Category Archives: Intolerance

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGloboFuku


Today’s compendium of notable headlines from the realms of economics, politics, and their impacts on the rest of the planet begins with the latest of Banksters Behaving Badly via Reuters:

Deutsche, Citi feel the heat of widening FX investigation

Global investigations into alleged currency market manipulation intensified on Wednesday as U.S. regulators descended on Citigroup’s London offices and Deutsche Bank suspended several traders in New York, sources told Reuters.

The presence of Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency officials at Citi’s Canary Wharf office in the east of London this week comes after Citi last week fired its head of European spot foreign exchange trading, Rohan Ramchandani, following a prolonged period on leave, one source familiar with the matter said.

The suspensions of staff at Deutsche Bank in New York and possibly elsewhere in the Americas followed investigations into “communications across number of currencies,” a second source said.

Al Jazeera America reaps gold:

Banks report record profits despite massive legal fees

  • Wells Fargo becomes most profitable bank, knocking out JPMorgan from the top spot

The nation’s major banks reported record fourth-quarter profits Wednesday, with Bank of America announcing that its profit jumped to $3.44 billion from $732 million in the same quarter in 2012, and Wells Fargo edging out JPMorgan Chase as the nation’s most profitable bank.

The jump represents a major turnaround for Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, the country’s second-largest bank, which was hit last year by an $11.6 billion settlement with home mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

The settlement is the result of the bank’s involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-08, which contributed to the massive financial crisis and subsequent economic recession in the U.S. As a result of the crisis, more than 6 million homeowners have an underwater mortgage, meaning they are paying more than what their houses are worth.

Bloomberg Businessweek reads between the lines:

The Accounting Wizardry Behind Banks’ Strong Earnings

Wells Fargo (WFC) reported a personal-best $5.6 billion in fourth-quarter earnings today, overtaking JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as the most profitable U.S. bank. JPMorgan reported $5.3 billion in fourth-quarter income and $17.9 billion for all of 2013, not too shabby for a year in which the bank spent $23 billion on legal settlements.

Upon further review, however, these profits don’t look quite as robust. More than 31 percent of JPMorgan’s 2013 earnings, or $5.6 billion, and about 10 percent of Wells Fargo’s, $2.2 billion, weren’t really earned last year. That money came instead from the banks’ so-called loan-loss reserves, an accounting accrual that’s kind of like a rainy-day fund.

Lenders set aside that cash during and shortly after the financial crisis to cover future losses in case the U.S. economy got worse and consumers couldn’t pay their credit card bills, mortgages, and other loans. But collections on most consumer loans have never been better—banks tightened lending standards, plus people went back to work—so the banks are using that money to bump up earnings.

Bloomberg bubbles:

Fed Student-Loan Focus Shows Recognition of Growth Risk

Outstanding education debt exceeded $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.

“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 in response to audience questions after a speech at a Jan. 10 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.”

Economists at the New York Fed are analyzing student debt as part of their quarterly reports on national household credit. That project emerged six years ago as the credit crisis unfolded, when the researchers and their then-boss, Timothy F. Geithner, realized there wasn’t a good way to study total consumer borrowing.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, futility:

Obama fails in bid to change IMF

Congress has rejected a funding request from the Obama administration that would have overhauled the International Monetary Fund. The action leaves the 188-nation group without additional resources and blocks an increase in voting power for China and other emerging markets.

The proposal was left out of the $1.01 trillion spending bill that congressional negotiators approved Monday. Both the Obama administration and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde expressed disappointment but pledged to keep working to win congressional support.

The overhaul was adopted by the IMF’s governing board in 2010. The plan would have doubled the IMF’s lending capacity to about $733 billion.

From Bloomberg, a lack of compassion:

Moms in ‘Survival Mode’ as U.S. Trails World on Benefits

[O]nly 12 percent of workers get paid time off to care for a baby or a sick parent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Rhode Island this month became the third state to start a paid family leave insurance program, which was initiated by California in 2004 and by New Jersey in 2009.

A bill introduced last month in Congress would create a similar model nationally. That would make more women eligible for a benefit usually offered in the U.S. only at large companies such as Bank of America Corp. or Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Papua New Guinea is the only other nation that doesn’t provide or require a paid maternity leave, according to information on 185 countries compiled by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. It recommends 14 weeks off at a level no lower than two-thirds of previous earnings.

And more bad news for California’s Fourth Estate from LA Observed:

Register to lay off 39 more at Riverside P-E

A second round of layoffs at the Riverside Press-Enterprise since the purchase last fall by Freedom Communications includes 39 back-office, newsroom, information technology and production workers, the OC Register reports. The story explains that the newsroom losses involve “eight full-time and four part-time copy editor/designers,” but that some expected hiring of new reporters will even it out with “no net loss of jobs in the newsroom.”

Last month, the new Freedom management team in Riverside laid off 42 employees as part of the paper’s restructuring. That reduction included some newsroom positions.

Meanwhile, the nation heads further down the neoliberal road charted by the Reagan administration, with Obama even emulating the Gipper’s so-ca;;ed “enterprise zones.” From The Jacobin:

President Obama’s “Promise Zones” anti-poverty program is a Trojan horse for deregulation.

Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a handful of “Promise Zones” in deprived areas of the United States. While the policy sounds like a euphemism from a forty-year-old sex ed pamphlet, it is in fact the administration’s most recent attempt to tackle poverty in the country.

Obama has promised more than twenty such zones before the end of his term — the first five in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, and eight counties in Kentucky. Residents of the zones can expect a bundle of deregulatory measures designed to speed up their access to pre-existing programs and encourage capital investment. These areas will be given bonus points when competing with other locales for aid from various federal programs, and businesses will be given tax breaks as incentives for moving to “Promise Zones.” Some of the locations will receive a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers as part of the program. The policy will also remove “financial deterrents to marriage” for couples on a low income as part of an attempt to “strengthen families.”

Crucially, no new federal money will be allocated.

Big boxing from The Guardian:

US files complaint against Walmart for allegedly violating workers’ rights

  • Board points to disciplinary action against striking employees
  • Walmart fired 19 workers who took part in protests

US officials filed a formal complaint Wednesday charging that Walmart violated the rights of workers who took part in protests and strikes against the company.

The National Labor Relations Board says Walmart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions at the nation’s largest retailer.

In These Times tallies trade pact costs:

NAFTA’s Trail of Destruction

Twenty years after NAFTA, income inequality and the trade deficit have skyrocketed.

That giant sucking sound predicted by Ross Perot commenced 20 years ago last week. It is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) vacuuming up U.S. jobs and depositing them in Mexico.

Independent presidential candidate Perot was right. NAFTA swept U.S. industry south of the border. It made Wall Street happy. It made multi-national corporations obscenely profitable. But it destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of American workers.

NAFTA’s backers promised it would create American jobs, just as promoters of the Korean and Chinese trade arrangements said they would and advocates of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal contend it will. They were—and still are—brutally wrong. NAFTA, the Korean deal and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization killed American jobs. They lowered wages. They diminished what America cherishes: opportunity. They contributed to the very ill that President Obama is crusading against: income inequality. There is no evidence the TPP would be any different. American workers need a new trade philosophy, one that protects them and puts people first, not corporations.

Canada next, and a depreciation from CBC News:

Loonie expected to spiral lower in 2014

  • Exporters happy, but travellers and shoppers may pay

The Canadian dollar is expected to spiral lower throughout 2014, after a 3.1 per cent slide in the first two weeks of the year has taken the loonie to its lowest levels since 2009.

On Wednesday, the loonie was down 0.07 to 91.27 US before recovering to 91.42 at midday.

The stronger U.S. economy is putting pressure on the loonie, with earnings from bellwether stock Bank of America rising and U.S. job numbers in recovery. A report from the World Bank showing a recovering global economy also reflects badly on Canada.

And a global headline from the Associated Press:

IMF head urges caution to avoid harming recovery

The head of the International Monetary Fund warned policymakers on Wednesday to avoid mistakes that could derail a fragile global recovery.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that Congress should promptly increase the U.S. government’s borrowing limit and the Federal Reserve should avoid withdrawing its financial support too rapidly.

Lagarde noted that the world economy is still feeling the impact of the Great Recession and 2008 financial crisis.

Europe next, and beyond the pale from Spiegel:

Green Fade-Out: Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals

Europe may be backing away from its ambitious climate protection goals.

The EU’s reputation as a model of environmental responsibility may soon be history. The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking — jeopardizing Germany’s touted energy revolution in the process.

The climate between Brussels and Berlin is polluted, something European Commission officials attribute, among other things, to the “reckless” way German Chancellor Angela Merkel blocked stricter exhaust emissions during her re-election campaign to placate domestic automotive manufacturers like Daimler and BMW. This kind of blatant self-interest, officials complained at the time, is poisoning the climate.

But now it seems that the climate is no longer of much importance to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, either. Commission sources have long been hinting that the body intends to move away from ambitious climate protection goals. On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported as much.

On to Britain and a declaration from EUobserver:

‘Reform or we leave EU,’ warns British chancellor

The UK will leave the European Union if the bloc refuses to reform, the country’s chancellor George Osborne said on Wednesday (15 January).

Speaking at the start of a two day conference on EU reform organised by the Open Europe think tank, Osborne said that the EU had to decide whether to “reform or decline”.

“It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline,” he added.

Contra-bluster from EUobserver:

UK to benefit from Bulgarian and Romanian migrants, study says

A Swedish economist has said Bulgarians and Romanians who work in other EU states are likely to contribute more to the economy than they take out in benefits.

A study published last week by Joakim Ruist, a research fellow at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, found that the UK and Ireland stand to benefit the most from the net contributions.

“The UK and Ireland seem to be two countries in which there are good reasons to expect even more positive results,” Ruist told this website on Wednesday (15 January).

The Independent gets real:

UK immigration: Fewer than 30 Romanian arrivals since border restrictions lifted, says country’s ambassador to Britain

Diplomat also says ten UK companies had been in touch with his embassy, wanting to employ Romanians

Fewer than 30 Romanians have arrived in the UK since the lifting of border restrictions on New Year’s Day, the country’s ambassador to Britain estimates.

Ion Jinga offered the estimate in a comment piece in the Telgraph, insisting that the restictions’ lifting was “the beginning of a win-win game” for both countries.

On 1 January this year, people from Romania and Bulgaria gained the same working rights as other European Union citizens in eight countries, including the UK, Germany, Austria and France. It was hyped in some sections of the press as the day floods of migrants would sweep the country, further encumbering the welfare state.

But Mr Jinga wrote that these floods never materialised, though exact numbers aren’t available. In the UK, new arrivals aren’t made to register with local authorities, but he inferred the numbers from those arriving in the Netherlands, where registration is required.

Sky News offers bounties:

Vouchers For Officials Who Block Asylum Cases

The reward scheme has been set up to encourage Home Office staff to get failed asylum seekers removed from the UK.

Gift vouchers, holiday days and cash bonuses are being offered to Home Office staff who stop failed asylum seekers staying in Britain.

High street shopping vouchers worth up to £50 are dished out to immigration officers who win appeals against Government decisions that the asylum seekers should leave the country.

The incentives are offered as part of a Home Office reward scheme under which all the Whitehall department’s staff are able to win the perks.

Norway next, and business as usual from TheLocal.no:

Yara fined for ‘extraordinary corruption’

Norwegian fertiliser giant Yara International has been fined 295 million kroner ($50m) for bribing high-ranking government officials in Libya and India after an investigation by Norway’s economic crime agency Økokrim.

“It is an extraordinarily serious case of corruption,” Økokrim said in a statement. “The company bribed the oil minister in Gaddafi’s government in Libya, and a senior government official in India. The use of bribes was not a one-time event, but was used in three different countries and for contracts running over many years.”

EurActiv backs off:

Norway backpedals on EU single market compliance pledge

Though Norway promised in November it would live up to its obligations under the EU single market, the Liberal Party which supports the Norwegian government has changed its mind and said it would forge ahead with punitive taxes on imported EU goods.

For more than a year, the European Commission has complained that Norway, a country which is not an EU member state but has access to the single market via its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), has put extra taxes on imported goods from the EU and failed to implement more than 400 directives, effectively obstructing the EU’s single market.

On 1 January 2013, Norway introduced a tax on certain imported goods, bringing the price of imported EU cheese up by 277% and the the price of imported hydrangea flowers by 72%.

Bernt Reitan, Yara’s chairman, said that the company’s own investigations backed up the bribery charge.

On to Germany, feebly, with BBC News:

German economic growth weaker than expected

Porsche cars ready for export Improvements in the eurozone and US economies are expected to boost German exports this year

Germany’s economy grew by a weaker-than-expected 0.4% in 2013 according to the first official estimates. That is down from the 0.7% growth Europe’s largest economy saw in 2012.

The preliminary figure from the German statistics agency suggests Germany saw little or no growth in the final three months of the year. However, most economists expect the economy to bounce back in 2014 with growth of up to 2%. The government is forecasting 1.7%.

Knockin’ at the door with Spiegel:

Welfare for Immigrants: EU Wants Fortress Germany to Open Up

Brussels is demanding that even foreigners who have never worked in Germany should have access to the country’s unemployment benefits if they hail from an EU member state. The EU is firing Germany’s already overheated immigration debate.

Officials with the Commission, the EU’s executive body, said last week they in no way want to water down “clauses designed to protect against benefit tourism.” At the same time, they also reiterated that they consider one of the central provisions of German social security law to be illegal. The idea that Germany can reject social support to EU nationals without a job runs counter to current EU law, they argue.

On to France with a neoliberal endorsement from the London Telegraph:

Francois Hollande vows ‘supply-side’ assault on French state, doubles down on EMU austerity agenda

French leader Francois Hollande stuns left-wing of his own Socialist Party by calling for a new economic strategy based on “supply-side” policies

French president François Hollande has vowed an “electro-shock” to lift the French economy out of deep slump, promising to shrink the elephantine state and push through a raft of pro-business reforms.

The embattled French leader stunned the left-wing of his own Socialist Party by calling for a new economic strategy based on “supply-side” policies, accompanied by €30bn of fresh spending cuts by 2017 to pave the way for lower taxes and charges on companies.

Endorsement, from EUbusiness:

Hollande measures ‘right direction’ for French economy: EU

Measures announced by French President Francois Hollande to cut public spending and business costs go “in the right direction” and will help the economy, the European Commission said Wednesday.

The steps “are in line with recommendations we made last year … they will boost competitiveness … and have a positive effect on growth and jobs in France,” Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said.

“We share (President Hollande’s) position that substantial savings have to be found … we are happy to see these measures going … in the right direction,” Bailly said.

Another endorsement from RFI:

Germany welcomes Hollande’s turn to austerity

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-wing party, the CDU, has welcomed French President François Hollande’s announcement of budget cuts and help to business at a much-publicised press conference on Tuesday. The French right has given the package a mixed reception.

“What the French president presented yesterday is, firstly, courageous,” Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters. “That seems to me to be the right way, not only for France, but it can also be a contribution that brings Europe as a whole a bit stronger” out of the region’s financial crisis.

And that old hard times intolerance, as administered with socialist [snicker] Hollandaise sauce by GlobalPost:

France evicted record 19,000 Roma migrants in 2013

France forcibly evicted a record 19,380 Roma migrants in 2013, more than double the figure the previous year, two rights groups said in a joint report on Tuesday.

“In comparison 9,404 Roma were forcibly evicted by authorities in 2012 and 8,455 in 2011,” the Human Rights League (LDH) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) said.

“Forced evictions continued almost everywhere without credible alternative housing solutions or social support,” they said.

TheLocal.fr finds a parallel:

Big business and Europe hail ‘France’s Tony Blair’

The French President François Hollande’s planned reforms to cut labour costs for businesses by €30 billion were hailed by big business, European finance chiefs, and even his enemies on the right on Wednesday and led many to conclude that France had found its own Tony Blair.

Business leaders, European finance chiefs, the Germans and even his sworn enemies on the Right of French politics were all happy. However, there were few smiles on the Left .

This was the general reaction to Hollande’s speech given during a high profile press conference, in which he managed to dodge a grilling about his private life, to announce several planned economic reforms that included cuts to taxes, labour costs and public spending.

And on another note, this from EurActiv:

Defiance against the EU reaches record levels in France: Poll

Trust in national and European institutions has hit a record-low in France, according to a recent poll, leading to a feeling of “gloom” among a growing number of citizens, and perhaps even a rise in support for the reinstatement of the death penalty, EurActiv France reports.

“It’s not a confidence but a defiance poll this time,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of SciencesPo University’s Centre of French Political Studies (CEVIPOF).

Perrineau was addressing the press as he presented the results of a new survey about French people’s confidence in politics, carried out at the end of November among 1,803 citizens.

Since the polls began in 2009, the feeling of exasperation has become more widespread among those surveyed. For the first time, the people surveyed used the word “gloom” to define their current environment.

On to Switzerland with TheLocal.ch and the inevitable suspects:

Swiss scrap social aid for European job seekers

Bern moved on Wednesday to scrap aid for European jobhunters, as rapidly rising immigration to the country fueled fears of “benefits tourism”.

EU citizens as well as those from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway “who come to Switzerland to look for work will have no right to social assistance,” the Federal Office for Migration said in a statement.

Those who hold a Swiss residency permit but who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, would also lose the permit after five years in the country, it added.

Foreigners made up almost a quarter of Switzerland’s eight million residents last year — 3.3 percent more than in 2012, according to official data.

Spaon next, with labor news from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s first prostitute union formed in Ibiza

Prostitutes in the Spanish tourist island of Ibiza have formed a sex workers’ cooperative to pay taxes and gain social security benefits — the first such group legally registered in Spain, they say.

Eleven women registered with local authorities as working members of the Sealeer Cooperative providing sexual services, said their spokeswoman, María Josí López.

“We are pioneers,” she told AFP. “We are the first cooperative in Spain that can give legal cover to the girls.”

Europe Online continues deflating:

Spain reports lowest inflation rate in more than 50 years

Spain finished 2013 with an inflation rate of 0.3 per cent, the lowest annual increase in consumer prices since 1961, data released Wednesday by the National Statistics Institute showed.

The rate is a stark contrast to the consumer price increase of the past few years. Spain recorded an annual inflation rate of 2.9 per cent in 2012, preceded by 2.4 in 2011 and 3 per cent in 2010.

Consumer prices in most areas stagnated over the past year, including prices for culture, entertainment and apparel. Only the transportation sector recorded price increases, and a rise in fuel costs contributed to a small bump in the overall index in December.

TheLocal.es states a demand:

‘Spain must step up war on corruption’: EU

Spain needs to ramp up its fight against corruption by introducing key reforms aimed at greater transparency, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group said in a new report released on Wednesday.

Corruption in Spain is threatening institutional credibility, said the Council of Europe anti-corruption group (Greco) in its new report.

Citing the numerous corruption scandals in the country and a general lack of public faith in the country’s politicians, the group noted that Spain was slipping in the annual ratings issued by Transparency International.

And more blowback to planned laws to restrict abortions via El País:

Extremadura PP urges government to shelve abortion reform

  • Eurodeputies open new front in Brussels in united rejection of “human rights violation”

The voices of opposition to the government’s proposed reform of the Abortion Law within the Popular Party grew to a chorus Wednesday when the conservative group in the Extremadura regional assembly drew up a motion urging Mariano Rajoy’s administration to “open a process of dialogue and debate with other political forces” to seek a less divisive reform “in keeping with today’s plural and educated society, and that is in line with legislation in neighboring countries.”

Regional premier José Antonio Monago, of the PP, also stressed that the government should not push ahead with its reform unilaterally and that the new law must include “the rational combination of time periods with the regulation of specific scenarios such as fetal abnormalities, pregnancy of minors and instances of rape.”

The Portugal News brings theatrical woes:

Box office struggling

Portuguese movie theatres attracted 1.3 million fewer spectators in 2013 than the year before, translating into a year-on-year loss of more than 8.5 million euros.

According to figures from the Cinema and Audiovisual Institute last year’s drop in occupied seats is even more pronounced when compared with 2011.

After jump, the latest from Greece, Russian stagflation, Ukrainian sanctions, Latin American inflation, Aussie dollar woes, Indonesian healthcare, Chinese finances, nuclear power proliferation, GMOs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, laws, tricks


Welcome to the dark side, the world of covert ops of overt oops.

We begin with a headline designed to make a real truly insecure, via USA TODAY:

Nuclear missile officers caught in cheating scandal

The Air Force said Wednesday it has uncovered a test cheating ring at a ballistic missile base in Montana that implicated 34 missile launch officers.

The investigation found that some officers were electronically sharing answers on a monthly proficiency test, the Air Force said.

The officers either cheated on the test or knew about it and did nothing to stop or report it, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.

Computerworld courts the ex parte:

FISA judges oppose plan for privacy advocate

  • Say plan to add privacy advocate to secret court could hamper its work

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges have said the creation of a privacy advocate in the secret court could be counterproductive and hamper its work.

The FISC court was set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires the government to obtain a judicial warrant for certain kinds of intelligence gathering operations.

The creation of the position of a privacy advocate, to represent privacy and civil liberty issues in the court, was first suggested in August by U.S. President Barack Obama in the wake of demands for reforms of the surveillance programs of the National Security Agency. The agency came under scrutiny after disclosures through newspaper reports by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, of its dragnet surveillance, including the bulk collection of phone records of Americans.

Deutsche Welle divides:

US Congress divided on NSA reform proposals

A US Senate intelligence review panel has found shortcomings in the NSA spy agency. The panel of experts has been cross-examined by a Senate committee, which made an effort to calm concerns about implementing reforms.

The National Security Agency (NSA) must be reformed: The review panel is unanimous on this point, even if Congress is not.

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the judiciary committee that interviewed the intelligence experts, gave the hand-picked panel his backing. “I believe strongly that we must impose stronger limits on government surveillance powers,” the Democrat said on Tuesday (14.01.2014) at the start of the hearing. But those called to testify before the committee apparently did not want to put it as starkly as that. The five authors of the 308-page report entitled, “Liberty and Security in a Changing World,” were adamant about not jeopardizing the work of the NSA.

“Much of our focus has been on maintaining the ability of the intelligence-community to do what it needs to do,” said one of the panel, law professor Cass Sunstein. “And we emphasize – if there is one thing to emphasize, it is this – that not one of the 46 recommendations of our report would in our view compromise or jeopardize this ability in any way.”

CNN stonewalls:

NSA to senator: If we were collecting your phone records, we couldn’t tell you

National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander, in response to a letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders, said Tuesday that nothing the agency does “can fairly be characterized as ‘spying on Members of Congress or American elected officials.’”

Alexander did not offer any further details about members of Congress specifically, arguing that doing so would require him to violate the civilian protections incorporated into the surveillance programs.

“Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups,” Alexander wrote.

Sanders, I-Vermont, had written to Alexander earlier this month asking whether the NSA is currently spying “on members of Congress or other American elected officials” or had in the past.

The New York Times simulates Hope™, refuses Change™:

Obama to Place Some Restraints on Surveillance

President Obama will issue new guidelines on Friday to curtail government surveillance, but will not embrace the most far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and will ask Congress to help decide some of the toughest issues, according to people briefed on his thinking.

Mr. Obama plans to increase limits on access to bulk telephone data, call for privacy safeguards for foreigners and propose the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court. But he will not endorse leaving bulk data in the custody of telecommunications firms, nor will he require court permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.

Techdirt nails it:

Obama Plans Cosmetic Changes To NSA: Embraces ‘The Spirit Of Reform’ But Not The Substance

  • from the as-expected dept

The expectation all along was that the President’s intelligence task force was likely to recommend cosmetic changes while leaving the worst abuses in place. And, in fact, many of us were quite surprised to see the panel’s actual recommendations had more teeth than expected (though, certainly did not go nearly far enough). It was pretty quickly suggested that President Obama wouldn’t support the most significant changes, and now that he’s set to announce his plan on Friday, it’s already leaked out that he’s going to support very minimal reforms that leave the problematic spying programs of the NSA effectively in place as is.

And The Guardian delivers the symbolic:

NSA reform measures quietly included in $1.1tn spending bill

  • Compromise spending package contains provisions asking the NSA to quantify the effectiveness of its surveillance program

Congress is calling on the National Security Agency to detail the effectiveness of its bulk data collection programmes and will outlaw certain types of domestic surveillance, using two little-noticed clauses included in its giant federal spending bill.

The $1.1tn budget bill passed the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon by 359-67 votes and is expected to become law after clearing the Senate as soon as Friday.

But in a sign of pent-up reform pressure on Capitol Hill, two measures dealing with the NSA were quietly included in the 1,600-page spending text with relatively little fanfare – or opposition from the White House – and are likely to pave the way for more binding legislative efforts once President Barack Obama outlines his own response to the surveillance scandal on Friday.

And the latest NSA spooky doings revelation, via the New York Times:

N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers

The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.

While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials.

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.

Deutsche Welle fumes:

Opposition hits out at progress in Germany-US ‘no-spy agreement’

Talks over a potential ‘no-spy agreement’ with the US appear to be stalling. Germany’s opposition parliamentarians have hit out at the government’s handling of the affair, calling it the “scandal after the scandal.”

The Left party’s parliamentary home affairs expert, Jan Korte, told a special session of the Bundestag on Wednesday convened to discuss the fledgling ‘no-spy agreement’ negotiations that the German government’s handling of the NSA affair has now become the “main problem.”

Instead of just expressing their dissatisfaction with the negotiations over the proposed agreement with the US, Germany must also pull out of the planned European Union-US trade agreement, Korte said. “This is a language the Americans understand,” he added.

Greens data protection expert Konstantin von Notz accused the government of months of “transfiguration and cover-up” during the affair. “This is the scandal after the scandal,” said von Notz, adding that the no-spy agreement was an “inadequate attempt” to resolve the US National Security Agency’s violation of international law.

Spiegel has a pessimistic take:

‘The Americans Lied’: Trans-Atlantic ‘No-Spy’ Deal on the Rocks

Berlin wants a deal with the US that prohibits trans-Atlantic spying, but Washington seems uninterested.

Last summer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised her citizens a pact which would prohibit US spying on German citizens. But since then, Washington has shown little interest in pursuing such a treaty. Now, officials in Germany fear the deal is dead.

Failed talks? Hardly. The negotiations “are continuing,” says Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). “We are still talking,” says the German government. In other words, nothing has yet been decided. The No-Spy deal is still alive.

But the statements coming out of Berlin and Pullach, where the BND is headquartered, reek of forced optimism. Nobody wants it to look as though efforts have been abandoned toward a deal which would see the US agree to swear off spying operations in Germany. Yet despite the assertions, most of those involved are slowly coming to the realization that a surveillance deal between Washington and Berlin isn’t likely to become reality. The US government is still digging in its heels.

EUbusiness deliberates:

Berlin hosting talks for EU ‘no-spy’ pact: report

Germany has hosted confidential EU talks for months to forge a “no-spying” pact among its member states, a drive opposed especially by Britain, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

The pre-released Sueddeutsche Zeitung report came a day after the Munich daily said that similar US-German talks were seen close to failure, sparking denials from both Berlin and Washington.

Both sets of talks follow revelations by fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of American mass surveillance of global online and phone data in cooperation with Britain’s GCHQ service.

The Washington Post drones on, prolifically:

Border-patrol drones being borrowed by other agencies more often than previously known

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are increasingly borrowing border-patrol drones for domestic surveillance operations, newly released records show, a harbinger of what is expected to become the commonplace use of unmanned aircraft by police.

Customs and Border Protection, which has the largest U.S. drone fleet of its kind outside the Defense Department, flew nearly 700 such surveillance missions on behalf of other agencies from 2010 to 2012, according to flight logs released recently in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group.

The records show that the border–patrol drones are being commissioned by other agencies more often than previously known. Most of the missions are performed for the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration and immigration authorities. But they also aid in disaster relief and in the search for marijuana crops, methamphetamine labs and missing persons, among other missions not directly related to border protection.

MintPress News goes Post-al:

Activists Continue To Push Washington Post To Disclose Its CIA Connection

But Executive Editor Martin Baron said the newspaper doesn’t need to routinely inform readers of the CIA-Amazon-Bezos ties when reporting on the CIA.

In this May 6, 2009 file photo Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, introduces the Kindle DX at a news conference in New York. The Kindle DX has a larger 9.7 inch screen than its predecessor, the Kindle 2, and can be ordered for $489 for delivery this summer. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

After collecting some 33,000 signatures, a group of activists say they are ready to deliver a petition to the Washington Post on Wednesday, asking the paper to disclose to the public that the paper’s owner Jeff Bezos not only works with, but profits from the CIA.

Started by the progressive online organization RootsAction, which advocates for economic fairness, equal rights, civil liberties, environmental protection and defunding endless wars, the petition says that “a basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage.”

From China Daily, insecurity:

UK moves away from Chinese telecom equipment

Accusations about “information security” directed toward Chinese communication equipment should based on facts or investigative results rather than concerns raised by possible “vulnerabilities”, observers said on Tuesday after British ministries dumped Chinese products.

British government departments such as the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Crown Prosecution Service are all said to have stopped using equipment manufactured by Chinese telecom company Huawei amid fears they are being used by the Chinese government to eavesdrop, according to a report by the UK’s Sunday Mirror.

A briefing was sent to all ministerial departments urging them to stop using the video-conferencing equipment, the newspaper said, adding that there are possible “vulnerabilities” that have caused widespread concern.

Wired wins:

Scholar Wins Court Battle to Purge Name From U.S. No-Fly List

A former Stanford University student who sued the government over her placement on a U.S. government no-fly list is not a threat to national security and was the victim of a bureaucratic “mistake,” a federal judge ruled today.

The decision makes Rahinah Ibrahim, 48, the first person to successfully challenge placement on a government watch list.

Ibrahim’s saga began in 2005 when she was a visiting doctoral student in architecture and design from Malaysia. On her way to Kona, Hawaii to present a paper on affordable housing, Ibrahim was told she was on a watch list, detained, handcuffed and questioned for two hou

The New York Times palavers:

Syria Says It Held Talks With Western Spies About Jihadis

As Western countries display increasing alarm at the strength of multinational Islamist extremists among rebels in Syria opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, a Syrian official was quoted on Wednesday as saying Western intelligence agencies had sent representatives to Damascus to discuss the phenomenon with the government there.

If confirmed, the assertion by the official, Faisal Mekdad, the deputy foreign minister, would mean that while Western politicians have publicly called for Mr. Assad’s ouster, their own intelligence subordinates were privately collaborating with Mr. Assad’s lieutenants.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Mekdad was asked whether representatives of Western intelligence agencies — including those of Britain — had recently traveled to Damascus. “I will not specify them but many of them have visited Damascus, yes,” he replied.

After the jump, security crises in Asia, spook-thwarting software and tech [marketed and stolen], plus some corporate cyberstalking. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuMania


We begin today’s headlines close to home with Al Jazeera America:

North California drought threatens farmers, ag workers, cities – and you

  • Driest conditions in 100 years could hit the nation’s food basket hard, affecting half of US fruits and vegetables

Water shortages are affecting urban areas too. Voluntary and mandatory water restrictions are in effect in Northern California cities and counties. Mendocino declared a state of emergency. The city of Folsom’s 72,000 residents are under mandatory water restrictions: Limit lawn watering to twice a week, use a shutoff valve on hoses when washing cars.

Meanwhile, in Santa Cruz, residents can’t wash paved surfaces and may be cited if they water their yards between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Local restaurants may serve water only on request, and swimming pools may not be drained and refilled. If the drought continues, restrictions will get tighter, said Eileen Cross, the city’s community-relations manager.

The Globe and Mail delivers a blow:

Internet neutrality rules struck down by U.S. appeals court

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday struck down the government’s latest effort to require internet providers to treat all traffic the same and give consumers equal access to lawful content, a policy that supporters call net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission did not have the legal authority to enact the 2011 regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit brought by Verizon Communications Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in its ruling.

“Even though the commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates,” Judge David Tatel said.

MIT Technology Review parses consequences:

Net Neutrality Quashed: New Pricing Schemes, Throttling, and Business Models to Follow

Depending on who you ask, a court loss for “net neutrality” will mean either a new era of innovation or preferential treatment and higher costs.

The Internet was built on the principle that all packets of data should be treated equally, which shaped the products and companies built on top of it.

A decision issued today by a U.S. federal appeals court struck down parts of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet, or “net neutrality,” rules issued in 2010. Accepting much of a challenge by Verizon, the court killed the FCC’s policies that aimed to prevent data-discrimination or data blocking. But the ruling does require carriers to disclose when they block, slow, or expedite various kinds of traffic in the future.

The results could be far-reaching. Consumers may see new offerings such as free content from companies willing to pay carriers extra for delivery; app companies could find themselves charged a fee to ensure that their videos get glitch-free performance; and e-commerce companies could be asked to pay to make sure their bits go through quickly enough to close a sale.

Quartz stays:

Jamie Dimon says he has no plans to step down as CEO after $22 billion in fines

A feisty Jamie Dimon said that he’s not planning on resigning in the wake of a raft of fines that has plagued JP Morgan over the past year. Asked if he would consider resigning on a conference call this morning to discuss the bank’s fourth-quarter results with reporters, the chairman and CEO fired off: “No, no and no.” He qualified his comments in the same breath, “And it’s all up to the board.”

JP Morgan has faced a litany of legal fines related to its business practices—resulting, last quarter, in its first-ever loss under Dimon’s tenure. Most recently, the firm was fined $2.6 billion for charges that it had turned a blind eye to signs of fraud in the massive Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. That fine, the firm reported today, drove down quarterly profits for the latest quarter by 7.3%. Overall, the sprawling firm has been hit with $22 billion in fines and penalties in the past year.

Sources have also told Quartz that Dimon has no intention of stepping down. So far both of directors of the firm and investors have expressed support of the 57-year old exec, who took the helm of the bank in 2005, the sources say.

From Salon, academia vanquished:

GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms

  • In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

TheLocal.no invests:

Oil fund in $480m San Francisco office deal

Norway’s Oil Fund has struck a $480m deal to buy stakes in office blocks in San Francisco and Washington DC, as it continues its push to increase the proportion of property investments in its portfolio.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages Norway’s Government Pension Fund or Oil Fund, teamed up for the deal with the US insurer MetLife, with whom it did a deal to buy stakes in a financial centre in Boston in December.

“With these two investments, we are expanding our joint venture with MetLife in line with our strategy and original intent,” Karsten Kallevig, chief investment officer for real estate at Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), said.

“Our growing partnership with NBIM speaks to our strong capabilities in the asset-management business,” said Robert Merck, global head of real estate investments at New York-based MetLife.

On to Canada with the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canadian home prices return to record high

Canadian home prices ticked back up to a record high in December, thanks entirely to Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index.

The 0.1-per-cent rise in home prices in December reversed a 0.1-per-cent decline in November, and returned the index to its all-time high.

But the majority of the 11 cities that the index tracks have seen prices edge down in recent months. Winnipeg, Calgary, Ottawa-Gatineau, Quebec City, Montreal, Hamilton, Halifax and Vancouver each saw prices decrease from November to December.

On to Europe, first with a tussle from EUbusiness:

Euro-MPs take ‘Troika’ to task

EU lawmakers took the ‘Troika’ to task Tuesday, seeking answers about how the controversial trio of international creditors ran painful eurozone debt bailouts which encouraged austerity instead of growth.

European Parliament deputies asked who among the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund should be held to account for the policies followed since 2010.

They were also keen to hear how economic forecasts, key to the bailout programmes and aid payments, fell short, especially in the case of Greece which required a second massive rescue marked by even more tough austerity provisions.

And a Troikarch spins it, from EUobserver:

Former ECB chief blames governments for euro-crisis

The former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet, has blamed EU governments for what he called the “worst economic crisis since World War II” and said the eurozone is still at risk.

Trichet, who led the ECB between 2003 and 2011, spoke out on Tuesday (14 January) at a European Parliament hearing on the “troika” of international lenders which managed bailouts in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Echoing EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn’s remarks to MEPs ealier this week, Trichet underlined the “extraordinary” and unpredictable nature of the euro-crisis.

A threat assessed with TheLocal.se:

Extreme right ‘biggest threat to EU’: Malmström

An EU push to counter extremism will give member states cash to help defectors, with Sweden’s European Commissioner identifying right-wing extremists as the biggest threat in the union today.

“The biggest threat right now comes from violent right-wing extremism,” Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Tuesday. “For example in Greece and in Bulgaria, but also in Hungary.”

Malmström said both right-wing and left-wing extremists were radicalizing in Europe.

On to Britain with an ultimatum from The Independent:

George Osborne to tell EU to ‘reform or decline’ in speech to Tory party’s Eurosceptics

  • The latest outbreak of infighting over Europe has placed fresh strain on Coalition unity, with one senior Lib Dem figure likening David Cameron to Neville Chamberlain in his willingness to appease

The European Union will be challenged by George Osborne today to “reform or decline”, as backbench pressure intensifies on the Tory leadership to demand the return of widespread powers from Brussels.

The latest outbreak of infighting over Europe has placed fresh strain on Coalition unity, with one senior Liberal Democrat figure provocatively likening David Cameron to Neville Chamberlain in his willingness to appease Eurosceptic critics.

The source claimed that continuing concessions by the Prime Minister echoed his predecessor’s behaviour in negotiating with Hitler ahead of the Second World War.

The Guardian stiffs the poor:

Warning that fund for poorer students faces £200m cutback

  • Treasury targets cash for disadvantaged students as Labour says coalition is punishing the poorest again

Funds to help disadvantaged students attend university could be slashed by as much as 60% as the Treasury seeks to close the budget deficit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), according to a group that represents universities.

The student opportunity fund – a £327m programme for disadvantaged students paid to universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) – could be slashed by about £200m, it fears, after wrangling between the Treasury and BIS over the latter department’s shortfall, caused in part by an explosion in course fees paid to private further education providers.

The million+ policy group, which represents many new universities, claimed that the Treasury and the Cabinet Office were pressing for the reductions as part of the cost savings being imposed on BIS.

Ireland next and another no from the Irish Times:

New party seeks euro exit and end to immigration

  • National Independent Party to run European election candidates in new South constituency

Ireland’s newest political party, the National Independent Party, has said it favours exiting the euro and opposes economic migration.

Formally launched in Dublin today, it has an estimated 120 members and lodged its registration papers as a political party to run a limited campaign in Dublin and Limerick for the local elections.

It then aims to reach a 300-member threshold and run in the 2016 general election.

Austerity to come from the Health Service Executive via the Irish Times:

HSE chief raises prospect of further cutbacks in health service

  • O’Brien tells Oireachtas committee it will not be possible to meet fully all demands

HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien held out the prospect of further health cutbacks this year given the financial challenge facing the service.

Mr O’Brien said this evening it will not be possible to meet fully all of the growing demands being placed on the health service this year.

Addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, he said that “some service priorities and demographic pressures may not be met”.

On to Germany, with a bonus from EurActiv:

German banks too slow to cap bonuses, says watchdog

Germany’s banks have made little progress on efforts to curb bonuses of top managers ahead of new European rules designed to control the type of risky behaviour that fuelled the financial crisis, the country’s financial watchdog said on Monday (13 January).

Only four of the 15 banks that Bafin examined last year capped bankers’ bonuses at the level of their base salaries, in line with the European Union-wide rule that came into force this year.

“We are not entirely happy with any bank,” Bafin chief Raimund Röseler told journalists.

France next, and another presidential promise evaporates, from TheLocal.fr:

France doubles number of Roma evictions

France’s controversial expulsions of Roma, which has drawn condemnation from the European Commission, hit a record high in 2013. A new report says nearly 20,000 were deported – double the number that were expelled in 2012.

France expelled nearly 20,000 Roma people in 2013, which is not only a record, but more than double the number kicked out of the country the previous year.

Despite President François Hollande’s criticisms of his predecessor’s policy towards the Roma, the number of expulsions has been climbing since he took office in 2012, French newspaper L’Express reported. About 9,400 were expelled in 2012 and 8,400 were forced out in 2011.

“The expulsions are part of a policy of refusal,” of the Roma, “that has got worse since the left-leaning government took power,” the report says. “The authorities want only one thing: send the Roma back to their country of origin.”

Spain next, and class war from El País:

Wage gap in Spain widens hastening the decline of the middle classes

  • Remunerations of directors rose seven percent last year as middle management salaries fell, according to a study

The salary gap in Spain is getting bigger. While directors saw their remuneration rise by 6.9 percent last year, middle management suffered a fall of 3.8 percent and workers a drop of 0.4 percent.

The figures released Tuesday, in an annual report carried out by Barcelona business school Eada and the consultant ICSA, are further proof of the unraveling of the middle classes, according to the director of the study, Ernest Poveda. “What we’re seeing is a clear polarization trend: with a rise in what directors receive and a fall in the rest — two segments where wages are moving downward to the same level, that is where the trend is one of homogenization, while those who earn the most earn even more.”

The study, which is based on 80,000 interviews, shows that the average salary of directors has been on the rise in spite of the crisis, with the exception of 2009. The average annual gross salary of this group rose from 68,705 euros to 80,330 last year. Workers and middle management saw an increase in what they earn in 2008 and 2009 before experiencing falls thereafter. The average gross salary of middle managers last year was 36,522 euros, and for other employees it was 21,307 euros.

Along the same line, from TheLocal.es:

Credit squeeze ‘killing’ 90 Spanish firms a day

Spanish banks, alarmed by multiple bankruptcies and mass unemployment, are keeping a tight rein on loans and potentially choking off the lifeblood of a longed-for economic recovery, analysts say.

Insufficient credit threatens to throttle Spain’s fragile recovery, they warn, after a double-dip recession triggered by a 2008 property crash, which left banks awash with bad loans.

Last year, Spain shored up its tottering banks’ balance sheets with a €41.3-billion ($56 billion) programme financed by its eurozone partners.

But the banks have shown reluctance to lend, economists and industry say, as the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy struggles with a 26-percent unemployment rate and, according to official data compiled by auditors PwC, a 20-percent rise in bankruptcy filings in 2013.

Bloomberg totals the tab:

Spain Says CAM Savings Bank Rescue Cost May Reach $21 Billion

Spain’s 2011 bailout of savings bank Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM) may cost as much as 15 billion euros ($21 billion) because its assets performed worse than expected, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said.

Banco Sabadell SA (SAB) bought the failed savings bank known as CAM for 1 euro after Spain’s deposit-guarantee fund, financed by the nation’s banks, injected 5.25 billion euros into the lender and offered guarantees against certain assets souring, shielding the national budget from losses.

De Guindos said yesterday the assets included in the so-called asset-protection plan had performed worse than predicted, and the total cost of the cleanup may amount to as much as 15 billion euros. By comparison, Bankia SA, the lender whose nationalization in 2012 pushed Spain to seek a European banking bailout, took 18 billion euros of European rescue funds and transferred about 22 billion euros of real estate-linked assets to the nation’s so-called bad bank.

El País notes a decline:

House sales in November plunge close to lowest levels since the crisis broke

  • Transactions declined an annual 15.7 percent in the month to 21,847, the second lowest figure since the real estate boom bust

Just a day after Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said that the housing market was beginning to touch bottom in a recovery that is gathering pace, the National Statistics Institute (INE) on Tuesday announced that home sales plunged in November of last year to their second-lowest level since the crisis began around the start of 2008.

The INE said housing transactions in the month shrank by 15.7 percent to 21,847, a figure only above that of April 2012, which coincided with that year’s Easter holidays and therefore had fewer working days.

Despite an accumulated fall in prices since the highs set in 2007 of around 40 percent after a decade-long boom that suddenly burst, house sales have fallen for the last seven straight months. In the first 11 months of last year, home sales dropped 2.1 percent.

On to Lisbon and another decline from the Portugal News:

Bad year for national vehicle production

Last year saw a 5.8 percent slide in overall vehicle production, 3.1 percent below the average for the last five years, with a total of 154,016 vehicles coming out of multinational owned factories in Portugal according to figures from ACAP – the National Car Association published this week.

Adding to glimmers of life flickering back into the economy, December did see a sharp improvement with a total of 9,440 vehicles produced, up 92.3 percent year-on-year as last year automobile firms were mothballing in the run up to the Christmas period having already built up reserve stock levels.

Annual passenger car production was down 5.2 percent year-on-year while the vans, heavy-goods and commercial vehicles shed 6.6 percent, 14.9 percent and 7.3 percent of their output respectively.

ACAP added that 2013 saw car production at “15.4 percent of the average for the last ten years and 3.1 percent below the five-year average.”

Italy next, and a ray fo sunshine from AGI:

Finance Minister reports modest signs of growth

Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, speaking in Milan at a conference on the euro, reported weak and modest signs of growth in the economy. Saccomanni does not underestimate anti-European feeling in various countries just a few months before the elections for the European parliament.

“These feelings are not a surprise considering the unprecedented economic crisis and we must now concentrate on revival and unemployment,” he added.

TheLocal.it blows smoke:

Turin votes in favour of legalizing cannabis

Turin’s city council has approved a motion in favour of making the drug legal for therapeutic purposes, making it the first of Italy’s large cities to do so.

The proposal is an appeal to the Italian Parliament that they “move from a prohibitionist structure to one where soft drugs, particularly cannabis, are legally produced and distributed”. This means that while the vote doesn’t make it legal to consume, buy or sell cannabis for individual use yet, it paves the way for a more tolerant view of the drug in the eyes of the law.

There are two parts to the proposal; the first called for the right to use cannabis for ‘therapeutic’ purposes, something already permitted in Tuscany, Liguria and Veneto, where as well as authorizing pharmacies to sell cannabis-based products, experimental distribution of free medications containing cannabis has been approved in hospitals, as well as direct production of marijuana.

The second part is more drastic: it overrules the Fini-Giovanardi law, by which offences involving cannabis are treated in the same way as those involving cocaine or heroin. This would pave the way for legalization of recreational cannabis use.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, a Turkish proposal, Latin American trade and travails, Indian finance, Thai troubles, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese deficits, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . 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: EconoGrecoFukuPolis


Our collection of economic, political, and environmental events — plus Fukushimapocalypse Now! — begins with the realization of the inevitable, via The Guardian:

China surpasses US as world’s largest trading nation

  • Beijing describes 2013 figures as ‘a landmark milestone’ as annual trade in goods passes the $4tn mark for the first time

China became the world’s largest trading nation in 2013, overtaking the US in what Beijing described as “a landmark milestone” for the country.

China’s annual trade in goods passed the $4tn (£2.4tn) mark for the first time last year according to official data, after exports from the world’s second largest economy rose 7.9% to $2.21tn and imports rose 7.3% to $1.95tn.

The Hill compromises on the backs of the poorest:

Hoyer says House Democrats are ready to swallow $9 billion in food stamp cuts

A bipartisan proposal to cut food stamps by $9 billion would likely pass the lower chamber with support from Democrats, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said this week.

“If that is the figure, and if other matters that are still at issue can be resolved, I think the bill will probably pass, and it will pass with Democratic — some Democratic — support,” Hoyer said Thursday during the taping of C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, which will air Sunday. “Not, certainly, universal Democratic support. … But I think it will pass.”

Bipartisan negotiators from both chambers are said to be nearing a deal on a farm bill that would include roughly $9 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

The Guardian hits a new low:

Number of Americans looking for work at lowest level since 1970s

  • Unemployment rate falls to 6.7% but only 74,000 jobs added
  • Big rise in number of people dropping out of jobs market
  • Participation rate at lowest level for 40 years

The recovery in the US jobs market came to a grinding halt in December as businesses added just 74,000 new jobs, the lowest rise since January 2011.

The report from the US Department of Labor shocked economists on Friday who had been expecting the number to increase by at least 200,000. The report said the unemployment rate had dropped to to 6.7% in December, but the fall was explained almost entirely by people giving up on their search for work.

Only 62.8% of the adult workforce participated in the jobs market in December, down 0.2 percentage points from the previous month. It was the lowest participation rate – the number of people employed or actively looking for work – since the 1970s.

Calling out crucial detail by My Budget 360:

Low wage capitalism with a dab of cronyism: Of job sectors with the highest growing raw number of positions 9 out of 10 will pay $35,000 a year or less with little to non-existent benefits.

There was a big miss with the latest employment report.  The addition of 74,000 jobs produced the weakest employment report going back to January of 2011.  Yet part of this is not a surprise given the weak retail sales over the holidays at the expense of cash strapped American consumers.  If you dig deep into the data you find a continuing pattern of low wage employment taking over the nation.  This trend is accelerating as wealth inequality reaches record proportions.

When the Great Recession struck many good paying jobs were washed away in a bathtub of corporate financialization that has truly set the country on a fast track to economic inequality.  Austerity for the public and corporate welfare for Wall Street.  Even the “Wolf of Wall Street” still lives in a multi-million dollar home in California while fleeced investors take a walk down memory lane.  Low wage jobs are here to stay.  This might be stunning for older Americans but young Americans are faced with this once the minted college degree paid by debt is picked up.  What does it say that the vast majority of the top 10 job sectors in America will pay $35,000 or less?

Reuters invests:

China’s Fuyao Glass to invest $200 million in GM’s former plant in Ohio

China’s largest automotive glass supplier Fuyao Glass Industry Co. will invest $200 million to set up a manufacturing facility at General Motors’ former assembly plant in Ohio.

Fuyao Glass will create 800 jobs at the Moraine, Ohio plant over three years after the start of production at the end of 2015, according to a statement from the Ohio governor’s office.

The investment will be the largest ever made by a Chinese company in Ohio, according to the statement.

New Europe names:

Obama nominates former Bank of Israel head as Fed vice chair, Brainard also gets Fed nod

President Barack Obama intends to nominate Stanley Fischer to be vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Fischer is a former head of the Bank of Israel. He would succeed Janet Yellen, who’s succeeding Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Fischer is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. He’s considered a leading expert on monetary policy. He was a long-time professor at MIT, and Bernanke was one of his students.

The Los Angeles Times defines:

The rich are different — they still get interest-only mortgages

Few of the nontraditional home loans that triggered the financial crisis are still available, and lenders will have even more reason to avoid them now that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s definition of presumably safe and sound mortgages is in effect.

But even though the CFPB’s so-called qualified mortgage standard became official on Friday, one type of loan it excludes — the interest-only mortgage — will remain a common offering for a certain category of borrower: well-off buyers of expensive homes.

Many banks that lend in high-end California markets plan to keep making these loans for affluent clients who want them. Often these are self-employed people capable of maintaining fat bank accounts while making sizable down payments, borrowers the banks say could afford traditional loans but want to maximize their cash available for other investments.

Boing Boing trades:

Trans-Pacific Partnership: how the US Trade Rep is hoping to gut Congress with absurd lies

The US Trade Representative is pushing Congress hard for “Trade Promotion Authority,” which would give the President’s representatives the right to sign treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership without giving Congress any chance to oversee and debate the laws that America is promising to pass. With “Trade Promotion Authority” (also called “fast track”), Congress’s only role in treaties would be to say “yes” or “no” to whatever the US Trade Rep negotiated — so if the USTR papered over a bunch of sweetheart deals for political cronies with a single provision that politicians can’t afford to say no to, that’ll be that.

Not coincidentally, the TPP is one long sweetheart deal with a couple of political sweeteners that no Congresscritter can afford to kill.

The USTR’s push for Trade Promotion Authority contains some of the stupidest, easy-to-debunk lies I’ve ever read. Either the Obama Administration figures that Congress is thicker than pigshit, or the USTR drafted this to give tame Congresscritters cover for selling out the people they represent to the corporations that fund their campaigns.

Busted by BBC News:

Alcoa and joint venture partner to pay $384m in Bahrain bribery case

The aluminium giant Alcoa and a joint venture partner will pay $384m (£234m) to settle a bribery investigation by US authorities.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) said Alcoa World Alumina (AWA) had admitted its involvement in a “corrupt international underworld”. AWA pleaded guilty to bribing officials in Bahrain through a middleman in London.

The bribes occurred between 2004 and 2009, and amounted to $9.5m.

Off to Canada with CBC News:

Canada loses nearly 46,000 jobs in December

  • Unemployment rate up 0.3 percentage points to 7.2%, dollar drops below 92 cents US

Canada lost 45,900 jobs in December, pushing the unemployment rate up 0.3 percentage points to 7.2 per cent as more people looked for work. The monthly loss means Canada’s economy only added 102,000 jobs for all of 2013, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The poor showing surprised economists, a consensus of whom polled by Bloomberg were expecting a small gain of about 14,000 jobs during the month.

Britain next with angst from the London Telegraph:

3.2 million think there is ‘no point’ saving for old age as it will be swallowed by care bills

  • Threat to Coalition’s overhaul of the care system as study suggests 3.2 million over-50s have given up saving for old age believing it will only be taken to cover care

Social care will be a key battleground at the next election as the Coalition introduced its new model for paying for elderly care.

More than three million middle aged and retired people have effectively given up saving for their old age believing there is “no point” because it will only be taken away to pay for care, research shows.

Total-ly frackin’ with BBC News:

French oil giant Total to invest in UK shale gas

French oil and gas company Total is to invest in the UK’s shale gas industry, it is to be announced on Monday.

Total will be the first of the so-called “oil majors” to invest in shale gas in the UK, the BBC has confirmed.

The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England.

But the process to extract shale gas – called “fracking” – has proved controversial.

The London Telegraph tallies up:

Cost of swap scandal has tripled, says regulator

FCA figures show the average cost of settling rate swap mis-selling claims has tripled since the regulator began publishing data tracking the compensation process

The average cost to Britain’s major banks to compensate smaller businesses mis-sold interest rate hedging products has tripled in the last five months, highlighting the escalating cost of what could become one of the country’s most expensive financial scandals.

The average cost of a settling a claim of interest rate swap mis-selling exceeded £150,000 last month, more than triple the average when the data was first published by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) back in August.

Whilst The Guardian admonishes:

Stop EU citizens travelling to UK in search of work, says Labour

  • Chuka Umunna calls for reform of freedom of movement rules to ban skilled workers taking low-skilled jobs in richer EU states

A change to one of the founding principles of the EU – freedom of movement – should be introduced to prevent EU citizens travelling to Britain in search of a job, the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, has said.

As a leading European commissioner accused the British government of peddling myths about migrants, Umunna said highly skilled EU citizens should be banned from taking low-skilled jobs in Britain.

On to Sweden and airborne outsourcing with TheLocal.no:

Swedish union ‘impotent’ in Norwegian staff shuffle

Norwegian’s Sweden-based cabin crew, recently moved to a staffing company, have complained that their Swedish union does not have the clout to protect them against the budget airline and the unspoken threat of losing their jobs.

Days before Christmas, Norwegian announced that 52 cabin crew in Sweden would be let go. They would continue working for Norwegian, but via staffing firm Proffice.

“All Proffice employees are now scared, we are no longer employed by an airline. When they say jump, we have to say ‘How high?’,” a cabin crew member, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Local. “We are all pissed at the union and the fact that they own shares in the staffing firm makes us feel that they aren’t listening to us. It’s very frustrating; from year to year they are giving us worse conditions.”

Intolerance via TheLocal.se:

Teen politician assaulted after immigration speech

A 16-year-old member of the Social Democrat party youth wing was assaulted in Malmö on Thursday by two adult men who kicked her, spat at her and called her “feminist pussy” after she made a speech on immigration.

“They called me disgusting feminist pussy and kneed me. They were tall and big and had short thick jackets and had totally shaved heads,” she told the local Sydsvenskan daily.

“They said I was an obnoxious “Sosse” and if they saw me again they would kill me,” she said, referring to a common term of derision for members of the Social Democrats.

Germany next, an THAT issue again from TheLocal.de:

‘Jobless migrants must get German benefits’

The EU Commission believes Germany must make it easier for immigrants to claim unemployment benefit, according to reports on Friday. It comes as a poll shows support for the EU is at a record high in Germany.

An EU Commission statement referring to a lawsuit at the European Court and seen by the Süddeutsche Zeitung states Germany can not deny Hartz IV unemployment benefits to immigrants who come to the country without a job.

The statement was made in the case of a 24-year-old Romanian woman and her son who have lived in Germany since 2010. The woman’s local job centre in Leipzig refused to give her Hartz IV and she took the legal action.

Deutsche Welle gives a thumbs up:

Ratings agency S&P affirms Germany’s top creditworthiness

US ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has confirmed that Germany’s creditworthiness leaves nothing to be desired. The assessment was based on an analysis of the country’s competitiveness and budgetary policy.

S&P on Friday affirmed Germany’s excellent creditworthiness, giving it a triple-A rating once again and adding that the outlook for Europe’s biggest economy was stable and there would probably be no reason to change its rating any time soon.

Standard and Poor’s specifically mentioned Germany’s high level of competitiveness – coupled with shrewd budgetary policy.

TheLocal.de accommodates:

Minister: Taxpayers will fund 32-hour week

The new family minister has called for the introduction of a 32-hour working week for parents of young children, stating her plan would be funded by taxpayers.

Manuela Schwesig said on Friday that mothers and fathers with children under the age of three should not work the current 40-hour week.

“I want both parents to reduce the amount of time they work,” the Social Democrat (SPD) minister told Bild. “The economy must be more flexible and give parents, who reduce their working hours for their family, good career opportunities.”

A social indicator from TheLocal.de:

Alcoholism in Germany rises by a third

The number of alcoholics in Germany has increased by more than one third to almost two million, with under-25s being particularly affected, according to a study on Thursday.

Research from Munich health research institute IFT released on Thursday showed 1.8 million people in Germany were alcoholics – up by 36 percent from 1.3 million in 2006. A further 1.6 million drink a lot although are not addicted. In total 7.4 million people drink more than the recommended amount.

The study also looked into smoking addiction and found 5.6 million Germans were addicted to tobacco and 319,000 were dependent on illegal drugs.

Spiegel resurrects:

Berlin Blunder: Google Maps Brings Back ‘Adolf Hitler Square’

Online mapping service Google Maps temporarily mislabeled a square in central Berlin with its former Nazi-era name: Adolf Hitler Square. Google couldn’t explain the error when contacted by reporters but said they were looking into the matter.

Anyone using Google Maps on Thursday evening could have been treated to an unfortunate trip down memory lane. The popular online mapping service mislabeled Theodor-Heuss-Platz, in the western Charlottenburg district of Berlin, with the name it held from 1933 to 1945: Adolf-Hitler-Platz.

Google couldn’t explain the error when approached by German mass-circulation daily B.Z., which first reported the story, but a Google representative said they were looking into the matter. The square had been returned to its current name by 9 p.m. on Thursday night.

Same era, another manifestation from TheLocal.de:

Guillotine used for anti-Nazi siblings turns up

The guillotine used to execute Nazi resistance siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl in 1943 appears to have been found in southern Germany after being thought lost for decades, a museum said Friday.

The blood-stained device which had a some 15-kilo blade was identified after 18 months of research at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich where it had been in storage for around 40 years without anyone realising, a museum official said.

Sybe Wartena, the museum’s head of folklore, said a couple of factors indicated it was “with great likelihood” the one used in the execution of the Scholls, members of the White Rose student resistance group, who were detained after distributing flyers at a city university.

On to France and complications from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande ‘affair’ will cloud policy shift: media

French newspapers warned Saturday that President Francois Hollande’s alleged affair with an actress risked overshadowing his much-anticipated announcement of a new tack in efforts to kindle growth and create jobs.

Whilst largely defending the unmarried Hollande’s right to a private life, national and regional dailies admitted the hundreds of journalists at his bi-annual press conference on Tuesday will only have one question in mind.

The French president, who lives with his partner Valerie Trierweiler, has not denied the relationship with 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet but reacted furiously to Friday’s publication of the allegation in Closer magazine.

A pleasant Swiss surprise from TheLocal.ch:

New poll shows majority reject immigrant quotas

Over half of Swiss voters oppose a controversial plan by right-wing populists to reimpose immigration quotas for European Union citizens, a poll showed on Friday ahead of a referendum.

A total of 55 percent of those surveyed said they were against the measure on the table in a February 9 plebiscite, according to the survey released by public broadcaster SRG.

Thirty-seven percent backed it and eight percent were yet to make up their mind, the poll by the GfS Bern institute showed.

The figures echoed a survey last month, but GfS said it was too early for opponents to cry victory, given that the proposal had found fertile ground.

Not-so-pleasant numbers from TheLocal.ch:

Expats hardest hit again as jobless rate rises

Despite economic growth, the unemployment rate continued to rise in Switzerland last month, jumping to 3.5 percent from 3.2 percent in November, with foreigners responsible for most of the increase, government figures showed on Friday.

The share of expats out of work leapt to 6.9 percent in December, up from 6.2 percent the previous month and 6.5 percent a year earlier, a report from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said.

Foreigners accounted for almost half (48.3 percent) of those officially unemployed, the figures showed. The figures followed a well-established pattern: when the number of people without work in Switzerland expands, expats are hardest hit.

Spain next, with dependents from ANSAmed:

Crisis: 80% of young Spaniards depend on their families

  • 60% willing to emigrate in search of jobs

Eight in 10 Spaniards aged 18-24 believe they will be forced to work menial jobs in spite of their qualifications, and 60% are willing to emigrate in search of work, according to a Reina Sofia Center survey released Wednesday.

Also according to the survey of 1,000 respondents, 80% said they are being supported by their families in spite of their job training, 70% blamed the length and severity of the recession on government and politicians, 20% said the situation won’t improve for the next two years at least, and 36% said the situation will only get worse.

Take a number with thinkSPAIN:

Ikea in Valencia receives 100,000 applicants for 400 jobs

JUST one month after advertising a recruitment drive for its new store in Alfafar (Valencia), Swedish flat-pack chain Ikea has been swamped with 100,000 CVs.

Within the first 48 hours, the global furniture giant received 20,000 applications, which crashed the server twice due to the sheer volume.

The company is offering 400 jobs and, so far, it has 250 applicants per position.

Ikea initially opened a month-long window for applications on December 2, due to run until New Year’s Eve, but in light of the server crash on December 4, the multinational’s IT department switched the server for a more powerful one and extended the candidature period to January 5.

In this time, 100,000 people have applied.

El País goes for the gold:

Social Security turns the screws to take in one billion euros more

  • Non-salary benefits such as pension plans currently exempt will now count in computation of contributions

The Spanish Social Security system plans to take in an estimated billion euros more a year by including a series of non-wage remunerations provided by companies to employees such as contributions to pension plans and meal tickets that were previously exempt, or partly exempt, in the computation of contributions to the system.

According to a decree published in the official gazette (BOE) on December 21 of last year, employers will have to pay 30 percent of the value of such non-wage supplements and workers 6 percent to the Social Security system.

Other items also now included in the computation of contributions include employee health insurance plans, school and nursery fees and company shares.

Austerian health practice, via the Portugal News:

Patient diagnosed with serious cancer after waiting two years for consultation

An investigation has been opened into the case of a woman who waited two years for a vital medical examination, to determine whether or not she had cancer, and who found out, when she finally underwent the test, that not only was she suffering from the disease but it was at an advanced stage.

The patient, who is in her sixties, initially underwent a routine colorectal cancer (or bowel cancer) screening, the results of which came back positive.
Her case was immediately forwarded to the Amadora-Sintra Hospital, but it took a year for her to be called for a consultation. It took a further 12 months for the woman to have the essential colonoscopy which would confirm the presence of the disease.

Off to Rome with TheLocal.it:

Italy to sell post office stake in bid to raise cash

Italy is planning to sell off a share of up to 40 percent in the state postal service by the end of the year, a junior minister said on Friday, as the government bids to drum up much-needed cash.

“The listing of Poste Italiane on the stock exchange is plausible by the end of the year,” Antonio Catricala from the economic development ministry was quoted by Italian media as saying.

“The majority stake will remain with the state and 30-40 percent of the group will be privatised,” he said. The government held an initial meeting on Thursday on the operation, which Italian media said could raise around €4.0 billion for the state.

After the jump, the latest Greek grief, Cypriot woes, Turkish troubles, Ukrainian violence, Latin American trade deals, Indian blowback, Thai angst, China does the market, Japanese troubles, and the latest 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

A burglary in Media: Exposing the FBI’s evils


Yesterday’s chilling revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has redefined its basic mission from crime-fighting to national security immediately reminded us of one of the most diabolical operations ever carried out under color of authority: COINTELPRO.

Under the aegis of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, federal agents carried out black operations against American citizens opposed to the Vietnam War and working on behalf of racial equality [previously].

Just how many deaths resulted may never be known, but the feds set out to destroy both people and organizations, provoking violence in order to discredit.

What blew the lid off COINTELPRO was a burglary, and the story is told here for the first time in a video from the New York Times:

Stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s Secrets: ‘The Greatest Heist You’ve Never Heard Of’

Program note:

One night in 1971, files were stolen from an F.B.I. office near Philadelphia. They proved that the bureau was spying on thousands of Americans. The case was unsolved, until now.

Accompany the Times video is a Mark Mazzetti story, “Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows.” The following is an excerpt:

The perfect crime is far easier to pull off when nobody is watching.

So on a night nearly 43 years ago, while Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier bludgeoned each other over 15 rounds in a televised title bout viewed by millions around the world, burglars took a lock pick and a crowbar and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in a suburb of Philadelphia, making off with nearly every document inside.

They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups.

The burglary in Media, Pa., on March 8, 1971, is a historical echo today, as disclosures by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden have cast another unflattering light on government spying and opened a national debate about the proper limits of government surveillance. The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation. They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J. Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.

Read the rest.

The same paranoia and fears that drove the FBI under Hoover to violate the basic rights of American  citizens flourishes again today. In any sane world, the burglars of Media would be honored.

Given that the current occupant of the White House has prosecuted more whistleblowers and leakers that all previous administrations combined, we aren’t holding or breath.

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoGMOFuku


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

We open with a warning from the Economic Times:

Retreating US stimulus poses risk to world recovery

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

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

From CBC News, a sad reality:

Good-looking CEOs may attract better stock returns

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

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

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

The Guardian notes a potential political advantage:

Leading Republicans’ states among worst hit by jobless benefits cuts

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

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

More from the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

Fault-finding with the Los Angeles Times:

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

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

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

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

CNBC makes an exception:

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

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

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

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

Boeing workers vote to save jobs but lose pensions

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

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

Europe Online delivers a demand:

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

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

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

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

Off to Britain with a bonus from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

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

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

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

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

From the London Telegraph, inflating the bubble:

Business lending slump deepens, as mortgage approvals hit fresh high

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

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

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

And what have those mortgages accomplished? From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

The Independent delivers an austerian blow:

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

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

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

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

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

From the London Telegraph, blast with the past:

Britain flaunts triumph of Waterloo in heart of Euroland

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

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

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

The Independent counts austerian costs:

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

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

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

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

Off to Finland with a warning via Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

Germany next, with the winning numbers from Capital.gr:

German employment hits record high in 2013

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

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

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

TheLocal.de stigmatizes:

‘Fingerprints for foreigners’ sparks outcry

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

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

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

Fallout from Europe Online:

German coalition infighting over EU immigration policy escalates

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

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

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

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

Portuguese smiling less

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

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

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

On to Italy, and wiseguy pollution from TheLocal.it:

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoGecoFukufare


We begin with CNBC, delivering the blow:

1.3 million losing unemployment benefits Saturday

More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm election year.

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

Bloomberg Businessweek notes an uptick:

Amazon Reveals Holiday Sales: Cyber Monday Orders Rose 39%

In what is now a post-Christmas tradition, Amazon.com (AMZN), the largest online retailer, opened some of its own gifts—sales figures from the holiday season. While the company’s disclosures were maddeningly selective and omitted any mention of the last-minute delivery snafus by shipping partners FedEx (FDX) and United Parcel Service (UPS), the data are nonetheless revealing.

Amazon said its customers ordered 37 million items on Cyber Monday, its busiest shopping day of the year. That figure is a healthy 39 percent higher than last year’s peak day. Although Amazon operates its website in only about a dozen countries and languages, it says it shipped to 185 countries over the holidays.

Perhaps most interestingly, the consumer shift to smartphones appears to be boosting Amazon’s sales. More than half of customers shopped on their mobile devices, the company said.

CNET has too much information:

11 percent of people shop online naked, survey says

A PayPal survey reveals and reveals and reveals. The most revealing aspect is that a considerable percentage of people admit they actually like to online shop in the nude

The Los Angeles Times finds class neglect:

College recruiters give low-income public campuses fewer visits

Recruiters’ patterns mean students at underserved schools may lose out in the competition for college entrance and aid, experts say.

Recruiters’ visits often are an important first contact for students to discover campuses far beyond their hometowns and for the colleges to discover talented applicants. Students may be left behind in the competition for college entrance and financial aid when admissions officials skip their campuses, counselors and education experts said.

A Times survey of public and private high schools across Southern California found that campuses with a high proportion of low-income and minority students had far fewer visits from college recruiters.

As does the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Another big bank pays to settle charges of bias against blacks, Hispanics

If you were black or Hispanic and wanted a home loan, a number of banks put you on a separate, more expensive track regardless of your credit score and gainful employment.

These rates, the Justice Department alleges, were based on the color of your skin — practices that helped mushroom the extent of the U.S. housing crisis.

The pattern is becoming increasingly clear from a series of court settlements negotiated with lenders by the department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the last three years with the likes of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Suntrust and now PNC Financial Services Group.

Al Jazeera America sways:

Hollywood’s impact in Washington goes beyond social issues

The entertainment industry’s influence in politics extends into international treaties and drones

During a visit to Hollywood last month, President Obama hailed the global reach of the entertainment industry.

“Believe it or not,” he told a star-studded crowd gathered at DreamWorks Animation, the mega-studio helmed by one of his most devoted supporters, “entertainment is part of our American diplomacy.”

There is no question about Hollywood’s role in exporting American culture abroad. The president’s statement, though, was a tacit acknowledgment of the industry’s influence in Washington and beyond.

Indeed, Hollywood’s insistence on tough anti-piracy provisions is partly blamed for preventing the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade pact between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, from being finalized as planned by the end of the year.

Al Jazeera America again, with the green rush in the Rockies:

Colorado issues first batch of recreational pot sales licenses

Retail shops, marijuana growers and cannabis bakers across the state received the documents Friday

When the first cannabis retail licenses were given out in Denver on Friday, applause broke out as business owners took pictures and said they never thought they would see the day when they would get a permit to sell pot.

The Los Angeles Times covers the shape of things to come:

Portable drug test a new addition at New Year’s DUI checkpoints

The upcoming New Year’s crackdown on drunken driving will include a new test for many people who are pulled over — an oral swab that checks for marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.

The voluntary swabbing has been used just 50 times this year. But Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer is pushing to use it at more checkpoints and jails as officials try to limit the number of drivers impaired by substances other than alcohol.

Anther media blow, delivered by Al Jazeera America:

How the Village Voice and other alt-weeklies lost their voice in 2013

The papers — which documented parts of cities that other media missed — suffered major blows this year

For all the good memories, though, 2013 has been a rough year for alt-weeklies. The Boston Phoenix, among the oldest and most storied, collapsed in March, putting about 50 employees out of work, just six months after an optimistic move to glossy stock; the paper was losing roughly $1 million a year. Susan Orlean, a New Yorker writer who, like Joe Klein, Janet Maslin and David Denby, worked for the Phoenix early on, compares it to the disappearance of her alma mater. “I am a child of the alt-weekly world,” she says, “and I feel like it has played such an important role in journalism as we know it today.” The New Haven Advocate was folded, along with two other weeklies, into The Hartford Courant this month after a year that saw heavy layoffs. In May, the two top editors of The Village Voice resigned rather than cut a quarter of the staff.

The troubles are not confined to the northeast: The LA Weekly, whose issues typically offer less than half the pages they did a decade ago, recently announced substantial cuts in its theater coverage, to which the paper had a three-decade commitment. Most places, page counts and staff sizes are way down.

Some of the causes of the alt-press meltdown are more complex than those of daily newspapers, which have been felled primarily by the Internet and corporate overreach. But the results are at least as tumultuous.

The New York Times covers yet another devastating blow inflicted by Howard Jarvis, godfather of Proposition 13 and the man who told esnl nearly 40 years ago that his goal was “to demolish local government and eliminate all the bureaucracy”:

Police Salaries and Pensions Push California City to Brink

Desert Hot Springs, population 27,000, is slowly edging toward bankruptcy, largely because of police salaries and skyrocketing pension costs, but also because of years of spending and unrealistic revenue estimates. It is mostly the police, though, who have found themselves in the cross hairs recently.

“I would not venture to say they are overpaid,” said Robert Adams, the acting city manager since August. “What I would say is that we can’t pay them.”

Though few elected officials in America want to say it, police officers and other public-safety workers keep turning up at the center of the municipal bankruptcies and budget dramas plaguing many American cities — largely because their pensions tend to be significantly more costly than those of other city workers.

Al Jazeera America covers another front in the same war:

Retired Illinois teachers sue state over pension law

Lawsuit claims changes violate protections in Illinois constitution for retirement benefits of public sector workers

A group of teachers and public school officials filed a class-action lawsuit Friday in state court seeking to void Illinois’ new pension reform law on grounds the cuts to pension benefits violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, claims that changes to current and retired teacher pensions passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month violate a clause in the Illinois Constitution which says pension benefits can’t be cut.

CNBC hesitates:

Wait-and-see economy slows recovery from Great Recession

While there’s little sense that the U.S. economy is headed for another downturn, most forecasters expect further improvement in 2014 will be gradual. Unless and until the job market improves substantially, and higher wages drive a convincing pickup in consumer spending and demand, the lingering damage to confidence will likely keep the weakest economic recovery in memory plodding along at a frustratingly slow pace.

Boing Boing seeks an out:

South Dakota: the Bermuda of the prairie, letting billionaires avoid millions in estate tax

America’s billionaires are able to avoid paying millions in inheritance taxes by renting empty storefronts in South Dakota in order to give their trust-funds an SD address, from which they can exploit a deliberate loophole in state tax-law. Over $121 billion in trust-funds is administered through South Dakota, mostly for out-of-state families — a figure that’s tripled in four years. South Dakota’s corrupt tax laws also allow for avoiding millions in tax from ordinary investments by the richest people in NY and MA.

South Dakota itself has some dire poverty — two of the 10 poorest counties in America are in SD — and lawmakers describe their project to turn the state into “the Bermuda of the prairie” as an economic development project, creating jobs for lawyers and bankers, and “[forging] ties with prosperous families that may one day decide to build a factory or a warehouse here.”

USA TODAY judges harshly:

Judge questions lack of fraud-related prosecutions

New York U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff is well-known for questioning the federal government in judicial rulings.

Why haven’t top business executives faced fraud charges for wrongdoing related to the national fiscal crisis? A senior federal judge questions whether weaknesses in the U.S. prosecutorial system could be to blame.

While not concluding that frauds definitely sparked the crisis, New York District Court Judge Jed Rakoff questioned in an essay for the New York Review of Books’ Jan. 9 issue whether federal prosecutors gave other cases higher priority because they would take less time and resources to investigate and lead to high-profile trials or guilty pleas.

The Globe and Mail recycles:

Florida housing market may get a boost from ‘boomerang buyers’

South Florida housing experts are trumpeting changes that allow foreclosure sufferers to buy back into the American Dream sooner than they probably imagined, calling 2014 the year of the “boomerang buyer.”

Revisions made over the summer to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) guidelines and technical updates in November to Fannie Mae loan approval systems have opened the door for some former homeowners to buy again just one year after foreclosure.

Next up, a global story from Reuters:

March of state companies resets global trading patterns

As U.S. and European banks drop out of commodity trading, Russian, Chinese and Gulf state firms are filling the gap in an attempt to exert greater control over the pricing of the raw materials on which their economies so heavily depend.

Last week, the Kremlin oil champion Rosneft (ROSN.MM) bought the oil trading unit of Morgan Stanley (MS.N), one of the largest and oldest trading desks on Wall Street, as banks reduce exposure to trading.

The state companies are joining trading houses like Glencore (GLEN.L) and Vitol and large oil firms like BP (BP.L) and Shell (RDSa.L) to take advantage of the retreat from trading by banks because of the greater regulation of banking activities that followed the 2008 financial crisis.

It won’t be long before such deals are repeated, say executives from major trading houses as they see a new class of rivals challenging their supremacy in connecting buyers and sellers of commodities, predominantly oil.

Off to Europe, first with a headline from the London Telegraph:

Eurozone ‘sleepwalking into a decades-long deflation trap’

World’s largest bond fund Pimco says falling prices are the biggest risk to the currency bloc in the new year

The eurozone is “sleepwalking” its way towards a Japanese-style deflationary trap that could last decades, the world’s largest bond fund has warned.

The Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) said deflation posed the biggest threat to the single currency bloc in 2014. A stubbornly strong euro together with painfully slow reforms and a “paucity of ambition” threatened to push the bloc’s already low inflation rate into negative territory, the fund said.

Britain next, and a dire prediction from The Observer:

Mortgage rise will plunge a million homeowners into ‘perilous debt’

High prices leave borrowers exposed as it emerges that 13 million people paid for Christmas on credit

More than a million homeowners will be at risk of defaulting on their mortgages and losing their properties in the wake of even a small rise in interest rates, a bombshell analysis reveals. Borrowers who have failed to pay down their mortgages when interest rates have been at record low levels now face being overwhelmed by “perilous levels of debt” when the inevitable hike comes.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned of a “financial ticking timebomb”: “The rising cost of energy, food and travel has been absorbing any spare income people may have. This means that in some cases there is little or nothing left to cope with larger mortgage repayments.”

The Observer hopes:

Prime London property prices show signs of slowdown

Estate agents report cooling of market in most exclusive London areas but ripple effect likely to raise prices in south-east

Soaring house prices in London’s prime locations are showing signs of a slowdown, according to new figures.

Estate agent Knight Frank, which monitors prices in the capital’s most exclusive boroughs, reports that prices of properties in prime central London locations ended the year 7.5% higher – outperforming gold, which fell in value by a quarter between January and mid-December.

However, the annual rate of increase was below the 8.7% recorded last year and the 12.1% seen in 2011. Prices in Chelsea rose by 2.7%, with growth of 5.8% in Mayfair and 6.7% in Knightsbridge, meaning that all three areas underperformed the wider prime central London average for the first time in a decade. Areas such as Islington and Marylebone saw prices rise by about 12%.

BBC News draws legal lines:

European Court of Human Rights ‘risk to UK sovereignty’

Lord Judge was responding to comments by the ECHR’s president

Claims the European Court of Human Rights can set law on social matters threatens Parliamentary sovereignty, a former lord chief justice has said. Lord Judge said Parliament needed to decide how much power it was willing to give up to the court in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, the European court’s head said Britain is violating international law with a ban on prisoners voting. Judge Dean Spielmann said if Britain did not adhere to European human rights laws it could face leaving the EU.

The Observer finds the average Brit more tolerant than Tories:

Britons ready to welcome migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, poll finds

Ipsos Mori survey shows 72% of people aged 35-44 support rights of east European workers to live and work in UK

In spite of a surge of anti-immigrant rhetoric from leading politicians, British people are happy to accept migrants from the east of Europe who learn English, get a job, pay taxes and become part of their local community.

As many as 68% of those asked said they would be happy for migrants to come on those terms. That sentiment was particularly strong among people aged between 35 and 44, with 72% supporting their right to come to live and work in the UK.

Germany next, and bad news from cheap travel from The Independent:

Rental ban to end Berlin’s reign as holiday lets capital

Berlin’s reputation as one of Europe’s coolest yet cheapest cities has boosted tourism by 275 per cent in only two decades. But Germany’s capital is preparing to turn its back on budget-flight visitors with new rules which will outlaw cut-price private accommodation.

Legislation which comes into force on 1 January will make it illegal for the owners of Berlin’s estimated 12,000 private holiday apartments to rent them to tourists for short breaks. Those who fail to obey the rules risk being fined €50,000 (£41,700).

The new laws are both a response to Berlin’s lack of affordable flats for longer-term rentals and an attempt to answer complaints from residents about the influx of weekend visitors to what the director of Berlin’s tourist marketing agency has called “the capital of holiday lets”.

Via Europe Online, is this really a good idea?:

Germany seeks permit to explore sea bed off Madagascar for minerals

Germany has applied for a license to mine raw materials in the Indian Ocean in the race for excavating valuable minerals from under the sea-bed.

The license costs 500,000 dollars and would secure Germany exclusive access for at least 15 years to about 10,000 square kilometres south-east of Madagascar, the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources said.

Spain next, and a call from Europe Online:

Spain’s Basque nationalists call for greater autonomy

Northern Spain’s Basque region has demanded more autonomy but would not follow the example of nearby Catalonia, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) said Friday.

“We will go our own way,” PNV leader Andoni Ortuzar told Cadena SER radio.

The north-eastern region of Catalonia, which has traditionally been the country’s economic powerhouse, wants to hold a referendum on its independence on November 9, 2014. That plan was rejected earlier this month by the Spanish government, which has vowed to prevent the vote.

El País watches big money players:

George Soros takes stake in debt-laden construction firm FCC

Financier joins Bill Gates among builder’s shareholders

Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros has bought a 3-percent stake in heavily indebted Spanish construction firm FCC from the group’s founding family. Last week, Esther Koplowitz, whose father founded the company, sold 3.8 percent of her majority stake for 15 euros a share, amounting to 72 million euros. Soros is the second internationally renowned investor to take a stake in the company in recent months, following Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ purchase in October of nearly 6 percent.

FCC registered losses of 675 million euros ($923 million) in the nine months to September.

Italy net with banksters in trouble from Europe Online:

Italy MPS bank in new trouble as shareholders reject capital boost

Shareholders of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) voted down on Saturday a plan to boost the capital of Italy’s third-largest bank by at least 3 billion euros (4.1 billion dollars), casting fresh uncertainty over its future.

President Alessandro Profumo and chief executive Fabrizio Viola wanted to raise cash in January, to shore up the bank’s finances ahead of upcoming European Union banking tests and for the early repayment of state bailout loans.

But Fondazione MPS – a body controlled by local politicians that is the bank’s biggest shareholder with a 33.5 per cent stake – blocked the plan and forced its postponement by six months.

After the jump, the latest Grecian grim tidings, Turkish troubles, Mexican outrage, German bribes, Thai turmoil, Korean angst, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese and environmental concerns, and 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

Fox’s deepest fear?: ‘Wussification’ of America


From Media Matters for America:

From Media Matters:

In 2013, Fox News worked to stoke outrage over the supposed decline of traditional American values, identifying the purported “wussification” of America in everything from the “disturbing trend” of yoga in schools to the availability of human resources in the workplace. Here is Media Matters‘ top ten countdown of Fox News’ ‘wussification’ fears:

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

Kansas abolishes tenure, academic freedom


From The Real News Network a conversation with William K. Black, who rteachs both law and economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and the dangerous and unprecedented decision by the Kansas Board of Regents giving universities power to fire tenured faculty for social media postings [which include journal articles by their definition] that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” amongst other things.

The new rules were sparked by a Tweet from Kansas University Associate Professor of Journalism David Guth following the Washington Navy Yard shootings, in which he declared The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

The NRA launched the inevitable campaign for his dismissal, and the university responded with a suspension, while state legislators eager for his scalp demanded action, only to discover tenure protected him.

The Kansas City Star reported on the outcome last week:

The Kansas Board of Regents just adopted a new social media policy, which allows Kansas state universities to fire (tenured and untenured) employees for “improper use” of social media. “Improper use” includes inciting violence (perhaps justifiable though potentially open to contentious interpretations), posting confidential information about students (fine) or posting things that are “contrary to the best interests of the university” (not fine at all!)

Read the rest.

The university’s rationale, as reported in a second piece in the Star:

“When the incident with David Guth occurred at the University of Kansas, it made the nine-member board realize no policy existed regarding the use of social media,” said Breeze Richardson, a board of regents spokeswoman.

The board said in a statement that the policy was needed because of social media’s “particular susceptibility to misuse and damage to our universities.”

“The goal was to craft a constitutionally sound policy, utilizing Supreme Court language, that does not violate the free speech or due process rights of university employees while also establishing guidelines for employees and employers,” Richardson said.

Read the rest.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education cites some of the Orwellian reasons the university can use to fire faculty:

The chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media. … “Improper use of social media” means making a communication through social media that:

[...]

ii.  when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university;

[...]

iv.  subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

Read the rest.

In this report from The Real News Network, Jaisal Noor discusses the real and profoundly disturbing implications of the new policy:

Kansas Board of Regents Undermine Academic Freedom at State Universities

Program notes:

Bill Black: Draconian measure enacted by Kansas Board of Regents that effectively ends tenure and limits academic freedom could be replicated at colleges nationwide

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

Duck Dynasty: Not all it’s quacked up to be


If you’ve been following the Duck Dynasty brouhaha, you probably think it’s about a formerly poor white Southerner who’s been suspended from a hit TV series simply for saying what most Tea Party types and a large number of Southerners believe, namely that homosexuality is a biblical sin.

But as is usually the case when it comes to commercial television, what you see isn’t necessarily what you’d really see were you to observe the subjects off camera.

Consider the following from another Southerner, comedian Dusty Smith, by way of Louis Proyect. And yes, it’s probably NSFW:

Duck Dynasty Is Fake!

Program notes:

Phil and his ignorant family from Duck Dynasty get destroyed and exposed for the fakes they are. How gullible are you people to fall for this shit?

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFukuFoil


Today’s compendium of economic, political, and environmental events is a doozy. Starting with a taper at home we cover the latest developments in Europe, the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian angst and Russian manuvers, Latin American politics, Indian economic anxieties, the latest Chinese neoliberal move, Japanese conundra, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, here’s David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times on the discomfort Rush Limbaugh and his fellow loudmouths of the Right are feeling over the new occupant of the papal throne:

BLOG Horsey

The Globe and Mail covers the lead story on the global economic front:

Fed surprises Wall Street with plans to taper massive U.S. stimulus program

  • U.S. Federal Reserve will reduce its $85-billion a month in bond purchases by $10-billion starting in January, citing a stronger U.S. job market.
  • U.S. stocks rose on the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average climbing more than 150 points.

One reaction, via Reuters:

Dow, S&P end at record highs after Fed’s stimulus cut

The Dow and the S&P 500 closed at all-time highs on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve announced a small reduction in its stimulus program, confirming that the U.S. economy was on firm footing.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 293.03 points or 1.85 percent, to end unofficially at 16,168.29, a record closing high. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 29.65 points or 1.66 percent, to finish unofficially at 1,810.65, also a record closing high. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 46.384 points or 1.15 percent, to close unofficially at 4,070.064.

And just how much debt has been bought? From Reuters:

BLOG Bond debt

BBC News see bright numbers:

US sees strong house building recovery as economy grows

US new home being built US new home construction activity is at its highest level for five years

US house building activity recovered strongly in November, nearly a third higher than in the same period last year, official figures show.

New construction of homes hit 1.091 million, up 29.6% compared to November 2012, the Commerce Department reported.

From the Progressive, neoliberal resurgent:

Wisconsin School Privatization Gets Shot of Rocket Fuel

The education committee in the Wisconsin state senate passed Senate Bill 76 on Wednesday, loosening the process for authorizing new charter schools in Milwaukee and allowing these schools to replicate themselves automatically if they outperform average Milwaukee Public Schools on test scores by 10 percent.

Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school company that aims to open new schools in Milwaukee, lobbied for the bill and appears to be its primary beneficiary.

Bloomberg Businessweek covers downbeat numbers for would-be corporateers:

MBA Salary Outlook: Pay Stays Flat in 2014

The value of an MBA isn’t keeping up with inflation for many new graduates. According to research by the Graduate Management Admission Council, 42 percent of employers plan to pay the latest crop of MBAs the same salaries in 2014 as they did this year.

Among the companies that responded to the GMAC survey, 45 percent said they would increase wages for new MBAs to keep up with inflation (about 1 percent in the U.S.). Only 11 percent said they planned greater-than-inflation bumps for new MBA hires, compared with 20 percent that plan similar raises for positions filled by workers recruited from other companies. Two percent said they would pay MBAs less in 2014 than what they offered this year. GMAC researchers surveyed 211 employers in 33 countries.

Of to Canada for the ultimate in neoliberal excuses for downsizing the commons, via CBC News:

Canada Post’s Deepak Chopra says seniors want exercise from picking up mail

An emergency parliamentary committee is asking questions about cancellation of urban mail delivery

The head of Canada Post says seniors have told the corporation they want more exercise and fresh air in answer to an MP’s question about how the elderly will be especially hard hit by the cancellation of home mail delivery.

And from Jiji Press, though perhaps better never than late:

TPP Ministerial Talks May Be Put Off to Feb. or Later

The next ministerial session of Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, currently planned for January, could be put off to February or later due to a delay in preparatory work among Japan, the United States and 10 other countries involved, informed sources said Wednesday.

Uncertainty over the negotiations is growing as the 12 countries are failing to conclude the trade talks by the end of this year.

Off to Britain with BBC News and better numbers:

UK unemployment rate at lowest since 2009

At 7.4%, this is the lowest rate since the February-to-April period in 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people out of work fell by 99,000 to 2.39 million in the three months to October, the ONS said.

BBC News covers a darker side of the jobs picture:

Curbs on EU benefits to come into force on 1 January

New rules on how long EU jobseekers will have to wait to claim benefits are to be brought in early, No 10 has said.

The change to a three-month wait before EU citizens can apply for UK out-of-work benefits is being rushed through Parliament to start on 1 January. It coincides with the date people from both Romania and Bulgaria will be able to work in the UK without restrictions.

David Cameron said the move sent a “clear message”, but Labour said it had been left to the “very last minute”.

While The Independent raises questions about the nature of the so-called recovery:

Food poverty is creating ‘hidden country’ that is being ignored by the Government, MPs claim

Food poverty is creating a “hidden country” that is being ignored by the Coalition government, MPs have claimed, reporting shocking cases of fights breaking out over discount vegetables in Tesco and cancer patients forced to use food banks because of a lack of Government support.

Speaking as MPs debated the causes behind a huge increase in food bank use since the recession, Labour MP Fiona McTaggart reported that hungry people in her Slough constituency were now “fighting each other in Tesco” when discount fruit and vegetables are  made available at the end of the day.

And The Guardian can’t stomach it:

Horsemeat dinner is served, courtesy of the mafia

Organised crime has taken a hold on Britain’s food, banking and other industries, which are now effectively beyond the rule of law

Organised crime and mafia-type networks penetrate the heart of a country’s mainstream economy when there is a breakdown of the rule of law, or so the criminology theories go. We like to think that the breakdown of law is something that happens elsewhere – in fragile states where political instability and weak institutions allow criminals to operate with impunity, and ordinary people have little access to justice – not the sort of thing that would happen here, surely.

Yet last week a government-commissioned review of the horsemeat scandal warned that organised crime had penetrated our mainstream food manufacturing and retailing sectors. Food fraud is such a risk, it said, that we need a new, specialised police force to deal with it, because criminals laundering meat know they are likely to go undetected and, even if detected, likely to go unpunished.

BBC News tackles a hot question:

Europe launches probe into Hinkley Point nuclear plan

European Union regulators are to investigate whether UK support for a plan to build a new nuclear power plant breaks state aid rules.

French energy giant EDF is leading a consortium building a £16bn plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The UK government has guaranteed power prices from the plant for 35 years.

The European Commission said it wanted the views of third parties because of the unprecedented nature and scale of the Hinkley deal.

One to Ireland and a rosy scenario from Independent.ie:

ESRI: we’ve turned a corner and end of austerity in sight

THE country’s leading thinktank has given its most upbeat assessment since the crisis began, saying the economy has “turned the corner”.

The analysis from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) comes as the Government vowed to end austerity the year after next.

In another sign of our return to normality in the EU countries since leaving the troika programme, Ireland will now begin to contribute to the bailout for Greece.

TheJournal.ie is somewhat less rosy:

Moody’s downgrades Bank of Ireland’s deposit ratings

The investment service said the results of the stress test that will be undertaken by the ECB next year are “difficult to anticipate”.

MOODY’S INVESTMENT SERVICE has downgraded Bank of Ireland’s (BOI) deposit ratings reflecting Moody’s view of an increased risk to bondholders.

In a statement they said “deposit ratings to Ba2/NP from Ba1/NP and senior debt ratings to Ba3 from Ba2, prompted by the concurrent lowering of the bank’s baseline credit assessment (BCA) by two notches to b1 from ba2.

From The Guardian, banksters behaving badly, in this case allegedly playing €7.2 billion in numbers games at Anglo Irish Bank to make things seem much rosier than reality:

Three former Irish bank executives appear in court on conspiracy charges

Denis Casey, Peter Fitzpatrick and John Bowe all granted bail by Dublin’s district court and are due to appear again in March

Three former Irish bank executives, including the ex-chief executive of one of the country’s largest lenders, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud in the run-up to the country’s banking crisis, a court heard on Wednesday.

Former chief executive of Irish Life and Permanent, Denis Casey, the lender’s former finance director Peter Fitzpatrick, and former head of treasury at Anglo Irish Bank, John Bowe, were granted bail by Dublin’s district court and are due to appear again next March.

From Independent.ie, a notable warning:

Government must act urgently to detect foreign bribery, OECD warns

THE IRISH Government must urgently increase its resources to detect and investigate foreign bribery more efficiently, a global economic think-tank has warned.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said Ireland had not prosecuted a foreign bribery case in the 12 years since the offence came into being.

Norway next, with the straight dope from TheLocal.no:

Bergen hospital to hand out free heroin

A hospital in Bergen is planning to give out heroin to hardened addicts in an effort to reduce the number of overdoses and other health complications.

“The solution has been tested in several large cities in Europe, such as Amsterdam and Zurich. We intend to have the same general approach,” Ola Jøsendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital, told the Bergens Avisen newspaper.

TheLocal.se takes us to Sweden and more of that hard times intolerance:

Nazi activity increases in Sweden: report

Swedish neo-Nazi groups were more active in 2012, according to a new report, while the number of groups operating within the white power movement has declined.

According to a new report by the Expo Foundation, neo-Nazi groups carried out 1,824 activities in 2012, an increase of 24 percent on 2011 and signifying a break in a downward trend since 2008.

At the same time the number of groups operating within the racial ideology movement has declined from 25 active organisations in 2011 to 18 in 2012, continuing a decline from 40 groups registering activities in 2008. According to Expo this trend indicates a concentration with several groups having merged

The Copenhagen Post smells a rat:

New trade agreement would give US influence over Danish law

US and business lobby could have major influence on trade regulations

A proposal hidden in a proposed trade agreement between the US and EU could give the business community and the US major influence on future regulations in Denmark and other EU countries. According to a report by the Brussels-based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the Regulatory Co-operation Council (RCC), a joint regulatory commission that the agreement would put in place to oversee the agreement, will allow industry lobbyists to get very close to the legislative process.

“This model allows business organisations a seat at the table with regulators,” Kenneth Haar, a researcher at CEO told Information newspaper. “It will probably result in a deregulation offensive.”

DutchNews.nl concludes:

Nationalised SNS Reaal to be split into a bank and an insurer

Nationalised financial services group SNS Reaal is to be split into a bank and an insurance company, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The plan to split up the company was presented to the commission by finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem in August. The aim is to create an independent SNS Bank which will focus on retail activities. The insurance side, Zwitserleven, will be eventually sold off and the property loans are being placed in a ‘bad bank’.

SNS Reaal was nationalised in February after running into financial problems caused by its property investments. In total, saving the bank cost the Dutch taxpayer €4.8bn.

EUbusiness sells out:

Belgium sells European Commission HQ for nearly 640 mn euros

Cash-strapped Belgium is nearly 640 million euros richer after selling the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters building to BNP-Paribas-Fortis bank and AG Insurance, a report said Wednesday.

The giant metal-clad Berlaymont dominates the area around the Schuman district in Brussels which is home to many of the main European Union institutions.

Futuristic when built in the 1960s as a symbol of European resurgence, the Belgian government sold the building to the Commission in 2004 for some 553 million euros on a 27-year lease, L’Echo said.

On to Germany and a Merkelian mandate from TheLocal.de:

Merkel: ‘EU must be ready for treaty changes’

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that European Union members must be ready for treaty changes to strengthen the 28-member bloc, speaking on the eve of an EU summit.

“Since the Lisbon Treaty we have a situation in Europe where everyone says, ‘we can develop everything but we can’t change the treaties’”, Merkel told parliament. “I don’t think that we can build a truly functioning Europe that way.”

The Iron Chancellor fires a broadside, from Europe Online:

Merkel attacks EU investigation of electricity subsidies

Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked Wednesday a likely European Commission investigation into Germany’s system of subsidized electricity for big industry.

“As long as there are European nations where electricity for industry is cheaper than it is in Germany, I can’t see how we can be contributing to a distortion of competition,” she told the Bundestag parliament in Berlin.

From RT, better late than never:

Bavarian town revokes Hitler’s honorary citizenship – 80 years on

A small German town council has finally voted to strip Adolf Hitler of honorary citizenship after criticism sparked by the officials’ failure last week to nullify the title awarded to the Nazi leader 80 years ago.

The full council of the Bavarian town of Dietramszell voted 21-0 to adopt a resolution that denounces the decision made in 1933, the year when President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor, reports Associated Press.

Europe Online swaggers:

German business confidence strengthens in December, Ifo says

German business confidence rose in December, the Munich-based Ifo economic institute reported Wednesday.

The gain was in line with analysts’ forecasts, following a November rebound. Ifo’s indicator rose 0.2 points to 109.5.

On to France and more bad news for workers from EUbusiness:

France adopts reform of debt-ridden pension system

Lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a reform of France’s debt-ridden pension system after the country faced pressure from the European Union.

The reform, adopted in final reading by the National Assembly in a show-of-hands vote, raises the pay-in period for pension contributions from the current 41.5 years to 43 years by 2035, meaning employees will need to work longer to be eligible for full pensions.

Switzerland next, and a freeze from TheLocal.ch:

Bern extends freeze on former leaders’ assets

The Swiss government on Wednesday extended by three years a freeze on the assets of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

The freeze, first ordered in 2011, applies to all assets held in Switzerland by the toppled leaders and by “politically exposed persons in their entourage,” the foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the decision.

Spain, with pain, from El País:

OECD calls on Spain to make layoffs even cheaper

Despite the labor reforms introduced by the Spanish government in February last year, the OECD suggested in a report released Wednesday that severance pay remains high and that more cuts are needed to tackle high unemployment, which stands at 26 percent.

The report also recommends that the government rein in the discretionary power of labor courts to declare dismissals null and void to “extreme cases.”

Deutsche Welle has more pain:

Spain bad loan ratio hits 50-year high

Spain’s central bank has released fresh figures revealing that the eurozone nation’s lenders have been unable so far to keep the amount of bad loans from rising steadily. The ratio has reached a new all-time high.

Spanish lenders’ non-performing credits hit the highest level since records started back in 1962, the country’s central bank reported Wednesday. The ratio of bad loans judged highly unlikely to ever be repaid rose to 13 percent of all outstanding credits in October, up from 12.68 percent in the previous month.

This meant the value of risky assets climbed by three million euros ($4.12 billion) month-on-month to a total of 190.97 billion euros.

And ThinkSpain says Show me the money!:

Brussels to investigate Real Madrid and Barcelona over illegal state aid

Real Madrid and Barcelona, along with five other Spanish football clubs, are to be investigated by the European Union over alleged illegal state aid.

Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia, Elche and Hércules are also going to be scrutinised by the European Commission, according to an announcement from the Spanish foreign ministry today.

And from El País, getting by with a little help from his friends?:

Madrid premier’s wife named in tax-fraud and money-laundering case

The premier of the Madrid region, Ignacio González, on Wednesday defended his own innocence and that of his wife, Lourdes Cavero, after a judge named her as an official suspect in an investigation into possible money laundering and tax fraud in connection with a luxury penthouse the couple owns in the area of Estepona, on the Costa de Sol.

The couple had been renting the 500-square-meter property in question since 2008 for 2,000 euros a month but bought it at the end of last year for 770,000 euros. Similar properties in the upmarket Alhambra del Golf residential area are being let for 6,000 euros a month.

The apartment was purchased for a million euros in 2008 by a trustee named Rudy Valner, a Mexican businessman, on behalf of a company called Coast Investor LLC, which is registered in Delaware, a US state that is attractive to businesses thanks to its low tax rates.

Italy next, and taking it to the streets with TheLocal.it:

Thousands rally at Rome anti-austerity protest

Thousands of protesters from the Forconi (Pitchforks) movement including far-right activists rallied in Rome on Wednesday for an anti-austerity protest.

Protesting against Italy’s widely discredited political class, they chanted “Go home!” and “Go and work!”

“For everyone’s good, you should all resign,” read a placard held up by one of between 2,000 and 3,000 people on Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo square. Organisers said they had expected 15,000.

From Al Jazeera America, righteous anger:

EU threatens Italy with legal action over migrants from Africa

Officials denounce conditions of refugee detention centers, but can’t agree on common immigration policy

The European Commission threatened Italy with legal action Wednesday for possible breaches of the EU’s rules on granting asylum, over its treatment of migrants arriving from Africa on the island of Lampedusa.

A video showing migrants standing naked in the cold while being sprayed for scabies at a detention center stirred outrage in Italy on Tuesday.

After the jump, Greek meltdown, Ukrainian angst, Russian manuvers, Latin American politics, Indian economic anxieties, the latest Chinese neoliberal moves, Japanese conundra, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Ralph Nader on wealth, power, and politics


This is the first of three segments from The Real News Network featuring an extended Paul Jay interview of Ralph Nader:

McCarthyism Made Us Veer Away From a Systemic Doctrine for Change – Ralph Nader

From the transcript:

JAY: But now, you know, as we see capitalism in its–the ’08 financial crisis and the sort of recovery of Asia, you start to see–and let me add another big thing is there’s no longer this–even if it’s hypothetical–or was it theoretical?–but there wasn’t this supposed socialist Soviet Union that was going to guarantee jobs and insurance, health insurance, and this and that. I mean, the message of European capitalism and America to Europe, not so much to Americans: well, you don’t need socialism to get all this; capitalism can do it for you.

NADER: Yeah, social democratic politics they called it.

JAY: But now Europe is now turning on itself, and they’re doing everything they can to get rid of all this stuff. And now they want to be like the American model, to be more competitive.

But I guess where I’m going with this is: have we entered a kind of new stage of history of capitalist development?

NADER: Well, basically it was globalization that did it to Western Europe. Once they took in the model of the World Trade Organization, once they in effect financialized more of their economy–derivatives, speculation, stock market, all that–that’s when they started going down. I warned them: do not accept the U.S. multinational model, ’cause it’s going to happen to you. And the effect of the multinational model was exacerbated by the European common market. So if they got in one country, they’d get in a lot of the other countries.

However, they still have a safety net. And it’s frayed badly in England. For example, they’re charging students now as high as $12,000 a year for tuition. But by comparison with us, nobody dies in Western Europe–nobody dies in Western Europe because they don’t have health insurance. They’re insured from the cradle to the grave. In this country, 800 Americans die every week, every week, ’cause they can’t afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.

And that’s–figure comes from a Harvard Medical School peer-reviewed study in the December 2009 Journal of American Public Health. This is not some wild figure. Eight hundred a week, and not a single major politician is talking about it in the election year last year.

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuEco


Our daily wrap-up of economic and environmental news. It’s late, so the order will have to covet the sense of narrative flow.

CBC News:

Detroit awaits direction on options to art gallery sell-off

Detroit may have to rely on the generosity of strangers to keep its impressive art collection that was amassed with taxpayer dollars in better times.

The bankrupt city is expected to learn this week the value of roughly 2,800 of its pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts when New York auction house Christie’s delivers its final report to Kevin Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager who runs the Motor City’s finances.

Reuters:

Factory activity gaining steam as production broadens

U.S. manufacturing output rose for a fourth straight month in November as production increased almost across the board, in the latest suggestion the economy is gaining steam.

Production at the nation’s factories advanced 0.6 percent last month, building on October’s 0.5 percent gain, the Federal Reserve said on Monday.

The New York Times:

Stern Words for Wall Street’s Watchdogs, From a Judge

It used to be common for the federal government to prosecute prominent people responsible for debacles that rattled the financial system. Michael R. Milken, the junk bond artist, went to prison in 1991; Charles H. Keating Jr., the face of the savings-and-loan crisis, pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud in 1999; and it looks like Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, will be in prison until 2017.

And what of the recent financial crisis? The statute of limitations on most plausible charges is running out, and it seems there will not be a single prosecution of a prominent figure in the entire mess.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff wants to know why. In a blistering essay in the issue of The New York Review of Books that arrives this week, he argues that the Justice Department has failed in its rudimentary responsibilities, offering excuses instead of action.

And for one clear sign of the times, consider this from Lehigh Valley Live:

Homeless students suing Easton Area School District can return to school pending judge’s ruling

Two Easton Area School District students who were kicked out of the district on Monday because they are homeless and staying outside the district will be allowed to return to school pending a judge’s ruling on their lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit filed by a nonprofit legal advocacy and educational organization earlier this week, the district violated federal laws when it kicked the eighth- and 12th-grade students out of the district they had attended all of their lives.

The students and their parents were forced to move to a campground in the Brodheadsville section of Chestnuthill Township, Monroe County, after the family lost its Forks Township home in 2011 due to foreclosure, according to court documents. The family, which includes a mother who works part time at the school district, now lives in a 9-year-old, 24-by-7-foot camper that was used for vacations.

CBC News:

Average home price rises almost 10% to $391,085

New data released Monday from the organization that represents home sellers shows Canada’s housing market continues to hit new highs, with the average price increasing by almost 10 per cent in the last 12 months to $391,085.

The Canadian Real Estate Association said the strong gain was in part because this time a year ago, sales were down in some of the largest housing markets.

From the Financial Post:

Canadian banks’ Caribbean mystery: Little known about how giants make money in paradise

As Canadians we take it for granted that we only need to walk a few blocks in virtually any city in the country before we come across at least one branch of one of the major banks, or maybe more.

But it may come as a surprise to many that this isn’t the only country where Canadian banks are so dominant. Bank of Nova Scotia, Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce are almost as ubiquitous across much of the Caribbean. Indeed, the Canadian banks have managed to dig themselves so deeply into the local financial system that the region now faces increased risk of exposure to foreign financial crises, according to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund.

EUbusiness:

US, EU hold third round of free-trade trade talks

The United States and the European Union entered a third round of trade negotiations Monday in Washington aimed at creating a powerful free-trade bloc to boost their economies and jobs.

US and EU trade officials returned to the US capital, where the talks began in July, to hammer out the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an ambitious agreement to expand trade, investment and regulatory cooperation

Two contrasting headlines on the Transatlantic talks, first from Euractiv:

EU, US trade talks could usher in cheaper energy imports

And the second, from EUobserver:

EU and US both threatened by secret trade talks

Techdirt:

TPP Negotiators Completely Ignored Public Interest Groups At Last Negotiations

from the they-don’t-care dept

We’ve noted in the past how little the USTR and other country negotiators wanted to hear from various “civil society” or public interest groups during the various negotiating rounds. However, at least they made some attempt to set up “stakeholder engagement” periods, in which concerned organizations could present their arguments. However, it appears that all that went completely out the window at the last negotiations in Singapore.

On to Europe with EUobserver:

Troika consultancies: A multi-million euro business beyond scrutiny

Alvarez and Marsal, BlackRock, Oliver Wyman, Pimco: The names mean nothing to the average European.

But the financial consultancies have played a central role in all the eurozone bailouts and have so far invoiced taxpayers in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain over €80 million.

Their “independent” expertise is used by the “troika” of international lenders – the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – to decide how much countries or banks need to prevent a default.

They are often hired without a public tender, posing questions on transparency and accountability.

BBC News talks Turkey:

EU and Turkey agreement on deporting migrants and visas

Turkey and the EU have signed a deal enabling EU countries to send back illegal migrants who entered the 28-nation bloc via Turkey.

The deal also establishes a roadmap for lifting visa requirements for Turks travelling to the EU. Visa-free status is expected in three years’ time.

Reuters:

‘Doom loop’ tying European banks and governments reinforced

European banks have filled their balance sheets with national debt since 2011, bringing them easy profits but reinforcing a “doom loop” linking weak banks to governments with shaky finances.

The euro zone debt crisis showed banks can suffer big losses from holdings of their own countries’ bonds, which in turn can torpedo state finances if banks need to be bailed out.

Policymakers have been trying to loosen the mutual exposure of banks and governments that ensured they dragged one another down during the crisis.

But the European Banking Authority (EBA), the European Union’s banking watchdog, said on Monday the share of bonds issued by sovereigns under stress held by their domestic banks had “increased markedly” between December 2010 and June 2013.

The London Telegraph:

Eurozone plans to wind up failing banks ‘too complex’, says Mario Draghi

European central bank chief says plans to wind up failing eurozone banks may be overly complicated and inadequately funded

Spiegel:

‘Brutal Power Politics’: Merkel’s Banking Union Policy Under Fire

Top officials in Brussels have told SPIEGEL that they disagree with Berlin’s approach to creating the planned banking union. Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to give big member states too much power, they say.

According to the German policy, a single bank resolution authority and an accompanying fund would be run primarily through an intergovernmental body, rather than through existing EU structures. This has led to suspicions within the European Commission and European Parliament that Berlin is applying systematic pressure on such matters.

Britain next with EUobserver:

Mooted UK migrant cap would be ‘illegal’

The European Commission has said reported UK plans to cap the number of EU migrants entering the country to 75,000 annually would be illegal.

“Any such restrictions would be illegal under the current rules,” European commission spokesperson Jonathan Todd told reporters in Brussels on Monday (16 December).

Deutsche Welle:

Eating or heating: the stark choice for many Brits as energy prices soar

In the UK thousands are struggling with rising energy costs. After last winter’s record number of deaths from cold weather, pressure is mounting on the government to force energy companies to help the most vulnerable.

Ireland next, with TheJournal.ie:

Irish banks still a source of ‘some concern’ says Mario Draghi

He said swift and decisive action is needed to address some of the issues in the Irish banking system.

JUST A DAY after Ireland’s exit from the bailout programme, the European Central Bank’s (ECB) Mario Draghi said the Irish banking system is still a source of “some concern”.

Speaking in the European Parliament today, he said the Irish balance sheet assessment, which is carried out by the Central Bank of Ireland “falls short” of stringent stress testing that he feels is needed.

The Independent:

Unemployed told to leave Ireland in desperate move to slash welfare costs

Ireland is asking its citizens to leave the country if they can’t find a job in a desperate bid to slash welfare costs.

The Irish government has sent letters to approximately 6,000 unemployed people suggesting they should take jobs in other European countries in an effort to reduce unemployment benefits, the Financial Times has reported.

The Reykjavík Grapevine:

Asylum Seekers Arriving In Iceland Often Jailed

Statistics from prison officials show that refugees who arrive in Iceland are often charged with carrying false and forged passports and jailed – despite this being a violation of international law.

DV reports that, according to data from prison officials, some 166 foreigners have been given jail sentences for false or forged passports since 2006. The vast majority of these are from outside of Europe; most typically, from the Middle East and Africa.

CNN:

Neo-Nazis attack anti-racism demonstrators in Sweden

A vicious attack at an anti-racism demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sunday proved the protesters have a legitimate concern.

A group of 40 far-right extremists threw stones, bottles and fireworks at a group of 200 people holding an organized, legal demonstration to oppose racism and growing neo-Nazi sentiment in the area, Stockholm police spokesman Sven-Erik Olsson said Sunday.

Two demonstrators and two police officers were injured and taken to the hospital, Olsson said.

Here’s raw video via TheLoical.se:

TheLocal.se:

Sweden fears import of Syrian terrorism

Sweden’s security police said they fear that terrorism could be imported by some 75 people who have left Sweden for Syria over the last two years to train or fight with al Qaeda-inspired groups.

The Swedish intelligence service Säpo on Monday released several key figures from the past year that testified to an increase in the number of persons commuting between Sweden and the bitter Syrian civil war, where numerous factions are fighting for power. In its last annual report, published in March, Säpo researchers said about 30 Swedes had made the trip south. That figure has now more than doubled.

There could also be several unconfirmed cases of militants-in-training, but the agency said it would not release the number of individuals it was looking into.

The Copenhagen Post takes us to Denmark:

Unemployed have difficulty staying in work

More than half find jobs within three months on benefits, but the progress is short-lived

Young unemployed people on welfare benefits return quickly to state support after finding work, new figures from the employment agency, Arbejdsmarkedsstyrelsen, reveal.

Spiegel takes us to Germany:

Complaint to EU: German Banks Try to Torpedo Transaction Taxes

German banking associations have sent letters to the European Commission urging it to forbid the new financial transaction taxes imposed by France and Italy. Insiders believe the letters are an attempt by the banking lobby to block a planned EU-wide financial transaction tax.

To Holland with DutchNews.nl:

Unskilled worst hit by unemployment, jobs scarce outside Randstad

The rise in unemployment between 2008 and 2012 has hit the low-skilled much harder than people with college or university degrees, the national statistics office CBS said on Monday.

In 2012, 8.8% of people with no or little further education were without work, up from 5.3% in 2008. But just 4.1% of people with a university degree were unemployed last year, up from 2.4% the year the crisis started.

Deutsche Welle:

Verdi labor union widens walkout at Amazon in Germany

German labor union Verdi has intensified its strike action against online retailer Amazon, seeking to slow deliveries in the middle of the crucial Christmas holiday season. Amazon is rejecting a demand for higher pay.

France next, first with Associated Press:

Horses used in labs end up on French dinner tables

Meat from horses used in laboratory procedures was illegally sold as fit for human consumption and landed on French dinner tables, authorities said Monday.

Police, food safety and veterinary investigators carried out pre-dawn raids in 11 regions around southern France, arresting 21 people. The complex case raised new concerns about how this country, with its rich culinary reputation, polices its food supply.

BBC News:

PMI surveys raise fears that France may be back in recession

The eurozone’s recovery is continuing, a survey of businesses has suggested, but it has also revealed a widening divergence in economic performance between France and Germany.

The latest purchasing managers’ index (PMI) from Markit rose to 52.1 in December from 51.7 last month. A figure above 50 indicates expansion

On to Spain with El País:

The troika gives Spain a positive report in last review of fulfillment of bank bailout terms

But ECB, EC and IMF point to the need for more reforms

Spain will exit its bailout program for the cleaning up of its banks in January without the need for any safety net after the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF gave the country a pass mark in its last report on the fulfillment of the commitments it acquired, albeit with provisos.

ThinkSpain:

Three members of same family die of food poisoning after raiding bins

A FAMILY has died after eating out-of-date food they found whilst raiding bins because they could not make ends meet.

Both parents – E.C., 61, an unemployed plumber and C.B., 50 – perished after suffering nausea and vomiting, as did their 14-year-old daughter.

El País:

House prices rise on quarterly basis for first time in three years

But market still down on an annual basis and experts doubt prices have bottomed out

House prices in Spain rose on a quarterly basis for the first time since the middle of 2010 in the third quarter of this year, but experts said that did not mean that the housing market has started to emerge from trough it plunged into around the start of 2008.

TheLocal.es:

‘Catalonia is Spain’s next crisis’: Financial Times

The recent decision by the president of Catalonia to call an independence poll in 2014 was “tilting Spain towards full-blooded constitutional conflict”, the UK’s Financial Times said on Sunday

Catalonia President Mas announced on Thursday that Catalonia planned to hold a referendum on November 9th.

Portugal next, first from the Portugal News:

Bankruptcies – 35 companies going under each day

During the first 11 months of this year an average of 35 companies went bankrupt each day.

Between January and November more than 8100 companies were forced to closed their doors, 13.4 percent more than last year.

BBC News:

Portugal passes ‘troika’s’ bailout review of its economy

Portugal has moved a step closer to exiting its bailout programme after the international lenders that saved the country from bankruptcy approved a review of the economy six months early.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have been monitoring the country’s economic reforms, a condition of the 2011 78bn-euro (£66bn) bailout. Portugal hopes to leave the bailout agreement in the middle of next year.

The Portugal News:

Golden visas bring in €240m

For the first time since their introduction, two of the so-called Golden Visa residence permits have been renewed by Portuguese authorities.

Introduced in October 2012, a total of 388 of these visas have been issued, generating investment in Portugal of close to 250 million euros, mostly in the real estate industry. Almost three-quarters of these visas have been granted to Chinese nationals.

TheLocal.it:

Italy’s professionals see their salaries fall

Self-employed professionals in Italy saw their salaries fall over five years, with notaries and engineers among the hardest hit, national media reported on Monday.

The fall in real income between 2007 and 2012 ranged from 3.1 percent for accountants to 45.1 percent for notaries, Il Sole 24 Ore reported.

ANSAmed:

Almost one in three Italians threatened by poverty

Poverty risk in Italy higher than European average, says Istat

Amid the deepest recession since the Second World War, almost 30% of Italians were at risk of falling into poverty and social exclusion last year, national statistics agency Istat said Monday. It concluded that in 2012, 29.9% of Italians were at risk – an increase of 1.7% over 2011 figures and fully 5.1% higher than the European average of 24.8%, the agency said.

TheLocal.it:

Neo-fascist leader arrested for anti-EU stunt

The vice-president of neo-fascist group Casapound has been arrested after climbing onto the European Commission building in Rome and tearing down the EU flag.

Simone Di Stefano was charged with aggravated theft, resisting a public official and unauthorized protest, Corriere della Sera reported on Saturday.

TheLocal..it:

Anti-EU Northern League party gets new leader

Italy’s separatist Northern League party on Sunday named as its new leader Matteo Salvini, who said the European single currency was “a crime against humanity” and called for independence for northern Italy.

“We will not stop until independence,” Salvini, who is a lawmaker in the European Parliament, told a party congress in Turin which confirmed his election victory last week against the party’s founder Umberto Bossi.

After the jump, devastated Greece awaits judgment, Ukrainian turmoil, Latin American elections, trade pact pushes, Chinese neoliberalism, and lots more — plus Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFukuFalala


We begin in the U.S. with another consequence of living in austerian times via ProPublica:

When Lenders Sue, Quick Cash Can Turn Into a Lifetime of Debt

High-cost lenders exploit laws tipped in their favor to sue tens of thousands of Americans every year. The result: A $1,000 loan grows to $40,000.

Bloomberg gets to the bottom of it:

Haircut Deficit: Kids Living in Basements a Drag on U.S. Services Spending

Slow services spending is “the culprit behind sluggish growth” of the economy, said Carl Riccadonna, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York.

Outlays have been held back by a slowdown in new household formation and meager wage growth. As young adults stay home with their parents rather than forging out on their own, spending on utilities and amenities such as cable television has languished.

From Quartz, predatory commerce at its fiercest:

Amazon changes its prices more than 2.5 million times a day

An analysis of retail pricing habits run by price intelligence firm Profitero revealed a pretty staggering statistic: Amazon changes its prices more than 2.5 million times a day. By comparison, Walmart and Best Buy changed their prices roughly 50,000 times each in the entire month of November.

Amazon’s business relies on its ability to offer as much as possible, as cheaply as possible, so constant price discounting shouldn’t come as a surprise. Amazon continuously monitors and undercuts its competitors’ prices. But the frequency at which the company is now changing its prices is incredible.

And from BBC News, the door revolves again:

Former Google lawyer Michelle Lee to run US patent office

Google’s former top patent lawyer has been put in charge of America’s patent and trademark office (USPTO).

Michelle Lee was made deputy director of the USPTO this week and will run the agency while it seeks a new boss.

While CNBC finds the gold in the Golden State:

The healthiest housing markets? It may surprise you

Following today’s housing recovery is like watching a bunch of sixth grade girls decide which boys are cool and which aren’t. Boy to boy, housing market to housing market, the winners and losers are constantly changing. Had one predicted just a year ago that five of the 10 healthiest housing markets would be in California, one might have been summarily dismissed.

But Zillow has found that the nation’s healthiest housing market is San Jose, followed by San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and just making it at No. 10, Sacramento.

And Want China Times discovers the likely source of more:

Chinese private equity firms make major investments in US

The reviving housing market in the United States has aroused the interest of Chinese investors, including individuals and real estate private equity firms.

The Grand China Fund, collaborating with a US firm, recently bought nine housing projects containing nearly 2,600 apartment units. The deal was finalized on Dec. 10.

From the New York Times, preying with the medical/industrial complex:

The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder

The Number of Diagnoses Soared Amid a 20-Year Drug Marketing Campaign

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

And a global story from The Guardian:

Pope says he is not a Marxist, but defends criticism of capitalism

Pope Francis says trickle-down economics do not help the poor, in a wide-ranging interview with Italian daily La Stampa

In remarks to the Italian daily La Stampa, the Argentinian pontiff said that the views he had espoused in his first apostolic exhortation last month – which the rightwing US radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked as “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong” – were simply those of the church’s social doctrine. Limbaugh described the pope’s church reforms as “pure Marxism”.

“The ideology of Marxism is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended,” Francis was quoted as saying.

On to Europe with an interesting development from EUobserver:

Mandatory lobby register requires EU treaty change

A treaty change or a unanimous decision from member states is needed to make the EU-joint transparency register mandatory.

“To get a legal base, we need a treaty change,” German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, told this website on Friday (13 December).

Reuters another socialization of bankster losses:

Exclusive: Euro zone to share costs of bank closures gradually – proposal

The cost of closing down a euro zone bank will initially be borne almost fully by its home country, but the obligations of euro zone partners will gradually rise to be shared equitably after 10 years, under the terms of an EU proposal seen by Reuters on Saturday.

The proposal, prepared by Lithuania which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, will be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of senior EU officials in Brussels on Monday, December 16.

On to England and more of that hard times intolerance from The Guardian:

Government considers EU immigration cap of 75,000 a year

Proposal emerges among range of measures including tougher employment criteria in leaked government report

From The Guardian, another sign of a growing class chasm:

Great house price divide: London’s 40% rises matched by big falls elsewhere

Report shows just how wide the chasm has grown between the housing market in the capital and the south-east and elsewhere – and how quickly it’s increasing

More hard times intolerance from RT:

Leaked: UK plans cutting influx of EU immigrants by one-third

The number of immigrants allowed to move to the UK from EU countries could be cut by one-third and limited to 75,000 people a year under proposals set out by the Home Office, according to a leaked government report.

A classified British Home Office document, seen by The Sunday Times, suggests a cap could cut net migration by 30,000 from the current 106,000 a year. It has also been reportedly proposed to block EU immigrants from claiming benefits or tax credits during their first five years in the UK.

And one consequence from The Independent:

‘Toxic’ immigration debate is giving Asia jitters, expert warns

The “increasingly toxic political debate” on immigration and the possibility that the UK could leave the European Union is rapidly fuelling concern among Asian governments and businesses, and risks damaging the country’s economic recovery, Britain’s former ambassador to Japan has warned.

Another bubble nears critical mass, from the London Telegraph:

Banks fear ‘debt UK’ backlash as extent of credit reliance laid bare

Figures to reveal more than £1 trillion lent by banks with figures to give stark picture of where levels of indebtedness are highest across UK.

On to Ireland with Independent.ie and a deadline:

Austerity to end by 2016 – Election time

REVEALED: Troika officials attended secret meetings here five weeks before bail out

The Coalition’s economic plan for the country up to the end of the decade will say there will be no more need for bailout-style adjustment packages of tax hikes and spending cuts after 2015.

Independent.ie again, with reality:

One in ten Irish living in poverty

One in 10 people suffers food poverty across the country, new figures have revealed.

As trade unions Mandate and Unite called for the Government to release vital funds to help tackle the problem, they cited pensioners, the newly unemployed and lone parents as among the worst off.

Germany next and the price of coalition from TheLocal.de:

Merkel rival gets ‘super ministry’ in new cabinet

Germany’s new “grand coalition” government on Sunday unveiled Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet for her third term, with a long-time rival to take its toughest job.

Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s power-sharing government, told reporters he would become her vice-chancellor and head up what the media labelled a “super ministry” responsible for the economy and energy policy.

More from Bloomberg:

German SPD Sets Up Third Merkel Term, Power to Push Policy Over Opposition

Germany’s Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel presented the SPD members of the next cabinet, saying they’ll face a challenge turning pledges into policy in government with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Gabriel will head a newly configured Economy Ministry with responsibility for Germany’s energy overhaul, with the SPD also taking labor, foreign affairs, environment, justice and families. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their CSU Bavarian allies will announce their respective ministers later today, having already secured the finance post for Wolfgang Schaeuble.

On to Spain and major educational changes from ThinkSpain:

‘Wert Law’ schools reform will take effect from September 2014

A SCHOOLS reform considered to be the most unpopular law in Spain’s democratic history will come into effect next year after having been approved solely with votes from the PP government.

The LOMCE (Ley Orgánica para la Mejora de la Calidad de la Enseñanza) or legislation for ‘improving teaching quality’ is described by the opposition, parents and teachers as ‘discriminatory’ on the grounds of class and gender, ‘pro-Spanish’ in a way that they say recalls the fascist régime of dictator General Franco, ‘reactionary’ and ‘non-secular’ and ‘invades the decision-making powers’ of regional governments.

Among the changes which they oppose, religious education (RE) will become compulsory even though its grade will not count towards students’ final school exams, the ‘societal skills education’ core subject Education for Citizenship (Educación para la Ciudadanía) will be scrapped and where pupils in autonomous regions with co-official languages do not want to be taught in these but instead, in Spanish, regional governments must guarantee the availability of a place at a school which teaches the curriculum in this language, even if this means attending a private school paid for by public funds.

RT protests:

Clashes in Madrid as demonstrators rally against anti-protest bill

At least 23 people have been hurt in clashes outside the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, as hundreds of protesters gathered on Saturday to demonstrate against newly proposed anti-protest legislation.

The demonstrators held signs that said ‘Freedom to protest’ and ‘People’s Party, shame of Spain!’ while police and barricades prevented them from getting any closer to the parliament building.

Here’s raw footage of the violence from vlogger Prisotnoststeje:

From ThinkSpain, neoliberalism at its worst, soaking those who can least afford it with oppressive value added taxes, otherwise known as sales taxes:

Taxes set to rocket with government fiscal reform

THE Spanish government’s fiscal reform will include lower income tax, fewer products and services on lower-rate IVA of four and 10 per cent and more on 21 per cent, and higher taxes on petrol, diesel and roll-your-own tobacco.

New ‘environmental’ taxes and fewer exemptions and discounts on company taxes will ‘help to limit the damage’ caused by decreasing IRPF, or income tax, says treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro, who claims additional duties will be applied to ‘those areas which least affect economic activity’ in the country.

From El País, denial:

Banks to be barred from writing off political parties’ debt

Cabinet approves anticorruption measures

Lenders will no longer be able to write off the debt of political parties while businesses and foundations will be barred from donating money to them, according to a raft of anti-corruption measures approved by the Cabinet on Friday.

thinkSPAIN 2882.30, reporting that seventty percent of working Spaniards make  $34,600 a year, and where the average under-twenty-five makes barely $20,000:

Average wage figures released: Public sector workers aged 55 and over are the best-paid

SEVEN in 10 residents in Spain earn less than 2,095 euros a month before tax and two-thirds of the under-25s take home a gross monthly salary of less than 1,216 euros, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). Only 4.9 per cent of those aged 25 and under earned 2,095 euros a month or more.

To work out these figures, the INE took details of all of Spain’s employed workers – just over 14.3 million – and listed them in descending order of salary before dividing them into 10 groups of equal numbers. This gave the INE the upper and lower quartile figures for income in Spain and enabled them to work out a median average wage for 2012 to reflect more accurately what people actually earn. It came out at 1,571 euros a month before tax, 268 euros lower than the mean average of 1,869 euros which was skewed by those few in the upper quartile earning several times that of the majority.

Across the Iberian Peninsula to Lisbon and a troubling wintertime announcement from the Portugal News:

Electric bills to go up 2.8% in January

Households are going to pay 2.8% more for their electricity in January the Portuguese energy watchdog (ERSE) has said

Italy next, with an outburst from Europe Online:

Neo-fascists attack EU offices in Rome; Turin, Venice see clashes

A group of about 100 neo-fascists stormed the offices of the European Commission in Rome and removed the EU flag before they were dispersed, police said Saturday.

More from TheLocal.it:

Clashes break out at Italy anti-austerity protests

Protesters clashed with police at anti-austerity demonstrations in Rome, Turin and Venice on Saturday, as part of a wave of social action led by Italy’s Forconi (Pitchforks) movement of farmers and truck drivers.

Students threw paint bombs at the police in Turin in northern Italy, a once-mighty industrial hub that has been laid low by the economic crisis and has been at the epicentre of protests that began this week.

Far-right activists wearing Italian flag masks and white nooses around their necks also rallied outside the European Commission’s office in Rome and took down a European flag outside before being chased off by police.

Europe Online looks at an emerging force:

Italian centre-left surges in polls under Renzi’s new leadership

Support for Italy’s centre-left coalition is sharply up in the polls following the election of Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi as leader of the Democratic Party (PD), local media noted Saturday.

And Europe Online bestows:

110-year-old Italian woman offers pension to Berlusconi party

A 110-year-old Italian woman wants to donate her entire pension to Forza Italia, the conservative party of billionaire media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, local media reported Sunday.

After the jump, Greek tragedy continues, Ukrainian brinksmanship, Latin American doldrums and elections, Indian economic woes, China roams the moon, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading