Category Archives: Medicine

Headlines again, with anxieties and ironies


First up, one of the world’s smallest nations takes on nine heavy hitters: The U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Via the Japan Times:

Tiny Marshall Islands sues nine nuclear-armed powers

The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law.

The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II was filing suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also was filing a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade.

From CNN Investigations, a national shame, and another neoliberal triumph:

A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital’s secret list

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.

For six months, CNN has been reporting on extended delays in health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting for appointments and care. But the new revelations about the Phoenix VA are perhaps the most disturbing and striking to come to light thus far.

Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Salon covers another national shame:

Massive new fraud coverup: How banks are pillaging homes — while the government watches

  • When financial crimes go unpunished, the root problem of fraud never gets fixed — and these are the consequences

From Boing Boing, another imminent national shame from the administration of Hope™ and Change™:

FCC planning new Internet rules that will gut Net Neutrality. Get ready to pay more for the stuff you love online.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report that The Federal Communications Commission will propose new open Internet rules this Thursday that will allow content companies to pay Internet service providers “for special access to consumers.”

Under the new rules, service providers may not block or discriminate against specific websites, but they can charge certain sites or services for preferential traffic treatment if the ISPs’ discrimination is “commercially reasonable.”

Bye-bye, Net Neutrality, and the internet as we know it. Hello, greater connectivity gap between rich and poor in America.

The covers another neoliberal triumph:Associated Press:

Postal workers unions protest Staples program

Postal workers around the country protested in front of Staples stores on Thursday, objecting to the U.S. Postal Service’s pilot program to open counters in stores, staffed with retail employees.

Rallies were planned at 50 locations in 27 states. In New York, about 100 workers marched from the main office on 8th Avenue to a Staples store about five blocks away, carrying signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Staples deal has got to go.”

In Washington, D.C., more than 200 people gathered at a Staples, drumming on buckets and holding signs that read: “Stop Staples. The US Mail is Not for Sale.”

Bloomberg casts doubt:

Is the U.S. Shale Boom Going Bust?

It’s not surprising that a survey of energy professionals attending the 2014 North American Prospect Expo overwhelmingly identified “U.S. energy independence” as the trend most likely to gain momentum this year. Like any number of politicians and pundits, these experts are riding high on the shale boom — that catch-all colloquialism for the rise of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have unleashed a torrent of hydrocarbons from previously inaccessible layers of rock.

But this optimism belies an increasingly important question: How long will it all last?

Among drilling critics and the press, contentious talk of a “shale bubble” and the threat of a sudden collapse of America’s oil and gas boom have been percolating for some time. While the most dire of these warnings are probably overstated, a host of geological and economic realities increasingly suggest that the party might not last as long as most Americans think.

And from Los Angeles Times, signs of a bubble deflating?:

Homes selling slower in Southern California. A sign of stability?

The share of houses that have been listed for sale for at least two months climbed in the Los Angeles, Orange County, Inland Empire and Ventura regions of Southern California compared with a year ago, according to an analysis by real estate website Trulia.

Thanks to perennially tight supply, Southern California housing markets are still pretty “fast” by historic standards, notes Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko. More than half of all homes in Los Angeles and Orange Counties sold in less than two months — among the 10 highest rates in the country.

But compared with last year, when prices were significantly lower and the supply of homes for sale was even tighter, the market has slowed a bit. The share of homes on the market for two months in Los Angeles climbed to 44% from 40 a year ago, to 45% from 38% in Orange County and to 53% from 49% in Riverside-San Bernardino. By comparison, that share fell in the Bay Area, Denver and Seattle.

The Guardian nags:

Big riders mean bigger horses on US’s western trails

  • Ranches are turning to draft horses – the ‘diesels’ of the horse world – to accommodate flood of overweight tourists

Wranglers in the US west who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.

The ranches say they are using draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, in ever greater numbers to make sure they don’t lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the west of yesteryear.

“Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it’s kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family,” said wrangler T James “Doc” Humphrey.

And from the New York Times, a deal with the devil:

F.B.I. Informant Is Tied to Cyberattacks Abroad

An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.

Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data — from bank records to login information — from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.

The details of the 2012 episode have, until now, been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the F.B.I. directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to dismantle hacking groups like Anonymous and send computer activists away for lengthy prison terms.

The Los Angeles Times covers cops gone bad:

Ex-deputies charged in planted-guns case

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are accused of cutting off electricity and security cameras in order to plant weapons and arrest two men at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been charged with planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary to arrest two men, one of whom prosecutors said was sentenced to a year in jail before the bad evidence was discovered.

Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, face two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday. Martinez was charged with two additional felony counts of perjury and one count of filing a false report.

If convicted of the charges, the former deputies face more than seven years in prison.

While the London Daily Mail covers the Case of the Homicidal Snitch:

How KKK ‘Jewish center shooter’ entered the witness protection program after he was caught having sex with a black male prostitute dressed as a woman

  • Frazier Glenn Cross was arrested on April 14 for shooting three at Kansas City Jewish centers
  • Previously worked as a government informant after he was arrested under his original name, Frazier Glenn Miller
  • Had a history of arrests- including one following a tryst with a black male prostitute posing as a woman- that led to his 1987 capture
  • Was released and given a new identity as part of his 1990 informant deal

And from the Washington Post, a high-flier brought low:

Navy reassigns ex-Blue Angels commander after complaint he allowed sexual harassment

The Navy has reassigned a former commander of the Blue Angels, its acrobatic fighter squadron, and is investigating allegations that the elite team of pilots was a hotbed of hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, documents show.

The Navy announced Friday that it had relieved Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, of duty for alleged misconduct. At the time, the Navy did not describe the nature of the accusations or provide other details except to say that the case remained under investigation.

From Eyes on Trade, Barry O continues the sell-out:

As Obama Visits TPP Countries, New Obama Administration Report Targets Their Public Interest Policies as “Trade Barriers” to be Eliminated

As President Obama leaves on his Asia tour today to try to paper over the deep divisions that have bewitched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, he will likely refrain from reiterating the criticisms his administration recently levied against the sensitive domestic policies of the TPP governments he will be visiting.

The 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, published earlier this month by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), targets financial, privacy, health, and other public interest policies of each TPP nation as “trade barriers” that the U.S. government seeks to eliminate. The report offers unusual insight into why negotiations over the sweeping, 12-nation deal are contentious and have repeatedly missed deadlines for completion.

And a helpful reminder, via ExposeTheTPP:

BLOG TPP

Gawker covers a sensible but long-belated move:

Brooklyn DA to Stop Prosecuting for Low-Level Pot Arrests

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office will stop prosecuting low-level marijuana arrests, according to a confidential memo obtained by the New York Times.

The district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson sent the policy proposal to the New York Police Department earlier this month.

The memo states that charges against anyone arrested with a small amount of marijuana who lacks a prior conviction will be “immediately dismissed,” and “the police will be directed to destroy the defendant’s fingerprints.” Some 8,500 people were processed last year in Brooklyn on low-level drug charges.

From the National Post, a story that raises so many questions north of the border and raises the prospect of another drinking buddy for Toronto’s mayor::

‘Intoxicated’ 18-year-old girl reportedly rushed to hospital from Prime Minister Harper’s residence

  • 24 Sussex medical call won’t be investigated by RCMP

The RCMP have confirmed that Ottawa EMS was called to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive last Saturday night as media reports said an 18-year-old girl needed to be taken to hospital for severe intoxication.

RCMP would not confirm who the call was for, only that it was not Stephen Harper or one of his family members.

On to Europe with some rare good news for workers from the Portugal News:

EU workers to enjoy fully portable pension rights when moving abroad

EU workers moving to a different EU country will be able to take their full pension rights with them following a draft law passed by the European Parliament last week. It still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers.

“The text represents a genuine improvement for many workers. It is a big step forwards for the free movement of workers and a boost for a social Europe”, said Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, adding that “a good pension is a necessity, now that Europeans can expect to live much longer.”

Current EU rules ensure that workers moving to another EU country do not lose their statutory pension rights, i.e. those provided by the state.

However, no such EU-wide rules exist for supplementary pension schemes, financed or co-financed by employers. So people who move between member states risk losing entitlements built up over a period that is not deemed long enough by the state to which they move.

From intelNews.org, the second oldest profession with familiar adversaries:

Russian espionage in Germany rising sharply, says Berlin

Russian espionage activity in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, according to senior counterintelligence officials in Berlin.

An article published in weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag on Sunday said Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the German capital center on infiltrating German political institutions and corporations. The Berlin-based publication said Russian spies typically seek to gain “intimate knowledge” of German energy policy as well as corporate practices.

Another area of interest for Russian intelligence concerns Germany’s activities in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Citing Hans-Georg Maassen, Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV —Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency), Die Welt said that no foreign intelligence service is more active on German soil than Russia’s SVR —one of the KGB’s successor agencies. Most Russian intelligence officers “pose as embassy workers”, said the paper, adding that the BfV believes up to a third of all Russian diplomats stationed at the German capital have a “background in intelligence gathering”.

On to France and more familiar adversaries from TheLocal.fr:

Neo-Nazi Hitler party shocks French village

The mayor of a small village in eastern France was forced to explain this week how he ended up giving the green light for a neo-Nazi party commemorating the 125th anniversiary of Hitler’s birth. The mayor said he presumed it was just going to be an ordinary birthday party.

When André Sherrer, the mayor of the tiny village of Oltingue, in the Alsace region of Eastern France, gave the go-ahead for a function in a municipal building he had no idea the outrage it would provoke.

Sherrer, who is in charge of the village of 700 residents thought he was renting the room out for an ordinary birthday party but little did he know that 150 to 200 neo-Nazis would be turning up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Hitler’s birth on April 20th 1889.

And from France 24, when all else fails, play up flesh:

Ségolène Royal denies banning cleavage at French ministry

Ségolène Royal, French President François Hollande’s former partner and the mother of his four children, has denied claims she ordered female staff at the Environment Ministry to “dress appropriately” and avoid revealing tops.

The report, published by French weekly Le Point on Thursday, claimed Royal, who joined Hollande’s Socialist government following a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, had also banned smoking in the ministry’s courtyard and gardens in her presence.

Denying the “ridiculous rumours” on her Twitter account, Royal said the only instruction she had given colleagues was to be sparing in their use of public funds.

From TheLocal.ch, a Swiss challenge to the financializers:

Vote set for ban on food trading ‘speculation’

The Swiss will vote on a proposal to ban speculation on agricultural commodities and food, the government said on Wednesday, announcing that organizers had gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a referendum.

The Swiss Socialist Party’s youth wing gathered nearly 116,000 valid signatures — well beyond the 100,000 needed to organize a popular vote in Switzerland, one of the world’s main trading hubs for commodities.

The initiative, entitled “No speculation in food commodities”, will likely come up for a vote within the next two or three years, giving voters the possibility to put a stop to all trading in financial instruments linked to agricultural products.

From thinkSPAIN, voices against austerity:

Doctors from Médicos del Mundo collect 43,000 signatures calling for ‘free healthcare for all’

DOCTORS working for a worldwide charity have raised a petition of 43,000 signatures in protest over the healthcare reform proposed by minister Ana Mato.

Médicos del Mundo (‘world doctors’) say the restrictions are ‘unjust and cruel’ and that ‘two years of reforms’ had ‘put more human lives at risk’ by ‘targeting those who are the most vulnerable’.

The charity says it has seen literally hundreds of immigrants without residence cards being denied medical care, and Spanish families with low incomes struggling to pay for treatment they need, ‘endangering their lives and health’.

Opprobrium for Madrid from The Guardian:

Spain restricting people’s right to protest, Amnesty report finds

  • Report paints picture of heavy-handed government response to country’s growing social movements

The Spanish government is using fines, harassment and excessive police force to limit the right to protest, Amnesty International warned in a new report released on Thursday.

Against a backdrop of chronic unemployment and shrinking public funds for education, health and social services, a growing number of Spaniards have taken to the streets in recent years. But “instead of listening to their demands, instead of starting a dialogue, authorities are doing everything they can to impede people from protesting”, said the report’s author, Virginia Álvarez.

Amnesty International tracked several protests in Madrid and Barcelona during the past year, gathering first-person accounts, interviewing journalists and lawyers and analysing videos and photographs.

And from TheLocal.es, allegations of book-cooking:

Spain ‘fiddles numbers’ to shave jobless rate

Spain has managed to push down its unemployment rate to 25.77 percent — by adjusting the formulas used to establish the country’s jobless rate to include the latest census data.

Spain’s official unemployment rate fell from 26.03 percent to 25.77 percent in one fell swoop on Thursday.

The sudden drop came after the national statistics institute (INE) revised its formulas to include data from the 2011 national census.

Spain’s official unemployment rate is based on a survey of 65,000 households across the country, known as the EPA, or Active Population Survey.

On to Italy and more hard times intolerance from EUobserver:

Italian right calls for end to migrant rescue programme

Italian right-wing politicians have called for the country’s programme to rescue North African refugees from the Mediterranean sea to be scrapped after figures suggested that 1,100 immigrants had been rescued in the past two days.

The figures are the highest since Italy launched a naval operation known as “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) last October to rescue would-be migrants at sea in the wake of two shipwrecks off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa which killed more than 600 people.

Since its creation, Mare Nostrum has rescued more than 20,000 people from the Mediterranean at an estimated cost of €9 million a month, according to Italian media reports.

From EUobserver, currency losing currency:

Anti-euro talk spreads in Italy

Rome – In the 1990s, qualifying against the odds for eurozone membership was a matter of pride for most Italians. Now leaving the euro – once a political taboo – is routinely discussed by the media, as the campaign for next month’s European Parliament elections gets into full swing.

Polls suggest that eurosceptics may win as much as 50 percent of the votes, if support levels for Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia are totted up with those for smaller right-wing parties such as the Northern League and Brothers of Italy.

“There is more talk about Europe, but it is being talked about in bad terms,” Franco Frattini, a former EU commissioner and ex-Italian foreign minister, lamented at a public event in Rome on 16 April.

From TheLocal.it, feeling cross, or when symbolism turns lethal:

Italian man crushed to death by giant crucifix

An Italian man was crushed to death on Wednesday by a giant crucifix honouring John Paul II that collapsed during a ceremony ahead of the late pope’s canonization.

A piece of the 30-metre high wooden cross fell during the event near an Alpine village, killing the young man on the spot, Italian media reported.

The Jesus Christ statue on the cross is six metres high and weighs 600 kilogrammes and the crucifix was curved and fixed to the ground with cables, the reports said. The victim’s age was given at 20 or 21 years old.

And for our final Italian item, a symbolic step from ANSA:

Napolitano signs tax-cut decree

  • Includes ban on hiring for late-paying local administrations

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday signed the government’s decree bringing in 10 billion euros of tax cuts for low earners, ANSA sources said. Napolitano met Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan earlier on Thursday for clarification about aspects of the legislation.

Opposition parties have expressed doubts about the financing of the cuts.

Premier Matteo Renzi, on the other hand, said Wednesday that the cuts were the start of a “revolution in the relationship between citizens and the State”.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including bailout news and rising discontent], a Putinesque pronouncement, pot rules in Montevideo, the latest Asian zonal games, religious resurgence in China, and the curious case of the the not-so-green geothermal Icelandic woes. . . Continue reading

Fukushima alarm: A former mayor lays it out


The earthquake-and-tsunami-created nuclear disaster at the TEPCO nuclear power station in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture continues long after the 11 March 2011.

In this video by Russia Today’s Sophie Shevardnadze interviews Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of Futuba in the hard-hit Fukushima Prefecture. It’s a sobering account, and a revelation of the depths of the continuing crisis.

From Russia Today:

Fukushima disaster: Tokyo hides truth as children die, become ill from radiation – ex-mayor

Program notes:

Nearly three years ago, Fukushima nuclear plant disaster forced thousands out of their homes. This also led to deaths of many more. Tokyo claims the effects are all but gone; however disturbing facts sometimes rise to the surface. To shed some light on the mystery of Fukushima Sophie Shevardnadze talks to former mayor Katsutaka Idogawa.

From the transcript:

http://rt.com/shows/sophieco/fukushima-disaster-radiation-children-740/

SS: You decided to evacuate people from Futaba as far as possible without consulting anybody – so you completely assumed responsibility?

KI: Our city always had an emergency plan in case of a fire or an accident at the plant. Every year, we had special drills in case there was a fire at the plant. I think it’s the central government and the Fukushima Prefecture authorities that bear the most responsibility for what happened. As mayor, it is my responsibility to take care of the people of Futaba. At that time, I had no time to get advice. I tried talking to the prefecture authorities but there was absolute chaos. It was impossible to get advice or hold a meeting. So I chose to act on my own, and I decided to start with evacuating the people as far from the radiation as possible.

SS: Your town is moving to a new location, to the neighboring city of Iwaki. Is it safe there? Do you see this as a new start for the people?

KI: I’d like to show you a table with radiation levels around Chernobyl. Radiation levels around Fukushima are four times higher than in Chernobyl, so I think it’s too early for people to come back to Fukushima Prefecture. Here you can see radiation levels in our region, Tohoku. This is ground zero, and the radiation radius is 50-100km, even 200km in fact. Fukushima Prefecture is at the very center. The city of Iwaki, where Futaba citizens moved, is also in Fukushima Prefecture. It is by no means safe, no matter what the government says. Exposing people to the current levels of radiation in Fukushima is a violation of human rights. It’s terrible.

SS: Evacuation advisories are being lifted for some cities in the Fukushima area, but you’re saying that the government is allowing this, despite the danger of radiation?

KI: Fukushima Prefecture has launched the Come Home campaign. In many cases, evacuees are forced to return. Here is a map of Fukushima Prefecture, with areas hit by radiation highlighted in yellow, and you can see that the color covers almost the entire map. Air contamination decreased a little, but soil contamination remains the same. And there are still about two million people living in the prefecture, who have all sorts of medical issues. The authorities claim this has nothing to do with the fallout. I demanded that the authorities substantiate their claim in writing but they ignored my request. There are some terrible things going on in Fukushima. I remember feeling so deeply for the victims of the Chernobyl tragedy that I could barely hold back the tears whenever I heard any reports on it. And now that a similar tragedy happened in Fukushima, the biggest problem is that there is no one to help us. They say it’s safe to go back. But we must not forget the lessons of Chernobyl. We must protect our children. I talked to local authorities in different places in Fukushima, but no one would listen to me. They believe what the government says, while in reality the radiation is still there. This is killing children. They die of heart conditions, asthma, leukemia, thyroiditis…Lots of kids are extremely exhausted after school; others are simply unable to attend PE classes. But the authorities still hide the truth from us, and I don’t know why. Don’t they have children of their own? It hurts so much to know they can’t protect our children.

SS: I understand that many children who have been evacuated are now living in the Fukushima district again; new schools have opened for these children, and you say they are facing radiation there…Is anything being done to help the children affected by the nuclear fallout?

KI: Officially, both the central government and the prefecture authorities say there is no radiation. They’re not doing anything, and they’re not going to do anything. They say Fukushima Prefecture is safe, and that’s why nobody’s working to evacuate children, move them elsewhere. We’re not even allowed to discuss this.

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


First, a stunning landmark is reached. From the New York Times:

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

On of the key mechanisms of the collapse of the middle class from Mother Jones:

How Taxpayers Subsidize the Multi-Million Dollar Salaries of Restaurant CEOs

  • Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz raked in $236 million in taxpayer-subsidized compensation over the past two years.

As the fight to raise the minimum wage has gained momentum, the restaurant industry has emerged as the biggest opponent. This is no surprise, since the industry claims the highest percentage of low-wage workers—60 percent—of any other business sector. Front-line fast-food workers earn so little money that about half of them rely on some form of public assistance, to the tune of about $7 billion a year. That hidden subsidy has helped boost restaurant industry profits to record highs. In 2013, the industry reaped $660 billion in profits, and it in turn channeled millions into backing efforts to block local governments from raising pay for low-wage workers and to keep the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour (exactly where it’s been for the past 22 years). But public assistance programs aren’t the only way taxpayers subsidize the restaurant industry.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the public has been contributing to excessive CEO compensation as well, helping to widen the gap between the lowest-paid workers and their bosses. Thanks to a loophole in the tax code, corporations are allowed to deduct unlimited amounts of money from their tax bills for executive compensation, so long as it comes in the form of stock options or “performance pay.” The loophole was the inadvertent result of an attempt by Congress to rein in CEO compensation by limiting the tax deduction for executive pay to $1 million a year. That law exempted pay that came in the form of stock options or performance pay. This loophole has proven lucrative for CEOs of all stripes, but it is particularly egregious in an industry that pays its workers so little that it is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the pay of a typical worker; in big companies, to 354 times.

Meanwhile, over the same thirty-year time span the median American worker has seen no pay increase at all, adjusted for inflation. Even though the pay of male workers continues to outpace that of females, the typical male worker between the ages of 25 and 44 peaked in 1973 and has been dropping ever since. Since 2000, wages of the median male worker across all age brackets has dropped 10 percent, after inflation.

This growing divergence between CEO pay and that of the typical American worker isn’t just wildly unfair. It’s also bad for the economy. It means most workers these days lack the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing — contributing to the slowest recovery on record. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives use their fortunes to fuel speculative booms followed by busts.

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

The familiar image of international surrogacy until now has mainly involved Americans and Europeans crossing the world to find women to birth their children. Now, wealthy Chinese couples are seeking surrogates in the US. The practice—a new version of Chinese “birth tourism”—offers a solution to rising infertility in China, a way around Chinese population controls, and even the added bonus of US citizenship for babies born in the States.

For years, pregnant Chinese women have come to the US, mainly to the West Coast, to give birth to baby US citizens who can, at the age of 21, sponsor their parents for green cards. In a new wrinkle, some are instead paying American women to carry their children—a way of getting citizenship as well as dealing with the fact that more Chinese couples are facing trouble having children. (Other surrogacy destinations for wealthy Chinese include Thailand, India, and Ukraine, but the US is still the favorite.)

Salon finds brown noses:

Welcome to Plutocrat-geddon! Obama and Thomas Friedman flatter our new billionaire overlords

  • Forget inequality! Judging by the White House and the media, the real answer is sucking up to the wealthiest

Inequality is a burning topic among economists, especially since the release of Thomas Piketty’s recent book on the subject. Many are questioning whether this is a temporary period of runaway inequality, or whether we are on the verge of an irreversible collapse into extremes of wealth and poverty. (What would we call it? The Oligopolypse? Plutogeddon?)

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. Culture, too, is adapting to this unequal world. We idealize the wealthy today in ways that would have been unthinkable decades ago.

With the children of today’s baby boomers scheduled to inherit $30 trillion in the next several decades, politicians and the press are hard at work flattering plutocrats of all ages by portraying them as paragons of wisdom.

Another assault on the potential middle class from the New York Times:

Student Loans Can Suddenly Come Due When Co-Signers Die, a Report Finds

For students who borrow on the private market to pay for school, the death of a parent can come with an unexpected, added blow, a federal watchdog warns. Even borrowers who have good payment records can face sudden demands for full, early repayment of those loans, and can be forced into default.

Most people who take out loans to pay for school have minimal income or credit history, so if they borrow from banks or other private lenders, they need co-signers — usually parents or other relatives. Borrowing from the federal government, the largest source of student loans, rarely requires a co-signer.

The problem, described in a report released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arises from a little-noticed provision in private loan contracts: If the co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy, the loan holder can demand complete repayment, even if the borrower’s record is spotless. If the loan is not repaid, it is declared to be in default, doing damage to a borrower’s credit record that can take years to repair.

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

The future of factories? Swarm of super-fast robotic ‘ANTS’ powered by magnets can independently climb walls and even build

  • The army of robo-ants can move at around 13.7 inches (35cm) a second
  • This is equivalent to a human running at just under the speed of sound
  • Each ant can be individually controlled using magnets on a circuit board
  • Swarm has already built a tower 30cm (11.8 inches) high from carbon rods

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

DAVID EINHORN: ‘We Are Witnessing Our Second Tech Bubble In 15 Years’

Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn, who runs Greenlight Capital, says we’re seeing another tech bubble, CNBC reported, citing his fund’s quarterly investor letter.

“Now there is a clear consensus that we are witnessing our second tech bubble in 15 years. What is uncertain is how much further the bubble can expand, and what might pop it,” Einhorn wrote in the letter (PDF) posted online by @Levered_Hawkeye.

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

General Mills drops arbitration clause, but such contracts are ‘pervasive’

Consumer advocates warn that clicking ‘I agree’ to online contracts can crimp buyers’ legal rights, if a contract requires arbitration and nixes class-action lawsuits. The practice is spreading, though General Mills encountered a backlash.

When consumers click “I agree” to online contracts, two things can happen: They may give up their right to pursue a class action lawsuit if something goes wrong, and they can seek damages only through arbitration, an out-of-court legal process that many experts say weighs against the harmed consumer.

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on the use of racial affirmative action in its state universities Tuesday, ruling that voters are entitled to decide the issue.

The 6-2 decision clears away constitutional challenges to the state bans on affirmative action, which began in California in 1996.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said the democratic process can decide such issues. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he said. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

Conservative Koch-backed group uses soft touch in recruiting U.S. Hispanics

The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads.

But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida – even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads.

Taking a cue from liberal groups that have been active in Hispanic neighborhoods for decades, Libre says it aims to use these events to build support for small-government ideas in communities that typically support big-government ideals.

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

Nearly half of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, a state that is drying up. , the entire state is considered “abnormally dry,” and two-thirds of California is in “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions.

Earlier this year, many farmers in California found out that they would get no irrigation water from state or federal water projects. Recent rains have helped a little. On Friday, government officials said there was enough water to give a little more to some of the region’s farmers — 5 percent of the annual allocation, instead of the nothing they were getting.

>snip<

Economists say it’s too early to accurately predict the drought’s effect on jobs, but it’s likely as many as 20,000 will be lost.

That might not sound like a lot, but many of those workers are already living paycheck to paycheck in communities that depend on that work.

Via the National Drought Monitor, the current state of affairs in California, ranging from lightest [abnormally dry] to darkest [exceptional drought]:

BLOG Drought

After the jump, the latest from Europe [including spiking austerian suicides], Asia’s Game of Zones, an American Nazi whose work inspired a French film, spy games, and muich more. . . Continue reading

More of those not-so-random headlines to mull


First up, how the New York Times covers the elite from Gawker:

Insanely Rich Reporter Covers White House Meeting of the Insanely Rich

There’s a lot to pore over in the New York Times Style section’s coverage of a conference for über-wealthy “next-generation” philanthropists that was recently held at the White House.

There’s the list of attendees, which includes the young progeny of such hallowed, moneyed families as Hilton, Rockefeller, and Pritzker. There’s the breathless, classically Style section-y way in which participants and organizers are described: eloquent, nimble, and commanding gravitas, wearing pinstripe suits and “scraggy Brooklyn-style facial hair.” There’s the reference to one 19-year-old attendee’s “swooping” Bieberesque bangs, despite the fact that Bieber hasn’t had that haircut in years.

Most of all, however, there’s this disclosure notice from the reporter, about halfway through the article:

Disclosure: Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.

At a conference for such refined people as these, not just any reporter will do. No, it must be a writer who intimately knows the struggles of the young and wealthy, and who can accurately transmit the ways in which they’re saving the planet to the unwashed Times-reading masses. It must be Jamie Johnson (net worth about $610 million, according to Business Insider in 2011), heir to the Johnson & Johnson company fortune.

And from the London Telegraph, that bastion of Toryism, gilding a turd:

Has the West fallen prey to crony capitalism?

  • There are certainly signs of a wealth gap – like the explosion of buy-to-let landlords in London – but that will inspire the strivers and innovators

From the Oakland Tribune, yet another gift from Proposition 13 [and here]:

Oakland auditor sounds pension alarm

Pension costs have more than doubled over the past decade, leaving Oakland with fewer police officers, more potholes and a growing threat of insolvency, City Auditor Courtney Ruby warned in a report released Sunday.

Oakland’s payments to the state pension system jumped from $37 million in 2003 to $89 million in 2012, the report found.

That $52 million gap is enough to pay the salaries of 300 police officers, according to city budget figures.

From the Los Angeles Times, the grift that keeps on giving:

Student debt holds back many would-be home buyers

Of the many factors holding back young home buyers — rising prices, tougher lending standards, a still-shaky job market — none looms larger than the recent explosion of college debt.

Of the many factors holding back young home buyers — rising prices, tougher lending standards, a still-shaky job market — none looms larger than the recent explosion of college debt.

The amount owed on student loans has tripled in a decade, to nearly $1.1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. People in their 20s and 30s — often the best-educated and highest-earning among them — owe most of that tab. That is keeping a crucial segment of home buyers on the sidelines, deferring one of the traditional markers of adult success.

The National Assn. of Realtors recently identified student debt as a key factor in soft demand for home-buying this spring. A recent study by the trade group identified student loans as the top reason many home buyers delayed their purchase. Many more didn’t buy at all.

Surveys show today’s adults value homeownership just as much as their parents did. But the shaky job market, higher debt loads, and the roller-coaster market of recent years is keeping many from pulling the trigger, said Selma Hepp, senior economist with the California Assn. of Realtors.

And the darker side of the picture from The Young Turks:

Students Loans Are HUGE Profit-Centers For The Government

Program notes:

“The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, students and their families are forecast to pay more to borrow from the department than they did prior to last summer’s new student loan law, which set student loan interest rates based on the U.S. government’s costs to borrow. The higher costs for borrowers would arrive at least a year sooner than previously predicted.”* The Young Turks hosts Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian break it down.

And it’s not just in the U.S. From TheLocal.se:

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

The Swedish government has proposed scrapping the 25-year span for repaying student loans, by suggesting those who attend higher education should keep paying the money back well into retirement.

At present some 200,000 students have their student loan written off every year when they reach the age of 67. However, proposals in the government’s spring government bill are set to increase the financial burden on students.

Along with the idea of extending the debt into old age, the government are going to more than double the fee when students get a late payment reminder.

Next up, grief from Old Blighty as Tory Dubyafication of British education rouses ire, via The Independent:

Furious teacher brands Michael Gove a ‘demented Dalek on speed’ as NUT threaten more strikes

A furious teacher has branded Michael Gove a “demented Dalek on speed” during a series of scathing attacks against the Education Secretary at the teachers’ union conference.

Mr Gove was likened to the Doctor Who monster, known as the most hated adversary in all of time and space, as teachers threatened a major escalation of strike action at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton on Saturday.

A member of the teachers’ union insisted that the Education Secretary was determined to “exterminate anything good in education that’s come along since the 1950s”.

And from Reuters, even Germany is finally realizing that financial crisis ain’t over:

ECB hardliner Weidmann comes in from the cold as deflation threatens

As recently as last November, Jens Weidmann steadfastly opposed any move by the European Central Bank to print money to buy assets and buoy the euro zone economy. No longer.

The Bundesbank chief, known for his hardline stances at the ECB and as head of the German central bank, is now ready to support such quantitative easing (QE) if he and his ECB colleagues deem it necessary. What has changed is that “the situation has changed”, according to one person familiar with the German’s thinking, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Euro zone inflation has slowed to 0.5 percent from 0.9 percent in November, falling far below the ECB’s target of just under 2 percent and stoking fears the bloc could become stuck in a prolonged period of so-called “low-flation”, or even sink into outright deflation.

After the jump, environmental nightmares, the Koch brothers declare war on solar, Japan and U.S. unions contract frack-o-mania, the Sino-Japanese cold war amps up, snoops on your shelves and in your thermostat, docs call for legal pot, drugged soldiers, and more. . . Continue reading

From Forbes: The United States of Marijuana


The number crunchers at the magazine for millionaires parse the numbers, coming to some interesting conclusions in this video report:

The United States of Marijuana

Program note:

As laws ease and public opinion leans towards legalization, Forbes looks inside the billion dollar industry of marijuana and the impact it can have on the economy.

Just some random headlines. . .or are they?


First, from the London Telegraph:

Infants ‘unable to use toy building blocks’ due to iPad addiction

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warn that rising numbers of children are unable to perform simple tasks such as using building blocks because of overexposure to iPads

Next, from the London Daily Mail:

Pregnant women who take SSRI antidepressants are three times more likely to have a child with autism

  • The effect of  the drugs is particularity pronounced during third trimester
  • Researchers suggest rising rates of autism and SSRI use may be linked

Next up, from the Los Angeles Times:

Household rat poison linked to death and disease in wildlife

Evidence of rat poison is found in a sickly puma whose territory includes Griffith Park. Researchers suspect a link between poisons and mange.

During nearly two decades of research in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, park service scientists have documented widespread exposure in carnivores to common household poisons. Of 140 bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions evaluated, 88% tested positive for one or more anticoagulant compounds. Scores of animals are known to have died from internal bleeding, researchers said.

The poisons also affect protected or endangered species including golden eagles, northern spotted owls and San Joaquin kit foxes.

And the Los Angeles Times again:

EPA drastically underestimates methane released at drilling sites

Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

Next, from the East Bay Express:

Environmental Activist Forcibly Removed from Chevron-Sponsored Event in Oakland for Mocking the Company’s ‘News’ Website

Security guards forcibly removed Paul Paz y Miño, an employee of the environmental group Amazon Watch, from a Chevron-sponsored event today in Oakland because he was carrying flyers that he said he had planned to distribute outside the building after the program. When Miño, who had paid $75 for a ticket to the public event, refused to leave, guards forcibly removed him.

Called the “Illuminating Ideas: ENERGY & Sustainability Summit,” the economic development event was held at the Oakland Marriott. It was organized by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and primarily sponsored by Chevron. PG&E, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch were also sponsors. The event offered several panel discussions on green infrastructure, energy smart cities, and private and public partnerships. The keynote speaker was Jon Wellinghoff, the immediate past president of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was also a speaker at the event.

And them this, from VentureBeat:

The future of Silicon Valley may lie in the mountains of Afghanistan

The future of Silicon Valley’s technological prowess may well lie in the war-scarred mountains and salt flats of Western Afghanistan.

United States Geological Survey teams discovered one of the world’s largest untapped reserves of lithium there six years ago. The USGS was scouting the volatile country at the behest of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. Lithium is a soft metal used to make the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries essential for powering desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. And increasingly, electric cars like Tesla’s.

The vast discovery could very well propel Afghanistan — a war-ravaged land with a population of 31 million largely uneducated Pashtuns and Tajiks, and whose primary exports today are opium, hashish, and marijuana — into becoming the world’s next “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” according to an internal Pentagon memo cited by the New York Times.

Finally, from the New York Times:

The Environmentalist Who Decided It Was Too Late

After decades of fervent environmental activism, Paul Kingsnorth concluded that collapse is inevitable. So now what?

Okay, so maybe they’re not such random headlines after all.

Rather, they are examples that should stir a form of thinking that the late UC Santa Barbara ecologist Garrett Hardin called ecolacy, the much-needed complement to the more commonly cultivated skills of literacy and numeracy.

Hardin, who was tragically wrong about what he called “the tragedy of the commons” [mistaking what economists term a free-for-all for the community-engendered commons], was spot on in his formulation of his First Law of Human Ecology, which states with deceptive simplicity: “You cannot do only one thing.”

Many of the headlines we have cited are examples of Hardin’s law, proof that actions hailed as desirable in one context can be devastating in the second. . .as in children skilled at screens and inept at manipulating real world objects. . . and as mothers relieved of depression and rewarded with the depressing burden of autistic offspring. . .and as when posons designed to kills household vermnin spread to destroy the wildlife around us.

Another grouping reminds us of the distortion of information to suit the interests of the few at the peril of the many. . .as when producing a fuel touted as a way to cut greenhouse gases actually produces vastly more atmosphere-imperiling emissions that the corporateers would have us believe. . .and when a corporation that touts itself as a bastion of community responsibility censors those who proclaim otherwise. . .and when a glimpse is revealed of deeper causes behind devastating flag-draped bloodshed.

The last headline speaks for itself.

Chart of the day II: A real American drug problem


And it ain’t crack, smack or weed. . .

From an important Esquire article, which notes:

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.

BLOG Meds

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroAsianFukuDup


A very, very long compilation and perhaps the last of its sort, covering a panoply of notable developments in the economic, political, and environmental domains:.

For our first item, via the Press Gazette, proof there’s more than one way to control information:

Journalists seeking accreditation for Brit Awards asked to agree coverage of sponsor Mastercard

A PR company representing MasterCard, who are a major sponsor for tonight’s Brit Awards for pop music, appear to have asked journalists to guarantee coverage of their client as the price of attending.

Before providing two journalists from the Telegraph with accreditation to attend the event House PR has asked them to agree to a number of requests about the coverage they will give it.

They have even gone as far as to draft Twitter messages which they would like the journalists to send out – and asked that they include a mention of the marketing campaign #PricelessSurprises and @MasterCardUK.

And from the Los Angeles Times, What’s in Your Wallet?™:

Capital One says it can show up at cardholders’ homes, workplaces

  • The credit card company’s recent contract update includes terms that sound menacing and creepy.

Ding-dong, Cap One calling.

Credit card issuer Capital One isn’t shy about getting into customers’ faces. The company recently sent a contract update to cardholders that makes clear it can drop by any time it pleases.

The update specifies that “we may contact you in any manner we choose” and that such contacts can include calls, emails, texts, faxes or a “personal visit.”

As if that weren’t creepy enough, Cap One says these visits can be “at your home and at your place of employment.”

The police need a court order to pull off something like that. But Cap One says it has the right to get up close and personal anytime, anywhere.

We switch to a global headline that overshadows pretty much defining the nature of life in the era of neoliberal austerity. From Reuters:

World risks era of slow growth, high unemployment: OECD

Sweeping reforms are urgently needed to boost productivity and lower barriers to trade if the world is to avoid a new era of slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment, the OECD warned on Friday.

In its 2014 study on “Going for Growth”, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said momentum on reforms had slowed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, with much of it now piecemeal and incremental.

From CBC News, another consequence of neoliberalism comes back to bites one its leading proponents in the bottom line:

Wal-Mart cuts growth forecast as poor shoppers spend less

  • Food stamp cuts in U.S. eat into same-store sales

Recent U.S. cuts in federal food stamps for the working poor and unemployed has led Wal-Mart Stores Inc to lower the forecast for its full-year profits.

The world’s largest retailer still expects net sales growth of three to five per cent this year.

But less food stamp aid, higher taxes and tighter credit are eroding its grocery sales, as its low-income customers struggle to get by on less.  As many as a fifth of Wal-Mart’s customers rely on food stamps, according to one analyst quoted by Reuters.

From Salon, more of the same, this time from the company founded by the new publisher of the Washington Post:

Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers

  • You might find your Prime membership morally indefensible after reading these stories about worker mistreatment

Amazon equals Walmart in the use of monitoring technologies to track the minute-by-minute movements and performance of employees and in settings that go beyond the assembly line to include their movement between loading and unloading docks, between packing and unpacking stations, and to and from the miles of shelving at what Amazon calls its “fulfillment centers”—gigantic warehouses where goods ordered by Amazon’s online customers are sent by manufacturers and wholesalers, there to be shelved, packaged, and sent out again to the Amazon customer.

Amazon’s shop-floor processes are an extreme variant of Taylorism that Frederick Winslow Taylor himself, a near century after his death, would have no trouble recognizing. With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, scientific managers, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.

Amazon is also a truly global corporation in a way that Walmart has never been, and this globalism provides insights into how Amazon responds to workplaces beyond the United States that can follow different rules. In the past three years, the harsh side of Amazon has come to light in the United Kingdom and Germany as well as the United States, and Amazon’s contrasting conduct in America and Britain, on one side, and in Germany, on the other, reveals how the political economy of Germany is employee friendly in a way that those of the other two countries no longer are.

ProPublica covers the sadly predictable:

U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections

‘Permatemping’ cases highlight lack of U.S. protections for temp workers. Other countries limit the length of temp jobs, guarantee equal pay and restrict dangerous work.

Since the 2007-09 recession, temp work has been one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. But a ProPublica investigation into this burgeoning industry over the past year has documented an array of problems. Temps have worked for the same company for as long as 11 years, never getting hired on full-time. Companies have assigned temps to the most dangerous jobs. In several states, data showed that temps are three times more likely than regular workers to suffer amputations on the job. And even some of the country’s largest companies have relied on immigrant labor brokers and fly-by-night temp agencies that have cheated workers out of their wages.

In contrast, countries around the globe have responded to similar abuses by adopting laws to protect the growing number of temps in their workforces. These include limiting the length of temp assignments, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and restricting companies from hiring temps for hazardous tasks.

Badly Behaving Banksters pay their dues, via TheLocal.ch:

Credit Suisse to pay $196m US fine

Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse has admitted it violated US securities laws and will pay $196 million to settle the charges, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Friday.

The SEC action came as the Department of Justice investigates Credit Suisse for allegedly helping US citizens illegally avoid taxes.

The SEC said that Credit Suisse Group violated laws by providing cross-border brokerage and investment advisory services to US clients without first registering with the SEC.

According to the SEC, the Zurich-based global bank began conducting the unregistered services as early as 2002 and had collected about $82 million in fees on the accounts before completely exiting the business in mid-2013.

Belated action from United Press International:

California unveils legislation to help deal with drought

California officials Wednesday unveiled a $687.4 million plan to help the state cope with its severe drought.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders said the proposal would provide funds for direct relief for farm workers who will likely be out of a job for an extended period as growers cut back on their planting.

In addition, the legislation provides funding for water-conservation projects and a public-awareness campaign to remind Californians it is shaping up to be a long, dry summer.

The Christian Science Monitor adds context:

California drought: Farmers cut back sharply, affecting jobs and food supply

With drought limiting water deliveries from northern California and the price of irrigation skyrocketing, farmers’ fields lie fallow and the politicized debate over solutions rages.

And from the U.S. Drought Monitor, the latest image of California’s water crisis, with severity increasing with color darkness [the dark brown being the worst, “Exceptional Drought”]:

BLOG Drought

Al Jazeera America campaigns:

Push to boost wages at big LA hotels

  • City council to consider proposal to raise hourly rate to $15.37, which would be among nation’s highest if passed

Three Los Angeles City Council members have launched a bid to nearly double the minimum wage for hotel workers to $15.37 an hour, among the highest proposed minimums nationwide.

The living wage proposal, applicable to about 11,000 workers employed by Los Angeles hotels with more than 100 rooms, would help to lift employees out of poverty and benefit the city economy, proposal supporters said on Tuesday when the proposal was introduced.

California’s minimum wage is $8 an hour with a $1 bump coming in July. It will reach $10 in 2016. Cities and counties can set a higher minimum wage. In San Francisco, for example, the minimum is $10.74 with annual cost of living increases. Nationwide, a number of cities have adopted or are considering minimum wage proposals, including a citywide $15-per-hour rate urged by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Meanwhile, there’s another crisis in California, reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Many L.A. Unified school libraries, lacking staff, are forced to shut

Budget cuts leave about half of L.A. Unified’s elementary and middle schools without librarians, and thousands of students without books.

About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries are without librarians or aides, denying tens of thousands of students regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books, according to district data.

The crisis has exacerbated educational inequalities across the nation’s second-largest system, as some campuses receive extra money for library staff and others don’t. It has also sparked a prolonged labor conflict with the California School Employees Assn., which represents library aides.

Cashing in the Mile High City’s state with the London Telegraph:

Bumper cannabis sales in Colorado form billion-dollar industry

  • In America’s first cannabis-legal state sales are surging far ahead of predictions, bringing huge additional tax revenue

Cannabis is likely to become an annual billion-dollar legal industry in the sate of Colorado by next year after officials suggested greater volumes of the drug are being sold than anticipated.

Colorado was the first state in the US to licence and tax sales of the drug for recreational use, allowing dozens of shops to open for business on Jan 1, 2014.

In the lead up to legalisation it was estimated that sales would reach $395 million in the 2014/2015 financial year.

But in its first assessment since the New Year Governor John Hickenlooper’s budget office has dramatically increased that to $612 million.

When the $345 million in estimated sales of the drug to people with medical conditions is added that means a total of almost $1 billion.

The Hill concedes the despicably considered:

Obama drops proposal to cut Social Security from his budget

Yielding to pressure from congressional Democrats, President Obama is abandoning a proposed cut to Social Security benefits in his election-year budget.

The president’s budget request for fiscal 2015, which is due out March 4, will not call for a switch to a new formula that would limit cost-of-living increases in the entitlement program, the White House said Thursday.

“This year the administration is returning to a more traditional budget presentation that is focused on achieving the president’s vision for the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans, and the investments needed to meet that vision,” a White House official said.

Obama last year proposed the new formula for calculating benefits as an overture to Republicans toward a “grand bargain” on the debt.

Barry O continues his neoliberal trade crusade with BBC News:

Obama champions controversial North America-Asia trade deal

US President Barack Obama has vowed to expand trade agreements between North America and Asia, despite concerns within his own political party.

Ending a day of talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, Mr Obama said they must keep up their “competitive advantage”.

The three countries are negotiating a major Pacific trade deal.

But Mr Obama’s Democratic allies oppose the agreement amid concerns that American jobs could be lost.

Republic Report adds significant context:

Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks

Officials tapped by the Obama administration to lead the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations have received multimillion dollar bonuses from CitiGroup and Bank of America, financial disclosures obtained by Republic Report show.

Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the Under Secretary for International Trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.

Michael Froman, the current U.S. Trade Representative, received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman’s] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.”

Getting together with Kyodo News:

Crucial TPP ministerial meeting begins in Singapore

Ministers from the 12 countries involved in the envisioned Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord began talks in Singapore on Saturday seeking to achieve the challenging goal of reaching a broad agreement after missing an end-of-2013 deadline.

But the momentum for an early conclusion of the ambitious U.S.-led trade initiative has been overshadowed by U.S. frustration over Japan’s reluctance to open up its agricultural market, as well as Malaysian and Vietnamese opposition to reforming state-owned firms.

During a five-day working-level meeting through Friday, each country held bilateral meetings on the sidelines of plenary sessions to bridge gaps over outstanding issues, but officials made little progress on thorny issues.

The Japan Times covers amen choristers:

Don’t fold on TPP tariffs: senators

A bipartisan group of senators has sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman urging the Obama administration not to make tariff concessions to Japan during the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

The letter, dated Saturday and signed by 15 senators led by Michael Bennett, a Colorado Democrat, and Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, “asked for assurances that the TPP negotiations will not be concluded until Japan agrees to eliminate tariff and non-tariff trade barriers for agricultural products,” the National Pork Producers Council said the same day.

Tokyo and Washington are jousting over Japanese duties on five “sacred” farm product categories — rice, beef and pork, wheat, dairy and sugar — that Tokyo wants to retain under the TPP, which is based on the principle of abolishing all tariffs.

The Obamanations continue via The Guardian:

Obama begins Mexico summit with orders lowering trade barriers

  • Before meeting Mexican and Canadian heads of state, president bypasses Congress by signing trade liberalisation orders

Barack Obama begins a North American summit in Mexico on Wednesday with a gesture of defiance toward allies in Congress who are hampering his ability to negotiate controversial trade liberalisation agreements.

In the latest in a series of so-called executive actions promised in his state of the union address, the US president will sign new measures to speed up imports and exports for businesses by reducing bureaucratic barriers.

And from one Canadian province, a modest resistance to the tenor of the times, via CBC News:

Quebec proposes rules to prevent hostile takeovers

  • Budget sets out economic agenda that includes government taking stakes in mining sector

Quebec’s Parti Québécois government proposed measures to shield businesses headquartered in Quebec from hostile takeovers in a budget tabled Thursday.

It was one in a series of proposals geared at keeping Quebec business in the province that also included plans for the government to buy direct stakes in oil and mining companies with new finds in Quebec.

The proposal comes at a time when the minority government is expected to call a provincial election and may not last long enough to pass through the legislature.

From MercoPress, deserved anxiety:

IMF concerned with risks in emerging markets from pulling back stimulus too quickly

Advanced economies, including the United States, must avoid pulling back stimulus too quickly given the weak global economic recovery and recent market volatility highlights key risks in some emerging markets, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday.

The IMF said there was scope for better coordination of central bank exit plans, something many emerging market policymakers have called for as the Federal Reserve has begun to wind back its US support for the economy.

In a briefing note prepared for upcoming Group of 20 meetings, IMF staff said the outlook for global growth was similar to its last assessment in January, with growth of about 3.75% seen for this year and 4.0% in 2015.

More from China Daily:

Growth in emerging economies to decline: IMF

Anticipated growth in emerging surplus economies, including China’s, is “expected to decline” and output gaps in advanced economies remain negative, the International Monetary Fund said in a report released ahead of this weekend’s G-20 finance meeting in Australia.

Global recovery from the recession has been “disappointingly weak,” and G-20 countries are still producing “far below” the longer-term trend, the report said.

While global economic activity picked up in the second half of 2013 due to strengthening advanced economies, trade volumes remain below trend, decline in unemployment and strong private demand “did not materialize,” the IMF said Wednesday.

Against the backdrop of slower-than-anticipated global growth, emerging economies are experiencing bouts of volatility in the financial sector, influenced in part by weakening sentiment toward emerging economies, the IMF said.

On to Europe with another red flag from BBC News:

Eurozone business growth slowed in February, PMI study suggests

Business growth in the eurozone eased this month but the bloc’s economy continued to expand at a “robust pace”, a closely watched survey suggests.

The latest Markit eurozone composite purchasing managers’ index (PMI) dipped to 52.7 from 52.9 in January. A figure above 50 indicates expansion.

Within the bloc, Germany and France continued to see contrasting fortunes. German companies saw strong growth, but activity among French firms declined for the fourth month in a row.

Another from Deutsche Welle:

Eurozone January inflation too tame to please ECB

In January, price increases in the eurozone remained well below the rate desired by the European Central Bank. The timid inflation rate for the month points to a lackluster recovery in the recession-hit currency area.

Annual inflation in the 18-nation eurozone remained tame in January, recording 0.8 percent higher than in the previous month of December, according to Monday.

In the wider 28-nation European Union, inflation fell to 0.9 percent against 1 percent at the end of last year, Eurostat said.

Compared with January 2013, however, the rates for both areas were significantly lower, coming down from 2 percent and 2.1 percent annual inflation respectively a year ago.

And from Eurostat [PDF], the graphic that tells the deeper story [click to enlarge]:

BLOG Inflate

Another indicator of creepy europoverty from The Guardian [obesity rates rise as poverty increases, with the rates of obesity highest in Europe’s unfortunately named, crisis wracked PIGS]:

Overweight children could become new norm in Europe, says WHO

As many as a third of 11-year-olds in some countries are overweight, as well as two-thirds of UK’s adult population

Being overweight is in danger of becoming the new norm for children as well as adults in Europe, the World Health Organisation warns, issuing figures showing that up to a third of 11-year-olds across the region are too heavy.

According to the EU figures, Greece has the highest proportion of overweight 11-year-olds (33%), followed by Portugal (32%), Ireland and Spain (both 30%).

More anxieties from EurActiv:

Europe tries to reverse drift towards de-industrialisation

After a lost decade, Europe is trying to reverse a decline in manufacturing which has brought industrial output to a standstill. The issue will reach the EU’s top decision-making body in March when European leaders meet for their quarterly summit in Brussels.

Over the past few years, the European Commission has been the most vocal EU institution campaigning for the continent’s industrial revival, positioning itself as a driver of competitiveness and job creation.

Within the EU executive, the commissioner for enterprise, Antonio Tajani, has emerged as the winner of an internal debate opposing supporters of industry to environmentalists, whose policies were blamed for hampering the economy.

Another warning from New Europe:

North-South gap weakens employment and social cohesion

  • The latest European Vacancy Monitor revealed a growing North-South divide

A widening gap in job opportunities between Northern and Southern EU countries is threatening the employment and social cohesion of the EU.

On 24 February, the European Commission announced the latest issue of the European Vacancy Monitor (EVM), which indicated a shortage in labour supply in countries such as Austria, Denmark Sweden, Estonia and Latvia, and an increased competition for jobs in countries such as Greece, Slovakia and Spain.

László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said that the Northern-Southern employment gap indicates Eurozone’s employment and social asymmetries. “Diverging job prospects in Northern and Southern Europe underline mismatches in the European labour market, linked also to Eurozone asymmetries. Labour mobility might help to reduce those imbalances. Tools supporting workers mobility within the European labour market such as EURES are available to help job seekers find job opportunities,” Commissioner Andor said.

A shift in sentiment from EUobserver:

Poll: Socialists to top EU elections, boost for far-right

Europe’s socialists are set to top the polls in May’s European elections, according to the first pan-EU election forecast.

The projections, released by Pollwatch Europe on Tuesday (19 February), give the parliament’s centre-left group 221 out of 751 seats on 29 percent of the vote, up from the 194 seats it currently holds.

For their part, the centre-right EPP would drop to 202 seats from the 274 it currently holds on 27 percent of the vote across the bloc. If correct, it would be the first victory for the Socialists since 1994.

EurActiv takes a hit:

Financiers snipe at draft EU law against money laundering

Representatives of financial transactions services have criticised harshly the EU’s draft legislation to fight money laundering which will go through its first parliamentary vote today (20 February) and enjoys the support of the anti-corruption champion, Transparency International.

The European Commission proposal, tabled in February last year, is aimed at tightening EU rules on financial transactions in a bid to step up the fight against money laundering and terrorism funding.

One of the main elements of the proposal is the introduction of a mechanism to name the beneficial owners of companies, in order to prevent the illicit activities which are often carried out under anonymity.

The proposal also includes requirements to increase customer due diligence and tightening the rules obliging financial companies to identify their clients and the legitimacy of their activities.

Europe Online pulls back:

Iceland moves to withdraw EU application

Iceland’s centre-right government is to seek parliamentary approval to withdraw its application to join the European Union, opting not to restart accession talks that were put on ice a year ago.

A bill proposing the withdrawal was sent to parliament late Friday and was due to be debated next week, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told dpa on Saturday.

The move came after the parliamentary caucuses of the ruling parties – the centrist Progressive Party and the conservative Independence Party – voted Friday to withdraw the application.

In comments on the proposal quoted by online news site Visir.is, the government said it “did not have a support base” to complete the accession process.

Off to Britain, with a major policy reversal of the post-equine escape animal enclosure locking sort from Sky News:

Cameron: UK Ready To Fund New Flood Defences

  • David Cameron tells Sky News he is ready to open the Government’s “chequebook” to build new flood defences.

David Cameron has suggested that his “money is no object” pledge on the flood relief effort could be extended to cover the costs of new defences.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the Prime Minister said he was ready to take out his “chequebook” following a major review of what went wrong and how it could have been prevented.

“You’ve got to look at where the floods have been this time, compared with 2007, compared with 2003,” he said.

From the London Telegraph, the usual result:

Wages rise but still below inflation

  • Pay increase and a fall in unemployment a boost for the Bank of England

Wages are still failing to keep up with the rising cost of living despite climbing at a faster rate in the final quarter of last year.

Average weekly pay including bonuses edged up 1.1pc to £478 in the three months to the end of December, up from the 0.9pc rate of increase in the three months to the end of November, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

However, the Government’s preferred inflation measure, the consumer prices index (CPI), currently stands at 1.9pc – below the 2pc target – despite a surprise 0.1 point fall on Tuesday.

Another austerian consequence from The Observer:

Cash-strapped older women are forced back to work

  • Older women taking on more jobs, study finds, but pay gap between the sexes is growing wider

More than three-quarters of the rise in female employment, which hit record levels last December, is the result of women aged over 50 taking on jobs, a study has found.

A report by the TUC to be released this week has established that 2,278,000 more women are now working than in 1992, and that 1,645,000 (72%) of these are aged 50 or over.

Last week the government welcomed news that more women were in work, with the proportion – 67.2% – the highest since records began 43 years ago. The TUC study pinpoints how many older women have felt the need to return to work or to continue working until later in life, for a combination of reasons. These include the rising cost of living, the increase in the state pension age and the fall in value of workplace pensions.

While much of the rise in female employment is due to the greater number of over-50s in the population, the rate of employment has risen too. In 1992, 50.7% of women in the 50-64 age group were economically “inactive”, compared with 36.8% today.

The Observer follows hunger in posh places:

‘Most desirable’ district in the country has three food banks

  • In wealthy towns, families hit by falling incomes and benefit cuts are increasingly being forced to rely on charity handouts

Volunteers have sounded the alarm over a growing reliance on food banks in one of the richest areas in Britain.

Weekly earnings in Hart in Hampshire, recently named as the most desirable district in the country for quality of life, are a third higher than the national average. But the district also has three food banks, which have given out more than 1,000 emergency food parcels in the past six months.

Anti-poverty campaigners say that, even in wealthy areas such as Hart, benefit changes and low wages are creating growing pockets of desperate need.

EurActiv readies the trial:

Britain sets out new test to limit EU migrant benefits

Britain laid out new rules on Wednesday (19 February) designed to limit the access that migrants from other European Union states have to the country’s welfare system.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to curb immigration into Britain in an effort to quell concerns about migrants entering the country to claim benefits, referred to as ‘benefits tourism’. The move may also stop voters defecting to the anti-immigration UK Independence Party.

The new test, due to come into effect on March 1, sets a minimum income threshold to determine whether a migrant working in the UK should have access to the wider suite of benefits that comes with being classed as a worker rather than a jobseeker.

But the Usual Suspects are doing quite well, thankee kindly. Via Reuters, a case of Banksters Behaving Brazenly:

HSBC to announce bonuses totaling $4 billion: report

HSBC will announce staff bonuses totaling just under 2.4 billion pounds ($4 billion) globally for 2013 and is expected to report a significant rise in pretax profit, Sky News reported on its website on Saturday without citing its sources.

Referring to an unnamed source close to the bank, Sky also said Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver will receive a 1.8 million pound bonus as part of an overall pay deal worth more than 7 million pounds, though this would be less than his previous year pay deal of 7.4 million.

Europe’s biggest bank is expected to announce the size of its bonus pool on Monday along with its yearly results. Bonus payments remain a sensitive issue as many Britons still blame banks for the 2008 financial crisis, after which the state was forced to bail out RBS and Lloyds.

On to Scandinavia and some hard times intolerance from TheLocal.no:

Three men charged for racist attack in Norway

Three men in their twenties have been charged for assaulting a black man in northern Norway, allegedly telling him “we do not like immigrants in Verdal” as they hit him on the back with a snow shovel.

Jacob Kuteh, who was born in Liberia, was hospitalized after the  attack, which took place on Saturday night.

Kuteh claimed the men hit him, strangled him and kicked him in the head, before hitting him with a snow shovel, all the while telling him, “we hate you. We’ll take you.”

“I’ve lived here for ten years and have never experienced anything like this,” Kuteh told VG newspaper. “I have kids that go to school here and it’s no fun at all that someone has suddenly come and told me that they do not like the colour of my skin.”

Sweden next, with a demographic note from TheLocal.se:

Immigrants behind boom in Sweden’s population

The population of Sweden saw the biggest yearly increase in 70 years last year, according to new statistics, thanks largely to the almost 120,000 immigrants who arrived throughout the year.

Sweden’s population on the last day of 2013 was 9,644,864 – a 0.93 percent hike from 2012. The total increase was the largest since 1946, and statisticians at Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån – SCB) marked it down to a record-high level of immigration.

In total, 115,845 immigrants arrived in Sweden in 2013, many from Syria and Somalia. The figure is the highest Sweden has ever had in a one-year period. The men outnumbered the women by around 5,000.

TheLocal.se again, this time with a contrarian finding:

Romanian beggars cleared in court

A district court in central Sweden has cleared three Romanian nationals of begging following a previous indictment, saying they did not need the permission of the police to beg.

The trio had previously been prosecuted for begging on the streets of Södertälje, Stockholm county, in January. In court it was debated whether the three individuals had broken any local laws regarding the collection of money.

Local newspaper Länstidningen said that the case was unique as the issue has never been tested before by law.

According to local Södertälje regulations police permission is required for the “collection of money in boxes or similar.” In court the example of street musicians, who don’t require police permission, was raised and comparisons were made between the beggars and street performers.

And more academic austerity ahead with TheLocal.se:

Borg to cut student grants and pension perks

With autumn elections on the horizon, Sweden’s Finance Minister Anders Borg said his government would cut student grants and make alcohol and tobacco more expensive, part of a budget plan to fill Sweden’s coffers.

“You shouldn’t stoke the fire in good times,” Borg told reporters in Stockholm on Thursday as he mapped out the centre-right government coalition’s budget prognosis for the near- and medium term. He said he no longer saw the need to use stimulus measures to keep Sweden’s economy buoyant, and argued that it was time to strengthen public finances.

“Sweden needs proper levees in place before the next crisis,” Borg said, adding that Sweden’s reliance on liquidity and its high household indebtedness was “a big element of uncertainty in the Swedish economy”.

Off to the Netherlands with stagnation from DutchNews.nl:

House prices stabilise but building permits reach 60-year low

House prices were down just 0.5 percent in January, compared with January 2013, showing house prices have now stabilised, the national statistics office CBS says on Friday.

Month on month, there was a 0.4% rise in house prices.

House prices are now in line with 11 years ago, after reaching a peak in August 2008, the CBS says. Houses have gone down an average of 20% in price since then.

At the same time, the CBS says the number of permits for new houses reached a record low of 26,000 in 2013. This is 30% down on 2012 and 70% down on 2008. Permits for new housing have not been so low since 1953, the CBS says.

Germany next, and a pain in the wallet from TheLocal.de:

Wages fall for first time since crash

Wages in Germany fell by an average of 0.2 percent last year, the first drop since the 2009 economic crisis, the federal statistics office said on Thursday.

The calculation was in terms of the real buying power of wages, allowing for inflation, and the fall bodes ill for efforts to fire up domestic consumption to boost recovery in Europe’s biggest economy.

Germany has relied mainly on exports to drive growth.

Citing preliminary results, the statistics office said that nominal wages in 2013 were up 1.3 percent from the previous year, but that consumer prices rose faster, at 1.5 percent, over the same period.

“One reason for the decline in real wages in 2013 was a decline in bonuses which are frequently performance-related,” said a statement by the Wiesbaden-based agency which is known as Destatis.

Deutsche Welle tracks a booming business:

Arms manufacturer Rheinmetall logs lower profit but higher orders

Germany’s biggest arms maker, Rheinmetall, has defied weak defense spending in Europe in 2013 to surprise investors with higher-than-expected earnings. A massive order backlog for 2014 boosted company shares further.
Panzer

Last year, Rheinmetall’s performance had been stable, with consolidated sales of 4.6 billion euros ($6.3 billion). Before special items, Rheinmettal also boasted an operating profit of 213 million euros, the German defense and automotive industry conglomerate announced as it released figures for its 2013 fiscal year on Wednesday.

Rheinmetall’s 2013 operating result was about 55 million euros lower than in 2012, but higher than forecast for 2013, the Düsseldorf-based company announced. The decrease was the result of restructuring measures to the tune of 86 million euros, as well as a further 15 million euros in expenses for strategic portfolio measures, Rheinmetall aannounced.

Annual sales also fell in 2013, however, with the 2 percent decline mainly being a result of unfavorable exchange rates for the euro.

And a point we’ve made before, from EUbusiness:

Germany has ‘unfair’ edge with low salaries: minister

Germany’s low salaries have given Europe’s biggest economy an “unfair” competitive advantage over its partners and must be corrected, a junior German minister has said.

Michael Roth, state secretary for European Affairs, was commenting on Germany’s record trade surplus, which surged to nearly 200 billion euros ($270 billion) last year, and has seen Berlin placed under EU scrutiny.

He said in an interview with AFP Thursday that imbalances had appeared among EU members and there “was a duty not only for countries running a deficit but also for Germany to reduce them”.

The comments by the Social Democrat politician differ from the stance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, who disagree that Berlin has a problem with its trade surplus despite it consistently exceeding EU limits.

France next, and a uniquely Gallic form of action from Europe Online:

New “boss-napping” incident at a French factory

Workers at a French factory were holding three managers captive for a second day Thursday, after its owners announced that it would be shut down.

The managing director, technical director and financial director of Depalor, a company that produces wood panels in the north-eastern Lorraine region, were being held in an office building.

A trade union representative told France Info radio that the three were barred from leaving until the CEO of parent company Swiss Krono Group came to discuss redundancy terms for the 142 workers.

The incident is the second case of “boss-napping” in France within two months.

And the hidden disclosed, via TheLocal.ch:

France says thousands declare Swiss accounts

The French government says that nearly 16,000 people have declared funds hidden abroad after Switzerland curtailed its vaunted banking secrecy.

France’s Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Wednesday that the government was on track to collect 230 million euros ($316 million) from only 2,621 of the cases.

He told the finance committee of the lower house National Assembly that 80 percent of the newly declared accounts were from Switzerland, which has curtailed its banking secrecy traditions under international pressure.

France 24 ponies up:

French government, China’s Dongfeng to invest in Peugeot

Peugeot Citroën, which has been manufacturing automobiles in France for more than 100 years, has agreed to a deal that will see both the French government and Chinese carmaker Dongfeng buy large stakes in the struggling company.

Peugeot announced on Wednesday that its board had approved the agreement, in which the French government and Dongfeng will each invest €800 million ($1.1 billion) in exchange for 14 percent stakes in the company.

The move marks a huge transition for the carmaker, which until now has been controlled by the Peugeot family. Under the agreement, the family’s 25 percent stake and 38 percent of voting rights will now be reduced to equal the French government and Dongfeng’s stakes in the company.

On to Switzerland and a case of resigned to not being resigned from TheLocal.ch:

German professor quits over Swiss ‘xenophobia’

A German professor at the Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich (ETH) has made a splash in the media for quitting his job over the Swiss vote to limit immigration.

Christopher Höcker, who had taught at the university’s Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture since 1999, told his students this week he was stepping down.

The decision by Swiss voters in a February 9th referendum to narrowly support quotas for immigrants from the European Union was the last straw for the 57-year-old German citizen.

“I do not want more exposure to the increasingly xenophobic climate in Switzerland,” Höcker told 20 Minuten newspaper.

TheLocal.ch delays:

EU not compromising but gives Switzerland time

The EU said Thursday it cannot compromise on the principle of freedom of movement but will allow Switzerland time to find a solution after a controversial referendum approved immigration curbs.

“It is a serious . . . not a minor change which we have to assess calmly,” chief operating officer of the EU external affairs service David O’Sullivan said of the referendum outcome.

“Freedom of movement is a fundamental core value” of the European Union and as such is not open for negotiation, O’Sullivan said after talks with Yves Rossier, his counterpart in the Swiss department of foreign affairs.

On to Spain and onto the streets with United Press International:

Spanish marchers protest job cuts, law against protesting

Demonstrators in at least seven Spanish cities have called for an end to a “gagging law” that set large fines for protest marches.

The protesters were joined by factory workers due to be laid off and groups seeking to preserve access to universal healthcare, Think Spain reported. Monday.

The anti-demonstration law, which affects even peaceful protests, calls for fines of $41,000 to $823,000 for anyone staging the marches.

The protests, which drew thousands of supporters in each of the cities, also want the Spanish Parliament to reject a proposed law restricting abortions.

From Spanish Property Insight, the one group of immigrants eagerly sought:

First Chinese property investors get their “Golden Visas”

Chinese nationals investing in property in Spain are starting to get their residency visas, according to Spanish press reports.

A businesswoman from Shanghai who spent €520,000 on flats in Barcelona and Madrid has become one of the first Chinese nationals to get a Spanish residency via the new “Golden Visa” law that offers Spanish residency permits to non-EU nationals in return for real estate investments of €500,000 or more.

She invested in Spanish property via the Emigration Centre at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), which has a programme to help Chinese nationals invest in residency schemes abroad.

On to Lisbon and yet another austerian misery demanded from the Portugal News:

EU calls for Portugal wages to fall by a further 5%

The European Commission has argued that Portugal needs a further 5% average reduction in wages to ensure a balance between the unemployment rate and wage rates.

Portugal’s government responded by saying that it continued to disagree with that view, arguing that recent increases in exports show that wage adjustment in the private sector has been “sufficient”.

In its report on the 10th regular review of Portugal’s economic and financial assistance programme, released on Thursday, the European Union executive states that “Portugal needs wage moderation sufficient to absorb unemployment” and outlines some estimates.

According to the commission’s calculations, “a reduction of one percentage point in the unemployment rate demands a reduction in real wages of about 2.4%” – which it said means real wages falling 5% if the gap is to be closed between the current jobless rate and that at which wage levels will not lead to new increases in unemployment.

Deutsche Welle takes us to Italy and the latest regime:

Italy swears in its youngest-ever prime minister, Matteo Renzi

  • Italy’s new prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and his cabinet have been sworn into office at a ceremony in Rome. The new government is the youngest in the recent Italian history.

The swearing-in of the prime minister took place at a ceremony in Rome under the auspices of Napolitano.

At 39, Renzi is the youngest-ever person to take the reins in the eurozone’s third largest economy, and his cabinet, with an average age of 47.8 years, is also the most youthful in recent Italian history.

As a result, the government is facing widespread skepticism as to whether it has the political maturity to cope with the challenges currently facing the country.

And the road’s already getting bumpy, via TheLocal.it:

Grillo declares ‘war’ as Berlusconi backs Renzi

Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo has lashed out at Matteo Renzi, saying the prime minister designate is “not credible” and declaring a political “war” against the country’s prospective new leader.

Since being nominated for the premiership on Monday, Renzi has been meeting with party leaders to gain the political backing needed to push urgent reforms through parliament.

While some meetings, such as one with Go Italy (Forza Italia) leader Silvio Berlusconi, have gone relatively well, the same cannot be said of Renzi’s meeting with Grillo.

Visible to all by a live internet stream, their meeting appeared to be a dialogue of the deaf, with neither side appearing interested in the other.

ANSA raises an alarm:

Italian recovery slow, growth stalling, say industrialists

  • Urgent need to address competitiveness, demand and bank credit

Italy’s economic recovery is extremely slow and recent data shows that industrial production in the eurozone’s third-largest economy is close to stalling, according to a new report released on Wednesday by Italian employers’ association Confindustria.

“(The recovery is) moving ahead very slowly, almost at a standstill”, Confindustria’s economists said. “These are the harsh facts of the Italian economy”, with employment and industrial production data “confirming that the pick up from the extremely deep hole that has been dug by the recession is extremely slow”.

Fourth-quarter gross domestic product data, which showed the economy expanded 0.1% in the last three months of 2013, was “lower that expected” and “confirms the extreme weakness of the recovery”, according to the report drawn up by Confindustria’s economic research unit which is headed by economist Luca Paolazzi.

And another call for an increasingly mooted move from ANSA:

Re-open cannabis debate, hurt mafia, says ex-health minister

  • Ban on marijuana doesn’t work, says top oncologist Veronesi

It’s time that Italy re-opened the debate on liberalizing marijuana use, to cut out drug traffickers, permit its medical use, while acknowledging the current ban doesn’t work, former health minister Umberto Veronesi said Thursday.

In an opinion article published in La Repubblica newspaper, Veronesi, a prominent oncologist, said that liberalizing the drug would take away power from the mafia and other criminals who now profit greatly from its cultivation and sale.

It would make marijuana more safe for users, including those who need it for pain relief, added Veronesi, whose comments come amid debate about Italy’s illegal-drug laws.

And from New Europe, departures from Bucharest:

Romanian ministers resign

Romania is in the throws of a political crisis after two ministers from the junior party in the ruling coalition resigned.

Finance Minister Daniel Chitoiu and Economy Minister Andrei Gerea, both Liberal Party members, stepped down on Wednesday after Prime Minister Victor Ponta refused to accept the Liberals’ nomination of Klaus Johannis, the popular mayor of Sibiu city, as interior minister. The position, now vacant, was recently held by another Liberal Party official.

Ponta, leader of the Social Democratic Party, will temporarily head the finance portfolio. He named a party colleague as interim economy minister.

After the jump, the latest Greek debacles, unmentionable anxieties in Russia, the latest from Kyiv, an African GMO invasion, the latest turmoil from Latin America, India swings to the right, Thai troubles, worries down under, Chinese alarm bells, Abenomics on the rocks, nucelear woes in the U.S.A., Big Ag hits a roadblock, fracking woes go global, a Spanish snail invasion, and a globl arming cooler. . .plus Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Business as usual: A little Dutch hypocrisy


From the television arm of Holland’s Katholieke Radio Omroep [Catholic Radio Broadcasting], a nice little takedown of corporate profiteering.

While esnl’s a cannabis-friendly blog, much of our journalism career has been spent tracking corporate shenanigans and organized crime [and, yes, the two are increasingly synonymous these days].

So when we caught this video we were delighted at the expose of corporate connivance with a large and still-illegal industry, an enterprise that continued until it was finally derailed in part because of the work of journalists.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

How Multinational Philips Profited From Illegal Cannabis Farms

Program notes:

Corporate Cannabis: The corporation that made millions from the illegal drug trade

When Philips, a huge multinational company, started supplying lamps to the cannabis industry it wasn’t breaking the law. Growing is illegal, supplying lamps isn’t. But it wasupporting a €1bn criminal network.

“I think his revenues are €5 to 6 million on Philips products alone. Philips is THE brand in the industry”, an insider says of the intermediary that Philips sold their lamps to the cannabis industry through. Nothing was put on paper with this intermediary and they were careful to filter their operations through a wholesaler, but his lawyer attests to his partnership with Philips and shows us an email in which Philips gave him advice on how the lamps were best used for growing cannabis.

As criminologist Frank Bovenkerk points out, while it may not have been illegal, the morals are certainly questionable. “It is absolutely clear that a number of serious criminal organizations are dealing with this business. Very unpleasant people.” Now that the law is changing to outlaw the supply of lamps to the growing industry, Philips has changed its policy and left its intermediary badly in the lurch, but many say it is too little too late. “They’re in a position that is conductive to crime, often organised crime.” A fascinating look at how large companies make money at the fringes of the law and a warning of the kind of industries that can grow up around Cannabis legalisation.

A transcript is posted online here.

Shareholder-owned corporations are, by law, immoral — potentially immortal creations endowed with a single prime directive: The generation of maximum profits for investors.

Banks have fallen over each other to attract the wealth of drug dealers, so why shouldn’t one of world’s leading suppliers of lighting?

And it might be argued quite reasonably that Philips is doing a lot less harm than those corporations which, will full government approval, sell the instruments of mass murder and social control. . .

Bernie Sanders: The TPP is bad for U.S. workers


Once again, it’s up to the only socialist in America’s national legislature to lay out the impacts to the American workers and our dwindling middle class of the devastating impacts of the neoliberal regime embraced by the Obama administration,

In this case, it’s the Trans Pacific Partnership the draws the Vermont senator’s ire, the latest of those negotiated-in-secret “free trade” pacts that surrender national sovereignty to corporate interests and sacrifice the rights and health of citizens to star chamber tribunals whose discussions never see the light of day.

In this clip from MSNBC’s The Ed Show, Sanders lays out his case:

Chart of the day: A recipe for fascism?


From the National Science Foundation’s just published Science & Technology Indicators 2014 [PDF], the rankings of America’s most and least-trusted institutions  that should send the hackles rising, given that in the modern technocratic fascist state, the military, medical, and scientific institutions hold sway [with much of the top Nazi leadership drawn from those same professions] and the power of organized labor is suppressed:

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, Chapter 7

Jack Ohman: Show some poor initiative


From the editorial cartoonist of the Sacramento Bee:

BLOH Hypocrits

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroSinoFukuFuel


We begin our collection of headlines form the economic, political, and environmental realms with a new reality from CNBC:

More men in their prime working years lack jobs, says WSJ

A large number of men who are still in their prime working years find themselves without jobs for extended periods, despite an improving economy, according to a piece in The Wall Street Journal.

The trend has been building for decades. The percentage of unemployed men 25 to 54 more than doubled between the early 1970s and 2007, from 6 percent to 13 percent, before jumping to 20 percent in the depths of the recession in 2009, according to the article.

As of December 2013, 17 percent of men are not working. Of that group, about two-thirds are not looking for work, which excludes them from the government’s official unemployment numbers.

Economists were alarmed to learn that 40 percent of those looking have been out of work for six months or more, according to the Journal. Some had expected employment figures to rebound to pre-recession levels, but the trend is actually getting worse.

One response, via The Hill:

Senate rejects jobless benefits

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked Democrats’ third attempt to pass an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

The Senate voted 58-40 Thursday on a proposal that would have continued unemployment insurance for three months, just short of the 60 votes needed to end debate.

“I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to yes,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “It’s a ‘no’ vote because they don’t want to extend unemployment insurance.”

Any excuse to gut environmental laws, via Salon:

House GOP overrides Endangered Species Act protections to pass California water bill

  • The bill would undermine years of conservation efforts in Northern California

Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would override federal rules and protections in California to allocate more water to farmers.

It would allow state and federal officials to pump more water out the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, a source of drinking water to 22 million Californians and home to endangered salmon, in what Gov. Jerry Brown called “an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California’s efforts to manage this severe crisis” and Rep. John Garamendi (D) referred to as “a theft of water from someone to give to somebody else, plain and simple.”

CNBC shivers in anticipation:

Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand

An unexpected fear haunts the land of the shale bonanza story: running low on natural gas.

Furnaces, utilities and power plants have guzzled trillions of cubic feet of the fuel as the U.S. slogs through what may be recorded as the coldest winter since the invention of gas futures in 1990.

Hedge funds are now betting the country will face a critical shortage before spring. The wager comes with long odds but a huge possible payout.

“It’s been a relentless cold,” says Eric Bass, managing partner at Velite Benchmark Capital Management, a Houston gas hedge fund. “This market has slowly started to realize there could potentially be an inventory problem.”

From Al Jazeera America, Banksters Behaving Badly™:

Banks under investigation for alleged currency exchange rate-fixing

  • Barclays, Goldman Sachs among institutions being investigated for allegedly manipulating foreign exchange markets

New York state’s financial regulator has opened an investigation into alleged manipulation of foreign exchange markets and is demanding documents from more than a dozen banks, a source familiar with the investigation told Al Jazeera.

Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Goldman Sachs and a number of other large banks that the Department of Financial Services regulates will be investigated in the probe, the source said.

Authorities in the U.S., Britain, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore have opened probes into whether the large banks manipulated foreign exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments.

Investigators suspect that traders from different banks may have used chat rooms to share information about trades in ways that benefited their positions.

Profligacy from The Guardian:

National lab in California scolded over Lusitania project

  • $80,000 in taxpayer money spent to help National Geographic with documentary about sinking of the ship during WWI

A federal watchdog agency reprimanded a national lab in Northern California for spending more than $80,000 in taxpayer money to help National Geographic with a documentary film about the sinking of the ship Lusitania during World War I.

The Energy Department’s inspector general said in a report issued last week that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory improperly used its licensing and royalty fees to perform tests for the documentary and should not have done the work.

“Federal officials at Livermore knew about it and didn’t take any action,” said Rickey Hass, a deputy inspector general at the Energy Department. “The work itself was not really the issue, but it was inappropriate in that it may have competed with private sector organizations and was funded with money that should have not been used for that purpose. It also wasn’t necessarily reported with complete transparency.”

NBC News greens the green:

Pot buyers add more than $1M to Colorado tax coffers

In the first month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, retailers who shared their proprietary data with NBC News say they have collected $1.24 million in tax revenue.

Half of the state’s 35 licensed recreational retailers participated in the NBC News survey. The 18 retailers shared the first 27 days of their tax data because they say they believe it will help their image.

In the first month of operation, sellers of recreational marijuana are doing brisk business in Colorado. One seller said she averages about $20,000 a day in sales.

Blowback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

India warns US of consequences on visa reform

India has warned the United States of consequences for its companies if lawmakers tighten visa rules on high-tech firms as part of an immigration overhaul.

Ambassador Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that India would see a decision to restrict certain temporary visas for skilled workers as a sign that the US economy is becoming less open for business.

“We think this is actually going to be harmful to us. It would be harmful to the American economy and, frankly, it would be harmful to the relationship” between the two countries, Jaishankar told AFP in an interview.

Sensible advice from Salon:

Elizabeth Warren calls on Obama to nominate fewer corporate judges

  • Massachusetts’ senior senator promotes more professional diversity in U.S. courts

Speaking at an event hosted by the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 groups who work on improving the justice system, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized President Obama for putting forward so many judicial nominees whose prior experience was mainly with big firms representing corporations.

“We face a federal bench that has a striking lack of diversity,” said Warren. “President Obama has supported some notable exceptions but … the president’s nominees have thus far been largely in line with the prior statistics.”

Repeating points made in the AFJ’s recent report on the federal judiciary’s excess of former corporate lawyers, Warren noted that 71 percent of Obama nominees’ prior experience was chiefly defending corporations. Just 3.6 percent of Obama’s nominees, according to the report, have previously worked mainly for public interest organizations.

Warren warned that, in America, “Power is becoming more and more concentrated on one side.” She recommended “professional diversity” in the judiciary, saying it would be “one way to insulate the courts from corporate capture.”

Heading north of the border with capital flight woes of another kind from South China Morning Post:

Exclusive: How mainland millionaires overwhelmed Canada visa scheme

Mainland millionaires swamped HK consulate with applications and led to freezing of world’s most popular investor immigration scheme

Canadian immigration department spreadsheets obtained by the Post show how the huge number of applications forced the government in Ottawa to freeze the world’s most popular wealth-based migration scheme. One document, dated January 8 last year, showed there was a backlog of 53,580 Hong Kong-based applications for Canadian federal investor visas.

That represented more than 70 per cent of the global backlog. And attempts by Ottawa in 2010 to tighten access to the coveted visas by doubling the wealth criteria had the effect of increasing Chinese domination. In 2011, applications sent to the Hong Kong consulate made up 86 per cent of the global total.

Analysis of arrival data suggests that about 99 per cent of applications in Hong Kong were lodged by mainlanders. Under the scheme’s current limits, applicants worth at least C$1.6 million (HK$11.2 million) receive residency if they “invest” C$800,000 in the form of a five-year interest-free loan to Canada.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

ECB rejects deflation fears as it holds rates at 0.25%

The head of the European Central Bank (ECB) has said deflation is not a threat to the eurozone economy.

The ECB kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.25% after its latest meeting. The rate was cut to its current record low in November.

ECB president Mario Draghi said: “We have to dispense with this idea of deflation. The question is – is there deflation? The answer is no.”

Eurozone inflation slowed to 0.7% in January from 0.8% in December. The figure fuelled worries about whether the euro bloc could suffer deflation, potentially de-railing economic growth.

Another take from the London Telegraph:

Split ECB paralysed as deflation draws closer, tightening job vice in southern Europe

  • Mario Draghi said the ECB’s council had discussed a wide range of measures but needed more information

The European Central Bank has brushed aside calls for radical action to head off deflation and relieve pressure on emerging markets, denying that the eurozone is at risk of a Japanese-style trap.

Yields on German two-year notes almost doubled to 0.12pc as markets slashed expectations for future rate cuts, while the euro spiked 1.5 cents to more than $1.36 against the dollar, implying a further tightening of monetary conditions for Europe.

Mario Draghi, ECB president, said the bank is “alert to the risks, and stands willing and ready to act” if inflation falls even further below target or if the fragile recovery falters, but offered no clear guidance on future policy.

The Guardian hasn’t recovered:

Real wages likely to take six years to return to pre-crisis level

  • Average wages are at 2004 levels and it will take until six years before they return to 2009 peak according to leading thinktank
  • The Governor of Britain’s Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaks

Britons will have to wait six more years before their inflation-adjusted wages are back at pre-crisis levels and it “feels” like recovery, a leading thinktank has warned.

Average real wages are still at 2004 levels and it will take until 2020 before they return to their 2009 peak, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

“It’s a long way off,” said Simon Kirby, principal research fellow at the thinktank. “It will take a number of years before people actually start to feel the recovery.”

The gradual rise in wages could take even longer if Britain’s productivity performance, which has been “abysmal” in recent years, did not improve, he said.

BBC News splits:

Divorce rate up ‘because of recession’, report says

  • A wedding ring on the bible The recession of 2008/9 could be to blame for more marriages failing

The divorce rate in England and Wales has gone up, possibly because of the last recession, according to a report.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were 118,140 divorces in 2012, up 0.5% on 2011.

Between 2003 and 2009 there was a general downward trend in the number of divorces, but in 2010 they rose 4.9%.

“One theory suggests recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain,” the report says.

Off to Iceland and an immigration crisis denied via the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Minister Dismisses Ministry Employee Requests For Independent Investigation

Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir has allegedly denied requests from ministry staff for an independent investigation of the ministry over a leaked memo regarding a Nigerian asylum seeker.

DV reports that several ministry employees approached the minister with the suggestion that an independent investigator be brought in to examine the ministry with regards to the case of Tony Omos, a Nigerian asylum seeker who, along with the expecting mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph, had his reputation impugned by a memo which leaked to certain members of the press last November. The memo made allegations about Tony and Evelyn which later proved to be untrue.

The minister allegedly told the employees who requested the independent investigation that this was not going to happen. Ministry employees are reportedly unhappy with the minister and her assistants over the matter.

The uncuttest kind of all from TheLocal.no:

Norway politician wants jail for circumcisers

A leading politician for Norway’s Centre Party has stepped up calls for a ban on ritual male circumcision, or failing that up to 10 years in prison, for those who botch the operation, as the government debates a proposed new law on the practice.

Jenny Klinge, the party’s justice spo complained about the stark difference in penalties under law for those who injure children through female genital mutilation and those who injure them through circumcision.

“It can not be such that when a boy dies, then it’s not punished at all, while if a girl dies it’s punishable by up to 10 years,”  Klinge said in parliament, according to NRK.

She called again for a ban, but said that failing that significant penalties should be put in place for those who injure children during the operation.

Danish austerity strikes again,, via the Copenhagen Post:

Parliament expected to end EU insurance coverage

  • As of August, CPR card will no longer cover Danish residents in other EU countries

You may want to be more careful on future trips to other EU countries. Today, parliament is expect to abolish the public travel insurance provided by the yellow health insurance card. According to DR Nyheder, a large majority will vote in favour of the bill, which then will come into effect by August.

When the proposal is passed, Danish residents will no longer have all their medical expenses paid when visiting another EU country. Instead they will fall under the same regulations as citizens of the respective country. To avoid unexpected medical bills on your next holiday in Europe, it will therefore be necessary to take out your own health insurance.

Nexit news from DutchNews.nl:

Leaving the EU would boost Dutch economy, report for PVV says

Leaving the European Union would boost the Dutch economy, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV, said on Thursday, quoting a study drawn up by a UK agency.

The Capital Economics report says leaving the EU would allow the Netherlands to increase its prosperity in a way only possible in the distant past. Economic growth figures would be higher than if the Netherlands remains in the EU, the report states.

The Netherlands would no longer be tied to EU rules and requirements, allowing a freer hand to trade with other countries. Gross Domestic Product would be between 10% and 12% higher by 2035 if the Netherlands left the EU, Capital Economics said.

EurActiv rebuts:

Dijsselbloem counters Wilders’ EU exit claim

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup, has hit back at far-right politician Geert Wilders’ claim that leaving the European Union would be good for the Dutch economy.

“The Netherlands is an economic powerhouse in Europe. We earn the bulk of our money in trade with EU countries so the Netherlands has a lot of interest in a single market with easy trade,” Dijsselbloem told local media, adding that quitting the EU would be “very unwise”.

On to Germany and a case of the Benz from TheLocal.de:

Daimler enjoys record €9 billion profit

Luxury auto maker Daimler said on Thursday that it achieved record sales and profits in 2013, and it expects to achieve “significant” growth again this year.

“Daimler concluded the year 2013 with record levels of unit sales, revenue, EBIT [earnings before interest and tax] and net profit,” the car maker said in a statement.

“The company anticipates renewed growth in 2014,” it added.

Net profit climbed by 28 percent to €8.72 billion and underlying profit, as measured by earnings before interest and tax, was up 23 percent at €10.82 billion.

Europe Online declines:

German factory orders post surprise slump in December

German industrial orders posted a surprise 0.5-per-cent fall in December despite a rebound in demand from the eurozone, the Ministry of Economics said Thursday.

The decline in the monthly data failed to offset the surge in orders in November, which jumped by an upwardly revised 2.4 per cent as a result of strong demand for bulk orders from Europe’s biggest economy.

“The trend toward increasing demand for industrial products continues despite the slight decline in December,” the ministry said.

TheLocal.de lights a fuse:

Court grants EU migrants German jobless benefits

A German job centre will have to pay a jobless Spanish family unemployment benefits, a court ruled on Thursday, in an apparent contradiction of German law.

The Court of Social Affairs in Dortmund ruled unemployed immigrants from the European Union could claim Hartz IV unemployment benefits, in a judgment which decided in favour of European Union law over German.

European law states citizens from other EU countries must be treated equally, which includes access to benefits.

But German law grants exemptions by classifying Hartz IV as a “social benefit” which can be denied to EU citizens rather than a “special benefit” which cannot be. It means EU migrants who are in Germany but are not seeking work are excluded from claiming unemployment benefits.

On to France and a walkout ahead from TheLocal.fr:

French teachers to strike over August return

Summer holidays are sacred in France and even more so it seems for French teachers. One union has called for a strike after the government did the unthinkable and timetabled the start of the autumn term before the end of August.

Even though back to school for autumn 2014 is a full six months away—and school isn’t even out yet—the first strike of the next school year has already been called.

The members of the national union of secondary and high school teachers (Sydicat National des Lycées et Collèges) sent out warning on Wednesday of the strike pencilled in for the end of August. This time its not about pay cuts or a lack of funding, but a decision to make them to return to school after the summer holidays, in the sacred holiday month of August.

The government has rewritten the school calendar so that teachers have to be back on August 29. Bearing in mind August is traditionally the month when the whole country pretty much shuts down and everyone goes to the beach, the move has not gone down well with in staff rooms.

Switzerland next and more hard times immigration politics from TheLocal.ch:

Immigration: ‘total chaos’ seen if curbs backed

Switzerland’s ties with the European Union face a crunch test on Sunday as voters decide whether to revive immigration quotas on EU citizens, in a referendum piloted by rightwing populists.

The result could be close, with the latest poll indicating 43 percent back the “Stop Mass Immigration” proposal and 50 percent oppose it.

Switzerland is not in the EU but is ringed by members of the 28-nation bloc, which is its main export market. If passed, the proposal would bind the government to renegotiate within three years a deal which gives the EU’s 500 million residents equal footing on the job market in this nation of 8.1 million people.

Opponents of the plan — the government, most political parties and the business sector — warn that ripping up free labour market rules for EU nationals in force since 2007 would unravel related economic deals.

Another consequence of the battle for women’s bodies from El País:

Doctors shun life-saving abortion

  • As 32-year-old Daniela found out, access to the procedure at a public hospital can be impossible
  • The government is planning to make the law covering terminations even tougher

La Paz Hospital, one of the largest public health centers in Madrid, refused to perform an abortion on Daniela, a 32-year-old woman who had lost all her amniotic fluid when she was 20 weeks pregnant. In these conditions, a fetus no longer has a chance to live, according to all the specialists consulted by this newspaper, and the mother is at risk of serious infection.

Even though she met all the requirements set out in the current abortion law – which the Popular Party government plans to toughen up on – the Madrid hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy. Eventually, Daniela, who was on intravenous antibiotics to prevent infections, was discharged from La Paz so she could go to a private center for her abortion, after the regional government confirmed her right to one.

A spokeswoman at La Paz said that all the doctors there are conscientious objectors – whose rights are enshrined in the current Spanish law on abortion – and that in 2010 the gynecology department in full decided not to carry out any abortions, ever.

thinkSPAIN charts the loss:

Salaries have fallen by 10 per cent since labour reform came into effect, say recruitment centres

  • Mass redundancies falling, but on-the-job training is a must, according to Adecco

WAGES have gone down by an average of 10 per cent, and the typical redundancy pay-off to 26 days’ salary per year of service, according to research by three recruitment agencies.

Adecco, the Sagardoy Foundation and the Excellence in Sustainability Club – which all form the official Observatory for monitoring the government’s labour reform – studied 200 companies, most of which have a minimum of 50 employees.

They say redundancy pay has gone down, but remains on the whole higher than the requisite 20 days’ salary per year of service which is the legal minimum for a ‘fair dismissal’.

TheLocal.es has poor possibilities:

Half of Spain’s job ads pay less than €1K/month

The so-called ‘mileurismo’ phenomenon continues to grow as data from employment portal jobandtalent.com reveals that 49 per cent of jobs offered in Spain in January had net salaries equivalent to less than €1,000 ($1,350) per month.

Information published in the company’s blog showed that jobs in the ‘mileurismo’ category – those that pay less than €1,000 a month – had risen from 30 per cent  to 49 per cent of those on offer.

Of those, positions offering gross annual salaries of under €15,000 rose from 20 per cent to 31 per cent of the total, and jobs offering €16,000 to €20,000  from 6 per cent to 18 per cent.

The blog presented the figures as a complement to data released this week by the Juan Alfaro Club of Excellence’s Labour Reform Monitor which showed that average wages across Spain had fallen by 10% since the introduction of new legislation designed to introduce flexibility into the job market.

But one number is heading up. From TheLocal.es:

Spanish bankruptcies hit the roof in 2013

The number of household and business bankruptcy filings leapt by 6.5 percent to 9,660, the National Statistics Institute said, as the economy emerged from a long recession.

Spain’s economy grew slowly in the second half of 2013, shaking off a double-dip recession but still weighed down by a 26-percent unemployment rate.

The eurozone’s fourth-largest economy is still overshadowed by the aftermath of a decade-long property bubble, which collapsed in 2008 destroying millions of jobs and flooding the nation in debt.

In a sign that the business sector’s decline may be steadying, however, bankruptcy filings rose at a slower pace last year when compared to a 15.1 percent increase in 2011 and a 32.2 percent surge in 2012. But the number of bankruptcy filings remains at historically high levels.

And battle over women’s bodies ends the same way, via thinkSPAIN:

Surrogate births not recognised under Spanish law, rules Supreme Court

CHILDREN born to surrogate mothers cannot be registered as the legal offspring of the parents who commissioned the woman who gave birth, Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled.

Whilst in the USA, couples who cannot have children or all-male couples can ‘rent a womb’ to enable them to start a family and register the baby as their own, Spanish law does not recognise the procedure, as two men discovered when they attempted to do so with their two children born in California.

The couple, who are married, had all the legal certificates issued by the county of San Diego, California to prove they were the legal fathers of the twin boys born in 2008 via a surrogate mother, in accordance with US law.

Italy next and another number of the way up from TheLocal.it:

Rents in Italy soar as wages stagnate

Italians are spending the bulk of their monthly salary on rent as prices climb and landlords refuse to negotiate even in times of job loss, a survey has revealed.

Over 40 percent of those surveyed by mioaffito.it, the Italian property website, said between 35 and 50 percent of their salary goes on rent, while 30 percent said they spend even more.

Rents in Italy have risen by 105 percent over the last twenty years, while average household salaries have gone up by just 18 percent, Gaia Merguicci, a community manager at mioaffito.it told The Local.

The average monthly rent in Italy is around €780, up from €738 since last August, according to data from the website. Florence saw the steepest climb over the past six months, with rents increasing by 14.2 percent.

However, the most expensive place to rent is the business hub of Milan, where the monthly average is €1,823 followed by Rome at €1,629 and Florence at €1,228. The cheapest place is Ragusa, in Sicily, where rents average €390.

The latest Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Italian senate to join civil case against Berlusconi

The speaker of Italy’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday announced the Senate would declare itself a civil party in a trial against former premier Silvio Berlusconi for allegedly bribing senators, according to Italian media reports.

Speaker Piero Grasso said said it was his “moral duty” to declare the Senate a civil party despite an earlier recommendation by a parliamentary
committee for the upper house to stay out of the media magnate’s latest legal troubles.

Embattled Berlusconi was ousted from parliament and stripped of legal protection in November after he was found guilty of tax fraud.

TheLocal.it once again, and a heads up for the big winners:

Bonino defends German role in euro crisis

Italy’s Foreign Minister Emma Bonino on Thursday defended Germany against charges its austerity demands were the cause of suffering in the crisis-hit eurozone.

“Those who hold Germany responsible for everything are not only telling an untruth but also behaving unfairly,” Bonino told Munich daily the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

“I find this criticism of Berlin quite petty and only partially appropriate,” said Bonino, a former EU commissioner.

After the jump, the latest in the ongoing Greek disaster, Ukrainian warnings, drought and a protest victory in Latin America, Australian and Japanese tapering, Thai troubles, Chinese anxieties, Sony woes, a free-trade-for-dolphins ploy, U.S. and European GMO word wars, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


Our compendium of entries form the political, economic, and environmental realms opens with a spine-chiller from The Independent:

Scientists talk of ‘pandemic potential’ after first confirmed human death from new strain of bird flu

Chinese scientists have said the “pandemic potential” of a new strain of bird flu “should not be underestimated” after the first known human infection resulted in the death of an elderly woman.

The new strain is a variant of a virus known as H10N8, which scientists believe may have originated in wild birds, and later spread to poultry.

The victim, a 73-year-old woman from Nanchang City in south-eastern China, was the first person confirmed to have been infected with the new type, and a second case has since been discovered, raising concerns that the virus has evolved so that it can transfer easily from birds to humans.

Its emergence coincides with a surge in the number of cases of another bird flu strain, H7N9, which is known to have infected 286 people since March last year, causing 60 deaths. The vast majority of cases have occurred in China, but Taiwan has also recorded two infections, and the virus is known to have spread to Hong Kong, which has seen four cases.

Latter-day gladiatorial gaming and another sign of our cultural plight from BuzzFeed:

George Zimmerman Reportedly Set To Fight Rapper DMX

  • The man who was found not guilty of murder in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin will fight the rapper who promised to “f**k him right up,” according to TMZ. The fight promoter backtracked from announcing the fight on Trayvon’s birthday.

From The Guardian, costly folly:

Fracking is depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas, report shows

  • From Texas to California, drilling for oil and gas is using billions of gallons of water in the country’s most drought-prone areas

America’s oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found.

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.

Fracking those wells used 97bn gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America’s energy rush.

“Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the Ceres green investors’ network.

Just how bad is California’s drought? Consider the following from Bloomberg News:

BLOG Drought

From the Washington Post, stiffing the Praetorians:

CBO: Military pension payments to fall 5 percent by 2023 with cut

A controversial new pension cut for younger military retirees will help reduce the projected payments for those retirement benefits by about 5 percent by 2023, according to congressional number crunchers.

Estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released Tuesday, show that federal spending on military retirement benefits will rise from $51.5 billion this year to $64.3 billion in 2023.

The change is at least partly due to a provision in the budget bill Congress and President Obama approved in December that reduces cost-of-living allowances for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting next year. A higher rate will apply once those individuals reach age 62, and the plan does not affect disabled retirees.

The Register delivers the blow:

First Dell, now IBM: 15,000 jobs face the axe at Big Blue, says union

  • ‘Workforce rebalancing’ will take place in the first quarter

IBM is set to spend another $1bn on job cuts this year to eliminate an estimated 15,000 jobs worldwide, according to trade union Alliance@IBM.

The company has already spent the same amount of money last year on ‘workforce rebalancing’, its euphemism for redundancies.

Big Blue’s chief financial officer for finance and enterprise transformation, Martin Schroeter, has admitted there would be more cuts in 2014, during the announcement of IBM’s fourth quarter earnings last month.

And on a cultural front, this from a Carl Hiaasen headline in the Miami Herald:

Dr. Cheech called — your prescription is ready!

Medical marijuana will be on the Florida ballot in November, which is bad news for Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders who oppose any relaxation of the state’s backward cannabis laws.

They say medical use of weed is the first step toward Colorado-style legalization, and they might be right. They say that although the proposed constitutional amendment names only nine diseases, lots of people who aren’t really sick will find a way to get marijuana from certain doctors.

That’s probably true, too. This, after all, is the state that made pill mills a roadside tourist attraction. Who can doubt that future pot prescriptions will bear the signatures of a Dr. Cheech or a Dr. Chong?

A parallel development from the Washington Post:

D.C. Council weakens bill to decriminalize marijuana, keeps smoking in public a crime

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of marijuana but left smoking it in public a crime, keeping alive concerns about racial profiling in pot arrests in the District.

With an 11 to 1 vote, several council members reversed their previous support for a more far-reaching measure, weakening an effort to join the quarter of U.S. states that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.

While they stuck with their plans to drop possession to a civil offense — akin to a parking ticket — council members decided not to decriminalize public smoking. They did, however, reduce the maximum jail sentence from six months to 60 days.

North of the border to another bubble expanding from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Toronto home prices surge, again ‘outpacing family incomes’

Toronto home sales edged down in the bitter chill of January, but prices surged, again throwing up red flags.

Sales fell 2.2 per cent from a year earlier to 4,135 as new listings plunged 16.6 per cent, the Toronto Real Estate Board said Wednesday.

The average selling price, in turn, surged more than 9 per cent to $526,528. The so-called benchmark price climbed 7.1 per cent from a year earlier.

On to a story with a global focus from Al Jazeera America:

UN demands action from Vatican on child sex abuse

  • A scathing report urges the Catholic Church to ‘immediately remove’ clergy suspected of child abuse

The United Nations on Wednesday demanded that the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to civil authorities, in an unprecedented and scathing report that the Holy See’s ambassador to the U.N. promptly denounced.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child also urged the Vatican to hand over its archives on sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children so that culprits, as well as “those who concealed their crimes,” could be held accountable.

The watchdog’s blunt paper — the most far-reaching critique of the church hierarchy by the world body — followed its public grilling of Vatican officials last month. The U.N. report blasted the “code of silence” that has long been used to keep victims quiet, saying the Holy See had “systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.”

And on to Europe with a warning from the London Telegraph:

Insular ECB is playing dangerous game of chicken with deflationary world forces

  • An aborted recovery at this point might be more than democratic societies can tolerate

The US and China are withdrawing stimulus on purpose. The eurozone is doing so by accident, letting market forces drain liquidity from the financial system for month after month.

The balance sheet of the European Central Bank has fallen by €553bn over the past year as banks repay money that they no longer want, either because ECB funds are too costly in a near-deflationary world or because lenders are being compelled by regulators to shrink their books.

This is “passive tightening” or “endogenous tapering”. The ECB balance sheet has plummeted to 23pc of eurozone GDP from a peak of 32pc in July 2012.

BBC News takes a fall [and the subject of our Chart of the day]:

Eurozone retail sales fall sharply in December

Retail sales in the eurozone fell sharply over the Christmas period, with their biggest monthly fall in two-and-a-half years.

December’s sales fell by 1% compared to the same time a year ago, and by 1.6% compared to November. Both figures were much worse than analysts expected.

The drop in consumer demand followed a surprise fall in eurozone inflation to 0.7% in January.

The figure prompted concerns about deflation in the 17-nation bloc.

On to Britain with qualified optimism from Sky News:

Economic Recovery: ‘End In Sight’ For Austerity

  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the pain of cuts will soon start to ease but warns the recovery is “horribly imbalanced”.

Austerity plans put in place by the coalition may already go further than is needed in order to balance the Government’s books, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says.

In its closely watched Green Budget, the Government-spending think tank said that even if the most pessimistic forecasters are proved right on the economy, the coalition’s fiscal plans will repair the damage done to the public finances by the Great Recession.

The verdict is among the most positive yet delivered by the IFS – although it warned that there remains some uncertainty over whether it will be easy to implement the cuts planned for the coming years, since only 40% of them had been carried out.

An alarm from The London Telegraph:

NHS faces ‘unprecedented squeeze’, think tank warns

  • Ageing and growing population means spending per patient will fall by 9 per cent, despite pledge to ring-fence budgets, IFS warns

NHS faces an “unprecedented squeeze” over the next five years under the burden of an ageing population, a leading think tank has warned, while George Osborne’s cuts are not yet half way done.

Spending on each patient is set to fall by over 9 per cent over a decade, despite an “expensive and generous” ring fence around health service budgets, as the British population gets bigger and older.

The protection given to NHS and aid budgets and a series of new pre-election giveaways by David Cameron and Nick Clegg means George Osborne faces an uphill battle to balance the books by 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in its annual Green Budget.

The Tories have pledged to spare the health service from the cuts of up to 30 per cent that have hit other departments.

Sky News saves face:

Aidan Burley: MP Resigns Over Nazi Stag Party

  • Aidan Burley announces he will quit Parliament at the 2015 general election after he was slammed for organising the party.

The Conservative politician was sacked as a ministerial aide when reports of the episode emerged in 2011, and an internal party inquiry last month found he was “stupid and offensive” to have organised the party.

Groom Mark Fournier was fined €1,500 (£1,250) by a French court for wearing an SS uniform and insignia supplied by the MP. Mr Burley was his best man.

On to Ireland and Banksters Behaving Badly from the Irish Times:

Anglo directors knew about ‘absolutely illegal’ share-buying scheme, trial told

  • Prosecution says FitzPatrick did nothing to stop bank shares move

Three former Anglo Irish Bank directors were aware of a “choreographed” and “absolutely illegal” scheme to fund the buying of shares in the bank, the jury was told on the opening day of the bankers’ trial yesterday.

Seán FitzPatrick (65), William McAteer (63) and Pat Whelan (51) are accused of providing unlawful financial assistance to members of businessman Seán Quinn’s family and the so-called Maple 10, a trusted group of Anglo borrowers, to buy shares in Anglo in July 2008.

The prosecution says the transaction was designed to create the public perception of stability in the bank’s share price.

TheLocal.no laughs at Uncle Sam:

US committee approves blundering Norway envoy

The US Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee has approved George Tsunis as the next ambassador of Norway, despite his catastrophic appointment hearing last month, and despite a warning from John McCain, its most prominent member, that he had already become “a mockery”.

McCain argued against the nomination during the meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, which went on to approve Tsunis by a majority of 12 to six.

“The question is whether . . . [Tsunis] will embarrass the United States of America while serving as our representative,” McCain said.

He reminded the committee’s members that Tsunis had referred to “the president” of Norway in his January 16 hearing and attacked the anti-immigration Progress Party, which has seven ministers in government, as “fringe elements” that “spew their hatred”.

Switzerland next and an embarrassment from TheLocal.ch:

Minister faces questions over Luxembourg links

Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann came under renewed scrutiny on Wednesday following revelations in the media that his family company used a subsidiary in Luxembourg to evade taxes in Switzerland.

Schneider-Ammann headed Ammann, a construction equipment company, until he was elected to the federal government in 2010 as a member of the centre-right Liberal party.

Der Bund and Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday that Ammann used a Luxembourg-based firm, Manilux SA, as a private bank for the company, providing lines of credit for its international operations.

And TheLocal.ch, this time with nominative culture clash:

Bern tells parents: Jessico not a boy’s name

A young couple in the canton of Bern have been ordered to change the name of their newborn son because it is too feminine, according to media reports.

Alain and Miriam Flaig, from the town of Huttwil, named the child Jessico after he was born last Wednesday at the Lagenthal maternity hospital, Blick newspaper reported.

The child was born in 15 minutes and the couple picked out his name. But the following day, problems arose, Blick reported. In a letter, the authorities from Oberaarggau sent a letter objecting to the selection.

“As a first name for your son you have written Jessico on the birth form,” the letter said, according to Blick. “According to the information at our disposal, Jessico is defined as a female first name.”

As a result, the Bern authorities have refused to register the name.

France next, and the politics of history with TheLocal.fr:

SNCF faces ban in US over Holocaust role

France’s state-owned rail company SNCF faces the prospect of being barred from bidding for a €4.4 billion project in the US because of its role in transporting Jews to concentration camps during World War Two.

American lawmakers in the state of Maryland have proposed a bill that could prevent SNCF from bidding for public projects on that side of the Atlantic until it makes restitution payments for its role in taking Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Two democrat lawmakers want compensation to be paid to Holocaust survivors and their families before rail company Keolis, which is majority-owned by SNCF, can bid for a €4.4 billion, 35-year contract, to build and operate a 16 km light rail project.

“The persistent refusal of SNCF to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust remains an insult for its victims,” sponsoring Sen. Joan Carter Conway told French daily Le Monde.

Spain next, and a pox on both their houses from El País:

PP and PSOE lose ground in latest CIS survey

  • UPyD gathers support while citizens are most concerned by unemployment and corruption

The results from the latest survey conducted by the Center for Sociological Studies (CIS) make grim reading for the Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE), to the extent that the main opposition party has accused the state-funded body of cooking the results, despite a drop in voter support for the government.

The last study, in October 2013, reported 34 percent of Spaniards would vote for the PP in a general election, a figure that fell to 32.1 percent in the latest survey. The PSOE also lost ground and would receive the backing of 26.6 percent of the country, a loss of two percentage points. The United Left (IU) remained steady at 11.3 percent while the UPyD’s support rose from 7.7 percent to 9.2 percent.

The study, conducted between January 3 and 15, shows that unemployment remains the principle concern for 78.5 percent of Spanish citizens, up from 53.4 percent in October. In second place was corruption, up from 37.6 percent to 39.5 percent, with a raft of investigations into the PP, the PSOE, labor unions and the royal family dominating the headlines. However, just 0.6 percent of respondents said the monarchy was a source of concern.

TheLocal.es adds a monkey wrench to the mix:

Police reveal extent of bribes to ruling party

Spanish police investigating one of the country’s biggest ever corruption scandals have released a list of ‘gifts’ including plasma TVs, Cuban cigars and Mont Blanc pens allegedly given to top Popular Party officials to curry favour in return for public contracts.

The Economic and Fiscal Crimes Unit (UDEF) presented the details to the courts on Tuesday as part of the ongoing investigation into the complicated Gürtel affair, in which senior members of the government are alleged to have received presents and cash backhanders in return for public contracts.

The Gürtel leader, Francisco Correa, is said to have given politicians ‘presents’ including Habana cigars (€450); a Mont Blanc Pen; €6,000 of plasma TVs; smartphones; €500 crates of wine; trips to DisneyLand; holidays to Cancún, New York, Kenya and Mauritius; and luxury hotel accommodation worth over €1,000 per night.

With total employment at a record low, one sector gains with El País:

Spanish services sector grows at fastest pace in over six years

  • Companies increase staffing levels for first time in 70 months

Spain’s services sector, which accounts for over half of GDP, saw the fastest growth in activity in the first month of the year since July 2007, cementing expectations of a recovery in the economy this year, according to a survey released Wednesday by consultant Markit.

Companies in the sector also increased their staffing levels slightly in January, ending a run of 70 consecutive months of job cutting.

Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbed from 54.2 points in December to 54.9 points in the first month of 2014, marking the third successive month in which the index stood above the 50-point mark that denotes expansion. The increase in the month was also the strongest since before the current crisis took hold around the start of 2008.

Across the peninsula for a Lisbon demand from the Portugal News:

Country must pay off debt, not seek to restructure it – PM

Portugal’s prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, said on Wednesday that after the country exits the adjustment programme linked to its current euro-zone bailout, it must start accumulating budget surpluses so as to reduce its debt burden, rather than seeking to restructure it.

“What we want is not to restructure the Portuguese debt, what we want is to pay it, creating conditions for our economy to grow, but also managing our public finances in such as way as to free up surpluses that, essentially, can free up the economy itself, companies, citizen, families from the weight that this debt today imposes on us,” he said. For that reason, he went on, society in general must “project for this post-troika [period] a very great determination and a very great will.”

The prime minister was speaking at an event in Lisbon to launch a ‘Coalition for Green Growth’, an entity created by the Ministry of Environment and which brings together organisations from various sectors.

Passos Coelho dedicated much of his speech to the subject of the ratio of debt to gross domestic product: the higher this is, he said, the greater the upward pressure that financial markets exercise on Portugal’s sovereign bond yields.

Off to Italy and pricing the commons with The Guardian:

Italy threatens to sue Standard & Poor’s for failing to value its history and art

  • Ratings agency would not have issued damaging downgrade if it had taken account of cultural wealth, state auditor claims

Italy is threatening to sue the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for failing to value its historical and cultural treasures.

The country that bequeathed the world Dante, da Vinci and an enviable vision of La Dolce Vita, thinks financial analysts would not have issued a damaging credit downgrade against Italy if they had paid more attention to its cultural wealth than its spiralling budget deficit.

According to the Financial Times, Italy’s auditor general, the corte dei conti, believes that S&P may have acted illegally and could be sued for €234bn (£194bn).

TheLocal.it takes Bunga Bunga on the road:

‘Berlusconi for PM’ campervan tours Italy

Supporters of Silvio Berlusconi’s party Go Italy (Forza Italia) have set out on a campervan tour as part of a campaign calling for the former prime minister’s daughter, Marina Berlusconi, to become a candidate for the Italian premiership.

The campervan, branded with photographs of Silvio and his Marina Berlusconi, a 47-year-old business executive, is the brainchild of Gabriele Elia and fellow fans from the town of Cellino San Marco in south-east Italy.

Twenty years after Silvio Berlusconi first founded his political party, Elia has set out on his tour of Italy under the banner “the liberal dream continues”.

He has already toured the heel of Italy’s boot and driven the length of the country to reach Arcora, the home of Silvio Berlusconi’s mansion made infamous for erotic “bunga bunga” parties hosted by the billionaire.

From TheLocal.it, lost tolerance:

Italian MP laments ‘massive’ refugee influx

The number of refugees landing in Italy rose tenfold in January, the country’s deputy interior minister said on Tuesday, complaining of an “incessant and massive influx of migrants”.

January 2014 saw a total of 2,156 migrants in Italy, compared to 217 the previous year, the official added.

“In 2013, Italy was subjected to an incessant and massive influx of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East,” Filippo Bubbico told parliament.

Throughout the whole of 2013, a total of 2,925 vessels of various shapes and sizes landed on Italian shores, carrying about 43,000 people, including nearly 4,000 children.

After the jump, the Greek meltdown flares up, failing family finances in Cyprus, a Russian warning on the Ukraine, a Brazilian financial alarm, Thai troubles, Chinese warning signs, Japanese aging and income woes, a GMO victory, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

The Green Frontier: Caribbean pipe dreams?


A fascinating look at cannabis culture and the future of legalized marijuana in one of the smallest Caribbean countires by way of the official Chinese state video service, CCTV Americas Now:

Marijuana: New Frontiers

Program notes:

CCTV’s Stephen Gibbs explores the impact that the legalization of the drug could have on one of the world’s smallest nations: St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Don’t miss the interview with the nation’s prime minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

What the report fails to mention is that St. Vincent is already a major beneficiary of the illegal drug trade through its offshore banks.

One of the first major investigations we undertook as a journalist for the late, great Santa Monica Evening Outlook back into the 1970s was of the Swedish International Bank & Trust, a St. Vincent’s based offshore bank incorporated on behalf of Erik Olof Norland, a Swedish-born con artist who specialized in the front fee scam, promising large loans in exchange for an-upfront fee.

The loans, needless to say, never materialized.

The most remarkable things about Norland were his claim to be the current bearer of the title Marquis de Lafayette and the fact that we discovered the Thai government had issued a death warrant in his name, allowing anyone to kill him in Thailand because he’d conned a prominent government official out of a small fortune.

Norland had managed to con the administration of then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley into giving him an elaborately hand-calligraphed parchment declaring a fine, upstanding citizen duly recognized as such by the city’s highest officials.

Only after finally forcing him to grant an interview by revealing some of what we had learned did we finally sit down in his office in a Sunset Boulevard penthouse furnished, we learned, with antiques conned out of one angry investor.

During the interview, Norland’s had often darted to a desk drawer, where he seemed to grip something rather intently. Only a day or two later did we learned from an FBI informant close to the ersatz aristocrat that he’d been gripping a pistol, angrily debating on whether or not to shoot the reporter sitting in the antique walnut chair across the desk from him.

Our two-part expose ended his banking career and led to indictments that resulted in his flight from the country.

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


Our compendium of headlines from the world of human economic and political actions and their impacts on our environment opens with a health alert from The Guardian:

Worldwide cancer cases expected to soar by 70% over next 20 years

  • New cancer cases expected to grow from 14m a year in 2012 to 25m, with biggest burden in low- and middle-income countries

Cancer cases worldwide are predicted to increase by 70% over the next two decades, from 14m in 2012 to 25m new cases a year, according to the World Health Organisation.

The latest World Cancer Report says it is implausible to think we can treat our way out of the disease and that the focus must now be on preventing new cases. Even the richest countries will struggle to cope with the spiralling costs of treatment and care for patients, and the lower income countries, where numbers are expected to be highest, are ill-equipped for the burden to come.

The incidence of cancer globally has increased in just four years from 12.7m in 2008 to 14.1m new cases in 2012, when there were 8.2m deaths. Over the next 20 years, it is expected to hit 25m a year – a 70% increase.

Closer to Casa esnl, the latest coverage of class war in Babylon by the Bay from USA TODAY:

SF residents caught in middle of tech hostilities

For the past month, protesters have confronted buses that transport employees from Google, Apple and Facebook to Silicon Valley. The flare-ups highlight the yawning gap between those benefiting from the enormous wealth generated by the tech boom and those left behind. Multimillion-dollar tax breaks for SF-based companies like Twitter have stoked rebellious tensions.

“We have a group which is mostly young and has not learned social norms or responsibility gaining wealth and power,” says Vivek Wadhwa, a Fellow at Stanford Law School. “This group has its own value system and lives in its own bubble. It is displacing the larger population of San Francisco.”

The city has had its neighborhood battles – hippies in the Haight in the 1960s, gays in the Castro in the ‘70s. But the latest gentrification clash is moving faster, making the current situation dicey.

The Verge Googles eyesore:

California orders Google to move floating barge from current construction site

The state of California has ordered Google to move its massive floating barge away from its current construction site in the San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission executive director Larry Goldzband said the four-story structure has drawn numerous complaints. “It needs to move,” Goldzband said. He also claims that Google never had the proper permits to start work on the project at Treasure Island. But today’s development may not spell any real trouble for Google — the company simply needs to relocate the barge to another Bay facility where construction is fully permitted. The news was first reported by the Associated Press.

Sightings of the barge led to rampant speculation about its purpose last year. Google eventually admitted ownership of the San Francisco barge, teasing that it hopes to explore using it as a space where “people can learn about new technology.” We reached out to the company for more details on how it plans to respond to this latest challenge. In a statement, a Google spokesperson told The Verge, “We just received the letter from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and we are reviewing it.”

From Bloomberg, the usual suspects operating in the usual way:

IBM Uses Dutch Tax Haven to Boost Profits as Sales Slide

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) has reduced its tax rate to a two-decade low with help from a tax strategy that sends profits through a Dutch subsidiary.

The approach, which involves routing almost all sales in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and some of the Americas through the Netherlands unit, helped IBM as it gradually reduced its tax rate over 20 years at the same time pretax income quadrupled. Then last year, the rate slid to the lowest level since at least 1994, lifting earnings above analysts’ estimates.

IBM is aiming for $20 a share in adjusted earnings by 2015, up from $11.67 in 2010 — a goal made more difficult as the company posted seven straight quarters of declining revenue. To stay on target, IBM has bought back shares, sold assets, and fired and furloughed workers. A less prominent though vital role is played by its subsidiary in the Netherlands, one of the most important havens for multinational companies looking for ways to legally reduce their tax rates.

MarketWatch tanks anxiously:

U.S. stocks see worst selloff in several months

  • Manufacturers expand in January at slowest rate in eight months

The U.S. stock market closed with sharp losses on Monday, after a much weaker-than-expected reading on manufacturing data as well as concerns over a slowdown in China, triggered the worst selloff in several months.

The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day with the steepest decline since June 20.

U.S. manufacturers expanded in January at the slowest rate in eight months as the pace of new orders sharply decelerated, according to the closely followed ISM index. The Institute for Supply Management index sank to 51.3% from 56.5% in December. That’s the lowest level since last May. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected the index to drop to 56%

From the New York Times, a belated recognition:

The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.

As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.

If there is any doubt, the speed at which companies are adapting to the new consumer landscape serves as very convincing evidence. Within top consulting firms and among Wall Street analysts, the shift is being described with a frankness more often associated with left-wing academics than business experts.

The Washington Post notes a sea change:

Report: Majority of U.S. kids under age 2 are now children of color

For the first time, a majority of American children under age 2 are now children of color  — and 1 in 3 of them is poor, according to a disturbing new report. “The State of America’s Children 2014.” that cites the neglect of  children as the top national security threat.

The report, published by the Children’s Defense Fund, calls on President Obama and America’s political leaders “in every party at every level to mount a long overdue, unwavering, and persistent war to prevent and eliminate child poverty.”

From the Project On Government Oversight, why the hell not?:

Could Post Offices Become Public Banks?

The U.S. Postal Service is floundering—2013 was the seventh year in a row to report a net loss, at a whopping $5 billion—and  nobody is quite sure how to fix it. Go Private? Close branches? Deliver Mail only four days a week? Ideas are being thrown around but little progress has been made in improving the troubled agency.

But last week, the office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service released a report with an out-of-the-box suggestion that would produce $8.9 billion in new annual profits: Turning the Post Office into a bank, with savings accounts, loans and debit cards. Furthermore, it would greatly benefit the poor, who lack banking options and are often gouged by predatory financial services.

The idea has been floated before but with official backing from the Inspector General it has a higher degree of credibility and plausibility. Add in the fact that it wouldn’t require Congressional approval, only an executive order from the President, and maybe the out-there proposal could actually become a reality.

Still think the idea sounds crazy? Consider this: The Post Office already was a bank. From 1911-1967, savings accounts were offered with 2 percent interest, ending because of competition from private banks with higher interest rates. The post office still provides money orders.

From Medical Daily, a notable side effect:

Medical Marijuana Cuts Suicide Rates By 10% In Years Following Legalization

Legalization of medical marijuana has been found to correlate to a significant drop in suicide rates, providing additional evidence that the federally outlawed substance may have a positive effect on U.S. public health.

The new study, which is published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows that the suicide rate among men ages 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 fell by 10.8 percent and 9.8 percent respectively following a given state’s decision to legalize medical marijuana. Although the relationship was weaker and less precise among women, the authors believe that the findings provide strong evidence in favor of medical cannabis. “The negative relationship between legalization and suicides among young men is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana can be used to cope with stressful life events,” they wrote.

On to Europe with an anxious twist from CNNMoney:

Pressure building for ECB rate cut

Another interest rate cut in Europe could be just around the corner as the risk of deflation rears its ugly head again.

The first official estimate of eurozone inflation in January was a weaker-than-expected 0.7% — the same level that prompted the European Central Bank to cut rates in November. Consumer prices rose by 0.8% in December.

The weaker January number “puts significant pressure on the ECB to take further stimulative action at its February policy meeting next Thursday,” said IHS Insight’s chief European economist Howard Archer.

Cheaper energy was largely to blame, but the stronger euro has also been pulling import prices down, economists said.

Quartz covers mordida:

Lithuanians and Romanians are more than six times as likely to be asked for bribes than the EU average

A fifth of Danes think corruption is prevalent, for example (the lowest level in the EU), but only 3% say they are personally affected by it in their daily lives. Some 12% claim they know someone who has taken a bribe, but only 1% say they have paid, or been expected to pay, a bribe themselves.

In much of western Europe, then, it seems that corruption is a somewhat abstract concept for the common person—confined to criminal cliques or a select few who abuse their positions of power (Danes reckon politicians are the most corrupt group in their country). But as you travel to the south and east, corruption appears to creep into one’s daily life, a depressingly routine feature of doing business or accessing public services. In the past 12 months, around one in three Lithuanians and one in four Romanians say they were asked or expected to pay a bribe; the EU average is less than one in 20.

Al Jazeera America sets the cost:

Report: EU corruption costs $162B annually

  • All 28 member states suffer from some level of corruption, the report found

Corruption affects all member countries of the European Union and costs the bloc’s economies about 120 billion euros ($162.19 billion) a year, an official EU report published Monday said.

European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who presided over the first-ever official EU-wide study on corruption, said the estimated amount lost annually due to padded government contracts, covert political financing, bribes to secure health care and other corrupt practices would be enough to fund the European Union’s yearly operating budget.

All 28 EU member states suffer from some level of corruption — defined broadly by the report as the “abuse of power for private gain” — the report found.

One more headline [only], from BBC News:

Corruption across EU ‘breathtaking’ – EU Commission

On to Britain and a call for caution from Deutsche Welle:

Steinmeier urges UK to stay in EU, voices doubt on treaty change

  • Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has appealed to the UK to remain in the European Union, regardless of progress on the EU treaty change sought by Britain’s Conservative-led government.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier made his first visit to London since returning to the foreign minister’s post on Monday, asking his British counterpart William Hague not to lose sight of the benefits of EU membership.

“In this 21st century world, we want to protect our political, economic and cultural influences,” Steinmeier said, adding that, on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, such European ties “really must not be underestimated.”

The German foreign minister said it would be “an exaggeration” to assert that Germany and the UK were on precisely the same page when it came to treaty reform for the EU.

Xinhua sounds the alarm:

London housing market under price bubbles risk, warns Ernst and Young

Housing market in London is beginning to show signs of bubble-like conditions, said a research report issued by Ernst and Young Item Club (EY ITEM Club) on Monday, while asking the government to monitor the trend closely and be prepared to intervene.

The EY ITEM Club forecast showed the average house price in London is expected to reach nearly 600,000 pounds (980,000 U.S. dollars) by 2018, some 3.5 times the average price in Northern Ireland and more than 3.3 times the average in the North East.

It said the average house prices in Britain growing by 8.4 percent this year and 7.3 percent in 2015, before cooling to around 5.5 percent in 2016.

And simultaneously booms:

British manufacturing off to strong start in 2014

Britain’s manufacturing sector maintained its strong growth into 2014, posing an improved domestic demand and solid output growth supported by rising export orders in January, said a survey report on Monday.

The report, jointly issued by Markit and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), showed the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for the British manufacturing sector was at 56.7 in January of this year.

The figure is at its lowest level in three months, but still showed a robust improvement in overall operating conditions for the manufacturing sector.

A reading of 50 points or greater indicates expansion, while below 50 indicates contraction.

A qualified UK separatism endorsement from El País:

Spain will not oppose Scottish EU entry: foreign minister

  • But García-Margallo warns that re-entry to the Union will take considerable time

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has stated that should Scotland elect to break away from the United Kingdom, Spain will not oppose the move because it does not have any bearing on the internal affairs of the country. “If the Constitution of the United Kingdom permits – and it seems that it does – that Scotland call a referendum on their possible independence, we will say nothing on the matter,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

However, the minister adhered to the Popular Party (PP) administration’s line over Catalonia’s own designs on a referendum for independence; one of staunch resistance.

On to Sweden and a call from TheLocal.se:

EU: Sweden should ban secret party donations

While the EU’s executive body acknowledged that Sweden was among the least corrupt countries in the EU, it pointed to several areas of potential improvement.

Specifically, Sweden could improve its transparency if it considered a general ban on anonymous political party donations. Sweden remains one of few EU countries without total party-funding transparency, and the government came under fire last month when it decided to keep the lid on private donations.

The report also hinted that Sweden could do more to combat the risk of corruption at the municipality and county level, which the commission said could be fixed by making authorities obliged to secure transparency in public contracts with private entrepreneurs.

TheLocal.se again, with hard times intolerance:

Afrophobic hate crimes on the rise in Sweden

Hate crimes directed against Sweden’s black population have increased in recent years, according to a report published on Monday, prompting grave concern from Sweden’s integration minister.

Afrophobia, defined as hostility towards people with a background from sub-Saharan Africa, is soaring in Sweden, according to the researchers who compiled the government-commissioned report. They wrote on Monday in the opinion pages of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) that it was time society took these statistics seriously.

Between 2008 and 2012, the number of reported hate crimes against Afro-Swedes, defined as anyone with African heritage living in Sweden, rose by 24 percent, while hate crimes in general during the same period decreased by six percent. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the number of Afrophobic hate crimes rose by 17 percent, the researchers explained.

On to Brussels and a critique via DutchNews.nl:

Brussels criticises ‘revolving door’ between Dutch politics and industry

While the Dutch integrated approach to preventing corruption and bribery could serve as a model to other EU countries, the Netherlands should still do more to improve transparency in politics, the European Commission said on Monday.

While welcoming the fact that much has been done in the Netherlands to improve transparency, the Commission went on to recommend improvements in the way the business interests of ministers are examined.

Officials’ private, financial and business interests are considered a private matter and information about their assets and interests is not available to the public, the report points out.

Nor are there any rules forcing MPs to declare potential conflicts of interest or barring them from holding financial interests or engaging in external activities.

Germany next and a peculiar call from TheLocal.de:

Industry boss: ‘Too many students harm economy’

One of Germany’s top commerce experts warned on Monday that there were so many young people at university, and so few in traineeships, that the country’s economy would suffer.

“The consequences to Germany’s economy will be damaging, if the trend to study at any cost is not stopped,” said Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK).

Schweitzer was referring to the amount of young people who undertake lengthy study in Germany, while companies struggled to fill traineeships.

“The truth is that many years of increasing student numbers in Germany have resulted in our classrooms now bursting at the seams, while companies are desperately seeking apprentices,” he said in a statement.

France next and a concession to the “family values” set from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande puts off family law to avoid new fight

A day after massive protests over President François Hollande’s “family phobia”, his government on Monday abruptly postponed plans to pass a controversial new family bill, that would likely have picked another fight with France’s traditional conservatives.

France’s Socialist government on Monday put off plans for a new family law after demonstrations by thousands of angry conservatives.

Hollande’s administration announced on Monday it was postponing its plans to move ahead with legislation that would have legalized medically assisted procreation for same sex couples, and tackled issues like surrogacy.

A source in Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office said the government would no longer present a bill this year that officials had said was aimed at modernising the law to reflect the new “diversity” of families.

Nature’s newsblog takes the pledge:

Hollande pledges to avoid cuts to France’s science funding

French President François Hollande promised to spare the research and higher education budget from savings of €50 billion (US$67 billion) that his government has pledged to find over the next three years to reign in its massive public deficit.

The government will find other ways to cut the deficit, avoid tax increases and ensure business can increase investment and create jobs, he said during a visit to the University of Strasbourg.

In a speech devoted entirely to research and higher education, Hollande also said he would maintain the controversial research tax credit (CIR) because companies appreciate it and it helps attracts foreign investment.

And from TheLocal.fr, a demand:

EU: France must root out corruption at local level

France remains a country where the worlds of international business and public procurement are blighted by shady dealings and corruption, according to a new EU report. But just how bad is corruption in France and how does it compare to other countries in Europe?

France needs to do more to fight corruption a new report from the European Commission argues, especially in the areas of international business transactions and public procurement, which are still ripe with misdeeds.

“Corruption-related risks in the public procurement sector and in international business transactions have not been addressed,” the report concludes.

On to Switzerland and the first of a schizy set of headlines from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss ban proposed on sex education for kids

Swiss voters will decide whether to ban compulsory sex education for children under nine after conservative groups mustered enough signatures to force a plebiscite, the authorities said on Monday.

The federal administration said campaigners had gathered more than the 100,000 signatures of voters required to put their measure to the public for approval.

The campaign coalition — whose goal is the “protection against sexualisation in kindergartens and primary schools” — handed in its petition in December and the government is now obliged to set a date for a vote.

And out of left field, also from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss want to reopen pot legalization debate

A Swiss parliamentary committee looking into drug issues wants to reopen the debate on the legalization of marijuana in the wake of developments in the US, Uruguay and New Zealand.

“Many models that exist around the world should be studied and analyzed, that is the basis of our reflection,” Toni Berthel, committee president and a member of the Swiss association for addiction, is quoted as saying by the ATS news agency.

Berthel confirmed information reported on Sunday by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly newspaper about the new look at Swiss cannabis laws.

Spain next and a matter of perception from El País:

95 percent of Spaniards see corruption as institutionalized

  • “Political will is absent” in battle against graft, notes Brussels report

Ninety-five percent of Spaniards believe corruption is generalized, according to the first continent-wide study on the issue by the European Commission. Only respondents in Greece (99 percent) and Italy (97 percent) outdid Spain. The report, which was presented on Monday in Brussels, underscores the magnitude of the issue in Europe: three out of four EU citizens believe corruption is an institutional problem.

In two areas of the survey Spain topped the charts. Asked if the level of corruption has risen in the past three years, 77 percent said yes, more than in the other 27 member states. Two out of every three respondents said that corruption affected their daily lives, more than in any other nation. The survey was conducted in February and March 2013, when a series of corruption scandals involving the government, labor unions, political parties and the monarchy occupied the front pages in Spain.

From TheLocal.es, Coke Zero:

Zero tolerance to Coke plant closures

Thousands of workers from Coca-Cola bottling factories in Spain marched on Sunday in protest at plant closures they say will cost 750 jobs.

In red caps and vests bearing the logo of the giant US drinks company, crowds marched in Madrid and the eastern city of Alicante, where two of the threatened plants are located.

Coca-Cola’s plan to close four of its bottling factories in Spain is expected to lead to 750 workers being laid off and 500 others being offered relocation to other plants.

Another protest from thinkSPAIN:

Nationwide protest over ‘abusive’ electricity costs

THOUSANDS of people across Spain joined in a countrywide protest over rocketing electricity prices on Saturday.

Demonstrations were held in 23 cities, mostly provincial capitals, including Madrid, Valencia, Alicante, Barcelona, Murcia, Málaga, Almería, Granada, Córdoba, Huelva, Sevilla, Cádiz, Jaén, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Carrying banners calling for Luz a precio justo (‘electricity at a fair price’), the demonstrators clamoured against the government’s forcing the consumer to bear the cost of its own debt with energy suppliers, leaving already hard-pressed householders suffering prohibitive prices.

And an austerian measure from TheLocal.es:

King freezes wages of Queen and Princess

King Don Juan Carlos has gone against the trend of royal secrecy in Spain and publicized the new fixed salaries of his wife Queen Sofía and daughter-in-law Princess Letizia.

It’s the first time the 76-year-old monarch has willingly made information on royal earnings available to Spain’s general public.

In a press release published by Spain’s Zarzuela Palace, the newly-fixed wages of royal family members have been disclosed in detail.

Queen Sofía of Spain will earn €131,739 in 2014, a sum roughly resembling her wages last year but which is no longer determined by so-called representation costs.

As for Letizia Ortiz, wife of Prince Felipe and future queen of Spain, she will receive a grand total of €102,464.

El País schmoozes:

Rajoy looks to 2015 race with soothing pledges for tax reform and stimulus measures

  • PM bashes Rubalcaba for being negative and blames Socialist leader for current “agony”

The Popular Party (PP) on Sunday officially kicked off the beginning of the second half of its current term in government with pledges from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to carry out his long-awaited ambitious tax reform and other economic measures to help Spain get back on its feet.

As PP officials begin to look toward the next general elections scheduled for the end of next year, the ruling party has tried to use its three-day political conference in Valladolid to showcase proposed strategies in an effort to win voters’ confidence in its recovery plan. But at the close of national meeting, Rajoy avoided offering any specifics on his plans, but was able to muster rallying cheers from stalwart party members with an unusually aggressive attack on opposition Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

The verbal blitzkrieg was seen as an attempt to breathe new life into an increasingly embattled Popular Party, which finds itself bitterly divided on a range of issues, including the government’s proposal for abortion reform; the route that should be taken that would lead to ETA’s eventual demise; and the ongoing public corruption inquiries that have engulfed many of its members.

Italy next, starting with a Bunga Bunga bounceback from New Europe:

Italy: Poll finds Berlusconi-led government would win election

Judges may be convicting him and prosecutors opening yet new probes, but it seems that Italians would yet again elect a Berlusconi-led government it they had to vote now. According to a new poll published in February 3, a center-right alliance led by embattled former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would be the most likely winner if Italians were to vote now under a reform proposal currently before parliament.

The poll, commissioned by newspaper Corriere della Sera and conducted by the Ipsos agency found that potential center-right coalition would get 37.9 percent of the vote, above the 37 percent threshold needed under the new rules being examined to obtain a large winner’s bonus of parliamentary seats without having repeat elections.

The centre left according to the same poll would get 36 percent while Bepe Grillo’s 5-Star protest movement 20.7 percent.

TheLocal.it hyperbolizes:

Five Star bloggers ‘potential rapists’: MP

Italy’s lower house speaker has accused the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of instigating violence and slammed bloggers on the party website as “potential rapists” following a flurry of sexist abuse online.

Laura Boldrini was commenting on a post on the Facebook page belonging to the Five Star Movement’s leader Beppe Grillo, which asked on Saturday “what would you do if you found Boldrini in your car?”

The question, which accompanied a satirical video and was taken up on the movement’s official website, sparked a series of abusive comments, including calls for Boldrini to be raped.

The post was an “instigation to violence, just look at the comments it prompted, nearly all of which were made in a sexist context,” Boldrini said in an interview late Sunday on Italian television.

And from TheLocal.it, ubiquity:

Almost all Italians think corruption is rife

Almost all Italians believe that corruption is widespread in their country, according to the European Commission’s anti-corruption report released on Monday. While some progress has been made, the EU’s executive body highlighted a number of areas in need of urgent action.

Ninety-seven percent of Italians think that corruption is rife, second only to Greece with 99 percent and well above the European average of 76 percent, the European Commission report found.

Bribery and connections are the easiest ways to get certain public services, 88 percent of Italians believe, compared to 73 percent of Europeans.

People in Italy, however, are more optimistic than those in Greece, where 93 percent of the population believe bribery is the easiest way to get what you want, compared to 92 percent in Cyprus and 89 percent in Slovakia and Croatia.

TheLocal.it again, with oldies and not-so-goodies:

Crisis-hit Italians survive on out of date food

Italians may be well-known for their healthy diet, but more are eating food well past its use-by date as the effects of the financial crisis continue to bite, according to new figures from Coldiretti, the Italian farmers association.

Fifty-nine percent of Italians, or six out of ten, eat out of date food, with fifteen percent eating food that is a month or more old, the association revealed.

Eight percent are eating food that is way beyond a month after its use-by date, while 34 percent are consuming products up to a week old and two percent never check expiry dates.

Coldiretti said the “worrying trend” poses a “significant risk to health”

After the jump, the latest on the Greek crisis, Ukrainian uncertainty, Russia currency freefall, Indian action, Thai troubles continue, Vietnamese expectations, more Chinese warning signs and neoliberal moves, Abenomics fails, pesticide alerts and other environmental woes, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .and more:  Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoPoliFukufolly


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

Congressmen Oppose Fast Track and Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP

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

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

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

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

Cheapskates from The Hill:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Associated Press has a fair deal:

Marijuana contests join county fair in Colorado

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

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

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

North of the border and a decline from CBC News:

Canadian dollar closes below 90 cents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Euro chief says no contagion from emerging markets

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

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

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

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

Dismal numeration from New Europe:

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

  • Bloomberg survey reveals serious labour and social crisis in Europe

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

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

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

Hard times intolerance and familiar targets from GlobalPost:

Roma face mounting discrimination across Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy growing at fastest pace since financial crisis

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

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

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

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

BBC News covers the geography of class:

Centre for Cities says economic gap with London widening

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

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

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

From EurActiv, a neoliberal wet dream

David Cameron pledges to rip up green regulations

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

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

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

PetaPixel eliminates a craft we’ve practiced:

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

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

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

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

Norway shows the door, via TheLocal.no:

Record number of foreigners deported

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

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

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

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

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

A third could miss out on minimum wage rise

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

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

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

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

Keep Talking Greece takes it to the bank:

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

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

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

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

On to France with the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

On the edge with TheLocal.fr:

‘Millions of French workers’ close to burnout

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

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

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

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

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

Spain next and a bizarre justification from TheLocal.es:

‘Spain’s abortion law will boost economy’

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

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

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

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

Lisbon next with a mixed result from the Portugal News:

Deficit met but no easing of austerity

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

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

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

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

Italy next and the class divide from ANSAmed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.it exits:

More Italians flee while migration to Italy falls

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoSinoFuku


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

Grand Obese Party?

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

Seems Republicans really are the party of fat cats.

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

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

Bigger government or bigger waistlines: The choice is yours.

From the Los Angeles Times blowback cosmetics:

Tech industry in San Francisco addresses backlash

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

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

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

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

More from Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the real bucks go elsewhere, says BBC News:

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

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

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

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

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

And more good news for banksters from Al Jazeera America:

Holder: US will adjust banking rules for marijuana

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

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

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

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

Mixed news for workers from CNBC:

US manufacturing growth slows in January: Markit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters has more bad news for Wal-Mart workers:

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

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

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

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

Bumpy waters from Bloomberg:

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

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

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

Background from Nikkei Asian Review:

Emerging-nation currencies fall in chain reaction

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG Peso

The Financial Express frets:

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

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

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

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

And The Guardian counts seats:

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

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

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

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

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

Another global story from New Europe:

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

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

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

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

The Global Times brings the focus to Europe:

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

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

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

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

A bankster rules struggle from New Europe:

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

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

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

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

More rule-wrangling from EUobserver:

EU audit reform reduced to ‘paper tiger’

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

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

A jaundiced eye cast by the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Europe Observatory looks at the bigger picture:

A union for big banks

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

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

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

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

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

Britain’s EU referendum suffers big setback

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

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

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

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

Sky News warns:

Nestlé Chair Warns Over UK Exit From Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking the books with The Independent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual insanity? Call for Central Bank to regulate BitCoin

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

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

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

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

Off to Norway with the New York Times:

Amid Debate on Migrants, Norway Party Comes to Fore

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

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

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

TheLocal.no feels aggrieved:

‘Obama must apologise for envoy gaffe’

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

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

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

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

USA TODAY voices confidence:

Obama ‘confident’ with ambassador pick despite blunders

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

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

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

The Wire takes the Casablanca route:

Norway Is Shocked That Our Ambassador Nominee Is Clueless About Norway

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

Locals pay for loved beggar’s Romania burial

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

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

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

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

French MP avoids prison over Hitler Gypsies rant

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

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

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

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

An economic booster shot from France 24:

Helmet Hollande wore for Gayet tryst flies off shelves

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

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

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

On to Spain and another downturn from El País:

Economy shed jobs for sixth year in a row in 2013

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

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

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

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

More from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s unemployment: Seven shocking facts

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

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

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN electrifies:

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

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

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

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

And a boost for the arts from El País:

Government announces plans to slash sales tax on works of art

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

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

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

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

On to Lisbon and an uptick from the Portugal News:

Unemployment levels fall

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

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

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

And a presidential boost from the Portugal News:

President upbeat about economic future

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

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

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

Italy next with ANSAmed and more privatizations of the commons:

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

  • Italian cabinet approvals sale of parts of companies

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

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

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

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

Bunga Bunga cutbacks from TheLocal.it:

Berlusconi budget cuts hit models and dancers

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II EuroGrecoSinoFuku


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

BLOG Fukuzilla

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

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

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

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

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

CNBC dons rose-colored glasses:

Bill Gates: There will be no poor countries by 2035

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

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

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

TheLocal.ch parties hearty:

‘Horizontal trade’ looks to upswing at Davos meet

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

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

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

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

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

The housing recovery leaves America separate and unequal, once again

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

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

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

The Hill anticipates:

Supreme Court case could destroy pillar of union power

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

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

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

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

Dust finally settling from the Oakland Tribune:

California foreclosures plunge to eight-year low

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

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

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

San Francisco Chronicle-ing class warfare:

Protesters block tech buses before SFMTA meeting

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

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

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

Un-Like-ing via Vocativ:

Facebook May Lose 80% of Its User Base by 2017

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

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

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

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

Dodgy dodging from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

Jiji Press embraces the darkness:

Japan, US Agree on Effort for Early TPP Deal

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

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

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

While Deutsche Welle displays rare reserve:

EU freezes part of transatlantic trade negotiations with US

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

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

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

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

Monetary impoverishment from the London Telegraph:

Euro ‘increasing unemployment and social hardship’, says EC

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

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

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

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

Reuters examines the odds:

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

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle alerts:

EU sounds alarm on poverty among working-age people

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

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

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

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

Reuters bubbles:

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

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

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

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

Austerian fruits from the London Telegraph:

Lottery of NHS drugs punishes the dying

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

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

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

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

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

Inflationary death from RT:

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

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

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

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

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

Christian GPs want right to refuse the coil

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

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

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

Sweden next, and state secrets from TheLocal.se:

Government to seal lid on secret donations

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

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

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

France 24 and that ol’ hard times intolerance:

Poll finds xenophobia on the rise in France

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

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

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

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

RFI hooks up:

Peugeot shares plunge as Dongfeng tie-up announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police put their number at 16,000.

And on to Spain, first with El País:

Actual retirement age in Spain rises due to new labor restrictions

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gives ‘em the business:

Hard times? Spain’s elite richer than ever

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

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

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

El País optimizes:

IMF triples its growth forecast for the Spanish economy

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN gets together over getting together:

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

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

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

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

And from the Associated Press, no homage for Catalonia:

Spain PM: No secession referendum for Catalonia

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

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

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

Portugal next, and lethal austerianism from the Portugal News:

Waiting room woes

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

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

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

Italy next, and lethal intent from TheLocal.it:

Sicilian mafia boss orders judges’ murder

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

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

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

ANSAmed impoverishes:

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

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

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

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

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

And TheLocal.it has Bunga Bunga disgust:

Top Italian leftist resigns after Berlusconi deal

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day 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