Category Archives: Health

Ticking time bombs: DDT linked to Alzheimer’s


Back when esnl was a toddler, DDT was a ubiquitous presence in America’s towns and villages, with trucks deployed to blast the power over everyone and everything in an effort to keep down mosquitoes to combat various diseases, most notably polio.

DDT, we were told, was harmless to humans, and we children often followed the trucks, acquiring a ghostly white dusting in scenes like this:

And in this 1947 BBC clip from a news segment on fighting malaria in Kenya, a British entomologist actually eats the stuff to show villagers how safe it was:

Only with the publication of biologist Rachel Carson’s best-selling Silent Spring [previously] did folks begin to realize the chemical had a dark side, and played a direct role in the severe decline of bird populations, declines that ended only when use of the chemical was banned.

Well, now the other shoe has dropped, leaving us to wonder just how many other modern “miracles” will we discover only too late have been poisoning us and our children for generations to come..

From Rutgers University via Newswise:

Scientists have known for more than 40 years that the synthetic pesticide DDT is harmful to bird habitats and a threat to the environment.

Now researchers at Rutgers University say exposure to DDT – banned in the United States since 1972 but still used as a pesticide in other countries – may also increase the risk and severity of Alzheimer’s disease in some people, particularly those over the age of 60.

In a study published online today in JAMA Neurology, Rutgers scientists discuss their findings in which levels of DDE, the chemical compound left when DDT breaks down, were higher in the blood of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients compared to those without the disease.

DDT – used in the United States for insect control in crops and livestock and to combat insect-borne diseases like malaria – was introduced as a pesticide during WWII. Rutgers scientists – the first to link a specific chemical compound to Alzheimer’s disease – believe that research into how DDT and DDE may trigger neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, is crucial.

“I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility,” says Jason R. Richardson, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI). ”Our data may help identify those that are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and could potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and an improved outcome.”

Although the levels of DDT and DDE have decreased significantly in the United States over the last three decades, the toxic pesticide is still found in 75 to 80 percent of the blood samples collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This occurs, scientists Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoPoliFukufolly


Our tour of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with some hopeful opposition from nsnbc international:

Congressmen Oppose Fast Track and Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP

Last week, House Representative Tim Bishop met with union leaders, environmentalists and various activists to join forces against the fast track being debated in Congress concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

To the attendees, Bishop said: “I urge my colleagues in Congress to do something, to see to it that we help to create an economy that creates good, solid, middle-class jobs. This agreement takes us in the opposite direction.”

Bishop wrote a letter to President Obama stating that he and 150 other members of the House reject the fast track.

One point of the TPP is to ensure sovereignty among corporations, which is why they have been integral in the creation of the drafts while schmoozing those they deem having power to sway the final document as in their best interests.

Cheapskates from The Hill:

Hotel industry vows to fight back against ‘extreme’ minimum wage bills

The hotel industry says it plans to fight state-by-state this year to defeat “extreme” minimum wage legislation.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which includes hotel chains such as Best Western International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Marriott International, placed wage legislation near the top of its lobbying agenda for 2014.

The group plans to “lead the charge to beat back the growing emergence of extreme minimum and living wage initiatives that are proven job-killers and ultimately hurt those who are building successful careers from the entry level,” according to an advance copy of the agenda obtained by The Hill.

Insert lowest extremity into orifice yet again, from The Verge:

Kleiner Perkins founder apologizes for Nazi comments, goes on wild class warfare rant

  • Tom Perkins says his Richard Mille watch “could buy a six pack of Rolexes”

Appearing on Bloomberg West today, Perkins said that while he regretted his use of the word “Kristallnacht,” he stood by his original message. “I don’t regret the message at all,” he said. “The message is that any time the majority starts to demonize a minority, no matter what it is, it’s wrong, and dangerous. And no good ever comes from it.” He also said “the majority” should not attack the 1 percent. “It’s absurd to demonize the rich for being rich and for doing what the rich do, which is get richer by creating opportunity for others,” he said. But he also drew scorn for saying that his Richard Mille watch, estimated to be worth $379,000, “could buy a six pack of Rolexes.”

Kleiner Perkins responded to Perkins’ original letter with a tweet saying Perkins had not been involved with the firm for years. “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree,” the firm said. “They chose to sort of throw me under the bus, and I didn’t like that,” Perkins said today.

The Associated Press has a fair deal:

Marijuana contests join county fair in Colorado

Colorado’s Denver County is adding cannabis-themed contests to its 2014 summer fair. It’s the first time pot plants will stand alongside tomato plants and homemade jam in competition for a blue ribbon.

There won’t actually be any marijuana at the fairgrounds. The judging will be done off-site, with photos showing the winning entries. And a live joint-rolling contest will be done with oregano, not pot.

But county fair organizers say the marijuana categories will add a fun twist on Denver’s already-quirky county fair, which includes a drag queen pageant and a contest for dioramas made with Peeps candies.

North of the border and a decline from CBC News:

Canadian dollar closes below 90 cents

The Canadian dollar slipped below 90 cents US Monday, its lowest point since July of 2009.

The loonie closed at 89.96 US after gaining ground earlier in the session, as concern over emerging market currencies snowballed.

The steep slide in stocks that began last week slowed on Monday in U.S. markets, but Toronto stocks continued their drop, hurt by falling gold prices and a dip in oil and natural gas prices.

A global warning from a man with something to sell you. From MercoPress:

Coca Cola CEO warns youth unemployment is a great risk for social peace

Unemployment among teens and young adults represents a huge global problem, says Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola. In the United States, teenage unemployment totaled 20.2 percent in December and if the situation isn’t addressed, the results could be devastating, the social peace and fabric of the world is in danger.

“Seventy-five million [young] people [globally] are unemployed, do not have the opportunity to work at the moment,” Kent said in a talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “That’s bigger than France. It’s a terrible thing when people are coming into the workforce in their late teens and early 20s and don’t have opportunities to create value”. In May 2012, the global youth unemployment rate totaled 12.6%, compared to 4.5% for the adult unemployment rate, according to the International Labor Organization. “If we’re not successful in creating better

On to Europe and a shoulder shrug from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Euro chief says no contagion from emerging markets

The eurozone’s recovery will not be affected by contagion from growing fears over emerging economies, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Monday.

The eurozone’s recovery will not be affected by contagion from growing fears over emerging economies, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Monday.

The worries over markets such as Argentina and Turkey come as the euro is overcoming the worst of its debt crisis.

“I think they’re quite different, separate issues,” Dijsselbloem told reporters ahead of a meeting in Brussels of finance ministers from the 18 countries that use the euro.

Dismal numeration from New Europe:

31.2 million EU citizens are either looking for better jobs or given up

  • Bloomberg survey reveals serious labour and social crisis in Europe

Labour and social crisis in Europe is deepening as the labour underutilisation rate is increasing according to a Bloomberg survey published on 27 January.

The US financial news agency said that economists predicted that Eurozone unemployment in December will remain at an all-time record high of 12.1 per cent meaning that 19 million European citizens are out of work. However, the Bloomberg survey indicated that labour and social crisis in Europe is much worse, as in the third quarter of 2013, 31.2 million people of all ages in Europe are either frustrated from their current jobs or stopped the job hunt.

According to Bloomberg, the most recent labour underutilization rate in Italy, the third-biggest economy in the Eurozone, was at 24 per cent being more than double the official jobless rate. Di Gilio, who has a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering and lives with his parents, stooped searching for a job and said Bloomberg journalists. “I don’t want to work myself to death to survive…My friends who do work still need their parents’ support and those who start working often don’t get paid.” Di Gillio stressed, that looking for employment would be worth it if he had the chance to improve his living standards by being able to buy a house and start a family.

Hard times intolerance and familiar targets from GlobalPost:

Roma face mounting discrimination across Europe

Three months after news about a girl alleged to have been abducted by Roma proved false, prejudice continues to grow.

Greece isn’t alone in mistreating Roma, says Eleni Tsetsekou, a consultant on Roma to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

“There’s no difference in Roma lives in other European countries, or in how they’re confronted by the majority of people,” she said. “Negative stereotypes are always present and deeply rooted.”

Romanian and Spanish schools also remain segregated between Roma and non-Roma children despite the European court’s decision. In France, police have dismantled Roma shantytowns and deported even minors, violating laws allowing for the free movement of EU citizens.

In Hungary, local governments have turned off water supplies to Roma districts. In Slovakia, towns have erected concrete barriers to isolate Roma neighborhoods. In Bulgaria, the far-right political group Ataka openly blames Roma for the poverty-stricken Balkan country’s economic ills.

On to Britain and an upbeat take from the London Telegraph:

Economy growing at fastest pace since financial crisis

  • Official figures to show UK economy grew by 1.9 per cent last year – the fastest pace since the financial crisis struck seven years ago

The British economy is growing at the fastest pace since the financial crisis struck seven years ago, official figures will confirm on Tuesday.

The latest positive sign on the economy came as Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said Britain is now experiencing “a real recovery” and business leaders spoke of “real upsurge”.

However, he also warned that there were significant risks to a sustained recovery, particularly the housing market.

BBC News covers the geography of class:

Centre for Cities says economic gap with London widening

The economic gap between London and the rest of the UK is widening because other cities are “punching below their weight”, according to research.

London has created 10 times more private sector jobs than any other city since 2010, analysis by the Centre for Cities found.

The think tank is calling for more power to be devolved to the regions.

From EurActiv, a neoliberal wet dream

David Cameron pledges to rip up green regulations

David Cameron will on Monday (27 January) boast of tearing up 80,000 pages of environmental protections and building guidelines as part of a new push to build more houses and cut costs for businesses of up to £850 million (€1 billion) per year.

In a speech to small firms, the prime minister will claim that he is leading the first government in decades to have slashed more needless regulation than it introduced.

Among the regulations to be watered down will be protections for hedgerows and rules about how businesses dispose of waste, despite Cameron’s claims to lead the greenest government ever.

PetaPixel eliminates a craft we’ve practiced:

UK Newspaper Chain Follows in Sun Times Footsteps, Shutters All Photographer Jobs

Britons tend to take their newspapers a bit more seriously than Yanks, but that hasn’t stopped a newspaper chain there from Chicago Sun-Timesing (yes, we verbed it!) its way to ignominy by firing its entire photography staff.

It’s unclear exactly how many photographers will hit the pavement as a result of the decision by Johnston Press, but the National Union of Journalists counts 24 at newspapers scattered across Scotland and the Midlands.

Faithfully following the script set by the Chicago Sun-Times last year, the axed professionals will be replaced by freelancers, reader-submitted photos and reporters with smartphones.

Norway shows the door, via TheLocal.no:

Record number of foreigners deported

A record number of foreign citizens were deported from Norway last year, after country’s police stepped up the use of deportation as a way of fighting crime.

Some 5,198 foreign citizens were expelled from the country in 2013, an increase of 31 percent since 2012, when 3,958 people were deported.

“It is the highest number we’ve had ever,” Frode Forfang, head of the Directorate of Immigration (UDI), told NRK. “We believe that one reason for the increase is that the police have become more conscious of using deportation as a tool to fight crime.”

Nigerian citizens topped the list of those expelled for committing crimes, with 232 citizens expelled as a punishment in 2013, followed by Afghan citizens with 136 expelled as a punishment, and 76 Moroccans expelled as a punishment.

Germany next, and lumpen-loopholes from TheLocal.de:

A third could miss out on minimum wage rise

  • More than a third of low-paid workers in Germany could miss out on the proposed nationwide minimum wage because of exceptions being put forward by employer organizations and Conservative politicians.

A nationwide minimum wage of €8.50 an hour is due to be introduced in Germany in 2015.

But research released on Monday by the Hans-Böckler Foundation, a centre-left think-tank, found around two million of the more than five million workers who would otherwise have their wages boosted, would miss out on wage rises under plans to exclude certain sectors and workers.

Head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer said in December that seasonal workers and pensioners should be excluded. According to the report, such exceptions could turn the minimum wage into a “Swiss cheese” policy – full of holes – and pose a serious threat to the job market.

Keep Talking Greece takes it to the bank:

German Bundesbank: “Capital Levy” on citizens to avoid government bankruptcies

Germany’s Bundesbank said on Monday that countries about to go bankrupt should draw on the private wealth of their citizens through a one-off capital levy before asking other states for help.

“(A capital levy) corresponds to the principle of national responsibility, according to which tax payers are responsible for their government’s obligations before solidarity of other states is required,” the Bundesbank said in its monthly report.

It warned that such a levy carried significant risks and its implementation would not be easy, adding it should only be considered in absolute exceptional cases, for example to avert a looming sovereign insolvency.

On to France with the London Telegraph:

Rise in French jobless claims means Francois Hollande fails to keep his promise

  • French President Francois Hollande had repeatedly promised to get unemployment falling by the end of 2013

French jobless claims rose a further 10,200 in December to hit a new record, dashing President Francois Hollande’s hopes of keeping his pledge to start lowering unemployment by the end of 2013.

Labour Ministry data showed the number of people registered as out of work in mainland France reached 3,303,200 last month, the largest total since records have been kept. It represented an increase of 0.3pc over one month and 5.7pc over one year.

Mr Hollande has struggled to kick-start activity in the eurozone’s second-biggest economy and keep his oft-repeated promise to get unemployment falling by the end of last year.

On the edge with TheLocal.fr:

‘Millions of French workers’ close to burnout

The French are known for the 35-hour week, a guaranteed five weeks of vacation and as keepers of the sacred notion of a proper lunch break. Yet more than 3 million of the working population is on the brink of burning out, a new study revealed. And what about expats?

The French may have a reputation for working as much as they play, but that stereotype is countered by a growing body of evidence that suggests they are slogging away too far too hard.

About 3.2 million French workers, who put an excessive and even compulsive effort into their jobs, are on the verge of burning out, a new study says.

The study from Technologia, a French firm that looks at way to reduce risks to workers, found that farmers, at 23.5 percent, were most prone to excessive work, followed closely at 19.6 percent of business owners and managers.

The all-consuming nature of people’s jobs has left them feeling exhausted, emotionally empty and sometimes physically in pain, Technologia found.

Spain next and a bizarre justification from TheLocal.es:

‘Spain’s abortion law will boost economy’

The Spanish government has prepared a memo claiming that tough new abortion laws will have a “positive impact” on the country’s economy thanks to an increased birth rate, it emerged on Monday.

The claims were part of a draft “impact analysis” study into the effects of Spain’s new abortion reform, put together by the country’s justice ministry.

Spain’s conservative Popular Party hopes the planned legislation would boost the country’s birth rate rise as abortions would only be possible in cases of rape or when the mother’s life was seriously at risk during pregnancy.

The authors of the study do remark however that the new draft law’s “economic impact is difficult to quantify” and “should not be directly associated with its approval” as that is not its primary objective.

Lisbon next with a mixed result from the Portugal News:

Deficit met but no easing of austerity

Following confirmation by the General Directorate of the Budget that Portugal had met its troika deficit target, Luís Marques Guedes, Minister to the Presidency, added the government would not be easing on its austerity measures.

Marques Guedes said that the exact deficit for 2013 would only be definitively ascertained in March but that the value would be in the region of 5%, significantly short of the troika agreed target of 5.5%.

The Minister went on to dismiss any “illusions” as to scope for relaxing tax hikes and budget cuts and said there remained “a road of effort and of rigour ahead.”

This followed the report that the state had clocked up a provisional deficit of €7.15 billion in 2013 against a target set at €8.9 billion.

Italy next and the class divide from ANSAmed:

Almost half of Italy’s wealth owned by richest 10%

  • Family incomes eroded, poverty up in 2010-2012 says central bank

Between 2010 and 2012, low- and middle-income families in recession-battered Italy have seen their quality of life eroded along with their incomes while the richest have gotten richer, according to a biannual study on family finances released Monday by the Bank of Italy.

Poverty rose from 14% in 2010 to 16% in 2012 amid Italy’s worst postwar recession, with almost half of Italian families living on less than 2,000 euros a month, the central bank report said.

Also in 2012, the richest 10% owned 46.6% of the country’s total net worth, up from 45.7% in 2010 and equal to a 64% concentration of wealth, according to the report.

Only 50% of households have annual incomes higher than 24,590 euros, while 20% of them cope with annual incomes of less than 14,457 euros, or roughly 1,200 euros per month. Just 10% of families make more than 55,211 euros per year, the Bank of Italy said.

TheLocal.it exits:

More Italians flee while migration to Italy falls

The number of Italians leaving their recession-hit country to seek work elsewhere rose sharply in 2012, while incoming migration levels dropped, official figures showed on Monday.

The figures support reports that Italy – hit hard by the financial crisis and rocketing unemployment levels – is losing brain power and labour to other
countries and has also become less appealing a destination for foreigners.

The number of Italians leaving the country rose by 36.0 percent to 68,000 people, up from 50,000 in 2011. They headed primarily for Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and France, the national institute of statistics (ISTAT) said.

More than a quarter of over 24-year-olds emigrating had university degrees, it said. Conversely, the number of immigrants arriving dropped by close to 10 percent in 2012 from a year earlier, to 321,000 people.

After the jump, the Greek meltdown continues, a Ukrainian concession and dark undercurrents, Argentine outrage, a new port for Cuba, a Latin boundary dispute resolved, an Indian crash, Thai troubles, Vietnamese bank fraud, reduced expectations in China, Abenomics woes and an iconic downfall, environmental woes, and 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]:

BLOG Twat

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 TheLocal.fr:

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 Independent.ie:

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

Plutopia: Bombmaking cities of the U.S., U.S.S.R.


A stunning talk by University of Maryland historian Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, about the deadly consequences for the plutonium-making high security cities in the two principal Cold War adversaries.

From the wonderful collection of videos at TalkingStickTV:

Kate Brown — The Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters

From an account by the Kennan Institute’s Mattison Brady about a talk Brown presented there:

Brown observed that Chernobyl and Fukushima were disasters that “involved big meltdowns and occurred while the cameras were running.” That is, they were accidents that involved total failure of the plants and could not be hidden or covered up. The disasters at Hanford [Washington] and Maiak, however, were catastrophes “in slow motion” and, more importantly, were not truly accidents. They were, Brown contended, “intentional – part of the normal working order.” Brown did not, however, paint a picture of simple recrimination for the plant managers. Rather, she illustrated the dangerous combination of misinformation, miscommunication, hopefulness, and, above all, pressure that contributed to many of the recurring mistakes made at each plant.

The two plutonium plants and, by extension, their constituent populations “orbited each other and were produced in each other’s image.” Each time the project in one country was in danger of having its budget cut, the other would make some significant breakthrough, which would in turn spur production at the other. The rivalry fueled the growing arms race and ensured their continued existence and funding. The constant atmosphere of fear and pressure led each of the plants to taking dangerous short cuts to meet the mushrooming production goals.

One such shortcut was the length of time used uranium fuel was allowed to cool before being processed. This fuel, pulled from the cooling ponds long before the recommended 90-day period, was called “green” and, when processed, would release vastly more radioactive iodine than fuel left to cool longer. War-time pressure in 1944 called for this cooling period to be minimized, but the post-war arms race meant that the Soviet Maiak plant ran green fuel for many years and that in 1949 the Hanford plant ran a dangerous experiment with green fuel (called the “Green Run”) to see how they could trace the hot radioactive isotopes as they scattered across eastern Washington State.

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

Headlines of the day II EuroGrecoSinoFuku


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

BLOG Fukuzilla

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

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

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

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

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

CNBC dons rose-colored glasses:

Bill Gates: There will be no poor countries by 2035

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

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

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

TheLocal.ch parties hearty:

‘Horizontal trade’ looks to upswing at Davos meet

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

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

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

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

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

The housing recovery leaves America separate and unequal, once again

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

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

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

The Hill anticipates:

Supreme Court case could destroy pillar of union power

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

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

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

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

Dust finally settling from the Oakland Tribune:

California foreclosures plunge to eight-year low

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

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

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

San Francisco Chronicle-ing class warfare:

Protesters block tech buses before SFMTA meeting

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

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

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

Un-Like-ing via Vocativ:

Facebook May Lose 80% of Its User Base by 2017

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

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

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

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

Dodgy dodging from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

Jiji Press embraces the darkness:

Japan, US Agree on Effort for Early TPP Deal

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

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

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

While Deutsche Welle displays rare reserve:

EU freezes part of transatlantic trade negotiations with US

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

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

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

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

Monetary impoverishment from the London Telegraph:

Euro ‘increasing unemployment and social hardship’, says EC

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

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

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

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

Reuters examines the odds:

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

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle alerts:

EU sounds alarm on poverty among working-age people

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

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

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

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

Reuters bubbles:

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

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

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

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

Austerian fruits from the London Telegraph:

Lottery of NHS drugs punishes the dying

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

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

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

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

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

Inflationary death from RT:

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

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

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

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

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

Christian GPs want right to refuse the coil

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

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

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

Sweden next, and state secrets from TheLocal.se:

Government to seal lid on secret donations

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

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

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

France 24 and that ol’ hard times intolerance:

Poll finds xenophobia on the rise in France

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

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

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

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

RFI hooks up:

Peugeot shares plunge as Dongfeng tie-up announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police put their number at 16,000.

And on to Spain, first with El País:

Actual retirement age in Spain rises due to new labor restrictions

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gives ‘em the business:

Hard times? Spain’s elite richer than ever

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

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

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

El País optimizes:

IMF triples its growth forecast for the Spanish economy

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN gets together over getting together:

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

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

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

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

And from the Associated Press, no homage for Catalonia:

Spain PM: No secession referendum for Catalonia

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

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

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

Portugal next, and lethal austerianism from the Portugal News:

Waiting room woes

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

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

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

Italy next, and lethal intent from TheLocal.it:

Sicilian mafia boss orders judges’ murder

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

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

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

ANSAmed impoverishes:

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

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

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

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

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

And TheLocal.it has Bunga Bunga disgust:

Top Italian leftist resigns after Berlusconi deal

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoHydroFukuFrack


We begin close to home with a headline from Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

More from the New York Times:

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

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

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

Reuters gets defensive:

Latest perk on Google buses: security guards

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

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

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

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

The Denver Post bites:

Edible marijuana sales shattering sales projections in Colorado

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

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

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

The Guardian pays out:

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

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

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, class debt:

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek retaliates:

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

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

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

From Romenesko, more blood on a California newsroom floor:

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

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

Local editor Rob Curley has been promoted to top editor.

CNBC cops out:

Battle over police pensions in US cities takes ugly turn

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

Another copout from Al Jazeera America:

NYPD agrees to ‘largest protest settlement in history’

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

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

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

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

Red state blues from The Guardian:

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

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

Debt for the rising generation from Bloomberg Businessweek:

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

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

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

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

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

Inequality poses world’s greatest risk: report

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph heads to the MINT:

How to invest in the ‘MINT’ emerging markets

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

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

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

Splitting the difference with EUbusiness:

Bundesbank sees ‘limited’ risk of eurozone deflation

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

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

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

Auto anxieties from the London Telegraph:

Car sales in Europe at lowest level since 1995

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

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

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

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

Disestablishmentarianism from EUobserver:

MEPs call for dismantling of EU bailout ‘troika’

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

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

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

Gimme shelter from New Europe:

MEPs ask for an EU wide strategy for the homeless

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

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

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

Another new record from EUobserver:

Poverty in Europe at ‘unprecedented levels’

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

More Banksters Behaving Badly from The Guardian:

HSBC and Citigroup suspend foreign exchange traders amid rigging probe

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

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

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

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

Sky News bubbles selectively:

House Prices ‘Risk Becoming Unsustainable’

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

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

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

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

From The Independent, so much for du seigneur?:

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

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

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

Fancy-dress dogging on duke’s estate upsets villagers

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

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

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

RT bets on the come line:

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

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

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

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

An Irish booster shot from Independent.ie:

Moody’s upgrades Ireland to Investment Grade after bailout exit

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

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

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

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

Norwegian anxieties for naught from TheLocal.no:

Norway’s open border brings few Romanians

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

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

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

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

Dutch business leaders slam cabinet polices, support at record low

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

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

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

Germany next, where TheLocal.de restores a commons:

Hamburg buys its energy grid back for €400 million

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

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

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

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

Tonnes of dung dumped at French parliament

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

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

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

Spain next, and another austerian demand from El País:

Eurogroup and EC insist Spain needs second round of labor reform

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

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

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

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

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

From EurActiv, schismatic:

Spanish ruling party rebels launch new conservative party

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

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

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

More schismatics from El País:

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gets going:

Spain’s expat exodus continues

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

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN tracks turmoil:

Burgos burns as boulevard riots leave 40 in custody

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

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

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

On to Lisbon and a boost from El País:

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

  • Agency sees growing signs of economy stabilizing

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

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

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

Italy next, with diplomatic debauchery from TheLocal.it:

‘Bunga bunga’ claims hit US consulate in Italy

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

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

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

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

Retro racism from The Independent:

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

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

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

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

Looking for the Toxic Avenger with Spiegel:

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

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

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

Gangapreneurs: Rocky Mountain high-flyers


Well, at least that’s the trhrust of this AC360 segment on the Colorado folks raking it in following the legalization of pot by legislators in the Mile High City.

But the clip is just as much about reporter Randi Kaye and Anderson Cooper’s reaction to her sudden onset of good humor.

It’s enough to make you smile.

Via Truth Revolt:

CNN Reporter Gets Contact High Covering Colorado Pot Story CNN

Program notes:

In a must-see-to-believe segment in CNN’s “Gone to Pot” series covering the historic legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, CNN reporter Randi Kaye interviewed pot entrepreneur “Grandma Barbara” (72) and took a limousine tour of marijuana dispensaries with a few weed enthusiasts. Unsurprisingly, the fellow passengers on the “Cannabis Tours” trip, enjoyed some now perfectly legal, “small canon”-size joints. The result was an increasingly giggly CNN reporter who admitted later to Anderson Cooper that she “got a little bit of a contact high.”

Over in Old Blighty, the CNN clip rated a feature for The Independent, topped by this headline:

‘Everything was funny’: CNN Reporter gets high during Colorado marijuana legalisation report

Philly.com, the website of Philadelphia’s daily newspapers, played it this way:

VIDEO: Anderson Cooper calls out CNN reporter for being high during pot segment

CNN’s own press website is more circumspect:

AC360′s Gone To Pot – Randi Kaye’s piece on Businesses Cashing in on Pot Sales

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoNoFuku


A rare day when Fukushima rates only a tangential headline. But never fear, things are at a rolling boil in lots of other venues. . .

We begin with a hint of things to come from Want China Times:

US dollar era could end: Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent

Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Sargent says the era of the US dollar as the world’s largest trade currency could come to an end, China Entrepreneur magazine reports.

Sargent, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2011, made the comments in an interview during a recent visit to China.

The US dollar rapidly became the world’s top trade currency after the conclusion of World War II because wars have affected the US relatively less, allowing the country to maintain its balance of payments, Sargent noted, adding that predictions about the end of the US dollar era have been premature.

In the future, however, all national governments will take more precautions but will still allow the public to decide what trade currency they prefer to use. If they end up deciding to use a different currency like the Chinese yuan, then the era of the US dollar will effectively end, Sargent said.

The Contributor Network delivers the inhumane:

TX Rep on Why He Joined Congress: To Stop Single Moms from Getting Welfare

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty, which introduced major initiatives designed to help lift Americans out of poverty. President Obama marked the occasion by recommitting himself to fighting poverty, declaring that “our work is far from over.”

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler), on the other hand, used the occasion to reaffirm how much he hates poor people, especially single mothers.

In a speech on the House floor Wednesday night, Gohmert explained that the War on Poverty inspired him to run for Congress. But it wasn’t because he wanted to fight poverty, it was because he hated welfare. Gohmert said that as a state district judge, he realized that “the government will send you a check for every baby you have out of wedlock” and he decided he had to stop it.

Just for the sake of reality, consider the following as our riposte to Gohmert’s, er, gomerism, via Montclair Sociologist:

BLOG Single mom poverty

A relative of Obama’s commerce secretary goes for the [Acapulco] gold via Bloomberg:

Pritzker Scion Backs Pot Plans as Getting High Gets Legal

Robert Frichtel will have 10 minutes to persuade a roomful of investors in Las Vegas to part with as much as $6 million for a business leasing space for growing marijuana.

Frichtel’s firm will be among 12 companies making pitches Jan. 23 to as many as 70 angel investors assembled by the ArcView Group, based in San Francisco. Members include Joby Pritzker, whose family started Hyatt Hotels Corp., and Adam Wiggins, co-founder of Heroku Inc., a software maker acquired by Salesforce.com Inc.

“Everybody is running toward this as the next entrepreneurial wave — the green rush,” said Frichtel, 50, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Cannabis Solutions Inc., based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

TheLocal.de covers a landmark:

German carmakers celebrate record US sales

German automakers predict further growth in the US market after achieving record sales in 2013 by capitalizing on expanding demand for luxury vehicles, the head of the VDA automakers association said Monday.

The country’s carmakers have managed to outpace the market, expanding sales by 75 percent since the financial crisis pushed US sales to the lowest level in decades in 2009.

“During those crisis years we, the German auto industry, did not make the mistake of underestimating the importance of the US market,” VDA’s president Matthias Wissmann said at the Detroit auto show. “On the contrary, our companies consistently expanded their activities here in the United States. This long-term strategy is paying off.”

The Washington Post strikes close to Republican home:

Survey: Strong concern about health coverage among congressional staffers

The vast majority of congressional staff directors think their employees are worried about their health benefits after a GOP amendment to the Affordable Care Act forced them off their normal federal-worker plans, according to a survey released Monday.

Ninety percent of chiefs of staff and local directors in a Congressional Management Foundation survey said their employees are concerned about the benefit changes, while 86 percent said their workers are worried about cost.

Congressional staffers previously qualified for coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, but an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to the health law now prohibits lawmakers and their staffers from taking part in the program.

Those individuals must now seek coverage through their spouses, parents, or the federal exchange established under the health law. Otherwise, they have to pay a penalty for not having insurance.

Another institution gets an offshore owner via BBC News:

Japan’s Suntory buys Jim Beam drinks group in $16bn deal

Japanese family-owned drinks firm Suntory is to buy the US beverage group Beam Inc, the company behind the Jim Bean bourbon brand.

Under the deal, worth $16bn (£9.7bn) in all, Suntory will pay $13.6bn in cash and take on Beam’s debt.

It will make Suntory the world’s third largest maker of distilled drinks.

Belated realization from Al Jazeera America:

Larry Summers joins the reality-based economics community

  • Former Obama adviser discovers that prolonged economic downturns are a serious problem

In a remarkable departure from earlier versions of Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, Harvard president and top Obama economic adviser has recently been sounding the alarm about secular stagnation — a prolonged period when the economy operates below its potential level of output. This discovery may provoke choruses of “duh” from the tens of millions of workers who for years have had the opportunity to live with secular stagnation in the form of unemployment, underemployment or stagnant wages.

But even if his discovery is not news to most people, it is a huge development nonetheless. Summers is one of the world’s most prominent economists. In the mainstream of the profession, it has long been a matter of virtual absolute faith that the economy tends to sustain full employment levels of output. Any departures from full employment are quickly corrected by the self-adjusting market, ideally with a push from a reduction in interest rates by central banks.

Gee, ya think so? From Salon:

Noam Chomsky: Trans-Pacific Partnership is a “neoliberal assault”

  • The political theorist and linguist slams the agreement that has little to do with free trade

Critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a purported free trade deal between 11 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Japan, which has been in negotiations for some years — have noted that the deal has little to do with free trade. Rather, the TPP is about limiting regulation, helping corporate interests and imposes fiercer standards of intellectual property (to, again, largely benefit corporate interests).

Noam Chomsky has joined the chorus decrying the TPP. On Monday he told HuffPost Live that the deal, which is not yet finalized, is “designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

Chomsky said it was “a joke” that the deal is designated a “free trade” agreement. “It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke,” Chomsky said. “These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”

On to Europe, first with a warning from the Australian Financial Review:

IMF adds four European countries to financial risk list

The IMF has added Denmark, Finland, Norway and Poland to its list of countries that must have regular check-ups of their financial sectors, under an effort to prevent a repeat of the global financial crisis.

Looking down with EUbusiness:

Portugal, Greece, Latvia highlight eurozone deflation risk

Consumer prices rose by an average of 0.3 percent in 2013 in Portugal and fell by 0.9 percent in Greece, according to data released Monday, showing the risk of deflation in the eurozone periphery remains real.

In Baltic state Latvia, inflation was zero in 2013 compared with price levels in 2012, official data in Riga showed. Latvia became the eurozone’s 18th member on January 1 this year.

Portugal’s INE statistics agency said that annual consumer price inflation picked up to 0.2 percent in December, from the -0.2 percent registered in November. It said the disinflation trend in 2013 was mostly due to a 0.7-percent drop in energy prices.

In Greece, annual inflation came in at -1.7 percent in December, after hitting -2.9 percent in November, according to EL.STAT.

Another warning, via Reuters:

ECB’s Mersch says recovery on wobbly legs

The euro zone economic recovery is still very tentative and fragile and is Europe’s number one challenge for 2014, European Central Bank Executive Board member Yves Mersch said on Monday.

“I see the big challenge for this year in the still very tentative upturn,” Mersch said in the text of a speech to be given at an Ifo Institute event in Munich. “The economic recovery in Europe still stands on wobbly legs.”

Mersch also urged those countries which can afford it to invest in infrastructure.

While he did not specifically name Germany, it has faced criticism from countries in Europe and beyond for spending less on infrastructure over the past decade.

On to Britain with a weighty entry from RT:

Obesity pandemic looms large as half of Britons could be overweight by 2050

Prognoses that only half the UK population will be obese by 2050 ‘’underestimate the true scale of the problem,’‘ a new report has warned. The National Obesity Forum says Britain is in for the worst case obesity scenario.

“It is entirely reasonable to conclude that the determinations of the 2007 Foresight Report (i.e. that half the population might be obese by 2050 at an annual cost of nearly 50 billion pounds), while shocking at the time, may now underestimate the scale of the problem,” the report by the National Obesity Forum stated.

“Obesity and weight management are a direct cause of many health problems and are already placing enormous demands on the NHS at a time when health resources are stretched like never before. The current situation is unsustainable,” Professor David Haslam, the forum’s chair said.

Just say no, via EUobserver:

UK parliament should have right to veto EU laws, MPs say

The UK parliament should have the right to throw out EU laws, according to a letter from Conservative MPs to Prime Minister David Cameron.

In the letter, made public on Sunday (12 January), 95 Conservatives (out of a total of 225) stated that the House of Commons should be able to block new EU legislation and repeal existing measures that threaten Britain’s “national interests”.

A national parliament veto power would allow the UK to “recover control over our borders, to lift EU burdens on business, to regain control over energy policy and to disapply the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”.

The idea was quickly dismissed by ministers.

Neoliberal gospel from the Irish Independent:

Slash tax to create jobs and attract business, report urges

INCOME tax should be dramatically slashed to encourage risk-taking in business and bring in foreign start-up companies, the Government is being advised.

A radical report by an expert group on entrepreneurship, seen by the Irish Independent, has recommended a flat tax on all income of 15pc to 20pc in a long-term strategy to attract corporations, immigrant business people and keep wealthy Irish in the country.

The low flat rate of tax would be on all income and would also be aimed at eliminating evasion.

“High income tax rates results in fewer jobs, results in more people on social welfare, and results in a dying economy,” the report by the Entrepreneurship Forum says.

On to Amsterdam, with a bill to come from DutchNews.nl:

Prisoners to pay €16 a day for their time in jail: justice ministry

The cabinet is planning to make convicted criminals pay towards the cost of the investigation into their crimes as well as a fee for each day they spend in jail.

The justice ministry said in a statement on Monday it is to introduce a charge of €16 a day for prisoners, people in psychiatric prison and the parents of juveniles in detention.

Prisoners and parents would be liable to pay the charge for a maximum two years, costing them up to €11,680.

Hints of coming Danish deflation from the Copenhagen Post:

Inflation at a historic low

  • The yearly rise of consumer prices has reached its lowest rate in 60 years

Last month saw consumer prices rise by 0.8 percent over December 2012 – the second-largest jump of the year – but as a whole, inflation was at a historic low in 2013.

With prices rising just 0.8 percent from 2012 to 2013, it marked the lowest inflation rate in 60 years.

A drop in the price of food and petrol are among the explanations for the historically low inflation rate, according to Arbejdernes Landsbank chief economist Lone Kjærgaard.

Germany next, putting on a happy face with New Europe:

Germany: Government wants German army to be an attractive employer

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced her plan to reform the labour relations in the German army.

“My goal is to make the armed forces to be one of the most attractive employers in Germany…In doing so, the most important issue is the compatability of employment and family,” Ms. Von der Leyen told the national Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag. The German Defence minister also served as a Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and a Minister of Family Affairs in the previous governments.

Chinese new agency Xinhia reported that according to German media reports, soldiers often criticise the family-unfriendly conditions in the German army. The complaints made to Hellmut Konigshaus, Parliamentary Commissioner for the German Armed Forces, have reached a record high in 2013. Ms. Von der Leyen said that she intends to promote part-time work for soldiers who need to take care of their children or parents and also expand child care services in army barracks. Moreover she stressed that, “anyone who, for example, uses the option of a three- or four-day week while raising a family must still have career prospects.”

Europe Online books a profit:

Volkswagen overtakes GM with 16-per-cent growth in China

German auto giant Volkswagen AG on Monday reported annual sales of 3.27 million vehicles in China last year, up 16.2 per cent, beating the sales volume of US rival General Motors.

“2013 was a very successful year for us, and we intend to continue our growth in 2014,” said Jochem Heizmann, the head of Volkswagen Group China.

Sales of the company’s Volkswagen-branded vehicles rose by nearly 17 per cent to 2.51 million.

EurActiv voices opposition:

French senators strongly attack EU-US trade deal

During a debate in the French Senate, all political parties harshly criticised the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but the French government defended the potential deal, EurActiv France reports.

The minister in charge of foreign trade, Nicole Bricq, admit with regret that France was the country where the mobilisation against what they call the ‘transatlantic treaty’, is the strongest.

A debate, which took place in the Senate on Thursday (9 January), showed bipartisan opposition to the agreement and the government found itself somewhat isolated on the topic after facing criticism from speakers from all political sides.

Though we usually avoid sexcapades, in the case of the French President trysts have transformed into troubles for an already deeply troubled regime. From The Independent:

The French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler has demanded a “rapid clarification” of her status – both romantic and public – following President François Hollande’s reported love affair with a 41 years old actress.

The President’s official companion has told a French journalist that she believes  that an official statement needs to be made to the French people despite Mr Hollande’s insistence that the episode is merely part of his “private life”.
François Hollande And Julie Gayet’s ‘Love Affair Flat’ Linked To Corsican Mafia

Ms Trierweiler, 49, was still in hospital suffering from depression and shock tonight, three days after Closer magazine revealed that Mr Hollande was having an affair with the actress Julie Gayet. Her office announced that doctors judged that she needed more rest and she would not leave the hospital as originally planned today.

“She needs to recover after the shock she received,” her office said. “She needs quiet.”

And the latest twist from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande-Gayet ‘love nest’ linked to mafia

Reports in France over the weekend linked a “love nest” allegedly used by President François Hollande and actress Julie Gayet to two figures with connections to the Corsican mob. It is the latest twist in a tale that is dominating the headlines in France on Monday.

The story of French President François Hollande’s alleged affair with an actress took a darker turn over the weekend when reports surfaced saying the suspected trysts took place in a Paris apartment owned by someone with ties to the Corsican mob.

The apartment on Rue du Cirque, not far from the Elysée Palace in the city’s 8th arrondissement, was allegedly made available to Hollande and actress Julie Gayet by a woman who was married to a recently slain Corsican mafioso and who is the ex-wife of Michel Ferracci, who also has alleged links to Corsican mafia, French newspaper Le Monde claimed.

Spain next, first with a pitch from TheLocal.es:

Spanish PM to sell recovery in Obama talks

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is set to visit US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday in what some in the Spanish media have called a long overdue meeting.

It has taken two years and one month, but Rajoy will finally make an official visit to the residence of the US President on Monday. In the heavily scrutinized world of international diplomacy, such details can take on significance.

Spain’s El Mundo pointed out on Monday that Barack Obama only waited 10 months after being elected to invite ex-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The daily also pointed out that the leaders of Greece and Italy hadn’t had to wait so long to pay their respects to Obama.

El País boosts:

Economy grew 0.3 percent in fourth quarter, De Guindos says

  • Minister presents advance figures to bolster government claims that recovery is gaining pace

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos announced on Monday in Congress that the fledgling recovery of the Spanish economy gained more strength in the fourth quarter of 2013. According to advance figures from the government, GDP grew 0.3 percent between October and December compared with the previous quarter. That is two points higher than the figure for the second quarter, when Spain finally managed to leave behind the longest recession of the democratic era.

During his appearance in Congress, De Guindos summed up the positive signs now appearing in the Spanish economy, with the aim of bolstering the government’s argument that the recovery is gaining pace. The country is now “faced with a recovery, albeit fragile, but one that is, after all, a recovery,” he said.

The Portugal News re-ups:

Prime Minister to seek second mandate

Pedro Passos Coelho announced his intention to seek a second mandate as Portuguese Prime Minister and will correspondingly stand as candidate for the leadership of the Social Democrat Party, the senior coalition party in power, he told a party meeting in a Lisbon hotel.

“My intention is to once again stand as candidate for the leadership of the Social Democrat Party and thereby to campaign in the next parliament elections as a candidate for Prime Minister,” Passos Coelho said to warm applause.

The party leadership elections are due on January 22 with national elections due in 2015.

The current prime minister added that the party leadership election was taking place “in the middle of an ongoing process” that had first begun in 2010 when he took over the party leadership when still in opposition.

From Lisbon, have we got a deal for you! From EUbusiness:

Barroso says Portugal would do well to take new aid programme

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Monday taking a precautionary credit line would boost confidence in Portugal once it finishes its EU-IMF rescue later this year.

“A precautionary programme would without a generate more confidence and security,” Barroso was quoted as saying by Portuguese journalists in Brussels.

“It would be the best option, in principle, but it is still a little early to decide.”

As Portugal nears the end of its 78-billion-euro ($106-billion) EU-IMF bailout in May there has been increasing discussion whether it will follow in Ireland’s footsteps and forgo any of the EU’s new assistance programmes.

Off to Italy and a declaration from a rising new party via AGI:

M5S voters support decriminalizing clandestine immigration

The on-line M5S referendum on decriminalizing clandestine immigration attracted 24,932 respondents, who expressed their vote on Beppe Grillo’s blog.

15,839 voters were in favour of decriminalization and 9,093 were against. .

The harsh reality from TheLocal.it:

‘Migrants are treated like dogs’: Italian MP

In December, shocking footage showed migrants being disinfected at a migrant “welcome centre” on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Shortly after, MP Khalid Chaouki spent a number of nights at the centre to experience just how bad conditions for migrants are. He speaks to The Local about what he discovered.

While the Italian government and the EU launched investigations into the Lampedusa centre, Khalid Chaouki flew there to experience for himself what life was like for people arriving on Italy’s shores.

After landing on December 22nd, the Democratic Party (PD) MP found the centre in an “appalling” state, with water leaking into the rooms and “awful” hygiene conditions. Filthy mattresses piled up, while there was nowhere set aside for people to eat, he said at the time.

After the jump crimes, austerity, and punishment in Greece, Turkish tempers, Latin American medicine, an Indian surprise, Thai troubles, Aussie immigration politics, Chinese marketization, a Japanese admonition, and the latest environmental news. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFuku


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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian covers banksters being banksters:

Bank bonuses: brace yourself for the great Wall Street trousering

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

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

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

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

The Progressive has the spreadsheet:

Millionaires: Officially the Real Majority in Congress

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

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

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

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

IDS Wants Two-Year Ban On Migrant Benefits

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

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

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

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

BBC News follows up:

Nick Clegg backs ‘eminently sensible’ EU benefit changes

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

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

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

And The Observer delivers a setback:

Brussels slaps down British threats to rewrite immigration rules

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

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

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

The Independent talks divorce:

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

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

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

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

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

And The London Telegraph renegotiates:

Chancellor to back Britain staying in a ‘reformed EU’

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

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

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

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

Sky News sells out:

Jaguar Land Rover: Record Breaking World Sales

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

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

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

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

The Observer again, with inflation:

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

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

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

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

The Observer again, with business as usual:

Lobbying bill will tarnish Britain, says UN official

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

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

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

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

On to Sweden and raw reality from TheLocal.se:

‘Sweden’s mineral wealth is sold too cheaply’

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

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

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

Seeking alliance from The Independent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El País chats up:

Royals relieved that Cristina will testify in tax fraud case

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

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN sets limits:

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es protests:

Crowds defy Madrid in sensitive Basque demo

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

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

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

Europe Online has numbers:

Poll: Spain’s Socialists more popular than ruling conservatives

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

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

Elections are scheduled for next year.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga blast from AGI:

Beppe Grillo decries continued presence of Berlusconi

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

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

TheLocal.it covers a shakeup shakeup:

Mayor of Italy earthquake town quits over graft

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliFukuRealism


Much happening, and the troubles continue at Fukushima.

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

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

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

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

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

SINA English injects:

Chinese investment in US doubled in 2013: study

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

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

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

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

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

Dude, This Pot Stock Is Totally in a Bong Bubble

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

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

Bloomberg covers other agricultural prophets:

Monsanto Profit Tops Estimates on Soybeans and Roundup

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

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

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

MintPress News sounds a Santayana alert:

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

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

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

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

Sociological Images is stunned:

Teachers Offered Personal Loans to Buy School Supplies

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

BLOG Teacher loans

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

The London Daily Mail floats it:

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

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

Al Jazeera America blows back:

San Francisco to tax tech companies for employee shuttles

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

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

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

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

CNN Political Unit numbers a sea change:

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

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

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

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

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

No Golden Pond for NAFTA Generation Retirees

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

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

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

Across the Atlantic with a plateau from Europe Online:

Eurozone unemployment rate stuck at record 12.1 per cent

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

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

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

MarketWatch frets:

Draghi faces deflation threat as ECB, BOE meet

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

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

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

New Europe admonishes:

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

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

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

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

Britain next, with a bubbly BBC News:

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

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

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

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

Sky News prepares for peasants massing:

Boris Wants Water Cannon For London’s Streets

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

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

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

The Guardian is buzzing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Landsbanki Manager “Psychologically Tortured” By Government

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

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

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

Germany next with Europe Online:

German economy picks up speed as industrial sector gains ground

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

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

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

Nationalist umbrage from EUbusiness:

Germany to probe welfare fraud by immigrants

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle labors:

Amazon staff defend company against unions

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

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

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

France next, and schismatics from EurActiv:

French leftist coalition blows up ahead of EU, local elections

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

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

The Associated Press convicts:

Frenchwoman fined after Muslim veil prompted riots

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

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

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

Spain next, and another decline from El País:

Household savings rate falls further as income drops

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

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

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

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

El País again, this time in opposition:

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

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

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

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

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

Lisbon next, and a departure date from Xinhua:

Portugal could exit bailout program on May. 17: official

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

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

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

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

Italian joblessness hits record as it seeks higher foreign investment

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

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

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

Corriere della Sera knows where the bodies are buried:

Parliamentarians, Priests and Gangsters in Tax Consultant’s Secret Files

  • List found on computers belonging to Paolo Oliverio, arrested on charges of laundering underworld funds

The files detail confidential relations with senior clerics, secret service and financial police officers, business figures and politicians. Paolo Oliverio, arrested in early November on charges of manipulating the internal appointments and business dealings of the Camillian religious order, was actually the go-to accountant for many institutional and business figures.

But, add investigators, he was also the man who laundered cash for ‘Ndrangheta gangsters and some of Rome’s home-grown criminals. Mr Oliverio was privy to a great many secrets, as has emerged from the thousands of files found on the computers and pen drives seized when he was arrested. Many now fear what those files could reveal.

After the jump, Greek posturing, Turkish purging, Israeli divestment, Brazilian numbers, African refocusing, India axes and politics, Thai and Cambodian troubles, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese economic questions and massive food contamination, and the latest Fukushimapocalyp;se Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPhobe


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

1930s-style debt defaults likely, says IMF research

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

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

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

More from the London Telegraph:

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

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

New Europe has the winners:

Top 300 billionaires worth $3.7 trillion

Billionaires got richer in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian covers the losers and what their losses mean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Daily covers a coming loss:

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

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

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

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

The McClatchy Washington Bureau gives a “F”:

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

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

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

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

The Independent.ie covers more winners:

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

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

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

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

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

2014 still promises an abundance of opportunity for Wall Street bankers

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

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

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

Quartz has more winners:

Investment banks just had their best year since 2007

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

While Al Jazeera America covers the hopeful:

Amendment would let local Colorado governments regulate big industry

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

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

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

And 9NEWS has green winners:

Pot sales exceed $1 million on first day

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

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

The Contributor Network covers other winners:

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

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

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

Across the Atlantic with New Europe:

Eurozone manufacturing records strongest growth in over 2.5 years

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

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

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

Quartz issues a warning:

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

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

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

Spiegel draws lines:

Isolated in Brussels: Merkel Clashes with EU Commission

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

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

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

And New Europe has no surprise:

Bribery of foreign officials goes under-punished in the EU

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

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

While El País notes a consequence of financial polarization:

The specter of racism in Europe

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

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

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

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

On to Britain, first with The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.it instructs:

Italians get ‘lessons on UK life’ as arrivals surge

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

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

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

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

Migrants to face NHS emergency care charges in England

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

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

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

The London Telegraph notes a lack:

UK has fewer doctors per person than Bulgaria and Estonia

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

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

RT thinks wishfully:

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

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

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

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

The Independent despairs:

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

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph inflates:

Bubble fears as house prices jump most in four years

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

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

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

The Telegraph again, this time with helpful household hints:

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News readies the ax:

Floods: Row Over Environment Agency Job Cuts

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

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

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

Economist’s Jensen – le Pen comparison ‘crude’

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

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

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

Sweden next, with intolerance from TheLocal.se:

Mosque swastika attack ‘no isolated incident’

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

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

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

DutchNews.nl covers an unusual trend:

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

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

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

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

Germany next, hungering with Spiegel:

Storming the Food Banks: Charities Struggle with Growing Demand

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

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

Deutsche Welle has discipline:

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

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

Deutsche Welle again, with anxiety:

Germany’s fear of job seekers from new EU members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe Online declines:

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

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

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

On to France with angst from the London Telegraph:

French borrowing costs rising at ‘worrying’ rate

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.fr makes a case:

Firms urge Hollande to act on New Year pledge

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

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

Spain next, with optimism from El País:

Labor market showing signs of strength, government says

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

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

But CNN notes the reality:

Temporary jobs lift Spanish gloom

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN has the bill:

Outpatient drugs to be funded by users from this month onwards

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

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

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

El País calls for dismissal:

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es has more:

Spain’s opposition calls for secret abortion vote

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

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

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

El País delivers the juice:

The shocking price of Spanish electricity

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

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

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

On to Lisbon with a declaration from the Portugal News:

President declares recession’s end

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

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

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

And some inflationary alarm from the Portugal News:

New Year, more price hikes for cash-strapped Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

Off to Italy with permissiveness from Reuters:

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

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

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

TheLocal.it appeals:

Silvio Berlusconi appeals Ruby sex trial verdict

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

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

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

ANSAmed soars:

Fiat flies on Chrysler takeover

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

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

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

Quote of the day: The uranium boom of 2014


From a research report by leading investment bankster Cantor Fitzgerald,
reported by the Toronto Globe & Mail emphasis added]:

We have long pointed to 2014 as the kick off year for uranium prices to return and for the commodity to retake its position in the spotlight. While uranium equities have shown some strength over the last quarter of 2013, we believe there is significant upside remaining as the spot price is below the current marginal cost of production and significantly below the minimum incentive price for future supply to match future uranium demand.

While uranium prices are currently low due to excess uranium inventories stemming from material earmarked for Japan’s 50 reactors not being consumed over the last three years, we believe prices are set for a violent move higher as Japan is set to restart some reactors this year (we forecast 12 to restart in 2014). Moreover, despite the negative headlines of anti-uranium sentiment we continue to highlight that there are more reactors under construction, planned, and proposed now (556) than since before Fukushima (541).

Headlines of the day II: EconoEthnoFukufury


Lots to cover, including the latest bizarre twists at Fukushima after the jump/

Our first story, in which the third point precisely refutes the claim made just before, comes from the Department of Ironic Self Refutation via the London Daily Mail:

Home Depot founder hits out at Pope Francis claiming the pontiff ‘fails to understand rich Americans’

  • Billionaire Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone has announced he is uncomfortable with Pope Francis’ recent comments on wealth
  • In an interview with CNBC – Langone explained that he does not think the pontiff appreciates or understands Americans
  • Announced that a potential anonymous donor might not contribute a seven-figure sum to the restoration of Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral because of this

The Washington Post covers betrayal:

Younger military veterans are angered by budget cuts to their pension benefits

The plan to trim pension increases for working-age military retirees such as Preston is by far the most controversial provision in a bipartisan budget deal approved by Congress and signed last week by President Obama.

The cut is small — a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase — but it has provoked outrage among veterans, some of whom argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact. And even though lawmakers, especially in the GOP, fulminate about the need to cut the cost of federal health and retirement benefits, many have vowed to roll the cut back when Congress returns to work next week.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers a border booster:

Mexican sales tax hike seen as boon on US border

Mexican license plates are common in parking lots of shopping malls in U.S. border cities. They will be even more familiar after Mexico raises its federal sales tax in border regions to match the rest of the country, say merchants and shoppers.

The increase to 16 percent from 11 percent, which takes effect Wednesday, has sparked large protests on the Mexican side of the border. Facebook pages with secessionist tones have generated about 200,000 “likes.” Thousands have signed petitions to challenge the tax hike in court.

The Mexican government says the two-tiered tax structure, which was introduced decades ago to make border cities competitive, is no longer justified. Others say the increase may backfire by driving more shoppers north of the border, harming the economy and raising less tax revenue than anticipated.

Another piece of American industry goes, via Bloomberg:

Fiat Agrees to Buy Rest of Chrysler in $4.35 Billion Deal

Fiat SpA (F) agreed to buy the remaining stake in Chrysler Group LLC owned by a United Auto Workers retiree health-care trust in a $4.35 billion deal, the last step needed before the Italian and U.S. carmakers can merge.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both carmakers, structured the deal so that Chrysler puts up most of the cash, easing strains on the Italian parent as it seeks to end losses in Europe. The agreement with the trust, structured as a voluntary employee beneficiary association or VEBA, gives Fiat full ownership of the No. 3 U.S. automaker less than five years after its government-financed bankruptcy.

Frackers ahoy, via Jiji Press:

Sumitomo Eyeing Shale Gas Biz in N. America

Major Japanese trader Sumitomo Corp. is considering embarking on shale gas- and share oil-related business in North America, President Kuniharu Nakamura has said in a recent interview.

Sumitomo is examining such possibilities as liquefying shale gas for exports to Japan and leasing machinery used in shale gas production, he said.

Media sellout in the works, via Reuters:

Chinese recycling tycoon says he wants to buy New York Times

An eccentric Chinese recycling magnate said on Tuesday he was preparing to open negotiations to buy the New York Times Co.

Chen Guangbiao, a well-known philanthropist, is something of a celebrity in China. During a particularly murky bout of pollution in January, the ebullient and tireless self-promoter handed out free cans of “fresh air.

But Chen says he is perfectly serious in his bid to buy the Times, something that he said he had been contemplating for more than two years. He said he expected to discuss the matter on January 5, when he is due to meet a “leading shareholder” in New York.

“There’s nothing that can’t be bought for the right price,” Chen said.

Austerity’s the fault, via the Los Angeles Times:

California’s funds for mapping earthquake faults running out

Fault line maps are crucial to enforcing building regulations and understanding risks of new development, seismic experts say.

California is about to run out of money for mapping earthquake faults, leaving many communities across the state with limited information about the seismic risks of new development.

The California Geological Survey has about 300 more fault maps left to complete, including some covering highly populated areas like the Westside of Los Angeles, the San Diego Bay area, and the San Gabriel Valley. But officials say the budget for mapping will run out once the state completes work on the Hollywood fault early next year.

A new way to get Boomers out of hospitals fast? From Disinformation:

Targeted Advertisements Will Be Appearing In Hospital Rooms

Healthcare costs in the United States are spinning out of control, but never fear, there are new sources of revenue in the pipeline.

And the ever-present austerian symptom, via Bloomberg:

Americans on Wrong Side of Pay Gap Run Out of Means to Cope

Rising income inequality is starting to hit home for many American households as they run short of places to reach for a few extra bucks.

As the gap between the rich and poor widened over the last three decades, families at the bottom found ways to deal with the squeeze on earnings. Housewives joined the workforce. Husbands took second jobs and labored longer hours. Homeowners tapped into the rising value of their properties to borrow money to spend.

Those strategies finally may have run their course as women’s participation in the labor force has peaked and the bursting of the house-price bubble has left many Americans underwater on their mortgages.

CBS DC has another one:

Retirement Unlikely For Many Blue-Collar Americans

The share of U.S. workers who are 55 and older is expected to continue growing, according to the “The Oxford Handbook of Retirement 2013.” The group comprised 12.4 percent of the workforce in 1998. The share jumped to 18.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to be almost 25 percent by 2018.

The book is edited by Mo Wang, co-director of the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. In an interview, Wang said it’s a misconception that lower-wage workers are slackers in preparing for retirement.

“People don’t have adequate earnings,” Wang told The Associated Press. “It’s not because they don’t want to save. It’s because they just can’t.”

As does Sky News:

Young People Sell Future Earnings To Investors

Start-up firms are offering an alternative to traditional debt by letting people sell a portion of their future earnings for cash.

A new industry is offering people the chance to “sell” a portion of themselves to investors in return for a cut of their future earnings.

Start-up companies such as Pave match carefully vetted, mainly young individuals, known as “prospects” with those willing to offer a one-time cash infusion.

On average prospects seek to raise around $20,000 (£12,100), although so far amounts have ranged between $3,000 (£1,800) and $50,000 (£30,300).

Ars Technica delivers the chop:

HP to cut 5,000 more jobs in 2014, bringing total layoff count to 34,000

Hewlett-Packard swung back into the black in 2013, maybe poised for “expansion.”

Bubble-formation slowing? From MarketWatch:

Case-Shiller: Home prices up, but boom fading

U.S. home prices remained on a solid upward trend in October, according to a report released Tuesday, but price gains may not be as strong in 2014.

The home-price index covering 10 major U.S. cities increased 13.6% in the year ended in October, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price report. The 20-city price index also increased 13.6%, close to the 13.7% advance expected by economists.

Both increases are the best since February 2006, the report said.

And from the London Daily Mail, the day’s biggest news for a few million Americans:

Marijuana opponents predict Denver to go ‘hogwild’ today while ‘potrepreneurs’ bet cannabis tourism in Colorado will be like ‘Napa Valley wine tours’

  • Thousands celebrate Colorado becoming the first state in America to legally sell marijuana for recreational use
  • Sean Azzariti, 32, a former Marine and veteran of two tours of Iraq will become the first legal customer in the nation’s history
  • So far, 136 stores have been granted licenses to sell recreational cannabis
  • In addition, 78 marijuana cultivation facilities have been licensed by the state
  • But smoking marijuana in public remains illegal
  • Groups including Colorado Highlife Tours are betting on the weed tour market going off ‘like a Napa Valley wine tour’

And as a public service, we here at esnl feel obligated to warn readers bout the horrors of the devil’s weed. So spark one up, sit back, and enjoy. . .Reefer Madness [1936], a cautionary tale about the dangers of Marihuana and Jazz from the bowels of Old Hollywood [albeit [shudder] colorized [but do note the smoke]:

We head north of the border with a dour Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada is headed in the wrong direction, majority says in poll

Support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is dropping sharply, according to a new poll showing a majority of Canadians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The Nanos Research poll also shows 56 per cent of people rate the government’s 2013 performance as “somewhat poor” or “very poor,” a far higher share than the poll had found in earlier years. In particular, 44 per cent of respondents in the Prairies said the government’s 2013 performance was “very poor,” signalling unrest in the Harper Conservatives’ backyard.

The Globe and Mail again, with brighter news:

Canadian dollar new favourite among the world’s central banks

The world’s central banks are stashing away Canadian dollars at a faster rate than any other major currency, a vote of confidence at a time when the loonie has lost some of its shine in foreign-exchange markets.

Official holdings of Canadian dollars surged 23.6 per cent to $112.5-billion (U.S.) in the third quarter of this year from their level in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data published Monday.

Off to Europe with discontent from The Independent:

A Greek archipelago for €8.5m, a Maltese passport for €1m and Polish castles going for a song… welcome to the great European fire sale

For some, austerity Europe is a land of opportunity – castles, islands, citizenship are all up for grabs. But not all the locals are happy

For a non-EU citizen with dreams of the good life and a few million in the bank, 2014 could be a good year. First, snap up Maltese citizenship, and thus a European Union passport, for €1.15m (£960,000). Then splurge on a former cardinal’s villa in Italy as the principle residence. For a fairytale winter getaway, Polish castles are going for a song. And what could be better for a summer bolt-hole than a Greek archipelago, a snip at €8.5m?

Europe’s fire sale, which began as the economic crisis forced governments to find innovative ways to plug holes in their dwindling budgets, has reached new heights as ever-more intriguing state assets are touted for sale.

But a backlash is brewing, with governments and enraged citizens clashing over exactly who has the right to flog a nation’s history and culture.

EUbusiness drops the barriers:

European labour market opens for Romanians, Bulgarians

Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to work in any of the European Union’s 28 countries from Wednesday, sparking fears of mass invasion and benefits tourism in Britain and Germany.

Britain rushed through a series of measures to ban EU migrants from claiming unemployment handouts from the moment they arrive, while German lawmakers raised concerns about social benefits fraud.

But Bucharest and Sofia slapped down the fears, saying their countrymen are not planning an exodus en masse.

The British take from the London Telegraph:

Non-EU citizens will be able to work in Britain after Bulgarian restrictions lifted

Hundreds of thousands of people from poor countries outside the European Union will be free to find jobs in Britain as a result of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians being lifted

Romania and Bulgaria, whose citizens will now have the right to work freely in the UK, are offering passports to people in non-EU countries including Moldova and Macedonia.

Historic ties also mean that some Serbs, Ukrainians and Turks are eligible to claim passports that would allow them to work anywhere in the EU.

The Guardian ponders Tory intolerance:

Alarm sounded on anti-Roma rhetoric as door opens to more EU workers

Cross-party group calls for calm dialogue after Tory council leader blames Roma in London for disruption and crime

Politicians are inflaming community tensions with anti-Roma rhetoric, an alliance of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs has warned as Britain opens its borders to Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

MPs on the all-parliamentary party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma sounded the alarm about provocative language as a prominent Tory council leader suggested some Roma are planning to come to the UK to “pickpocket and aggressively beg” following the end of labour market controls on the two eastern European countries.

Meanwhile, the real thieves and pickpockets are faring quite well. From The Guardian:

£2m: average pay award for JP Morgan’s top staff in 2012 revealed

  • Banks disclose figures in dying hours of 2013 to comply with new European rule demanding information on bankers’ pay

Fresh evidence of the pay deals on offer in the City has emerged, with the biggest US bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, revealing it gave more than 100 of its top staff in London an average of £2m each in 2012.

The disclosure comes after Goldman Sachs said its high flyers received £2.7m on average – up 50% on the year before – adding to anger about bankers’ bonuses.

The Guardian overcharges:

Energy firms paid £4bn more for power than market rate, claims Labour

  • Big six firms deny inflating prices to make extra profits from their own plants or striking expensive deals to detriment of consumers

Households may have paid £150 over the odds for their electricity over the past three years because energy companies bought their power for almost £4bn more than the average market rate, Labour has claimed.

In a new analysis of official figures, the Labour party, which has pledged to freeze prices for 20 months if it wins the general election in 2015, said the big six energy suppliers appear either to be inflating their prices to make extra profits for their own power plants, or striking very expensive deals to the detriment of consumers.

Norway next, where TheLocal.no covers growing numbers:

2014 will be record refugee year – Norwegian charity

A Norwegian charity has predicted that the number of refugees in the world will continue to rise in 2014, after a record year in 2013. Norway needs to be ready to help, the charity’s boss says.

“The international community must be ready to strengthen its efforts,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugees Council.

The war in Syria is currently the biggest source of refugees, although conflicts in Africa are also a significant factor. South Sudan could be heading for a catastrophic civil war and the Central African Republic continues to be one of the world’s most under-reported war zones, according to the charity.

A necon demand, via TheLocal.no:

Jensen: Norway’s firms pay too much tax

Norwegian companies pay too much in tax, Finance Minister Siv Jensen has said, particularly in comparison to neighbouring countries. She now plans to appoint an expert committee to look at how corporation tax can be cut.

“A major challenge from the Norwegian perspective is that the difference between us and most other countries is getting very big. There’s no doubt that there’s a gap to close – particularly when you look at  proposals for further tax reductions in the countries around us. We have a situation where high corporation tax is distorting competition, to the detriment of Norwegian companies,” she said.

Germany next, and a conservative demand from Europe Online:

Personal responsibility plea central to Merkel’s New Year’s message

Personal responsibility and initiative are two of the qualities Germans will need to move both their country and Europe forward in 2014, Chancellor Angela Merkel argued in her New Year’s message, released Tuesday.

“The state can invest. It can create good conditions,” she said in her annual message.

“But politics can only accomplish a little without all of you in our country. What every one of us accomplishes individually on a small scale – that affects our country in large.”

Off to Paris and a promise from FRANCE 24:

Hollande vows to create jobs in New Year’s address

French President François Hollande reiterated his pledge to reduce unemployment in a televised message on Tuesday evening, the president’s annual New Year’s message to the French people from the Elysée Palace.

Hollande proposed establishing a “responsibility pact” for corporations that would lower their labour charges in return for boosting recruitment as part of a raft of measures to reduce unemployment, which he had vowed to reduce by the end of 2013.

France’s unemployment numbers rose 0.5% in November to almost 3.3 million, with the jobless rate continuing to hover stubbornly at 10.5% within metropolitan France.

TheLocal.fr covers a lighter-shade-of-blue law:

France says DIY stores can open on Sundays

Home improvement stores will be allowed to open on Sundays it has been announced after a fierce debate over the country’s strict laws on trading on the traditional day of rest.

Retailers can only open on a Sunday under certain conditions — if they are located in a tourist or a high-density area, for example. Any shop selling food can operate until 1:00 pm.

But the rules have infuriated workers who want to work Sundays at a time of sky high unemployment, and drawn criticism that they are archaic and ill-suited to a time of economic hardship.

Spain next, with an upbeat pronouncement from El País:

Economy minister forecasts “significant” job creation for 2014

  • De Guindos says government labor reforms will help drive recovery

Following on from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s year-end speech, in which he said 2014 would be the year of economic recovery, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos predicted in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that the creation of jobs this year would be “significant.”

“In 2014, the projections we have at the Economy Ministry point to a net creation of jobs, even above what we forecast when we drew up the state budget,” De Guindos said in an interview recorded a few days previously with radio station Cadena Ser.

TheLocal.es delivers a blast:

‘Spain’s abortion law is pure ideology’: Le Monde

France’s prestigious Le Monde newspaper dedicated their Monday editorial to Spain’s new abortion law, calling it both ‘regressive’ and a politically motivated attack on ‘the left’s moral high ground’.

Le Monde ran the piece under the title “Abortion: Spain’s step backwards”.

The left-leaning daily begins by describing how its European neighbour was once at the forefront of “progressive” laws that protected women’s rights, from abortion to gender violence.

El País offers a counterblast:

Bothersome intellectuals and media” threaten families, says cardinal

Cardinal Antonio María Rouco said Sunday that Spain’s traditional Christian families were being threatened by “a culture of sadness,” including a “bothersome environment generated by intellectuals and the media.”

Speaking in his homily during an outdoor Mass held in Colón square in Madrid, which was dedicated to the day of the Holy Family, Rouco told thousands of church-goers that for “the chronically and terminally ill, the unemployed,” and “youths who have succumbed to alcohol, drugs and wild sex,” “there was no other place” like the family unit to seek refuge and help.

El País again, with intra-party blowback in the reigning neoliberal party:

Extremadura premier joins chorus of PP voices speaking out against abortion law

  • “No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one,” says Monago

Another top Popular Party (PP) official publicly came out against his government’s proposed abortion law on Monday. Extremadura premier José Antonio Monago said he plans to present his argument against the reform on January 8 during the party’s next executive committee meeting.

“No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one,” Monago said during his New Year’s message.

TheLocal.es drops the curtain:

EU calls time on Spain’s bank bailout

The eurozone aid programme for struggling Spanish banks closed as scheduled on Tuesday after providing some €41 billion ($55 billion) to get them through the debt crisis, a statement said.

The support “has proven instrumental in recapitalizing and restructuring Spain’s troubled banks, which are today on a sound footing,” said Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, the fund set up to help eurozone countries at the height of the crisis.

More hard times for another member of the ruling party via thinkSPAIN:

Bárcenas admitted to hospital

FORMER treasurer of the PP Luis Bárcenas was admitted to hospital yesterday due to an allergic reaction, according to prison governors at the Soto del Real jail in Madrid.

Bárcenas, investigated for tax evasion and over the alleged cash-in-hand dealing and bribery thought to have taken place within the PP party for over 20 years, has been behind bars since June 27 – despite having consistently cooperated with judge Pablo Ruz and his investigations.

Portugal next, with an offer of help via EUobserver:

EU prepares to offer Portugal more aid

European Commissioner for economic affairs Olli Rehn wrote in a Monday editorial in the business daily Diario Economico that the EU would offer additional help to Portugal once its bailout ends in May, reports the AFP. Portugal received €78bn in 2011 from international creditors in exchange for deep reforms.

Italy next, and a worrisome report from TheLocal.it:

Syrian behind shock migrant film disappears

The Syrian man who filmed fellow immigrants being subjected to naked disinfection showers in Italy has disappeared, national media reported on Tuesday.

The Syrian, who arrived by boat in early October, has not been seen at the Lampedusa immigration centre since Sunday morning, Corriere della Sera said.

His footage led to the centre’s management staff being sacked, a national investigation launched and the EU to warn Italy of the way it treats migrants.

And AGI enthuses:

Italian Labour Minister sees an economic trend reversal

“There are signs of a possible trend reversal”, said Italian Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini on the Radio Anch’io show. GDP stopped falling in the third quarter of this year and the “first signs of recovery” are forecast for the fourth quarter.

In the same period, “new labour contracts outnumbered the contracts terminated”, the minister said defining it “an important fact that shows that the labour market is gaining momentum”.

Still referring to the labour market, Giovannini recalled that a Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan has been submitted in Brussels: “We are now waiting for the green light to allocate 1.5 billion euros.”

Eastern Europe next, with BBC News:

Latvia becomes 18th state to join the eurozone

Latvia has begun the new year by joining the eurozone, becoming the 18th member of the group of EU states which uses the euro as its currency.

After the jump, the lastest from Greece, Turkish troubles, Iranian oil, Putin warns, Aussie anxiety, Vietnam opens up, China debts and doubts, Japanese worries, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPlus


Straight to it, albeit belatedly and with little embe.llishment, we begin in the Big Apple with the Wall Street Journal:

Shelters Fill as Rent Aid Disappears

New York City residents who received rent subsidies are flocking to homeless shelters.

New York City homeless shelters—swelling with record-high populations not seen since the Great Depression—are increasingly being sought out by people who participated in a now-defunct rent-subsidy program designed to reduce homelessness, according to a report to be released Saturday.

The author of the report, the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, held up the report as evidence that homeless families need longer-term government help with rent to stay out of the shelter system. Since the rental-payment program, known as Advantage, was canceled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration after state budget cuts in June 2011, the city’s homeless shelter system population has grown to its highest-ever levels: 52,000 people, including 22,000 children.

As of August, the coalition report found, 49.4% of family placements in the Advantage program had returned to the shelter system, climbing from 24.5% nearly three years ago. The numbers rose rapidly as subsidies ran out in 2012, with more than 300 families a month seeking shelter from the city during that summer after losing their rent subsidies. In 2013, more than 200 such families were entering shelters each month, the report said.

MarketWatch uncovers another austerian dimension:

America’s hidden retirement crisis is racial

A troubling new study, Race and Retirement Insecurity in the U.S., reveals that America’s retirement crisis is particularly dire for blacks and Latinos.

“If nothing changes, the future for people of color is frightening,” author Nari Rhee, research manager for the nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security, told me.

Rhee’s report comes on the heels of other recent surveys from financial services firms and consultants with their own scary stats documenting the general lack of retirement savings among blacks and Latinos.

Reuters closes a chapter:

Fannie Mae settles with Wells Fargo as mortgage review ends

Wells Fargo & Co will pay a net $541 million to Fannie Mae to settle claims over defective home loans, completing the government-controlled mortgage company’s efforts to have banks buy back troubled loans made before the financial crisis.

Fannie Mae said on Monday it has reached settlements worth roughly $6.5 billion over loan buybacks with eight banks, including Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage lender and fourth-largest bank by assets.

About damn time, with USA TODAY:

13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers

State minimum wages will exceed the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour in 21 states on Jan. 1.

The trend reflects growing concerns about the disproportionate spread of low-wage jobs in the U.S. economy, creating millions of financially strained workers and putting too little money in consumers’ pockets to spur faster economic growth.

The Progressive covers the despicable:

Norquist Tells ALEC He Wants U.S. to Revive Decapitation

During a speech about criminal justice reform earlier this month at the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, anti-government crusader Grover Norquist compared criminals to fish caught in a net and exclaimed that he would like to see America revive the practice of beheading convicted killers.

“We gotta fight crime, we gotta have less crime, we have to be more secure in our persons and our property,” he said. “I’m all in favor of chopping the heads off of people who commit murder and putting people in prison for a long, long time. There’s no bleeding heart whatsoever. This is about punishing real criminals and making sure we don’t just toss everybody in the net, the porpoises and the tuna, and treating them all the same.”

And CBC heard the giant sucking sound:

NAFTA turns 20: Mexico is pact’s biggest winner

North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada. U.S. and Mexico signed in 1994

Ross Perot may have had it right after all about who would win under NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was an important step for all three members, but the evidence points to Mexico — at the time the weak sister in the group that included two G7 economies, the United States and Canada — as by far the biggest winner.

News Corp Australia takes us global:

World braces for retirement crisis

A GLOBAL retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages.

Spawned years before the Great Recession and the 2008 financial meltdown, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65. Living standards will fall and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people’s rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can’t afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

Off across the pond with Europe Online:

Sceptics, right-wingers set to challenge EU in 2014 poll

Four years into its fight against a debilitating economic crisis, the European Union will in 2014 face a new litmus test: the ballot box.

In May, citizens from the bloc’s 28 member states will vote for a new European Parliament. And the indications are that eurosceptic and far-right parties will score big gains, amid public frustration over the painful measures that have been implemented to tackle the crisis.

“For many, making ends meet isn’t as easy as it used to be, and could well become even harder for their children,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy noted during a recent speech in Berlin. “Today, Europe is seen as being intrusive, meddling, dictating, correcting, prescribing, imposing, even punishing,” he added.

The eurobankster speaks, via Xinhua:

Draghi plays down anticipation of immediate rate cut

European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi has tried to play down the anticipation of an immediate rate cut in an interview published on Saturday.

Draghi told German magazine Der Spiegel that he saw no need of an immediate rate cut, citing “many encouraging signs” including the economic recovery in some euro area countries, decreasing budget deficits and other improvements.

His claim came as expectations for more monetary easing by the ECB are running high. The ECB has clarified in its forward guidance that the current low interest rates would remain for a long period of time or become even lower.

On to Britain with the South China Morning Post and a familiar name on the UC Berkeley campus:

Li Ka-shing’s British power firm UKPN under fire over alleged tax avoidance

UK Power Networks allegedly reduced tax bill with payments to firms in the Cayman Islands

UK Power Networks, owned by Li Ka-shing, is alleged to have avoided £38 million (HK$485 million) in British taxes over last three years. Photo: Sam Tsang

A British energy firm owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing has come under fire amid allegations the company, at the centre of a storm over Christmas power blackouts, avoided paying millions of pounds in taxes.

Fretting with Sky News:

Millions Stress About Finances ‘Every Day’

Money worries are an even greater concern for Britons than health or job security, new research reveals.

In the UK, 18.1 million people feel stressed about their finances every day, according to new research seen by Sky News.

The Independent bills:

Migrants will have to pay at A&E – and all patients will have to prove they are not foreigners to get free NHS treatment

As part of proposals to recoup up to £500m from visitors from outside the European Union who use the NHS, hospitals will be required to identify those patients who are not eligible for free care – and make foreigners pay for life-saving treatment they receive on accident and emergency wards.

But the reforms mean that eligible patients will also have to prove they have the right to be treated free of charge.

Sweden next, where TheLocal.se beggars the conscience:

Swedish professor: Ban begging handouts

A leading Swedish professor has said that it should be illegal for people to give money to beggars but his idea has been described as a “joke” by campaigners.

Bo Rothstein, a political science professor long associated with the University of Gothenburg, made the argument for a begging donation ban in an opinion editorial in Dagens Nyheter.

“Anybody who begs in front of us on the street doesn’t offer anything apart from their social vulnerability and the person that gives is exploiting their situation to get satisfaction and ease their social conscience,” wrote Rothstein in the newspaper.

TheLocal.no takes us to Norwegian opposition:

Most Norwegians oppose new private schools

Norway’s government has said it would like to make it easier to open fee-paying private schools, but most Norwegians are against the idea, according to a new poll.

53 percent of those asked by pollsters Sentio Research said they were opposed to allowing more private schools to open. Some 36 percent were in favour, with 11 percent saying they didn’t know. The poll was carried out for radical left-wing newspaper Klassekampen.

Norway’s governing parties, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet, have said they want to change the law regulating private schools by the end of 2015. The law currently requires that private schools have a special religious or educational philosophy to qualify for co-financing from the state. The government wants to remove this requirement and allow all private schools that pass quality tests to qualify.

Holland next where DutchNews.nl brings us Beancounters Behaving Badly:

Accountants KPMG fined for role in Ballast Nedam bribery case

Accountancy group KPMG has reached a €7m out of court settlement with the public prosecution department over its role in a construction sector bribery scandal.

The investigation into three former KPMG accountants is continuing, the public prosecution department said in a statement.

KPMG was accused of disguising bribes paid on behalf of building group Ballast Nedam to win orders. The company also failed to pay proper attention to ensuring integrity demands were met, the public prosecutor said.

On to Germany with the London Telegraph:

Draghi complains of ‘perverse angst’ among Germans

ECB head says German worries over eurozone are misplaced

Mario Draghi has spoken out against the “perverse angst” displayed by Germans over the European Central Bank’s policies.

The Frankfurt-based central bank cut rates to a new record low of 0.25pc in November, despite resistance from German policymakers, who are fearful that low interest rates could fuel housing bubbles in its major cities. In April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country’s economy, which has consistently outperformed its eurozone peers since the financial crisis, was ready for a rate rise even though the rest of the single currency bloc needed looser monetary policy.

Reuters looks for a final solution:

Merkel says permanently fixing euro zone crisis vital for Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel will tell Germans their fate is so closely entwined with the European Union that it is imperative to come up with answers on how to permanently resolve the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis.

In an advance text of the traditional New Year’s Eve address that she will deliver on Tuesday evening, Merkel said Germany had a lot of work to do to maintain its own economic strength.

EUobserver constrains:

Merkel allies keen to curb EU powers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian-Social Union (CSU), plans to call for fewer EU commissioners and less new EU legislation in next year’s European Parliament elections.

“We need a withdrawal treatment for commissioners intoxicated by regulation,” the party’s four-page election strategy paper – seen by Der Spiegel and due to be adopted in January at a CSU congress – says.

TheLocal.de has conflicts:

MPs spar over eastern EU immigration fears

Hours before immigration restrictions on people from Romania and Bulgaria coming to Germany are lifted, politicians are arguing over attempts to discourage those with poor work prospects from coming to the country.

As of January 1st, Bulgarians and Romanians will be free to seek work throughout the European Union, which their countries joined back in 2007. This has prompted fears of a flood or an influx of people seeking welfare payments in richer countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies have reacted by drawing up proposals to toughen social welfare laws, prompting criticism from Social Democrat politicians – now their coalition partners in the national government.

France next and taxing time with Al Jazeera America:

France’s top court approves 75 percent ‘millionaire tax’ on employers

Companies will be taxed for employees who make more than 1 million euros a year

France’s Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court – gave the green light on Sunday to a controversial “millionaire’s tax,” to be levied on companies that pay salaries of more than 1 million euros ($1.38 million) a year.

The measure, introduced in line with a pledge by President Francois Hollande to make the rich do more to pull France out of crisis, has infuriated business leaders and soccer clubs, which at one point threatened to go on strike.

On to Spain with separation anxieties from El País:

Premier Mas admits EU will expel an independent Catalonia

Government would look for other alternatives “outside the treaties,” says regional leader

For the first time since heated debate broke out over Catalonia’s proposed independence referendum next year, regional premier Artur Mas, who is pushing for the status vote, has admitted that his northeast region would be ejected from the European Union if it seceded from Spain.

Stop the presses with TheLocal.es:

Struggling Spanish paper closes print edition

Spanish national newspaper La Gaceta has scrapped its print edition, a spokeswoman said on Monday, as it fights to survive a financing crisis in the recession-damaged country’s media.

“The paper edition has been closed” since Friday, said a spokeswoman for the strongly conservative newspaper, which was founded in 1989 and employs about 60 people.

“The newspaper will continue, but online — that is what we will focus on,” the spokeswoman told news agency AFP.

Occupy USA TODAY:

Spain squatters take over buildings after foreclosures

One in four Spaniards is out of work, which in a country that boasts one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world means many families fall behind on their mortgage payments and face foreclosure.

At the same time, the number of empty buildings across the country swelled after a building boom went bust.

The Spanish government estimates that there are more than 650,000 finished properties that sit empty across the country, alongside nearly half a million properties that were left idle while under construction.

El País covers a breakthrough:

ETA prisoners recognize damage caused by campaign, accept legitimacy of jails

Collective releases statement giving 527 inmates go-ahead to begin negotiating early release

The prisoner collective of terrorist group ETA, which represents more than 500 inmates from the Basque separatist organization, released a taped statement on Saturday recognizing the legality of Spain’s penitentiary system, expressing its agreement for individual prisoners to negotiate individual early release terms, and rejecting the violence and “suffering and multilateral damage caused” by their terror campaign.

Portugal next with EUbusiness:

EU ready to offer Portugal more help: Rehn

European Union is ready to offer Portugal further aid once its current bailout expires in May, Economics Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Monday.

“Europe will keep its word” and continue to help Portugal, but only on condition it “continues reforms already under way,” Rehn wrote in an editorial for business daily Diario Economico.

“The absolute priority is to successfully conclude the current programme,” Rehn wrote, while warning that it was “indispensable that Portugal maintain budgetary discipline and structural reforms in the upcoming years”.

And on to Italy with ANSAmed:

Italy: Poverty hits record high amid unemployment, recession

Absolute poverty double since 2005, triple in industrial north

The number of people in crisis-hit Italy living in absolute poverty has doubled between 2005 and 2012 and tripled in the industrial north, up to 6.4% from 2.5%, according to an annual report on social cohesion by national statistics bureau Istat released on Monday.

Overall, 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.

On to Eastern Euroipe, with in Solvenia with EUobserver:

Slovenia: Bank tests treated as military secret

Bank stress tests indicate that Slovenian lenders do not need a bailout, but private consultancies played a controversial role in the evaluation.

The test results, published last month and accompanied by positive statements from the Slovenian government, the Bank of Slovenia and the European Commission, say Slovenia can recapitalise its banking sector without international help.

South China Morning Post covers a tragedy:

Romania’s children being left behind as their parents seek work abroad

A generation is growing up with absentee parents, who are supporting their families by working in more prosperous western Europe

Tens of thousands of Romanian children are growing up parentless because their mothers and fathers work abroad, according to figures that raise questions about the extent and impact of large-scale migration on the eve of new EU rules governing Bulgarians and Romanians.

According to the Romanian ministry of labour, family and social protection, there are now more than 80,000 families in Romania in which both parents are working abroad while their children stay at home, with 35,000 more families in which one parent is overseas.

After the jump, the Greek crisis unfolds, Latin American inflation, changes in Cuba, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese boosterism, environmental woes, and the latest stunning chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFukuish


We begin in the U.S., first with a corporate fail quickly amended from the Los Angeles Times:

McDonald’s kills employee-resource website critical of fast food

McDonald’s has taken down its resource website for its employees — the one that advised that fast food was unhealthy — after realizing, the company says, that the site linked to “irrelevant or outdated” information.

The fast-food giant was a subject of ridicule and other unwanted attention this week after photos surfaced of infographics on the website, McResource Line. Under a section of the site titled “fast food tips,” a picture of a meal of fries, a burger and a soft drink were labeled “unhealthy choice,” while a picture of a submarine sandwich, salad and water was labeled “healthier choice.”

The infographics and posts were created by a third-party provider for the McDonald’s site.

Reuters boosts:

U.S. jobless claims fall, holiday retail sales rise

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly a month, a hopeful sign for the labor market, while holiday retail sales rose in November and December.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Los Angeles Times covers a corporate giveaway:

Hollywood’s new financiers make deals with state tax credits

Brokers take the credits given to studios for location filming and sell them to wealthy people and companies looking to shave their state tax bills.

About $1.5 billion in film-related tax breaks, rebates and grants were paid out or approved by nearly 40 states last year, according to Times research. That’s up from $2 million a decade ago, when just five states offered incentives, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation.

Film tax credits have become so integral to the filmmaking process that they often determine not only where but if a movie gets made. Studios factor them into film budgets, and producers use the promise of credits to secure bank loans or private investment capital to hire crews and build sets.

CNBC entitles:

New mortgage rules may favor wealthiest borrowers

New mortgage rules that go into effect Jan. 10 are designed to protect borrowers and lenders from the ills of the last housing crash. If lenders apply the rules, they are protected from legal recourse by borrowers or investors should the loans go bad.

The rules, however, are not mandatory, and some lenders say they will make loans outside of them, especially in the jumbo and adjustable-rate spaces.

The Hill backs down:

Regulators agree to revisit ‘Volcker Rule’

Financial regulators are considering a fresh exemption to the “Volcker Rule” just weeks after they finalized the long-awaited crackdown on risky trading.

Facing a legal challenge from banks, the Federal Reserve and other Wall Street watchdogs on Friday said they were reviewing whether it would be appropriate to exempt a small subset of securities from the rule. A final decision will be announced by Jan. 15.

Industry groups have threatened to sue the government if the exemption is not granted.

The Independent has a Randian wet dream:

Super-yacht not big enough? ‘Seasteads’ offer libertarians the vision of floating cities for the future

For (very) wealthy libertarians, seasteads – floating cities – might be the way forward, with their ambition of ‘guaranteeing political freedom and enabling experimentation with alternative social systems’

Available soon, for sale or rent: brand new island with sea views from the terrace, fresh fish daily and swimming pool in the resort hotel. An ideal base for 225 pioneers with £100m-plus to spare and a yearning for a new political and social system.

And if you don’t like it, no problem. Hitch the house to the back of a tug boat and try somewhere else.

For the right-wing American libertarian with deep-seated problems with Big Government, the 19th century challenge to “Go West, young man” retains a powerful appeal. But for the current target audience – the free-wheeling capitalist dotcom millionaire in Silicon Valley – going west means getting wet.

The London Daily Mail calls up an austerian posse in Oregon:

Residents form ‘vigilante groups’ after cuts to sheriff department’s budget mean police only respond to life-threatening incidents

  • 12-strong ‘response team’ armed with guns will operate around the clock
  • Follows government cuts, and residents refusing tax hike, forcing state-funded departments to scale back operations
  • Josephine County police dept has had to release prisoners and cut hours

POLITICO exposes a farce:

‘Small typo’ casts big doubt on teacher evaluations

A single missing suffix among thousands of lines of programming code led a public school teacher in Washington, D.C., to be erroneously fired for incompetence, three teachers to miss out on $15,000 bonuses and 40 others to receive inaccurate job evaluations.

The miscalculation has raised alarms about the increasing reliance nationwide on complex “value-added” formulas that use student test scores to attempt to quantify precisely how much value teachers have added to their students’ academic performance. Those value-added metrics often carry high stakes: Teachers’ employment, pay and even their professional licenses can depend on them.

The Nation covers another Obama corporate surrender:

Ted Mitchell, Education Dept. Nominee, Has Strong Ties to Pearson, Privatization Movement

As head of the NewSchools Venture Fund, Mitchell oversees investments in education technology start-ups. In July, Zynga, the creators of FarmVille, provided $1 million to Mitchell’s group to boost education gaming companies. Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and textbook companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school, Connections Academy.

Jeff Bryant, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, says it seems likely that Mitichell will “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”

From the Atlantic Monthly, doctorates on aisle 4:

‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’

As colleges feel pressure to graduate more students for less money, professors worry that the value of an education may be diminished.

Universities in South Dakota, Nebraska, and other states have cut the number of credits students need to graduate. A proposal in Florida would let online courses forgo the usual higher-education accreditation process. A California legislator introduced a measure that would have substituted online courses for some of the brick-and-mortar kind at public universities.

Some campuses of the University of North Carolina system are mulling getting rid of history, political science, and various others of more than 20 “low productive” programs. The University of Southern Maine may drop physics. And governors in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin have questioned whether taxpayers should continue subsidizing public universities for teaching the humanities.

Salon delivers a smackdown:

Paul Ryan lectures the pope

The Catholic conservative who insists he cares about the poor says Pope Francis doesn’t understand capitalism

“The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina,” Ryan said (referring to the pope as “the guy” is a nice folksy touch.) “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.”

Independent.ie unfriends:

Young users see Facebook as ‘dead and buried’

A study of how older teenagers in eight countries use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, one of the researchers working on the project, said in a blog post: “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it.

“This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks instead, while the worst people of all, their parents, continue to use the service.

Off to Britain with BBC News booming:

UK could be Europe’s ‘largest’ economy by 2030

The UK will be in a position to overtake Germany as Europe’s largest economy, according to the think tank the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR).

The CEBR predicts that Germany will lose its current top spot in Europe by 2030.

It cites the UK’s population growth as an aid to economic acceleration.

The Guardian admonishes:

Rising household debt is cause for alarm, warns thinktank IPPR

IPPR warns Help to Buy scheme risks pumping up housing market bubble and puts recent recovery at risk

George Osborne has been warned that his policies to boost the economy will lead to ballooning household debt.

The Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR), the left-of-centre thinktank, said the chancellor’s attempts to increase business lending had been a failure and that by resorting to policies such as Help to Buy in the housing market he risked undermining the recent recovery.

Intolerance from The Independent:

Islamophobia: Surge revealed in anti-Muslim hate crimes

Many forces reported a particular rise in anti-Islam hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby

Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed.

Hundreds of offences were perpetrated against the country’s Muslim population in 2013, with the Metropolitan police alone – Britain’s largest force – recording 500 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 336 incidents in 2012 and 318 in 2011.

From The Guardian, unsurprising:

Fury with MPs is main reason for not voting — poll

Poll reveals anger, not boredom, lies behind drop in political engagement

Nearly half of Britons say they are angry with politics and politicians, according to a Guardian/ICM poll analysing the disconnect between British people and their democracy.

The research, which explores the reasons behind the precipitous drop in voter turnout – particularly among under-30s – finds that it is anger with the political class and broken promises made by high-profile figures that most rile voters, rather than boredom with Westminster.

Sweden next with TheLocal.se and profits from poverty:

Financier fears ‘populist welfare profit debate’

A high-profile financier has withdrawn his support from the Social Democrats, stating that both the opposition and the government risk populist pandering with moves to curtail profits in the welfare sector.

Swedish businessman Carl Bennet, who owns shares in companies that employ over 17,000 people, said on Friday he would no longer voice his support for the socialist opposition due to its critique against venture capital firms making a profit in the tax-funded welfare sector.

“Populism is concealing something that fundamentally is good for the Swedish people,” Bennet told the business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

Germany next, with that good old money via The Local.de:

Germans still have €7 billion worth of D-Marks

Germany’s central bank believes nearly €7 billion-worth of the country’s old currency is still floating around, 12 years after the switch to the euro.

The Bundesbank’s last check in November revealed that there were around 170 million Deutsch Mark (D-Mark) notes unaccounted for, and 24 billion coins. This would make 13.05 billion D-Marks, or €6.67 billion.

But the Bundesbank said this was not a problem, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday. “A huge amount of D-Marks have been handed over anyway,” it said in a statement.

France next and a fail from The Independent:

François Hollande heading for crisis as he fails to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment

President François Hollande suffered a blow tonight to what remains of his credibility with news that he had failed to deliver his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of this year.

Anxiously awaited jobless figures for November showed that the number of people without employment in France had increased by 17,500, almost wiping out a modest a reduction in French dole queues in October.

More from the London Telegraph:

François Hollande ‘in denial’ over France’s unemployment

François Hollande accused of cooking unemployment statistics after he insists he is still on track for reversing the jobless trend by year’s end despite figures suggesting the reverse

François Hollande’s credibility is lying in tatters after figures indicated he had failed to deliver on a central government promise to “turn the tide” on unemployment by year’s end.

Riding lower in the polls than any of his postwar predecessors, the Socialist leader chose to defy predictions by the IMF, the European Commission and the vast majority of private economists to bank on a turnaround in French unemployment by the end of 2013.

The Guardian crashes, doesn’t burn:

Elysée palace protester against arts cuts used car as weapon, say French police

Director angered by his theatre’s subsidy loss tried to crash through presidential palace gates

The director of a Paris theatre was arrested on Thursday after trying to force his way into the Elysée presidential palace by crashing his car against its gates.

A security cordon was thrown around the building after police took 67-year-old Italian Attilio Maggiulli into custody on charges of damaging a public utility, endangering lives and violence against a public servant with an weapon, his car.

The suspect wanted to bring to President François Hollande’s attention the cuts in public subsidies to his theatre, the Comédie Italienne, police said. He was reported to have sprayed his car with white spirit and “lightly tapped” the gates “at a slow speed” at around 10am.

On to Spain with El País and a chill:

Cabinet to approve minimum wage freeze, say unions

CCOO and UGT argue that workers’ purchasing power has not stopped falling since 2007

The Cabinet is expected today to approve a freeze on the minimum wage for next year, unions said Thursday.

This would mean that salaries will remain at a minimum of 645.30 euros per month in 14 payments. In other words, workers who put in a full day’s work in Spain will earn at least 9,034.20 euros annually.

The CCOO and UGT unions made the government’s proposed freeze public in joint statements in which they rejected the government’s plan.

thinkSPAIN inflates:

Train fares and electricity rise at 10 times the level of inflation

TRAIN fares on regional lines will go up by 1.9 per cent on January 1, the same day that electricity will rise in price by 2.3 per cent, the PP government has announced.

Both are way above inflation – which is 0.2 per cent in the last year – but lower than the train fare increase of January 1, 2013 when these rose by three per cent.

Medium-distance and provincial lines, known as Cercanías, are considered ‘public services’, which means their prices are State-controlled.

El País dissents:

Dissenting voices against abortion reform grow within Popular Party

Central government delegate in Madrid and Basque assembly spokesman speak out against restrictive bill

Socialists vow to take opposition to the measure onto European stage

The central government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, has expressed her personal opposition to the government’s draft abortion reform. Although Popular Party (PP) official Cifuentes, who recently returned to the public eye after sustaining serious injuries in a motorcycle accident, recognized that the legislation was an electoral promise that had to be carried through, she said that she preferred the previous system of time periods to the government’s proposal to return to a system of scenarios.

Under 2010 legislation introduced by the previous Socialist government, a woman could freely terminate a pregnancy up to 14 weeks. The new draft law, passed by the Cabinet this month ahead of debate on the floor of Congress, allows for abortion in only two instances: rape, and the risk of serious psychological or physical harm to the mother.

Off to Lisbon with the Portugal News:

Portuguese among Europe’s most pessimistic

Portuguese citizens are among the most pessimistic in Europe when it comes to the economic outlook and only outstripped in their negativity by the Cypriots and Greeks according to a recent Eurobarometer study.

A total of 64 percent of Portuguese citizens declared they were pessimistic about the future of the European economy with only citizens in Cyprus and Greece, 66 percent and 69 percent respectively, returning more negative outlooks as against a European Union average in which 51 percent managed to express optimism.

Of the 1,047 Portuguese citizens who responded, 77 percent identified unemployment as a cause for concern, against a European Union average of 49 percent while the economic situation concerned 39 percent of respondents against an average 33 percent.

Xinhua warns:

Interview: IMF official warns next year not to be cakewalk for Portugal

Portugal seems to be ending 2013 on a good note. Earlier this month the Portuguese central bank improved its 2013 and 2014 economic outlook and on Friday the national institute of statistics (INE) unveiled that Portugal might have reached the target it agreed with its international creditors commission for this year.

However, Portugal’s implementation of the bailout program with the troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank next year “won’t be a cakewalk”, IMF Resident Representative in Lisbon Albert Jaeger told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“The economy is still at the early stages of recovery following a pretty long slump in activity,”he said,”so big challenges are still to be tackled.”

The Portugal News walks out:

Chaos looms as strikes are promised to continue into the New Year

This year’s New Year celebrations could be spoiled for many should a series of strikes announced for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day by airlines, airport ground-staff, public transport companies and even hotel workers go ahead as planned, causing widespread travel disruption and general frustration and disappointment from north to south of the country.

The Portugal News with another walkout:

Tax offices shut down

Tax and customs offices around Portugal were closed for much of the past week as workers protested against planned cuts to the service and worsening prospects for public employees’ pay and conditions.

Off to Italy and a necessary move from The Local.it:

Italy transfers migrants from scandal-hit centre

Italy on Tuesday transferred migrants from a centre on the tiny island of Lampedusa at the heart of a controversy over unsanitary conditions and mistreatment, as protests continued in other facilities.

Nine migrants at an expulsion centre near Rome’s airport have also sewn their mouths shut and a total of 37 are on hunger strike, said the director of the centre, Vincenzo Lutrelli, Italian media reported.

“I hope that this being Christmas Eve there will be an end to the protest,” said Lutrelli, who has supported the initiative to draw attention to the long months in which migrants are held in prison-like condition

TheLocal.it unstitches:

Migrants end sewn mouths protest in Italy

A dozen migrants who had sewn their mouths shut in an immigrant detention centre outside Rome ended their protest on Friday, officials at the facility and a visiting parliamentary delegation said.

The last of the migrants taking part allowed medical personnel to remove the thread he had used to stitch his lips and the migrants also ended a hunger strike.

ANSAmed loses:

South Italy has lost ‘600,000 jobs in 6 years’

South GDP eroded of 43.7 billion euros during crisis

Southern Italy has lost 600,000 jobs over the past six years and the economic crisis has wiped out some 43.7 billion euros of area’s gross domestic product, according to data released by industrial employers’ association Confindustria Friday.

And TheLocal.it ponies up:

Italy pledges €800m to fight poverty in 2014

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Friday that the coalition government will spend €800 million on fighting poverty next year as more Italians struggle to make ends meet.

A report by Eurostat in early December revealed that 29.9 percent of Italians were suffering, or risked suffering, poverty in 2012, a figure surpassed in the Eurozone only by Greece.

Letta said on Friday that the government had raised an extra €300 million in addition to the €500 million already allocated to fight poverty.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Russian woes, Indonesian anxiety, Chinese transformations continue, environmental threats, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoSinoFukuFailure


Cathing up from the holdays, we begin today’s coverage of things economic, politcal, and environmental with a warning from CNBC:

Forget the currency war, now it’s a deflation war

Despite all the liquidity sloshing around the financial system courtesy of quantitative easing, inflation remains worryingly low – and it may be because central banks are exporting deflation, HSBC said.

“It’s a monetary version of currency wars,” the bank said in a note. “Rather than removing deflationary trends, monetary stimulus merely allows central banks to export deflation to other parts of the world.”

Sizeable exchange rate declines have followed the initial forays into quantitative easing from various global central banks, temporarily lifting inflation in “host” countries, the bank noted.

Heading to the U.S. with USA TODAY and a new low:

Mortgage applications tumble to a 13-year low

The number of Americans applying for mortgages has fallen 63% since a May peak, reflecting a cooling housing market and higher borrowing rates.

The Mortgage Bankers Association says applications fell a seasonally adjusted 6.3% last week from a week earlier. Applications are now at a 13-year low.

The drop-off follows a 1 percentage point increase in mortgage rates from historic lows last spring. The average for a 30-year mortgage is 4.47%, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

McClatchy Washington Bureau gives good news for shareholders, bad news for workers:

‘Lean’ manufacturing bringing industry back from depths

“The general economy fell only 4 percentage points in the recession, but manufacturing fell (almost) 20 percent,” said Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, an industry research group. “Obviously it’s going to grow faster because it went into a deeper hole, but it’s got more to make up.”

The long slog back is also reflected in the hiring numbers.

The sector lost more than 2 million jobs, or 15 percent of the manufacturing workforce, from December 2007 to June 2009_ a period spanning the Great Recession. The job losses continued beyond the official end of the recession, and at the end of 2009 the sector had its lowest employment level since 1941.

The sector has gained a little more than half a million new jobs since February 2010. That would be good in normal times. These aren’t normal times. A key reason is that manufacturers are rebounding in part thanks to greater productivity, getting more output from fewer workers.

The Guardian hungers:

Demand for food stamps soars as cuts sink in and shelves empty

More working Americans are lining up at emergency food banks and going hungry, as cuts to those programmes take effect

An expansion of the programme, put in place when the recession was biting deepest, was allowed to expire in November, cutting benefits for an estimated 48 million people, including 22 million children, by an average of 7%.

As these cuts begin to bite, even harsher reductions are in prospect. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed $38bn cuts over 10 years, in their latest version of a long-delayed farm bill that would also require new work requirements and drug tests for food stamp recipients.

The cuts have forced poor families to make tough choices. The Guardian spoke to beneficiaries of the food stamps scheme, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (Snap), in San Antonio, Texas. As the second most populous US state after California, Texas suffered the second-biggest cut to its Snap programme, affecting 4 million recipients.

From CNBC, a reprieve:

California judge bars voter-approved pension cuts for city workers

A state court judge has barred the city of San Jose, California, from imposing voter-approved pension cuts on current municipal workers in a ruling with implications for cash-strapped local governments across the United States.

As public employee unions and many U.S. cities lock horns over cuts in retirement costs blamed for municipal budget crises, Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas ruled that a ballot initiative forcing workers to contribute more to their pensions was invalid.

In her “tentative” ruling, dated from last week but publicly released on Monday, Lucas said the city was entitled under the ballot measure to cut workers’ pay to save money, but she held that vested pension benefits were protected by state law and thus off limits.

The Verge covers a proposed divorce:

Six Californias’ ballot initative would make Silicon Valley a state

Silicon Valley leaders have been dreaming of a place where technology could advance unencumbered by the law. Google CEO Larry Page wants to set aside a part of the world for such experimentation, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel thinks a floating island of entrepreneurs might do the job. By those standards, venture capitalist Tim Draper actually has a slightly more down-to-earth plan. The startup mogul is now proposing to split California into six new states, each of which could craft laws that reflect their local interests.

While the state of Silicon Valley hires more overseas engineers, Draper imagines, a new “South California” could simultaneously crack down on immigration. “West California” could cater laws to Hollywood and defense contractors, and “Central California” could focus on farming and water rights without city slickers getting in the way.

People’s Daily fracks Uncle Sam:

Chinese company punts $90 million on U.S. shale gas market

According to a Dec 23 statement on its website, China Shenhua plans to move 90 million US dollars to its wholly-owned overseas subsidiary to set up a US branch (temporarily named Shenhua US energy companies) as the main body investing in a US shale gas project with Energy Corporation of America(ECA).

China Shenhua, a world-leading coal-based integrated energy company, is the largest coal supplier and vendor in China. The company announced plans to commence Chinese shale gas development together with Statoil in March last year. On this occasion China Shenhua is showing its wider ambitions by expanding its diversified business scope into the U.S. Shale gas market.

On to Canada with smoke and mirrors from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Police, media misled British Columbians on marijuana, new book claims

As it turns out, Nov. 6, 2012, was a big day for marijuana laws.

Voters in Colorado and Washington state approved initiatives to legalize pot, setting the stage for the regulated production and sale of the drug. Several other jurisdictions in the U.S. have since followed suit.

In Canada on that same day, provisions of a new federal law came into effect that imposed strict mandatory minimums for drug-related crimes, including marijuana production.

Across the Pacific next, with New Europe:

The former head of ECB said that the Member States under stress fixed their account deficits

Trichet confident about the recovery in Eurozone

The former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet gave an interview in CNBC saying that recovery in Eurozone is on track.

Mr. Trichet said, “i think Europe has done [a lot of hard work] in its adjustment.” The former ECB President said that the five Member States that were under stress from the international markets Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy “have recovered and they are now more or less balanced when it comes to current account, when they were highly in deficit in 2008 and 2009.”

Off to Britain, where the London Telegraph buoys:

Mortgage lending up 37pc in a year

Gross mortgage lending reached £10.3bn in November, up 37pc from November 2012

The British Bankers’ Association’s latest lending statistics show the number of approvals for house purchase was 39pc higher in November than a year earlier and the number of remortgaging loan approvals was up 20pc.

The increased activity in the market is largely due to record low interest rates and an improved availability of mortgages, including loans for borrowers with a modest deposit.

The doctor’s not in, with The Independent:

27 million to wait more than a week for GP appointment in 2014

Doctors expect waiting times to continue to rise over coming years as proportion of NHS funding for general practice falls to a record low

27 million patients in England will have to wait at least a week for an appointment with their GP next year because of a shortage of family doctors, the Royal College of General Practitioners has warned.

The numbers of GPs in England are declining sharply compared with a rise in the the amount of hospital doctors – a gap which the RCGP predicts is set to widen. 71 per cent of family doctors expect waiting times to increase further over the next two years due to fewer resources for general practice, the RCGP said.

Ireland next, with a prime ministerial push from Independent.ie. Note the last sentenc:

Taoiseach pressures Noonan to cut taxes for middle-income families

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton are piling the pressure on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to deliver tax cuts for middle-income earners in next year’s Budget.

But Mr Bruton is also warning that income taxes for high earners will have to be cut in the future to attract business people who create jobs.

Holloand next, with hopes from DutchNews.nl:

Economy grows 0.2% in third quarter, confirming end of recession

The Dutch economy grew by an estimated 0.2% in the third quarter of 2013, the national statistics office CBS said on Tuesday.

The figure is higher than the forecast of 0.1% made last month and confirms the Netherlands is moving out of recession.  Compared to the third quarter of 2012, the Dutch economy shrank by 0.4%, the CBS said.

Compared with the third quarter of 2012, the number of jobs in the Dutch economy was down 2%. This is in line with the earlier forecast.

France next, with optimism from BBC News:

France ‘to avoid double-dip recession’

France will avoid a recession this year, according to the country’s statistics body.

INSEE said the economy will grow 0.4% in the last three months of the year, after contracting 0.1% in the third quarter.

The government forecasts economic growth of 0.9% in 2014, lowered from a previous 1.2% forecast, with just 0.1% in growth forecast for this year.

On to Spain, staring with a headline from TheLocal.es:

Femen bare breasts at church in abortion demo

Feminist activists mounted a bare-breasted protest outside a Madrid church on Monday to decry Spain’s plan to ban women from freely opting for abortion.

A member of the protest group Femen kneeled on the pavement baring her breasts with the slogans “Christmas is Cancelled” and “Free Abortion” daubed on her chest.

El País opposes:

Rubalcaba: “PM has swapped women’s liberty for a handful of far-right votes”

French minister expresses “profound concern” at the Popular Party’s draft law saying Spain “has taken a backward step”

Clinics offering abortions in Spain have calculated that the new reforms to the law passed by Cabinet last Friday represent an “obstacle course” that could prolong the time required for authorization by “three to four weeks.” This could in turn lead to an increase in late terminations, which are significantly more dangerous, said Diego Fernández, director of Madrid’s Dator clinic.

At a meeting of doctors, jurists and women’s associations, Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba launched a scathing attack on the government: “Mariano Rajoy has swapped the liberty of women for a handful of far-right votes; this law is designed to prevent abortions in Spain.”

Next, Italy and misery from TheLocal.it:

MP charts ‘awful’ migrant centre conditions

An Italian politician has moved into one of Italy’s most notorious immigration centres in the island of Lampedusa, charting “awful” conditions and meeting migrants on hunger strike.

Khalid Chaouki, a Democratic Party (PD) politician, arrived at the southern island’s immigration reception centre over the weekend and vowed to stay “as long as it takes to reinstate the law”.

“I came to check the conditions the people in the Lampedusa reception centre experience,” Chaouki said in a message on his Facebook page on Sunday. The 30-year-old MP said he he had encountered “awful conditions in terms of hygiene”.

“Not all the bathrooms work, the water supply is leaking into the rooms where people sleep. They’re completely flooded and there are filthy mattresses stacked up.”

After the jump, the Greek debacle deepens, Cypriot bailout, Turkish troubles, Ukrainian woes and bans, Mexican privatization, Uruguayan pot legalization, Indo-American anxiety, Thai pleas, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese economic contradictions, and the latest chapter of Fukushimaspocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFuku


We open with a global story, via CNBC:

Goldman: Cut your emerging markets exposure by a third

Goldman Sachs has a clear warning for investors: Emerging markets will continue to disappoint.

In a December report, the bank’s investment management division predicted “the strong possibility of significant underperformance and heightened volatility over the next five to 10 years.”

On to the U.S. with booster from Reuters:

IMF says will raise U.S. economic growth forecast

The International Monetary Fund predicts the U.S. economy would expand at a faster pace next year, given positive economic data and some signs of compromise in Congress, the head of the Washington-based lender said on Sunday.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde also praised the U.S. Federal Reserve’s communication of its decision last week to start scaling back its massive monetary stimulus.

Al Jazeera America de.livers a pre-Yuletide blow:

Chase limits customer spending after credit-card security breach at Target

Bank says holders will only be allowed to withdraw $100, make purchases of up to $300 per day until security restored

The new limit affects roughly 2 million accounts, or about 10 percent of Chase debit-card holders, according to a bank spokeswoman. It does not apply to credit cards. The bank detailed the limits in an email sent to customers with the subject line: “Unfortunately, your debit card is at risk by the breach at Target stores.”

Sky News brands:

US: ‘Obama Care’ Printed On Heroin Packets

Police say the labels are a form of drug marketing “like putting Pepsi or Coca-Cola on a bottle”.

More than 1,200 packets of heroin with the words “Obama Care” and “Kurt Cobain” printed on them have been seized by Massachusetts State Police.

They were discovered when Trooper Joseph Petty stopped a vehicle with four people inside in the Town of Hatfield.

Crying fowl, via Associated Press:

Lt Gov: Duck Dynasty important to La. tourism

Louisiana’s lieutenant governor says the “Duck Dynasty” reality TV show is important to state tourism — and he could help connect the Robertson family with new producers if they cannot reach agreement with the A&E network.

In an emailed statement, Jay Dardenne says the state “has the infrastructure in place to maintain their record-breaking program.” Dardenne authored the state’s film and TV tax credit program. He says he’d use his influence in the state’s industry to help the Robertsons.

A notable transition from MediaWire:

Report: No black-owned and operated full-power TV stations remain in U.S.

The planned sale of Roberts Broadcasting’s remaining stations means there are “zero black-owned and operated full-power TV stations in our country,” Free Press’ Joseph Torres and S. Derek Turner write.

Low-power TV stations have a fair percentage of minority ownership, but they’re facing speculation that the FCC plans to auction their part of the broadcast spectrum to mobile-phone providers.

On to Canada with the big chill from the National Post:

‘Catastrophic ice storm’ knocks out power for 300K in Toronto as system blasts region

‘It truly is a catastrophic ice storm that we have had here, probably one of the worst we’ve ever had,’ Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said Sunday

From the Asahi Shimbun, the first of two trade deal heads:

U.S. sees Pacific trade pact talks taking time

Negotiations on a trade pact between a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim will take whatever time they need as the deal has to be both ambitious and comprehensive, U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said on Dec. 21.

The U.S.-backed deal, which Washington had wanted to conclude this year, aims to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.

But differences over farm tariffs between the United States and Japan have proved to be one of the major roadblocks and it will now not be finalized this year.

EUbusiness yields the second:

US, EU wrap up third round of free-trade talks

The United States and the European Union on Friday ended a third round of talks to create the world’s largest free-trade area to boost growth and jobs in their huge economies.

US and EU trade officials wrapped up five days of negotiations in Washington, where the talks began in July, to hammer out the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an ambitious agreement to expand trade, investment and regulatory cooperation.

The two economies combined make up 40 percent of output in the world economy.

Sky News immiserates:

Mortgage Misery For Millions If Rates Go Up

There is growing speculation that the Bank of England may begin to consider lifting the cost of borrowing within months.

Around four million families would not have enough cash to pay their mortgage if interest rates rose to barely half the rate they were before the crisis, according to Bank of England research.

The warning from the Bank comes amid growing speculation that it may begin to consider lifting the cost of borrowing within months.

An Irish lack from Independent.ie:

Firms look abroad as graduates here lack key skills

The warning comes as Japanese technology company Fujitsu, which employs 350 people here, confirmed it would have to recruit abroad for many of the PhD level experts it needed for its Irish operations.

The company’s head of research, Anthony McCauley, warned there was a skills shortage in certain technical areas. “A lot of the graduates we’ve found are from Egypt, Syria, France and Germany,’‘ he told the Sunday Independent.

Bubble building from Independent.ie:

House prices to rise 30pc in city shortfall

Taoiseach hopes a rebound in construction industry will lay foundations for ‘year of jobs’

The Government last week announced that 2014 would be the “year of jobs”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the number of family homes being built needed to treble to 25,000 a year.

However, industry sources told the Sunday Independent that supply next year would struggle to exceed 8,000, creating a huge demand for houses that will result in rising prices.

From the Reykjavík Grapevine, a master agreement:

Collective Bargaining Agreement Reached, Many Unions Disappointed

While a new collective bargaining agreement between many of Iceland’s labour unions and management was signed yesterday, many other unions believe the agreement does not do enough for Iceland’s workforce.

Vísir reports that yesterday, officials from the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ) and the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA) signed a new collective bargaining agreement, only weeks away from the current one expiring.

Wage increases have been a hotly contested part of these negotiations, and the new agreement calls for a 5% wage increase for those making the lowest wages, and a 2.8% increase for everyone else. Union proposals for higher wages, as well as tax relief for minimum wage earners, was rejected by management.

From Sweden, TheLocal.se concludes:

‘Neo-Nazis are lost young boys who want to shock’

Ahead of Sunday’s protest rally against the attack by neo-Nazis on a peaceful demo last weekend, Stockholm University criminology professor Jerzy Sarnecki explains the allure of extreme-right organizations.

TheLocal.se follows up:

Anti-racism rally attracts thousands in Stockholm

Over 10,000 people took to the streets of Stockholm to protest against Nazism and racism in a demonstration which had a heavy police presence numbering over 100 officers.

The rally was held in Kärrtorp in the south of capital with numbers swelled by last week’s violence after a similar rally in the same place was marred by ugly scenes instigated by neo-Nazis.

Germany next, with Deutsche Welle hitting the road:

Transport Minister Dobrindt again advocates foreigners’ tolls on autobahns

Germany’s new transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, has said that a toll for foreign cars on highways could be implemented by 2015. He postulated an annual pass costing 100 euros, to be reimbursed for domestic drivers.

Alexander Dobrindt told Sunday’s mass-circulation “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper that he hoped for a new toll system for passenger vehicles on the German network of autobahns, or highways, by 2015. The CSU politician, a member of the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, said the new German grand coalition government would work on draft laws next year.

On to Spain, where Spanish Property Insight takes the plunge:

Building industry continues on path towards oblivion

Planning approvals crashed again in September, as the Spanish housing building industry heads towards oblivion.

There were just 2,228 planning approvals in September, down 29pc on last year, and 98pc compared to September 2006, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Works (Fomento).

Looking back, September 2006 marked the zenith of Spain’s runaway building boom. There were 127,000 planning approvals that month, and it’s been downhill ever since. However, I doubt anyone could see quite how bad it was going to get.

thinkSPAIN maintains the connection:

Catalunya to prevent utility firms from cutting off power to householders in poverty this winter

CATALUNYA’S regional government plans to push through a draft bill of law banning electricity and gas companies from cutting off the supply to residents struggling with poverty or in a precarious financial situation.

Regional minister for business Felip Puig wants to get the new legislation on the table before the end of the year so that those families who have little or no income and cannot pay their fuel bills will not be left with no heating or means of cooking during the winter.

Spain’s central government has already rejected a proposal to pass a similar law affecting the whole country.

El País re-volts:

Electricity companies hit back in war of words over wholesale auction

Unesa says minister’s claim of “crude manipulation” is a sign of “contempt” for the sector

The government’s decision to annul the result of last Thursday’s electricity wholesale auction, which would have meant an 11- to 13-percent rise in consumers’ bills as of January, has been taken as a declaration of war by the sector, which is considering legal action against the administration.

The government based its decision on a report by Spain’s CNMC anti-trust authority that identified “atypical circumstances” in the run-up to Thursday’s auction – essentially accusing the power companies of manipulating the market to hike the price of electricity.

TheLocal.es follows the line:

Spanish demand for soup kitchens on the rise

More and more Spaniards are seeking free food in the form of soup kitchens as the soaring costs of everyday life are set to bring a cruel Christmas as AFP’s Daniel Bosque investigates.

A 2013 survey found that 17 percent of Spanish households say they get to the end of the month “with great difficulty”, and 9.2 percent have been late on paying their bills, according to the National Statistics Institute.

From thinkSPAIN, Banksters Behaving Badly:

Bankia sued for knowingly selling shares to customer with Alzheimer’s

STATE-OWNED financial institution Bankia has come under fire for selling preferential shares to a customer it knew was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

His widow, 72, who says the couple were customers of what used to be Bancaja – one of the two institutions along with Caja Madrid which fused after being bought by the State and renamed Bankia, having gone bankrupt – for 44 years, was reportedly told they could not have their money held on deposit in cash, only in shares.

From El País, detailing regression:

Abortion reform will give medical staff right to conscientiously object

Previously, only doctors directly involved in termination procedure could opt out

Pro-life gynecologists may choose to withhold ultrasound scan information from women who are pregnant

The Portugal News elevates:

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.

The underlying new austerian reality, also from the Portugal News:

Labour costs fall in Portugal

Portugal ranked alongside Slovenia as the euro-zone country whose labour costs in the third quarter were most sharply down on the year, by 0.4%, and was third among members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on the same measure, the OECD said in a statement

Portugal thus bucked the general trend for a slight increase in unit labour costs (the ratio between remuneration per work and productivity) in the euro zone, up 0.1% on the year. In the previous quarter, labour costs had been down 1.9% on the second quarter of 2012.

Another austerian enactment, via the Portugal News:

Government approves increase in retirement age to 66 from 2014

Portugal’s government has approved legislation to increase the statutory retirement age to 66, from 65 at present, from next year, in a move aimed at saving €205 million in 2014 alone.

The decision was taken at the weekly cabinet meeting of the right-of-centre coalition government.

Italy next, with mute injustice from TheLocal.it:

Migrants sew lips together in Rome protest

Four North Africans held in a migrant centre on the outskirts of Rome have sewn their lips together in protest at their lengthy detention, Italian news agency ANSA reported Sunday.

The men, aged between 20 and 30, used a thread from a blanket and a small needle to sew their mouths shut at the Ponte Galeria facility on Saturday.

Al Jazeera America implores:

Pope urges Italy to find housing for all families

In his Sunday blessing, Pope Francis asks anti-austerity protesters to use dialogue rather than violence

And the Los Angeles Times suspects:

Vatican bank finds over 100 suspicious transactions, official says

A crackdown on money laundering at the Vatican bank has uncovered more than 100 suspicious payments this year, an official says.

The Vatican’s bank has unearthed more than 100 suspicious payments this year after starting full-scale checks on its customers for the first time to crack down on money laundering, up from six last year, said an official knowledgeable about the cleanup effort.

The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the inquiry publicly, spoke after the Vatican said Monday that it had been given a positive progress report by Moneyval, the Council of Europe money-laundering monitor, after a middling grade in a full evaluation last year. The new report, which was signed off Monday and will be formally released by Moneyval on Thursday, gives an assessment but no grades.

After the jump, Greek austerity, Ukrainian cooldown, Turkish disorder, Pakistani and Indian inflation, Thai protests, neoliberal moves in China and Japan, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuwoes


Today’s edition is shorter than usual, but there’s still lots happening,

We begin with the American interface of the economic and the environmental via The Guardian:

Conservative groups spend up to $1bn a year to fight action on climate change

  • Author: ‘I call it the climate-change counter movement’
  • Study focuses on groups opposing US political action

Conservative groups may have spent up to $1bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change, according to the first extensive study into the anatomy of the anti-climate effort.

The anti-climate effort has been largely underwritten by conservative billionaires, often working through secretive funding networks. They have displaced corporations as the prime supporters of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations which have worked to block action on climate change. Such financial support has hardened conservative opposition to climate policy, ultimately dooming any chances of action from Congress to cut greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, the study found.

From TheLocal.de, a German infusion:

Aldi plans multi-billion US expansion

German discount supermarket chain Aldi has said it will invest $3 billion (€2.2 billion) in expanding its presence in the United States over the next five years.

“Aldi today announced a five-year strategic plan to open 650 new stores across” the US, the group said in a statement on Friday.

Aldi already operates nearly 1,300 stores in 32 states in the US and describes itself as the “leading low-price grocer.”

And from the Philadelphia Daily News, a wiseguy with friends in high places:

How did reputed mob figure land major city contract in Philly?

RONALD GALATI, a South Philly fraudster and reputed mob associate at the center of a triple murder-for-hire investigation, has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from a lucrative contract to repair and maintain Philadelphia Police Department vehicles, the Daily News has learned.

Galati, 63, identified by authorities as a onetime associate of mobsters Joey Merlino and George Borgesi, was able to land the contract despite a 1994 racketeering conviction for turning one of his auto-body garages into what federal prosecutors described as a “shop of fraud.”

Yesterday, a marked police car was parked inside Galati’s shop, American Collision & Automotive Center, on 20th Street near McKean. Records show that the city paid his company more than $400,000 in fiscal year 2012 alone. The contract began in 2011 and runs through June, a city official said.

Galati, whose name has surfaced in the ongoing racketeering retrial of Borgesi and reputed mob boss Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi, was arrested Friday on allegations that he hired hit men to kill his daughter’s boyfriend and a body-shop operator and his son.

Off the Britain and High [Street] anxiety from The Independent:

Retailers panic and slash prices amid low sales

Vast swathes of stores hit the panic button after one of the slowest Christmases on record

Retailers have slashed their prices this weekend in the hope that shoppers will finally flood Britain’s high streets today after one of the slowest Christmases on record.

With Christmas Day falling on a Wednesday this year, the traditional cat-and-mouse fight between shoppers and retailers has been pushed right to the wire with an extra weekend seeing customers waiting to see if stores will start discounting early.

And it seems like the shoppers have won, with vast swathes of stores hitting the panic button and slashing prices in a desperate attempt to shift their wares.

The Guardian disses:

Bulgaria issues fierce rebuke to David Cameron over migrants

UK faces isolation, president warns, as prime minister is accused of ‘pandering to nationalists’

The president of Bulgaria has made a stinging intervention in the UK’s immigration debate, attacking what he calls David Cameron’s attempts to pander to nationalists – and warning the PM to consider how history will judge him.

From Sky News, cruel Yule:

Christmas Debts ‘Won’t Be Cleared Until June’

The average family is going to take on debts this Christmas that will take until June to pay off, it has been claimed.

The Trades Union Congress has carried out research that shows that the typical family will add £685 to its borrowing by the time the festive season is over. That will take a family on an average income 24 weeks to pay off, the labour organisation claims.

Ireland next, with corporate reed run amok from Independent.ie:

Airtricity hikes prices after tripling profits

BUMPER profits by Ireland’s energy companies were in the spotlight once again yesterday after it emerged that Airtricity hiked costs for consumers just months after tripling its annual profits.

Accounts just filed by the energy company show it more than tripled its 2013 pre-tax profits to €45.8m. The British-owned firm attributed the profit surge to lower energy costs and an increase in customers as well as fewer acquisition costs. But just months after the financial year ended, Airtricity hiked up the cost of energy for those same customers. Electricity prices were increased by 3.5pc from November 1 and gas prices jumped by 2pc from October 1. It also hiked prices in 2012, adding 4.7pc on its electricity prices and an 8pc increase on gas prices in October 2012.

DutchNews.nl disillusions:

One in four PvdA supporters ‘will never vote for the party again’

Many supporters of the two coalition parties – the right-wing VVD and Labour party PvdA – are unhappy with the current political situation and say they may well not vote again for the party, the NRC reported at the weekend.

Research by Ipsos shows just 40% of the people who voted Labour in September 2012 are almost certain to vote for the party at another election, the NRC said. The same applies to 60% of free-market Liberals supporters.

On top of that one in four 2012 Labour voters say they will never vote for the party again, Ipsos says. Some 17% of VVD voters will also boycott the party in future.

On to Germany and a story with heart from Deutsche Welle:

Man denied heart due to lack of German gets compensation

When one hospital denied a man a heart transplant based on his lack of language skills, he took them to court. Three years later, they’ve agreed to pay damages, and new rules regarding transplants are set to be drawn.

France next, and another case infusion from South China Morning Post:

More Chinese cash flowing into French vineyards

The number of mainland investors pouring millions of dollars into French vineyards has risen sharply in recent years, but the trend has divided locals.

Critics are calling for wineries to remain under French control, while supporters have welcomed the injection of funds to rebuild infrastructure.

Between 2009 and 2012, the number of estates in the famous wine-producing region of Bordeaux owned by Chinese investors jumped from two to 25. The figure is now about 50.

From TheLocal.fr, corporadoes draw lines:

Multinationals put France ‘under serveillance’

Top executives from 50 foreign multinational corporations in France rung the alarm bells this week claiming the country’s business environment is pushing foreign investors away. They appealed for the Socialist government to take action.

The heads of the French wings of such giants as HP, Accenture, Microsoft and Volkswagen, say they have had increasing difficulty convincing their parent companies based abroad to invest in France.

In a commentary, published by business journal Les Echos and signed jointly by the execs, the multinational bigwigs urge changes to improve the business climate, while warning that France is “under observation”, suggesting that current activities could be curtailed if not shut down unless the situation improves.

On to Spain and historic retreat from El País:

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.

Speaking at a press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón announced the changes to the current statute, which return to the requirements outlined in a 1985 law, and will only allow abortions under two conditions: if the baby presents a risk to the health of the mother, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

thinkSPAIN covers the response:

Mass protests against ‘restrictive’ abortion law reform

THOUSANDS of women have been protesting in the streets throughout the country for the last two days over the abortion law reform passed on Friday.

They say it is ‘an attack’ on their rights to ‘freely decide’ whether or not they wish to become mothers.

Members of the socialist opposition – including secretary-general Elena Valenciano – say women are going to be ‘forced to give birth’ whether they want to or not.

And the government’s refusal to allow pregnancy terminations on the grounds of disabilities or deformities of the foetus ‘condemns’ women to a life as a 24-hour carer, often when their children are adults and until the end of their natural lives.

El País juices up:

Rajoy promises consumers won’t see “unjustified” electricity rate rises

  • Government to review bills after invalidating wholesale tender due to suspicion of collusion
  • Government opens inquiry into proposed electricity hikes

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday that the government would soon be reviewing electricity rates after Spain’s anti-trust authority, the CNMC, invalidated the result of a wholesale auction that took place on Thursday and would have meant a huge hike in consumers’ bills.

“The government is working on a procedure to fix an alternative price to that of the auction,” Rajoy told a news conference. “The matter will be resolved before the end of the year.”

Lisbon next with action from the Portugal News:

Riot police called in at schools after teacher protests

Portuguese riot police were called to a school in Almada on the south bank of the Tagus on Wednesday following an attempted invasion of the institution on a day of the teachers’ assessment tests.

The police troops were called by the local officers who had been alerted by the school.

The school said the protestors were “very aggressive” as they had broken all the windows in the school frontage. Nevertheless, the teachers’ assessment was going ahead, the school said.

After the jump, Greek debaclery, Turkish troubles, Belarus and Azerbaijan privatize, Abu Dhabi misery, Latin American privatizations, Cuban gestures, Chinese speculators, Japanese urban woes and gangsters, environmental agonies, and the latest edition of 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 Independent.ie:

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 TheLocal.no:

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.

TheLocal.se 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.

TheLocal.se 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 DutchNews.nl:

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.

DutchNews.nl 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 TheLocal.de:

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 TheLocal.fr:

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 TheLocal.it:

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