Category Archives: Human behavior

Chart of the day: The geopolitics of belief


From a new report by the Pew Research Center [PDF]:

Microsoft Word - Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project Be

Chart of the day: When equality polarizes


From The Economist:

Live chart: Sexual equality and income inequality

Program notes:

Meeting of the minds: How sexual equality increases income inequality.

Chart of the day II: Hard times intolerance


From Free Movement, a new study from the European Commission that dispels many of the myths perpetuated by right wing immigration foes, a perfect example of how intolerance invariable accompanies economic turmoil, in this case, in Barcelona, where a post-crash anti-xenophobia campaign was implemented:

European Commission

Farcebook: The meaningless of all those ‘Likes’


From Australian Derek Muller of Veritasium, a devastating deconstruction and debunking of the significance numbers attached to Facebook ‘Likes’:

Facebook Fraud

Program notes:

Evidence Facebook’s revenue is based on fake likes.

My first vid on the problem with Facebook: http://bit.ly/1dXudqY - private

I know first-hand that Facebook’s advertising model is deeply flawed. When I paid to promote my page I gained 80,000 followers in developing countries who didn’t care about Veritasium (but I wasn’t aware of this at the time). They drove my reach and engagement numbers down, basically rendering the page useless. I am not the only one who has experienced this. Rory Cellan-Jones had the same luck with Virtual Bagel: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-… - private

The US Department of State spent $630,000 to acquire 2 million page likes and then realized only 2% were engaged. http://wapo.st/1glcyZo - private

I thought I would demonstrate that the same thing is still happening now by creating Virtual Cat (http://www.facebook.com/MyVirtualCat - private). I was surprised to discover something worse – false likes are coming from everywhere, including Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. So even those carefully targeting their campaigns are likely being duped into spending real money on fake followers. Then when they try to reach their followers they have to pay again.

And it’s possible to be a victim of fake likes without even advertising. Pages that end up on Facebook’s “International Suggested Pages” are also easy targets for click-farms seeking to diversify their likes. http://tnw.co/NsflrC - private

Thanks to Henry, Grey, and Nessy for feedback on earlier drafts of this video.

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliSinoFuku


Opening our compendium of headlines fromn the economic, political, and environmental developments, a Trans-Pacific Panic from Techdirt:

USTR Finally Realizing Its All Encompassing Secrecy May Be A Problem, Calls Frantic Meeting For All ‘Cleared’ Lobbyists

  • from the you’re-doing-it-wrong dept

It’s been funny for years watching the USTR continue to repeat the same laughable line about how they’ve had “unprecedented transparency” concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement — an agreement that is still completely secret, other than a couple chapters leaked to Wikileaks. Here’s a hint: if the text of the agreement is only available thanks to Wikileaks, you’re not being transparent, precedented or not. Even the NY Times slammed the USTR’s lack of transparency, and multiple members of Congress have been arguing that they’re not at all comfortable with the lack of transparency from the USTR. Because of this, it seems that the USTR’s desire for fast track authority, which would let it route around Congressional review, is on life support and close to dead.

Given that, it appears that the USTR is in panic mode, and has frantically called an all day meeting for all “cleared advisors” (i.e., the corporate representatives who actually do get to see the document) concerning the whole transparency issue.

From the New York Times, double trouble:

Payroll Data Shows a Lag in Wages, Not Just Hiring

For the more than 10 million Americans who are out of work, finding a job is hard. For the 145 million or so who are employed, getting a raise is even harder.

The government said on Friday that employers added 113,000 jobs in January, the second straight month of anemic growth, despite some signs of strength in the broader economy. The unemployment rate inched down in January to 6.6 percent, the lowest level since October 2008, from 6.7 percent in December.

But the report also made plain what many Americans feel in their bones: Wages are stuck, and barely rose at all in 2013. They were up 1.9 percent last year, or a mere 0.4 percent after accounting for inflation. Not only was that increase even smaller than the one recorded in 2012, it was half the normal rate of wage gains in the two decades before the last recession.

More from Deutsche Welle:

US employment figures fail to thrill analysts

  • Fresh figures from the US Labor Department have shown employers have hired far fewer workers in January than expected. Analysts viewed this as a loss of momentum in the national economy after an already weak December.

Meager job gains towards the end of last year were barely improved upon in January, the US Labor Department reported Friday.

The latest monthly figures showed nonfarm payrolls rose only by 113,000, with 185,000 penciled in by analysts.

With strong job increases in construction, cold weather was not a major factor for the slow pick-up, nurturing fears of a general loss of momentum of the national economy.

CNBC diversifies:

Wealthy avoiding stocks, buying art

Art often imitates stocks—at least when it comes to prices.

But so far this year, stock markets are down and art is up.

Sotheby’s two days of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales racked up £215.8 million (more than $345 million), the highest ever for a sale series in London. All its lots sold. The top was Camille Pissarro’s 1897 painting “Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps,” which went for £19.7 million, or about $32 million—nearly double its top presale estimate.

Christie’s had a good week, too, selling Juan Gris’ 1915 still life “The Checked Tablecloth” for $56.7 million. The previous record for a Gris was $28 million. The Impressionist and Modern evening sale totaled $288 million.

Collectible cars are also on a tear. A 1957 Ferrari Testarossa sold in Britain this week for $40 million. And a series of auctions in Paris set a spate of new records for certain cars. RM Auctions gaveled down on a 1955 Jaguar D-Type for about $5 million.

The Project On Government Oversight notes the exceptional:

Head of SEC Given Waiver to Oversee Past Client

Mary Jo White, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), will be allowed to oversee her former client, Credit Suisse, according to a new ethics waiver the U.S. Office of Government Ethics posted to its website this week.

Before coming to the SEC, White, a former attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton, represented Wall Street giants such as UBS and JPMorgan. President Obama nominated her to head the SEC in January 2013.

Her waiver underscores the complications that can often arise when a former white-collar defense attorney becomes a top regulator overseeing an industry she used to represent.

According to the waiver, signed by the SEC’s ethics officer on Feb. 6, White had been prohibited from overseeing Credit Suisse since joining the agency because she provided legal services to the bank during her stint at Debevoise. In the two years prior to her SEC nomination, she “billed in total less than one hour (0.5 hours in January 2012 and 0.4 hours in February 2012) for work on Credit Suisse matters,” the waiver says.

Wrist-slappage from the Los Angeles Times:

Gov. Brown, Newsom to get warning letters from ethics agency

Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among 40 officials receiving warning letters from the state ethics agency after their campaigns received improper contributions from a lobbying firm, representatives said Friday.

A firm headed by Kevin Sloat has reached a tentative agreement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay more than $100,000 in fines involving violations of California’s campaign finance laws, according to sources familiar with the investigation who are not authorized to speak publicly.

The firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates provided prohibited contributions, including expensive wine and cigars, at fundraisers held for elected officials at his Sacramento mansion.

Top-heaviness from The Wire:

Universities Are Cutting Tenured Faculty While They Load Up on ‘Non-Academic’ Administrators

As the cost of college remains exorbitant, recent trends indicate schools in the United States are trading tenured professors for non-academic administrative staff. It’s pretty clear where American colleges have their priorities, and it’s not in academics. Students are paying more to attend schools that are spending less to teach them, and instead spending that tuition money on administration.

According to a new report from the New England Center for Investigating Reporting, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years.” Meanwhile, full-time tenured faculty positions are at the lowest rate in 25 years, while the prevalence of adjunct professors – part-time, non-tenured professors – is at its highest. In fact, according to the American Association of University Professors, “more than three of every four (76 percent) of instructional staff positions are filled on a contingent basis,” meaning without tenure.

The reason that non-tenured professors are so much more popular than tenured faculty is simple: they’re cheaper. Adjunct professors, especially, make very little. Most are paid on a per-course basis, making somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 for each course taught.

Bloomberg Businessweek bemoans:

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Be Born at AOL

AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong ruffled more than a few of his employees’ feathers when he disclosed this week that two AOL workers’ “distressed” babies had whacked the company with $2 million in medical bills.

The costly children were cited—along with more than $7 million in costs from the Affordable Care Act—as the reason AOL (AOL) changed its 401(k) account match to an annual lump sum payment. Workers who aren’t on the payroll at year’s end will forfeit AOL’s 3 percent matching contribution to the accounts. IBM (IBM) made a similar change in 2012. If you plan to quit, management thinking goes, forget about collecting our share of your retirement savings.

Many employees didn’t react well to either bit of news, according to news reports. First, there’s the financial blow to workers, who will lose 401(k) funds if they leave AOL, as well as miss the opportunity to have the company’s match bolster their financial returns over a full year. There’s also the shock that accompanies hearing your boss tag a colleague’s difficult pregnancy and her newborn child as the reason your retirement plan was cut.

Stark realization from the Exchange:

Why Walmart is getting too expensive for the middle class

Walmart is struggling with weak sales and an underperforming stock price. The company recently cut its profit outlook, with analysts polled by S&P Capital IQ expecting just a 2.1% gain in sales when Walmart reports its quarterly earnings on February 20. That’s for a company that has consistently outcompeted nearly every other retailer except, perhaps, Amazon. Walmart’s stock has suffered, rising just 4% during the past year, while the S&P 500 index rose 17% during the same timeframe.

Walmart, though known as a discounter, may be too expensive for millions of shoppers finding themselves more pinched — not less — as the pace of the so-called recovery accelerates. “Their consumer is shifting downward,” says Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for financial-data firm Bloomberg LP. “The competition for Walmart is changing. It’s now dollar stores.”

Where some of their money went, via the Los Angeles Times:

Walton group funds more charter schools in L.A. than elsewhere

Los Angeles charter schools have been the largest recipients of funding from the foundation associated with the family that started Wal-Mart, according to figures released Wednesday.

Since 1997, the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation has distributed $35.9 million in start-up grants to 159 L.A.-area charters. By comparison, Walton has supported the creation of 125 charters in New York City.

Last year alone, the foundation made grants to 23 new L.A. schools, totaling more than $4.69 million, that were set to open in the near future. Both the annual and cumulative totals are higher than for any other region.

Charter schools are independently managed, free from some rules that govern traditional schools and outside the direct control of the local Board of Education. In California, local school boards are required by law to authorize and oversee all financially viable and academically sound charter school petitions. No school system has more charters than the L.A. Unified School District.

More from Slashdot:

25% of Charter Schools Owe Their Soul To the Walmart Store

Among the billionaires who helped Bill Gates pave the way for charter schools in WA was Walmart heiress Alice Walton. The Walton Family Foundation spent a whopping $158+ million in 2012 on what it calls ‘systemic K-12 education reform,’ which included $60,920,186 to ‘shape public policy’ and $652,209 on ‘research and evaluation.’

Confirming the LA Times’ speculation about its influence, the Walton Foundation issued a press release Wednesday boasting it’s the largest private funder of charter school ‘startups,’ adding that it has supported the opening of 1 in 4 charter schools in the U.S. since 1997 through its 1,500 ‘investments.’

In These Times fuels around:

Angering Environmentalists, AFL-CIO Pushes Fossil-Fuel Investment

Labor’s Richard Trumka has gone on record praising the Keystone pipeline and natural gas export terminals.

Trumka’s comments come at a sensitive time, as trade unions and leading environmental groups have sought to build political partnerships with each other in recent years.

The nation’s leading environmental groups are digging their heels in the sand by rejecting President Obama’s “all-of-the above” domestic energy strategy—which calls for pursuing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but simultaneously expanding oil and gas production.

But it appears the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, won’t be taking environmentalists’ side in this fight, despite moves toward labor-environmentalist cooperation in recent years. On a recent conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed two initiatives reviled by green groups: the Keystone XL pipeline and new natural gas export terminals.

“There’s no environmental reason that [the pipeline] can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs,” said Trumka.

In response to a question from In These Times, Trumka also spoke in favor of boosting exports of natural gas.

Bad news from the Associated Press:

Moody’s downgrades Puerto Rico credit rating

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Puerto Rico’s credit rating to junk status.

The announcement Friday by the credit rating agency comes just days after Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. territory’s debt to junk as well.

Moody’s says its decision was based in part of not seeing sufficient economic growth to help reverse negative financial trends.

News from north of the border via South China Morning Post:

Exclusive: Vancouver facing an influx of 45,000 more rich Chinese

  • Over 60pc seeking Canadian wealthy investor visa are from China and want to live in British Columbia’s main city, data shows

A South China Morning Post investigation into Canada’s immigration programme for millionaire investors has revealed the extraordinary extent to which it has become devoted to a single outcome: Helping rich mainland Chinese settle in Vancouver.

Immigration Department data obtained by the Post suggests there was a backlog of more than 45,000 rich Chinese waiting for approval of their applications to move to British Columbia as of January last year. They are estimated to have a minimum combined wealth of C$12.9 billion (HK$90 billion).

And a complication, also from South China Morning Post:

Canada floats new citizenship rules that could affect thousands of Chinese

  • Longer abode requirement and demand for tax returns may affect thousands of Hongkongers and mainlanders granted permanent residency

Canada has unveiled sweeping reforms that would require immigrants spend more time as permanent residents, file tax returns and sign an undertaking to continue living in the country if they want to become citizens.

The proposed redrawing of the Citizenship Act, unveiled on Thursday, would lengthen the period of residency required from three years to four years.

Language proficiency requirements would be extended to children as young as 14 and adults as old as 64, and penalties for fraudulent applications toughened.

China is the biggest single source of applications for Canadian permanent residency and among those who may be affected by the changes are the 110,813 mainland Chinese and 3,305 Hongkongers granted permanent residency between 2010 and the middle of last year.

And a global alarm from Spiegel:

Troubled Times: Developing Economies Hit a BRICS Wall

  • Until recently, investors viewed China, Brazil and India as a sure thing. Lately, though, their economies have shown signs of weakness and money has begun flowing back to the West. Worries are mounting the BRICS dream is fading.

It was 12 years ago that Jim O’Neill had his innovative idea. An investment banker with Goldman Sachs, he had become convinced following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that the United States and Europe were facing economic decline. He believed that developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia could profit immensely from globalization and become the new locomotives of the global economy. O’Neill wanted to advise his clients to invest their money in the promising new players. But he needed a catchy name.

It proved to be a simple task. He simply took the first letter of each country in the quartet and came up with BRIC, an acronym which sounded like the foundation for a solid investment.

O’Neill, celebrated by Businessweek as a “rock star” in the industry, looked for years like a vastly successful prophet. From 2001 to 2013, the economic output of the four BRIC countries rose from some $3 billion a year to $15 billion. The quartet’s growth, later made a quintet with the inclusion of South Africa (BRICS), was instrumental in protecting Western prosperity as well. Investors made a mint and O’Neill’s club even emerged as a real political power. Now, the countries’ leaders meet regularly and, despite their many differences, have often managed to function as a counterweight to the West.

On to Europe and uber-bankster empowerment from Reuters:

ECB to gain far-reaching powers as euro zone banks’ supervisor

The European Central Bank will attain significant powers over the euro zone’s commercial banks once it becomes their supervisor later this year, including withdrawing bank licences and assessing acquisitions, it said on Friday.

From November, the ECB will supervise directly around 130 of the bloc’s largest lenders as part of a broader push towards closer integration of Europe’s banks that aims to create a more level regional playing field for the sector.

The region’s other 5,900 or so banks will remain under the brief of national supervisors, though the ECB will have powers to intervene if it deems necessary.

“(The ECB) will be exclusively competent to grant and withdraw authorizations for credit institutions and to assess acquisitions of qualifying holdings in all credit institutions,” it said in a draft document that laid out how the ECB and national supervisors will cooperate under the new Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM).

Channel NewsAsia Singapore tosses in a monkey wrench:

Germany sends ECB’s crisis-killing action to EU court

Germany’s highest court expressed doubts on Friday about the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme, credited with stopping the eurozone crisis, and sent the case to the European Court of Justice.

Some analysts suggested that the decision might turn out to be helpful to the central bank.

Back in September 2012, the Constitutional Court had rejected legal challenges by a group of eurosceptics to the two key eurozone crisis tools — the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European fiscal pact.

As a result, German President Joachim Gauck was able to sign those two crisis tools into law.

But the eurosceptics also filed a last-minute challenge to the ECB’s OMT bond purchase programme, arguing that it amounted to monetisation of sovereign debt and overstepped the central bank’s mandate.

The London Telegraph-ic take:

German court parks tank on ECB lawn, kills OMT bond rescue

  • Doubtful whether ECB’s back-stop scheme for bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again

Germany’s top court has issued a blistering attack on the European Central Bank, arguing that its rescue plan for the euro violates EU treaty law and exceeds the bank’s policy mandate.

The tough language leaves it doubtful whether the ECB’s back-stop scheme for Spanish and Italian bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again, and greatly complicates any future recourse to quantitative easing if needed to head off Japanese-style deflation.

And an affirmation from EUbusiness:

ECB insists bond buying programme ‘within mandate’

The European Central Bank insisted on Friday that its contested OMT bond buying programme did not breach its rules, after Germany’s constitutional court expressed some scepticism.

“The ECB takes note of the announcement made today by the German constitutional court. The ECB reiterates that the OMT programme falls within its mandate,” the central bank said in a short statement.

On to Britain and a disappointment from Bloomberg:

U.K. Manufacturing Rises Less Than Forecast as Growth Eases

U.K. factories increased production by less than forecast in December, suggesting manufacturing is set for steady rather than runaway growth this year.

Output rose 0.3 percent from November, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. That compares with the 0.6 percent median of 26 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Industrial production, which also includes utilities and mines, climbed 0.4 percent, also less than predicted.

While the U.K. economy expanded at the fastest rate since 2007 last year, industry surveys on services and manufacturing this week suggested the pace may have eased at the start of 2014. The Bank of England kept its key policy rate at a record-low 0.5 percent yesterday, while a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research today says consumer spending and a buoyant housing market will drive growth.

The Guardian has guilty knowledge:

Bank of England ‘knew about’ forex markets price fixing

  • Notes from 2012 meeting reportedly show key Bank officials were told of rival currency dealers’ sharing of customer orders

The Bank of England has been dragged into the mounting controversy over allegations of price fixing in the £3tn-a-day foreign exchange markets after it emerged that a group of traders had told the Bank they were exchanging information about their clients’ position.

The latest twist in the unfolding saga – already the subject of investigations by regulators around the world – puts the focus on a meeting between key officials at the central bank and leading foreign exchange dealers in April 2012, when they discussed the way they handled trades ahead of the crucial setting of a benchmark in the prices of major currencies. This benchmark is used to price a wide variety of financial products and is the subject of regulators’ attention amid allegations that traders at rival banks were sharing information about their orders from clients to manipulate the price.

New Europe complicates frack-tiosly:

Shale Gas Fear Leaves UK Vulnerable

Cuadrilla Resources, one of the energy firms hoping to exploit the UK’s shale gas resources, has announced two new exploration sites in Lancashire. But drilling for shale gas in Britain is going to be extremely controversial.

“There is potential but the level of public reaction to it is extremely negative at the moment and anybody trying to carry even testing at the moment is finding a lot of demonstrations,” Justin Urquhart Stewart, Director of Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe on 7 February, adding that the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is going to find it very difficult to actually get it through. “The potential is there but realistically I think they’re going to run into a lot of public concern unless it can be proven not to be dangerous to local communities,” Urquhart Stewart said. Unlike America, Britain is a crowded island and has a much bigger impact on a smaller area, he said.

From The Guardian, a land rush:

Fresh wave of super-rich looking to buy up London properties, says estate agent

  • Political and economic instability driving rise in inquiries from Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and elsewhere, reckons Frank Knight

Political and financial upheaval in some of the world’s largest emerging economies is driving a wave of rich migrants to London to park their wealth in the city’s property market, according to data from a leading estate agency.

Knight Frank, a specialist in upmarket properties, said on Friday that online inquiries from Argentina, Ukraine and Turkey have soared during the past year.

“There is potentially a further wave of investment headed for the prime central London property market,” said Tom Bill of the firm’s residential research team.

The Observer covers austerian reality:

Changes to state pensions will hit the poorest, warns think tank

  • Inequalities set to grow as people in the most deprived parts of the country live healthy lives 20 years shorter than the average

Changes to the state pension age will only expand the already yawning gap between rich and poor in Britain, according to an academic study.

Inequalities are set to grow because of the failure to take into account differences in health and life expectancy across the country, says the report from independent think tank the International Longevity Centre – UK and backed by the charity Age UK.

While most people will live to state pension age and beyond, a large proportion are unlikely to get there in good health, especially in more disadvantaged parts of the UK – places like inner city Glasgow, where the healthy life expectancy is just 46.7 years – close to 20 years lower than the national average of 65.

BBC News embarrasses:

Immigration minister Mark Harper quits over cleaner’s visa

Immigration minister Mark Harper has resigned from the government after it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.

Mr Harper notified Prime Minister David Cameron, who accepted his resignation “with regret”, Number 10 said.

It added there was “no suggestion” the 43-year-old Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean had “knowingly employed an illegal immigrant”.

Fellow Tory James Brokenshire has been appointed the new immigration minister.

The Observer has frustrations:

Nick Clegg: Britain must join debate on new approach to war on drugs

  • Deputy PM angry at Tory refusal to debate alternatives and says: ‘If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’

Nick Clegg has dragged the case for reforming the drugs laws to the centre ground of British politics, saying that blanket prohibition has seen cocaine use triple in less than 20 years, a trend that has helped perpetuate conflict and violence in South America.

Writing in today’s Observer, after a week in which he visited Colombia to learn first-hand the devastating effects that Europe’s enthusiasm for cocaine has had on the country, Clegg said the UK needed to be at the heart of the debate about potential alternatives to blanket prohibition and that he wanted to see an end to “the tradition where politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences”.

The deputy prime minister said such an approach “has stifled debate and inhibited a proper examination of our approach. Put simply, if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform”.

On to the Emerald Isle and a neoliberal endorsement from the Irish Times:

Taoiseach defends corporate tax policy at OECD

  • Kenny shrugs off French anger at loss of internet companies and backs efforts to close tax loopholes

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and the four Cabinet Ministers who flew on the government jet to Paris yesterday did not see a single member of the French socialist government.

Instead, they spent the day at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that hotbed of liberal economics, at a sensitive time in Franco-Irish relations. The US internet giant Yahoo had just announced it is transferring financial operations from France to Ireland.

Asked about Yahoo’s defection, President François Hollande said “we must act” against “big companies who move to countries with low corporate tax”. He promised to raise the subject with President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

On to Germany and a case of bad heilth from Deutsche Welle:

German newspaper report highlights right-wing crime in Germany

  • More than 11,000 right-wing criminal offenses were committed last year, according to a report by a German newspaper. Of those cases, more than 500 were violent.

German police registered 11,761 criminal offenses motivated by right-wing extremism between January and December of 2013, Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper reported on Friday. Of the reported cases, 574 were violent offenses that resulted in injuries to 561 people, according to Tagesspiegel.

Of the 5,631 suspects in the offenses, 126 people were arrested. In 11 cases, warrants were issued. Some 788 cases were reported as being of an anti-Semitic nature, including 32 cases of assault and other violent crimes.

According to the newspaper, the figures come from monthly inquiries by the Bundestag’s Vice President Petra Pau and her Left Party parliamentary faction. With the release of the December figures, a complete look at the last year is now available.

Tagesspiegel said, however, the actual number of right-wing criminal offenses for 2013 is expected to climb, as many incidents are registered after the fact. In 2012, the total number was initially listed as 11,660, but late registrations ended up driving the total up to 17,134.

TheLocal.de boosts the books:

German trade surplus hits record level

Germany’s trade surplus soared to a new record high in 2013, although export momentum tailed off at the end of the year, official data showed on Friday.

Europe’s biggest economy notched up a trade surplus of €198.9 billion in 2013, the highest since foreign trade data have been compiled.

In 2012, the surplus had stood at 1€89.8 billion.

Germany has come under fire for its booming trade surplus, with critics arguing that its economic prowess comes at the expense of the eurozone’s weaker members.

On to France and the rural right from France 24:

France’s National Front courts the rural vote

As municipal and European elections approach, France’s far-right party the National Front is poised for another strong showing. Rural areas are key to the party’s strategy: economic decline and feelings of neglect in the countryside have been fuelling the National Front’s renaissance.

Our assignment was to understand why the far-right is making strides in rural areas. So we headed out for the “Meuse”, a department in the east of France where the party traditionally does well.

To our initial surprise, villagers readily expressed their support for the National Front, even on camera. “We’re 100 percent for Marine Le Pen around here”, smiled one supporter as we approached. “I’m not afraid to say so, and I always will!”

Reuters turns the coat:

Special Report: Francois Hollande puts on a new political face

As Hollande heads without a First Lady to the United States on Monday, he is projecting a more business-friendly persona than the “regular guy” left-winger France chose in May 2012 to replace conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Several people who know Hollande say that, deep down, he has always been more of a centrist, who had calculated that he should present himself as a man of the left to win election.

“This is not so much a U-turn as a self-revelation. He has finally outed himself,” said Serge Raffy, author of the 2011 Hollande biography “Itineraire secret” (Secret Route).

Switzerland next and a defining vote from Deutsche Welle:

Referendum to keep foreigners out of Switzerland?

  • On Sunday, the Swiss vote on whether to restrict immigration to their country. The ramifications of a yes vote, experts say, could be huge. To their shock, the referendum has a decent shot at passing.

When Germans hear Switzerland, they first think of the children’s book “Heidi”, snow-covered mountains and secure bank accounts. Their neighbor to the south is a popular vacation destination, but more and more Germans also come to Switzerland to work. They can do so because the small, neutral state entered a freedom of movement agreement with the European Union in 1999. Even though Switzerland isn’t a member of the union, EU citizens have been allowed to immigrate to Switzerland with hardly any restrictions since then.

That might change soon. In a nationwide referendum, the Swiss are voting on an “initiative against mass-immigration” this Sunday (09.02.2014). The initiative was put forward by the nationalist-populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP). The party wants to restrict the number of immigrants and allocate a limited number of slots to certain national or occupational groups.

Roughly 80,000 immigrants enter Switzerland every year – and this in a country of 8.1 Million. According to the German weekly “Die Zeit”, this is the largest population growth the country has experienced since the 1960s.

On to Iberia and austerian woes from thinkSPAIN:

More firms and individuals in Spain declared insolvent last year than ever before in history

A RECORD number of companies and sole traders went into receivership or were declared bankrupt last year – a total of 9,660, which is the highest ever seen since bankruptcy became legally-recognised 10 years ago.

This represents a rise of 6.5 per cent on the figure for 2012, and never before have this many insolvencies been declared in the space of a year in Spain, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

In the first three years after the Insolvency Law was passed in 2004, up to and including 2007 there were between 968 and 1,147 firms going bankrupt or into receivership each year, but this shot up to 3,298 with the start of the financial crisis.

This again nearly doubled in 2009 when the recession and mass unemployment began to truly bite in Spain, reaching 6,197 that year, dropping slightly to 5,962 in 2010 but then soaring again in 2011 to 6,863. However, the last two calendar years have seen a sharp increase, with insolvencies shooting up by over 50 per cent.

The Associated Press takes a turnabout:

Spain to restore nationality to Sephardic Jews

Spain has announced new measures to speed up the naturalization of Jews of Sephardic descent whose ancestors fled the Iberian peninsula five centuries ago when they were told to convert to Catholicism or go into exile.

The Cabinet approved a bill amending previous legislation that granted nationality by naturalization to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it. The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their previous citizenships.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Friday the measure smooths the bureaucracy involved in obtaining Spanish nationality.

Italy next, and corruption with a flair from TheLocal.it:

Space boss quits over tango dancer scandal

The head of Italy’s space agency submitted his resignation on Friday after a scandal over dubious expenses including hiring as a consultant a former tango dancer with no apparent aerospace credentials.

Enrico Saggese in a statement denied the accusations and said that he wanted to step down “so as to better defend my integrity, honour and prestige”.

Prosecutors opened an investigation on Thursday into corruption, including Saggese’s use of a credit card provided by an agency subcontractor.

They are also looking into consultancy fees paid to the wife of an employee to provide “psychological assistance” and expense-paid trips to the United States for several managers of the space agency.

After the jump, the latest Greek disasters, Ukrainian turmoil, class war in Brazil, Argentine anger, a Latin American plague, Pakistani stalemate, the latest Thai violence, Vietnamese letdown, Chinese uncertainty, an Abenomics fail, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Russo-Bible Belt Baptists?


No, just plain old folks in modern Russia, who share more than a few Red State attitudes. From the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Russophobia

Quote of the day: The Internet is broken


From “The Internet is Broken—Act Accordingly,” a ThreatPost essay by Dennis Fisher:

As researcher Claudio Guarnieri recently detailed, the Internet itself is compromised. Not this bit or that bit. The entire network. We now know that intelligence agencies have spent the last decade systematically penetrating virtually every portion of the Internet and are conducting surveillance and exploitation on a scale that a year ago would have seemed inconceivable to all but the most paranoid among us.

Email? Broken. Mobile communications? Broken. Web traffic? Really broken. Crypto? So, so broken.

It would be understandable, even natural, for most casual observers to have grown so completely overwhelmed by the inundation of stories about government surveillance and exploitation techniques that they tuned it out months ago. Why get worked up about something you can’t change? It’s like getting mad at cake for being delicious.

And that’s exactly the attitude that attackers want. Indeed, they depend on it. Complacency and indifference to clear threats are their lifeblood. Attackers can’t operate effectively without them.

Read the rest.

Graphics: Things you can’t do in Sochi toilets


From The Independent, things athletes can’t do in their bathrooms:

BLOG Banned

Fishing? Really? And that guy doing the squat atop to loo? That’s how it’s done in large parts of the world, and one sure way to prevent hemorrhoids.

But fishing?

‘David Simon on America as a Horror Show’


From Moyers and Company:

David Simon on America as a Horror Show

From the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Watching the president’s speech the other night– he was hopeful, he was upbeat, he was encouraging and inclusive and what he said. But I kept listening and thinking about that speech you had made last fall in Australia where you said what’s happening here in America is “a horror show.” And I wonder, how do you reconcile those two visions of our country?

DAVID SIMON: I don’t think that you can call the American government anything other than broken at this point. And I think the break has come at the legislative level. I mean, that’s the part of the government that has been purchased.

You can buy these guys on the cheap. And the capital’s been at it a long time and the rules have been relaxed. The Supreme Court has walked away from any sort of responsibility to maintain democracy at that level. That’s the aspect of government that’s broken.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Obama or Clinton or Bush or anybody at this point. If this is the way we’re going to do business, we’re not going to do business. You know, they’ve paid for it to be inert. And it is inert. And ultimately that aspect of capitalism hasn’t been dealt with in any way.

Research from Cal: The sociopathology of wealth


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

Study proves: rich people are jerks

Program notes:

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

Chart of the day: Escalating taste for fire


From Quartz, the graphics of changing tastes:

BLOG Sauce

Chart of the day: Your boss is a Republican


At least that’s what the odds favor, according to a new report {PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Parties

A melodious voice, provocative insights


John Henry Faulk was a remarkable character, an academic fokloristic who became a humorist, and who waged and won a seminal battle against the Hollywood blacklist, a secret database used by the entertainment and electronic media industries to bar people whose beliefs were deemed threats to national security to be barred from public screens and airwaves.

He’d have turned 100 last August if cancer had finally stilled his rich, melodious voice, conveying sophisticated thoughts cloaked in idiom and Texas dialect.

Here’s Faulk in a wonderful 1985 conversation with Frank Morrow for the legendary public access series Alternative Views:

FAULK AT HIS FINEST: Meet Uncensored Humorist John Henry Faulk

Proogram notes from AlternativeViewTV:

Austin’s beloved folk humorist tells tales from his new book The Uncensored John Henry Faulk. The stories, which range from childhood recollections of life on a South Austin farm to commentary on political figures, embody a populist, egalitarian spirit. Some of these stories are from Faulk’s well-known one-man show Pear Orchard USA. Through the use of these folk characters, Faulk is able to make political commentary which is palatable even to people who might disagree with the message, such as the anti-Nixon stories which he has used before audiences of businessmen. The last section of the program is a Faulk mini-retrospective, featuring clips of the humorist’s past appearances on Alternative Views.

One of esnl’s favorite folksingers, Phil Ochs, paid him tribute in this 1962 song:

Phil Ochs: The Ballad of John Henry Faulk [1962]

From the lyrics:

And you men who point your fingers and spread your lies around,
You men who left your souls behind and drag us to the ground,
You can put my name right down there, I will not try to hide —
For if there’s one man on the blacklist, I’ll be right there by his side.

For I’d rather go hungry to beg upon the streets
Than earn my bread on dead men’s souls and crawl beneath your feet.
And I will not play your hater’s game and hate you in return,
For it’s only through the love of man the blacklist can be burned.

Chart of the day: Cellular collisions


From the Pew Research Center, confirmation that our media have become our masters:

BLOG Cell

Chart of the day: Documenting a social divide


From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Religilution

Headlines of the day I: Spooks, drones, bellicosity


Plus some corporate shenanigans and much, much more.

We begin with the story de jour via The Guardian:

NSA mass collection of phone data is legal, federal judge rules

  • Dragnet program deemed ‘controversial but lawful’
  • Lawsuit brought by ACLU dismissed

A legal battle over the scope of US government surveillance took a turn in favour of the National Security Agency on Friday with a court opinion declaring that bulk collection of telephone data does not violate the constitution.

The judgement, in a case brought before a district court in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, directly contradicts the result of a similar challenge in a Washington court last week which ruled the NSA’s bulk collection program was likely to prove unconstitutional and was “almost Orwellian” in scale.

The Wire sounds the theme:

A Federal Judge Uses Every Known NSA Defense in Defense of the NSA

In the first bit of good news for the National Security Agency in some time, Judge William Pauley of the Federal District Court of Southern New York determined that the bulk collection of phone metadata is lawful. And in so doing, reiterated every conceivable argument put forward by NSA defenders.

The Register finds a wish list item:

Snowden leak journo leaks next leak: NSA, GCHQ dying to snoop on your gadgets mid-flight

Greenwald blasts US, UK during hacker confab speech

Deutsche Welle notes a phenomenon:

NSA surveillance eroded transatlantic trust

One year ago, most people on either side of Atlantic had scant or no knowledge of the NSA and its activities. Edward Snowden’s revelations changed all that and rocked one of the pillars of transatlantic relations.

The surveillance of Merkel’s phone was a game changer in Europe as well as the US. It forced both the White House and Congress to acknowledge that the practices of US intelligence needed closer inspection. It also drove Chancellor Merkel, Europe’s most important leader, to publicly take a tougher stance vis-à-vis Washington. Most importantly, it undermined one of the central pillars of the transatlantic relations: trust.

India joins the Orwell club, via the Economic Times:

Prepare yourself to be snooped in the interest of national security

You might as well settle down to the grim thought of every call on your cellphone or landline being tapped in the near future in the interest of national security. The same would also hold true for all forms of personal communication on the internet.

The telecom department (DoT) plans to introduce a new clause, Section 419B, in the Indian Telegraph Rules of 1951, to enable early implementation of the much discussed Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) – a new automated surveillance system that will be geared to track all kinds of private communication over landline, mobile, satellite, internet and even voice over internet protocol ( VoIP) calls.

The proposed Section 419B will pave the way for “designated officers of the Telegraph Authority to collect, store and analyse any message-related information for the purpose of enforcing licence conditions, investigation or pro-active action with regard to security of the network or the state”, says an internal DoT note seen by ET.

Francophone taps from PCWorld:

French authorities requested 6,145 phone and data taps in 2012

French government and police officials requested 6,145 phone and data taps in 2012, fewer than in 2011, according to figures released by the French National Commission for the Control of Security Interceptions (CNCIS) earlier this week.

The CNCIS acts as a check on wiretap authorizations by the Prime Minister’s office, which receives requests for connection data and for targeted interception of voice and data communications from law enforcement or security services.

It rejected 50 of the 6,145 interceptions requested in 2012, having rejected 55 of the 6,396 requests the previous year. It also ordered the termination of 52 ongoing interceptions.

The Guardian displays common sense:

Internet privacy as important as human rights, says UN’s Navi Pillay

Navi Pillay compares uproar over mass surveillance to response that helped defeat apartheid during Today programme

The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has compared the uproar in the international community caused by revelations of mass surveillance with the collective response that helped bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Pillay, the first non-white woman to serve as a high-court judge in South Africa, made the comments in an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee on a special edition of BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, which the inventor of the world wide web was guest editing.

DutchNews.nl keep track on the latest from the Netherlands:

Police, justice officials use public transport smart card info

TLS, the company which operates the public transport smart card ov-chipkaart, has confirmed it releases confidential information about users ‘several times a week’ to the police, the Telegraaf said on Friday.

The information is released in connection with missing persons and criminal investigations, the paper said. TLS keeps the information about people’s movements for a year.

The Independent threatens press freedom [such as it is]:

Press regulation: David Cameron warns newspapers to sign up to Royal Charter passed by Parliament

Having remained silent last month when Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that politicians had done all they could to induce the press into joining a charter-based form of regulation, David Cameron has now warned Britain’s newspapers that they should sign up urgently to the Royal Charter passed by Parliament earlier this year.

Playing a “good cop” PM, Mr Cameron said “a less liberal, enlightened government in the future” might play hard ball and enforce legislation. Translation? Do a deal with the Tories or Labour will bring out the big stick.

Curiously, however, Mr Cameron’s veiled threat only emerged today, despite being issued in an interview he gave before Christmas.

The Guardian omits:

Bletchley Park accused of airbrushing Edward Snowden from history

NSA whistleblower omitted from new exhibition on cyber security as museum says it does not want to be seen to back his actions

MPs have accused Bletchley Park, the wartime predecessor of GCHQ, of trying to airbrush history after it said it would ignore the whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance by the security services in its museum’s new gallery on cyber security.

The MPs are urging the museum to explore the implications of mass surveillance, but it says it is reluctant to do so, despite planning a huge new installation devoted to the subject of cyber security, for fear that it “might imply it approves of Snowden’s actions”.

And on to our coverage of headlines from Asia, where security is in scarce supply, first with this from the Asahi Shimbun:

Freedom of navigation pits Japan, U.S. against China

With Japan and the United States in one corner, and China in the other, the issue of freedom of navigation is taking center stage as China’s growing maritime presence continues to set off alarm bells.

While Japan and the United States differ slightly in their interpretation of the issue, they are adamant that China must tow the line in what essentially boils down to international law.

The Japan Times returns:

South Korea to return ammunition provided by Japan

The South Korean Defense Ministry said Friday that ammunition provided by Japan via the United Nations to South Korean troops taking part in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in strife-torn South Sudan will soon be sent back.

The announcement followed criticism of the South Korean government domestically for its decision earlier this week to borrow 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Japan for the peacekeepers in the event its troops come under fire in the African nation.

And Kyodo News sets off the latest crisis:

Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine, 1st PM to do so in 7 years

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, the first premier to do so in seven years, triggering criticism not only from China and South Korea, which suffered Japan’s past militarism, but also its main ally, the United States.

“I expressed my sincere condolences, paid my respects and prayed for the souls of all those who made ultimate sacrifices,” Abe told reporters after visiting the Shinto shrine, which honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals along with millions of war dead.

Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine since Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. The latest visit came as Abe marked the first anniversary of his government’s launch.

After the jump, global denunciation of the Abe visit, snooping software, military-style assault in California, drones, pirates, the endangered press, boiok bannings, and corporate madness. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliFukuFail


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Reuters, American optimism:

Confident consumers brighten economic outlook

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Times with our Christmas story of the day:

Stockton mall brawl over new Air Jordans caught on video

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

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

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

The Guardian advises:

Expiration of unemployment benefits threatens US recovery, adviser warns

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

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

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

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

From Salon, blockaded:

Activists blockading Fresno sheriff station to protest record deportations

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

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

Computerworld paints a bleaker future:

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

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

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

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

Canada next, with red ink from CBC News:

Canada’s deficit ticks higher to $13.2B

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

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

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

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

Tobacco lawyer steps down from EU ethics panel

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

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

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

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

The Housing Crisis

London councils sit on millions meant for building cheaper homes

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

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

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

Open Europe delivers appropriate riposte to Prime Minister David Cameron:

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

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

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

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

From New Europe, the cost of Tory intolerance:

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

UK GDP down 11% by reduced immigration

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

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

Ireland next, with kudos from Independent.ie:

Irish state bonds still top of eurozone performance chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iceland next and thumbs down from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

More Unions Reject New Collective Bargaining Agreement

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

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

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

While The Wire disabuses one of yesterday’s headlines:

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

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

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

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

Hundreds injured in Hamburg riots

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

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

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

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

Hit the road, Jack, with TheLocal.de:

Austria threatens Germany with legal action

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

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

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

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

40 Swiss banks agree to reveal hidden accounts

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

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

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

French action from Reuters:

French strike keeps a third of oil refining sector shut

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

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

The Economic Times wants a piece of the cultural action:

French broadcast watchdog targets YouTube, Dailymotion

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

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

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

On to Spain, and culture war with El País:

Abortions fell in 2012 under law PP is set to quash

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

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

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

TheLocal.es takes it to the bank:

Bankia rides rollercoaster from ruin to riches

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

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

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

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

El País gets disreputably sporty:

Spain’s image gets another kicking

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

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

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

Iberian departures from the Portugal News:

Emigration settles

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

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

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

The Portugal News occupies, briefly:

‘Jobless’ invade supermarket

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

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

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

Renzi calls for two-year benefits for jobless

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

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

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

AGI moves to soothe:

Letta states criticism of president at unacceptable levels

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

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

Bloomberg assesses:

Italy Approves ‘Google Tax’ on Internet Companies

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

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

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

And TheLocal.it confesses:

Enrico Letta admits Italy has ‘social fatigue’

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

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

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

From AGI, an austerian outcome:

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

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

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

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

Chart of the day II: Cut Pentagon, not aid to poor


From a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, clear evidence that Bernie Sanders [see below] speaks for the majority of the American people:

BLOG Choices

Chart of the day: Clergy are losing public favor


From Gallup, which reports that Americans see nurses as America’s most ethical vocation, while the clergy has fallen to an all-time low:

BLOG Clergy

An oddly affecting take on Mayor Rob Ford


From those usually sharply sarcastic folks at Taiwanese Animations:

The Death of a Mayor: The Tragic End of Rob Ford

Program notes:

The Death of a Mayor is a drama following how a popular mayor’s personal troubles led to his spectacular fall from grace. Supporters of Rob Ford who have continued to stand by their mayor highlight his compassion and humanity, but that very human fallibility may well be his ultimate undoing. Will he be able to control his demons ahead of next year’s mayoral elections or will he succumb to them?

Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s crack scandal has routinely commanded headlines since the beginning of 2013. Through his repeated denials and eventual admission of a variety of transgressions, centering around his purchase and consumption of illegal drugs, Ford has made himself a laughing stock internationally and an embarrassment to Torontonians locally. But even with his administration falling apart and his former staffers turning on him, Ford’s real friends, even those doing jail time, have yet to abandon him.

Rob Ford is more than just a witless politician with substance abuse problems. What his critics see as obvious evidence of his ineptitude, his supporters proudly hold up as proof of his humanity. Throughout this scandal, his reaction to criticism has been direct, largely free of spin and wildly entertaining.

Ford has delivered numerous surprisingly frank admissions of guilt, like his terse response, “Yes, I have” to the question of whether or not he’d bought illegal drugs in the last two years, have rarely crossed the lips of any other politicians. It’s that personal quality to his speeches, his lack of any thought about how his words will be received, that supporters say make him an everyman, rather than a smooth talking, disingenuous politician.

NMA’s numerous satirical animations on Rob Ford, the first of which was published in mid-May, have been good for a lot of laughs. Today we take a more sober and somber look at the one outcome Rob Ford is desperately trying to avoid, but which his vices seem to be inexorably pulling him toward.