Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

Academic imperialism: Cal schools look East


The University of California at Berkeley, cash-strapped by a state government already overburdened by covering costs of local and county governments impoverished by Proposition 13, is looking abroad for cash.

It makes sense, of course. The increasingly wealthy elites of former Second World countries like China and Russia and the oil-enriched aristocratic an technocratic elites of the Mideast are eager to give their children appropriately elite educations.

So while Cal cuts enrolments of students from the state it was created to serve and replaces them with overseas students whose parents or states are able to pay the far higher enrolments charged non-Californians, it has taken the next step and established offshore campuses as well.

And why not? For the host country, there are the benefits of technology transfer coupled with the presitge of hosting academic names. And for cash-strapped American schools, there’s all that lovely money.

From the 3 April 2013 issue of the East Bay Express:

UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal’s engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China’s biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

Two years earlier — when the center was in the planning stages — the New York Times reported, tellingly:

The public university, which is struggling under budget constraints imposed by the state of California, said the Shanghai center would cater to engineering graduate students and be financed over the next five years largely by the Shanghai government and companies operating here.

And the Shanghai campus isn’t the only link to Beijing, as China Daily reported two weeks ago:

West Point, Berkeley become must-stops for Chinese CEOs

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and the US Military Academy at West Point have become popular must-stops for Chinese CEOs and business executives enrolled in an overseas education program organized by China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A group of 66 Chinese business executives in the program ended their 10-day tour of New York, Washington, Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 20. The tour that included meetings with key international financial institutions and government officials is part of a 12-month non-degree course at the university that also includes the UK.

On April 18, the Haas School of Business at the UC Berkeley campus hosted the Chinese executives.

“The Shanghai Jiaotong University Global CEO program provides our group of Chinese CEOs with advanced management training and face-to-face dialogue with key people in the US, which helps us understand and participate effectively in the globalized market,” said Jiang Zhaobai, chairman of Shanghai Pengxin Group, a leading Chinese conglomerate with interests in real estate, infrastructure construction.

Berkeley isn’t new at the foreign partnership game. Nor has the imperial expansion been entirely without complications, as in the case of the Graduate School of Management at Russia’s St. Petersburg University, a partnership between Cal’s Haas School of Business and the Russian school launched in 1993.

UC Berkeley plutocratic professor David J. Teece , who directs the Center for Global Strategy and Governance at Cal’s Haas School of Business, also chairs of the St. Petersburg business school’s International Academic Council. [He’s also vied with David Koch for pride of place among the top five contributors to a California Republican senatorial candidate.]

Let us quote from a WikiLeaks-ed 5 February 2001 CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN cable from Ambassador William J. Burns in Moscow to the Secretary of State’s office:

2. (C) During the November 2006 inauguration of the newly-opened premises of the St. Petersburg State University School of Management, an American academic long associated with the school told CG about Vice Governor Yuri Molchanov’s “sinister” presence in their dealings.

3. (C) The Haas School of Management at U.C. Berkeley has nurtured the development of a new St. Petersburg School of Management since 1993. In addition to academic exchanges and curriculum development, representatives of the Haas school led a unique fund-raising campaign which collected $6.5 million in private U.S. and Russian funds to entirely renovate a dilapidated building for classroom use. As steward of the funds, which included a whopping $1 million from U.S. citizen Arthur B. Schultz, the Haas School kept close tabs on all expenditures. At one point in the early 1990s, when lenders were sought to renovate the old building, Vice Governor Molchanov’s private construction firm placed a bid. As the only local bidder and as a close associate of the now Dean of the School of Management, Molchanov apparently expected to win the tender. He did not. This provoked an angry response in which he demanded compensation from the Haas School representatives for the costs of preparing his bid. While the Haas School did not comply with his demand, they did find a way to mollify the Vice Governor, who “was always present at all our discussions”, according to the American source. “He gave me the creeps.” Although the source did not describe any specific intimidation, it was clear that the Americans experienced some degree of fear – a not unreasonable reaction in 1990s Russia.

4. (C) Vice Governor Malchanov is widely rumored to be corrupt, enjoying a convenient intersection of interests between his construction company and his position in the city government. He played a very visible role in the School of Management inauguration alongside Governor Valentina Matviyenko and President Putin.

BURNS

Just what the school did to mollify Molchanov remains an open question. The only mention of him on the Russian university’s website is as one of seven judges in a 23 November 2000 student business plan competition. His name doesn’t appear in a search of UC Berkeley’s website.

What was most peculiar is that no mention of this fascinating story has appeared in the local news media after WikiLeaks put on line, with the notable help of Chelsea Manning. But then such is the plight of the impoverished, gutted, and pathetically understaffed American news media.

One has to wonder how many similar situations are confronted by other institutions, and by their staff members.

Perhaps these are just the moaning and musing of a stubborn old journalist who’s spent a great many years investigating corruption much closer to home. . .

The provocation for this rambling post follows, a pair of video reports from CCTV, like China Daily a Chinese state medium, reporting on similar deals by other American universities.

From CCTV:

USC President C.L. Max Nikias on Investment in China

Program notes:

China is also one of the biggest markets for U.S. universities. The number of Chinese students studying abroad is soaring, but the U.S. only attracts a fraction of them. Now American colleges are trying to change that: they already have the biggest number of satellite campuses and partnerships in China. The University of Southern California (USC) is one school investing time, money, and people towards this goal. CCTV’s Phillip Yin speaks to USC President C.L. Max Nikias about the university’s efforts in China.

Foreign Universities Setting up Shop in India

Program notes:

For years, India has been sending students away to learn the skills to build the economy back home. Now overseas universities are coming to India. CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj reports from New Delhi.

Radiation leak report reveals serious problems


Valentine’s Day was anything but happy for workers at the at the Department of Energy’s New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] near Carlsbad Caverns. At 11;14 p.m., alarms shrieked warning of a radiation release from an exhaust vent moving air out of the underground storage facility.

Part of the waste stored in the interim facility [no permanent repository has yet been approved as each site, in turn, proved vulnerable to leaks] hailed from the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where UC scientists work with others to build next generation nuclear weaponry.

From the 18 October 2004 [PDF] edition of TRU Teamworks, the WIPP newsletter for employees:

In a true California-style send-off, the first shipment of TRU [transuranic — esnl] waste from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL] left the Golden State October 19 I n a downpour. The shipment and its payload of forty-two 55-gallon drums began the 1,400-mile trip to WIPP with a forecast of favorable weather and road conditions ahead.

More shipments were to follow.

And today the DOE released a major investigative report on the St. Valentine’s Day leak.

Here’s the press release:

Today, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) released the initial accident investigation report related to the Feb. 14 radiological release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“The Accident Investigation Board reviewed procedures related to safety, maintenance, and emergency management to better understand the aboveground events surrounding the radiological incident,” said Matt Moury, EM Deputy Assistant Secretary, Safety, Security, and Quality Programs. “The Department believes this detailed report will lead WIPP recovery efforts as we work toward resuming disposal operations at the facility.”

The report is comprised of two phases. The document released today includes the initial investigation that focused on the release of radioactive material from the underground facility into the environment and related exposure to aboveground workers, as well as the actions taken by Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operations contractor at WIPP, and federal employees in response to the release. Once entry teams determine the source of the radiological event, the board will gather additional information and release a supplemental report that focuses on the direct cause of the release and worker protection measures in the underground.

“This report will serve as guidance for the recovery team moving forward,” said, Joe Franco, DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office Manager. “We understand the importance of these findings, and the community’s sense of urgency for WIPP to become operational in the future. We are fully committed to pursuing this objective.”

WIPP has already begun implementing corrective actions to address many of the issues raised in the report. These include enhanced work planning, nuclear safety controls, deploying experienced supplemental contractor and federal staff to assist, and implementing additional senior contractor and federal oversight. A formal corrective action process will also be implemented to ensure that all of the issues raised in the report are addressed.

The 302-page report is available online here [PDF].

In skimming the document we were struck by the following graphic, which offers a shocking look at the apparent negligence of site operators and the sad state of critical equipment. Click on the image to embiggen:

Microsoft Word - Final WIPP Rad Release Phase 1 04 22 2014 r2 (2

UC Berkeley climbs in bed with the devil


UC Berkeley, mistakenly seen across the world as a hotbed of radicalism, has a strange new bedfellow, and we’re curious just how the school will react to the latest move of their new partner.

First up, the announcement of the partnership, reported by the Brunei Times last 1 May:

UBD and USA varsity to collaborate in new Master’s programme

THE Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and the Goldman School of Public Policy (GSPP) of the University of California, Berkeley in the USA will be collaborating in the new Master of Public Policy and Management (MPPM) programme to be introduced by UBD later this year.

The MoU was signed by UBD Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs Dr Hjh Anita Binurul Zahrina POKLWDSS Hj Abdul Aziz and Director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at UBD, Dr Joyce Teo Siew Yean with Professor George Breslauer, Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost and Professor Henry Brady, Dean of GSPP of the University of California, Berkeley.

With the latest signing, IPS has now formalised its partnership with four of the world’s leading schools of public policy, namely Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, a statement from UBD said yesterday.

Read the rest.

And just what sort of enlightened public policies have emerged since the announcement of the partnership.

Well, consider this, posted today by RT, a state organ of Russia, a country not known for tolerance of the victim’s of Brunei’s latest move:

Brunei’s plan to stone gays riles UN

The Sultan of Brunei has announced that those committing same sex relations could be stoned to death. The draconian law has brought condemnation from the UN, with the tiny Asian oil rich nation having a virtual moratorium on the death penalty since 1957.

Homosexuality has long been a criminal offence in Brunei, which is situated on the island of Borneo, with a penalty of 10 years in prison previously handed out for the offence. However, stoning is now set to be allowed for a range of sexual offences, such as rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations. The law is planned to come into force on April 22.

The United Nations has been very critical of the move, with Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights saying, “the application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law.” The death sentence could also be imposed for insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder. The new law will only apply to Muslims, who make up about two thirds of a total population of just over 400,000.

Read the rest.

At the minimum, the Berkeley administration should immediately call a halt to the new partnership, but we’ve seen no coverage of the university’s response to Brunei’s move.

Given that the chancellor himself was involved in sealing the pact with the sultanate, action is clearly called for at the highest level, but so far the silence is deafening.

Bruneian Breslaur

Brunei George Breslauer

And Breslauer, the university”s provost and Bruneian visitor, is retiring next spring. We wonder what he thinks now of his much-ballyhooed but thoroughly dubious accomplishment?

Maybe he feels like going out and getting stoned?

Random thoughts on our plutocratic senator


Dianne Feinstein’s everything Ike warned us about in his farewell address to the nation, the embodied fusion of the elements of that military/industrial/academic [MIA] complex that so alarmed the old general during the latter years of his presidency.

And, yes, Ike included academia in his warning, something we’ve sadly forgotten over the years as the problem itself has grown exponentially.

Feinstein and her partner in pilferage — spouse/University of California regent/real estate peddler and developer/defense contract/investment bankster Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum — are exemplars of the demise of the last semblance of a government created to serve the common good.

That the press invariably describes DiFi as a “liberal” also reveals the utter debasement of the mainstream media and the corruption of language itself.

DiFi and Tricky Dickie are the incarnations of something new, a class of beings we call, for lack of a better term, lootocrats. . .public servants devoted to turning the public into servants of their own insatiable lust for power and pelf.

That they are Democrats is merely a delicious irony.

[And isn't it ironic that DiFi, who serves on the key Senate committees of the MIA complex, only became upset with nation's spooks when she discovered they were also spying on her?]

What’s truly remarkable are the sheer nakedness of the dastardly duo’s greed, their willingness to cast off ever the slightest shred of camouflage as they go about gutting the commons and ensuring that there fellow lootocrats will scoop up every bit of spare change remaining in the pockets of an increasingly impoverished public.

We suspect one major reason that the pair has been able to get away with conduct that would have raised headlines and generated screaming headlines in years past is the finale decline of the American press. Here in California, the press corps has been gutted, with scores of newspaper closed, radio and television news staffs laid off in droves, and the remainder terrified for their jobs and spread so thin that the day-to-day coverage of the consequences of political actions has been diluted to near-homeopathic levels of enfeeblement.

In a sane world, Feinstein and Blum would be clapped in irons, stripped of their ill-gotten gains, and either administered a nice veneer of tar and feathers or locked away with far more honorable thieves, murderers, and arsonists to be subjected to their tender ministrations.

It’s really that bad.

Instead, their names adorn public institutions.

The last time the couple ran into any troubled was fourteen years ago, when she made an unsuccessful run against Pete Wilson for the California governorship. It was the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission which caught them.

From the FPPC website:

Dianne Feinstein, an unsuccessful candidate for Governor in 1990, her committee, and the committee treasurer failed to properly report campaign contributions and expenditures. The campaign statements did not disclose expenditures of $3.5 million, accrued expenses of $380,000, and subvendor payments of $3.4 million. The guarantor of loans totaling $2.9 million, Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, was not disclosed. Monetary and non-monetary contributions totaling $815,000 were not reported on campaign statements and late contributions of $90,000 were not reported. Notices were not sent to 166 major contributors who made contributions of $5,000 or more advising them of possible filing requirements.

Not a lot of money to folks like them, but it ain’t chump change either.

Meanwhile, their wealth keeps growing as Blum makes tidy profits selling off post offices to his pals and selling degrees to students at his private colleges financed by federal loans indenturing their lives for years to comes, all thanks to the public purse.

Meanwhile, Blum played a key role in completing the capture of the the University of California by his cronies from the dark side when the former Director of Homeland Security was hired to run what had been the world’s finest public education system.

There oughta be a law. . .

Dianne Feinstein buys a luxury hotel in Berkeley


California’s plutocratic senator and her spouse have found yet another way to profit off the University of California, where spouse Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum serves as a member of the powerful Board of Regents, including a recent term as president.

From the press release:

FRHI Hotels & Resorts (FRHI), the parent company of luxury and upper upscale hotel brands Raffles Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, together with California financier Richard C. Blum and his family, have purchased the historic Claremont Hotel Club & Spa in Berkeley, California, it was announced today. FRHI and the Blum family are equal partners and terms were not disclosed.

The purchase supports FRHI’s growth strategy of acquiring strategic assets in key leading markets.

The new owners will begin work on a multi-million dollar capital investment project to update the hotel’s facilities and enhance the Claremont’s stunning architecture, while at the same time preserving and protecting the character and local charm of the Bay Area landmark. Once the revitalization work is complete, the hotel will join the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts collection, an unrivalled portfolio of hotels that includes famed landmarks such as New York’s The Plaza and The Fairmont San Francisco.

“Growth continues to be one of our top priorities, so we are extremely excited to be adding an asset as attractive as the Claremont,” said Kevin Frid, President, Americas, FRHI Hotels & Resorts. “We see this as an opportunity to grow one of our leading brands with the right product, in the right market, and firmly believe the hotel is a perfect complement to many of the other celebrated hotels in the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts portfolio.”

“My family and I are pleased to participate in an investment in this iconic property. The Claremont is a true California treasure and its future can only be enhanced with the Fairmont imprimatur,” Mr. Blum said.

Blum and his corporate empire have made fortunes preying on taxpayers, and among the senatorial spouse’s holdings via his Blum Capital Partners has been one of the nation’s leading nuclear defense contractors, EG&G. Not so coincidentally, its the University of California which has run the nation’s nuclear labs, including Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, though mismanagement scandals have loosened UC’s grip.

Immediately after Blum’s EG7G buy from the warmongering Carlyle Group, the company won a $600 million defense contract, under the aegis of the Senate  Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee, chaired by none other than. . .yep, good ol’ DiFi.

Despite Blum’s position on the UC board, the regents voted to award his own URS a contract to build a high tech gym immediately adjacent to California Memorial Stadium, a facility which sits directly atop the Hayward Fault, which federal geologists have named the most likely source of the Bay Area’s next major earthquake. URS withdrew after the press focused attention on the clear conflict of interest. From as story we wrote for the Berkeley Daily Planet:

At that time, the construction firm hired to manage the gym project was the URS Corporation, of which UC Board of Regents Chair (and spouse of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein) Richard Blum had been a major shareholder until the year before. URS has subsequently withdrawn from the project.

Through another of his holdings, Blum is also profiting over the privatization of America’s historic post offices, complete with their remarkable trove of Depression-era public art.

Here’s a report from Peter Byrne, the journalist who’s done more than anyone else to expose the nest of military/industrial/academic corruption that is the DiFi/Tricky Dicky:

Add to that Blum’s holdings in private for-profit colleges, combined with UC’s aggressive moves to raise tuition for popular majors offered in his own money-making institutions, and you have a picture of remarkable institution corruption.

The Blum/Feinstein acquisition of the Claremont, spa favored by Hollywood luminaries is a logical move, given that the facility is favored by elite UC visitors of the sort entertained by regents in search of bug bucks donations. . .a search we documented over the course of our years at the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Ain’t it wunnerful?

The dynamic duo is the perfect embodiment of what Dwight David Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein. . .the American nightmare.

Research from Cal: The sociopathology of wealth


From RT America, the latest research from right here in ensl’s own backyard:

Study proves: rich people are jerks

Program notes:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently conducted many studies to test their hypothesis that the more money a person has, the more likely they are to be a jerk. Over and over again, the studies led to the same conclusion: that as a person’s level of wealth increases, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases. The Resident (aka Lori Harfenist) discusses.

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoSinoFuku


Today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental begins in the U.S. with a weighty entry from Pacific Standard:

Grand Obese Party?

Researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between support for Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace.

Seems Republicans really are the party of fat cats.

Writing in the journal Preventative Medicine, a pair of University of California-Los Angeles researchers examined county-level obesity rates and voting patterns. After controlling for various factors known to influence weight, such as poverty and educational attainment, they found a small but statistically significant correlation between support for 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace. Specifically, a one percent increase in county-level support for Romney corresponds to a 0.02 percent increase in age-adjusted obesity rates.

The researchers argue this reflects poorly on the Republican party’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” for reducing obesity risk. Successful fat-fighting strategies “will necessarily involve government intervention,” they argue, “because they involve workplace, school, marketing and agricultural policies.”

Bigger government or bigger waistlines: The choice is yours.

From the Los Angeles Times blowback cosmetics:

Tech industry in San Francisco addresses backlash

Tech industry leaders launch a goodwill campaign in San Francisco, promising to create more jobs and affordable housing.

Their first stab at reconciliation: addressing complaints about the 18-foot-tall shuttles that clog narrow streets and block city bus stops. The shuttles frequently cause delays for city buses, making some residents fume that they have to cool their heels in old dingy vehicles while those who work for some of the world’s wealthiest companies get plush seats, tinted windows, air conditioning and Wi-Fi.

The standoff came to a head this week when San Franciscans turned out for a noisy public hearing to assail a pilot program to charge the shuttles a small fee for using city bus stops. They demanded that the city address the growing economic inequality.

The hearing came just hours after dozens of protesters blocked a bus bound for Google and another bound for Facebook for about 45 minutes, hanging a sign on one that read “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies.”

More from Salon:

When companies break the law and people pay: The scary lesson of the Google Bus

  • All over America, big corporations flout laws or even make their own, while ordinary people face harsh penalties

Ever since Rebecca Solnit took to the London Review of Books  to ruminate on the meaning of the private chartered buses that transport tech industry workers around the San Francisco Bay Area (she called them, among other things, “the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule us,”) the Google Bus has become the go-to symbol for discord in Silicon Valley.

From the Los Angeles Times, a new Bay Area bankster for the University of California:

UC’s new investment chief’s compensation could top $1 million

The hiring of Canadian investment fund exec Jagdeep S. Bachher and his pay package trigger little discussion, but two regents oppose paying new Berkeley provost $450,000 a year.

The UC regents on Thursday hired an executive of a Canadian investment fund to be the chief manager of the university system’s $82 billion in endowment and pension investments and will pay him more than $1 million a year if he achieves good returns.

Although that pay package triggered little public discussion, the salary for another new executive hire attracted more opposition at the regents meeting here. Some regents opposed the $450,000-a-year salary for Claude Steele, who is becoming UC Berkeley’s provost and second-in-command. They complained that the pay is higher than that of some chancellors.

For the new investments chief, Jagdeep S. Bachher, the regents approved a $615,000 base salary and set a maximum total payout of $1.01 million if UC investments perform well. That would be slightly less than the $1.2 million that Marie N. Berggren was paid in 2012, her last year before she retired in July. The compensation comes mainly from investment returns, not tuition or tax revenues, officials said.

But the real bucks go elsewhere, says BBC News:

JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon pay rises to $20m in 2013

The chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, will be paid $20m (£12.1m) for the past year’s work.

Mr Dimon’s pay was cut to $11.5m in 2012 following huge trading losses. This was half the $23m he received in 2011.

JP Morgan’s profits fell 16% last year, after costs resulting from legal issues dented the bank’s figures.

Mr Dimon was paid $1.5m as a basic salary, and an additional $18.5m in shares, the company said.

And more good news for banksters from Al Jazeera America:

Holder: US will adjust banking rules for marijuana

  • News comes as Texas Gov. Rick Perry announces he will support policies that favor marijuana decriminalization

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Obama administration plans to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.

During an appearance at the University of Virginia, Holder said it is important from a law enforcement perspective to give legal marijuana dispensaries access to the banking system so they don’t have large amounts of cash lying around.

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally-insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges. Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.

Mixed news for workers from CNBC:

US manufacturing growth slows in January: Markit

U.S. manufacturing growth slowed in January for the first time in three months, hobbled by new orders, though a recent trend of stronger growth appeared to be intact, an industry report showed on Thursday.

Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index dipped to 53.7 from December’s reading of 55.0. Economists polled by Reuters expected no change.

Slower rates of output and new order growth were the main factors behind the fall, the survey showed. Output slipped to 53.4 from 57.5 while new orders fell to 54.1 from 56.1.

And the company run by America’s richest family runs into rough waters, via Quartz:

Chinese state TV has accused Wal-Mart of skirting inspections to sell even cheaper goods in China

China Central Television claims to know the secret behind Wal-Mart’s low prices at its stores in China. The state-owned TV network, better known as CCTV, said on Jan. 23 that the US retailer has been allowing products from unlicensed suppliers on to its shelves, and thus bypassing quality and safety checks.

Wal-Mart’s response (paywall), the Wall Street Journal reports, is that the company only fast-tracks items from suppliers with which it has already been doing business, and then only in certain limited cases. (Wal-Mart hasn’t responded to questions from Quartz.)

The four-minute CCTV report, titled “Wal-Mart’s ‘special channels’ secret,” features shots of what CCTV says are company documents that show managers signed off on over 600 products that lacked licenses for distribution. The program says the store passes off sub-standard goods as belonging to well-known brands.

Reuters has more bad news for Wal-Mart workers:

Wal-Mart’s cuts 2,300 jobs at Sam’s Club

Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Friday it had cut 2,300 jobs, or roughly 2 percent of the total workforce at its Sam’s Club retail warehouse chain, its biggest round of layoffs since 2010.

The action follows a lackluster U.S. holiday season and layoffs announced earlier this month from U.S. retailers Macy’s Inc, J.C. Penney Co Inc and Target Corp.

Wal-Mart company spokesman Bill Durling said in a telephone interview that the cuts will include hourly workers and assistant manager positions.

Bumpy waters from Bloomberg:

S&P 500 Slides Most Since June on Emerging Market Turmoil

U.S. stocks sank the most since June, capping the worst week for benchmark indexes since 2012, as a selloff in developing-nation currencies spurred concern global markets will become more volatile.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) retreated 2.1 percent to 1,790.31 at 4 p.m. in New York to close at the lowest level since Dec. 17. The benchmark index declined 2.6 percent this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDU) slid 318.24 points, or 2 percent, to 15,879.11 today. The 30-stock gauge lost 3.5 percent this week. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 52 percent above the 30-day average at this time of day.

Background from Nikkei Asian Review:

Emerging-nation currencies fall in chain reaction

Behind this development are concerns that investors will pull their money out of emerging markets because the U.S. has started to taper its quantitative monetary easing this month.

Argentina’s peso plunged 12% on Thursday. Earlier that day, a senior Argentine government official told reporters that the nation’s central bank did not buy or sell dollars on Wednesday. A view that the bank is allowing the peso to slide spurred further selling of the currency.

The peso’s drop triggered a rush to exchange funds in emerging-nation currencies to dollars and yen. The Turkish lira weakened to around 2.3 to the dollar on Friday, a record low. The currency has declined about 7% so far this year. Local media reported that the Turkish central bank intervened Thursday but to no avail. Meanwhile, the yen strengthened to the 102 range against the greenback.

The South African rand dropped to the lowest level in five years against the dollar. A strike by workers at a key platinum mine led to concerns that a slowing of resource exports would hamper the country’s ability to acquire foreign exchange reserves, fueling sales of the rand.

From Reuters, a graphic look at the Argentine currency’s collapse:

BLOG Peso

The Financial Express frets:

World Economic Forum: Fear of China ‘hard landing’, Japan row, stalks Davos

The risk of a hard landing for the economy in China as well as the threat of military conflict with Japan stoked fears at the World Economic Forum in Davos today.

Days after the world’s second-largest economy registered its worst rate of growth for more than a decade, top politicians and economists at the annual gathering of the global elite said the near-term outlook was bleak.

Li Daokui, a leading Chinese economist and former central bank official, said: “This year and next year, there will be a struggle, a struggle to maintain a growth rate of 7-7.5 per cent, which is the minimum to create the 7.5 million jobs every year China needs.”

And The Guardian counts seats:

The 85 richest people in the world: men still in the driving seat

  • Women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck, on the £1tn double-decker bus revealed by Oxfam this week

The list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1tn – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico’s telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

At its snowy retreat in the Swiss Alps, the World Economic Forum is debating how much inequality is too much. The aid charity Oxfam pointed out that a glance through the richest 100 people in the world shows that the pendulum has already swung heavily in favour of an elite group: the top 85 in the Forbes rich list control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together.

A look down the list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1tn – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico’s telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck.

Another global story from New Europe:

IEA: Main Oil and Gas Flows To Move To Asian Region

A working visit to Astana, International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven presented the World Energy Outlook 2013, saying that in the nearest future the main trade flows of oil and gas will move to the Asian regions, which will change the geopolitics of oil.

“Northern America’s need for import of crude oil will practically disappear by 2035, and that region will become a key exporter of petroleum products. At the same time, Asia will become a center of the world’s crude oil market: large volumes of crude will be delivered to this region through a few strategically important transport routes” van der Hoeven said.

According to her, crude oil will be supplied to Asia not only from the Middle East, but also from Russia, the Caspian region, Kazakhstan, Africa, Latin America, and Canada.

The Global Times brings the focus to Europe:

Euro zone recovery fragile, fiscal consolidation should continue, says ECB president

The European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi said in Davos on Friday that the recovery of the euro zone economy is fragile and fiscal consolidation should continue.

Addressing the 44th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Draghi said, “the bottom line of this is that we have seen the beginning of a recovery which is still weak, which is still fragile and it’s still uneven.”

According to Draghi, improvements have been witnessed on the financial markets and the “very accommodative” monetary policy was being passed through to the real economy.

A bankster rules struggle from New Europe:

EU finance ministers, MEPs set for clash over bank resolution rules

European finance ministers will hold talks Tuesday on the resolution mechanism for failing Eurozone banks agreed in late December. Greek presidency sources confirmed that the new ECOFIN president, Ioannis Stournaras, will inform his counterparts on the positions of the European Parliament on the current agreement, as presented in a recent letter addressed to the presidency. In their letter, the MEPs make it clear that they will block SRF’s intergovernmental part.

Back in December the 28 EU finance ministers agreed to a general approach on the rules to close failing banks, which included the creation of an initial 55 billion-euro resolution fund over the next 10 years using bank levies. The formation and the functioning of the fund would be set up in a separate agreement among nations, excluding EU’s lawmakers.

The European Parliament also asks the simplification of the functioning of the single resolution board, so as the decision on the closure of a failing bank to be taken by the European Commission and not by the Member States.

More rule-wrangling from EUobserver:

EU audit reform reduced to ‘paper tiger’

The EU is close to overhauling rules for financial auditors, but critics say the reform will be a paper tiger unable to break up the dominant position of the world’s four biggest audit firms.

The legal affairs committee of the European Parliament on Tuesday (21 January) approved a draft agreement struck late last year with member states and the European Commission on the so-called audit reform package.

A jaundiced eye cast by the London Telegraph:

EU bank bonus rules will be ‘avoided’, says Fitch

  • The European Union bonus cap will prove ineffective in reducing banking industry pay, according to Fitch

Banking industry pay will not fall as a result of the incoming European Union cap on bonuses, according to Fitch.

The ratings agency warned that an “inconsistent” approach in the enforcement of the cap, as well as banks using loopholes in the new law to “avoid” paying lower bonuses, would mean overall compensation levels are unlikely to decrease.

In a report, Fitch pointed to a survey by the German financial regulator of the implementation of the cap among domestic banks that showed many lenders continuing with their old pay practices.

Corporate Europe Observatory looks at the bigger picture:

A union for big banks

Far from being a solution to avoid future public bailouts and austerity, Europe’s new banking union rules look like a victory for the financial sector to continue business as usual.

With the financial crisis, member states took over massive debts originated in the financial sector to save banks. Four and a half trillion euros had been risked for bailouts – and the final bill was 1,7 trillion euro. Not only did this send national economies spiralling downwards and set off a public debt crisis, it also led to a regime of harsh austerity policies, imposed by the EU institutions and the IMF as conditions for loans.

With that in mind, the banking union sounds heaven sent. It is claimed to make the banking sector safe, and should there be problems, a new system would ensure failed banks are wound down in an orderly manner with expenses paid by the banks themselves, with only a minimal cost to the public purse. An end not only to financial instability, but to austerity loan programmes as well.

If all this sounds unreal, it’s because it is. The banking union has been oversold as a fix to the banking sector. It may sound appealing that in the wake of the financial crisis, the potential power of EU institutions should be employed to address the dangers of financial markets. But in practise, the model adopted has deep flaws and carries so many risks, that one might ask if the point is to protect the public or serve the big banks.

On to Britain and hints of a failed divorce from EUbusiness:

Britain’s EU referendum suffers big setback

Britain’s planned 2017 referendum on whether to stay in the European Union was close to collapse Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron’s party suffered a major setback.

A vote in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, means that a bill proposing the in/out referendum looks likely to run out of time to become law. Members of the Lords voted to change the wording of the question that British voters would be asked on the subject of Britain’s membership of the 28-nation bloc.

The original wording of the question as included in the bill was: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?”

Following fierce debate, members of the Lords voted by a majority of 87 to amend it after determining that question was misleading. They did not introduce an alternative, though one peer proposed: “Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU?”

Sky News warns:

Nestlé Chair Warns Over UK Exit From Europe

  • Food giant boss Peter Brabeck-Letmathe tells Sky News that withdrawal from the trading bloc could put UK investment at risk.

The consumer goods giant Nestle would be forced to re-evaluate the extent of its presence in the UK if Britain decided to leave the European Union, its chairman has told Sky News.

In an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said the company was committed to its business in the UK but that he could not envisage a separation from its biggest trading partner being in the country’s interest.

Nestle, which makes Nespresso coffee capsules and Kit-Kat chocolate bars, employs approximately 8,000 people in the UK and accounts for exports worth roughly £400m. Its other brands include Nescafe, Smarties and Yorkie.

From The Independent, A UC-like salary in the U.K.:

Fury at £105,000 pay rise for Sheffield University boss Sir Keith Burnett after he refused to raise employees’ salaries to the living wage

The decision to award the increase to Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University – one of the elite Russell Group – has infuriated staff at the institution, who have been told their rises must be limited to just 1 per cent. They have joined national strike action over the award which included a two-hour walkout of lessons and lectures earlier this week.

The package awarded to Sir Keith includes £27,000 in lieu of pension payments after he withdrew from the pension scheme. However, according to accounts, that still leaves him with a 29 per cent rise, or £78,000, the largest in the sector in 2012/13.

The pay rise was awarded at a time when the institution rejected demands for all staff at the university to be paid according to the living wage of £7.65 an hour. Pablo Stern, of the University and College Union at Sheffield, told the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine that Sir Keith’s pay package was “astonishing”. He added: “This university used to pride itself on being a civic institution with a strong community feel. That has disappeared.”

Cooking the books with The Independent:

Treasury accused of resorting to ‘dodgy statistics’ to claim raise in living standards

Treasury ministers came under fire from economists today after they insisted that living standards were finally beginning to rise for the vast majority of workers.

The claim signalled the Conservatives’ determination to combat Labour’s repeated accusations that the country faces a “cost of living” crisis because wages are falling in value in real terms.

However, according to the Treasury analysis, increases in take-home pay were higher than inflation last year for all but the top ten per cent of earners. It coincided with an assertion by David Cameron that Britain was starting to see signs of a “recovery for all”.

The department’s statistics only took income tax cuts into account and excluded reductions to in-work tax credits and other benefit changes, prompting Labour accusations that ministers were resorting to “dodgy statistics” to claim people “have never had it so good”.

On to Ireland and a virtual regulatory plea from TheJournal.ie:

Virtual insanity? Call for Central Bank to regulate BitCoin

  • The Irish Bitcoin Association says that recognising the currency would make it safer for consumers.

Vincent O’Donoghue of the Irish Bitcoin Association today told RTÉ News that the currency should be recognised, so that it would be safer to use.

“We’re calling on the Central Bank to have a close look at it. It’s something for the future.

“IT developing the way it, it would be disingenuous to ignore it.”

Off to Norway with the New York Times:

Amid Debate on Migrants, Norway Party Comes to Fore

In a nation that has long prided itself on its liberal sensibilities, the intensifying debate about immigration and its effects on national identity and the country’s social welfare system has been jarring — and has been focused on the anti-immigration Progress Party, which is part of the new Conservative-led government.

The Progress Party came under intense scrutiny in 2011, when a former member, a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then killed 69 more people, mostly teenagers, in a mass shooting at a Labor Party summer camp on the island of Utoya. Mr. Breivik, who was convicted of mass murder and terrorism, had been a member of the Progress Party, attracted by its anti-Islamic slant, from 1999 until he was removed from the rolls in 2006 for not paying dues, having quit the party because it was not radical enough.

Still, the performance of the Progress Party in the first general elections since the Utoya massacre and its success in winning a place in government have raised some eyebrows; quite unfairly, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, minister of transportation and communication and a deputy leader of the party, said in an interview.

TheLocal.no feels aggrieved:

‘Obama must apologise for envoy gaffe’

Norway’s Progress Party has demanded a personal apology from US President Barack Obama after his nomination for Norway’s new ambassador described its members as “fringe elements” who “spew out their hatred” (PLUS VIDEO).

“I think this is unacceptable and a provocation,” Jan Arild Ellingsen, the party’s justice spokesman, told Norway’s TV2 television channel. “I expect the US president to apologize to both Norway and the Progress Party”.

George Tsunis, a Greek-American property millionaire who was one of Obama’s biggest individual campaign donors, displayed only the scantiest knowledge of Norway at a senate hearing this week ahead of his appointment, describing the Progress Party, which has seven ministers in the government, as if it were a fringe far-right group.

He then referred to the country’s “president”, apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy.

USA TODAY voices confidence:

Obama ‘confident’ with ambassador pick despite blunders

President Obama still has confidence in his pick to be the next ambassador to Norway, even after demonstrating that he might need to bone up on Norwegian politics before heading to Oslo.

George Tsunis, managing director of Chartwell Hotels and a major fundraiser for Obama’s 2012 campaign, has been pilloried by Norway’s press after he stumbled over a question about Norway’s Progress Party during his confirmation hearing last week.

Under questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tsunis seemed to be unaware that Norway’s Progress Party —which has taken a hard line on immigration policy — was part of the government coalition.

The Wire takes the Casablanca route:

Norway Is Shocked That Our Ambassador Nominee Is Clueless About Norway

And an immigrant story with a poignant twist from TheLocal.no:

Locals pay for loved beggar’s Romania burial

A beggar became so popular in the four years he spent on the streets of Tromsø, northern Norway, that when he died locals raised 100,000 kroner ($16,000) to ship his body back home to Romania for burial.

When Ioan Bandac died of lung cancer just before Christmas, he left a note outlining his one final wish – that he be buried in his home city of Bacau, Romania.

And on Thursday, his body was finally laid to rest in one the city’s churchyard,  after a Romanian orthodox service. “It’s fantastic to be here,” Bandac’s Norwegian girlfriend Helena told state broadcaster NRK. “I did not get that long with Ioan — just three and a half years.”

On to France with another hard times intolerance headline, via TheLocal.fr:

French MP avoids prison over Hitler Gypsies rant

A French lawmaker avoided being sent to jail this week over a rant about travellers in which he was caught on camera saying “Hitler did not kill enough”. The MP and town mayor has also managed to keep hold of both of his elected roles.

A French lawmaker was convicted of glorifying crimes against humanity for saying Hitler “did not kill enough” gypsies, but avoided prison at his sentencing on Thursday.

MP Gilles Bourdouleix uttered the remarks in July 2013 as he confronted members of a travelling community who had illegally set up camp in the western town of Cholet, where he is also mayor.

His remarks left anti-racism campaign groups outraged, as well as most of France and its politicians.

An economic booster shot from France 24:

Helmet Hollande wore for Gayet tryst flies off shelves

A French motorcycle helmet manufacturer has publicly thanked President François Hollande for being photographed wearing their helmet on his way to an alleged secret tryst with actress Julie Gayet.

Hollande, 59, was pictured by paparazzi working for Closer magazine arriving at a Paris address to allegedly meet the famous French actress, while riding pillion on a scooter and wearing a “Dexter” helmet made by French company Motoblouz.

Motoblouz CEO Thomas Thumerelle, who employs 45 people at his plant at Carvin in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, was so delighted he took out a quarter page ad in national daily Liberation (see below) on Wednesday, titled “Thank you Mr President – for having used our helmet for your personal protection”.

On to Spain and another downturn from El País:

Economy shed jobs for sixth year in a row in 2013

  • Unemployment as a percentage of the population rises as thousands exit the labor market

The Spanish economy shed jobs for the sixth year in a row in 2013, official statistics show.

While the job destruction was less intense than in previous years, the loss of 198,900 positions, added to other years’ job cuts, yields an accumulated figure of 3.75 million since the crisis began in 2008.

The figures were released on Thursday as the Bank of Spain confirmed government estimates that the economy grew 0.3 percent in the fourth quarte

More from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s unemployment: Seven shocking facts

  • Spain’s unemployment rate hit 26 percent again this week. Here The Local gives you seven stats that will help you understand just how serious the situation is.

New unemployment figures from Spain’s National Statistic Institute (INE) show that recent macroeconomic improvements in Spain are yet to create new jobs.

While Spain has now clocked up two consecutive quarters of fragile growth, the INE data — based on a quarterly survey of 65,000 homes nationwide known as the EPA — shows the country’s unemployment climbed back up to 26.03 percent at the end of 2013, up from 25.98 percent three months earlier.

Here The Local provides seven statistics that highlight the extent of Spain’s unemployment problem.

  1. Spain has now seen six straight years of job destruction. Some 198.900 jobs disappeared in Spain last year, and 3.5 million have vanished since the country’s crisis began in 2008.
  2. There are 1.832.300 households in Spain where nobody has a job. That is 1.36 percent more than a year earlier.
  3. Some 686.600 households in Spain have now income at all — not even social security. That is twice the figure seen in 2007, or before the crisis struck.

thinkSPAIN electrifies:

Spain’s electricity hikes between 2008 and 2012 were second-highest in the EU after Lithuania

ELECTRICITY bills in Spain went up between 2008 and the end of 2012 more than in any other European Union member State except Lithuania, figures show.

During this four-year period, the cost of power to households and businesses rose by 46 per cent in Spain, and 47 per cent in Lithuania says the European Commission.

Brussels puts this down to rising distribution costs, increases in IVA, or VAT, in EU countries, and ‘eco-taxes’ relating to renewable energy.

And a boost for the arts from El País:

Government announces plans to slash sales tax on works of art

  • Cut in VAT rate to 10 percent could be followed by similar measures to promote culture

Bowing to intense pressure, the Spanish government on Friday announced it was going to lower the value-added tax (VAT) rate charged on transactions involving works of art to 10 percent from 21 percent.

Speaking at a press conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said the move was to bring Spain in line with other countries in Europe, such as Italy and Germany, where the VAT rate on works of art is 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

The government controversially increased the VAT rate on all cultural items in 2012, from 8 percent to 21 percent. Asked if the VAT rate on other cultural items would also be cut, Sáenz de Santamaría said the reduction for works of art was a “first step.” “We have to introduce measures to promote Spanish culture and we have brought forward one of them,” she said. Culture Ministry sources said the government was also “studying new measures” for the film industry.

On to Lisbon and an uptick from the Portugal News:

Unemployment levels fall

The number of people registered as being unemployed in Portugal has dropped, while the government has announced plans to encourage business and entrepreneurs within the country in a bid to further boost employment levels.
Unemployment levels fall

The number of unemployed persons registered with the employment office in Portugal dropped by 2.8 percent year on year in December, making the total number of unemployed people 690 535 and marking a fall by 0.2 percent in the month of December.

Monthly data published by the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training ( IEFP ) highlighted that at the end of December there were 20,117 fewer unemployed persons registered with the employment office than a year earlier.

And a presidential boost from the Portugal News:

President upbeat about economic future

Portuguese president Cavaco Silva has said that he is hopeful about the economic future of the country despite a less than positive forecast given by the credit ratings agency Standard and Poor.

Portugal’s president has said that he is convinced that the country will success-fully conclude its bailout this May, adding that he appreciated the heavy sacrifices that continue to be asked of the Portuguese people.

Cavaco Silva said that while Portugal was still a few months away from its Economic and Financial Adjustment Programme object-ives, that he felt there was no reason why the country should not reach these targets successfully. In his speech he also gave a brief summary of 2013, noting that although it had not been “an easy year for Portugal”, the economy had registered some encouraging signs that allowed 2014 to look more “hopeful”.

Italy next with ANSAmed and more privatizations of the commons:

Chunks of Italy’s post office, air agency up for sale

  • Italian cabinet approvals sale of parts of companies

The Italian cabinet has approved decrees to sell large chunks of the post office and its air traffic agency, sources said Friday.

The government has said it wanted to sell off a 40% share of the national postal service, Poste Italiane Spa, for at least four billion euros by the end of the year as part of efforts to raise much-needed capital to offset Italy’s huge debt.

A similar-sized share will be offered in Enav, the Italian air traffic control company.

Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni has said that a larger share of the postal service might be sold later.

Bunga Bunga cutbacks from TheLocal.it:

Berlusconi budget cuts hit models and dancers

Silvio Berlusconi has cut off monthly payments of €2,500 to a host of young women who attended his parties as part of cost-cutting measures by the ageing playboy, Italian media reported on Friday.

The decision could also have something to do with his coming under investigation for witness tampering opened by prosecutors in connection with his conviction for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute.

“He helped us out, me and the other girls,” said Aris Espinosa, 24, one of the models and dancers known as “Olgettine” after the street in Milan, Via Olgettina, where they lived in apartments paid for by Berlusconi.

At one point, a total of 14 young women were living in the apartments and they were heard calling Berlusconi and his accountant in multiple police wiretaps to ask for more cash – referred to as “flowers” or “fuel”.

After the jump, the ongoing debacle in Greece, Ukrainian divisions and hints of compromise, munificence to Mexico, Venezuelan currency woes, Argentine inflation, Indo-Japanese nuke-enomics, Thai and Burmese troubles, Korean elder woes, Japanese promises, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading