six of the region’s public hospitals, which the PP wants to privatize.

El País again, with neoliberalism in action:

More than 1.1 million students lose textbook grants

Families were receiving between 70-180 euros, depending on the schooling period and the region

Public subsidies for school book purchases have nosedived during the economic crisis. But according to a report from the Ombudsman’s Office, which notes a 45-percent drop in financing in the last four years, the crisis “explains but does not justify this reduction.”

The Portugal News takes across the border to yet another postal privatization, that essential plank in the neoliberal destruction of the commons:

CTT postal privatisation sees demand outstrip supply six times over

The demand for shares in the Portuguese post office CTT – Correios de Portugal outstripped supply 6.5 times according to information supplied by CMVM, the stock market authorities, to state holding company Parpública.

Italy next, with a Bunga Bunga booting from the New York Times:

Berlusconi Expelled from Senate in Italy

Having spent months manufacturing procedural delays or conjuring political melodrama in hopes of saving himself, Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday could no longer stave off the inevitable: Italy’s Senate resoundingly stripped him of his parliamentary seat, a dramatic and humiliating expulsion, even as other potential troubles await him.

And pledges allegiance:

‘Berlusconi will always be our leader’

Supporters of Silvio Berlusconi mourned his expulsion from parliament on Wednesday, with one declaring: “This is not finished!”

Thousands of Berlusconi’s fans travelled to Rome from all over Italy in a show of support, with waving Forza Italia flags and holding candle-lit vigils behind held outside his Rome residence.

From again, more austerian reality:

Italy’s crisis leaves middle class struggling

With unemployment at record levels and some of the highest poverty levels anywhere in the EU, Italy’s economic crisis has left many formerly well-off Italians barely able to put food on the table.

Italy’s unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 12.5 percent in October, while thousands of those who are clinging onto jobs are on short-term contracts and often go unpaid for months.

An EU report in September said that Italy is the only large country in core Europe that suffers from “material hardships”, with one in ten Italians cutting back on basics such as heating and eating meat.

After the jump, ongoing Grecomeltdown, Russian baggage, Indian anxieties and opportunities, Southeast Asian land grabs and protests, environmental mayhem, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

WikiLeaks drops a bombshell: The TPP Treaty

From WikiLeaks

From WikiLeaks

We’ve long suspected the Trans-Pacific Partnership,  currently being negotiated in secret, is nothing less than a surrender of national sovereignty to corporate/bankster interests, and now we have the proof in the form of a leaked copy submitted to WikiLeaks.

Here’s the website’s announcement:

Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China.

Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ’trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text.

The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange stated: “The US administration is aggressively pushing the TPP through the US legislative process on the sly.” The advanced draft of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter, published by WikiLeaks on 13 November 2013, provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarise themselves with the details and implications of the TPP.

The 95-page, 30,000-word IP Chapter lays out provisions for instituting a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states. The Chapter’s subsections include agreements relating to patents (who may produce goods or drugs), copyright (who may transmit information), trademarks (who may describe information or goods as authentic) and industrial design.

The longest section of the Chapter – ’Enforcement’ – is devoted to detailing new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons. Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties.

The consolidated text obtained by WikiLeaks after the 26-30 August 2013 TPP meeting in Brunei – unlike any other TPP-related documents previously released to the public – contains annotations detailing each country’s positions on the issues under negotiation. Julian Assange emphasises that a “cringingly obsequious” Australia is the nation most likely to support the hardline position of US negotiators against other countries, while states including Vietnam, Chile and Malaysia are more likely to be in opposition. Numerous key Pacific Rim and nearby nations – including Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most significantly, Russia and China – have not been involved in the drafting of the treaty.

In the words of WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.

Read the full secret TPP treaty IP chapter here

Headlines of the day II: Crash, cash, and trash

Plus the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

Our latest economic/environmental round-up continues to feed our suspicions that we’re witnessing a brief period of consolidation, with the vultures and vulture funds picking at the carcass while giving the rest of us a temporary breather.

That, of course, doesn’t apply to Greece, where the last looting continues at its accustomed pace.

Fundamental shifts have accelerated, the transformation of the U.S. and Britain into economies where manufacturing has faded and finance reigns supreme.

On with the show, starting here in the U.S. with this from My Budget 360:

Arrested economic development: 36 percent of Millennials living at home delaying financial adulthood. Less than one-third of Millennials employed.

From The Guardian, a reminder:

US Republicans make the poor pay to balance the budget

The impetus to cut food stamps is ideological not fiscal, and low-wages mean work provides no guarantee against hunger

And New Economic Perspectives covers their co-conspirator:

Obama wants to cut Social Security

Obama is proposing, along with the support of Republicans and many Democrats, to change how annual increases in Social Security benefits are calculated. Obama wants to switch to a different formula, called Chained CPI. This switch would result in a benefit cut of $230 billion dollars over 10 years. All this is being done under the guise of “strengthening” the program and “securing it for future generations”.

North of the border for the surreal from BBC News. Maybe he can get together with Marion Berry for a toke or two:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admits to smoking crack

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has admitted smoking crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor”, despite denying he had taken the drug.

And a quick trip to the southern border for a Michael Bloomberg-style move via BBC News:

Mexico passes ‘junk food tax’ reform

The Mexican Congress has approved a tax reform bill imposing new levies on junk food and soft drinks. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s project also aims to boost government revenue by increasing top earners’ income tax.

And a global story from Deutsche Welle:

Economic crisis shatters trust in governments, hits life satisfaction says OECD

The global economic crisis has lowered people’s satisfaction with life in the industrialized world, an OECD study has found. Faith in their governments’ ability to ease the strain has massively eroded too.

And the first Banksters Behaving Badly story, via Reuters:

Exclusive: EU to fine Deutsche, JPMorgan and others in rate probe – source

EU antitrust regulators are set to fine six global banks including Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan and HSBC after an investigation into the rigging of benchmark euro zone interest rates, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

More form the London Telegraph:

RBS and HSBC ‘face fines’ over Euribor rigging

Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC among major banks facing fines by European authorities over alleged attempts to manipulate Euribor benchmark borrowing rate

And the qualified huzzah for Europe from BBC News:

European Commission predicts ‘turning point’ in Europe

The European Commission has said the European economy has reached a “turning point”, but the eurozone will grow less quickly than previously expected.

More from CNNMoney:

Eurozone crisis not over yet, warns EU

Europe’s crisis is not over yet and unemployment will stay at record levels above 12% until 2015, the European Union said Tuesday.

From EUbusiness, it’s not easy bein’ green:

EU signals end to high subsidies for renewable energy

The European Commission issued new guidelines Tuesday which could end costly and controversial subsidies for renewable energy, opening the way for state-aid backing of gas or coal-fired electricity generation projects

BBC News brings us some bad news for blue collar Brits:

BAE to cut possibly more than 1,000 UK shipyard jobs

BAE Systems is to cut potentially more than 1,000 jobs from three of its UK shipyards at Govan and Scotstoun in Glasgow and at Portsmouth.

From the London Telegraph, sad news for print lovers:

More publishers fail as online competition bites

The publishing industry is in crisis. Over the past year, insolvencies have jumped 42pc, with 98 publishers going bust, up from 69 the year before, according to research by accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy.

The Telegraph again, with a failing report card:

UK weak on education, skills and income equality, according to OECD

A thinktank has ranked the UK below average on education, skills and income equality in its Better Life Index but has given it strong scores for jobs, earnings and housing

The Independent covers education that seems to be working:

Payday lenders accused of ‘grooming’ children with catchy adverts

‘These lenders are essentially grooming children to be the next generation of borrowers’ says money expert

The Irish Independent takes us to the Emerald Isle and a bailout near its end:

European Commission forecasts Irish growth of 1.7pc in 2014

Economy is stabilising but challenges remain

The Irish Independent again, with a warning from Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem:

Dijsselbloem warns jobless rate threatens our bailout exit

THE head of the Eurogroup has warned that Ireland will face risks when it leaves the bailout from the current high unemployment and the large number of mortgage arrears.

EUbusiness adds a voice to an increasingly common refrain:

Germany can do more for eurozone: Barroso

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday called on Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, to do more to “guarantee financial stability in the eurozone”.

More from the London Telegraph:

EU opens door to showdown with Germany on trade surplus

EC report said Germany’s surplus will narrow slightly from 7pc of GDP this year to 6.6pc in 2014 and 6.4pc in 2015, but this still breaches “macro-imbalances” rules

From Spiegel, ghosts from the past:

Munich Discovery: Masterpieces Found Among Nazi Art Trove

While searching a Munich apartment, police stumbled upon a historic discovery: nearly 1,500 paintings, including modern art seized by the Nazis and numerous unknown masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, Dix and Matisse.

From EUbusiness, deflationary fears across the Rhine:

France warns of strong euro ahead of ECB meeting

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici warned Tuesday of the euro’s current strength ahead of the European Central Bank’s meeting this week when a decision on interest rates will be made.

To Spain with El País an lowered expectations:

Brussels lowers its forecast for Spanish growth in 2014

GDP now seen expanding by just 0.5 percent, way down on earlier estimate of 0.9 percent

thinkSPAIN covers ongoing action:

Madrid city cleaners and gardeners on strike ‘indefinitely’ over redundancies

The franchise firms which employ them have announced up to 1,100 jobs will be axed, in addition to the 350 which went in August.

From ANSAmed, good news/bad news:

Crisis: 4.8 million Spaniards unemployed in October

But year-on-year jobless rate has decreased, ministry says

El País yields the absurd:

Time to swing the wrecking ball on Spain’s vacant homes?

  • In the wake of the crisis, the country has been left with 800,000 unsold properties

  • Demolishing unfinished buildings might be the only solution, say experts

And from EUbusiness, the unkindest cut:

Spain cuts overseas student grants mid-term

Spain’s government got a slap on the wrist on Tuesday for surprising certain Spanish students by cutting off scholarship money right in the middle of their studies overseas.

ANSAmed takes us to Italy:

EC says Italy’s recession ending, 0.7% growth in 2014

In line with Istat, but lower than Italian govt’s prediction

After the jump, the Greek collapse continues, mixed news for the Indian subcontinent, the relentless Chinese neoliberal ascendancy, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Econoenviro meltdown

The gutting of the social commons and expropriation of institutions created to buffer citizens against the ravages of nature of the rapacity of their fellow humans continue unabated.

USA TODAY highlights one of the more despicable twists of the Tea Party raptors, eager to bring about the Apocalypse. Nothing else matters, including the lives of those Jesus told his followers to nurture:

47M Americans hit by food stamp cuts starting today

Food stamp benefits will be cut to more than 47 million Americans starting Friday as a temporary boost to the federal program comes to an end without a new budget from a deadlocked Congress to replace it.

The Atlantic Wire has more:

Today’s Food Stamp Cuts Are Only the Beginning

Today 47 million Americans on food stamps will see their benefits slashed by 13 percent as the program takes a $5 billion budget hit. If Republicans have their way, this could just be the beginning.

And the Oakland Tribune examines the impacts on the four million Californians who receive food stamps:

Cuts to food stamps hitting millions of Californians to start Friday

The cuts mean a family of four will receive $632, or $36 less per month in federal food assistance, even as California food costs rise. That is the equivalent of losing roughly 21 individual meals per month based on calculations used by the Department of Agriculture.

From Reuters, cut-throat commerce:

Walmart kicks off online holiday deals early in intense season

Wal-Mart Stores Inc is kicking off its online deals on Friday, a month earlier than usual – underscoring worries that intense discounting aimed at luring budget-conscious shoppers could result in the most tepid holiday spending rise in four years.

And Al Jazeera America covers business as usual at Iron Mountain, the records management giant:

Workers allege union busting at government contractor in Georgia

Managers can be heard apparently confronting organizers on leaked recordings: ‘I know what you did. It’s all out.’

From the San Francisco Chronicle, blue collar academics:

Growing number of part-time professors join unions

Thousands of part-time college professors are joining labor unions, a growing trend in higher education that’s boosting the ranks of organized labor and giving voice to teachers who complain about low pay and a lack of job security at some of the nation’s top universities.

Another warning, via CNBC:

US factory activity tumbles to one-year trough: Markit

The pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector hit a one-year-low in October as factory output slowed sharply, an industry report showed on Friday.

Predatory cable from Slashdot:

Comcast Donates Heavily To Defeat Mayor Who Is Bringing Gigabit Fiber To Seattle

Reuters gives us a global story:

Property hot spots renew easy-money bubble fears

From China to Canada and London, fast-rising property markets are haunting the global economy again, five years after the U.S. subprime mortgage bubble burst and triggered the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

And Want China Times covers some responsible parties:

Seattle and London see influx of Chinese house buyers

It is becoming increasingly popular for Chinese nationals to buy houses in foreign countries due to the restrictions imposed on purchasing houses at home.

From ETF Daily News, a very important but little-known index sounds an alarm:

Baltic Dry Index Shows The Global Economy Headed For A Slowdown

Off to Europe with a regional story from Europe Online:

Eurozone inflation slumps to four-year low in October

  • Annual inflation in the eurozone fell to a four-year low in October, according to data released Thursday.

  • The annual cost of living in the currency bloc slumped to 0.7 per cent this month from 1.1 per cent in September, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said.

Keep Talking Greece covers a questioning of the gospel:

EP vice president to investigate Troikas’ work in four eurozone countries

This is going to be an evaluation, not a condemnation”, stresses Othmar Karas, Vice President of the European Parliament, who will lead the parliamentary inquiry into the work of the troika in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland.

More from To Vima:

Schulz: “Apologizing is not enough”

  • President of European Parliament initiates investigation on troika and demands justice be served for the damages caused by the exhaustive austerity programs

  • The President of European Parliament Martin Schulz gave an interview to Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, where he professed that “it is not enough to apologize” and that responsibilities must be assumed for the austerity programs implemented in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Cyprus.

On to Britain, with some bad news for the news business from the Financial Post:

Thomson Reuters to cut 3,000 jobs as part of speed up of cost cutting plan

Thomson Reuters Corp., a provider of news and information services, plans to cut 3,000 positions, or about 5% of the workforce, in a bid to focus on growth markets and boost profitability.

CNBC has a potential job for the NSA:

British plan to unmask shell companies puts pressure on US

Anti-corruption groups are praising a new initiative by British Prime Minister David Cameron to unmask the owners of hundreds of anonymous shell companies, and they are calling on other countries—particularly the United States—to follow suit.

And Banksters Behaving Badly from the London Telegraph:

Barclays suspends currency traders as forex probe widens

UK bank Barclays places staff on suspension, as US banks Citigroup and JP Morgan are dragged into a growing currency market rigging investigation

France next, with a rebuke to a racist resurgence, via RFI:

No explosion of asylum seekers figures in France, NGO

There is no “explosion” of asylum seekers in France, the head of an NGO that works with would-be immigrants has told RFI, and the country has taken in a limited number of refugees from the Syrian conflict, despite its vocal opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Spain next, first with another sell-off via El País:

Boosted investment data reflects renewed global interest in Spain

  • China’s Sinopec currently negotiating to buy Repsol’s 30-percent stake in Gas Natural

  • Two major corporate deals announced on Thursday alone

There’s another Spanish property up from grabs, or so this headline from Europe Online would indicate:

Spanish electrical appliance maker Fagor closer to bankruptcy

The large Spanish electrical appliance maker Fagor edged closer to bankruptcy on Thursday as its Polish subsidiary filed for protection from its creditors.

And from Europe Online again, a trans-border action:

Strikes disrupt rail traffic in Portugal and Spain

Strikes on Thursday disrupted rail traffic on the Iberian Peninsula, with the Lisbon underground coming to a standstill while less trains operated in Spain.

The Portugal News covers a victory for austerity:

Coalition forces through 2014 budget

Portugal’s ruling centre-right coalition government approved the country’s second amending budget of the year on Friday, against all the opposition parties.

To Italy next, with ANSAmed covering a plea from Enrico Letta:

Europe must turn from austerity to growth, says Italian PM

Letta calls for joint efforts and warns against anti-EU populism

After the jump, Greek deconstruction continues, mixed reports from Latin America, China’s neoliberal crusade continues, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! . . . Continue reading

Rafael Correa: Debt as fiction, moral economics

From RT, a fascinating interview with with the Ecuadorian president who has extended sanctuary to WikiLeaks activist Julian Assange.

Correa: Current world order not simply unfair, it’s immoral [RT Exclusive]

Program notes:

The US debt is merely a fiction. The real problem lies in those who run the economy, because they protect the interests of the financial capitalists, Ecuadorian economist and President Rafael Correa told RT Spanish. Correa believes that what he calls ‘supremacy of capital’ is what makes the world immoral.

Headlines of the day II: Econo-Greco-Fuku-crisis

We begin with a bombshell, then traverse through a landscape cratered by past bombshells, finally winding up in Fukushima, where’s it’s hot-hot-hot all the time. And note the pairing of two words you never hoped to see in a single sentence, Fukushima and mobsters.

First, the major bombshell from White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling via Bloomberg Businessweek:

Obama’s Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They’re Going to Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts

The latest Banksters Behaving Badly summary, via International Business Times:

The $100 Billion Mistake: Bank Of America’s near $50 Billion Contribution Moves American Banks Closer Towards The Milestone Mark For Payments And Fines

Xinhua, covering the next step:

U.S. Fed to require banks to hold more liquidity as risk buffer

U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday said that it would require American banks to hold minimum amounts of cash and high-quality liquid assets to help the financial system better cope with risks during market turbulence.

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau finally catches on:

Not so fast: The improving unemployment rate masks problems

The monthly unemployment rate holds almost mythical importance as a barometer for the health of the U.S. economy. But what if it’s not telling us what we thought?

From MercoPress, Corporateers Craftily Cheating:

US company pays heavy fined for bribing in several countries, including Argentina

The United States company Stryker Corp., the second-largest seller of orthopaedic devices, will pay more than 13.2 million dollars to settle U.S. regulatory claims that subsidiaries paid bribes in five countries to gain or retain business.

From the Associated Press, an expansive move [not to the West Bank, we hope]:

Texas A&M plans Israel campus

Texas A&M University says it hopes to open a branch campus in Israel, a first-of-its-kind project that will expand the American university’s growing overseas presence.

From Los Angeles Times, reminding us of that 1960′s Republican bumper sticker, “If it’s Brown, flush it”:

Gov. Brown wants Supreme Court to allow private-prison deals

Gov. Jerry Brown is back on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking an order to let him go ahead with contracts that would send thousands more inmates to private prisons out of state.

North of the border, with a pronouncement from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canadian dollar slips, CIBC sees 94-cent currency early next year

The Canadian dollar continued to sink today, and some observers suggests this isn’t the end of its decline.

And off to Europe, starting with Spiegel:

EU Apathy: Leaders Fail to Make Progress at Summit

This week’s European Council summit was sidelined by new accusations of US spying in Europe. But despite the distraction, it’s clear EU leaders have deferred plans for greater integration, and lack the political will to address pressing concerns like migration.

From EUobserver, the unsurprising:

Germany shows little sympathy for Italy on migration

Germany voiced little sympathy for southern EU countries’ migrant problems at the summit on Friday, despite more high drama in the Mediterranean.

EurActiv covers a neoliberal circus stunt:

Cameron stages ‘cut red tape’ stunt at EU summit

During his press conference following the EU summit, which ended today (25 October), UK Prime Minister David Cameron focused on a British initiative to cut red tape in the Union, snubbing the other issues reflected in the conclusions, such as the economic and monetary union or the migration crisis.

While Corporate Europe Observatory proves there’s not much that separates the Old and New Worlds these days:

Unhappy meal. The European Food Safety Authority’s independence problem

Over half of the 209 scientists sitting on the agency’s panels have direct or indirect ties with the industries they are meant to regulate. A much clearer and stricter independence policy needs to be set up and rigorously implemented to restore the Authority’s reputation and integrity.

From New Europe, the border surveillance is rarin’ to go:

European leaders agree to a shared responsibility with the member states most affected by migration flows

European Council calls for swift implementation of EUROSUR legislation

New Europe again, making a point we make at least five times a week:

Finds that acute financial instability makes people more open to extremist ideologies

Anti-racism watchdog warns of a rise in hate speech on the Internet

On to Old Blighty with a spot of good news, at least for some, via BBC News:

UK GDP: fastest growth for three years

UK economic output rose by 0.8% between July and September, official GDP figures show.

From The Independent, noting a likely consequence:

Analysts expect earlier interest rate rise as speed of economic growth is revealed

GDP expanded by 0.8 per cent between July and September, the biggest quarterly jump in output since 2010

Ireland next, with the dark side of the widely proclaimed austerity success story from

Pregnant mothers protest against maternity benefit cut outside Dáil

The Social Welfare Bill passed its final stage in the Dáil today though Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea said it’s not too late for the government to reverse this cut.

Here ‘s a video report from Trade Union TV:

Protest at cuts to maternity benefit, Dáil Éireann, Dublin Ireland

Program notes:

The cut to Maternity Benefit is an attack on women and families. A reduction of €32 a week on top of the Budget 2012 measure to tax the benefit will have a serious impact on families struggling with reduced income and increasing costs. It will force many women to return to work earlier than they wish and have a negative impact on the family as a whole. This measure may in fact prevent women from having children.

On to France, with a call for more austerity via the Associated Press:

French business lobby promises 1M jobs in 5 years

In an open letter released Friday, the Medef, however, said companies cannot be expected to lower 11-percent unemployment by themselves. It is calling on the government to lower taxes and spending to give companies the room to act.

Spain next, with austerian backlash from El País:

Cutbacks and PP government’s reform plans fuel students’ strike

  • Unions say vast majority of teachers stayed away

  • Education Ministry describes protest as a failure based on “simplistic” slogans

From CNN, sleep on it — or not:

Spain turning back the clock on siestas

As Spain continues its drive to slash budgets and cut spending, one of the nation’s favorite pastimes — the siesta — is under threat as ministers look for ways to boost productivity.

And a failure to launch from El País:

Spanish bad bank reorders property sale as bids fall short: sources

Sareb received over 30 offers for commercial real estate

The Portugal News takes us across the Iberian Peninsula:

Concerns grow over “significant rise” in child refugees

Last year the Portuguese Council for Refugees (CPR) inaugurated a centre that was purposely-designed to accommodate unaccompanied child refugees who arrive in Portugal from conflict-stricken countries. Twelve months later that centre is operating above its maximum capacity, reflecting a global scenario that currently has the highest refugee figures of the past two decades.

After the jump, the intensifying crisis in Greece, Latin America’s Ministry of Happiness, more deals from China, and the latest dismal chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading