Category Archives: Resources

Stark images of California’s epochal drought


UPDATE: At the end.

First, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, California in context of the American West, shoowing the Central Valley in the grip of the most severe category, “Exceptional Drought,” and surrounded by the only relatively more moderate “Extreme Drought”:

BLOG Drought West

Second, from Climate Central, a look at conditions in California’s North. Central Region, and South:

BLOG Drought

From Climate Central:

The stakes are high for California, the country’s most populous state with 38 million residents. It has a $44.7 billion agricultural industry that generates more than $100 billion in related economic activity. California produces nearly half of all U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables and it is the leading dairy state. The state’s farm cash receipts in 2012 were $13 billion more than that of Iowa, the No. 2 agricultural state. Because California farms depend heavily on irrigation to sustain production during the dry season, drought constitutes a dire threat to the state’s economy.

The federal government has designated nearly 9 percent of the state as being in “exceptional drought,” the worst category. It’s the first time in the 15-year history of the Drought Monitor that any California territory had reached that status. Longer-running records indicate the 13-month drought, which is part of a 3-year dry period, is equal to or worse than any other short-term drought and is among the top 10 worst droughts to hit California in the past 500 years, based on tree-ring records and instrument data. The drought is part of a broader Western drought that has lasted for roughly 13 years, raising the specter of a modern-day “megadrought” akin to events that doomed some ancient civilizations.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a continued likelihood of drier-than-average conditions across much of California through the months of February and March, which are typically the last two months the state sees widespread heavy precipitation before the dry season sets in.

UPDATE: And as is wont to happen when hard times hit farmers, some are taking their case to a higher venue.

From The Guardian:

Nevada farmers turn to prayer as drought grips western US states

  • Religious leaders and farmers held multi-faith prayer service in Reno to ask the divine for help easing drought conditions

Religious leaders of multiple faiths and farmers in Nevada and Utah turned to prayer this weekend for help easing severe drought conditions gripping the west.

The plea to above comes weeks after the federal government declared parts of 11 parched western and central states natural disaster areas.

Faith leaders asked for divine intervention during a special multi-faith service Saturday at a Mormon church in the Reno, Nevada suburb of Sparks. And on Sunday, the Utah Farm Bureau Federation asked the public to join in prayer and fasting for snow and rain for livestock and crops as part of its Harvesting Faith event.

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFukuics


Today’s collection of headlines from the realm of human transactions and their consequences begins with the jaded avocations of the big winners. From The Guardian:

Super rich shift their thrills from luxury goods to costly experiences

  • Gourmet dining, private flights, bespoke safaris, slimming clinics and art auctions emerging as top status symbols

They say money can’t buy happiness but the world’s super rich are still giving it their best shot, spending $1.8tn (£1.1tn)last year on luxury goods and services – with extreme holidays, gourmet dining and art auctions emerging as the status symbols du jour.

“Luxury is shifting rapidly from ‘having’ to ‘being’ – that is, consumers are moving from owning a luxury product to experiencing a luxury,” said BCG senior partner Antonella Mei-Pochtler. “They already have the luxury toys; the cars and the jewellery.”

Of the $1.8tn spent on luxuries in 2013, according to BCG an estimated $1tn went on services – from private airline flights to luxury slimming clinics, to a five-star hospital stay where the patient will be waited on by a butler and the en-suite facilities include a marble bath.

The £1.1tn spent is slightly more than the wealth controlled by the poorest half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people. Oxfam recently estimated their combined wealth at £1tn in a report on inequality, where it pointed out that this sum was the same as the wealth controlled by the world’s richest 85 billionaires.

Warnings of things to come from the London Telegraph:

Currency crisis at Chinese banks ‘could trigger global meltdown’

  • A rise in foreign funding at China’s banks poses a threat for international lenders

The growing problems in the Chinese banking system could spill over into a wider financial crisis, one of the most respected analysts of China’s lenders has warned.

Charlene Chu, a former senior analyst at Fitch in Beijing and now the head of Asian research at Autonomous Research, said the rapid expansion of foreign-currency borrowing meant a crisis in China’s financial system was becoming a bigger risk for international banks.

“One of the reasons why the situation in China has been so stable up to this point is that, unlike many emerging markets, there is very, very little reliance on foreign funding. As that changes, it obviously increases their vulnerability to swings in foreign investor appetite,” said Ms Chu in an interview with The Telegraph.

Reuters covers losses:

Emerging market funds lose $9 billion in past week: data

Investors yanked $9 billion from emerging stock and bond funds during a turbulent past week, with equities seeing their biggest outflow in 2-1/2 years, banks said on Friday citing data from Boston-based fund tracker EPFR Global.

EPFR had released data to clients late on Thursday showing emerging equity funds lost $6.3 billion in the week to January 29, the biggest weekly outflow since August 2011.

This week has seen some major falls in emerging currencies’ exchange rates, with central banks forced into rate rises or market interventions to limit the swings. Those currency losses and rate rises have put pressure on bond and stock holdings, forcing exits.

The New York Times brings it closer to Casa esnl:

Parched, California Cuts Off Tap to Agencies

Acting in one of the worst droughts in California’s history, state officials announced on Friday that they would cut off the water that it provides to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.

With no end in sight for the dry spell and reservoirs at historic lows, Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said his agency needed to preserve what little water remained so it could be used “as wisely as possible.”

It is the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that water allocations to all of the public water agencies it serves have been cut to zero. That decision will force 29 local agencies to look elsewhere for water. Most have other sources they can draw from, such as groundwater and local reservoirs.

But the drought has already taken a toll on those supplies, and some cities, particularly in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, rely almost exclusively on the State Water Project, Mr. Cowin said.

MintPress News eases up:

CA Law Enforcement Proposes Softening Drug Laws

If passed, those convicted for drug possession would be sent to substance-abuse treatment centers, sentenced to probation or ordered to perform community service, instead of being incarcerated.

For decades, law enforcement officers across the U.S. have fought the war on drugs by locking users behind bars. But since that strategy hasn’t proven to be successful in the slightest, some officers in California have come together to propose reducing charges for the simple possession of all drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.

One of the proposal’s biggest supporters is San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who is working with San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne to push for the inclusion of such a measure on the state ballot this fall.

If passed, those convicted for drug possession, including heroin, would be sent to substance-abuse treatment centers, sentenced to probation or ordered to perform community service, instead of being locked behind bars. Unlike a felony, a misdemeanor charge would not appear on an individual’s permanent record.

The Guardian condescends to profit:

US newspapers fall out over ‘dead peasant’ insurance

Two weeks ago, the publisher of two Californian newspapers – the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise – laid off 39 employees, including eight full-time newsroom staff and four part-time sub-editors and designers.

It was part of a restructuring programme by Freedom Communications, following 42 redundancies in December, as it seeks to centralise Press-Enterprise production at the Register’s offices.

Then Freedom followed up that bad news by sending an email to the staff who remain informing them that the company wishes to buy life insurance for them.

But the beneficiaries of the million-dollar-plus policies will not be the employees or their families, but the company’s pension scheme.

A writer in the Los Angles Times (the Register’s rival), Michael Hiltzik, referred to the plan as a “ghoulish corporate strategy”. He went on to explain that it is not illegal – it’s known formally as COLI (“company owned life insurance”).

More losers from Al Jazeera America:

More jobless Americans losing benefits every week

  • Unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, as Congress fails to renew payments for more than 1.5 million on the dole

The lifeline of long-term unemployment benefits ended for at least 1.5 million Americans at the end of December, and more will see their payments cut each week that Congress fails to act. Almost 38 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for 27 weeks or more as of December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the unemployment rate is down to 6.7 percent from 10 percent in October 2008, at the height of the recession, 10.4 million people remained out of work in December.

The Guardian loads up the money bin:

Google reports 17% revenue rise for fourth quarter

  • Results come a day after search giant sells Motorola Mobile
  • Low-cost mobile ads chip away at the price for online ads

Google’s revenues climbed 17% in the final quarter of 2013, the company announced Thursday, but low-cost mobile ads chipped away at the price the tech giant commands for online ads.

The company’s results came a day after it announced it was selling Motorola Mobile for a fraction of its purchase price. Google’s consolidated revenue, which includes the money-losing Motorola smartphone business, rose to $16.86bn for the quarter from $14.42bn in the fourth quarter of 2012. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected $16.75bn. Profits rose 17% to $3.38bn, or $9.90 a share, up from $2.89bn, or $8.62 per share, for the same period last year.

From The Hill, Hillary-ous idiocy:

Mont. House candidate calls Hillary Clinton ‘Antichrist’

Montana House candidate Ryan Zinke, the early Republican front-runner for Montana’s open House seat, called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the “Antichrist” in a recent campaign appearance, according to a local newspaper.

“We need to focus on the real enemy,” he said referring to Clinton, according to the Big Fork Eagle, before calling her the Antichrist.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, is one of six Republicans in a crowded field to replace Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who is running for the Senate. He’s emerged as the early front-runner in the GOP primary due to his fundraising prowess. Zinke raised $450,000 in the last three months of 2013 and has $350,000 in the bank.

Bloomberg plays the middle:

House Republicans’ Economic Agenda Targets Middle Class

U.S. House Republican leaders are preparing an economic agenda that includes energy proposals aimed at lowering utility bills and countering President Barack Obama’s focus on income inequality, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News.

The agenda includes voting on an alternative measure to Obama’s health-care law and re-authorizing a funding program for career and technical education. The framework is designed to reach middle-class voters whose wages have remained stagnant even as the U.S. economy improves.

The broad outline was distributed to Republicans yesterday at a private meeting in Cambridge, Maryland, where lawmakers are concluding a three-day policy retreat today. Republicans, largely blamed for the 16-day partial government shutdown in October, want their positions to be seen as an alternative to those of Obama and the Democrats.

The Guardian spots the flaw:

The problem with retirement savings: making enough money to save

  • The president’s new MyRA plan is a tiny, positive step for Americans, but it won’t help so long as wages are shrinking

Americans don’t have a problem saving for retirement. The real issue is that Americans aren’t making enough money.

There’s no question that a retirement crisis is looming. The numbers just don’t work for many Americans right now. For instance, do you think you can live on only $575 a month? That’s for rent, food, utilities, and transportation as well as any fun you may want to have. Probably not: an income of $575 a month is well below the federal poverty line. Yet that’s the estimate of how much the average American with a 401k plan will be able to earn from his or her nest egg. And about half of all Americans don’t even have a 401k plan, often because their employer doesn’t offer one.

Across the Atlantic with Europe Online:

Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly falls in January

Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly fell in January, according to data released Friday, adding to deflation fears and increasing pressure on the European Central Bank to deliver a new interest rate cut.

The cost of living in the 18-member currency bloc dropped to 0.7 per cent in January, from 0.8 per cent in December, the European Statistics Office Eurostat said.

The fall in consumer prices took inflation further away from the ECB’s annual inflation target of below but close to 2 per cent.

Bothering BBC News:

Fall in eurozone inflation rate fuels deflation concerns

Calls for European Central Bank action to help protect the eurozone’s fragile recovery have grown after the release of inflation and jobless data.

Official figures showed that eurozone inflation fell to 0.7% in January, down from 0.8% in December and further below the ECB’s 2% target.

It has fuelled worries about whether the euro bloc could suffer deflation, potentially de-railing economic growth.

Separate data showed the unemployment rate in December was unchanged at 12%.

Edible insecurity from EurActiv:

Food security hindered by seed market dominance, MEPs warn

The EU seed market is dominated by a few large seed businesses rather than a diverse range of smaller companies, which has implications for the continent’s food security, says a report commissioned by European Parliament Green group.

Five companies control about 95% of the vegetable seed sector and 75% of the maize market share specifically, according to the report, presented in the European Parliament on Wednesday (29 January).

The assertion goes against European Commission and seed industry’s position that the market, and the five dominant companies, is made up of some 7000 mainly small and medium-sized entreprises, allowing for healthy competition.

“This is simply not true. The EU seed market is not healthy. It is not diversified,” said Bart Staes, a Green MEP from Belgium who presented the report, ‘Concentration of market power in the EU seed market’.

On to Britain with The Guardian:

Real wages have been falling for longest period for at least 50 years, ONS says

  • Real wages have been falling by 2.2% a year in the longest sustained period of falling real wages in the UK on record

Real wages have been falling consistently since 2010, the longest period for 50 years, according to the Office for National Statistics, adding that low productivity growth seems to be pushing wages down.

Real wage growth averaged 2.9% in the 1970s and 1980s, 1.5% in the 1990s, 1.2% in 2000s, but has fallen to minus 2.2% since the first quarter of 2010, the ONS figures showed.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Over the last four years British workers have suffered an unprecedented real wage squeeze.

All or none with EUbusiness:

British PM pledges renewed EU referendum push

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Friday to force through parliament a bill guaranteeing an in-or-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, after the upper house killed off legislation.

He pledged to wield the Parliament Act, which enforces the supremacy of the elected lower House of Commons over the appointed upper House of Lords.

The act is only rarely used to overcome the Lords blocking the will of the Commons. It has only ever been enacted a handful of times since it was introduced in 1911.

Norway next, with an exclusive from TheLocal.no:

Norway oil fund blacklists Israeli firms

Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, blacklisted two Israeli companies involved in construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, the country’s finance ministry said Thursday.

The ban on investing in the firms revived a three-year prohibition on them that the Government Pension Fund of Norway had dropped in August last year.

The companies are Africa Israel Investments, an Israeli real estate developer, and its construction subsidiary Danya Cerbus.

The ministry cited the company’s alleged “contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem,” a territory where Israel’s claims are not recognised by the international community.

On to Amsterdam and an austerian retreat from DutchNews.nl:

Single parents on welfare benefits ‘won’t have to apply for jobs’

The government has agreed to drop plans to force single mothers with young children and on welfare benefits to apply for jobs.

Kees van der Staaij, leader of the orthodox Christian party SGP, broke the news during a debate organised by the religious paper Nederlands Dagblad. Talks between junior social affairs minister Jetta Klijnsma and opposition parties on reaching a compromise on the reforms are currently ongoing.

Klijnsma wants to shake up the welfare system by making sure claimants are actively looking for work and introducing work for welfare schemes. But she needs the support of opposition parties to get the changes through the upper house of parliament, where the government does not have a majority.

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

US view of Germany ‘better than ever’

Despite America’s reputation in Germany taking a hit over the NSA spying scandal, Americans have a more positive impression of Germany than at any time in the last 12 years, according to a study released on Thursday.

The annual Magid study, which has been conducted every year since 2002, included questions on US-German relations as well as Germany’s role in Europe.

Carried out at the end of  2013, it found 60 percent of Americans had an excellent or good impression of Germany, particularly on economics, education and technology.

Germany was also seen as an economic leader and was chosen as the country best suited to lead Europe out of its debt crisis, followed by Great Britain and the US.

Europe Online declines:

German Christmas retail sales unexpectedly slump

German retail sales fell during the key Christmas shopping season, according to data released Friday, setting back hopes of private consumption emerging as a driving force behind growth in Europe’s biggest economy.

Retail sales fell 2.5 per cent in real terms in December, after gaining 0.9 per cent in November. Analysts had expected retail sales to increase by 0.2 per cent.

Year-on-year, retail sales also posted a surprise fall, dropping by 2.4 per cent in December, compared with a 1.1-per-cent rise in November.

Another decline from RFI:

France deports fewer illegal immigrants in 2013

French Interior minister Manuel Valls has announced that 27,000 illegal immigrants were deported in 2013, 9,000 fewer than in 2012. The right-wing opposition slammed the Socialist government’s performance as “laxism”.

Some 46,000 undocumented immigrants were given papers to stay, 10,000 more than the previous year, the figures, published Friday, showed.
Parliamentary elections 2012

They are the first official review of government migration policy since François Hollande came to power in May 2012.

TheLocal.fr hits the bricks:

Thousands march for traditional family values

Tens of thousands of people marched in Paris and Lyon on Sunday against new laws easing abortion restrictions and legalising gay marriage, accusing French President Francois Hollande’s government of “family phobia”.

Police said 80,000 people took to the streets of the French capital, creating a sea of blue, white and pink – the colours of the lead organising movement LMPT (Protest for Everyone) – who gave a far higher turnout figure of half a million.

Demonstrator Philippe Blin, a pastor from nearby Sevres, said he felt a “relentlessness against the family” in France.

At least 20,000 rallied in Lyon, many of them ferried in aboard dozens of buses, waving placards reading “Mom and Dad, There’s Nothing Better for a Child” and “Two Fathers, Two Mothers, Children With No Bearings” — a slogan that rhymes in French.

While France 24 notes odd political bedfellows:

Muslims join Paris protest against gender equality drive in schools

Tens of thousands of supporters of the conservative “Manif pour Tous” movement gathered in Paris on Sunday to protest against gender equality teaching in schools and fertility treatment for same-sex couples.

Sunday’s march included a prominent Muslim contribution in a protest movement, originally opposed to gay marriage legislation that was passed in 2013, that has so far been overwhelmingly linked to far-right political parties and to conservative Catholic groups.

The “Manif Pour Tous” (MPT) mounted huge protests before legislation was passed in 2013 allowing gay marriages. Its focus now is on a family law, due to be debated later in the spring, which would allow for medically-assisted procreation (MAP) and IVF treatment for same-sex couples.

Many protesters also told FRANCE 24 they were worried about the state’s role in sex education, and the supposed “gender theory” lurking behind an “ABCD of equality” initiative aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes in schools.

From Spain, a countermarch from TheLocal.es:

Thousands join Madrid abortion-rights rally

Thousands of pro-choice campaigners converged on the Spanish capital Saturday to voice their opposition to a government plan to restrict access to abortion in the mainly Catholic country.

Demonstrators shouting slogans and carrying banners that read “It’s my right, It’s my life” crowded around a Madrid station to greet a “freedom train” of activists from northern Spain for the country’s first major protest against the plan.

Under pressure from the Catholic Church, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government announced on December 20th it would roll back a 2010 law that allows women to opt freely for abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The new law — yet to pass parliament, where the ruling People’s Party enjoys an absolute majority — would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.

Xinhua takes vows:

Spanish PM Rajoy promises fiscal reform, tax cuts

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised on Sunday to see through a program of fiscal reform in the remaining two years of his mandate.

Speaking to close the national convention of his ruling Popular Party (PP), Rajoy said he would continue with the program of reforms his party have introduced in the slightly over two years since they have been in power.

“We will carry out fiscal reform: of course we will,” said Rajoy, who said it would be “an integral reform which will stimulate growth and employment in line with the recovery of the country.”

The ultimate human austerian cost from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s suicide rate highest in eight years

Figures from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE) show a surge in the suicide rate but heart attacks remain the leading cause of death.

The most recent data from 2012, released on Friday, reveals that 402,950 people died in Spain, some 15,039 (3.9 percent) more than in 2011.

There were 3539 suicides (2,724 men and 815 women), up 11.3 percent from the year before, a rate of 7.6  per 100,000 inhabitants. The figures were the highest since 2005.

According to official broadcaster RTVE, suicide was second only to cancer (15 percent of deaths) in the overall 25-34 age group, but the leading cause of death in young men (17.8 percent).

A Fourth Estate loss from TheLocal.es:

Corruption-probing newspaper chief sacked

Spain’s leading centre-right newspaper El Mundo said on Thursday it was dismissing its director Pedro J. Ramirez, under whose leadership the daily broke a series of political corruption stories.

Ramirez’s scoops included a report last year of alleged secret payments to members of Spain’s ruling party, which forced Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fight off calls to resign.

The paper has vigorously pursued stories of corruption on the right and left, including allegations of fraud involving former officials in the Socialist-run southern region of Andalusia.

The usual suspects, doing quite well, via TheLocal.es:

Spain’s top banks enjoy 2013 profit surge

Top Spanish banks have reported a 2013 profit surge, predicting better times ahead after taking hefty losses in Spain and other crisis-hit eurozone nations.

Santander, BBVA and CaixaBank said they had emerged stronger from banking troubles that led to a 41-billion-euro ($56 billion) rescue of their weaker rivals in Spain.

All Spanish banks have had to set aside money for losses on assets, pounded by the collapse in 2008 of a decade-long property boom.

At the same time, they have been obliged to boost the ratio of rock-solid core capital on their balance sheets.

Analysts say risks remain in the sector, with doubtful loans rising in November to 13.08 percent of all credit extended by Spanish banks, the highest since records began in their existing form in 1962.

Xinhua takes us to Portugal:

Portuguese protest against gov’t austerity measures

Thousands of Portuguese staged a protest Saturday against government austerity measures in the downtown of capital Lisbon.

General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers, or CGTP, who organized the demonstration, called for the Portuguese to struggle against the government, oppose the exploitation and poverty and demand for salary rise, employment and welfare.

Raising high placards, the demonstrators marched from Cais Sodre railway station towards Restaurante Square in downtown Lisbon, chanting slogans against government austerity measures and calling for the government to step down.

Italy next, and a populist movement critiqued via AGI:

M5S has been shown ‘excessive’ tolerance, says Letta

Italy’s Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, said “excessive levels of tolerance” had been shown to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) following recent controversy.

The group promised to never sit peacefully in parliament again after the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, used the hotly debated ‘guillotine’ to swiftly convert a decree on the IMU property tax into law, culminating in the group demanding her resignation, as well as the impeachment of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

“I think there has been an excessive level of tolerance towards methods falling outside those allowed by democratic rules”, Letta stated during a press conference. “Both the accusations towards President Napolitano and behaviour in parliament must be strongly and clearly condemned”.

After the jump, the ongoing Greek crisis, Ukrainian posturing, Argentine financial woes, Indian uncertainty, Thai electoral turmoil, Malaysian misery, mixed signals from China, Japanese anxieties, ecological disasters, and Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Who cares for Grandma?


From an important new study [PDF] from the Pew Research Center focusing on the growing proportion of the elderly in global populations and their future in a growing world:

Microsoft Word - Pew Research Center Global Aging Report FINAL J

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFukunoma


Today’s collection of headlines economic, political, and environmental begins with on ominous note with The Independent:

Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment, warn experts

  • Academics say half of US jobs could be automated within a decade or two

Experts have warned that rapidly improving artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment just days after Google revealed the purchase of a London based start-up dedicated to developing this technology.

Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, Dr Stuart Armstrong from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford said that there was a risk that computers could take over human jobs “at a faster rate than new jobs could be generated.”

“We have some studies looking at to which jobs are the most vulnerable and there are quite a lot of them in logistics, administration, insurance underwriting,” said Dr Armstrong. “Ultimately, huge swathe of jobs are potentially vulnerable to improved artificial intelligence.”

Dr Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, agreed, noting that improvements in artificial intelligence were creating “short term issues that we all need to be talking about.”

BBC News booms:

US economy growing at 3.2% in the fourth quarter, official figures show

The US economy grew at a 3.2% annual rate for the final quarter of 2013, according to the country’s Commerce Department.

Many predict that 2014 will produce the strongest growth since the end of the US recession in mid-2009.

Optimism over the health of the world’s largest economy led to a further easing of the Federal Reserve’s stimulus measures on Wednesday.

A cautionary note from Reuters:

Exclusive: U.S. banking regulator, fearing loan bubble, warns funds

A U.S. bank regulator is warning about the dangers of banks and alternative asset managers working together to do risky deals and get around rules amid concerns about a possible bubble in junk-rated loans to companies.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has already told banks to avoid some of the riskiest junk loans to companies, but is alarmed that banks may still do such deals by sharing some of the risk with asset managers.

“We do not see any benefit to banks working with alternative asset managers or shadow banks to skirt the regulation and continue to have weak deals flooding markets,” said Martin Pfinsgraff, senior deputy comptroller for large bank supervision at the OCC, in a statement in response to questions from Reuters.

Among the investors in alternative asset managers are pension funds that have funding issues of their own, he said.

Banksters behaving badly from Reuters:

U.S. seeks $2.1 billion from Bank of America in fraud case

The U.S. government has raised the amount it is seeking in penalties from Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) to $2.1 billion after a jury found the bank was liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit.

The request in a court filing late on Wednesday was based on gross revenue generated by the fraud, the government said. The Justice Department had previously asked for $863.6 million.

The initial request was based on gross losses it said government-sponsored mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) incurred on loans purchased from Countrywide Financial Corp in 2007 and 2008.

Tapering with BBC News:

US Federal Reserve slows monthly bond-buying to $65bn

The US Federal Reserve announced a $10bn (£6bn) reduction in its monthly bond purchases from $75bn to $65bn in the second straight month of winding down stimulus efforts.

The central bank had been buying bonds in an effort to keep interest rates low and stimulate growth.

In a statement, the Fed said that “growth in economic activity picked up” since it last met in December.

Although the move was expected, US shares still fell on the news.

Screwing the poor with The Guardian:

Congress axes $8.6bn from food stamps in farm bill

  • Richer farmers get bigger subsidies in immediate snub to Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for action on inequality

Congress has agreed to cut $8.6bn from the federal food stamp program while increasing government subsidies for richer farmers, dealing a swift rebuke to Barack Obama’s call for a year of action on economic inequality.

Within hours of the president’s State of the Union speech, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to adopt the measures as part of a wide-ranging farm bill that passed by 251 to 166 votes and has already been endorsed by the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

The cuts to federal food stamps come on top of a $5bn cut in November and will reduce payments to 1.7 million of the poorest Americans by an estimated $90 a month.

Golden State woes from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Amid one of the worst droughts in California’s recorded history, state officials say 17 communities and water districts could run dry within 100 days

The threatened towns and districts are mostly small and in rural areas. They get their water in a variety of ways, from reservoirs to wells to rivers. But in all cases, a nearly rainless winter has left their supplies approaching empty.

In the greater Bay Area, Cloverdale and Healdsburg in Sonoma County are among those at risk of running out of water. The small Lompico Water District in the Santa Cruz Mountains is also on the list.

Bloomberg itemizes:

California Farms Going Thirsty as Drought Burns $5 Billion Hole

The drought in California, the top U.S. agricultural producer at $44.7 billion, is depriving the state of water needed to produce everything from milk, beef and wine to some of the nation’s largest fruit and vegetable crops, including avocados, strawberries and almonds. Lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion, according to estimates by the 300-member California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group.

The state was the driest ever in 2013, a third straight year of little moisture. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17 as arid conditions he called “unprecedented” continued well into the annual rainy season that runs from October through March. Reservoirs on Jan. 27 were at 61 percent of average, while the mountain snow-pack as of Dec. 30 that supplies most of the state’s water was at 20 percent of normal for that time of year, data show.

And a global story from New Europe:

UNDP: Income inequality increased compared with 1990s

UNDP published a report on income inequality in the developing countries stressing that inequality increased by 11 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

According to the report, more than 75 per cent of the population in developing countries is living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. The report underlined that inclusive growth policies are important policy tools for reducing income inequality.

Helen Clark, administrator of the UNDP said according to a press release that “inequalities on today’s levels are unjust in both developing and developed countries…Over the last few decades, poverty rates have declined in every region of the world; emerging market countries have grown with unprecedented speed; and life

Advice from China Daily:

Replace dollar with super currency: economist

The World Bank’s former chief economist wants to replace the US dollar with a single global super-currency, saying it will create a more stable global financial system.

“The dominance of the greenback is the root cause of global financial and economic crises,” Justin Yifu Lin told Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy-research think tank. “The solution to this is to replace the national currency with a global currency.”

Lin, now a professor at Peking University and a leading adviser to the Chinese government, said expanding the basket of major reserve currencies — the dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and pound sterling — will not address the consequences of a financial crisis. Internationalizing the Chinese currency is not the answer, either, he said.

On to Europe and a regulatory call from Deutsche Welle:

EU presents more proposals to curb risky banking activities

  • The European Commission has proposed measures to rein in risky banking activities in heeding the lessons from the global financial crisis. It focused on stopping dubious trading by lenders “too big to fail.”

The proposals presented in Brussels on Wednesday centered on 30 large European banks, accounting for more than 65 percent of the EU’s total banking assets.

According to the suggestions made, these lenders would be banned from proprietary trading, a practice under which banks make bets using their own money and not that of customers.

The lenders could be forced to also separate other risky trading activities from their deposit-taking business which would make them far less vulnerable in a crisis situation.

Deutsche Welle again, with labor action:

European air traffic controllers go on strike over EU initiative

Air traffic controllers have begun a two-day strike over an EU initiative they fear will cause job cuts and more difficult working conditions, causing some delays. The EU is to vote on the measure on Thursday.

Air traffic controllers across several EU nations were expected to go on strike on Wednesday. The move was prompted by the EU’s Single European Sky initiative, which seeks to centralize the continent’s airspace and reduce congestion and inefficiencies costing airlines an estimated 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) annually.

Some 20 flights out of Lisbon in Portugal were cancelled on Wednesday, while Rome’s Fiumincino hub was also hit with cancelations and delays. In anticipation of the focus turning to Paris, the civil aviation authority asked airlines to reduce traffic into the French capital by 20 percent.

German workers had originally planned on joining the strike action. However, an injunction filed by German flagship carrier Lufthansa last week prevented them from doing so.

Britain next and an alarm from Xinhua:

Warning bells ring over British current account deficit

The British economy performed well in 2013 with 1.9 percent GDP growth, and some economists predict growth of up to 3 percent this year, but warning bells are sounding over the size of Britain’s current account deficit.

Simon Wells, chief UK economist with HSBC Global Research, raised worries over the unbalanced nature of growth in the British economy and the current account deficit, which stands at 5.1 percent of GDP in Q3 2013, close to a peacetime record.

Wells said, “Of the 40 countries covered by HSBC economists, the UK has the fifth largest current account deficit. And while most countries have narrowed deficits over the past five years, the UK’s is one of the few that have widened.”

The Guardian takes note:

Mortgage lending at six-year high

  • Bank of England says £12.4bn of new mortgages were approved in December 2013

The number of mortgages taken out to buy homes reached its highest level in almost six years in December, figures from the Bank of England showed, as the housing market continued to gather speed despite the slide into winter.

A total of 71,638 loans were approved for house purchase, above the previous six-month average of 65,001 and the highest monthly figure since January 2008 when the credit crisis and economic slowdown started to take hold of the market.

The government’s Funding for Lending scheme to offer cheap fund to banks and building societies, and the second part of Help to Buy which offers a taxpayer-backed guarantee on mortgages up to 95%, have both made home loans cheaper and more accessible to those with small deposits.

And a polyglot headline from the London Telegraph:

The 800,000 people living in Britain with little or no English

  • Analysis of census figures shows how most people living in Britain who do not have a good command of English do not have a job

Migrants with little or no English are 50 per cent more likely to be unemployed than native speakers and three times as likely to have no formal qualifications.

The study also showed that those who do work are condemned to the lowest paid and most laborious jobs if they do not have a working command of English.

Significantly the problem is most acute among women. Overall 60 per cent of those living in England and Wales but unable to speak the national tongue are female.

Bordering on controversy with TheLocal.de:

UK and Germany locked in immigration debate

The UK and Germany are locked in the same debate over the arrival of a new wave of immigrants from eastern Europe. But despite their arguments being the same, their presentation is very different, argues The Local’s Tom Bristow.

A conservative party calls for new measures to prevent migrants moving abroad to access welfare benefits. The left hits back, defending freedom movement as a cornerstone of the European Union.

A slogan from the conservative party in the ruling coalition government is deemed populist, even racist by the pro-immigration camp – “Those who cheat are out.”

That slogan could have come from UK Prime Minister David Cameron – yet it came from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Profiteering with The Independent:

Passports for profit: British company to make ‘disgusting amounts of money’ from controversial EU passport sale

A British company has been accused of making “disgusting amounts of money” from a controversial scheme by Malta to sell European Union passports to tycoons and celebrities ranging from a former Formula One world champion to a Chinese billionaire.

Henley & Partners, a private company registered in Jersey which specialises in “citizenship solutions”, stands to make at least €60m (£49m) from its role as the designer and principal contractor for the scheme, which will sell passports for €1.15m a piece.

The programme, which is due to begin processing its first applicants next month and will provide a right to reside anywhere in the EU, including Britain, has attracted sharp criticism both within the Mediterranean island and abroad.

Iceland next, and a counterfactual from Bloomberg:

Let Banks Fail Is Iceland Mantra as 2% Joblessness in Sight

Iceland let its banks fail in 2008 because they proved too big to save.

Now, the island is finding crisis-management decisions made half a decade ago have put it on a trajectory that’s turned 2 percent unemployment into a realistic goal.

While the euro area grapples with record joblessness, led by more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain, only about 4 percent of Iceland’s labor force is without work. Prime MinisterSigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson says even that’s too high.

“Politicians always have something to worry about,” the 38-year-old said in an interview last week. “We’d like to see unemployment going from where it’s now — around 4 percent — to under 2 percent, which may sound strange to most other western countries, but Icelanders aren’t accustomed to unemployment.”

Denmark next, and a walkout over a bankster win from The Guardian:

What would Birgitte do? Socialists quit Denmark coalition over energy deal

  • Goldman Sachs’s investment in state-owned energy prompts walkout and Borgen-esque political crisis

With Borgen no longer around to keep British audiences entertained, real-life politics in Denmark continues to give the fictional version a run for its money when it comes to drama.

After a recent spate of controversies and ministerial resignations, the Danish centre-left government suffered another blow on Thursday when the Socialist People’s party (SF) left the ruling coalition amid anger over Goldman Sachs’s investment in Denmark’s state-owned energy company.

Goldman’s 8bn kroner (£900m) purchase of a 19% share in Dong Energy has been championed by the government but caused a revolt among SF’s parliamentary group. After a night of tension and discussions, SF’s leader, Annette Vilhelmsen, announced her resignation and said her party was leaving the coalition.

Germany next, and do as we say, not as we do from Independent.ie:

Germany loosens own pension rules while demanding austerity from rest of EU

Germany’s coalition government presented a pension reform plan today that will cost €160bn to 2030 by letting some workers retire earlier, loosening the purse strings at home when Berlin has demanded austerity from its euro zone partners.

Despite criticism from industry and the pro-business wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the cabinet endorsed what is likely to be the most expensive single measure of the legislative period when it moves through parliament in May.

An additional 900,000 workers will be able to retire earlier than expected aged 63 over the next two years provided they have worked for 45 years. Some mothers will get pension increases.

TheLocal.de has income:

Foreign investment floods into Germany

Foreign investment into Germany increased by almost 400 percent last year, rising to €23.4 billion, a UN report revealed on Tuesday. It comes amid rising consumer and investor confidence.

In 2012 foreign direct investment stood at just €6.5 billion.

But 2013′s rise was helped by major deals including the purchase of Kabel Deutschland by Vodafone for €5.6 billion.

Germany also rose up the global rankings of the world’s most attractive foreign investment locations to 14th from 40th the year before.

Europe Online admonishes:

Deutsche bank warns of challenging year ahead

Deutsche Bank is making progress in restructuring its operations but faces further costs as a result of a string of lawsuits, the co-chief of Germany’s biggest bank said Wednesday.

The coming 12 months “will be another year of challenges,” Juergen Fitschen said in Frankfurt.

Deutsche announced earlier this month a surprise fourth-quarter loss because of a weak performance by its key investment banking operations and hefty legal costs following the bank’s involvement in a series of scandals.

New Europe exudes:

Record-high for consumer confidence in Germany

Consumer confidence in Germany is rising, and according to the latest data by a research group it reached to a level, last seen in 2007.

According to international market research group GfK, consumer confidence in Germany reached 8.2 points in January from 7.6 points in December. The research group said that the January reading was higher than expected by analysts and propelled the consumer index to a level last recorded in August 2007. German citizens were more optimistic regarding their economic and income expectations and their willingness to buy was improved.

According to the press release, Germans consider the national economy to be clearly on the upturn at present and this is reflected in the fifth consecutive improvement in economic expectations. “In the wake of this, income prospects climbed to reach a 13-year high. Willingness to buy also improved and surpassed its seven-year high of the previous month,” the report says.

While Deutsche Welle declines:

Beer sales in Germany lowest since early 1990s

Over the past years, Germans have drastically reduced their beer consumption. Fresh figures showed 2013 was no exception, with sales reaching their lowest level since the country’s unification.

With Germany still considered to be a major beer-drinking nation, annual sales of alcoholic beer in the country reached a new low in 2013, the National Statistics Office ( Destatis) announced Thursday.

While the nation still had 1,300 breweries making about 5,000 varieties of the beverage, they sold only 94.6 million hectoliters last year, a fall of 2 percent compared with 2012 and a drop to levels last reached shortly after German unification in 1990.

On to Amsterdam and an increasingly common trend from DutchNews.nl:

Postal deliveries could be cut to three days a week, if EU says yes

If the European Union gives permission, Dutch postal company PostNL could cut its deliveries to three days a week, a spokesman says in Wednesday’s AD.

European Union rules state post must be delivered five days a week but moves are being made to relax this, the AD says. PostNL stopped Monday deliveries at the beginning of this year.

‘If the EU allows it, we will cut back to four or perhaps even three delivery days,’ spokesman Werner van Bastelaar told the AD.

DutchNews.nl falls off:

Dutch savings are down for the first time in 20 years

For the first time in 20 years the Dutch have less in their savings accounts, Nos television says on Wednesday.

Figures from the Dutch central bank, ING and national statistics office CBS show the total amount of savings has gone down €1bn a month since reaching a high point of €330.5bn last summer.

There are four main reasons for the decline, the CBS says: one in 20 households are so hard up they have no more money to put aside; others are using savings to pay off debts and mortgages; investing in the stock market is popular again; and people who have lost their jobs are using up their savings to live on.

France next and an economic sweet spot from TheLocal.fr:

French arms industry enjoys boom in trade

Crisis, what crisis? While certain sectors in France continue to suffer in the downturn France’s arms industry is doing a roaring trade. A new report, that won’t be welcomed by pacifists, revealed this week that sales of arms abroad have rocketed.

Despite the seemingly endless stream of bad economic news for France, there is at least one sector that’s booming: weapons. French arms makers confirmed €6.3 billion in orders to foreign countries in 2013, which represents a 31 percent jump on the previous year.

The figures released on Wednesday by the Ministry of Defence ensure France keeps its spot at number four among the world’s largest providers of weapons. The United States, the United Kingdom and Russia all sold more weapons than France in 2013.

Departures note from TheLocal.fr:

Foreign investors desert France in 2013: report

As if high unemployment, heavy public debt and an unhappy populace weren’t enough, France also saw a double digit drop in foreign investment in 2013, according to a new United Nations report on Wednesday.

Signalling yet more bad news for France’s troubled economy, a United Nations report said the country saw a 77 percent decline in direct foreign investment last year, while the global average was an 11 percent increase.

France’s results were the worst in the European Union, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade Development report released on Tuesday.

A culture war panic from France 24:

French parents pull children from school over ‘gender theory’ scare

France’s education chief threatened Wednesday to summon parents who pull their children from school after a wave of absenteeism. The row was sparked by a rumour about sex education classes that could become a new ideological battleground in France.

Thousands of parents in France received a text message on their mobile telephones last week urging them to keep their children from school on Monday. The collective action was to protest an alarming development in French primary schools: the attempt to teach students that “they are not born as boys or girls, but can choose to become one or the other.”

The grassroots campaign opposing teaching of so-called “gender theory” in French schools asked parents to go further by taking their kids out of school one day every month. It recommended this be done with no prior warning to teachers.

Hints of things to come? From TheLocal.fr:

‘First ever’ bill proposes legal cannabis in France

France is no Amsterdam when it comes to marijuana laws, in fact it has some of the toughest possession statutes in Europe, but a first of its kind bill proposed this week could change that. The lawmaker behind the legislation tells The Local why marijuana should be legalized in France.

People smoking a joint in France face a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a €3,750 fine for the first offence, yet 13.4 million French people admit to sparking up at least once in their life. Even France’s top cop, Interior Minister Manuel Vallls, said in a recent interview, he’d tried it “maybe once.”

The numbers go up as you look at the younger portion of the population. France had the unhappy distinction of being the European “champion” of teen pot smokers in 2011 when 24 percent of its 16-year-old kids admitted to smoking at least once a month, daily Le Monde reported.

Swiss hard times intolerance from TheLocal.ch:

Support for immigrant quotas rises before vote

A plan by Swiss right-wing populists to reimpose immigration quotas for citizens from the European Union has won increased support ahead of a referendum, raising the prospect of a clash with Brussels, a new poll shows.

A total of 43 percent of those surveyed said they backed the “Stop Mass Immigration” measure which goes to a vote on February 9th, according to the survey released on Wednesday by public broadcaster SRG. That marked a major gain on the 37 percent support shown in a poll released just two weeks ago.

The survey was commissioned from the GfS Bern public opinion institute, which found that opposition to the measure had dropped by five points to 50 percent.

On to Spain and a warning from El País:

Brussels warns of risks to Spain from the crisis in emerging markets

  • Report says economic recovery “remains fragile”
  • Commission expects bad bank to have posted losses last year

The upbeat message Economy Minister Luis de Guindos gave to his colleagues at an Ecofin meeting on Tuesday on the Spanish economy contrasts with the more cautious tone of the final report on Spain’s compliance with the bailout program for its banks, made public on Wednesday by the European Commission (EC).

De Guindos told fellow European economy and finance ministers that he expects the economy to grow 1 percent this year, above the Spanish government’s official forecast of 0.7 percent, with the pace of activity sufficiently strong to allow net job creation. He also minimized the possibility of fallout from the latest crisis in emerging markets, particularly Argentina. “We can’t fall any more. Now the recovery begins,” De Guindos said, arguing that Spain “has scarcely any exposure to Argentina and other emerging markets.”

However, Brussels’ report, based on a joint mission by the EC and the European Central Bank to Madrid in the period December 2-13, warns that: “The economic recovery […] remains fragile as imbalances continue to be worked out, and subject to external risks such as a reversal of the current benign global financial environment and a slowdown in emerging markets, especially in Latin America, to which Spanish companies are particularly exposed.”

More misery demanded from TheLocal.es:

‘Spain’s record wage cuts not enough’: IMF

The International Monetary Fund has asked Spain to further reduce salaries even though it has already slashed average wages by 20 percent over the past two years – the fastest drop in the country’s democratic history.

The International Monetary Fund has revised up its 2014 growth forecast for Spain to 0.6 percent, or more than triple the figure it forecast in October last year, but this is still very modest and it continues to expect more.

The monetary body claims the 20 percent drop in average wages over the past two years does not make up for the excessive salary increases seen prior to that, a factor which they claim has contributed to Spain’s ailing unemployment rate.

El País reduces:

Spanish banks drastically cut exposure to sovereign debt

  • Sector sold 22.4 billion euros in government bonds in December
  • Lenders gearing up for ECB stress tests later this year

Spain’s banks in December picked up the pace at which they have been offloading their holdings of sovereign debt ahead of the solvency tests they will be subjected to by the European Central Bank later this year.

According to ECB figures released Wednesday, Spain’s banks took advantage of improved market conditions to sell 22.4 billion euros worth of government bonds, more than double the 10 billion they sold in November and October’s 8.9 billion. After the latest sell-off, the exposure of Spain’s banks to sovereign debt stands at 272 billion euros.

The extent of European banks’ exposure to sovereign debt will be one of the key features in the stress tests to which they will be submitted. If banks are required to write down the value of sovereign debt not being held to maturity to current market levels, this might entail them having to increase their capital to enhance their solvency.

Off the books with the London Telegraph:

Untaxed work equal to 25pc of GDP in Spain

  • Cash transactions carried out behind the Spanish taxman’s back in 2012 hit nearly €253bn

Untaxed transactions in Spain have surged to equal nearly a quarter of the country’s output as unemployed workers scrape a living in the black economy.

The cash economy has flourished since 2008, when the collapse of a building boom hurled Spain into a double recession, a report by Treasury experts and academics said.

Cash transactions carried out behind the taxman’s back in 2012 hit nearly €253bn, or 24.6pc of gross domestic product, according to the report released by GESTHA, a tax inspectors’ union.

More cultural warring from thinkSPAIN:

Mass protest outside European Parliament in Brussels over Spain’s abortion reform

AT least 2,000 people staged a demonstration outside the European Parliament building in Brussels yesterday (Wednesday) evening in protest over Spain’s abortion law reform.

As well as members of the public of all nationalities, organisations including the European Women’s Lobby, Abortion Right, the European Humanist Federation, Catholics for Choice and the International Planned Parenthood Federation were joined by MEPs from the socialists, liberalists, the ‘greens’ and United Left.

Banners read, ‘Rights for men, but also for women’; ‘Free abortion’, and ‘All of us are Spanish women’ – a message of support meaning restrictions on legal abortion could one day affect any of them.

El País draws the line:

Five regions rebel against Popular Party’s education reform

  • Commissioners claim Minister Wert’s law is step backward and segregates students

The regions not governed by the Popular Party on Wednesday objected to the controversial new Education Law, known as the LOMCE — the seventh overhaul of the public system since the restoration of democracy in Spain — as retrogressive and divisive, and lamented the lack of debate on the legislation.

Initially drawn up to address high dropout rates, the law also enhances the role of religion in schools and permits state funding for educational centers that segregate students by gender. The law was passed in Congress with only the votes of the PP, which has an absolute majority in the lower house.

At a news conference, the educational commissioners of the Basque Country, Andalusia, Asturias, Catalonia and the Canary Islands accused Education Minister José Ignacio Wert of a “lack of institutional loyalty” in failing to adequately consult the regions on the changes. The regions are responsible for the education and health services.

TheLocal.es enumerates:

One third of Spanish kids at risk of poverty

More than a third of children in Spain live at risk of poverty, the aid charity Save the Children said on Wednesday, blaming austerity measures for worsening the situation.

The number of under-18s “at risk of poverty or marginalization” — an official EU measure of various aspects of economic hardship — soared to more than 2.8 million in 2012, the charity said.

That was equivalent to 33.8 percent of Spain’s children, it said in a report that used the latest official European Union data.

El País deplores:

Council of Europe slams Spain for denying healthcare to illegal immigrants

  • Organization’s Committee on Social Rights concerned about general slide on basic protection

The economic crisis has undermined social protection in Spain. The Council of Europe, which oversees respect for human rights in 47 countries on the continent, on Wednesday expressed concern over “regressive legislative developments concerning access to health care by foreigners illegally present in the country.”

The conclusion is part of a wide-reaching report by the European Committee on Social Rights that examines whether national laws conform to the European Social Charter.

The 2013 conclusions, released on Wednesday, found that Spain was one of several countries that had regressed on social rights compared with earlier periods. Other states where healthcare, social welfare and occupational safety have been curtailed included Austria, France, Finland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia.

On to Lisbon and a demand from the Portugal News:

Socialists demand pension cut clarification

The Portuguese Socialist (PS) party has demanded that the prime minister specify what pension and wage cuts were considered to be temporary and accused the government of acting with a lack of transparency and creating uncertainty among the population.

These criticisms were made by António Galamba MP, a member of the PS national secretariat at a press conference where he also accused the centre-right coalition of rehearsing “propaganda manourvres” and trying to “sell illusions”.

“Isn’t it time for the government to clarify what cuts are temporary and what are definitive? “, he asked, after accusing the government of a lack of transparency by creating a work group to prepare definitive cuts to the pension system.

Italy next and a rebuke from ANSAmed:

Council of Europe blasts Italy on pensions, poverty

  • Lacks ‘overall and coordinated approach’

Italy is failing to address growing levels of poverty and to provide retirees with an adequate level of subsistence, a Council of Europe committee said in a report released on Wednesday.

The report, drawn up by the European Committee of Social Rights, noted that Rome had not demonstrated ‘’the existence of an overall and coordinated approach providing adequate measures to combat poverty and social exclusion’‘.

Italy’s national statistics bureau Istat reported in late December that the number of people in crisis-hit Italy living in absolute poverty had doubled between 2005 and 2012 and tripled in the industrial north, up to 6.4% from 2.5%. More than 1.7 million families live in a state of absolute poverty – for a total of 4.8 million individuals – amid rising unemployment and a stubborn recession, Istat said.

Raising a ruckus with The Guardian:

Italian parliament erupts amid vote on central bank capital

Opposition MPs storm government benches after speaker cuts short debate on measure to boost commercial banks

There have been chaotic and at times violent scenes in the Italian parliament after the lower house speaker made unprecedented use of her powers to cut short a filibuster by deputies of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S).

Late on Wednesday, M5S MPs stormed the government benches, put on symbolic gags and kept up a barrage of whistling after the speaker, Laura Boldrini, cut short the debate and ordered a vote on a complicated and intensely controversial measure to square Italy’s public accounts. One of Grillo’s followers said an MP from the governing majority had slapped her during the disorder.

Opposition MPs claim that the measure would hand more than €7bn (£5.8bn) of taxpayers’ money to the banks.

Emulation from TheLocal.it:

27 percent of Italians want to be more German

Over a quarter of Italians would like their country to be more like Germany, while some would prefer Italy to resemble Cuba or China, a poll this week has found.

Despite the anti-German rhetoric of populist politicians, targeting the country’s leader Angela Merkel, this week’s Ipsos poll showed that Italians may be warming to Europe’s economic powerhouse.

Twenty-seven percent of Italians said they would like Italy to more closely resemble Germany, swiftly followed by 19 percent opting for a more Norwegian approach.

After the jump, the latest on the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian uncertainty and admonitions, Turkish anxieties, Indian inflation, Thai turmoil, mixed news from China, Japanese easing, ecological alarms and woes, plus the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: PoliEconoEcoFukus


A statement of reality from Quartz:

This land is not your land

  • Pete Seeger died in an America with record inequality

BBC News sounds a belated theme:

State of the Union: Obama promises action on inequality

  • US President Barack Obama: “Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do”

US President Barack Obama has promised to bypass a fractured Congress to tackle economic inequality in his annual State of the Union address.

He pledged to “take steps without legislation” wherever possible, announcing a rise in the minimum wage for new federal contract staff.

On Iran, he said he would veto any new sanctions that risked derailing talks.

Bloomberg Businessweek chills out:

Frozen Northeast Getting Gouged by Natural Gas Prices

As temperatures plunge anew into single digits across much of the U.S. Northeast, natural gas prices have been going in the opposite direction. On Jan. 22, thermostats in New York City bottomed out at 7 degrees, a day after the price to deliver natural gas into the city spiked to a record $120 per million British Thermal Units in the spot market on the outskirts of town. That’s about 30 times more expensive than what the equivalent amount of gas cost a hundred miles away in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, the biggest natural gas field in the U.S. and home to some of the lowest gas prices in the world. And you thought this was the age of cheap energy.

Most of the natural gas that gets used in the U.S. is contracted on a long-term basis and bought with futures and forward contracts, meaning that many consumers in the Northeast won’t feel the full brunt of that price spike. They’re not entirely insulated though. The spot market is there for a reason. Essentially, it’s a refuge for the desperate and unprepared—for those who need to buy or sell immediately. And when a natural gas-fired power plant or a big utility finds itself short, having underestimated the amount of demand it has to fill, its traders and schedulers have to jump into the spot market and pay whatever the going price is. For those buying in parts of the Northeast, it’s been reaching new highs.

PandoDaily exerts plutocratic pressure:

The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers’ wages

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”

Later that year, Schmidt instructed his Sr VP for Business Operation Shona Brown to keep the pact a secret and only share information “verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?”

These secret conversations and agreements between some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley were first exposed in a Department of Justice antitrust investigation launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. That DOJ suit became the basis of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered — an estimated $9 billion effectively stolen by the high-flying companies from their workers to pad company earnings — in the second half of the 2000s. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied attempts by Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe to have the lawsuit tossed, and gave final approval for the class action suit to go forward. A jury trial date has been set for May 27 in San Jose, before US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the Samsung-Apple patent suit.

The London Telegraph constricts:

Emerging markets forced to tighten by US and Chinese monetary superpowers

  • The global chain reaction resembles what happened in the East Asia crisis in 1997-1998 when domino effects swept the region

Turkey, India, Brazil and a string of emerging market countries are being forced tighten monetary policy to halt capital flight despite crumbling growth, raising the risk of a vicious circle as debt problems mount.

Turkey’s central bank on Tuesday night hiked interest rates to 12pc from 7.75pc at an emergency meeting in a bid to defend its currency. The lira strengthened to 2.18 against the dollar after the decision, from 2.25.

The move came as India raised rates a quarter-point to 8pc to choke off inflation and shore up confidence in the battered rupee, the third rate rise since Raghuram Rajan took off in September. South Africa’s central bank is meeting on Wednesday as the rand hovers near a record low at 11.06 to the dollar.

More from Nikkei Asian Review:

Inflation-wary emerging economies go for rate hikes

Fighting inflation has become a new mantra for emerging economies like India, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia as U.S. moves to curtail quantitative easing help weaken their currencies, pushing up the cost of imported goods in these countries. . .

Weak local currencies are setting off inflation. Drops in currency value translate to costlier imports, driving consumer prices in general higher. Speculation that the U.S. would scale down its ultra-easy monetary policy triggered an exodus of money from emerging economies. In particular, currencies of nations with current-account deficits came under selling pressure in the market. The Brazilian real, the Indian rupee, the Indonesian rupiah, the South African rand and the Turkish lira are dubbed the Fragile Five.

Xinhua charts an uptick with mixed results:

Global foreign direct investment rises to pre-crisis levels, UN reports

Global foreign direct investment (FDI) rose to levels not seen since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008, increasing by 11 percent in 2013 to an estimated 1.46 trillion U.S. dollars, with the lion’s share going to developing countries, said a UN report released on Tuesday.

FDI flows to developing economies reached a new high of 759 billion dollars, accounting for 52 percent, and transition economies also recorded a new high of 126 billion dollars, 45 percent up from the previous year and accounting for 9 percent of the global total, showed the figures provided by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

But developed countries remained at a historical low, or 39 percent, for the second consecutive year. They increased by 12 percent to 576 billion dollars, but only to 44 percent of their peak value in 2007, with FDI to the European Union (EU) increasing, while flows to the United States continued their decline.

Quartz predicts:

Global unemployment is about to get worse

While the rich countries were most affected by the global economic crisis, there are signs of recovery. Although India and China won’t go back to the days of double-digit growth, other emerging countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, paint a more hopeful picture. But the scale of the recovery won’t help the unemployed much, whose numbers are only set to be growing.

In 2013, the unemployed grew by 5 million to 202 million people globally. According to a new report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), this number is set to grow by a further 13 million by 2018, even if the rate of underemployment remains same. In countries such as Greece and Spain, the average duration of unemployment has reached nearly nine months.

The ILO’s worries are threefold. First, the recovery is not strong enough to reduce the growing number of unemployed. Second, the fundamental causes of the global economic crisis are yet to be properly tackled. Third, the crisis has forced even those employed into more vulnerable jobs.

ANSAmed has numbers:

Crisis, Lagarde sounds the alarm: 20 mln unemployed in EU

  • IMF director, in Italy and Portugal 1/3 under 25 jobless

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde has sounded the alarm on record unemployment levels in Europe where almost 20 million are jobless.

‘We cannot say the crisis is over until its impact on the labor market has not reversed’, said Lagarde. When unemployment is high, growth is slow because people spend less and companies invest and hire less, Lagarde also noted, stressing that the most effective way to boost employment is growth.

According to a number of estimates, a growth increase by one percentage point in advanced economies would cut unemployment levels by half a percentage point, giving work to 4 million people.

More from Bloomberg:

Euro Jobless Record Not Whole Story as Italians Give Up

Euro-area data this week will probably show the region ended 2013 with a record jobless rate that reveals only part of the social legacy of the debt crisis.

While economists predict unemployment in December stayed at an all-time high of 12.1 percent, with about 19 million jobless, that tally excludes legions of adults who would also work if they could. Bloomberg calculations for the third quarter show a wider total of 31.2 million people of all ages are either looking for jobs, willing to do so though unavailable, or else have given up.

Giuseppe Di Gilio, 30, is one of 4.2 million such people who don’t appear in Italy’s unemployment statistics. The most recent so-called labor underutilization rate in the third-biggest economy in the euro area was 24 percent, more than double the official jobless rate.

And still more from New Europe:

Growth in the EU: the IMF warns against unemployment, German Fin Min against social spending

“I am convinced that the real problem in the economy is the human being”. That is how Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister opened his speech at the presentation of the IMF’s new publication, “Growth and Jobs: Supporting the European Recovery”. . .

German Finance Minister actually warned against “excessive social spending” in euro area countries and “endless regulation” from Brussels. As the EU makes an effort to recover from years of recession, we have to be “frank” he insisted. “Europe on average spends twice as much as other parts of the world in social security. You can see where some of the problems lie,” he said.  Moreover, asked whether investments in green economy can offer a sustainable solution to the problem of unemployment, creating an important number of jobs, he answered that what actually happens is the contrary, because the EU’s environmental regulation has gone a bit too far. “We have increasing energy costs which will harm jobs. We have to rebalance.”

EurActiv divides:

Schäuble advocates separate eurozone parliament

Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said yesterday (27 January) he was open to the creation of a separate European parliament for countries using the euro, a step that could deepen divisions within the European Union.

Schäuble’s comments, made during a visit to Brussels, challenge the very foundations of the European Union where lawmaking for all 28 nations is by the bloc’s current parliament.

Splitting that body, critics believe, would represent a dismantling of one of Europe’s biggest symbols of unity.

And then there’s that key piece of the neoliberal agenda, via EurActiv:

Brussels sets advisory group on EU-US trade deal

The European Commission launched on Monday (27 January) a special advisory group of experts to give fresh input on all issues being discussed at the EU-US negotiating table for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“The creation of this group confirms the Commission’s commitment to close dialogue and exchange with all stakeholders in the TTIP talks, in order to achieve the best result for European citizens,” read a Commission press release.

The group, composed of 14 advisors from different consumer, labour and business groups, will help the EU executive to frame the discussion at the negotiating table so that Europe’s high standards of consumer and environmental protection are fully respected.

On to Britain by way of the Irish Times:

No longer flush: Queen down to her last million

  • British monarch’s reserve fund has fallen from £35 million in 2001 to £1 millon now

British members of parliament criticised Queen Elizabeth’s royal household for blowing its annual budget while neglecting repairs at Buckingham Palace, which two MPs suggested was falling apart.

The royal household’s latest accounts showed it had exceeded its 2012-13 budget of £31 million by £2.3 million , the report said.

To plug the gap, it had to dip into a reserve fund.

BBC News booms:

UK economy growing at fastest rate since 2007

  • Chancellor George Osborne: “I am the first to say the job isn’t done”

The UK economy grew by 1.9% in 2013, its strongest rate since 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter slipped to 0.7%, down from 0.8% in the previous quarter, it said.

And economic output is still 1.3% below its 2008 first quarter level.

“There’s plenty more to do but we’re heading in the right direction,” Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC.

Sky News adds nuance:

Cable Warns About Wrong Type Of Recovery

The Business Secretary stresses Britain must avoid past mistakes and ensure the property market does not overheat.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that Britain’s economic recovery could prove to be a “short-term bounce” if it is based on a housing boom.

He made the comments on the eve of the publication of the latest GDP figures, which have shown the country’s strongest growth since the financial crisis began in 2007.

But the senior Liberal Democrat expressed concern that the recovery is too heavily based on housing prices and consumer spending.

Denmark next and strange bankster dealings from the Copenhagen Post:

Leaked document: Goldman Sachs wasn’t highest DONG bidder

  • As the finance minister faces parliamentary hearing today, a leaked document contradicts his previous claims

New information has changed the agenda ahead of today’s parliamentary hearing in which Finance Minister Bjarne Corydon (S) will explain the details of the controversial partial sale of DONG Energy to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Despite what the government claims, pension fund PensionDanmark’s bid for partial ownership of the state-owned energy company was higher than the bid Goldman Sachs offered, TV2 News reports.

A leaked note revealed that PensionDanmark estimated the stock capital of DONG shares to be 46 billion kroner, a 40 percent higher rate than the 32 billion kroner Goldman Sachs offered.

On Thursday, parliament will vote on allowing Goldman Sachs to invest eight billion kroner in 19 percent of DONG shares. Critics of the sale are concerned with the investment bank’s plans to establish its DONG Energy partial ownership in global tax havens, as well as conditions of the deal that give Goldman Sachs veto rights over the energy company’s future direction and leadership.

Germany next, and mimesis in action form TheLocal.de:

‘Gate’ named Germany’s English word of the year

The English suffix “gate” has been named Germany’s Anglicism of the Year. The quirky, linguistic award honours the positive contributions English had made to the German lexicon.

Gate is no newbie on German turf, having arrived in 1972 with the reporting of the Watergate scandal.

But Germans were slow to take it into their own language and it wasn’t until many years later that gate gained widespread acceptance as a bona fide suffix.

The London Telegraph drops a bombshell:

Rising risk that German court will block Bundesbank rescue for Southern Europe

  • Court can force German institutions to withdraw support for EU operations, wrecking market credibility for the ECB’s rescue policies

The risk is rising that the German constitutional court will severely restrict the eurozone bond rescue scheme for Italy and Spain, and may reignite the euro debt crisis by prohibiting the German Bundesbank from taking part.

The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper reports that the verdict has been delayed until April due to the complexity of the case and “intense differences of opinion” among the eight judges.

The longer the case goes on the less likely it is that the court – or Verfassungsgericht – will rubber stamp requests from the German government for a ruling that underpins the agreed bail-out machinery.

On to France and legalized hard times intolerance from TheLocal.fr:

France blocks return of Roma schoolgirl’s family

A French court Tuesday rejected an appeal for residency for the family of a Roma schoolgirl whose deportation sparked outrage and student protests in the country.

A court in the eastern city of Besancon ruled that the public magistrate handling the case had been right in upholding the October 9 expulsion of 15-year-old Leonarda Dibriani, her parents and six siblings to Kosovo.

The Dibriani family can appeal the latest ruling.

The case triggered outrage as Leonarda was taken by the authorities while she was on a school trip. The public magistrate had on January 7 said the decision by local authorities to deport Dibrianis was justified as they had made no attempt to integrate into French mainstream society.

Spain next, and fundamentalist politics from GlobalPost:

Spain’s prime minister pushes ahead with anti-abortion legislation despite almost no popular support

In the midst of a jobs crisis and economic dysfunction, Spain now must face a bitter debate over government plans to radically restrict women’s rights.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has a lot to worry about.

Despite tentative signs of economic recovery, more than a quarter of the workforce is still looking for a job. The legacy of a burst property bubble has saddled the country with around a million unsold homes and much of the banking sector remains crippled by debt.

In politics, Spain’s most populous and richest region — Catalonia — is threatening to break away after an independence referendum this year while the ruling conservative party reels from graft allegations and another fraud scandal is sapping respect for the monarchy.

Not the best time, then, to launch a bitterly divisive new policy initiative opposed by more than 80 percent of the population, including a significant slice of his own party.

TheLocal.es boosts:

Spain to grow ‘nearly one percent’ in 2014: minister

Spain’s economy is set to grow by “nearly 1.0 percent” in 2014, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Tuesday as the euro nation’s struggling recovery gains traction.

The official government prediction for the year is 0.7 percent growth, following a contraction of 1.2 percent in 2013, according to estimates by the Bank of Spain.

“Growth in 2014 will be nearly 1.0 percent but the revision will be included in our stability programme when it is released before the end of April,” de Guindos told reporters ahead of a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

El País retreats:

Madrid abruptly cancels plans to outsource management at public hospitals

  • Regional health commissioner Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, the architect of the proposal, resigns
  • Move comes after court rejects petition to lift a cautionary injunction against PP government

Madrid’s Popular Party (PP) regional government on Monday took a U-turn and canceled its planned outsourcing of management and services at six local hospitals – a move that thousands of health professionals had mobilized against.

At the same time, the region’s health chief, Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, who had been pushing the privatization efforts and outsourcing of services, announced he was stepping down from his post.

The developments came just hours after the Madrid regional High Court, which has been studying a lawsuit, denied the regional government’s petition to lift a cautionary injunction it issued last September against the efforts.

ANSAmed moves out, forcibly:

Evictions of mortgage defaulters rise in Spain

  • Almost double those in 2012, reports central bank

The number of evictions due to an inability to meet mortgage payments rose in Spain last year as a result of the economic crisis, and may double the number of those in 2012, reported the country’s central bank on Tuesday.

Some 19,567 evictions were carried out in the first quarter of 2013 compared with 23,774 in the entire year of 2012, the bank said. However, a sharp decline was seen in the number of cases (88) in which the police intervened to carry out the eviction. Over the past few years forced evictions by police had led to over 20 suicides.

Italy next and a new low from TheLocal.it:

Italian wages rise at lowest rate since 1982

Hourly salaries in Italy rose just 1.4 percent on average in 2013 – the lowest rate since 1982 – the national statistics agency, Istat, said on Tuesday.

However, wages increased more than the level of inflation – 1.2 percent – meaning real incomes nudged up by 0.2 percent last year, Istat said.

Italy’s economy stopped contracting in the third quarter of 2013, technically bringing to an end its longest post-war recession, but it is still struggling with an unemployment crisis and rising debt and deficit levels.

Figures released by the Bank of Italy on Monday revealed that the rate of poverty rose from 12 percent to 14 percent between 2010 and 2012, while half of Italian families live on less than €2,000 a month.

Europe Online covers the retreat of the retreat of the founder of the corporate owner of the neighborhood horse racing venue, Golden Gate Fields and a subject of our own frequent stories at the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Billionaire party founder withdraws from Austrian parliament

Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach said Tuesday that he would give up his parliamentary seat, as the party he founded ahead of last year’s elections loses popularity amid internal conflicts.

The 81-year-old automotive parts entrepreneur said that, for the time being, he would remain the nominal head of the eurosceptic and pro-business Team Stronach, which he founded in 2012.

Team Stronach initially received high poll ratings, but the party only won 5.7 per cent of the votes in September’s election.

Following the election, a series of party officials were kicked out of Team Stronach amid a debate about Stronach’s authoritarian leadership style.

After the jump, the ongoing and never-ending Greek meltdown, Ukrainian proscription and a pledge, ruble anxieties, interest ramp-ups in Turkey and India, calls for Latin unity and a tegime extension enabled, Thai troubles, Chinese crises averted and anticipated, Abe road platitudes, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . 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

Guest post: California’s epochal drought


California’s undergoing a drought that has already set the record, with the lack of precipitation in the Sierra Nevada hitting levels never before seen, spelling disaster for agriculture and for the already sorely depleted groundwater levels in California’s Central Valley.

Ignacio Chapela, the UC Berkeley plant microbiologist who first demonstrated the spread of genetically modified gene segments into non-GMO strains, has been watching the weather with an expert eye, and he just dispatched an email to friends sounding the alarm.

With his permission, here’s what he has to say:

Dear Friends,

I must be brief, but want to share with you a link that I find useful to try and grasp what is happening in the air. Some of you have asked me about a place to find information from atmosphere-watchers, and the above is a very useful one. Besides, the overcast sky in the Bay Area seems to call for some reflection.

I hear from people who were here in 76-77 that there is no need to fret about the drought, and that after all this drifting piece of rock we call California has seen worse. No doubt the latter is a truism, but I still fret. I still think the situation is unprecedented at least in the sense that such a drought has never happened in the context of over-stretching to which we have brought the landscape. A California where chamizal extends down from Mojave through the Central Valley and into the Delta—as it has apparently been for some period in the distant past—may not be a very nice place in which to buy a MacMansion anymore. Of course there are the roads, and the paved-over and lawned-over suburbs, the car-washing in LA and the fire risk and all that, but in particular, the social context seems to me set for a much more serious situation than people want to talk about.

An interesting aspect of that social context is the frightening silence resulting from the death of the newspaper and the rise of screen infotainment. People would seem OK watching the Grammys not least because it keeps them from being exposed to the poisonous outdoor air. A rare (but very superficial) article in the LA times, read with a little critical distance between the lines makes the point clear: we will not talk about it, we will not do anything about it; instead of coming out in the public space and organize, we will stay indoors and watch the screen. In Fresno, the suggested action is simple: get purple flags to hang outside public places instead of the red ones (they are not alarming enough), to tell people that they can die from breathing, presumably topreempt any lawsuits:

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-central-valley-air-20140125,0,7934435.story

Back with the model-wonks at weatherwest.com, their reading is as fascinating as it is troubling. For one thing, they make it very clear how different this event is compared with the 76-77 event. The fact that the water in these clouds outside my window comes from the sea off Baja, rather than the usual Alaska could not be more mesmerizing—and worrying. It seems as though even the rain that apparently will come in a few days does not mean a change from the novel pattern through which the atmosphere seems to be taking new claims over mineral California. Unless California is about to join the Central American pattern of Summer rains, no imaginable amount of rain will bring our Summer and Fall anywhere near average:

Between now and the next rain season much will happen: fire will surely come—closer, out of rhythm and more dramatic than usual; crop failures, and failure to even plant will bring much misery, especially for migrant workers and others close to the agricultural fields. Decade-old ecological patterns will re-set to unknowable starting points. We also mull painful thoughts about the salmon and the whales, as they mass just off-shore for really mysterious reasons. And the last days of those millennial sequoias may have nudged that much closer to “today” and “in my watch” (snow accumulation is now at about 5% of average where sequoias need it).

But what is truly frightening for me is to think of what people in power may already be doing about it all, and how silent we all are. Jerry Brown waited  much too long to say anything about the situation, and I cannot imagine that he was waiting for sounder technical advice on whether it was bad or not, or for whom. If he is to be judged by his record, his announcement ten days ago must have come only when he thought he had the political upper hand to use the situation to his advantage. What that may mean is open to discussion, but at the very least we can expect that he has a game-plan that moves forward the Delta Tunnels—with all their consequences for the Delta as well as the water landscapes of the Shasta-Trinity and the many Klamath basins. Do your bones ache as much as mine knowing what must be transpiring in the drafting rooms of the National Labs and the BP-Berkeley buildings, now that they have fallen flat on their promises to “green” the fuel-stock for the state and the world? How long before we are back to plans to use nukes to blow-up the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge over the Pacific, or for the pacifists, to desalinate seawater and keep the commuter rush, the google buses going?

After we read his sobering communique we chanced upon a very relevant editorial cartoon from Ted Rall of the Los Angeles Times:
In California's drought emergency, Gov. Brown declares the obvious

In California’s drought emergency, Gov. Brown declares the obvious

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFuku’d


We’ll begin today’s compendium of things political, economic, and ecologic right here in esnl’s own Golden State with this from the Pew Research Center:

In 2014, Latinos will surpass whites as largest racial/ethnic group in California

According to California Governor Jerry Brown’s new state budget, Latinos are projected to become the largest single racial/ethnic group in the state by March of this year, making up 39% of the state’s population. That will make California only the second state, behind New Mexico, where whites are not the majority and Latinos are the plurality, meaning they are not more than half but they comprise the largest percentage of any group.

California’s demographers also project that in mid-2014, the state’s residents will be 38.8% white non-Hispanic, 13% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 5.8% black non-Hispanic, and less than 1% Native American. But the state’s demographics in 2014 are very different from what they had been. In 2000, California’s 33.9 million residents were 46.6% white non-Hispanic, 32.3% Latino, 11.1% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 6.4% black non-Hispanic and about 1% Native American. In 1990, white non-Hispanics made up more than half (57.4%) of the state’s then 29.7 million residents, while 25.4% of Californians were Latino, 9.2% were Asian American or Pacific Islander, 7.1% were black non-Hispanic and about 1% were Native American.

More Californiosity from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Income inequity a hot topic on California ballots

When state voters cast their ballots in November, they could be making decisions on several measures intended to bring the income levels of rich and poor closer together. They include a cap on hospital executives’ pay, more taxes on oil companies and a higher minimum wage.

There’s real money behind each effort. The hospital CEOs are being targeted by a deep-pockets union. The oil-tax measure would be financed by a rich former hedge-fund manager, and a Silicon Valley millionaire is behind the minimum-wage hike.

The money lining up against them is just as formidable. Business groups, the health care industry and oil giants are expected to do whatever it takes to try to defeat what some conservatives denounce as the products of class-warfare ideology.

And some reallly bad news for a very dry state from the San Jose Mercury News:

California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say

California’s current drought is being billed as the driest period in the state’s recorded rainfall history. But scientists who study the West’s long-term climate patterns say the state has been parched for much longer stretches before that 163-year historical period began.

And they worry that the “megadroughts” typical of California’s earlier history could come again.

Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.

Just how bad is it? From the USDA’s National Drought Monitor:

BLOG Drought

Hopeful signs, via The Guardian:

Occupy the minimum wage: will young people restore the strength of unions?

  • The ‘Fight for 15′ movement, driven by millennials, picks up where Occupy left off and shows a new interest in labour unions

Alicia White, 25, defied the odds of a poor background by attending college on a partial scholarship and going to graduate school. While she spends her days applying for jobs, the only work she has found so far is face-painting at children’s birthday parties.

“By going to college and graduate school, I thought I was insulating myself from being broke and sleeping on friends’ couches and being hungry again. The big, scary part is that I am going to end up where I was, but now I am going to be in that awful situation with $50,000 of debt,” White says.

White’s story is no exception. One in two college graduates are now either unemployed or underemployed. Millennials – even those from the middle class – are experiencing income inequality and America’s failed dream of upward mobility first-hand. The mismatch of college-educated young workers with low-wage, unskilled, precarious jobs is creating a new face of the once-dwindling American labor movement: young, diverse, led by millennials in their twenties and thirties, and fighting what they see as an unfair labor market. Their modest cause? Pushing for a higher minimum wage.

Linking up with Nikkei Asian Review:

Silicon Valley venture capital enhancing US-China economic ties

Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China, is rapidly expanding its influence in Silicon Valley through a tech-oriented seed accelerator it supports.

Tsinghua, the alma mater of a legion of political and business leaders in China, including President Xi Jinping, is capitalizing on its powerful alumni network to make deep inroads into the heart of technological innovation in the U.S.

The seed accelerator set up by the university in April 2012, InnoSpring, has established a solid presence in America’s vibrant venture capital scene in less than two years.

Obama dives deeper into Reaganomics, resurrecting the Gipper’s “Enterpise Zones” with a new moniker. Via Bloomberg News:

Old Idea to Fix Inner Cities Gets New Name: ‘Promise Zones’

In 1994, Bill Clinton tried to revitalize the mean streets of West Philadelphia. At the time, unemployment and crime were high, graduation rates were low, and businesses were exiting. Clinton’s Philadelphia-Camden Empowerment Zone, one of several in troubled urban areas around the country, received $100 million over 10 years in federal grants and tax credits for companies that hired neighborhood residents and invested in the community. Two decades later, not a lot has visibly changed in West Philly. Shop owners work behind bulletproof glass, jobless men sit on stoops drinking beer, and another president is looking to local leaders and businesses to turn things around.

At a White House ceremony on Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first 5 of 20 “promise zones” in parts of San Antonio, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and West Philadelphia, including a half-dozen blocks that also were part of Clinton’s zone. Obama’s plan calls on federal agencies to help business owners cut through bureaucracy to win federal grants and bring together schools, companies, and nonprofits to support literacy programs and job training. “We will help them succeed,” the president said. “Not with a handout, but as partners with them, every step of the way. And we’re going to make sure it works.”

From Reuters, relevant to our latest Charts of the Day:

Why are US corporate profits so high? Because wages are so low

U.S. businesses have never had it so good.

Corporate cash piles have never been bigger, either in dollar terms or as a share of the economy. The labor market, meanwhile, is still millions of jobs short of where it was before the global financial crisis first erupted over six years ago.

Coincidence?

Not in the slightest, according to Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs:

“The strength (in profits) is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages, which are still growing at just a 2% nominal pace. The weakness of wages and the resulting strength of profits are telling signs that the US labor market is still far from full employment.

Another another American institution offshores its money and most of its ownership, via TheLocal.it:

Fiat-Chrysler to seek US stock listing, British base

The newly combined Fiat-Chrysler automaker will seek a fiscal domicile in Britain and a stock listing on a New York exchange, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne, who has overseen the company’s gradual purchase of Chrysler since 2009, is set to make the proposal to the board next week, people familiar with the plans told the Journal.

The Italian automaker completed its acquisition of Chrysler this week in a $4.35-billion transaction after a five-year merger that creates a new global car giant.

The deal involved buying the remaining 41.46 percent stake in Chrysler not held by Fiat from Veba, a fund controlled by the US autoworkers’ union UAW.

From USA TODAY, Alpine redoubt surrenders:

Swiss banks closer to deals in tax-evasion probe

  • More than 100 financial institutions willing to ID tax evaders in exchange for non-prosecution deals.

More than 100 Swiss banks and other institutions have signaled they will seek non-prosecution agreements and provide information to U.S. authorities investigating suspected off-shore tax evasion by Americans, a top Department of Justice official said Saturday.

The announcement by Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally provided the first government confirmation on the number of Swiss banks that are expected to disclose how they helped U.S. clients evade taxes, provide financial data about the clients and pay fines to settle criminal investigations.

In all, 106 Swiss financial institutions filed formal letters of intent by the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline set by federal investigators, said Keneally, who made the announcement at the winter meeting of the American Bar Association’s tax section in Phoenix.

And Sky News has good news for Wall Street banksters:

Non-EU Banks Slip Through Bonus Cap Loophole

  • Wall Street banks can raise bonuses without a vote from their parent’s shareholders under new EU rules, Sky News learns.

Major global banks such as Morgan Stanley and Nomura are benefiting from a loophole in new European pay rules that could leave British rivals at a big disadvantage.

Sky News understands that banks based outside the European Union (EU) are able to approve bigger bonuses for employees of their subsidiaries in the trading bloc without recourse to external shareholders.

That means Wall Street and Asian banks can instantly consent to variable pay for senior staff worth double the level of their salaries, the maximum permissible under the new EU cap.

A quick trip to Canada and a mind-boggling headline from the uber-conservative National Post:

‘Economically worthless but emotionally priceless’: Children don’t make you happy, but can still be rewarding, expert says

A global story from The Guardian:

IMF fears global markets threat as US cuts back on cash stimulus

  • Sudden slump in Argentina leads to fears that other emerging countries could face troubles

The International Monetary Fund is closely monitoring recent events in the world’s emerging markets amid concerns that the withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the US will add to the turmoil caused by the sudden slump in Argentina.

The IMF believes that the next phase of the gradual removal of stimulus to the US economy by the Federal Reserve, due later this week, could be the trigger for fresh turbulence in countries seen as vulnerable to capital flight, such as Turkey and Indonesia.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, told participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the so-called tapering by the US central bank was a potential problem.

And from Reuters, look forward for more of those too-big-to-fail banks:

Top bankers expect EU stress tests to reignite banking M&A

Bankers expect a thorough European Central Bank (ECB) health check of the euro zone’s largest banks to reignite domestic and cross-border merger activity by rebuilding confidence among lenders.

The sovereign debt crises that nearly caused a break-up of the single currency in 2011/12 has generated mistrust among banks and caused an effective breakdown of cross-border bank investment flows as they hoarded capital at home.

But the ECB’s asset quality review, an assessment of the balance sheets of more than 120 banks that is due to be completed next autumn, should bring transparency on the quality of banks’ loans and other assets, bankers and regulators at the World Economic Forum in Davos said.

Off to England and another sign of the times from The Independent:

Exclusive: Eating disorders soar among teens – and social media is to blame

  • Social media blamed for the doubling in the number of youngsters seeking help for anorexia and bulimia in the last three years

The number of children and teenagers seeking help for an eating disorder has risen by 110 per cent in the past three years, according to figures given exclusively to The Independent on Sunday.

ChildLine says it received more than 10,500 calls and online inquiries from young people struggling with food and weight-related anxiety in the last financial year. The charity believes this dramatic increase could be attributed to several factors, including the increased pressure caused by social media, the growth of celebrity culture, and the rise of anorexia websites.

The problem is most prevalent among girls of secondary school age. During 2012-13, counselling with girls about concerns of eating problems outnumbered counselling with boys by 32:1.

The Guardian covers an exodus:

The great migration south: 80% of new private sector jobs are in London

  • Talented young people are leaving provincial cities to make a success of their lives in London and never go back, report shows

Talented young people are leaving provincial cities in their 20s, making a success of their lives in London and never go back. London is where the work is: the capital was responsible for four out of every five jobs created in the private sector between 2010 and 2012.

The brain drain meant that every major city outside the south-east is losing young people to London. One in three 22-30 year olds leaving their hometowns end up with Oyster cards and Boris as their mayor.

On to Ireland for a very familiar headline from Independent.ie:

Priests’ organisation accuse Education Minster of “underminding religion”

THE Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has hit out at Education Minister Ruairi Quinn after he claimed that primary schools should divert time spent teaching religion to core subject areas.

The Labour Minister has sparked fury after suggesting that schools should use time allocated for religion to focus on improving pupils’ reading and maths.

The group described Mr Quinn’s remarks as “unacceptable” and accused the Labour TD of attempting to devise educational policy “on the hoof”.

Germany next and a gain for eurofoes from Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s euroskeptic party revamps its image

The upstart Alternative for Germany party attracted voters in the last election with its tough anti-euro currency stance. Now, in a quest to enter the European Parliament, the party is embracing populist sentiments.

At their most recent political convention, members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) were hoping to come up with a list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections, but their plan didn’t quite work out. Around 100 candidates had applied for the 10 available positions. Following a 12-hour session, only six candidates had been decided on – and the session has been extended to next weekend.

Nevertheless, AfD leader Bernd Lucke used the meeting as an opportunity to present the party’s new slogan, “Mut zu Deutschland” (loosely translated: “Courage to be German”) – which replaces the former slogan “Mut zur Wahrheit” (“Courage to Uphold Truth”) that helped the AfD gain 4.7 percent of the votes in Germany’s last federal election. The party members present welcomed the move.

More from EUbusiness:

German eurosceptics poll 7% ahead of European vote

The eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party scored seven percent in a poll published Sunday ahead of May’s European Parliament elections where populist groups are hoping to boost their numbers.

The Emnid institute poll was published by newspaper Bild am Sonntag a day after the political newcomer party elected its top European candidates and railed against Germany’s mainstream political groups.

Party chief Bernd Lucke, 51, branded Chancellor Angela Merkel a “chameleon” and, under a campaign dubbed “Courage for Germany”, promised an alternative to “adaptable, streamlined, slick politicians who stand for nothing”.

The AfD, which has said it favours a return from the euro to the deutschmark currency, was formed last year but missed out on seats in September national elections, scoring just below a five percent threshold.

The rise in anti-euro sentiment met with harsh words from Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner. From Reuters:

German SPD leader raps ‘stupid’ eurosceptic campaign in Europe vote

The head of Germany’s Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition on Sunday denounced eurosceptic parties on the far left and right as “stupid” and pledged a tough fight against them in the European parliamentary election campaign.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, also Merkel’s economy minister and head of the Social Democrats, blasted the “uniting enemies of Europe on the left and right” over their anti-European campaigning for the May election.

“Let’s stand up against these stupid slogans about Germany being ‘the paymaster of Europe’,” Gabriel said, referring in particular to the campaign of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that has attracted voters opposed to spending taxpayer money on bailing out struggling euro zone countries.

TheLocal.de charts a familiar trend:

‘Land grab’ ups prices in eastern Germany

  • Land prices in eastern Germany are rising at dizzying rates and local farmers feel they are being squeezed out by foreign investors in a phenomenon known as “land grabbing”.

The price of a hectare of land has risen by 54 percent between 2009 and 2012 in Brandenburg state and by 79 percent in neighbouring Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, even if prices remain below those in the west of the country — at least for now.

The rural east of Germany has vast swathes of arable land inherited from communist times, when farming was in the hands of huge collectives, known as LPGs.

But today the land is increasingly being snapped up by foreign investors, often with no background or interest in farming, pushing prices up and forcing out locals.

Denmark next, and more of that hard times intolerance from New Europe:

Right-wing MEP wants to punish beggars in Denmark

Police in Denmark should be allowed to arrest beggars on the spot and the courts should be less lenient, according to one Member of the European Parliamentary who is aligned with the Dansk Folkeparti (a right-wing populist party).

Morten Messerschmidt pointed to official justice ministry figures showing a drop in the number of people convicted of begging over the past five years. For instance, only seven of the 185 people charged with begging were ever convicted.

According to Messerschmidt, this number is “surprisingly low”. He said the reason is probably because police are required to issue a warning to beggars before arresting them. He also said that a growing number of beggars in Denmark are Eastern European.

From DutchNews.nl, booming business:

One of Tilburg’s biggest industries is marijuana: NRC

Between €728m and €884m is earned from marijuana production in Tilburg region on an annual basis, the NRC said at the weekend, quoting confidential research.

The illegal industry is so large that it poses a ‘serious threat to the safety and integrity of society,’ said the report, which was put together by researchers from Tilburg University and crime prevention experts.

Marijuana production in the area involves 2,500 people and between 600 and 900 plantations, the city’s mayor Peter Noordanus told the NRC. The drugs trade has grown into a criminal industry which ‘increasingly corrupts the legal and economic infrastructure,’ report said.

On to France and wild in the streets with France 24:

Thousands take part in Paris ‘Day of Anger’ targeting President Hollande

Several thousand people marched through central Paris on Sunday in a “Day of Anger” directly targeting France’s embattled President François Hollande and his policies, ending in both clashes and arrests.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse several hundred youths who lobbed police with bottles, fireworks, iron bars and dustbins.

Police said at least 150 people had been arrested after the clashes, during which 19 officers were injured, one of these “potentially seriously”, according to one police source.

Italy next and a forced quit from EUbusiness:

Italy minister resigns amid abuse of power, corruption probes

Italy’s Agriculture Minister resigned Sunday amid allegations of abuse of power over the appointment of staff in the public healthcare system and in the wake of an investigation into the management of European Union funds for agriculture.

“I am resigning as minister. I cannot remain part of a government which has not defended my honour,” Nunzia De Girolamo said on Twitter.

De Girolamo was accused this month of exerting improper influence over the choice of healthcare managers in the city of Benevento in the Campania region, following revelations in the media of phone-tapped conversations in 2012.

She is the second minister to step down from Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s shaky coalition government.

More corruption from Corriere della Sera:

Tax-dodging Magnate owned 1,243 Properties

  • Angiola Armellini, daughter of construction entrepreneur, under investigation for hiding more than €2.1 billion from tax authorities

From Rome’s glitzy jet-set and a two-storey penthouse a stone’s throw from the Vatican to an investigation by the prosecution service complete with financial police searches. Angiola Armellini, daughter of a surveyor who made a fortune covering the capital with 90,000 cubic metres of concrete, is alleged to have hidden 1,243 properties from the tax authorities. The buildings, of which 1,239 including three hotels are located in the municipality of Rome, are claimed to be worth €2.1 billion, including cash assets.

Public prosecutor Paolo Ielo entered Ms Armellini in the register of persons under investigation along with eleven nominees and accountants alleged to be complicit. Ms Armellini faces charges of criminal association, failure to submit tax returns and submitting fraudulent returns. Criminal association charges have also been brought against the accountants. Investigators calculate that the taxable base for the avoidance amounts to €190 million. City authorities also want to recover ICI property tax that was almost never paid. The bill could be €3.5 million for two years, a figure which multiplied by five – before that a time bar comes into play – becomes €17 million.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian crisis spreads, Latin American woes and protests, Aussie neooliberalism, Indian uncertainty, Bangla woes, Thai turmoil, Cambodian protests, Chinese financial uncertainty, Japanese wiseguy hopes, tarsands costs, fracking havoc, drought victims, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroEcoFukuFails


In line with the previous post, we begin today’s compendium of things economic, ecologic, and politic with the idiotic — another clueless quote from the very, very rich, this time via The Verge:

Kleiner Perkins founder says Silicon Valley elite are being treated like Jews in Nazi Germany

Tom Perkins, one of the co-founders of the Silicon Valley powerhouse venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, is afraid the next Kristallnacht — a night of violence against Jews before the start of World War II — will happen in the Bay Area.

Perkins, who is 81, perceives a “rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent” that mirrors the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, he says in a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal.

Class tensions in the San Francisco Bay Area recently flared up over the area’s skyrocketing rent and “Google buses,” private luxury coaches that shuttle wealthy tech workers to the office. Perkins specifically calls out the Occupy movement and the San Fransciso Chronicle for perpetuating anti-one percent rhetoric. This “progressive radicalism” is just like the fascist backlash against the Jews, Perkins argues.

On to the purely economic with a warning from CNBC:

US ‘out of ammunition’ to tackle economic ‘rut’: Phelps

The U.S. economy is in a “rut” and has been in stagnation since 1972, a Nobel Prize-winning economist told CNBC.

Edmund Phelps, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2006, said the U.S. government has run out of ideas about how to fix the economy.

“Governments have thrown all sorts of ammunition at it including concocting the housing boom. And we are kind of out of that ammunition and we have to dig deeper if we are going to get out of this rut,” Phelps told CNBC in a TV interview.

Reuters gives us another case of Banksters Behaving Badly, or so it’s claimed:

Exclusive: Bank of America’s trading practices have been probed, filing shows

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have both held investigations into whether Bank of America engaged in improper trading by doing its own futures trades ahead of executing large orders for clients, according to a regulatory filing.

The June 2013 disclosure, which Reuters recently reviewed on a website run by the securities industry regulator FINRA, sheds light on the basis for a warning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on January 8.

The warning, in the form of an intelligence bulletin to regulators and security officers at financial services firms, said that the FBI suspected swaps traders at an unnamed U.S. bank and an unnamed Canadian bank may have been involved in market manipulation and front running of orders from U.S. government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Reuters has since learned that Bank of America’s trading practices regarding Fannie and Freddie are the subject of probes, and that the investigations are ongoing.

From USA TODAY, cause for anxiety:

Why emerging markets worry Wall Street

The big bull market in U.S. stocks is confronted with an unexpected headwind: a fresh bout of financial turbulence in emerging markets.

Wall Street is a world away from Turkey and Argentina and the other developing economies dotting the globe. But recent news of financial tumult and plunging currencies in some emerging markets, coupled with bad memories of past crises over the past 20 years that began in Mexico, Asia and Russia, has imported a boatload of financial angst back to the United States.

Indeed, the great bull market on Wall Street has suddenly run into a stumbling block that few investment strategists were even talking about at the start of the year: swooning currencies and capital flight out of vulnerable emerging markets like Turkey and Argentina.

The financial turbulence, which is being greatly exacerbated by a slowdown in growth-engine China, has raised fears of a potential crisis that could inflict damage on these developing countries’ economies and perhaps infect other nations as well. That lethal combination could ultimately crimp earnings of U.S. multinationals. It could also prompt investors to dump risky assets, a response that already seems to be underway.

Bloomberg admonishes:

BlackRock’s Fink Warns of ‘Too Much Optimism’ in Markets

BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Laurence D. Fink warned there is “way too much optimism” in financial markets as he predicted repeats of the market turmoil that roiled investors this week.

“The experience of the marketplace this past week is going to be indicative of this entire year,” Fink, 61, told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. “We’re going to be in a world of much greater volatility.”

Fink, who runs the world’s largest asset manager, spoke after a selloff in emerging markets that was triggered by concern about China’s economic growth and the Federal Reserve’s tapering of its monetary stimulus later this year. The MSCI World Index slid the most this week in five months.

The London Telegraph chimes in from on high:

Emerging market rout turns serious, punctures exuberance in Davos

  • IMF’s deputy-director says the Fund is watching the violent gyrations around the world “very carefully”

The worst emerging market rout in five years has raised fresh fears of global contagion, puncturing the mood of exuberance at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff sought to reassure investors that this week’s currency collapse in Argentina would not spread to the Brazilian real, insisting that all contracts would be honoured and that foreign funds would be “treated well”.

“Today, the stability of our currency is a central value of our country,” she said. The real has weakened by 20pc against the dollar this year, breaking through the crucial line of 2.40 in trading on Friday.

The IMF’s deputy-director, Min Zhu, said in Davos that the Fund is watching the violent gyrations around the world “very carefully”, saying the effect of bond tapering by the US Federal Reserve is causing global liquidity to dry up.

Another ominous warning, this time from The Guardian:

ILO warns young hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise

  • International Labour Organisation says firms are increasing payouts to shareholders rather than investing in new workers

The world could face years of jobless economic recovery, with young people set to be hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise this year, a report from the International Labour Organisation warns.

As the World Economic Forum kicks off in the Swiss town of Davos on Wednesday with a focus on growing inequality, the ILO has highlighted a “potentially dangerous gap between profits and people”.

The UN agency forecasts millions more people will join the ranks of the unemployed as companies choose to increase payouts to shareholders rather than invest their burgeoning profits in new workers.

And from Jiji Press, more job killing pushed for the fast-track:

Japan, U.S. Confirm Cooperation for Early TPP Accord

Japanese Minster of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman agreed Saturday that the two countries will continue cooperation in helping conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks as early as possible, Motegi told reporters after the meeting.

At the meeting held in the Swiss resort of Davos, Motegi called on the U.S. side to show flexibility for the early conclusion of the trade talks among 12 countries.

Froman responded by saying that both Washington and Tokyo should flex their muscle, according to Motegi.

On to Europe and bankster wishes from the Irish Times:

Draghi favours quick break in link between sovereign and bank debt

  • Leaders have taken euro out of crisis despite end-of-the-world scenarios, says Schäuble

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi told global leaders in Davos yesterday he favoured an “accelerated time line” in breaking the link between euro area sovereign and bank debt.

Despite a “largely positive” economic outlook for 2014, he warned of a punishing market reaction if euro countries rolled back their reforms.

Discussing a European banking union to oversee and wind up banks, Mr Draghi said struggling institutions could access public money after bailing in creditors.

BBC News misses the number:

Davos 2014: Eurozone inflation ‘way below target’

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that deflation remains a real risk to economic recovery in the eurozone.

Despite signs of recovery across the world, Christine Lagarde said that potential risks must not be ignored. One of these was the fact that eurozone inflation, at 0.8%, remained “way below” the 2% target set by the European Central Bank (ECB).

She was speaking on the final day of the World Economic Forum, in Davos.

On to Britain and more austerian misery from The Independent:

‘Bedroom tax’ and benefits cuts draining councils’ emergency funds

  • Authorities had been forced to dip into funds allocated to other services to cope with the surge in numbers of households appealing for help

Councils have been hit by a dramatic increase in requests for emergency financial help from people struggling to make ends meet following the introduction of the “bedroom tax” and other cuts to benefits.

More than 200,000 contacted their town halls in the six months after the latest benefits squeeze came into effect, the Local Government Association has estimated.

It also said that many authorities had been forced to dip into funds allocated to other services to cope with the surge in numbers of households appealing for help.

The parliamentary outs long for the good old days, via RT:

UK shadow govt eyes reintroducing 50% tax rate for top earners

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls says Labour will reintroduce the 50 percent tax rate for people earning over £150,000. This comes as part of an election vow, together with promises to balance the government’s books and to clear the budget deficit.

A promise to bring back the tax on bank bonuses and reduce pension tax relief for the highest earners came in a speech to the Fabian Society Balls delivered on Saturday. However, he admitted that these measures would not be enough to balance the books.

“And when the deficit is still high, when tough times are set to last well into next parliament, when for ordinary families their real incomes are falling and taxes have risen, it cannot be right for David Cameron and George Osborne to have chosen to give the richest people in the country a huge tax cut,” he said.

The last Labour government, under Gordon Brown, raised the upper tax band from 40% to 50% in response to the recession in 2010, but the coalition cut it back to 45% in April 2013.

And from the Lancashire Telegraph, expressive downsizing:

Thwaites sign leaves Blackburn brewery bosses redfaced

BREWERY bosses were left red faced when their iconic lighted sign was turned into a profanity.

Some of the Thwaites Brewery letters atop the Blackburn building fell into darkness as people left town centre shops and offices last night.

With just the words H, I and E blacked out, the embarassing message was broadcast to the entire town.

It comes after news this week that the brewery is to axe up to 60 jobs.

The sign in question, via Nothing to do with Abroath [and, yeah, th word’s sexist, but there were just those letters to work with, so we’ll give a pass and a smile]:

BLOG Twat

On to Sweden and a refreshing note from CBC News:

Bastion of tolerance, Sweden opens wide for Syria’s refugees

  • Asylum offer testing Swedes’ patience, but forcing Europe to respond

On the northern fringes of Europe, Sweden has offered its hand to more Syrian refugees than any other Western nation, granting those who make it here permanent residency. And while its generosity has caused some tensions on the home front, including a modest rise in the anti-immigrant right, that has not stopped the Swedish government from lobbying its European counterparts to open their doors as well.

By way of contrast, here’s how Carlos Latuff sees the immigration policies of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras:

Samaras’ anti-immigration policy

Samaras’ anti-immigration policy

From Deutsche Welle, fighting the right:

Demonstrations against Viennese right-wing ball turn violent

  • Several protesters have been arrested during protests against a ball in Vienna that is a traditional venue for right-wing figures. Police reported a number of arrests and cases of vandalism.

Police in the Austrian capital, Vienna, say they arrested about a dozen people on Friday evening after initially peaceful protests, involving some 6,000 demonstrators, against the so-called Academics Ball (Akademikerball) in the city’s Hofburg palace turned violent.

“We have several arrests and also injured police officers,” a police spokeswoman said. Police also reported damage to storefronts and at least one police vehicle.

Police closed off large sections of the inner city ahead of the ball, which forms the focus for left-wing protests every year. Parts of the area were also closed to journalists, a move that drew criticism from Austrian news organizations as limiting media freedom.

On to Paris and holding steady with TheLocal.fr:

Moody’s maintains French debt rating

Moody’s held its French credit rating at Aa1 Friday but maintained a negative outlook, days after President Francois Hollande announced a batch of business-friendly measures to fire up growth.

The US agency affirmed the bond rating one notch below the top AAA rating.

Moody’s voiced scepticism about the reforms Hollande announced earlier this month, a “responsibility pact” which includes lowering labour taxes in exchanges for fresh hiring by companies.

“The implementation and efficacy of these policy initiatives are complicated by the persistence of long-standing rigidities in labour, goods and services markets as well as the social and political tensions the government is facing,” the agency said in a statement.

But the London Telegraph sounds an alarm with a backhanded compliment:

France could destroy the euro, says Christopher Pissarides

  • Nobel laureate believes the ability of France to reform will decide the eurozone’s fate

France could destroy the euro if the government’s gamble on supply side reforms fails to pull the economy out of its chronic malaise, Nobel laureate Sir Christopher Pissarides has warned.

Sir Christopher, who won the the 2010 Nobel Prize for economics, said the ability of Europe’s second largest economy to implement sweeping changes would decide the fate of the single currency.

He warned French president Francois Hollande’s special blend of “supply-side socialism” would leave the fragile economy vulnerable to shocks for several years.

A more upbeat take from Independent.ie:

Schaeuble ‘very optimistic’ on France economy after Hollande plans

GERMAN Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said today that he was optimistic France would emerge stronger once it implements the economic reforms announced last week by President Francois Hollande.

“France is and remains a strong country and France will make the right decisions,” Schaeuble said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in response to a question about whether Germany’s neighbour had done enough to bolster its struggling economy.

“We’ve seen that the French president has made the necessary decisions and I think it is the right path,” Schaeuble added. “I am very optimistic that the role of France will be strengthened through this and that we can bring Europe forward together.”

And from FRANCE 24, wiseguys on the farm:

Organised crime targets French countryside

On January 21, French gendarmes broke up a highly specialised international criminal organization. It wasn’t robbing armoured cars, luxury jewelry stores in Place Vendôme or tourists on the Paris Métro – it was stealing tractors.

The gang had mainly targeted dealerships for John Deere farm machinery, later selling the stolen tractors in Germany, Hungary and Romania.

The robbery that led to the network’s undoing occurred on the night of November 2-3, 2012, when three tractors were stolen from a farm machinery dealership in Haute-Vienne in the centre of France. Despite the apparently unusual nature of the crime, the local police quickly realized that this was not an isolated phenomenon. They suspected the existence of a criminal organization, and passed the case to the gendarmerie’s Central Office for the Fight against Itinerant Crime, which uncovered a network of international scope.

Off to Spain and business as usual from El País:

Tech giants taunt the taxman

  • Major US technology groups paid Spain’s revenue agency just 1.2 million euros in 2012
  • Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay and others use fiscal engineering to avoid payments

All the major US technology groups continue to dodge the Spanish taxman. The fiscal engineering tactics developed by their advisors allow them to pay hardly any tax on their business operations in Spain. Financial data for the main Spanish affiliates of Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft show that their joint provisions for tax on profits in 2012 — the last year for which figures are available — was just 1,251,608 euros. That’s to say: 1.2 million in taxes among seven giants of the industry.

This aggregate figure is not taken from their tax filings but from their annual accounts, which must be deposited at the Spanish Business Register, and which reflect the money that the companies provision in a given year for tax on profits.

This aggregate figure conceals the fact that some companies paid taxes while others claimed tax credits or deferred tax payments after incurring losses. The accounting provisions may slightly differ from the actual tax filings because of timing issues.

thinkSPAIN departs:

Exodus of foreign residents from Spain rises 13-fold in one year

FOREIGN residents in Spain who have left the country due to lack of work have multiplied in number by 13 in the last year, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

By the end of 2011, a total of 15,229 non-Spaniards had returned to their countries of origin or moved to other nations altogether due to being unable to find a job – but by the end of 2012, this number had grown to 190,020.

Figures for 2013 will not be known until this time next year.

And El País looks for help from above:

Saint “might help Spain out of crisis,” says interior minister

  • Jorge Fernández Díaz says he is convinced 16th-century nun is “interceding”

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz on Friday disclosed the existence of a previously unknown factor that might help Spain pull out of its deep economic crisis.

Speaking at the tourism fair FITUR in Madrid, Fernández Díaz said he was convinced that Saint Teresa of Ávila, the 16th-century nun, is “interceding” for Spain “during these harsh times.”

The revelatory statement was part of the presentation of “Huellas de Santa Teresa” (or, Traces of Saint Teresa), a project to celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth through a tour of 17 cities where the saint established outposts for the Discalced Carmelites, a branch of the Carmelites that she founded.

While thinkSPAIN downsizes:

Coca-Cola staff facing redundancy go on strike

STAFF at the four Coca-Cola factories due to be shut down in Spain have gone on an ‘indefinite’ strike after hearing the firm planned to axe 1,250 jobs.

The plants in Fuenlabrada (Madrid), Alicante, Palma de Mallorca and Colloto (Asturias) are set to go at the end of February and 500 employees will be relocated whilst the rest will join the dole queue.

A series of demonstrations are planned by the Fuenlabrada workers, and it is expected staff from the other three plants will join in.

The company, Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, is financially healthy, but wants to ‘consolidate’ its operations by centralising production more ‘to improve efficiency’.

After the jump, the Greek crisis continues, Ukrainian compromise, Indian economic woes and cola wars, Thai elections, Singapore in a sling, Chinese inflation and austerity, Japanese bankster profits, toxic microbeads in California water, tar sands pushes, purple GMNO tomatoes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

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: EconoEuroGrecoSinoFuku


We begin today’s coverage of things economic, political, and environmental with a global focus, starting with this from The Guardian:

ILO warns young hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise

  • International Labour Organisation says firms are increasing payouts to shareholders rather than investing in new workers

The world could face years of jobless economic recovery, with young people set to be hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise this year, a report from the International Labour Organisation warns.

As the World Economic Forum kicks off in the Swiss town of Davos on Wednesday with a focus on growing inequality, the ILO has highlighted a “potentially dangerous gap between profits and people”.

The UN agency forecasts millions more people will join the ranks of the unemployed as companies choose to increase payouts to shareholders rather than invest their burgeoning profits in new workers.

Intellectual property idiocy from Vanity Fair:

The Word “Candy” is Basically Owned by Candy Crush Now

Candy Crush Saga—which should really be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for providing the world’s population with a way to occupy itself while waiting for friends to show up at restaurants—made some waves yesterday when its maker, the company King, announced it had trademarked the word “candy.” Yes, this is an effort on King’s part to protect the absurdly popular game—the top-downloaded free app and highest-revenue grossing app in 2013—from any “intellectual property infringements.”

They’ve successfully received a trademark from the European Union related to the use of the word “candy” for computer games, but also—much less intuitively—in the realms of clothing and footwear.

CNBC shuts it down:

A ‘tsunami’ of store closings expected to hit retail

On Tuesday, Sears said that it will shutter its flagship store in downtown Chicago in April. It’s the latest of about 300 store closures in the U.S. that Sears has made since 2010. The news follows announcements earlier this month of multiple store closings from major department stores J.C. Penney and Macy’s.

Further signs of cuts in the industry came Wednesday, when Target said that it will eliminate 475 jobs worldwide, including some at its Minnesota headquarters, and not fill 700 empty positions.

Experts said these headlines are only the tip of the iceberg for the industry, which is set to undergo a multiyear period of shuttering stores and trimming square footage.

Gendered joblessness from International Business Times:

More US Women Have Been Jobless For More Than Six Months Than In 2007; Overall The U.S. Has More Than Double The Long-Term Unemployed

It’s been over four and a half years since the official end of the longest period of economic contraction since the Great Depression, but there are still more long-term unemployed, job-seeking Americans than there were in 2007. And the situation is worse for women, according to a study released Wednesday from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, which studies the effect of community development on vulnerable children, youth and families.

“We’re seeing a growing proportion of females among the long-term unemployed,” said Andrew Shaefer, doctoral candidate at the university’s Department of Sociology and author of the study, which analyzes data from the official Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Wire keeps it:

Cash-Hoarding Companies Are Hurting the Economic Recovery

Roughly one-third of the world’s largest non-financial companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, are hoarding $2.8 trillion in unspent cash, preventing much-needed funds from entering the global economy and stalling our recovery from the 2008 recession.

The Financial Times reports that a Deloitte analysis found 32 percent of non-financial companies listed in the S&P Global 1200 index are holding 82 percent of the total unspent cash — a level of reserves not seen since 2000. According to FT, the study emerges as companies face pressure to spend:

An influential survey of fund managers conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch released on Tuesday showed a record 58 per cent of investors polled want companies’ cash piles spent on capex [capital expenditures]. A record 67 per cent said companies were “underinvesting” and less than a third of asset managers surveyed want companies to return more money to shareholders – the usual complaint of investors.

These companies have been carefully stowing money away since the economic collapse, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do if you care about growing the economy.

Countering Tea Party dogma via Bloomberg:

San Francisco’s Higher Minimum Wage Hasn’t Hurt the Economy

San Francisco is often ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to protecting public health and the environment. The city was the first to ban plastic bags in stores, it is considering one of the most restrictive bans on the sale of bottled water, and smoking bans have spread from public parks and entry ways to all public events. San Francisco even banned the free toys in McDonald’s (MCD) Happy Meals.

San Francisco was also one of the first cities to increase the minimum wage beyond the federal level and mandate better benefits for low-income workers. The wage increase went into effect in 2004, long before the notion of one percenters and the recent wave of wage protests by fast-food and retail workers. And now everyone from President Obama to Fox News star Bill O’Reilly is talking about raising the federal minimum wage.

For those who need more evidence, a new book hopes to persuade them. When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level argues that San Francisco’s decision to increase the minimum wage and offer other benefits, such as sick leave pay, hasn’t hurt the city’s economy at all. The three editors—all labor experts—found that from 2004 to 2011 overall private employment grew 5.6 percent in San Francisco and 3 percent in Santa Clara County. Other Bay Area counties saw an overall 4.4 percent drop during that time. Among food-service workers, who are more likely to be affected by minimum-wage laws, employment grew 17.7 percent in San Francisco, faster than either of the other Bay Area counties.

North of the border and the fall of the Canadian dollar from the Globe and Mail:

Loonie’s plunge deepens as Poloz ponders weak inflation

The Bank of Canada’s angst over low inflation sent the dollar into a nosedive, but Governor Stephen Poloz says a cheaper currency is simply the “icing on the cake” for an economy that will be driven by stronger U.S. growth.

The bank gave no signal on future interest rate moves as it kept its key overnight rate unchanged at 1 per cent, where it has been since September, 2010, and maintained its official neutral stance on the direction of its next move. But the bank’s language about inflation and currency caused the loonie to drop sharply.

How to sustain the world’s recovery from financial crisis is the focus as delegates gather for this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. As Joanna Partridge reports there’s an air of confidence around the Swiss ski resort this year.

“We are more concerned about low inflation today than we were three months ago,” Mr. Poloz explained to reporters after the central bank’s first rate announcement of 2014. The bank said in its monetary policy report that it still views the dollar as strong enough to “pose competitiveness challenges for Canada’s non-commodity exports.”

Trans-Atlantic anxieties from TheLocal.de:

Food industry warns over EU-US trade pact

Food industry professionals meeting in Berlin have voiced concerns over a looming US-EU free trade pact, fearing a transatlantic onslaught of genetically modified foods, hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken.

Small farmers in particular worry about a softening of European food safety standards and a joint “race to the bottom” if liberalised trade rules pit them against American agro-industry giants and food multinationals.

Others concerned, too, via Spiegel:

Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?

Opposition to the planned new trans-Atlantic free trade agreement is growing. So far, criticism has focused on the fact that the deal seems directed exclusively at economic interests. Now fears are growing that corporations will be given too much power.

The negotiating partners enthusiastically extol the increase in prosperity the trade agreement would create. The pact, which would be the world’s largest, would cover 800 million people and almost one-third of global trade. US President Barack Obama has spoken of the creation “hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.” The European Commission has calculated it would spur the EU economy by €120 billion ($162.5 billion).

Nevertheless, there are plenty of skeptics to be found. After the third round of negotiations, an unusually broad alliance of anti-globalization groups, NGOs, environmental and consumer protection groups, civil rights groups and organized labor is joining forces to campaign against TTIP.

Alarm bells ringing from the London Telegraph:

Crippled eurozone to face fresh debt crisis this year, warns ex-ECB strongman Axel Weber

Ex-Bundesbank head Axel Weber expects fresh market attacks on eurozone this year and economist Kenneth Rogoff says the euro was a “giant historic mistake”

Axel Weber, the former head of the German Bundesbank, said the underlying disorder continues to fester and region is likely to face a fresh market attack this year.

“Europe is under threat. I am still really concerned. Markets have improved but the economic situation for most countries has not improved,” he said that the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mr Weber, now chairman of UBS, said the European Central Bank’s stress test for banks in November risks setting off a new sovereign debt scare, reviving the crisis in the Mediterranean countries.

More worries via BBC News:

Economic recovery in Europe is not over, bosses say

Top leaders at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos have warned Europe is not fully out of recession.

They called for a more flexible labour market and a focus on innovation, technology and trade to stop Europe falling behind the US and China.

Axel Weber, chairman at UBS, said after a crisis it was natural to want to “look on the bright side”, but that such excitement was “too one sided”.

He said Europe’s recovery was “lacklustre and uneven”.

TheLocal.ch plays semantics:

Europe called ‘emerging country’ at Davos

Top bosses and economists warned the global elite on Wednesday not to get over-excited by a gradual economic upturn in Europe, which one chief executive branded an “emerging country.”

While the mood of doom surrounding the eurozone that stalked Davos at the height of the crisis has abated, staggering rates of youth unemployment and sluggish growth are still battering Europe, delegates heard.

Christophe de Margerie, head of French energy giant Total, said: “Don’t take it as being provocative (but) I think Europe should be reclassified as an emerging country.”

The Guardian deprives:

Shorter lifespans among poor costing Europe trillions

  • Report reveals that avoidable cost of health inequalities is now greater than most European nations’ combined GDP

European nations face an annual bill of more than €1.3tn (£1.1tn) as the lives of the poorest in society are shortened through illness and disability, a EU report claims. New figures show that the “avoidable cost of health inequalities” is greater than most European nations’ GDP, and the report warns that “ignoring the social, economic and health costs of health inequalities will risk economic recovery”.

The study reveals that losses in labour productivity cost the continent €141bn, and premature deaths another €1.3tn – greater than the economies of 24 EU nations. By comparison, the UK’s economy, the third biggest in Europe, was worth €1.9tn.

On to Britain with BBC News:

UK unemployment rate drops to 7.1%

The UK unemployment rate has dropped to 7.1%, close to the point at which the Bank of England has said it will consider raising interest rates.

The number of people out of work fell by 167,000 to 2.32 million in the three months to November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The ONS also said the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 24,000 to 1.25 million in December.

Reining in from Europe Online:

EU can curb short-selling, court says following British complaint

The European Union can intervene to curb short-selling in certain situations, the bloc’s top court ruled Wednesday, rejecting a British complaint over the measure.

The ruling confirms the powers granted to the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in 2012 to intervene in EU financial markets to curb short-selling in cases of serious financial instability.

In short-selling, traders attempt to make money by betting that an asset’s value will fall.

The law was introduced in the wake of the EU’s financial crisis, when short-selling was blamed for contributing to a freefall in European banks’ share prices. But Britain, which has a strong financial sector, opposed the law and took the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Numbers rising from DutchNews.nl:

Unemployment rises to 8.5%, 100,000 joined the jobless ranks in 2013

The Dutch unemployment rate rose to 8.5% in December, an increase of 0.3 percentage point on November.

In 2013 as a whole, the jobless total rose by 100,000 to 668,000, the national statistics office CBS says. The number of unemployment benefit claims rose nearly 29% in December, compared with the year earlier period and 4.5% month on month.

Calculated according to the International Labour Organisation definition, the Dutch unemployment rate is now 7%.

And another Dutch alarm from DutchNews.nl:

More people are falling behind on paying their bills

Some 740,000 people are registered as having debt repayment problems at the credit registration agency BKR, following a 20,000 increase over the past six months.

‘Divorce and unemployment in particular have boosted the number of consumers with problems paying their bills,’ director Peter van den Bosch said in a statement.

The BKR registers loans provided by banks and other credit firms. Of the 8.6 million people in the register, 8.6% are at least two months behind in their payments.

TheLocal.de cozies up:

Germany and France commit to closer ties

Germany and France are to strengthen ties by co-operating more on foreign policy and adopting a unified stance in EU negotiations, it emerged following a meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers on Tuesday.

The two foreign ministers used Tuesday’s talks to breathe new life into bilateral ties after Europe’s financial crisis exposed major differences in approach to budgetary discipline and growth.

“We must take advantage of the situation: France and Germany both have three years ahead of them without any national elections,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.

Fabius also indicated that the countries would co-operate more closely in economic and defence policy, as we well as on tackling climate change.

On to France and the comeback kind from The Guardian:

Nicolas Sarkozy plans 2017 comeback

  • Bernadette Chirac says former French president will run against man who ousted him, François Hollande, at next election

That Nicolas Sarkozy is contemplating his comeback is hardly a secret in France.

Now one of the former president’s most high-profile supporters and confidantes, the former first lady Bernadette Chirac, has confirmed Sarkozy is planning a return to the political fray.

France 24 carries on:

Hollande gets popularity boost after affair revelations

Far from taking a hit, French President François Hollande’s popularity seems to have been boosted – albeit by a slender margin – since revelations surfaced he was having an affair with an actress 18 years his junior.

The latest survey, by the BVA polling institute, gave him 31 percent approval, up from 26 percent in October, the lowest popularity rating for a French president in modern times.

The BVA poll was conducted on January 16 and 17 – a full week after the story broke in a French gossip magazine that Hollande was seeing 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet.

TheLocal.es hustles:

‘Spaniards are taking our jobs’: French builders

French builders claim Spanish companies are stealing work from them, paying lower wages and cutting corners to win construction contracts.

“The Spanish have much lower wages so they can always undercut us,” Patrick La Carrere, head of the builders’ federation in southwest France told business site Bloomberg recently.

Minimum wages in France are now almost double that of Spain’s (€1,445, or $1960, a month against €753).

And with the Spanish fleeing their own construction slump and an unemployment rate of 27.6 percent, France is facing an influx of Spanish construction companies.

Reuters anticipates:

Analysis: Hardest yet to come for France’s Hollande on reforms

French President Francois Hollande has won cautious backing from Berlin, Brussels and financial markets for a centrist reform push that could be his last chance to get the euro zone’s second largest economy motoring.

A week after his January 14 announcement, it is not clear how and when he will pull off the public spending and tax cuts at the heart of the plan. It is also uncertain whether French business will play ball with his goal of cutting unemployment.

Moreover, the new determination to cut taxes opens a whole new Pandora’s box: the question of whether Paris will bring its public deficit into line with EU targets next year as promised.

And a denial from France 24:

McDonald’s denies evading French taxes

McDonald’s has denied a report by French weekly L’Express that claims the US fast-food giant transferred profits abroad to evade French taxes.

According to the report, published in the French magazine’s Wednesday edition, McDonald’s has transferred 2.2 billion euros to foreign tax havens since 2009.

L’Express, quoting French tax officials, says the money was sent to subsidiaries in Luxemburg and Switzerland “thereby evading VAT and corporate taxes in France”.

In a statement published on Tuesday, shortly after the report was leaked to the French press, McDonald’s acknowledged that French tax authorities had searched its offices in the Paris suburb of Guyancourt in October, but denied any wrongdoing.

TheLocal.fr eases up:

Abortion: French MPs vote to relax legislation

France headed in the opposite direction of Spain on Tuesday when lawmakers voted to relax the legislation around abortion, effectively making it easier for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

French lawmakers gave the green light on Tuesday to a change in the country’s abortion laws that will please certain women’s rights campaigners but has angered some critics on the political right.

The National Assembly voted late in the night to pass a key amendment to the current legislation, which states that the woman must prove that having a baby would put her “in a situation of distress” before she can terminate the pregnancy. Lawmakers voted to delete the notion of having to prove “distress”, which critics argued was archaic, meaning it will now be down to the woman’s choice.

On to Spain and agony prolonged from El País:

Olli Rehn: “It will take 10 years to fix the Spanish crisis”

  • EU economic commissioner denies he is an austerity hawk
  • “In the North, it’s the opposite; I’m considered too soft”

The European Union commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, denied he was a hawk in terms of the fiscal consolidation programs imposed in Spain and other countries in the southern periphery of the euro zone and claimed that these programs had served their purpose, which was to restore investor confidence in those countries.

In an interview with EL PAÍS a day before Spain formally exited on Thursday the some 41-billion-euro European bailout program to clean up its banking system, Rehn, a Finn, said he did not see himself as the “king of spending cuts.”

Deutsche Welle diagnoses:

Spain logs alarming jobless rate as it exits bailout program

Fresh data have shown Spain is emerging only haltingly from a long recession. The fourth-largest eurozone economy saw its jobless rate rising again at the end of 2013, but that won’t stop its exit from a bailout package.

Spain’s unemployment rate rose to 26.03 percent in the final quarter of 2013, up from 25.98 percent in the previous three months, the national statistic institute INE reported Thursday.

The deterioration, albeit a minor one, spoiled a central bank report on a 0.3-percent economic expansion in the same quarter.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Spain faced five more years with jobless rates topping 25 percent unless it enacted yet more reforms, also with a view to helping firms slash wages rather than cutting jobs.

El País retreats:

Rajoy looking for consensus on “sensitive issue” of abortion

  • Justice chief Gallardón goes on the attack against Socialists
  • But prime minister promises to hear out all sectors of society

The long-awaited debate in Congress over the government’s controversial abortion reform got underway Wednesday during a heated session in which Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón accused the opposition Socialists of taking a “selfish” stand against the planned changes.

Gallardón, the architect of the measure, stunned many members of the Socialist bench when he told them that because they didn’t recognize a fetus’ right to life, this could also lead them to not recognize the right to life of the living.

On to Italy and the Bunga Bunga tale de jour from BBC News:

Berlusconi ‘witness tampering’ inquiry in Ruby trial

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to be investigated for alleged witness-tampering in an underage prostitution trial.

He and his lawyers are accused of meeting the female witnesses to discuss the evidence they would give.

Berlusconi was convicted last year of paying for sex with an underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”.

Sounds like New Jersey, via EUobserver:

EU-funded project in Italy suspected of mafia links

Three NGOs on Wednesday (22 January) filed an official complaint with the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, demanding an investigation into an EU-sponsored motorway in Italy, where construction firms are suspected of fraud and infiltration by the mafia.

The project at stake is the Passante di Mestre motorway – a bypass around the northern Italian city of Mestre, just across the bay from Venice. Last year, it received a loan of €350 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to refinance the debt accumulated by the project since its start, in 2003.

Initially budgeted at €750 million, the motorway has faced delays and the cost has almost doubled to €1.3 billion.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Ukrainian deaths, a Lenin departure, Aussie stagflation anxieties, Thai troubles, Chinese neoliberal moves, European fracking deregulated, poisoned rivers, vast tracts of Chinese farmland polluted, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II EuroGrecoSinoFuku


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

BLOG Fukuzilla

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

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

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

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

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

CNBC dons rose-colored glasses:

Bill Gates: There will be no poor countries by 2035

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

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

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

TheLocal.ch parties hearty:

‘Horizontal trade’ looks to upswing at Davos meet

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

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

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

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

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

The housing recovery leaves America separate and unequal, once again

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

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

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

The Hill anticipates:

Supreme Court case could destroy pillar of union power

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

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

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

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

Dust finally settling from the Oakland Tribune:

California foreclosures plunge to eight-year low

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

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

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

San Francisco Chronicle-ing class warfare:

Protesters block tech buses before SFMTA meeting

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

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

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

Un-Like-ing via Vocativ:

Facebook May Lose 80% of Its User Base by 2017

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

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

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

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

Dodgy dodging from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

Jiji Press embraces the darkness:

Japan, US Agree on Effort for Early TPP Deal

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

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

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

While Deutsche Welle displays rare reserve:

EU freezes part of transatlantic trade negotiations with US

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

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

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

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

Monetary impoverishment from the London Telegraph:

Euro ‘increasing unemployment and social hardship’, says EC

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

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

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

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

Reuters examines the odds:

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

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle alerts:

EU sounds alarm on poverty among working-age people

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

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

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

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

Reuters bubbles:

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

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

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

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

Austerian fruits from the London Telegraph:

Lottery of NHS drugs punishes the dying

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

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

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

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

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

Inflationary death from RT:

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

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

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

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

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

Christian GPs want right to refuse the coil

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

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

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

Sweden next, and state secrets from TheLocal.se:

Government to seal lid on secret donations

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

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

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

France 24 and that ol’ hard times intolerance:

Poll finds xenophobia on the rise in France

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

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

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

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

RFI hooks up:

Peugeot shares plunge as Dongfeng tie-up announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police put their number at 16,000.

And on to Spain, first with El País:

Actual retirement age in Spain rises due to new labor restrictions

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gives ‘em the business:

Hard times? Spain’s elite richer than ever

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

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

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

El País optimizes:

IMF triples its growth forecast for the Spanish economy

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN gets together over getting together:

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

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

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

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

And from the Associated Press, no homage for Catalonia:

Spain PM: No secession referendum for Catalonia

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

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

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

Portugal next, and lethal austerianism from the Portugal News:

Waiting room woes

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

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

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

Italy next, and lethal intent from TheLocal.it:

Sicilian mafia boss orders judges’ murder

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

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

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

ANSAmed impoverishes:

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

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

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

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

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

And TheLocal.it has Bunga Bunga disgust:

Top Italian leftist resigns after Berlusconi deal

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroEcoFuku


Today’s coverage of economics, politics, and the environment commences with a headline from the New York Times:

Patients’ Costs Skyrocket; Specialists’ Incomes Soar

Specialists earn an average of two and often four times as much as primary care physicians in the United States, a differential that far surpasses that in all other developed countries, according to Miriam Laugesen, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. That earnings gap has deleterious effects: Only an estimated 25 percent of new physicians end up in primary care, at the very time that health policy experts say front-line doctors are badly needed, according to Dr. Christine Sinsky, an Iowa internist who studies physician satisfaction. In fact, many pediatricians and general doctors in private practice say they are struggling to survive.

Studies show that more specialists mean more tests and more expensive care. “It may be better to wait and see, but waiting doesn’t make you money,” said Jean Mitchell, a professor of health economics at Georgetown University. “It’s ‘Let me do a little snip of tissue’ and then they get professional, lab and facility fees. Each patient is like an ATM machine.”

Booming business from The Wire:

The Denver Broncos’ Playoff Run Has Been Good for Legal Pot Sales

The New England Patriots were warned by head coach Bill Belichick about avoiding the temptation of legal marijuana in Colorado ahead of their big game against the Denver Broncos tomorrow. Patriots fans, on the other hand, seem to be having a blast.

That this year’s NFL postseason has overlapped with both the historic legalization of marijuana in Colorado and a deep playoff run by the Denver Broncos—who earned home-field advantage this season—is a kind coincidence. One result: A happy marriage between football tourism and pot tourism.

According to reports, marijuana shops have been enjoying the crush of out-of-town visitors who, football loyalties notwithstanding, have been embracing Colorado’s new policies. Justin Staley, who owns a shop near the stadium, claims to have hosted hundreds of San Diego Charger fans last week when the Chargers were in town to square off against the Denver Broncos.

The Guardian blows smoke:

Obama says marijuana is a bad habit but minorities are unfairly punished

  • ‘I don’t think it’s more dangerous than alcohol’ says president
  • Colorado and Washington have decriminalised pot use

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he is quoted as saying in a New Yorker magazine article. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

The president said he has told his two daughters that smoking marijuana is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy”.

However, he said he is concerned that marijuana-related arrests fall far more heavily on minorities than on others. Legalisation of pot should go forward in the states of Colorado and Washington because “it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished,” he said.

A ray of sunshine from the Miami Herald:

Florida Legislature may back in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Across the Atlantic to Britain with New Europe:

UK wants to impose new ban on Bulgarian, Romanian workers

Workers from Bulgaria and Romania finally have the right to enjoy one of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union – the right to work and to claim unemployment benefits in any EU country – thanks to a lift on a ban that was put in place when the countries joined the EU in 2007. But this could soon change.

According to the UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, his government is working with several other European governments (Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland) to delay the entitlement of benefits that Bulgarian and Romanian workers can claim when they move from one EU member state to another.

In an interview with the Sunday Times last week, Duncan Smith said the UK is concerned about what he called “benefit tourism” despite a new three-month ban recently imposed by the UK to new EU immigrants.

According to Duncan Smith, there is “a growing groundswell of concern about the [immigration] issue” and Britain is “right in the middle of a large group of nations saying enough is enough”.

The Independent gets real:

Exclusive: ‘Police corruption cannot be eliminated’ admits head of special Met unit following Independent stories

Corruption inside law enforcement agencies is impossible to eliminate, according to the man charged with tackling malpractice inside Scotland Yard.

Detective Chief Superintendent Alaric Bonthron, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Professional Standards Unit, told The Independent the threat from organised crime groups infiltrating the force is “very challenging”. However, he denied the Yard still suffered from the “endemic police corruption” outlined in the leaked report from Operation Tiberius in 2002, extracts of which have been revealed by this newspaper.

The document disclosed that some of Britain’s most notorious crime syndicates were able to infiltrate the Met “at will”, leading to compromised murder investigations, leaks of intelligence and covert informants being identified.

Germany next, and a downturn from BBC News:

Deutsche Bank reports surprise loss as legal costs mount

Deutsche Bank has reported a surprise loss for the fourth quarter of 2013, after releasing its latest results before they were expected.

Overall Deutsche said it posted a pre-tax loss of 1.153bn euros for the final quarter of 2013. The bank said that litigation costs and restructuring had weighed heavily on its financial performance.

Litigation costs mounted up to 623m euros (£950m) for the period, while revenue fell 16%.

And on to Spain with a rebuff from El País:

Catalonia’s plea to endorse independence falls on deaf ears abroad

  • Region’s network of foreign delegations fails to recruit supporters for the cause
  • US headquarters moved from New York to Washington in bid to ramp up campaign

The Catalan government’s drive to find international support for its sovereignty plan is running into a wall of silence and rejection. The nationalist premier, Artur Mas of the CiU coalition, needs such endorsement if he finally decides to hold a referendum without permission from Madrid, where the central authorities are arguing that it would be unconstitutional.

That is why Catalonia’s network of foreign delegations has been working double shifts to seek allies in Brussels, France, Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

But so far, the independence drive has met with little sympathy abroad, where silence has been the most common response — so much so that when European Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso merely acknowledged receipt of a letter from Mas on the issue, the Catalan government hailed it as a resounding success.

TheLocal.es gives in:

Spanish mayor scraps protest-hit street works

The mayor of Spain’s northern city of Burgos on Friday scrapped a costly street redevelopment that sparked a week of spreading protests and scattered violence.

“It is physically impossible to carry out this reform and we have decided to halt the works indefinitely in favour of harmony in the city,” Mayor Javier Lacalle told a news conference.

Thousands of protesters around the country turned out in sympathy with the demonstrators in Burgos, many of them denouncing corruption and Spain’s 26-percent unemployment rate.

From thinkSPAIN, that old time religion:

MEPs slam Spain’s abortion reform as ‘patriarchal’ and ‘fundamentalist Catholic’

NEARLY all European Parliamentary groups have expressed their total rejection of Spain’s abortion law reform, which only allows women to terminate a pregnancy where it is the result of a rape – within just 12 weeks – or where her life is in danger, and does not permit her to do so where the foetus is deformed, however severely.

Social Democrats, Liberals, Ecologists and members of the Unitarian Left are among the MEPs who have called for Spain to scrap its plans to restrict legal abortion.

“If a woman is capable of running the German State, she is capable of making decisions about her own body,” said Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In’t Veld.

El País does business as usual:

US tech giants dodge Spanish taxman, paying just €1.2m on 2012 profits

  • Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft use fiscal tactics to minimize filings

Large US technology corporations continue to dodge the Spanish taxman through fiscal engineering tactics that channel the profits of their sales in Spain to countries with lower corporate tax rates.

The Spanish affiliates of seven major companies — Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft — paid a joint total of just 1,251,608 euros on their 2012 profits derived from their Spanish business activities.

This aggregate figure is not taken from their tax filings but from their annual accounts at the Spanish Business Register, which reflect the money that the companies earmark in a given year for tax on profits.

TheLocal.es shocks:

‘Hair-rising’ electric prices jolt Spaniards

Struggling Spaniards are rebelling against high electricity prices, which have soared by 42 percent since an economic crisis erupted in 2008 reports AFP’s Anna Cuenca.

Buckling under a 26-percent unemployment rate after five years of stop-start recession, many Spaniards battle to pay their electricity bills, the third highest in the European Union after Cyprus and Ireland.

The increase in prices is “hair-raising”, said Cote Romero, coordinator of Platform for a New Energy Model, which unites 270 groups including protesters against economic inequality, leftists, unions, cooperatives and ecological organisations.

Some 1.5 million homes were left without electricity in 2012 for failing to pay bills, she said, leaving families with no hot water or cooking facilities.

Italy next and a Bunga Bunga comeback from BBC News:

Italy reform deal puts Berlusconi back centre stage

Italy’s controversial ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi has returned to the centre of the political stage, striking a reform deal with a centre-left rival. Berlusconi was thrown out of parliament in 2013 after a tax fraud conviction.

But he still heads the opposition Forza Italia party and held lengthy talks with Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi late on Saturday. Under their agreement, he will back electoral and constitutional proposals aimed at making Italy more governable.

The current electoral system has left Italy with a series of shaky coalitions.

After the jump, Greek meltdown redux, Ukrainian violence, Russian homophobic purging promises, Indian uncertainty, hints of a Chinese slowdown, mied news form Japan, contaminated children’s clothing, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoHydroFukuFrack


We begin close to home with a headline from Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

More from the New York Times:

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

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

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

Reuters gets defensive:

Latest perk on Google buses: security guards

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

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

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

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

The Denver Post bites:

Edible marijuana sales shattering sales projections in Colorado

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

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

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

The Guardian pays out:

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

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

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

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

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

From the Los Angeles Times, class debt:

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek retaliates:

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

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

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

From Romenesko, more blood on a California newsroom floor:

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

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

Local editor Rob Curley has been promoted to top editor.

CNBC cops out:

Battle over police pensions in US cities takes ugly turn

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

Another copout from Al Jazeera America:

NYPD agrees to ‘largest protest settlement in history’

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

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

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

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

Red state blues from The Guardian:

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

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

Debt for the rising generation from Bloomberg Businessweek:

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

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

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

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

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

Inequality poses world’s greatest risk: report

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph heads to the MINT:

How to invest in the ‘MINT’ emerging markets

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

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

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

Splitting the difference with EUbusiness:

Bundesbank sees ‘limited’ risk of eurozone deflation

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

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

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

Auto anxieties from the London Telegraph:

Car sales in Europe at lowest level since 1995

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

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

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

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

Disestablishmentarianism from EUobserver:

MEPs call for dismantling of EU bailout ‘troika’

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

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

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

Gimme shelter from New Europe:

MEPs ask for an EU wide strategy for the homeless

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

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

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

Another new record from EUobserver:

Poverty in Europe at ‘unprecedented levels’

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

More Banksters Behaving Badly from The Guardian:

HSBC and Citigroup suspend foreign exchange traders amid rigging probe

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

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

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

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

Sky News bubbles selectively:

House Prices ‘Risk Becoming Unsustainable’

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

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

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

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

From The Independent, so much for du seigneur?:

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

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

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

Fancy-dress dogging on duke’s estate upsets villagers

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

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

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

RT bets on the come line:

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

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

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

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

An Irish booster shot from Independent.ie:

Moody’s upgrades Ireland to Investment Grade after bailout exit

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

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

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

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

Norwegian anxieties for naught from TheLocal.no:

Norway’s open border brings few Romanians

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

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

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

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

Dutch business leaders slam cabinet polices, support at record low

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

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

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

Germany next, where TheLocal.de restores a commons:

Hamburg buys its energy grid back for €400 million

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

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

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

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

Tonnes of dung dumped at French parliament

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

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

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

Spain next, and another austerian demand from El País:

Eurogroup and EC insist Spain needs second round of labor reform

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

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

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

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

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

From EurActiv, schismatic:

Spanish ruling party rebels launch new conservative party

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

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

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

More schismatics from El País:

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es gets going:

Spain’s expat exodus continues

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

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

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

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

And thinkSPAIN tracks turmoil:

Burgos burns as boulevard riots leave 40 in custody

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

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

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

On to Lisbon and a boost from El País:

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

  • Agency sees growing signs of economy stabilizing

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

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

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

Italy next, with diplomatic debauchery from TheLocal.it:

‘Bunga bunga’ claims hit US consulate in Italy

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

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

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

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

Retro racism from The Independent:

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

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

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

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

Looking for the Toxic Avenger with Spiegel:

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGloboFuku


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

Deutsche, Citi feel the heat of widening FX investigation

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

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

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

Al Jazeera America reaps gold:

Banks report record profits despite massive legal fees

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek reads between the lines:

The Accounting Wizardry Behind Banks’ Strong Earnings

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

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

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

Bloomberg bubbles:

Fed Student-Loan Focus Shows Recognition of Growth Risk

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

“I’m always made very nervous by a credit market that benefits from government guarantees and is expanding very rapidly,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in response to audience questions after a speech at a Jan. 10 Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event in North Carolina. “That’s what we’re seeing with student loans, and it’s what we saw with housing.”

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

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, futility:

Obama fails in bid to change IMF

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

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

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

From Bloomberg, a lack of compassion:

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

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

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

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

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

Register to lay off 39 more at Riverside P-E

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crucially, no new federal money will be allocated.

Big boxing from The Guardian:

US files complaint against Walmart for allegedly violating workers’ rights

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

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

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

In These Times tallies trade pact costs:

NAFTA’s Trail of Destruction

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

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

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

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

Canada next, and a depreciation from CBC News:

Loonie expected to spiral lower in 2014

  • Exporters happy, but travellers and shoppers may pay

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

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

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

And a global headline from the Associated Press:

IMF head urges caution to avoid harming recovery

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

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

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

Europe next, and beyond the pale from Spiegel:

Green Fade-Out: Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals

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

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

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

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

On to Britain and a declaration from EUobserver:

‘Reform or we leave EU,’ warns British chancellor

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

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

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

Contra-bluster from EUobserver:

UK to benefit from Bulgarian and Romanian migrants, study says

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

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

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

The Independent gets real:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News offers bounties:

Vouchers For Officials Who Block Asylum Cases

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

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

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

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

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

Yara fined for ‘extraordinary corruption’

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

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

EurActiv backs off:

Norway backpedals on EU single market compliance pledge

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

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

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

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

On to Germany, feebly, with BBC News:

German economic growth weaker than expected

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

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

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

Knockin’ at the door with Spiegel:

Welfare for Immigrants: EU Wants Fortress Germany to Open Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement, from EUbusiness:

Hollande measures ‘right direction’ for French economy: EU

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

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

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

Another endorsement from RFI:

Germany welcomes Hollande’s turn to austerity

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

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

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

France evicted record 19,000 Roma migrants in 2013

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

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

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

TheLocal.fr finds a parallel:

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

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

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

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

And on another note, this from EurActiv:

Defiance against the EU reaches record levels in France: Poll

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

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

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

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

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

Swiss scrap social aid for European job seekers

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

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

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

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

Spaon next, with labor news from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s first prostitute union formed in Ibiza

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

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

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

Europe Online continues deflating:

Spain reports lowest inflation rate in more than 50 years

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

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

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

TheLocal.es states a demand:

‘Spain must step up war on corruption’: EU

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

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

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

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

Extremadura PP urges government to shelve abortion reform

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

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

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

The Portugal News brings theatrical woes:

Box office struggling

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

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

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

Trans-Pacific Partnership: NAFTA on steroids


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

From RT’s The Big Picture:

TPP…fast track to poverty in America?

Program notes:

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

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


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

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

Nuclear missile officers caught in cheating scandal

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

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

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

Computerworld courts the ex parte:

FISA judges oppose plan for privacy advocate

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

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle divides:

US Congress divided on NSA reform proposals

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

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

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

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

CNN stonewalls:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama to Place Some Restraints on Surveillance

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

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

Techdirt nails it:

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

  • from the as-expected dept

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

And The Guardian delivers the symbolic:

NSA reform measures quietly included in $1.1tn spending bill

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

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

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

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

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

N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle fumes:

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

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

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

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

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

Spiegel has a pessimistic take:

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

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

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

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

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

EUbusiness deliberates:

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post drones on, prolifically:

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

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

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

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

MintPress News goes Post-al:

Activists Continue To Push Washington Post To Disclose Its CIA Connection

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

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

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

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

From China Daily, insecurity:

UK moves away from Chinese telecom equipment

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

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

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

Wired wins:

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

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

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

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

The New York Times palavers:

Syria Says It Held Talks With Western Spies About Jihadis

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoNoFuku


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

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

US dollar era could end: Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent

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

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

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

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

The Contributor Network delivers the inhumane:

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG Single mom poverty

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

Pritzker Scion Backs Pot Plans as Getting High Gets Legal

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

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

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

TheLocal.de covers a landmark:

German carmakers celebrate record US sales

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

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

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

The Washington Post strikes close to Republican home:

Survey: Strong concern about health coverage among congressional staffers

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

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

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

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

Another institution gets an offshore owner via BBC News:

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

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

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

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

Belated realization from Al Jazeera America:

Larry Summers joins the reality-based economics community

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

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

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

Gee, ya think so? From Salon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMF adds four European countries to financial risk list

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

Looking down with EUbusiness:

Portugal, Greece, Latvia highlight eurozone deflation risk

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

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

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

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

Another warning, via Reuters:

ECB’s Mersch says recovery on wobbly legs

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

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

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

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

On to Britain with a weighty entry from RT:

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

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

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

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

Just say no, via EUobserver:

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

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

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

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

The idea was quickly dismissed by ministers.

Neoliberal gospel from the Irish Independent:

Slash tax to create jobs and attract business, report urges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hints of coming Danish deflation from the Copenhagen Post:

Inflation at a historic low

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

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

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

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

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

Germany: Government wants German army to be an attractive employer

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

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

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

Europe Online books a profit:

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

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

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

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

EurActiv voices opposition:

French senators strongly attack EU-US trade deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the latest twist from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande-Gayet ‘love nest’ linked to mafia

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

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

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

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

Spanish PM to sell recovery in Obama talks

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

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

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

El País boosts:

Economy grew 0.3 percent in fourth quarter, De Guindos says

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

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

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

The Portugal News re-ups:

Prime Minister to seek second mandate

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

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

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

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

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

Barroso says Portugal would do well to take new aid programme

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

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

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

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

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

M5S voters support decriminalizing clandestine immigration

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

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

The harsh reality from TheLocal.it:

‘Migrants are treated like dogs’: Italian MP

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFuku


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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian covers banksters being banksters:

Bank bonuses: brace yourself for the great Wall Street trousering

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

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

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

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

The Progressive has the spreadsheet:

Millionaires: Officially the Real Majority in Congress

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

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

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

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

IDS Wants Two-Year Ban On Migrant Benefits

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

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

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

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

BBC News follows up:

Nick Clegg backs ‘eminently sensible’ EU benefit changes

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

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

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

And The Observer delivers a setback:

Brussels slaps down British threats to rewrite immigration rules

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

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

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

The Independent talks divorce:

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

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

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

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

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

And The London Telegraph renegotiates:

Chancellor to back Britain staying in a ‘reformed EU’

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

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

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

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

Sky News sells out:

Jaguar Land Rover: Record Breaking World Sales

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

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

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

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

The Observer again, with inflation:

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

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

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

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

The Observer again, with business as usual:

Lobbying bill will tarnish Britain, says UN official

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

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

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

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

On to Sweden and raw reality from TheLocal.se:

‘Sweden’s mineral wealth is sold too cheaply’

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

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

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

Seeking alliance from The Independent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

El País chats up:

Royals relieved that Cristina will testify in tax fraud case

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

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN sets limits:

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es protests:

Crowds defy Madrid in sensitive Basque demo

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

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

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

Europe Online has numbers:

Poll: Spain’s Socialists more popular than ruling conservatives

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

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

Elections are scheduled for next year.

On to Italy and a Bunga Bunga blast from AGI:

Beppe Grillo decries continued presence of Berlusconi

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

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

TheLocal.it covers a shakeup shakeup:

Mayor of Italy earthquake town quits over graft

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoFukuPolis


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

China surpasses US as world’s largest trading nation

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

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

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

The Hill compromises on the backs of the poorest:

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

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

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

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

The Guardian hits a new low:

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

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

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

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

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

Calling out crucial detail by My Budget 360:

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

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

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

Reuters invests:

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

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

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

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

New Europe names:

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

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

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

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

The Los Angeles Times defines:

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

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

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

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

Boing Boing trades:

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

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

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

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

Busted by BBC News:

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

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

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

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

Off to Canada with CBC News:

Canada loses nearly 46,000 jobs in December

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

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

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

Britain next with angst from the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

Total-ly frackin’ with BBC News:

French oil giant Total to invest in UK shale gas

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph tallies up:

Cost of swap scandal has tripled, says regulator

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

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

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

Whilst The Guardian admonishes:

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

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

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

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

On to Sweden and airborne outsourcing with TheLocal.no:

Swedish union ‘impotent’ in Norwegian staff shuffle

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

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

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

Intolerance via TheLocal.se:

Teen politician assaulted after immigration speech

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

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

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

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

‘Jobless migrants must get German benefits’

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle gives a thumbs up:

Ratings agency S&P affirms Germany’s top creditworthiness

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

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

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

TheLocal.de accommodates:

Minister: Taxpayers will fund 32-hour week

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

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

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

A social indicator from TheLocal.de:

Alcoholism in Germany rises by a third

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

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

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

Spiegel resurrects:

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

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

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

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

Same era, another manifestation from TheLocal.de:

Guillotine used for anti-Nazi siblings turns up

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

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

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

On to France and complications from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande ‘affair’ will cloud policy shift: media

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

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

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

A pleasant Swiss surprise from TheLocal.ch:

New poll shows majority reject immigrant quotas

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

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

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

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

Not-so-pleasant numbers from TheLocal.ch:

Expats hardest hit again as jobless rate rises

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

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

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

Spain next, with dependents from ANSAmed:

Crisis: 80% of young Spaniards depend on their families

  • 60% willing to emigrate in search of jobs

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

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

Take a number with thinkSPAIN:

Ikea in Valencia receives 100,000 applicants for 400 jobs

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

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

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

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

In this time, 100,000 people have applied.

El País goes for the gold:

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

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

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

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

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

Austerian health practice, via the Portugal News:

Patient diagnosed with serious cancer after waiting two years for consultation

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

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

Off to Rome with TheLocal.it:

Italy to sell post office stake in bid to raise cash

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

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

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

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