Category Archives: Latin America

Headlines of the day II EuroGrecoSinoFuku


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

BLOG Fukuzilla

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

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

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

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

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

CNBC dons rose-colored glasses:

Bill Gates: There will be no poor countries by 2035

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

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

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

TheLocal.ch parties hearty:

‘Horizontal trade’ looks to upswing at Davos meet

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

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

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

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

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

The housing recovery leaves America separate and unequal, once again

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

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

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

The Hill anticipates:

Supreme Court case could destroy pillar of union power

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

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

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

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

Dust finally settling from the Oakland Tribune:

California foreclosures plunge to eight-year low

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

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

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

San Francisco Chronicle-ing class warfare:

Protesters block tech buses before SFMTA meeting

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

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

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

Un-Like-ing via Vocativ:

Facebook May Lose 80% of Its User Base by 2017

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

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

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

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

Dodgy dodging from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

Jiji Press embraces the darkness:

Japan, US Agree on Effort for Early TPP Deal

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

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

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

While Deutsche Welle displays rare reserve:

EU freezes part of transatlantic trade negotiations with US

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

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

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

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

Monetary impoverishment from the London Telegraph:

Euro ‘increasing unemployment and social hardship’, says EC

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

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

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

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

Reuters examines the odds:

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

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle alerts:

EU sounds alarm on poverty among working-age people

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

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

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

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

Reuters bubbles:

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

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

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

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

Austerian fruits from the London Telegraph:

Lottery of NHS drugs punishes the dying

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

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

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

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

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

Inflationary death from RT:

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

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

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

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

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

Christian GPs want right to refuse the coil

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

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

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

Sweden next, and state secrets from TheLocal.se:

Government to seal lid on secret donations

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

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

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

France 24 and that ol’ hard times intolerance:

Poll finds xenophobia on the rise in France

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

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

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

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

RFI hooks up:

Peugeot shares plunge as Dongfeng tie-up announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police put their number at 16,000.

And on to Spain, first with El País:

Actual retirement age in Spain rises due to new labor restrictions

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gives ‘em the business:

Hard times? Spain’s elite richer than ever

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

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

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

El País optimizes:

IMF triples its growth forecast for the Spanish economy

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN gets together over getting together:

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

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

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

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

And from the Associated Press, no homage for Catalonia:

Spain PM: No secession referendum for Catalonia

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

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

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

Portugal next, and lethal austerianism from the Portugal News:

Waiting room woes

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

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

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

Italy next, and lethal intent from TheLocal.it:

Sicilian mafia boss orders judges’ murder

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

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

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

ANSAmed impoverishes:

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

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

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

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

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

And TheLocal.it has Bunga Bunga disgust:

Top Italian leftist resigns after Berlusconi deal

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoHydroFukuFrack


We begin close to home with a headline from Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

More from the New York Times:

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

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

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

Reuters gets defensive:

Latest perk on Google buses: security guards

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

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

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

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

The Denver Post bites:

Edible marijuana sales shattering sales projections in Colorado

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

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

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

The Guardian pays out:

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

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

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, class debt:

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek retaliates:

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

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

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

From Romenesko, more blood on a California newsroom floor:

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

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

Local editor Rob Curley has been promoted to top editor.

CNBC cops out:

Battle over police pensions in US cities takes ugly turn

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

Another copout from Al Jazeera America:

NYPD agrees to ‘largest protest settlement in history’

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

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

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

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

Red state blues from The Guardian:

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

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

Debt for the rising generation from Bloomberg Businessweek:

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

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

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

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

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

Inequality poses world’s greatest risk: report

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph heads to the MINT:

How to invest in the ‘MINT’ emerging markets

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

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

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

Splitting the difference with EUbusiness:

Bundesbank sees ‘limited’ risk of eurozone deflation

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

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

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

Auto anxieties from the London Telegraph:

Car sales in Europe at lowest level since 1995

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

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

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

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

Disestablishmentarianism from EUobserver:

MEPs call for dismantling of EU bailout ‘troika’

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

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

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

Gimme shelter from New Europe:

MEPs ask for an EU wide strategy for the homeless

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

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

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

Another new record from EUobserver:

Poverty in Europe at ‘unprecedented levels’

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

More Banksters Behaving Badly from The Guardian:

HSBC and Citigroup suspend foreign exchange traders amid rigging probe

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

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

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

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

Sky News bubbles selectively:

House Prices ‘Risk Becoming Unsustainable’

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

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

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

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

From The Independent, so much for du seigneur?:

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

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

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

Fancy-dress dogging on duke’s estate upsets villagers

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

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

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

RT bets on the come line:

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

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

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

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

An Irish booster shot from Independent.ie:

Moody’s upgrades Ireland to Investment Grade after bailout exit

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

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

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

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

Norwegian anxieties for naught from TheLocal.no:

Norway’s open border brings few Romanians

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

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

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

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

Dutch business leaders slam cabinet polices, support at record low

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

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

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

Germany next, where TheLocal.de restores a commons:

Hamburg buys its energy grid back for €400 million

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

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

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

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

Tonnes of dung dumped at French parliament

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

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

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

Spain next, and another austerian demand from El País:

Eurogroup and EC insist Spain needs second round of labor reform

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

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

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

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

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

From EurActiv, schismatic:

Spanish ruling party rebels launch new conservative party

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

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

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

More schismatics from El País:

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gets going:

Spain’s expat exodus continues

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

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN tracks turmoil:

Burgos burns as boulevard riots leave 40 in custody

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

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

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

On to Lisbon and a boost from El País:

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

  • Agency sees growing signs of economy stabilizing

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

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

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

Italy next, with diplomatic debauchery from TheLocal.it:

‘Bunga bunga’ claims hit US consulate in Italy

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

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

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

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

Retro racism from The Independent:

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

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

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

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

Looking for the Toxic Avenger with Spiegel:

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

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

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

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

Trans-Pacific Partnership: NAFTA on steroids


A concise explanation of some of the key reasons we should cast very jaundiced eyes on claims of partisans of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ocean-spanning NAFTA on steroids.

From RT’s The Big Picture:

TPP…fast track to poverty in America?

Program notes:

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI, 2nd District) joins Thom Hartmann. Decades of so-called free trade deals have decimated the middle-class and sent millions of jobs overseas. So why is the White House trying force yet another one down our throats?

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

WikiLeaks does it again: TPP environmental docs


BLOG TPP

Under constant fire and starved of cash by American banksters, WikiLeaks has done it again, this time revealing the draft of the game-changing Trans-Pacific Partnership’s toothless environmental protection document.

From their announcement:

Today, 15 January 2014, WikiLeaks released the secret draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Environment Chapter and the corresponding Chairs’ Report. The TPP transnational legal regime would cover 12 countries initially and encompass 40 per cent of global GDP and one-third of world trade. The Environment Chapter has long been sought by journalists and environmental groups. The released text dates from the Chief Negotiators’ summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013.

The Environment Chapter covers what the Parties propose to be their positions on: environmental issues, including climate change, biodiversity and fishing stocks; and trade and investment in ‘environmental’ goods and services. It also outlines how to resolve enviromental disputes arising out of the treaty’s subsequent implementation. The draft Consolidated Text was prepared by the Chairs of the Environment Working Group, at the request of TPP Ministers at the Brunei round of the negotiations.

When compared against other TPP chapters, the Environment Chapter is noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in ‘environmental’ goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ publisher, stated: “Today’s WikiLeaks release shows that the public sweetner in the TPP is just media sugar water. The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism.”

The Chairs’ Report of the Environment Working Group also shows that there are still significant areas of contention in the Working Group. The report claims that the draft Consolidated Text displays much compromise between the Parties already, but more is needed to reach a final text. The main areas of contention listed include the role of this agreement with respect to multilateral environmental agreements and the dispute resolution process.

Read the rest.

The documents are being kept secret even from legislators, and those allowed to see them aren’t permitted to make copies.

Even worse, backers of the American-job-destroying treaty are pushing Congress for legislation that would allow the negotiators themselves to approve the final version without any Congressional recourse, ensuring that any pretense of democratic oversight has been purged.

The chapter, along with other related secret documents, is posted here.

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 I: Spies, pols, lies, laws


On to the world of cloaks,daggers, drones, and bugs, starting with a rebuke from The Guardian:

NSA review panel casts doubt on bulk data collection claims

  • Panel members said phone data had limited role preventing terrorism in testimony before Senate judiciary committee

The members of president Barack Obama’s surveillance review panel on Tuesday rejected some of the central contentions offered by the National Security Agency for its bulk collection of phone records, including the program’s potential usefulness in preventing the 9/11 attacks.

Testifying before the Senate judiciary committee, members of the panel said that restricting the NSA is necessary in order to rebalance the competing values of liberty and security.

The Hill invokes industry partisans:

NSA reform proposals would ‘eviscerate’ important program, report says

The recommendations a panel made to President Obama about the National Security Agency’s metadata collection would “eviscerate an important counterterrorism program,” a new report says.

The Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, released the report, which also rejects most of the other recommendations the review group provided Obama.

Some of the recommendations include ending the NSA’s telephone metadata collection program, imposing new legal pathways to obtaining communications data and changing how the U.S. spies on foreign governments.

Next up, food for thought from Consortium News:

If Gov. Christie Had NSA’s Metadata

From Nextgov, a new hire:

Edward Snowden Just Got a New Job

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden might be a U.S. fugitive for the rest of his life, but that small detail isn’t stopping him from joining the board of a non-profit co-founded by Daniel Ellsberg, the one-time leaker of the Vietnam War-era Pentagon Papers.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation announced Snowden’s appointment Tuesday to a board of directors that already includes Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, two of the journalists to whom Snowden entrusted his secret documents. The group’s board also includes actor John Cusack.

“He is the quintessential American whistleblower, and a personal hero of mine,” Ellsberg said. “Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.”

In a statement, Snowden called the opportunity to serve on the board and work with Ellsberg “tremendously humbling.”

Deutsche Welle hits a stumbling block:

Impasse at US-Germany ‘no-spying’ talks?

Two senior German politicians have urged the United States to concede to Germany’s quest for a “no-spying” pact, with one warning that Berlin could consider sanctions against US firms operating in Germany.

German media reports of an impasse at US-German talks to avert spying between allies prompted several senior German politicians on Tuesday to suggest diplomatic and economic pressure on Washington.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, however, said that the talks were continuing, telling journalists at a Berlin press conference that negotiations remained confidential.

Stephan Mayer, the new internal affairs spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative parliamentary group, told Reuters on Tuesday her government should consider withholding contracts with US firms that operate in Germany.

Mayer said if the talks failed then Germany must contemplate whether “US firms receive government contracts from the German side or public institutions.”

More from The Guardian:

US will not enter bilateral no-spy deal with Germany, reports media

  • Despite assurance from Barack Obama, United States has not ruled out bugging political leaders’ calls, claims German paper

America is refusing to enter a bilateral no-spy agreement with Germany and has declined to rule out bugging the calls of German political leaders in the immediate future, according to reports in the German media.

Last October, revelations that the National Security Agency had been bugging Angela Merkel’s mobile were met with outrage in Berlin and apologetic soundbites from Washington.

President Barack Obama had reportedly assured the German leader that the US “is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of chancellor Merkel”. Barely three months on, the mood seems to have changed.

Deutsche Welle responds:

German media blast US ‘No’ to no-spy agreement

After last year’s media outrage was appeased by the prospect of a no-spy pact, recent reports that US-German talks are unlikely to lead to binding promises on the US side have once again stoked the German media fire.

In a story that ran under the headline “The US lied to us,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), along with national public broadcaster NDR, reported on Monday that the planned no-spy agreement between the US and Germany was on course to fail, according to insiders.

On Tuesday, the SZ voiced an expectation that US President Barack Obama could make a statement on reforms at the NSA this week, but claimed that these are likely to be “political declarations” rather than detailed agreements. An opinion piece also published in the Munich-based paper on Tuesday poured scorn on US justifications for refusing to come to a binding agreement, for example by pointing out that “The US refusal [to agree to stop spying on German politicians] shows that the fight against terrorism is only an excuse.” The daily paper claimed that it was an illusion to think that the spying was an “aberration, an excess of the US intelligence agency alone, and not of US politics in toto”, which it concludes must see itself as “above the law.”

From TheLocal.es, satisfaction:

Spain ‘satisfied’ with Obama over spy scandal

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Monday after meeting with US President Barack Obama that Spain had received a “satisfactory” explanation of reports that American spies bugged European leaders’ phones.

Rajoy told reporters that the Spanish government and the United States had conducted “full consultations” on the issue and Washington’s explanations were “satisfactory.”

“As long as there are no new developments, I have nothing to add to what I have said about this previously,” Rajoy added.

The Guardian opens the doors:

GCHQ spying case wins rare public hearing in secret court

Investigatory Powers Tribunal agrees to hearing over claims GCHQ spied on UK-Libya rendition case lawyers

Libyan Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were abducted in Manila in 2004 and flown to Tripoli, where they were allegedly tortured. Britain’s most secretive court has held a rare public hearing following claims that it was slow to examine allegations that GCHQ has been spying on lawyers representing victims of a UK-Libyan rendition operation.

The investigatory powers tribunal agreed to the hearing only after the lawyers mounted high court proceedings to force the tribunal to order that the fruits of any such surveillance be withheld from government lawyers who are defending the UK’s intelligence agencies in a separate claim for damages.

From BBC News, chutzpah:

US anger at Israel Kerry ‘comment’

The US has condemned as “offensive” reported comments by Israel’s defence minister about Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace proposals.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the alleged comments by Moshe Yaalon were “inappropriate” given America’s support to Israel’s security. It was a rare rebuke to America’s ally.

Mr Yaalon was quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as saying Mr Kerry was acting out of “misplaced obsession and messianic fervour”. He said a security plan Mr Kerry had presented to Israel was “not worth the paper it was written on”.

“John Kerry – who has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and messianic fervour – cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians,” he is quoted as saying.

And on to Asia, with all the latest zone, purge, and other crises, right after the jump, plus cartel conspiracies, and a blast from the Kissinger past. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoNoFuku


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

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

US dollar era could end: Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent

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

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

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

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

The Contributor Network delivers the inhumane:

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG Single mom poverty

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

Pritzker Scion Backs Pot Plans as Getting High Gets Legal

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

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

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

TheLocal.de covers a landmark:

German carmakers celebrate record US sales

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

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

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

The Washington Post strikes close to Republican home:

Survey: Strong concern about health coverage among congressional staffers

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

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

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

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

Another institution gets an offshore owner via BBC News:

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

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

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

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

Belated realization from Al Jazeera America:

Larry Summers joins the reality-based economics community

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

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

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

Gee, ya think so? From Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMF adds four European countries to financial risk list

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

Looking down with EUbusiness:

Portugal, Greece, Latvia highlight eurozone deflation risk

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

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

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

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

Another warning, via Reuters:

ECB’s Mersch says recovery on wobbly legs

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

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

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

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

On to Britain with a weighty entry from RT:

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

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

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

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

Just say no, via EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

The idea was quickly dismissed by ministers.

Neoliberal gospel from the Irish Independent:

Slash tax to create jobs and attract business, report urges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hints of coming Danish deflation from the Copenhagen Post:

Inflation at a historic low

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

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

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

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

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

Germany: Government wants German army to be an attractive employer

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

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

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

Europe Online books a profit:

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

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

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

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

EurActiv voices opposition:

French senators strongly attack EU-US trade deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the latest twist from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande-Gayet ‘love nest’ linked to mafia

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

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

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

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

Spanish PM to sell recovery in Obama talks

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

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

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

El País boosts:

Economy grew 0.3 percent in fourth quarter, De Guindos says

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

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

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

The Portugal News re-ups:

Prime Minister to seek second mandate

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

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

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

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

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

Barroso says Portugal would do well to take new aid programme

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

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

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

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

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

M5S voters support decriminalizing clandestine immigration

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

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

The harsh reality from TheLocal.it:

‘Migrants are treated like dogs’: Italian MP

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: 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: EconoGrecoSinoFuku’ed


Today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental begins in the U.S.A. and a prescription for economic blowback from the Associated Press:

Doctors say cutting food stamps could backfire

Doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills. Maybe not immediately, they say, but over time if the poor wind up in doctors’ offices or hospitals as a result.

Among the health risks of hunger are spiked rates of diabetes and developmental problems for young children down the road.

The doctors’ lobbying effort comes as Congress is working on a compromise farm bill that’s certain to include food stamp cuts. Republicans want heftier reductions than do Democrats in yet another partisan battle over the government’s role in helping poor Americans.

Reuters gridlocks:

U.S. unemployment benefits extension stalls in Senate

Senate Democrats on Thursday offered a new plan to revive federal unemployment benefits until mid-November and pay the $18 billion price tag with new spending cuts, but hopes of a bipartisan deal dissolved into bickering by day’s end.

“The package does what the Republicans wanted,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor. He said the cost of renewing the jobless benefits for about 1.4 million long-term unemployed Americans would be “entirely paid for” and would contain “structural changes they (Republicans) were demanding.”

But key Republicans promptly rejected the Democratic initiative to renew the benefits that expired on December 28, dashing hopes earlier in the day that the two parties were moving toward a compromise.

The Guardian reevaluates:

US retailers slash fourth-quarter profit forecasts after weak holiday season

  • American Eagle and Bed Bath & Beyond cut expectations
  • Holiday season challenging for retailers amid shaky economy

Several major retailers slashed their fiscal fourth-quarter profit forecasts this week in the latest sign that Americans didn’t spend briskly during the holiday shopping season.

American Eagle Outfitters and Bed Bath & Beyond are among seven retail chains so far that have cut their expectations for their fiscal fourth quarter, which includes the critical holiday shopping season when stores can make up to 40% of their annual sales.

A confluence from Bloomberg Businessweek:

Legal Pot: The Gateway Drug to State-Run Banking?

If ever a hippie dream existed, it would probably look something like what’s being proposed in Washington by Democratic State Senator Bob Hasegawa. He wants to open a state-run bank specifically to serve Washington’s newly legal marijuana industry. The proposal would solve two real problems: Pot businesses would no longer be trapped in an all-cash economy thanks to federal laws that prohibit banks from handling drug money, and the state would send less money to Wall Street.

There’s just one state-run bank in the country: the Bank of North Dakota. It uses the revenue collected through taxes and other government income to provide capital for low-interest loans to state residents, including students, homeowners, and farmers. The bank’s operations return millions to the state’s coffers. (It’s worth noting that the bank has nothing to do with pot.)

From MainStreet, green inflation:

Marijuana Rationing Begins in Colorado, Big Demand in Spite of High Prices

High prices have not diminished demand for recreational marijuana in Colorado, with some shops already sold out of their initial inventory. Grass rationing has begun, as retailers begin imposing additional restrictions on sales, well below the caps required by state law.

The Denver Post reports as many as 100,000 people purchased pot in the first week of legal sales in Colorado, totaling an estimated $5 million in revenues.

“None of us could really prepare for what was going to hit us,” Nick Brown, owner of High Country Healing in Silverthorne told the Post. “I think we all thought we would see huge demand and lines.

Big Brother and loan arranger, via the Wall Street Journal:

Borrowers Hit Social-Media Hurdles

  • Regulators Have Concerns About Lenders’ Use of Facebook, Other Sites

More lending companies are mining Facebook, FB -1.73% Twitter TWTR -3.78% and other social-media data to help determine a borrower’s creditworthiness or identity, a trend that is raising concerns among consumer groups and regulators.

Lending companies—some of which are backed with venture funding from Google Ventures, GOOG -0.96% the venture-capital arm of Google Inc., and Accel Partners, an early Facebook Inc. investor—are looking at potential problems such as whether applicants put the same job information on their loan application as they posted on LinkedIn, or if they shared on Facebook that they had been let go by an employer. A small business that draws negative reviews on eBay EBAY -0.57% also could undermine its chances of getting more credit, lending companies say.

The practice is being used largely by startups that grant smaller loans, but the concept seems likely to spread. Fair Isaac Corp. FICO +0.10% , which provides the credit scoring used in more than 90% of lenders decisions, says it is weighing possibilities for incorporating social media.

South China Morning Post covers a smooth talker:

I’m good at working with Jews, says Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao who wants to buy WSJ

  • After failed attempt of meeting with shareholders of The Times, an unfazed Chen said he was now considering buying the Wall Street Journal

Chen Guangbiao, a Chinese recycling tycoon listed among China’s top 400 richest people, has stunned many by traveling to New York this week in  pursuit of buying The New York Times.

Yet after a failed attempt at meeting with shareholders of the Times, an unfazed Chen said he was now considering buying The Wall Street Journal.

“I am going to talk to the Wall Street Journal and find out if it’s for sale,” he said in an interview with Sinovision, a New York-based Chinese television station on Wednesday, reaffirming his plan to “buy an American newspaper.”

Vocativ has a best-seller:

Kindle Führer: “Mein Kampf” Tops Amazon Charts

  • E-book versions of Hitler’s opus are rising in the rankings on Amazon and iTunes. What gives?

You won’t see Adolf Hitler peering back at you from the featured display tables at Barnes & Noble any time soon. But browse the most popular e-book stores these days and Der Führer’s mug is seemingly unavoidable. For a year now, his magnum manifesto has loomed large over current best-sellers on iTunes, where at the time of this writing two different digital versions of Mein Kampf rank 12th and 15th on the Politics & Current Events chart alongside books by modern conservative powerhouses like Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer and Glenn Beck.

In fact, all seven of Beck’s books trail Herr Hitler’s nearly century-old tell-all, which consistently holds its own against new e-blockbusters like Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, This Town by Mark Leibovich, and Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise.

Sobering news from Bloomberg:

Funds With $100 Billion May Be Too Big to Fail, FSB Says

Investment funds that manage more than $100 billion in assets may be labeled too big to fail, global regulators said, as they seek to expand financial safeguards beyond banks and insurers.

Hedge funds with trading activities exceeding a set value of $400 billion to $600 billion would also be assessed by national authorities to gauge whether they need extra rules because their collapse could spark a crisis, the Financial Stability Board said in a statement yesterday.

The report addresses “the risks to global financial stability and economic stability posed by the disorderly failure of financial institutions other than banks and insurers,” Mark Carney, Bank of England governor and FSB chairman, said in the statement. “They are integral to solving the problem of financial institutions that are too big to fail.”

Secret trade negotiations to get the fast track, from EUbusiness:

US lawmakers propose key step to boost trade deals

Lawmakers on Thursday proposed empowering US trade negotiators to push ahead major deals with Pacific Rim and European Union nations, but the move faces stiff opposition.

Three key lawmakers on trade policy introduced a bill to give President Barack Obama “fast-track authority,” which would allow his team to negotiate agreements that Congress could approve or reject — without making changes.

Supporters said the four-year extension of the powers, which last ended in 2007, is indispensable to speeding up trade negotiations.

The trade authority legislation “is critical to a successful trade agenda,” Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement.

On to Europe, first with the fragile from BBC News:

European Central Bank keeps rates at record 0.25% low

  • Mario Draghi: “The recovery is there, but it is weak, modest and fragile”

The European Central Bank (ECB) has kept its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.25%.

ECB said president Mario Draghi said rates would “remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time”.

There had been speculation that the bank might act to bolster fragile growth in the 18-nation euro bloc.

With eurozone inflation falling below 1%, there is also concern about deflation as consumers delay purchases in the hope of prices falling further.

The Guardian responds:

Euro plummets after ECB warns currency zone may need more support

  • European Central Bank head Mario Draghi says Japanese-style stagnation possible amid high unemployment and falling inflation

The European Central Bank sent the euro tumbling on world markets after it warned that the 18-member currency zone may need further support to prevent a Japanese-style period of stagnation.

The ECB president, Mario Draghi, said persistently high unemployment, falling inflation and difficult lending conditions were harming the recovery and the ECB stood ready to use all the tools available to maintain confidence and growth.

On to Britain and a German invasion from Deutsche Welle:

German discount grocers Aldi, Lidl bite into profits of UK retail giants

Britain’s biggest retailers have reported heavy falls in sales around Christmas amid rising competition in their home market. They lost market share to Germany’s Aldi and Lidl which saw booming seasonal sales in the UK.

Britain’s biggest supermarket group Tesco reported Thursday that crucial Christmas sales had dropped substantially. In the six weeks to January 4, sales in its home market declined 2.4 percent compared with the same period a year ago, Tesco said. Further weakness in the UK grocery market continued to impact Tesco’s performance, Chief Executive Philip Clarke noted.

Tesco’s results for the all-important Christmas season came one day after Britain’s second largest retailer Sainsbury announced shallow sales with gains of just 0.2 percent around Christmas. Sainsbury blamed tightening consumer budgets amid austerity for the drop.

The Copenhagen Post hopes to seal a Danish deal in the far north:

Uranium deal with Greenland sealed by year’s end

  • Greenland is gambling that mining will save its economy, but still needs Denmark’s help handling by-products

Denmark and Greenland will have an agreement about how to proceed with uranium mining in the Arctic country in place by the end of the year.

At a press conference yesterday following a meeting with the Greenlandic premier Aleqa Hammond, Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) said that she was confident an agreement would be in place in the second half of 2014.

“We have made strides but we also admit that we don’t agree on everything,” she said, according to AFP.

Norway next, with good fortune from CNBC:

All Norwegians become millionaires as oil fund balloons

Everyone in Norway became a theoretical krone millionaire on Wednesday in a milestone for the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund that has ballooned thanks to high oil and gas prices.

Set up in 1990, the fund owns around 1 percent of the world’s stocks, as well as bonds and real estate from London to Boston, making the Nordic nation an exception when others are struggling under a mountain of debts.

A preliminary counter on the website of the central bank, which manages the fund, rose to 5.11 trillion krones ($828.66 billion), fractionally more than a million times Norway’s most recent official population estimate of 5,096,300.

TheLocal.no profiles:

ISS slammed for ‘ethnic Norwegian only’ job ad

Danish temping firm ISS has been criticised by Norway’s anti-discrimination ombudsman for posting a job advert which specified that only “ethnic Norwegian persons” should apply.

The advert, for a cleaning job near Lillehammer, was posted on the Norwegian government’s Labour and Welfare site NAV.

“The client requires a security clearance and the position is therefore available only for ethnic Norwegian persons,” ISS wrote in the advert, which can be seen here.

Carl Fredrik Riise, an advisor at Norway’s anti-discrimination ombudsman, said that the advert was in violation of Norwegian law.

Sweden next, and cash from the east via TheLocal.se:

Volvo Cars sales rise on strong China growth

Volvo Cars cited “fantastic growth” in China as one of the main drivers behind an increase in annual sales, the Swedish automaker announced on Thursday.

The Asian country became Volvo’s first market at the end of last year, during which the company sold 427,840 cars, 1.4 percent more than in 2012.

“After six consecutive months of growing sales we can report a great full-year performance exceeding last year’s results,” Volvo Cars Marketing, Sales and Customer Service executive Alain Visser said.

Germany next, and Spiegel cools it:

Disastrous Impression’: Cities Say Immigration Debate Overheated

The Association of German cities this week played down depictions that an influx of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria is causing major problems for the country. The group’s president says troubles are concentrated in a handfull of cities.

Derided as “poverty immigrants” in Germany and “benefit tourists” in Britain, largely Roma immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are the subject of growing political attacks in Europe this year.

The German Association of Cities is warning that the debate — fueled by politicians from Germany’s Christian Social Union (CSU) — threatens to spiral out of control.

The London Telegraph fights back:

German foreign minister attacks ‘brainless Eurosceptics’

  • Germany calls for “brainless Eurosceptics” to be “confronted” because they “could prove dangerous to the EU”

Eurosceptics are “brainless” and pose a threat to the existence of the European Union, Germany’s new foreign minister has said.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minster, has launched a vehement attack on the opponents of the EU and critics of the eurozone’s economic policies.

“We must not avoid confrontation with populists, nationalists, with these brainless people who call themselves Eurosceptics,” he told the Greek Ta Nea newspaper while on a visit to Athens.

Xinhua fires up:

German industrial production increases in November

German industrial production increased more than expected in November 2013, official data showed on Thursday, adding signs that the Europe’s largest economy is regaining its strength.

Industrial output, adjusted for calendar and seasonal variations, increased by 1.9 percent from October, when the production dropped by 1.2 percent month-on-month, data from the Federal Economy Ministry showed.

The increase exceeded economists’ forecast, and reinforced the expectation that the German economy is regaining strength amid a European crisis which was expected to end soon.

TheLocal.de just says no:

Poll stubs out legal cannabis hopes

Nearly two thirds of Germans are against cannabis being made legal, a new study shows. Only among Green party supporters would a majority like the drug decriminalized.

Sixty-five percent of Germans say they would reject relaxing laws restricting the production, sale and consumption of marijuana, according to the study conducted by opinion pollsters Forsa for Stern magazine.

Just under a third of those asked (29 percent) would like to see the drug legalized, while six percent said they have no opinion on the issue. Among supporters of the Green Party, those in favour of legalization jumped up to 51 percent.

On to France, and more bad news from Europe Online:

France’s trade deficit balloons to 5.7 billion euros in November

France’s trade deficit ballooned at the end of 2013, official figures released on Thursday showed.

The deficit, which measures the shortfall between net exports and imports, rose from 4.8 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) in October to 5.7 billion euros in November. The cumulative deficit for the 12 months to November stood at 61.6 billion euros, marking a drop from the previous year’s figure of 68.1 billion euros.

Exports fell 2 per cent to 35.5 billion euros in November, a decline attributed by the French customs service to a reduction in sales of transport equipment and machinery.

Switzerland next, and an ax to fall from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss banks set for more job cuts: EY study

Swiss banks look set for new job cuts this year, despite ever-rosier figures, amid rising regulatory pressure and a US clampdown on tax-dodgers, consultants EY said on Thursday.

In a study on the 2014 outlook for the country’s banking sector, EY underlined the tough environment for what is a cornerstone of the Swiss economy.

“Swiss banks have dealt with the challenges of increasingly difficult conditions such as low interest rates, falling transaction volumes and regulatory pressure,” said Patrick Schwaller, a managing partner at EY, formerly known as Ernst & Young. “They have no choice but to adapt their business models and processes on an ongoing basis,” he said in a statement.

Spain next, with a step back from El País:

Abortion reform draft will be modified but not radically changed, Justice Ministry sources say

  • Proposed legislation will be sent to legal, health and educational for their comments
  • Galician PP leader pleads with prime minister not to make “Socialists’ mistake” of passing law unilaterally

The government’s controversial draft abortion reform, which greatly restricts the right to terminate pregnancies, will not enter law in the form approved by the Cabinet, Justice Ministry sources said Thursday.

“There will be modifications, of course, but not substantial changes,” the sources said.

El País slows a neoliberalization of the commons:

Magistrates decide to maintain freeze on Madrid hospital privatization

  • Regional tribunal passes appeals back to courts of origin

The 43 judges who make up the Administrative Litigation Division of the Madrid regional High Court (TSJM) in just a few hours on Thursday reached a majority decision to send back the seven appeals affecting the privatization of parts of the region’s healthcare system to their courts of origin, TSJM sources have revealed.

The decision constitutes backing for a precautionary suspension of the privatization process, which has been on hold since September. The full content of the division’s rulings will become known in the coming hours.

The session to resolve the appeals relating to the passing of six public hospitals into private hands began at around 9.45am Thursday morning and, in barely three hours, magistrates decided to return them to the courts from which they came.

Portugal next, and a triumphant declaration from EUbusiness:

Successful Portugal bond auction heralds eurozone turnaround

Bailed-out Portugal’s borrowing costs tumbled Thursday as it wowed markets with a successful 3.25-billion-euro ($4.4 billion) government bond sale, heralding a comeback for the debt-ridden laggards of the eurozone.

After years of budget cuts and tough reforms to curb soaring debt — which unleashed mass protests — fresh hope for economic recovery in Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy appeared to have won over buyers on the bond market.

Portugal’s return to the market coincided with similar success for Spain’s first big debt auction of 2014 and came two days after a popular bond sale by Ireland.

Italy next, and down in the dumps with TheLocal.it:

Italy arrests head of Europe’s biggest landfill

Italian police on Thursday placed under house arrest the owner of Europe’s biggest landfill outside Rome and six others including a former regional governor as part of an investigation into illegal waste management.

Manlio Cerroni – dubbed the “King of Waste” by the local press – manages Malagrotta, a 250-hectare landfill on the outskirts of the Italian capital that has flouted environmental laws for years.

Malagrotta was supposed to have shut in 2007 in line with European rules banning open landfills but local officials had granted successive reprieves for Cerroni.

After the jump, Greek depression deepens, Cypriot joblessness, Indian cautions, Thai threats, Indonesian retirement, Chinese raises and trade, Japanese gloom, and Fukshimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFoibles


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

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

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

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

More plutocratic sumptuary delights from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

And The Independent looks to a growing green power:

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

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

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

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

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

High Times launches investment fund for marijuana business

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

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

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

CNBC coverts the increasingly left behinds:

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

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

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

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

From the Washington Post, corruption incarnate:

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

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

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

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

South China Morning Post covers a news play:

Chinese tycoon ‘serious’ about buying New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channel NewsAsia Singapore offers another uptick:

US factory orders hit 1992 high

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

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

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

The New York Times takes note:

The Bubble Is Back

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

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

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

Company earnings warnings are at record-highs

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

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

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

Across the Atlantic with somber news from New Europe:

Bloomberg survey: Eurozone unemployment above 12 per cent

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

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

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

Spiegel invokes the green monster:

Crisis Management: Europe Eyes Anglo-Saxon Model with Envy

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

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

A bankster victory ahead, from EUbusiness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News spots a need:

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

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

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

Sky News again, with the ax in hand:

Hundreds Of NHS Direct Staff Face Job Losses

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

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

The Australian Financial Review goes austerian:

UK’s Osborne pushes for more welfare cuts

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

More from CNNMoney:

More austerity for U.K. despite recovery

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

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

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

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

South China Morning Post takes a hike:

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

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

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

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

And The Guardian stalls:

UK services sector growth slows – but still outpaces eurozone average

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

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

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

Off to Ireland and another pattern from Independent.ie:

Service sector activity at highest level since 2007

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

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

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

Germany next, where the Australian Financial Review reforms:

Deutsche Bank on road to reform

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

A shift perceived from EUobserver:

EU power shifts from Brussels to Berlin

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

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

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

TheLocal.de fetes:

Inflation falls in boost for economy

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

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

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

Upbeat news with 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.

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

Poverty in Germany hits new high

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

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

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

Kathimerini English investigates:

Germans will also probe tank deal after bribe claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek diagnoses:

More Evidence France Is the New Sick Man of Europe

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

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

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

TheLocal.fr resists:

French workers hold Goodyear execs hostage

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

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

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

Spain next, and a familiar pattern from El País:

Services sector grows at fastest pace since start of economic crisis

  • Survey also indicates labor market is showing signs of stabilizing

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

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

A Swiss miss from Sky News:

Swiss Central Bank Loses £10bn On Gold Plunge

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

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

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

TheLocal.ch cautions:

Employer groups warn against immigrant quotas

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFuku’all


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

Critics question desirability of relentless economic growth

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

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

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

Profits up in smoke from Raw Story:

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

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

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

Supply simply can’t keep up with demand.

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

David Cameron pledges to ‘protect’ state pension

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

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

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

The London Telegraph offers a dire prescription:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian offers another side of the austerian dream:

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

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

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

One response, via The Observer:

Eviction of tenants on welfare ‘will create benefit blackspots’

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

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

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

From Sky News, a rare concession?:

Barclays Poised To Back Down Over Pay Plans

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

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

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

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

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

Bank staff fired after exposing corrupt official

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

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

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

The Sunday Independent again, with more bankster news:

Banks ramp up pressure on families in arrears

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

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

Off to France and the fast shuffle from New Europe:

Hollande goes abroad to shake off domestic criticism

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

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

On to Spain and another unpopular personage with The Guardian:

Six in 10 Spaniards want king to abdicate, poll shows

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

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

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

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

Basque abertzale left accuses Rajoy of trying to block peace talks

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

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

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

On to Greece with a warning from MacroPolis:

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

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

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

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

Questions from Neos Kosmos:

Budget surplusses questioned

US analysts claim a Greek default is possible in 2014

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

Kathimerini English confers:

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

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

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

Greek Reporter fortifies:

Venizelos Under Siege in PASOK

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year Suckers!

The Looting of Europeans

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoGMOFuku


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

We open with a warning from the Economic Times:

Retreating US stimulus poses risk to world recovery

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

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

From CBC News, a sad reality:

Good-looking CEOs may attract better stock returns

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

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

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

The Guardian notes a potential political advantage:

Leading Republicans’ states among worst hit by jobless benefits cuts

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

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

More from the Christian Science Monitor:

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

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

Fault-finding with the Los Angeles Times:

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

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

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

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

CNBC makes an exception:

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

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

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

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

Boeing workers vote to save jobs but lose pensions

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

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

Europe Online delivers a demand:

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

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

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

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

Off to Britain with a bonus from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

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

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

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

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

From the London Telegraph, inflating the bubble:

Business lending slump deepens, as mortgage approvals hit fresh high

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

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

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

And what have those mortgages accomplished? From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

The Independent delivers an austerian blow:

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

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

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

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

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

From the London Telegraph, blast with the past:

Britain flaunts triumph of Waterloo in heart of Euroland

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

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

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

The Independent counts austerian costs:

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

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

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

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

Off to Finland with a warning via Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

Germany next, with the winning numbers from 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

Bubbles in your beer: NAFTA’s Mexican impacts


From The Real News Network, Jaisal Noor gives us an enlightening interview of Timothy A. Wise, director of the Policy Research Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.

Want to understand NAFTA? Here’s something to consider the next time you hoist a glass of Modelo Negro:

20 Years on, Mexico is NAFTA’s Biggest Lie

From the transcript:

NOOR: And, Tim, so, in a recent piece you wrote, you talk about attending a lush cocktail reception, and you were talking to a U.S. embassy attache, and he argued that Mexico is now exporting more food to the U.S. And beer factors into that. Talk about why you argue that kind of demonstrates everything that’s wrong with NAFTA and its effects on Mexico.

WISE: Well, it’s a little bit of a sleight of hand to say that—you know, if you ask, how has trade, how has agricultural trade between the two countries fared, and you look at the trade deficit for Mexico, it’s grown significantly. The trade deficit was over $4 billion in recent years with the price spikes. He said to me, well, they’re going to run an agricultural surplus with the United States this year. And I—in 2013. And I said, well, you mean the agri-food trade balance. And that’s a technical category that’s a meaningful category, but it includes everything produced in the food sector. So, notably—and I said to him, so you’re including beer and tequila, two of Mexico’s great NAFTA success stories, as exports. And he said, well, of course, and they are agricultural exports. And I said, well, why? And he said, well, because, you know, it’s great for—this is a case of NAFTA’s success, because not only is Mexico increasing its beer exports to the United States, it’s actually importing all of the barley malt to make them, to make all that beer, from the United States. And I said, well, where is the agricultural benefit for Mexico, then? There’s nothing agricultural in Mexico coming from Mexico for that beer. The barley’s from the U.S, the malt-making’s from the U.S, and effectively Mexico’s contributing water and bottling. And Mexico doesn’t have water. It’s short of water.

So this is—what’s classic about it for the kind of problems it represents for the ways that countries like Mexico have approached an agreement like NAFTA is that even where Mexico has a comparative advantage, making a very good, competitive beer—you know, you’re talking about Corona and Modelo and a lot of the—Dos Equis and a lot of the brands that have really been success stories—if they can’t export, they give away the value that’s gained from that. They don’t grow the barley to make it. They don’t even import the barley and grow the malt and produce the malt to make it. And now the two main Mexican companies have been bought up with controlling shares by foreign beer-makers, so even the profits don’t really stay in Mexico.

So where is the development impact from the North American Free Trade Agreement if you’ve given away all the valuable parts of the production process?

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPhobe


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

1930s-style debt defaults likely, says IMF research

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

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

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

More from the London Telegraph:

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

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

New Europe has the winners:

Top 300 billionaires worth $3.7 trillion

Billionaires got richer in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian covers the losers and what their losses mean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Daily covers a coming loss:

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

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

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

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

The McClatchy Washington Bureau gives a “F”:

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

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

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

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

The Independent.ie covers more winners:

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

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

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

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

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

2014 still promises an abundance of opportunity for Wall Street bankers

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

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

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

Quartz has more winners:

Investment banks just had their best year since 2007

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

While Al Jazeera America covers the hopeful:

Amendment would let local Colorado governments regulate big industry

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

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

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

And 9NEWS has green winners:

Pot sales exceed $1 million on first day

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

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

The Contributor Network covers other winners:

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

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

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

Across the Atlantic with New Europe:

Eurozone manufacturing records strongest growth in over 2.5 years

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

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

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

Quartz issues a warning:

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

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

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

Spiegel draws lines:

Isolated in Brussels: Merkel Clashes with EU Commission

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

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

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

And New Europe has no surprise:

Bribery of foreign officials goes under-punished in the EU

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

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

While El País notes a consequence of financial polarization:

The specter of racism in Europe

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

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

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

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

On to Britain, first with The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.it instructs:

Italians get ‘lessons on UK life’ as arrivals surge

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

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

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

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

Migrants to face NHS emergency care charges in England

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

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

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

The London Telegraph notes a lack:

UK has fewer doctors per person than Bulgaria and Estonia

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

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

RT thinks wishfully:

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

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

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

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

The Independent despairs:

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

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph inflates:

Bubble fears as house prices jump most in four years

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

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

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

The Telegraph again, this time with helpful household hints:

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News readies the ax:

Floods: Row Over Environment Agency Job Cuts

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

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

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

Economist’s Jensen – le Pen comparison ‘crude’

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

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

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

Sweden next, with intolerance from TheLocal.se:

Mosque swastika attack ‘no isolated incident’

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

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

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

DutchNews.nl covers an unusual trend:

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

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

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

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

Germany next, hungering with Spiegel:

Storming the Food Banks: Charities Struggle with Growing Demand

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

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

Deutsche Welle has discipline:

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

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

Deutsche Welle again, with anxiety:

Germany’s fear of job seekers from new EU members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe Online declines:

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

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

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

On to France with angst from the London Telegraph:

French borrowing costs rising at ‘worrying’ rate

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.fr makes a case:

Firms urge Hollande to act on New Year pledge

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

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

Spain next, with optimism from El País:

Labor market showing signs of strength, government says

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

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

But CNN notes the reality:

Temporary jobs lift Spanish gloom

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN has the bill:

Outpatient drugs to be funded by users from this month onwards

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

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

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

El País calls for dismissal:

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es has more:

Spain’s opposition calls for secret abortion vote

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

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

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

El País delivers the juice:

The shocking price of Spanish electricity

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

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

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

On to Lisbon with a declaration from the Portugal News:

President declares recession’s end

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

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

But opposition parties showed no signs of adhering to the presidential call, saying immediately afterwards that Cavaco Silva was merely following reinforcing government rhetoric, saying they were preparing to submit the 2014 budget to a series of independent audits.

And some inflationary alarm from the Portugal News:

New Year, more price hikes for cash-strapped Portugal

2014 will stretch most family funds to their limits as the cost of electricity and water, public transport, rent, watching TV, making phone-calls, health care, smoking and drinking, among others, is to rise.

As of this month (January 2014) the price of electricity will go up by 2.8 percent and will be reviewed every three months. This hike means the average €46.50 household bill will increase by more than €1.21, and will apply to some four million consumers on the regulated market, paying so-called transitory fees.

Electricity hikes will, however, cease for good in 2016 when the free market will be open to all consumers. Quarterly revisions mean the prices could fluctuate throughout the year.

Water bills will also rise following a thorough restructuring of the sector. New governing statuses and the reorganisation of national water group Águas de Portugal are being highlighted as the main reasons for the changes.

Changes to water bills depend on the benchmark tariffs being charged by water supply and sanitation companies but should that price be of between two of three euros per cubic metre then up to eight million people could be affected.

Off to Italy with permissiveness from Reuters:

Italy can breach EU deficit limits if it reforms, Renzi says

Italy can negotiate a relaxation of European Union deficit limits if it shows it is serious about effective reforms to its economy and political system, Matteo Renzi, the new head of the center-left Democratic Party said in an interview on Thursday.

Renzi is not in the government but as head of the biggest party in Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s left-right coalition, he will have a decisive role to play in shaping the political agenda and has already called for quicker action on reforms.

TheLocal.it appeals:

Silvio Berlusconi appeals Ruby sex trial verdict

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday lodged an appeal against a conviction for paying for sex with a then-underage prostitute nicknamed “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, his lawyers said.

The media magnate’s defence team had previously announced their intention to appeal the July verdict, which saw the former premier sentenced to seven years in jail and banned from holding public office.

The punishment was suspended pending the appeal process, which is likely to take years.

ANSAmed soars:

Fiat flies on Chrysler takeover

Deal expected to be finalized January 20. Italy hopes for investments on home turf

Fiat stocks soared as much as 16% before the close of trading Thursday, a day after the Italian automaker announced it had gained full control of American carmaker Chrysler in a $4.35-billion deal, raising questions at home about the future of production for Italy’s biggest private corporation. T

After the jump, Greek woes continue, Turkish wages, Russian barriers, Latiin trade worries, Tahi troubles, Cambodian violence, Chinese anxieties, Japenese woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEthnoFukufury


Lots to cover, including the latest bizarre twists at Fukushima after the jump/

Our first story, in which the third point precisely refutes the claim made just before, comes from the Department of Ironic Self Refutation via the London Daily Mail:

Home Depot founder hits out at Pope Francis claiming the pontiff ‘fails to understand rich Americans’

  • Billionaire Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone has announced he is uncomfortable with Pope Francis’ recent comments on wealth
  • In an interview with CNBC – Langone explained that he does not think the pontiff appreciates or understands Americans
  • Announced that a potential anonymous donor might not contribute a seven-figure sum to the restoration of Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral because of this

The Washington Post covers betrayal:

Younger military veterans are angered by budget cuts to their pension benefits

The plan to trim pension increases for working-age military retirees such as Preston is by far the most controversial provision in a bipartisan budget deal approved by Congress and signed last week by President Obama.

The cut is small — a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase — but it has provoked outrage among veterans, some of whom argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact. And even though lawmakers, especially in the GOP, fulminate about the need to cut the cost of federal health and retirement benefits, many have vowed to roll the cut back when Congress returns to work next week.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers a border booster:

Mexican sales tax hike seen as boon on US border

Mexican license plates are common in parking lots of shopping malls in U.S. border cities. They will be even more familiar after Mexico raises its federal sales tax in border regions to match the rest of the country, say merchants and shoppers.

The increase to 16 percent from 11 percent, which takes effect Wednesday, has sparked large protests on the Mexican side of the border. Facebook pages with secessionist tones have generated about 200,000 “likes.” Thousands have signed petitions to challenge the tax hike in court.

The Mexican government says the two-tiered tax structure, which was introduced decades ago to make border cities competitive, is no longer justified. Others say the increase may backfire by driving more shoppers north of the border, harming the economy and raising less tax revenue than anticipated.

Another piece of American industry goes, via Bloomberg:

Fiat Agrees to Buy Rest of Chrysler in $4.35 Billion Deal

Fiat SpA (F) agreed to buy the remaining stake in Chrysler Group LLC owned by a United Auto Workers retiree health-care trust in a $4.35 billion deal, the last step needed before the Italian and U.S. carmakers can merge.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both carmakers, structured the deal so that Chrysler puts up most of the cash, easing strains on the Italian parent as it seeks to end losses in Europe. The agreement with the trust, structured as a voluntary employee beneficiary association or VEBA, gives Fiat full ownership of the No. 3 U.S. automaker less than five years after its government-financed bankruptcy.

Frackers ahoy, via Jiji Press:

Sumitomo Eyeing Shale Gas Biz in N. America

Major Japanese trader Sumitomo Corp. is considering embarking on shale gas- and share oil-related business in North America, President Kuniharu Nakamura has said in a recent interview.

Sumitomo is examining such possibilities as liquefying shale gas for exports to Japan and leasing machinery used in shale gas production, he said.

Media sellout in the works, via Reuters:

Chinese recycling tycoon says he wants to buy New York Times

An eccentric Chinese recycling magnate said on Tuesday he was preparing to open negotiations to buy the New York Times Co.

Chen Guangbiao, a well-known philanthropist, is something of a celebrity in China. During a particularly murky bout of pollution in January, the ebullient and tireless self-promoter handed out free cans of “fresh air.

But Chen says he is perfectly serious in his bid to buy the Times, something that he said he had been contemplating for more than two years. He said he expected to discuss the matter on January 5, when he is due to meet a “leading shareholder” in New York.

“There’s nothing that can’t be bought for the right price,” Chen said.

Austerity’s the fault, via the Los Angeles Times:

California’s funds for mapping earthquake faults running out

Fault line maps are crucial to enforcing building regulations and understanding risks of new development, seismic experts say.

California is about to run out of money for mapping earthquake faults, leaving many communities across the state with limited information about the seismic risks of new development.

The California Geological Survey has about 300 more fault maps left to complete, including some covering highly populated areas like the Westside of Los Angeles, the San Diego Bay area, and the San Gabriel Valley. But officials say the budget for mapping will run out once the state completes work on the Hollywood fault early next year.

A new way to get Boomers out of hospitals fast? From Disinformation:

Targeted Advertisements Will Be Appearing In Hospital Rooms

Healthcare costs in the United States are spinning out of control, but never fear, there are new sources of revenue in the pipeline.

And the ever-present austerian symptom, via Bloomberg:

Americans on Wrong Side of Pay Gap Run Out of Means to Cope

Rising income inequality is starting to hit home for many American households as they run short of places to reach for a few extra bucks.

As the gap between the rich and poor widened over the last three decades, families at the bottom found ways to deal with the squeeze on earnings. Housewives joined the workforce. Husbands took second jobs and labored longer hours. Homeowners tapped into the rising value of their properties to borrow money to spend.

Those strategies finally may have run their course as women’s participation in the labor force has peaked and the bursting of the house-price bubble has left many Americans underwater on their mortgages.

CBS DC has another one:

Retirement Unlikely For Many Blue-Collar Americans

The share of U.S. workers who are 55 and older is expected to continue growing, according to the “The Oxford Handbook of Retirement 2013.” The group comprised 12.4 percent of the workforce in 1998. The share jumped to 18.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to be almost 25 percent by 2018.

The book is edited by Mo Wang, co-director of the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. In an interview, Wang said it’s a misconception that lower-wage workers are slackers in preparing for retirement.

“People don’t have adequate earnings,” Wang told The Associated Press. “It’s not because they don’t want to save. It’s because they just can’t.”

As does Sky News:

Young People Sell Future Earnings To Investors

Start-up firms are offering an alternative to traditional debt by letting people sell a portion of their future earnings for cash.

A new industry is offering people the chance to “sell” a portion of themselves to investors in return for a cut of their future earnings.

Start-up companies such as Pave match carefully vetted, mainly young individuals, known as “prospects” with those willing to offer a one-time cash infusion.

On average prospects seek to raise around $20,000 (£12,100), although so far amounts have ranged between $3,000 (£1,800) and $50,000 (£30,300).

Ars Technica delivers the chop:

HP to cut 5,000 more jobs in 2014, bringing total layoff count to 34,000

Hewlett-Packard swung back into the black in 2013, maybe poised for “expansion.”

Bubble-formation slowing? From MarketWatch:

Case-Shiller: Home prices up, but boom fading

U.S. home prices remained on a solid upward trend in October, according to a report released Tuesday, but price gains may not be as strong in 2014.

The home-price index covering 10 major U.S. cities increased 13.6% in the year ended in October, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price report. The 20-city price index also increased 13.6%, close to the 13.7% advance expected by economists.

Both increases are the best since February 2006, the report said.

And from the London Daily Mail, the day’s biggest news for a few million Americans:

Marijuana opponents predict Denver to go ‘hogwild’ today while ‘potrepreneurs’ bet cannabis tourism in Colorado will be like ‘Napa Valley wine tours’

  • Thousands celebrate Colorado becoming the first state in America to legally sell marijuana for recreational use
  • Sean Azzariti, 32, a former Marine and veteran of two tours of Iraq will become the first legal customer in the nation’s history
  • So far, 136 stores have been granted licenses to sell recreational cannabis
  • In addition, 78 marijuana cultivation facilities have been licensed by the state
  • But smoking marijuana in public remains illegal
  • Groups including Colorado Highlife Tours are betting on the weed tour market going off ‘like a Napa Valley wine tour’

And as a public service, we here at esnl feel obligated to warn readers bout the horrors of the devil’s weed. So spark one up, sit back, and enjoy. . .Reefer Madness [1936], a cautionary tale about the dangers of Marihuana and Jazz from the bowels of Old Hollywood [albeit [shudder] colorized [but do note the smoke]:

We head north of the border with a dour Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada is headed in the wrong direction, majority says in poll

Support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is dropping sharply, according to a new poll showing a majority of Canadians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The Nanos Research poll also shows 56 per cent of people rate the government’s 2013 performance as “somewhat poor” or “very poor,” a far higher share than the poll had found in earlier years. In particular, 44 per cent of respondents in the Prairies said the government’s 2013 performance was “very poor,” signalling unrest in the Harper Conservatives’ backyard.

The Globe and Mail again, with brighter news:

Canadian dollar new favourite among the world’s central banks

The world’s central banks are stashing away Canadian dollars at a faster rate than any other major currency, a vote of confidence at a time when the loonie has lost some of its shine in foreign-exchange markets.

Official holdings of Canadian dollars surged 23.6 per cent to $112.5-billion (U.S.) in the third quarter of this year from their level in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data published Monday.

Off to Europe with discontent from The Independent:

A Greek archipelago for €8.5m, a Maltese passport for €1m and Polish castles going for a song… welcome to the great European fire sale

For some, austerity Europe is a land of opportunity – castles, islands, citizenship are all up for grabs. But not all the locals are happy

For a non-EU citizen with dreams of the good life and a few million in the bank, 2014 could be a good year. First, snap up Maltese citizenship, and thus a European Union passport, for €1.15m (£960,000). Then splurge on a former cardinal’s villa in Italy as the principle residence. For a fairytale winter getaway, Polish castles are going for a song. And what could be better for a summer bolt-hole than a Greek archipelago, a snip at €8.5m?

Europe’s fire sale, which began as the economic crisis forced governments to find innovative ways to plug holes in their dwindling budgets, has reached new heights as ever-more intriguing state assets are touted for sale.

But a backlash is brewing, with governments and enraged citizens clashing over exactly who has the right to flog a nation’s history and culture.

EUbusiness drops the barriers:

European labour market opens for Romanians, Bulgarians

Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to work in any of the European Union’s 28 countries from Wednesday, sparking fears of mass invasion and benefits tourism in Britain and Germany.

Britain rushed through a series of measures to ban EU migrants from claiming unemployment handouts from the moment they arrive, while German lawmakers raised concerns about social benefits fraud.

But Bucharest and Sofia slapped down the fears, saying their countrymen are not planning an exodus en masse.

The British take from the London Telegraph:

Non-EU citizens will be able to work in Britain after Bulgarian restrictions lifted

Hundreds of thousands of people from poor countries outside the European Union will be free to find jobs in Britain as a result of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians being lifted

Romania and Bulgaria, whose citizens will now have the right to work freely in the UK, are offering passports to people in non-EU countries including Moldova and Macedonia.

Historic ties also mean that some Serbs, Ukrainians and Turks are eligible to claim passports that would allow them to work anywhere in the EU.

The Guardian ponders Tory intolerance:

Alarm sounded on anti-Roma rhetoric as door opens to more EU workers

Cross-party group calls for calm dialogue after Tory council leader blames Roma in London for disruption and crime

Politicians are inflaming community tensions with anti-Roma rhetoric, an alliance of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs has warned as Britain opens its borders to Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

MPs on the all-parliamentary party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma sounded the alarm about provocative language as a prominent Tory council leader suggested some Roma are planning to come to the UK to “pickpocket and aggressively beg” following the end of labour market controls on the two eastern European countries.

Meanwhile, the real thieves and pickpockets are faring quite well. From The Guardian:

£2m: average pay award for JP Morgan’s top staff in 2012 revealed

  • Banks disclose figures in dying hours of 2013 to comply with new European rule demanding information on bankers’ pay

Fresh evidence of the pay deals on offer in the City has emerged, with the biggest US bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, revealing it gave more than 100 of its top staff in London an average of £2m each in 2012.

The disclosure comes after Goldman Sachs said its high flyers received £2.7m on average – up 50% on the year before – adding to anger about bankers’ bonuses.

The Guardian overcharges:

Energy firms paid £4bn more for power than market rate, claims Labour

  • Big six firms deny inflating prices to make extra profits from their own plants or striking expensive deals to detriment of consumers

Households may have paid £150 over the odds for their electricity over the past three years because energy companies bought their power for almost £4bn more than the average market rate, Labour has claimed.

In a new analysis of official figures, the Labour party, which has pledged to freeze prices for 20 months if it wins the general election in 2015, said the big six energy suppliers appear either to be inflating their prices to make extra profits for their own power plants, or striking very expensive deals to the detriment of consumers.

Norway next, where TheLocal.no covers growing numbers:

2014 will be record refugee year – Norwegian charity

A Norwegian charity has predicted that the number of refugees in the world will continue to rise in 2014, after a record year in 2013. Norway needs to be ready to help, the charity’s boss says.

“The international community must be ready to strengthen its efforts,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugees Council.

The war in Syria is currently the biggest source of refugees, although conflicts in Africa are also a significant factor. South Sudan could be heading for a catastrophic civil war and the Central African Republic continues to be one of the world’s most under-reported war zones, according to the charity.

A necon demand, via TheLocal.no:

Jensen: Norway’s firms pay too much tax

Norwegian companies pay too much in tax, Finance Minister Siv Jensen has said, particularly in comparison to neighbouring countries. She now plans to appoint an expert committee to look at how corporation tax can be cut.

“A major challenge from the Norwegian perspective is that the difference between us and most other countries is getting very big. There’s no doubt that there’s a gap to close – particularly when you look at  proposals for further tax reductions in the countries around us. We have a situation where high corporation tax is distorting competition, to the detriment of Norwegian companies,” she said.

Germany next, and a conservative demand from Europe Online:

Personal responsibility plea central to Merkel’s New Year’s message

Personal responsibility and initiative are two of the qualities Germans will need to move both their country and Europe forward in 2014, Chancellor Angela Merkel argued in her New Year’s message, released Tuesday.

“The state can invest. It can create good conditions,” she said in her annual message.

“But politics can only accomplish a little without all of you in our country. What every one of us accomplishes individually on a small scale – that affects our country in large.”

Off to Paris and a promise from FRANCE 24:

Hollande vows to create jobs in New Year’s address

French President François Hollande reiterated his pledge to reduce unemployment in a televised message on Tuesday evening, the president’s annual New Year’s message to the French people from the Elysée Palace.

Hollande proposed establishing a “responsibility pact” for corporations that would lower their labour charges in return for boosting recruitment as part of a raft of measures to reduce unemployment, which he had vowed to reduce by the end of 2013.

France’s unemployment numbers rose 0.5% in November to almost 3.3 million, with the jobless rate continuing to hover stubbornly at 10.5% within metropolitan France.

TheLocal.fr covers a lighter-shade-of-blue law:

France says DIY stores can open on Sundays

Home improvement stores will be allowed to open on Sundays it has been announced after a fierce debate over the country’s strict laws on trading on the traditional day of rest.

Retailers can only open on a Sunday under certain conditions — if they are located in a tourist or a high-density area, for example. Any shop selling food can operate until 1:00 pm.

But the rules have infuriated workers who want to work Sundays at a time of sky high unemployment, and drawn criticism that they are archaic and ill-suited to a time of economic hardship.

Spain next, with an upbeat pronouncement from El País:

Economy minister forecasts “significant” job creation for 2014

  • De Guindos says government labor reforms will help drive recovery

Following on from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s year-end speech, in which he said 2014 would be the year of economic recovery, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos predicted in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that the creation of jobs this year would be “significant.”

“In 2014, the projections we have at the Economy Ministry point to a net creation of jobs, even above what we forecast when we drew up the state budget,” De Guindos said in an interview recorded a few days previously with radio station Cadena Ser.

TheLocal.es delivers a blast:

‘Spain’s abortion law is pure ideology’: Le Monde

France’s prestigious Le Monde newspaper dedicated their Monday editorial to Spain’s new abortion law, calling it both ‘regressive’ and a politically motivated attack on ‘the left’s moral high ground’.

Le Monde ran the piece under the title “Abortion: Spain’s step backwards”.

The left-leaning daily begins by describing how its European neighbour was once at the forefront of “progressive” laws that protected women’s rights, from abortion to gender violence.

El País offers a counterblast:

Bothersome intellectuals and media” threaten families, says cardinal

Cardinal Antonio María Rouco said Sunday that Spain’s traditional Christian families were being threatened by “a culture of sadness,” including a “bothersome environment generated by intellectuals and the media.”

Speaking in his homily during an outdoor Mass held in Colón square in Madrid, which was dedicated to the day of the Holy Family, Rouco told thousands of church-goers that for “the chronically and terminally ill, the unemployed,” and “youths who have succumbed to alcohol, drugs and wild sex,” “there was no other place” like the family unit to seek refuge and help.

El País again, with intra-party blowback in the reigning neoliberal party:

Extremadura premier joins chorus of PP voices speaking out against abortion law

  • “No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one,” says Monago

Another top Popular Party (PP) official publicly came out against his government’s proposed abortion law on Monday. Extremadura premier José Antonio Monago said he plans to present his argument against the reform on January 8 during the party’s next executive committee meeting.

“No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one,” Monago said during his New Year’s message.

TheLocal.es drops the curtain:

EU calls time on Spain’s bank bailout

The eurozone aid programme for struggling Spanish banks closed as scheduled on Tuesday after providing some €41 billion ($55 billion) to get them through the debt crisis, a statement said.

The support “has proven instrumental in recapitalizing and restructuring Spain’s troubled banks, which are today on a sound footing,” said Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, the fund set up to help eurozone countries at the height of the crisis.

More hard times for another member of the ruling party via thinkSPAIN:

Bárcenas admitted to hospital

FORMER treasurer of the PP Luis Bárcenas was admitted to hospital yesterday due to an allergic reaction, according to prison governors at the Soto del Real jail in Madrid.

Bárcenas, investigated for tax evasion and over the alleged cash-in-hand dealing and bribery thought to have taken place within the PP party for over 20 years, has been behind bars since June 27 – despite having consistently cooperated with judge Pablo Ruz and his investigations.

Portugal next, with an offer of help via EUobserver:

EU prepares to offer Portugal more aid

European Commissioner for economic affairs Olli Rehn wrote in a Monday editorial in the business daily Diario Economico that the EU would offer additional help to Portugal once its bailout ends in May, reports the AFP. Portugal received €78bn in 2011 from international creditors in exchange for deep reforms.

Italy next, and a worrisome report from TheLocal.it:

Syrian behind shock migrant film disappears

The Syrian man who filmed fellow immigrants being subjected to naked disinfection showers in Italy has disappeared, national media reported on Tuesday.

The Syrian, who arrived by boat in early October, has not been seen at the Lampedusa immigration centre since Sunday morning, Corriere della Sera said.

His footage led to the centre’s management staff being sacked, a national investigation launched and the EU to warn Italy of the way it treats migrants.

And AGI enthuses:

Italian Labour Minister sees an economic trend reversal

“There are signs of a possible trend reversal”, said Italian Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini on the Radio Anch’io show. GDP stopped falling in the third quarter of this year and the “first signs of recovery” are forecast for the fourth quarter.

In the same period, “new labour contracts outnumbered the contracts terminated”, the minister said defining it “an important fact that shows that the labour market is gaining momentum”.

Still referring to the labour market, Giovannini recalled that a Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan has been submitted in Brussels: “We are now waiting for the green light to allocate 1.5 billion euros.”

Eastern Europe next, with BBC News:

Latvia becomes 18th state to join the eurozone

Latvia has begun the new year by joining the eurozone, becoming the 18th member of the group of EU states which uses the euro as its currency.

After the jump, the lastest from Greece, Turkish troubles, Iranian oil, Putin warns, Aussie anxiety, Vietnam opens up, China debts and doubts, Japanese worries, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPlus


Straight to it, albeit belatedly and with little embe.llishment, we begin in the Big Apple with the Wall Street Journal:

Shelters Fill as Rent Aid Disappears

New York City residents who received rent subsidies are flocking to homeless shelters.

New York City homeless shelters—swelling with record-high populations not seen since the Great Depression—are increasingly being sought out by people who participated in a now-defunct rent-subsidy program designed to reduce homelessness, according to a report to be released Saturday.

The author of the report, the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, held up the report as evidence that homeless families need longer-term government help with rent to stay out of the shelter system. Since the rental-payment program, known as Advantage, was canceled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration after state budget cuts in June 2011, the city’s homeless shelter system population has grown to its highest-ever levels: 52,000 people, including 22,000 children.

As of August, the coalition report found, 49.4% of family placements in the Advantage program had returned to the shelter system, climbing from 24.5% nearly three years ago. The numbers rose rapidly as subsidies ran out in 2012, with more than 300 families a month seeking shelter from the city during that summer after losing their rent subsidies. In 2013, more than 200 such families were entering shelters each month, the report said.

MarketWatch uncovers another austerian dimension:

America’s hidden retirement crisis is racial

A troubling new study, Race and Retirement Insecurity in the U.S., reveals that America’s retirement crisis is particularly dire for blacks and Latinos.

“If nothing changes, the future for people of color is frightening,” author Nari Rhee, research manager for the nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security, told me.

Rhee’s report comes on the heels of other recent surveys from financial services firms and consultants with their own scary stats documenting the general lack of retirement savings among blacks and Latinos.

Reuters closes a chapter:

Fannie Mae settles with Wells Fargo as mortgage review ends

Wells Fargo & Co will pay a net $541 million to Fannie Mae to settle claims over defective home loans, completing the government-controlled mortgage company’s efforts to have banks buy back troubled loans made before the financial crisis.

Fannie Mae said on Monday it has reached settlements worth roughly $6.5 billion over loan buybacks with eight banks, including Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage lender and fourth-largest bank by assets.

About damn time, with USA TODAY:

13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers

State minimum wages will exceed the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour in 21 states on Jan. 1.

The trend reflects growing concerns about the disproportionate spread of low-wage jobs in the U.S. economy, creating millions of financially strained workers and putting too little money in consumers’ pockets to spur faster economic growth.

The Progressive covers the despicable:

Norquist Tells ALEC He Wants U.S. to Revive Decapitation

During a speech about criminal justice reform earlier this month at the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, anti-government crusader Grover Norquist compared criminals to fish caught in a net and exclaimed that he would like to see America revive the practice of beheading convicted killers.

“We gotta fight crime, we gotta have less crime, we have to be more secure in our persons and our property,” he said. “I’m all in favor of chopping the heads off of people who commit murder and putting people in prison for a long, long time. There’s no bleeding heart whatsoever. This is about punishing real criminals and making sure we don’t just toss everybody in the net, the porpoises and the tuna, and treating them all the same.”

And CBC heard the giant sucking sound:

NAFTA turns 20: Mexico is pact’s biggest winner

North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada. U.S. and Mexico signed in 1994

Ross Perot may have had it right after all about who would win under NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was an important step for all three members, but the evidence points to Mexico — at the time the weak sister in the group that included two G7 economies, the United States and Canada — as by far the biggest winner.

News Corp Australia takes us global:

World braces for retirement crisis

A GLOBAL retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages.

Spawned years before the Great Recession and the 2008 financial meltdown, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65. Living standards will fall and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people’s rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can’t afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

Off across the pond with Europe Online:

Sceptics, right-wingers set to challenge EU in 2014 poll

Four years into its fight against a debilitating economic crisis, the European Union will in 2014 face a new litmus test: the ballot box.

In May, citizens from the bloc’s 28 member states will vote for a new European Parliament. And the indications are that eurosceptic and far-right parties will score big gains, amid public frustration over the painful measures that have been implemented to tackle the crisis.

“For many, making ends meet isn’t as easy as it used to be, and could well become even harder for their children,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy noted during a recent speech in Berlin. “Today, Europe is seen as being intrusive, meddling, dictating, correcting, prescribing, imposing, even punishing,” he added.

The eurobankster speaks, via Xinhua:

Draghi plays down anticipation of immediate rate cut

European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi has tried to play down the anticipation of an immediate rate cut in an interview published on Saturday.

Draghi told German magazine Der Spiegel that he saw no need of an immediate rate cut, citing “many encouraging signs” including the economic recovery in some euro area countries, decreasing budget deficits and other improvements.

His claim came as expectations for more monetary easing by the ECB are running high. The ECB has clarified in its forward guidance that the current low interest rates would remain for a long period of time or become even lower.

On to Britain with the South China Morning Post and a familiar name on the UC Berkeley campus:

Li Ka-shing’s British power firm UKPN under fire over alleged tax avoidance

UK Power Networks allegedly reduced tax bill with payments to firms in the Cayman Islands

UK Power Networks, owned by Li Ka-shing, is alleged to have avoided £38 million (HK$485 million) in British taxes over last three years. Photo: Sam Tsang

A British energy firm owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing has come under fire amid allegations the company, at the centre of a storm over Christmas power blackouts, avoided paying millions of pounds in taxes.

Fretting with Sky News:

Millions Stress About Finances ‘Every Day’

Money worries are an even greater concern for Britons than health or job security, new research reveals.

In the UK, 18.1 million people feel stressed about their finances every day, according to new research seen by Sky News.

The Independent bills:

Migrants will have to pay at A&E – and all patients will have to prove they are not foreigners to get free NHS treatment

As part of proposals to recoup up to £500m from visitors from outside the European Union who use the NHS, hospitals will be required to identify those patients who are not eligible for free care – and make foreigners pay for life-saving treatment they receive on accident and emergency wards.

But the reforms mean that eligible patients will also have to prove they have the right to be treated free of charge.

Sweden next, where TheLocal.se beggars the conscience:

Swedish professor: Ban begging handouts

A leading Swedish professor has said that it should be illegal for people to give money to beggars but his idea has been described as a “joke” by campaigners.

Bo Rothstein, a political science professor long associated with the University of Gothenburg, made the argument for a begging donation ban in an opinion editorial in Dagens Nyheter.

“Anybody who begs in front of us on the street doesn’t offer anything apart from their social vulnerability and the person that gives is exploiting their situation to get satisfaction and ease their social conscience,” wrote Rothstein in the newspaper.

TheLocal.no takes us to Norwegian opposition:

Most Norwegians oppose new private schools

Norway’s government has said it would like to make it easier to open fee-paying private schools, but most Norwegians are against the idea, according to a new poll.

53 percent of those asked by pollsters Sentio Research said they were opposed to allowing more private schools to open. Some 36 percent were in favour, with 11 percent saying they didn’t know. The poll was carried out for radical left-wing newspaper Klassekampen.

Norway’s governing parties, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet, have said they want to change the law regulating private schools by the end of 2015. The law currently requires that private schools have a special religious or educational philosophy to qualify for co-financing from the state. The government wants to remove this requirement and allow all private schools that pass quality tests to qualify.

Holland next where DutchNews.nl brings us Beancounters Behaving Badly:

Accountants KPMG fined for role in Ballast Nedam bribery case

Accountancy group KPMG has reached a €7m out of court settlement with the public prosecution department over its role in a construction sector bribery scandal.

The investigation into three former KPMG accountants is continuing, the public prosecution department said in a statement.

KPMG was accused of disguising bribes paid on behalf of building group Ballast Nedam to win orders. The company also failed to pay proper attention to ensuring integrity demands were met, the public prosecutor said.

On to Germany with the London Telegraph:

Draghi complains of ‘perverse angst’ among Germans

ECB head says German worries over eurozone are misplaced

Mario Draghi has spoken out against the “perverse angst” displayed by Germans over the European Central Bank’s policies.

The Frankfurt-based central bank cut rates to a new record low of 0.25pc in November, despite resistance from German policymakers, who are fearful that low interest rates could fuel housing bubbles in its major cities. In April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country’s economy, which has consistently outperformed its eurozone peers since the financial crisis, was ready for a rate rise even though the rest of the single currency bloc needed looser monetary policy.

Reuters looks for a final solution:

Merkel says permanently fixing euro zone crisis vital for Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel will tell Germans their fate is so closely entwined with the European Union that it is imperative to come up with answers on how to permanently resolve the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis.

In an advance text of the traditional New Year’s Eve address that she will deliver on Tuesday evening, Merkel said Germany had a lot of work to do to maintain its own economic strength.

EUobserver constrains:

Merkel allies keen to curb EU powers

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian-Social Union (CSU), plans to call for fewer EU commissioners and less new EU legislation in next year’s European Parliament elections.

“We need a withdrawal treatment for commissioners intoxicated by regulation,” the party’s four-page election strategy paper – seen by Der Spiegel and due to be adopted in January at a CSU congress – says.

TheLocal.de has conflicts:

MPs spar over eastern EU immigration fears

Hours before immigration restrictions on people from Romania and Bulgaria coming to Germany are lifted, politicians are arguing over attempts to discourage those with poor work prospects from coming to the country.

As of January 1st, Bulgarians and Romanians will be free to seek work throughout the European Union, which their countries joined back in 2007. This has prompted fears of a flood or an influx of people seeking welfare payments in richer countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies have reacted by drawing up proposals to toughen social welfare laws, prompting criticism from Social Democrat politicians – now their coalition partners in the national government.

France next and taxing time with Al Jazeera America:

France’s top court approves 75 percent ‘millionaire tax’ on employers

Companies will be taxed for employees who make more than 1 million euros a year

France’s Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court – gave the green light on Sunday to a controversial “millionaire’s tax,” to be levied on companies that pay salaries of more than 1 million euros ($1.38 million) a year.

The measure, introduced in line with a pledge by President Francois Hollande to make the rich do more to pull France out of crisis, has infuriated business leaders and soccer clubs, which at one point threatened to go on strike.

On to Spain with separation anxieties from El País:

Premier Mas admits EU will expel an independent Catalonia

Government would look for other alternatives “outside the treaties,” says regional leader

For the first time since heated debate broke out over Catalonia’s proposed independence referendum next year, regional premier Artur Mas, who is pushing for the status vote, has admitted that his northeast region would be ejected from the European Union if it seceded from Spain.

Stop the presses with TheLocal.es:

Struggling Spanish paper closes print edition

Spanish national newspaper La Gaceta has scrapped its print edition, a spokeswoman said on Monday, as it fights to survive a financing crisis in the recession-damaged country’s media.

“The paper edition has been closed” since Friday, said a spokeswoman for the strongly conservative newspaper, which was founded in 1989 and employs about 60 people.

“The newspaper will continue, but online — that is what we will focus on,” the spokeswoman told news agency AFP.

Occupy USA TODAY:

Spain squatters take over buildings after foreclosures

One in four Spaniards is out of work, which in a country that boasts one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world means many families fall behind on their mortgage payments and face foreclosure.

At the same time, the number of empty buildings across the country swelled after a building boom went bust.

The Spanish government estimates that there are more than 650,000 finished properties that sit empty across the country, alongside nearly half a million properties that were left idle while under construction.

El País covers a breakthrough:

ETA prisoners recognize damage caused by campaign, accept legitimacy of jails

Collective releases statement giving 527 inmates go-ahead to begin negotiating early release

The prisoner collective of terrorist group ETA, which represents more than 500 inmates from the Basque separatist organization, released a taped statement on Saturday recognizing the legality of Spain’s penitentiary system, expressing its agreement for individual prisoners to negotiate individual early release terms, and rejecting the violence and “suffering and multilateral damage caused” by their terror campaign.

Portugal next with EUbusiness:

EU ready to offer Portugal more help: Rehn

European Union is ready to offer Portugal further aid once its current bailout expires in May, Economics Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Monday.

“Europe will keep its word” and continue to help Portugal, but only on condition it “continues reforms already under way,” Rehn wrote in an editorial for business daily Diario Economico.

“The absolute priority is to successfully conclude the current programme,” Rehn wrote, while warning that it was “indispensable that Portugal maintain budgetary discipline and structural reforms in the upcoming years”.

And on to Italy with ANSAmed:

Italy: Poverty hits record high amid unemployment, recession

Absolute poverty double since 2005, triple in industrial north

The number of people in crisis-hit Italy living in absolute poverty has doubled between 2005 and 2012 and tripled in the industrial north, up to 6.4% from 2.5%, according to an annual report on social cohesion by national statistics bureau Istat released on Monday.

Overall, more than 1.7 million families live in a state of absolute poverty for a total of 4.8 million individuals amid rising unemployment and a stubborn recession, Istat said.

On to Eastern Euroipe, with in Solvenia with EUobserver:

Slovenia: Bank tests treated as military secret

Bank stress tests indicate that Slovenian lenders do not need a bailout, but private consultancies played a controversial role in the evaluation.

The test results, published last month and accompanied by positive statements from the Slovenian government, the Bank of Slovenia and the European Commission, say Slovenia can recapitalise its banking sector without international help.

South China Morning Post covers a tragedy:

Romania’s children being left behind as their parents seek work abroad

A generation is growing up with absentee parents, who are supporting their families by working in more prosperous western Europe

Tens of thousands of Romanian children are growing up parentless because their mothers and fathers work abroad, according to figures that raise questions about the extent and impact of large-scale migration on the eve of new EU rules governing Bulgarians and Romanians.

According to the Romanian ministry of labour, family and social protection, there are now more than 80,000 families in Romania in which both parents are working abroad while their children stay at home, with 35,000 more families in which one parent is overseas.

After the jump, the Greek crisis unfolds, Latin American inflation, changes in Cuba, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese boosterism, environmental woes, and the latest stunning chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: 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