Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliFukuRealism

Much happening, and the troubles continue at Fukushima.

We begin our econocentric coverage close to home [literally], with the Oakland Tribune:

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center to slash 358 jobs in Oakland, Berkeley

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center is cutting 358 positions and shutting down its skilled nursing facility.

Alta Bates Summit, which has several East Bay campuses, will eliminate 195 jobs at Summit in Oakland, 133 jobs at Alta Bates in Berkeley and 30 at Herrick in Berkeley, according to the state Employment Development Department.

The company also is closing its skilled nursing facility and infusion program at Summit in Oakland, a hospital spokeswoman said.

SINA English injects:

Chinese investment in US doubled in 2013: study

China’s investment in the United States doubled to $14 billion last year despite sometimes rocky political ties, with private firms leading the way, said a study out Tuesday.

About half of the value consisted of Shuanghui International’s takeover of prominent pork producer Smithfield Foods, a $7.1 billion deal that marked the largest ever Chinese acquisition of a US company.

But the report by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based firm that looks closely at Chinese investment, found that the total number of deals had also risen from 2012 to 82. It said that Chinese companies accounted for 70,000 full-time jobs in the United States.

The total value of investment hit a record high of $14 billion, with high-profile deals in real estate as well as Chinese investors took stakes in the General Motors Building and Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York.

Bloomberg View’s The Ticker finds bubbles in your bong:

Dude, This Pot Stock Is Totally in a Bong Bubble

Shares of Medbox Inc. soared 85 percent yesterday to $73.90, and have been on a wild ride today, trading as high as $93.50 and as low as $46.90. It seems investors got all stoked about the company’s prospects selling vending machines with fingerprint readers to dispense marijuana, now that recreational pot is legal in two states, Colorado and Washington. Yesterday the company, which trades on the Pink Sheets, issued a news release saying “it has improved on its products for use in recreational and medical marijuana facilities.” The day before that, it issued a news release to tout the appearance of its chief executive officer, Bruce Bedrick, on CNBC.

There hasn’t been much else to explain why Medbox’s stock market value suddenly topped $1 billion this week. As recently as Dec. 26, before Colorado’s new law took effect, the stock was trading for about $10. Nor does there seem to be much basis for believing the company should be worth so much now. Medbox had net income of about $23,000 on sales of $2.9 million during the six months ended June 30, according to a prospectus it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which it has since withdrawn.

Bloomberg covers other agricultural prophets:

Monsanto Profit Tops Estimates on Soybeans and Roundup

Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, reported fiscal first-quarter earnings that topped analysts’ estimates on rising sales of engineered soybean seeds and Roundup herbicide.

Net income in the three months through November increased to $368 million, or 69 cents a share, from $339 million, or 63 cents, a year earlier, Monsanto said today in a statement. Profit excluding a discontinued business was 67 cents, beating the 64-cent average of 17 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue rose 6.9 percent to $3.14 billion, topping the $3.07 billion average of 15 estimates.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant is focused on selling more genetically modified seeds in Latin America to drive earnings growth outside the core U.S. market. Sales of soybean seeds and genetic licenses climbed 16 percent, and revenue in the unit that makes glyphosate weed killer, sold as Roundup, rose 24 percent.

MintPress News sounds a Santayana alert:

Absence Of History, Social Studies Requirements In US Education System Causes Concern

Many have expressed concern that there is no federal requirement that students learn about history.

Creating universal education standards may have been President Barack Obama’s intent when he and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created the Common Core K-12 educational curriculum in 2009. But as education officials have begun to slowly integrate the program into private, public and home-schooled children in about 46 states so far, many education professionals are wondering why there is no social studies or history requirement.

Though some blame social studies teachers for a lack of history requirements — calling a bulk of social studies teachers underqualified — others say the reason the U.S. doesn’t have any history requirements is because Americans don’t always agree on what actually happened in American history.

Sociological Images is stunned:

Teachers Offered Personal Loans to Buy School Supplies

If you’re looking for just one image that says a thousand words about what’s wrong with America, here’s a contender.  It is a screenshot of an email sent to members of the Silver State Schools Credit Union:

BLOG Teacher loans

Yep, it’s an invitation to K-12 teachers to go into debt to do their job.

The London Daily Mail floats it:

The latest perk of working for Google – free private ferry service to work

  • Private passenger catamaran service launched across San Fransisco Bay
  • It carries up to 150 workers to and from the Google HQ near Redwood city
  • Firm’s shuttle bus service had been targetted by angry protesters
  • Employees already enjoy massages, free gourmet food and ‘20 per cent time’

Al Jazeera America blows back:

San Francisco to tax tech companies for employee shuttles

  • City will charge Google, Facebook and others that use public bus stops in an effort to combat traffic, public resentment

San Francisco plans to start regulating employee shuttles for companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, charging a fee for those that use public bus stops and controlling where they load and unload.

The influx of private shuttle buses, which transport thousands of San Francisco workers to their jobs, has created traffic problems on the city’s narrow streets, blocking public bus stops during peak commuting hours.

For some locals, these buses have become a tangible symbol of economic inequality and the aggressive wave of gentrification sweeping through large swaths of San Francisco and Oakland as a result of the burgeoning technology industry.

CNN Political Unit numbers a sea change:

CNN Poll: Americans say marijuana is less dangerous than booze or tobacco

According to a new national poll, marijuana is not as wicked as other illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and much less dangerous than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.

That’s one reason why a CNN/ORC International survey indicates that support for legalizing marijuana is soaring, and why that same support does not extend to hard drugs.

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed that 55% of all Americans think that the use of marijuana should be legal – a solid majority and more than triple the 16% who said the same thing a quarter century ago. But according to numbers released Tuesday, the percentage is nowhere near as high as the 81% who say alcohol should remain legal or the 71% who believe that tobacco use is OK.

Austerian NAFTA reality from the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy:

No Golden Pond for NAFTA Generation Retirees

Twenty years after the promoters of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) heralded a new age of prosperity, tens of millions of people in the member nations of the trinational trade and investment pact look forward to an impoverished retirement.  While in the United States and Mexico, huge segments of the working-age population could wind up with a retirement income-if any at all- befitting paupers, even in relatively better-off Canada the status of retirees is showing signs of slippage.

As all three NAFTA countries undergo workforce aging trends, the implications of a multinational retirement crisis in the coming years will be profound for the economic and social health of the region. Recent reports, including the one issued last month by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), carry somber warnings for the futures of millions as they approach their golden years.

For U.S Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), the emerging retirement crunch is a “crisis that is as real and as frightening as any policy problem facing the United States today.”

Across the Atlantic with a plateau from Europe Online:

Eurozone unemployment rate stuck at record 12.1 per cent

Unemployment in the eurozone remained stuck at a record high of 12.1 per cent in November, new data released on Wednesday showed, as the currency bloc struggles to recover from a debilitating economic crisis.

The jobless rate was initially believed to have dropped in October for the first time in almost three years, but Wednesday’s data – issued by the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat – showed that in fact it has remained unchanged since April 2013.

The eurozone managed to pull out of recession earlier this year, but unemployment has remains stubbornly high. The bloc experienced its last decline in the jobless rate in February 2011.

MarketWatch frets:

Draghi faces deflation threat as ECB, BOE meet

  • Euro risks selloff if Draghi mentions recent strength, hints at further action

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank are both expected to keep monetary policy on hold Thursday. What ECB President Mario Draghi says about low inflation could signal whether the bank expands stimulus at future meetings and move the euro.

The BOE will release its decision at 7 a.m. Eastern. The central bank doesn’t normally release a statement when there is no change in policy, but central-bank watchers say that the BOE could be compelled to do so in light of the rapidly falling unemployment rate and what it means for U.K. interest rates.

New Europe admonishes:

US tells EU, Germany to act on banks and surplus respectively

The US wants Germany to boost its domestic demand and Europe as a whole to strengthen its banks. This much has so far become clear during Jacon Lew’s, the US Treasure Secretary’s visit to the continent. Lew was in Berlin today and visited France on January 7.

“We continue to believe that policies that would promote more domestic investment and demand would be good for the German economy and the global economy,” Lew told a news conference after meeting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Even though the newly installed grand coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SDP has is planning to introduce a national minimum wage and invest in infrastructure, the fundamentals of its economic and European approached will remain unchanged.

Britain next, with a bubbly BBC News:

UK house prices rose by 7.5% in 2013, Halifax says

House prices across the UK rose by 7.5% last year, according to the Halifax, the country’s largest mortgage lender.

However, Halifax said prices actually fell by 0.6% in December, taking the average price of a property to £173,467.

Last week, the Nationwide building society said house prices had risen by 8.4% in 2013.

Sky News prepares for peasants massing:

Boris Wants Water Cannon For London’s Streets

Boris Johnson says the weapons will only be used in “extreme circumstances” but the 2011 riots show why police need them.

Boris Johnson has requested the Metropolitan Police to be able to use water cannon on the capital’s streets by this summer.

The London Mayor said the weapons would be used only in “the most extreme circumstances”, but there are fears the cannon could be deployed to break up small-scale legitimate protests. He said the water cannon were necessary in case there was a repeat of the summer riots of 2011.

The Guardian is buzzing:

UK faces food security catastrophe as honeybee numbers fall, scientists warn

Crop pollination via honeybees sinks to second lowest in Europe as study calls for greater protection of wild pollinators

Europe has 13 million less honeybee colonies than would be needed to properly pollinate all its crops, research shows. Photograph: Judi Bottoni/AP

The UK faces a food security catastrophe because of its very low numbers of honeybee colonies, which provide an essential service in pollinating many crops, scientists warned on Wednesday.

New research reveals that honeybees provide just a quarter of the pollination needed in the UK, the second lowest level among 41 European countries. Furthermore, the controversial rise of biofuels in Europe is driving up the need for pollination five times faster than the rise in honeybee numbers. The research suggests an increasing reliance on wild pollinators, such as bumblebees and hoverflies, whose diversity is in decline.

Iceland next, and a piteous lament from the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Former Landsbanki Manager “Psychologically Tortured” By Government

The lawyer for former Landsbanki manager Sigurjón Þ. Árnason says that his client is being “psychologically tortured” by the state.

In a column he wrote for Fréttablaðið, Sigurður G. Guðjónsson, Sigurjón’s lawyer, contends the government is needlessly prolonging the legal process in his case, whilst at the same time “continuously blabbing about his guilt to the media.”

For the unfamiliar, Sigurjón was charged with market manipulation during his time as Landsbanki’s manager, leading to the eventual collapse of the bank. The resolution committee of the new Landsbanki is seeking compensation from Sigurjón for the damage the bank incurred under his watch.

Germany next with Europe Online:

German economy picks up speed as industrial sector gains ground

The German economy appears to have ended last year on a strong footing with a solid rise in both exports and factory orders helping to fire its key manufacturing base.

While figures released Wednesday by the Ministry of Economics showed monthly factory orders rebounded by 2.1 per cent in November, the statistics office said exports rose for the fourth consecutive month in November, climbing by 0.3 per cent.

The data provides “further evidence that the economy’s industrial backbone is strengthening again,” said ING Bank economist Carsten Brzeski.

Nationalist umbrage from EUbusiness:

Germany to probe welfare fraud by immigrants

The German government said Wednesday it will look into toughening measures against abuse of its welfare system by immigrants in light of fears of an influx from poor EU member states Romania and Bulgaria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel led a cabinet meeting of her new “grand coalition” where the government agreed to task a commission with making recommendations by mid-June.

“It will address the possible consequences of immigration and open borders — both things the government welcomes and wants,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

Deutsche Welle labors:

Amazon staff defend company against unions

For months, unions have been trying to pressure Amazon Germany to pay better wages. But now thousands of employees have come out defending Amazon. Are the unions fighting a lost cause?

The remarkable solidarity of the workers with their employer is in stark contrast to the picture painted by the media. That has focussed on the poor working conditions at Amazon Germany. For months, the company has been under fire for its poor wages, permanent stress and the lousy mood among the staff.

Yet when Verdi called strikes in recent weeks, only very few employees took part. The union wants to get a pay deal for them with a pay level similar to other companies in the mail order business. Currently, Amazon pays the lower rates applicable to the logistics sector.

France next, and schismatics from EurActiv:

French leftist coalition blows up ahead of EU, local elections

The French Left Party’s decision to suspend its membership of the European Left has highlighted tensions with their traditional communist allies, which could seriously damage both party’s results at the forthcoming EU elections in May.

As the EU elections approach, European political parties from all sides are gearing up to nominate their candidates for the European Commission’s top job.

The Associated Press convicts:

Frenchwoman fined after Muslim veil prompted riots

A French court has convicted a woman for insulting police who ticketed her for wearing a face-covering Muslim veil, banned by French law.

The confrontation between Cassandra Belin, her husband and police triggered riots in the Paris suburb of Trappes last year. Her lawyer, Philippe Bataille, says Belin was fined 150 euros and given a one-month suspended sentence Wednesday.

The lawyer also argued that the veil law is unconstitutional, and asked for it to be sent to the Constitutional Court. The lower Paris court Wednesday threw out that request.

Spain next, and another decline from El País:

Household savings rate falls further as income drops

  • Families cut back on spending in third quarter of last year

The household savings rate in Spain in the third quarter of last year declined further despite lower consumer spending as high unemployment and downward pressure on wages reduced income.

The National Statistics Institute (INE) said Wednesday that the savings rate in the period July-September of last year declined to 9.2 percent from 10.0 percent in the fourth quarter. That was the lowest rate for the third quarter since 2007. On a four-quarter moving basis, the rate dropped to 10.5 percent from 10.7 percent in the four quarters to June.

Gross disposable household income in the period declined 1.6 percent from a year earlier to 162.521 billion euros as a result of a fall of 1.9 percent in wages. Consumption declined an annual 0.4 percent to 147.037 billion euros.

El País again, this time in opposition:

PP deputy congressional speaker calls for free vote within ruling party on abortion

  • Celia Villalobos says she “represents many people who are against” the proposed restriction on terminations

The rift within the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) over its controversial proposed reform of the abortion law that greatly restricts the right to terminate pregnancy grew on Wednesday after a key figure in the group called for a free vote on the issue in parliament.

Deputy Congressional Speaker Celia Villalobos signaled her opposition to the proposed new law, which does not automatically give women the right to abort in cases of severe fetal malformation, during a meeting of the PP’s executive committee on Wednesday, according to sources.

“I represent many people who are not in agreement with the reform that has been presented,” Villalobos said. “I ask for a free vote.” Villalobos abstained during a congressional vote in 2009 on the abortion law put forward by the former Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and was sanctioned by the party for doing so.

Lisbon next, and a departure date from Xinhua:

Portugal could exit bailout program on May. 17: official

Portugal has received yet another thumbs up that the country’s 78-billion-euro bailout program is coming to an end.

Vice President of the European Parliament Othmar Karas, who is ending a visit to Portugal on Tuesday, said that the bailout program could terminate as soon as May. 17, one week before the European elections.

“I’m sure that Portugal can end the program on the 17th of May of 2014, one week before the European elections,” said Karas, quoted by Portugal’s Lusa News Agency Lusa.

Italy next, and a new record from the London Telegraph:

Italian joblessness hits record as it seeks higher foreign investment

Italian joblessness has hit a fresh high, underlining the challenge for the country’s fragile coalition in convincing the international markets it is on the path to recovery.

Unemployment hit 12.7pc in November, up from October’s 12.5pc and the highest on record. Youth unemployment, at 41.6pc, is also at an all-time high.

The figures show that tentative signs of recovery in Italy’s recession-battered economy have failed to benefit the labour market.

Corriere della Sera knows where the bodies are buried:

Parliamentarians, Priests and Gangsters in Tax Consultant’s Secret Files

  • List found on computers belonging to Paolo Oliverio, arrested on charges of laundering underworld funds

The files detail confidential relations with senior clerics, secret service and financial police officers, business figures and politicians. Paolo Oliverio, arrested in early November on charges of manipulating the internal appointments and business dealings of the Camillian religious order, was actually the go-to accountant for many institutional and business figures.

But, add investigators, he was also the man who laundered cash for ‘Ndrangheta gangsters and some of Rome’s home-grown criminals. Mr Oliverio was privy to a great many secrets, as has emerged from the thousands of files found on the computers and pen drives seized when he was arrested. Many now fear what those files could reveal.

After the jump, Greek posturing, Turkish purging, Israeli divestment, Brazilian numbers, African refocusing, India axes and politics, Thai and Cambodian troubles, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese economic questions and massive food contamination, and the latest Fukushimapocalyp;se Now!. . .

Our first Greek item comes from New Europe:

Greece Sees A Bright Day As It Launches EU Presidency

On 8 January, top European Union officials attended a series of events in the Zappeion Hall in sunny Athens before heading to an official ceremony at the Athens Concert Hall by which Greece comes to the helm of the rotating EU presidency for the fifth time of the history of the union.

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras met with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the college of commissioners of the EU.

Addressing a press conference at Zappeion with Barroso, Samaras said Greece strives to achieve a reconnection between citizens and Europe. He said the Greek Presidency will face and combat the vital problems that threaten the future of Europe. It plans to focus on economic recovery, fighting unemployment, guaranteeing the social cohesion of the union, guaranteeing European security at home and abroad.

EnetEnglish.gr enthuses:

Samaras: Greece and EU are leaving crisis behind them

  • Barroso says euros existential crisis is over

European Commission President Barroso says Greece will exit the crisis in 2014 and this will strengthen the trust of the other EU countries

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stands next to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during the handover ceremony for the six-month rotation of Greece’s EU Presidency at the Zappeio Hall, Athens, 8 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters) Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stands next to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during the handover ceremony for the six-month rotation of Greece’s EU Presidency at the Zappeio Hall, Athens, 8 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters) Greece and Europe are leaving the crisis behind them, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Wednesday, ahead of the official opening ceremony on Wednesday for Greece’s six-month stint at the helm of the European presidency.

“Greece is leaving the crisis behind it, following tremendous sacrifices. Europe is leaving the crisis behind it,” Samaras told the domestic and international press at the Zappeio hall, alongside European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But Barroso added a stinger. From EUbusiness:

Greece must not slow reforms: Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday urged Greece to stay the course of painful economic reforms as he inaugurated the country’s six-month stint in the rotating EU presidency.

“This is not the time to slow down the pace of reforms,” Barroso said, adding: “My point is very clear: (adjustment) programmes work, so we should not waste the efforts so far.”

ANA-MPA lambastes:

Greek PM ‘submissive’ to Germany and its allies, SYRIZA says

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is still “submissive” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her allies, main opposition SYRIZA said in a announcement on Thursday, responding to the PM’s statements on the commencement of the Greece’s Presidency in the EU.

According to SYRIZA, Samaras follows the same general pattern of references to the economic recovery and the exit from the crisis, while shedding crocodile tears for the sacrifices of the Greek people, without presenting any specific proposal that serves those goals.

The government, SYRIZA added, repeatedly underlines its commitment to the bail-out agreements, regardless of the cost for the Greek people and Europe in general.

Spiegel questions:

Economic Health: Has Greece Turned a Corner?

Greece, which took over the European Council presidency on Jan. 1, claims it is returning to economic health and is even expecting modest growth this year. But a closer look raises doubts.

Perhaps it is just a meaningless detail resulting from the inauguration of a new government in Berlin. Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, the Berlin official in charge of aid to Greece, has been moved to a new office in the Development Ministry — just down the hall from offices dedicated to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A mere coincidence? Is Greece — a full member of the European Union and of the euro zone — a developing country?

Certainly not, but as of Jan. 1, the location of Fuchtel’s new quarters seems even more unfortunate. At the beginning of the year, Greece took over the rotating European Council presidency, meaning that it has taken the helm of the 28-member EU for the next six months. Europe is now being led by a country that in the spring of 2010 plunged the European currency union into the deepest crisis in its history, a country that has been saved from collapse by two gigantic aid packages and a debt haircut for private creditors. Many in Brussels believe that Athens will need an additional €1.5 to 2 billion ($2 to 2.7 billion) this year and perhaps as much as €10 billion in 2015.

Greek Reporter strikes:

Greek Doctor Strike Continues

The doctors of the Greek National Health Services Agency (EOPYY) will continue to strike until January 17, as announced today by the Executive Secretariat of the Panhellenic Federation of Scientific Healthcare Personnel (POSEYP) – EOPYY.

Emergency and urgent cases will be dealt with by backup staff. However, on Friday a bill will be presented to the Greek House of Parliament, which regulates the procedures for conversion of EOPYY from a buyer and provider of healthcare services, to a buyer only.

The bill also sets out the terms, conditions and procedures of suspension, mobility and transfer of employees from EOPYY to different health districts.

ANA-MPA dispenses:

Gov’t to provide health care for uninsured citizens

The government is considering health care benefits for uninsured Greeks or insuring those with outstanding debts to social security funds, provided they meet certain criteria, according to information.

The regulation covers a total of 22 categories of beneficiaries with specific income criteria – no more than 6,000 euros of income per year, with an additional 50 percent added to the ceiling for people with disabilities, 20 percent for each dependent member of the family of the beneficiary and 30 percent for dependent members of single-parent families.

Provisions will also cover those with chronic diseases, pregnant women and those with health problems that require hospitalization.

Keep Talking Greece sets the tab:

Greek insured to pay one euro per prescription as of Jan 8/2014

A new tax, a new poll levy. As of today, 8th January 2014, Greek insured will be obliged to pay one euro per prescription they will redeem at the pharmacies. The euro-levy will go for the National Health Care system EOPYY.

According to health ministry, excepted from the poll levy are chronic-ill patients. But the criteria are very strict and refer only to a few illnesses. Cancer patients, for example, are not excluded, or cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Just three medications are allowed per prescription. Chronic-ill who need more pharmaceutical products per month will pay double.

Kathimerini English probes:

Nationwide investigation ordered into use of EU funds

Financial prosecutor Panayiotis Athanasiou on Wednesday ordered a prosecutor in the region of Evrytania, central Greece, to conduct a preliminary investigation into the circumstances under which the family of former Transport Minister Michalis Liapis allegedly transformed a holiday home in the area into a guesthouse following allegations that the family used European structural funds to renovate the property.

The family of the former minister – who received a four-year suspended prison sentence last month for driving a car with forged license plates – has denied the allegations and claims that the property was run as a guesthouse by his aunt, who bequeathed the property to Liapis when her husband died.

The Evrytania prosecutor will investigate the terms under which the EU funding was granted and how the money was used.

On to Turkey, and the latest police purge news from Europe Online:

Turkey replaces 15 police chiefs

The Turkish government has replace 15 provincial police chiefs, local media reported Wednesday, bringing to 1,000 the total number of policemen either sacked or appointed to new positions.

The measure comes weeks after police arrested 24 people, including the sons of three ministers and the chief executive of a state-run bank, in a corruption investigation denounced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a conspiracy against Turkey.

The allegations relate to bribery involving public tenders, gold smuggling and illegal dealings with Iran to circumvent international sanctions. The three ministers – for economy, environment and urban planning, and interior – whose sons were implicated have resigned.

New Europe responds:

EU “concerned” at removal of Turkish policemen

As yet another episode in the corruption scandal that has been rocking Turkey unfolded, the EU said it is concerned because the Erdogan government has been removing hundreds of police officers from their posts. The comments came just a day before Erdogan arrives in Brussels for an official visit, his first in three years, on January 9.

“The removal of a large number of police officers from their posts … is a matter of concern,” said  Peter Stano, spokesman for Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.

“We urge Turkey … to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner.”

On to Israel and a divestment from RT:

Dutch pension giant divests millions from Israeli banks involved in settlement construction

The largest Dutch pension fund company, PGGM, has reportedly chosen to withdraw all its investments from the five largest Israeli banks, whose branches are involved in financing construction in the settlements in the West Bank.

Over the past few months the Dutch pension giant has informed some of Israel’s top banks, such as Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, the First International Bank of Israel and Israel Discount Bank, that their ties with the settlements, and/or companies involved in construction there, were an obstacle from the standpoint of international law, a source told Haaretz.

PGGM’s stance is based on an International Court of Justice ruling, which in 2004 concluded that the barrier being built around the West Bank was illegal and should be pulled down, with the “security wall” violating the rights of Palestinians.

On to Latin America and ascendant wealth from the Rio Times:

Millionaire Savings Rise by 160% in Brazil: Daily

The number of Brazilian investors with over R$1 million in savings accounts has increased by 160 percent in the last five years, with the number reaching 10,145 people in 2013 up from 3,914 in 2008, according to a study from Brazil’s Central Bank.

Reasons for the increase in savings vary, analysts claim, but risk aversion to fear of inflation and the return of an unstable economy may be among the chief factors driving this phenomenon. Experts say it is professionals who are choosing to put their money in savings accounts, as opposed to investing in stock.

Driving ambitions from the West Australian:

Brazil produces record 3.74 million vehicles in 2013

Brazil produced a record 3.74 million vehicles in 2013, up 9.9 percent over the previous year, a rise fueled by the farm sector and surging exports, according to industry figures.

In 2012, this Latin American economic giant, the world’s fourth largest car market, churned out 3.4 million units, the National Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (ANFAVEA) said late Tuesday.

But output in December reached 235,000 units, 12.1 percent down from the same month of 2012, it noted.

On to Africa with Nikkei Asian Review:

Global firms see opportunity in wealthier African population

Consumer spending is rising in Africa thanks to a growing middle class.

Major companies are going beyond resource development in Africa, competing to offer a broad range of consumer goods and services to the giant market with a population of more than 1 billion people.

The continent’s middle class, defined as those with a daily income of $4 to $20, has swelled 60% over the last 10 years to 350 million people. The high-income bracket is also broadening, and a growing number of foreigners are coming to live in Africa.

And thence to Asia, first with a plan from the Financial Express:

Bharatiya Janata Party’s proposal to scrap income-tax feasible, say experts

Abolishing income tax and other levies and replacing them with some other suitable form of revenue is feasible and desirable, say experts, although some believe that such a move would militate against social equity.

Describing the concept as “aspirational”, Ficci President Sidharth Birla said: “If the steps proposed enhance revenue by roadening and broad basing the tax payer base and help improve transparency of regulatory framework, we will tend to welcome these aspects.”

The radical proposal, which is being talked about by the BJP, relates to abolition of all direct and indirect taxes for individuals as well as corporates in favour of a nominal banking transaction tax.

Quartz alarms:

India’s economic woes are so dire that millions may de-urbanize

Some 90 million Indians have migrated from from farms to cities in the last 10 years, part of a global tide of urbanization that has helped lift many developing nations out of poverty. But a dire slump in the Indian economy is threatening to reverse the tide, and send poor, unemployed migrants back to the countryside in search of work.

India’s Crisil Research projects that 12 million people will return to low-productivity farm jobs by 2019 because of a lack of economic opportunities in the manufacturing sector, unless the government carries out long-debated labor market reforms and improves crucial infrastructure. The country has moved about a quarter billion people to cities in the last forty years, but much of its projected economic growth is reliant on the trend accelerating over the coming decades.

The Guardian accelerates:

US energy secretary calls off India visit as diplomatic row escalates

  • Moniz mission postponed and New Delhi closes ex-pats’ club in dispute over arrest of official in New York

Indian authorities have ordered the US embassy in New Delhi to close its club for ex-pats in a growing diplomatic row over the arrest of an Indian official in New York Indian authorities have ordered the US embassy in New Delhi to close its club for ex-pats in a growing diplomatic row over the arrest of an Indian official in New York Photograph: Money Sharma/EPA

US energy secretary Ernest Moniz has postponed a visit to India and the New Delhi government has ordered the US Embassy to close a club for expatriate Americans as a worsening diplomatic row exposed fault lines between the world’s two most populous democracies.

More from The Independent:

Battle of the burger: India targets US ex-pat club with ban as diplomatic row escalates

Nothing hurts an American like going after his Budweiser and burgers.

This, at least, appears to be the calculation taken by the Indian authorities as a simmering diplomatic row between Delhi and Washington took a new, unlikely turn. In a move designed to hit where it hurts, India is acting to prevent non-diplomats from using a social club located at the US embassy in the heart of Delhi.

The club, which has a bar, swimming pool, gym and restaurant and which is a haven for countless expatriates during the vicious heat of summer, has been here for decades. But Indian officials have told their US counterparts that to allow non-diplomats to visit the facility would be a breach of the Vienna Convention because of the club’s tax-free status.

On to Cambodia with GlobalPost:

South Korea pulled strings as Cambodia’s military cracked down on protesters

GlobalPost exclusive: As workers who stitch for Western brands demand a livable wage, South Korea urged Cambodian forces to protect corporate interests.

Conspiracy theorists frequently accuse rich countries of “puppeteering” in the developing world, quietly pushing governments to deploy thugs to protect wealthy — and sometimes abusive — corporations.

There is truth to this, but it’s rare to uncover on-the-ground examples of how this string-pulling works. Cambodia’s current conflict over garment wages provides one such example, GlobalPost has learned.

Thailand next and force from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Thailand to deploy 15,000 police, troops for “shutdown”

Nearly 15,000 police and soldiers will be deployed in the Thai capital next week for the planned “shutdown” of Bangkok by demonstrators trying to overthrow the government, officials said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called February elections following weeks of opposition street protests. But the demonstrators have vowed to block the vote, which they fear will only prolong the political dominance of her billionaire family.

The protesters say they will occupy the capital from January 13 until they win their battle to topple the government.

On to China with numbers from Xinhua:

China’s 2012 GDP revised to 51.95 trillion yuan

China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2012 has been revised to 51.95 trillion yuan (8.52 trillion U.S. dollars), 52.8 billion yuan higher than the preliminary reading released in September, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Wednesday.

The revised GDP growth remains unchanged at 7.7 percent, according to a bureau statement.

It was the final GDP reading for 2012 according to a three-step publication procedure with more detailed data.

South China Morning Post inhibits:

Air pollution and Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign hit China’s tourism trades

Campaign against official corruption and extravagance and decline in foreign visitors combine to hit restaurants and hotels, think tank says

Air pollution and President Xi Jinping’s campaign to curb official corruption and extravagance took a bite out of the mainland’s hospitality industry last year, according to a government think tank report.

Spiegel strategizes:

Brand Expansion: China’s Race to Conquer World Markets

Chinese firms have embarked on a quest to conquer the world market. Several have already done so, with the help of Western know-how. Established rivals are making the mistake of underestimating them — until it’s too late.

The Far-Eastern firms have a major advantage: established competitors in the West usually don’t take them seriously, in some cases until it’s too late. Indian market expert Nirmalya Kumar warns that German firms must take care or they might find themselves as overwhelmed as they were by the assault by Japanese camera manufacturers decades ago.

“Chinese companies are growing more self-confident and are intensively pursuing the goal of establishing their brands in other countries,” said the Munich Technical University in a recent study of “Chinese Champions.” Chinese firms already produce high tech products that meet the highest standards, the study says.

New Europe permits:

China to allow foreign companies get full ownership of telecom services

China is to allow foreign companies enter the Chinese market and get full ownership of telecom and internet services.

As the state-owned Xinhua news agency announced, five areas, including app stores, store and forward, domestic multi-party communication, call centers and home Internet access will be available for full ownership. However, a cap of 55% for foreign ownership will be adopted for data and dealing analysis services.

As Wen Ku, head of the telecom development department of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology stated: “Enterprises that apply for the services should register and base their infrastructure in the Shanghai FTZ, and all services may be available to the whole country, except home Internet access services, which will be confined within the FTZ.”

Japan next, and the latest in an ongoing food poisoning scandal from Jiji Press:

Over 1,000 in Japan Sickened by Maruha Frozen Foods

At least over 1,000 people across Japan have been sickened in a pesticide-tainted food poisoning incident, according to local government and other officials.

These people suffered from fever, dizziness and stomach aches as well as vomiting and diarrhea after eating frozen foods made by Aqli Foods Corp., a unit of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc., at a plant in Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo.

Police suspect that harmful chemical malathion may have been injected into the products intentionally.

The newest numbers from NHK WORLD:

Frozen foods affect more than 1,700

NHK has found more than 1,700 people across Japan have reported health problems after eating frozen food products that may have been tainted with pesticides.

Complaints have been reported in all 47 prefectures in the country as of Wednesday evening. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach aches.

And Nikkei Asian Review alarms:

Rising Southeast Asian wages pinching Japanese firms

For Japanese manufacturers, part of the appeal of setting up shop in Southeast Asia has been to hedge against risks in China. But with wages rising dramatically across the region, some of the strategy’s advantages are wearing thin.

Jakarta has moved to raise the minimum wage by 60% over two years, but the trend is now neither confined to the capital nor necessarily gradual. The western Javanese Karawang region, where more than 100 Japanese firms have factories, raised its minimum wage by a whopping 22% this month.

Vietnam also lifted minimum wage levels by 14-17% this month. In metropolitan areas such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the floor has risen by upward of 100% in the last five years. Forced to act, firms increased basic pay for regular workers by 10-20% in 2013.

Next up, Fukushimapoicalypse Now!

The disaster of the day from NHK WORLD:

Decontamination system stops working

Tokyo Electric Power Company on Wednesday stopped using its systems to decontaminate radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

It has used the Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, to remove radioactive substances from contaminated water stored at the site.

TEPCO officials say the crane to remove the container from the ALPS stopped working on Tuesday.

More from SimplyInfo, including action by Japans nuclear regulatory authority:

NRA Japan Saves The US West Coast And The Rest Of The World

NRA demanded that TEPCO drop test waste canisters to be used to hold highly radioactive sludge from the ALPS processing system. They also stopped TEPCO from operating ALPS months ago and demanded they test the system first. The systems are all still in various phases of testing due to a string of failures. Had NRA not stepped in TEPCO would have had ALPS in an attempt at full operation with now known flaws and have been using substandard canisters to hold highly radioactive waste byproducts created by the system.

Today the crane that moves those canisters around failed.

TEPCO reported that a part on the crane failed and is being replaced. Had NRA not made TEPCO drop test these canisters this would have been the likely outcome.

After the drop tests showed the initial canister design to be a failure NRA required the contractor to come up with a better canister design. More on this drop testing work and the various types of failures can be found here. NRA’s more stringent oversight of TEPCO likely averted at least one major failure and radiation release today.

The Asahi Shimbun extracts:

Removal of nuclear fuel at Fukushima plant resumes after holiday break

Work to remove nuclear fuel from a damaged reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was proceeding smoothly as efforts resumed Jan. 6 after the conclusion of the New Year’s holidays.

Work initially got under way on Nov. 18 at the storage pool of the damaged No. 4 reactor building to remove 1,533 nuclear fuel assemblies, but was suspended Dec. 22 for the holiday period.

Two officials from the Fukushima prefectural government’s safety management division observed the resumption of the removal work for an hour during the afternoon of Jan. 7. The officials observed Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers lifting a nuclear fuel assembly from the storage pool and putting it into a cask. It was the first fuel assembly removed this year and the 133rd to date.

The Yomiuri Shimbun agonizingly imitates:

Agency plans to re-create ‘meltdown’

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency will conduct an experiment next fiscal year to re-create on a small scale the meltdown that occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was learned on Wednesday.

The experiment will gather data necessary to study what exactly happened to three of the reactors at the plant and is expected to uncover missing pieces in the puzzle over how and when the fuel rods overheated and melted down at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

Only limited available data have been used to compute how and when a meltdown occurred, leaving many holes in investigations into the nuclear accident.

Scientific American brings it close to home [Casa esnl, that is]:

Radioactive Iodine from Fukushima Found in California Kelp

Kelp off Southern California was contaminated with short-lived radioisotopes a month after Japan’s Fukushima accident, a sign that the spilled radiation reached the state’s urban coastline, according to a new scientific study.

Scientists from California State University, Long Beach tested giant kelp collected in the ocean off Orange County and other locations after the March, 2011 accident, and detected radioactive iodine, which was released from the damaged nuclear reactor.

The largest concentration was about 250-fold higher than levels found in kelp before the accident.

NHK WORLD educates in situ:

Fukushima students restart school

Elementary and junior high school students in Fukushima Prefecture have returned to class after winter vacation. Nearly 3 years after the nuclear accident there, many still cannot go back to their hometowns.

At Arai Elementary School in Fukushima City, 280 children attended an opening ceremony on Wednesday.

Among them were 46 students from radiation-contaminated areas including Namie Town, near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

And for our final item, Tokyo Times builds:

Renewable Energy Village project started in Fukushima

A Renewable Energy Village was started on the radioactive lands around Fukushima nuclear plant. The project includes using solar panels and growing crops in order to encourage Japanese farmers to start using their abandoned lands again.

The project is run by the community of Minamisoma city and has 120 solar panels generating 30 kilowatts of power. The idea that stands at the ground of the project is the one of “solar sharing” by growing crops beneath raised solar panels.

The concept could help the local farmers to restart agriculture in their community and to earn extra money from selling renewable energy to local utilities, as about two thirds of Minamisoma’s farmland lies within the nuclear evacuation zone surrounding Fukushima’s nuclear plant.


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