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. . .

For our first Greek headline, there’s this from Europe Online:

Greece central bank predicts finance institutions need more capital

Greece’s banks are likely to require additional capital after stress test results are published this month, Central Bank Governor George Provopoulos said Thursday.

Stress tests have been carried out on the country’s four largest banks – the National Bank of Greece, Piraeus, Alpha Bank and Eurobank – to determine whether a 28-billion-euro (38-billion-dollar) recapitalization by the country’s bank rescue fund has left the banks capable of dealing with future shocks.

The Hellenic Financial Stability Fund has about 8 billion euros left to cover any capital shortfalls revealed by the stress tests.

Greek Reporter contracts:

Eurostat: Greece’s deflation at -1.8% in December

Greece recorded a deflation of -1.8% in December, according to data published today by Eurostat in Brussels.

The average inflation rate in the Eurozone fell to 0.8% in December compared to 0.9% in November, while inflation in the EU remained stable at 1%.

On an annual basis (from December 2012 to December 2013), Greece recorded the lowest inflation rate in the EU (-1.8%), followed by Cyprus (-1.3%), Bulgaria (-0.9%) and Latvia (-0.4%). The highest inflation rates were recorded in Estonia, Great Britain and Austria (2%) and Finland (1.9%).

In December 2012 inflation in Greece was at 0.3%, while in the Eurozone it was 2.2% and 2.3% in the EU.

Kathimerini English pushes:

Greek government aims for February deal with troika

With an exact date for the return of troika inspectors to Athens still unclear, government officials are aiming for a comprehensive settlement on pending reforms and other issues next month to ensure that negotiations are not open in the countdown to European and local authority elections in May, Kathimerini understands.

Troika inspectors are expected to return to Athens before the end of the month but officials rejected media reports on Thursday that envoys would be in the Greek capital on January 20 or 22.

According to sources, the government is keen to use the additional time to prepare thoroughly for talks so that a full agreement can be reached next month on the reforms and other prior actions that Athens must implement to clinch sub-tranches of rescue funding through May.

ANA-MPA gets defensive:

European Stability Mechanism’s Regling defends troika’s policies in Greece

“Private investors thinking about investing in Greece, won’t do it for the time being for more than 10 years,” Klaus Regling, chief executive of the European Stability Mechanism said on Wednesday.

Speaking in European Parliament, during a hearing by a “troika report” commission examining the legality of the troika’s actions in overdebted countries in Europe, Regling said the troika’s interventions were necessary; he acknowledged that the structural measures it imposed created difficulties and predicted that in the near future Europe will have a supervisory system without the IMF.

Commenting on the sustainability of the Greek debt, Regling underlined that “Greece is a special and complex case” because it was different from previous experiences of the International Monetary Fund.

MacroPolis has a mixed review:

Building activity posts first rise in 20 months but overall picture grim

Greek building activity (as measured by the number of building permits) rose by 4.1 percent year-on-year (yoy) in October for the first time since February 2012, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT). The respective surface area number recorded a modest 1 percent increase, while volume also rose 5.7 percent.

The aggregate figures, which strip out the monthly volatility, show that building activity is persistently deep in the red. In particular, the 12-month trailing average indicates that building permits have slumped 36.9 percent. Building activity to October also points to a sharp drop of 31.2 percent in permits. As expected, the bulk of total building activity (more than 90 percent) is related to the private sector.

Optimistic opining from ANA-MPA:

BoG governor sees signs economy is stabilising

The Greek economy is showing stronger signs of stabilization, Bank of Greece (BoG) governor George Provopoulos said on Thursday.

“Forecasts that the recession will end in 2014 are well-founded, provided that there is no political polarization ahead of the European elections,” Provopoulos told the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Affairs.

He also attributed a rise in non-performing loans, which have surpassed 30 pct of total loans, to the last years’ unprecedented recession and the PSI, “which cut 41-42 billion euros from banks and almost wiped out their capital,” as opposed to banks’ strategies.

Alienation from ANSAmed:

Crisis: disappointment urges thousands of Greeks to migrate

  • In search of employment and greater opportunities abroad

The ongoing financial crisis and recession of the Greek economy – added to a record unemployment rate of 27.8% last October – is forcing thousands of Greek citizens to migrate to other European countries in search of job opportunities and better working conditions, as daily To Vima reports.

Tens of thousands of doctors and engineers are abandoning Greece, with the USA and European countries such as Germany and Great Britain being the most popular destinations. Middle Eastern countries have also seen an increase of migration from Greece. The Norway Post recently noted how migration from southern European countries increased dramatically in recent years, with immigration from Greece having increased by 49% in the year between November 2012 and 2013.

More austerity for the most traumatized from To Vima:

Government considering the suspension of OAED family benefit

  • The bailout commitment to reduce insurance contributions has forced government to consider the drastic cut

According to a report by Ta Nea, the government is considering the suspension of employment agency OAED’s family benefit, due to its bailout commitment to reduce employer insurance contributions.

With the IMF pressuring the government to implement the reduction of insurance contributions, the government has little room to bargain and negotiate; the government’s alternative will be to carry out further pension cuts, which it wants to avoid at all costs.

This family benefit amounted to 8.22 euros per month for one child, 24.65 euros for two children, 55.47 for three children, 67.38 euros for four children, 78.68 euros for five children and so forth. This benefit was available to IKA insurance policy holders in cases where their contract either did not make provisions for such a benefit, or it was less than the OAED benefit.

Most austerity from Kathimerini English:

Closure of state bodies to hit urban planning, say experts

Experts expressed dismay on Thursday at the government’s decisions to shut down organizations responsible for urban planning in Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as another public body that is overseeing the creation of pedestrian routes linking the Greek capital’s archaeological sites.

The government presented legislation for public consultation on Wednesday that foresees the closure of 21 state organizations. Those include the Organization for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens, also known as the Organization of Athens, and the equivalent body in Thessaloniki, which were established in 1985.

“The decision to close the two organizations is a huge leap backward, to a time when each municipality in Athens did whatever it wanted without taking their neighbors into account,” a former president of the Organization of Athens, current National Technical University of Athens professor Yiannis Polyzos, told Kathimerini.

At its peak, the Organization of Athens employed 70 people but today it has just five staff members.

ANSAmed goes bargain basement:

Foreign interest in investing in Greece is growing

  • From United Arab Emirates, Qatar and China

Funds from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are seeking ways to get involved in funding Greek small and medium-sized enterprises, as foreign interest in investing in Greece is growing on a number of fronts, daily Kathimerini reports.  According to a senior Development Ministry official, representatives of the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD) recently visited the heads of Greece’s four systemic banks to discuss ways of investing in corporate loans adding up to 700 million euros. At the same time Qatar remains interested in investing 1 billion euros in the Hellenic Investment Fund, as evidenced by the fact that its government has sent Athens a series of letters containing questions on technical matters.

The law for the foundation of the investment fund was voted on in the last few days of 2013 and the process for its organization and operation is already under way. The investments of Chinese groups in Piraeus are at a much more advanced stage. Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE is set to launch the pilot operation of its logistics center early next month, ahead of its official inauguration on February 20. Today or tomorrow state privatization fund TAIPED’s governing board is expected to issue its approval of the text of the contract concerning the sale of the former airport plot at Elliniko in southern Athens. The draft contract will then be forwarded to the three interested parties as an invitation for their binding bids.

Greek Reporter realigns:

SYRIZA Killing New Democracy, PASOK in Attica

A series of scandals, unresolved talks with the country’s international lenders, and the escape of a terrorist seem to be taking their toll on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government and his New Democracy Conservatives, who have fallen 7.7 percent points behind their rival, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in the critical Attica region including Athens.

SYRIZA, which opposes the austerity measures being imposed by the government, had been battling for the lead in surveys for a year with New Democracy, both sides barely one percent apart, but now has a lead of 24.6-16.9 percent in the poll taken by GPO for Newcast.

That comes in the wake of a series of arrests involving a scandal at the failed state-owned Hellenic Postbank, the defense ministry, a publisher charged with failing to pay his taxes and as Samaras is trying to assert the country is poised to make a comeback. Voters aren’t buying it.

And ANA-MPA goes for the jugular:

SYRIZA official attacks government, presents party’s proposals on banking system

A banking system that remains under state control, setting up a bank to support development and a special organization that will deal with ‘bad loans’ are the three main points in Radical Left Coalition’s (SYRIZA) agenda for the banking system, SYRIZA’s Yiannis Milios, responsible for the main opposition party’s economic policy, said on Thursday.

“First of all, [we must have] public control of the banking system. It should retain its public nature, not because we support state control ‘whether or no’ but because this is a necessary in order to implement a different set of policies,” he said in an interview with the Greek website Left.gr.

“Secondly, setting up a parallel financing sector, which will not form a part of the systemic banks. I am talking about a special-purpose development bank, about social solidarity funds and instruments to support of initiatives offering support and tackling the humanitarian crisis. Third, and possibly most important of all, dealing with non-performing, ‘bad loans’. We should have a special state-controlled organization… This should be able to consider the cases of small households and businesses that cannot repay their loans,” he pointed out.

Kathimerini English says no:

Siemens executive denies bribes role

Heinrich von Pierer, a former president and managing director of Siemens, denied in an Athens court on Thursday any knowledge of the bribes the Greek branch of the German firm is alleged to have paid to public officials to secure contracts.

According to sources, von Pierer told magistrate Maria Nikolakea said that he had no part in the 1997 multimillion agreement, known as the 8002 contract, for Siemens to digitize OTE telecom’s network. He said that the comapny’s information and communication networks department was responsible for the deal.

Von Pirer also denied knowing former Transport Minister Tasos Mantelis, currently on trial for allegedly accepting payments from Siemens. The German executive said it was not usual practice for Siemens to “sponsor” politicians. Mantelis claims the payment was an election campaign contribution.

Austerian enthusiasm from EUbusiness:

Kerry praises Greece for tough economic choices

US Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Greek government Friday for making “tough choices” to resolve the country’s economic crisis and said he believed the situation was improving.

Kerry welcomed Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos to the State Department, as Greece takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union.

“I want to congratulate Greece on assuming the EU presidency, and we look forward very much to working with them in that role, but also in continuing the path towards economic recovery,” the top US diplomat said.

Deadly intolerance from EnetEnglish.gr:

Police failed to intervene as Fyssas was murdered

  • Transcripts from the night of the stabbing emerge

Despite reporting that Golden Dawn elements were chasing people through the streets, a police motorcycle unit stationed close to where Pavlos Fyssas was fatally stabbed was instructed not to intervene during incident

Fresh evidence has emerged that suggests that police officers on the scene where a leftist hip-hop singer was fatally stabbed in September were instructed not intervene as the attack took place.

According to transcripts of communications between the police’s rapid response command and motorcycle units in the minutes immediately before and after the fatal attack, officers were in close vicinity to the spot where Pavlos Fyssas was knifed by a supporter of the neonazi Golden Dawn party.

The transcripts were among the material being used in the case against leading Golden Dawn members, who are accused of founding and running a criminal organisation. A magistrate in Piraeus, who is investigating Fyssas’ murder, requested the material, which would appear to corroborate the testimony provided by Fyssas’ girlfriend, who said that police – despite her pleas for help – remained idle during the attack.

Greco-chutzpah from ANA-MPA:

Golden Dawn deputy sues prosecutor and examining magistrates

Ultra-right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) MP Ilias Kassidiaris on Friday filed a suit against examining magistrates Ioanna Klapa and Maria Dimitropoulou as well as prosecutor Isidoros Doyiakos for breach of duty in connection with the GD case.

Kassidiaris claims that the remand warrants issued for Golden Dawn deputies Giorgos Germenis, Panagiotis Iliopoulos and Stathis Boukouras were signed on 9 January and the three deputies testified on 11 and 12 January.

A quesiton of timing from Kathimerini English:

Samaras mulling cabinet reshuffle and whether to call snap elections in October

SYRIZA’s declaration that it will attempt to force national elections in February over the successor to President Karolos Papoulias has forced Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his aides to begin discussing when to carry out a cabinet reshuffle and whether the government should pre-empt the opposition’s move by calling snap elections itself later this year.

Sources have told Kathimerini that Samaras is receiving two different sets of advice regarding the reshuffle. One school of thought is that the changes to his cabinet should happen around April, before the European Parliament and local elections in May. By that point, Greece would have got through the most challenging part of its EU presidency and the prime minister could send a signal of commitment to reforms by replacing ministers who are underperforming.

However, the competing view is that a reshuffle before the elections would weaken the government’s hand as Samaras would be forced to explain why he was changing his ministers for the second time in less than a year. Also, some of Samaras’s advisers believe that the reshuffle would be useful to leave until after the May elections in case the government achieves a disappointing result.

On to Cyprus and a downer from ANSAmed:

Crisis: Cyprus; construction dropped 33% y/y in Q3 of 2013

The Cyprus Index of Production in Construction for the third quarter of 2013 declined by 32.9% year on year, CNA reports quoting figures released by the national Statistical Service (CyStat). The index is provisionally estimated at 45.6 units (base year 2010=100).

Production in buildings declined by 31% whereas civil engineering projects registered a decrease of 37.1% year on year. Furthermore, according to CyStat, the Output Prices Index in Construction for the third quarter of 2013 is provisionally estimated at 100,7 units recording a decrease of 0,7% over the second quarter of 2013.

On to the Ukraine with Bloomberg:

Ukraine Targets Protesters With New Rules as Lawmakers Brawl

Ukraine, battling the biggest anti-government demonstrations in almost 10 years, passed a slew of legislation to curb people’s ability to protest.

As scuffles between lawmakers left one with a split lip and another with an injured forehead, bills were approved yesterday to keep closer tabs on mobile-phone use and make erecting tents in public places illegal. Parliament had originally convened to discuss the 2014 budget, which was adopted without debate as opposition parties tried to block the session.

The new laws, which require President Viktor Yanukovych’s signature, risk inflaming street rallies that began two months ago when the government snubbed a European Union cooperation pact in favor of closer ties with Russia. Demonstrators demanding the dismissal of the government and snap elections have vowed to maintain their makeshift tent camp in downtown Independence Square until presidential elections next March.

According to the lawsuit, this indicates that the detentions were pre-decided.

Latin America next, starting with armed intervention from BBC News:

Mexican government says ‘vigilantes not the target’

The Mexican government has tried to reassure vigilantes in the western state of Michoacan that they are not the target of its security operation.

Hundreds of troops have been sent to the area to restore order after groups of vigilantes clashed with members of the Knights Templar drug cartel. Many of the “self-defence groups” have refused to heed the government’s call to lay down arms.

The interior minister said “they’re not our target, the criminals are”. Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said he wanted to convince the vigilantes that “we are going to do our job”.

More from the Associated Press:

Mexico gov’t now faces vigilante groups it backed

Vigilantes in violent Michoacan state insist they won’t lay down their guns until top leaders of a powerful drug cartel are arrested, defying government orders as federal forces try to regain control in a lawless region plagued by armed groups.

Federal authorities find themselves struggling to rein in a monster they helped create in this state in western Mexico: citizen militias that rose among farmers and lime pickers to fight the powerful Knights Templar Cartel.

“They said they’re not going to bother us, but they don’t want us to keep advancing,” Hipolito Mora, head of the self-defense group in the town of La Ruana, said Wednesday. The vigilantes now control the 17 municipalities that make up southwestern Michoacan — about a third of the state. “They don’t want us to carry our guns in view,” Mora said.

And still more from BBC News:

Mexico replaces security chiefs in conflict-hit Michoacan

Mexican authorities have said top security officials will be replaced in the western state of Michoacan that has recently been rocked by violence.

Hundreds of troops have recently been deployed to restore order after groups of vigilantes clashed with a drug gang.

But many vigilantes are refusing to heed the government’s call to disarm.

This is despite reassurances by the federal government that the “self-defence groups” are not the target of an ongoing security operation.

Weighty measures from The Guardian:

Mexico enacts soda tax in effort to combat world’s highest obesity rate

  • Health officials in the United States look to Mexico’s new law as an experiment in curbing sugar consumption

A groundbreaking tax on sugar-sweetened beverages recently passed in Mexico could provide the evidence needed to justify similar laws across low- and middle-income countries and cities in the US, experts believe.

Campaigners and public health experts are watching closely to see what impact Mexico’s tax has on consumption. Mexico, where 32.8% of the population is obese, is now the country with the biggest weight problem in the world, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, overtaking the United States. The impact on health has been serious – 14% of the population has diabetes. Rates of high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart attacks, are also high.

From the Tico Times, Latin libertarianism:

Libertarian candidate Otto Guevara could become Costa Rica’s next president

A second round of voting in April in Costa Rica’s presidential race could turn the dynamics upside-down, as current third-place candidate Otto Guevara would be favored.

This is according to the latest poll released by the daily La Nación, the first time a public poll has examined scenarios if no candidate succeeds in getting more than 40 percent of the vote in the first round.

The poll ran three scenarios between the top polling candidates – the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) nominee Johnny Araya, the progressive Broad Front Party candidate José María Villalta, and the Libertarian Movement Party’s Guevara.

Guevara likely would defeat both Villalta and Araya – if Guevara makes it to the second round – while Araya would lose to Villalta, La Nación’s poll predicted.

On to India, with an inflationary headline from Nikkei Asian Review:

India feels the pinch of higher food prices

Soaring food prices have hit Indian consumers at a time when the nation’s economy is losing strength. With general elections set for May, it is no surprise that inflation has emerged as a major political issue.

India’s consumer price index surged 11% on the year in November, the fastest growth since 2012, when comparable data became available. The pace eased somewhat in December, but food prices there have climbed far faster than in other major Asian countries in recent months.

At the end of November, prices of onions and tomatoes were 100% higher than they were a year earlier, and cabbage was 300% costlier. Vegetable prices fell slightly in December due to the start the harvest season, but prices of rice and other grains are trending upward.

Thailand next, via BBC News

Thailand crisis: Blast targets Bangkok protest rally

A blast at an anti-government rally in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, has injured more than 30 people, amid an ongoing political crisis.The blast took place at a rally led by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who was unhurt.

At least eight people have died since protests, triggered by a controversial amnesty bill, began in November.

The protesters have been blocking major road junctions in Bangkok since Monday and are camped out in some areas.

They want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who they allege is influenced by her brother, deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra, to step down in place of an unelected “people’s council”.

More from Reuters:

Thai protesters march on, defiant after grenade attack

Anti-government protesters marched defiantly through Thailand’s capital on Saturday, with one group entering a police compound, undeterred by a grenade explosion the day before that wounded 35 demonstrators and killed one.

Friday’s blast sent tension rippling through Bangkok after several days of relative calm that had suggested the movement to close down the government and force the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was running out of steam.

It was unclear who was behind the attack on the protesters. Their firebrand leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, blamed the government and said the incident would not dent the morale of thousands who on Monday stepped up a two-month agitation, blockading key arteries of the city and occupying ministries.

Troubles on a second from from BBC News:

Thai PM Yingluck probed over ‘corrupt rice subsidy scheme’

Thailand’s official anti-corruption commission says it is investigating Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in connection with the government’s controversial rice subsidy scheme.

The policy guarantees Thai rice farmers a much higher price than on the global market, but critics say it is too expensive and vulnerable to corruption.

The commission has already charged one minister, and is investigating others. The news comes as Ms Yingluck already faces intense pressure to resign.

Soda secrecy in Taiwan from Want China Times:

Coca-Cola says it will not quit Taiwan market easily

The Coca-Cola Company said Wednesday it is working hard to communicate with the relevant authorities and will not easily pull out of Taiwan because of new labeling regulations.

“It’s still too early to talk about bowing out,” the company said, responding to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s newly amended food sanitation regulations that require listing of flavoring ingredients on food product labels.

The requirement reportedly has irritated many foreign companies and could expose Coca-Cola to the risk of leaking its secret formula. The company said Wednesday that the disclosure of flavoring ingredients is not in line with international practices in the food industry.

On to the mainland with a bankster prediction from Want China Times:

Credit tapering in China to continue in 2014: JP Morgan

China’s lending moderated in 2013 and the growth of broad money supply slowed, triggering forecasts that credit tapering will continue in 2014.

China’s new renminbi-denominated lending stood at 8.89 trillion yuan (US$1.5 trillion) in 2013, up 687.9 billion yuan (US$113.6 billion), the central bank announced on Wednesday.

New loans denominated in foreign currencies hit 584.8 billion yuan (US$96.48 billion) in the 12 months, representing a year-on-year decrease of 331.5 billion yuan (US$54.69 billion), according to Sheng Songcheng, financial survey and statistics chief at the People’s Bank of China.

Total social financing, a measure of funds raised by entities in the real economy and a broad measure of liquidity in the economy, stood at 17.29 trillion yuan (US$2.919 trillion) last year, up 1.53 trillion yuan (US$252.4 billion) from a year previously and a record high.

Cash flow from JapanToday:

Foreign direct investment in China rebounds 5.3% in 2013

Overseas investment into China rose 5.3% last year, official data showed Thursday, bouncing back after declining in 2012 for the first time in three years.

Foreign direct investment (FDI), which excludes financial sectors, totalled $117.59 billion last year, the commerce ministry said.

The figure is up from the $111.72 billion posted in 2012, when it skidded 3.7% in the face of economic weakness in developed markets and a growth slowdown at home.

SINA English cracks down:

China to close incompetent financing companies

China’s central bank said Thursday that it will work with other authorities to investigate and close down incompetent financing companies run by local governments.

Companies with bad credit, confusing services or unsustainable debt will be closed to prevent financial risks, said the People’s Bank of China at a conference about financial market and credit policies

Wary of the hefty debts accumulated by its local governments over the years and the potential huge risks associated with it, China’s central government is moving to officially allow local governments to issue bonds.

From South China Morning Post, debt debilitation:

China’s high court orders blanket ban to deny debt defaulters jobs, travel and credit

China’s Supreme People’s Court on Friday introduced a raft of restrictions against debt defaulters who fail to meet court orders to pay back what they owe.

Under the blanket ban, they will be prohibited from travelling by air or soft-sleeper train, and will also be banned from applying for loans or credit cards.

The court also ordered employment restrictions, barring them from taking positions as legal representative, board member or senior executive in companies.

The Global Times goes puritan:

Luxury goods losing its luster in China

Wealthy Chinese are likely to buy fewer luxury goods again this year after the steepest cut-back on spending in at least five years, changing the game for high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton which have staked their growth on China.

Overall spending by wealthy Chinese fell by 15 percent in 2013, the third consecutive year of decline, according to a survey result released Thursday by the Hurun Report. Spending on gifts in particular also declined by a quarter.

The drop coincides with a government crackdown on corruption and gifting, as well as a growing penchant for traveling and shopping overseas to circumvent -Chinese consumption taxes on luxury goods as high as 40 percent.

Signs of things to come? From CNBC:

A new report shows that 64 percent of Chinese millionaires have either emigrated or plan to emigrate—taking their spending and fortunes with them. The United States is their favorite destination.

The report from Hurun, a wealth research firm that focuses on China, said that one-third of China’s super rich—or those worth $16 million or more—have already emigrated.

The data offer the latest snapshot of China’s worrying wealth flight, with massive numbers of rich Chinese taking their families and fortunes overseas. Previous studies show the main reasons rich Chinese are leaving is to pursue better educations for their kids, and to escape the pollution and overcrowding in urban China.

Driving success from Want China Times:

Auto sales and production see record 2013 growth in China

China’s car production and sales rose by 14.8% and 13.9% last year compared to 2012, keeping the country’s record as the world’s largest car market for five straight years, reports the Beijing Daily, citing China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) figures.

Both the car production and sales growth outperformed the 7% growth projected in early 2013, but domestic brands remained at a disadvantage, while the promotion of new energy cars has been stagnant, the paper said.

After the small growth of below 5% in 2011 and 2012, China’s car market returned to double-digit growth last year, with monthly sales in January, March and December exceeding two million units.

SINA English tightens the reins:

Officials with spouses overseas won’t be promoted

The regulation of “naked officials” — civil servants whose family members have migrated overseas — has been tightened in the wake of the Party’s efforts to fight graft.

Government officials whose spouses have moved overseas will not be promoted, according to a regulation released by the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, the Party’s top personnel agency.

As for officials who don’t have spouses; If all of their children have emigrated, those officials will not be promoted either, the department said on Wednesday.

From SINA English, booming for babies:

Zhejiang becomes first Chinese province to relax one-child rule

Zhejiang has become the first mainland province to relax the one-child policy rule, state media reported yesterday.

Couples in which one parent was a single child would be permitted to have a second child, Xinhua reported.

Provincial legislators on Monday passed a revision to local rules, which took effect yesterday, it said, citing a statement from the Zhejiang Provincial People’s Congress.

Japan next and a boost from Jiji Press:

BOJ Report Says Economy Recovering in All 9 Regions

The Bank of Japan used the word “recovery” in its economic assessments for all nine regions in the country for the first time ever in a quarterly report released on Thursday.

In the regional economic report, released in line with a meeting of BOJ branch managers, the central bank said that “all regions reported that the economy had been recovering or recovering moderately.”

The BOJ first released the report in April 2005.

A contrarian take from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Abenomics Weakening: IMF Chief

The impact of Abenomics, an economic policy package of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “is weakening a bit,” International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Wednesday.

“No question Abenomics has been a success. Missive monetary policy shift has had a huge impact,” Lagarde said at New Year’s press conference. But she also said, “The initial boost from Abenomics is weakening a bit.”

“Japan is short of a medium term fiscal path and the economic reforms that would boost potential growth,” she pointed out.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First this from NHK WORLD:

Civic group seeks fault survey for nuclear plant

A civic group is urging Japan’s nuclear regulators to conduct a detailed survey of possible active faults in and around the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on the Sea of Japan coast.

The plant is the world’s largest in terms of output.

The group based in Niigata Prefecture said it had submitted a letter of request to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, ahead of a scheduled visit by its members to the plant in the prefecture.

The members will carry out a survey within the compound to see if it has faults that could move and cause earthquakes. The survey is part of the authority’s safety screening. Utilities have to pass it to return their plants online.

The Asahi Shimbun gets firm:

‘Iron-hearted’ manager in charge of ending Fukushima nuclear crisis

Nuclear plant manager Naohiro Masuda developed such a fearsome reputation that his subordinates called him “iron-hearted.”

But he is also known as a boss who gets things done, and this may be the reason he was put in charge of the enormous task of decommissioning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and ending the contaminated water problem there.

His work will start in April.

The Japan Times sounds an alarm:

Fukushima No. 1 engineer’s warning to Taiwan: Nuclear power unstable

A Japanese engineer who helped build reactor 4 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant said such plants are inherently unstable, urging Taiwan to ditch atomic energy for renewable resources.

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, arriving in Taipei on Tuesday with a delegation of Diet members for a six-day visit, told a press conference Wednesday that the 1986 Chernobyl disaster changed his views on nuclear power.

“Nuclear accidents are bound to happen someday, only that we don’t know when they will happen,” he said.

Tanaka, who helped build part of reactor 4 while working at Hitachi Ltd. in 1974, quit the company in 1977 and became a writer. He chronicled the discovery of a manufacturing defect in reactor 4, and the subsequent coverup, in a book in 1990.

Another voice hear from via the Asahi Shimbun:

Niigata governor calls TEPCO’s turnaround plan a ‘pie in the sky’

Government officials in Niigata Prefecture criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s rebuilding plan that includes bringing idled nuclear reactors back online.

They questioned whether the utility could implement the plan according to schedule and raised doubts about TEPCO’s commitment to safety.

TEPCO’s plan, approved by the central government on Jan. 15, calls for restarting four reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture. The utility aims to resume operations at the plant’s No. 6 and 7 reactors as early as July.

Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida bluntly called the plan “a pie in the sky idea.”

NHK WORLD inspects:

Japan’s regulator starts screening reactors

Japan’s nuclear regulator has begun safety screening of a reactor affected by the March 2011 disaster.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is for the first time reviewing an application for such a reactor.

The NRA on Thursday held its first meeting on the screening for the reactor at the Onagawa nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Such screening is needed to restart idle reactors in Japan.

Power switchboards and emergency generators of the plant were partially damaged by the powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The Asahi Shimbun lays the groundwork:

Town in shadow of stricken nuclear plant to set up base for recovery

The southern part of this ghost town that co-hosts the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is to be turned into a base for recovery operations with thousands of new residents.

Municipal authorities, in announcing the decision on Jan. 15, said that about 3,000 people are expected to live in the 50-hectare area where radiation levels are relatively low. Of them, 2,000 will be mainly engaged in research for decommissioning the reactors and employees of companies working for the plant.

The project is set for completion by March 2018.

And from the realm of other fuels, other problems, this from Al Jazeera America:

Louisiana forests being sacrificed to fuel Europe’s biomass boom

  • Environmentalists say swaths of Southeastern woodlands are being cut down for ‘green’ energy efforts across Atlantic

In 2007, the European Union set an ambitious goal to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. That, in effect, required power plants across the continent to quickly find new ways to make energy. Some turned to wind and solar. But for coal-fired power plants it was much cheaper to convert their facilities to burn wood. The conundrum for those companies is that much of western Europe doesn’t have sufficiently large forests left to meet the demand, and the remaining woodland is heavily regulated. So corporations turned to the Southeastern U.S., where wood is plentiful, and regulations about what can be done on private land are lax.

Wood pellet manufacturing in the U.S. is now booming.

Ditto from the Colorado Independent:

Colorado drilling data: More than a spill a day

Along with buckled highways, washed-away towns and floating SUVs, lasting images of the floods that ravaged northern Colorado last year include the wrenched remains of fracking well pads. Listing oil tanks bobbed before farmhouses and on the streets of city neighborhoods. For weeks, the threat posed by oil and gas spills became a central topic of mainstream media news.

But as the conservationist Center for Western Priorities points out, spills are a constant problem in Colorado, where hydraulic fracturing technology has spurred a boom in drilling that the state’s few inspectors struggle to monitor.

But they do monitor and they depend on drillers to report spills as well, which they do. The Center has posted online a “Colorado Toxic Release Tracker” using available data compiled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. The tracker paints an ugly picture. According to the data, there were 495 oil industry-related chemical spills in Colorado last year and nearly a quarter of the spills impacted ground or surface water, the organization wrote in a release Wednesday. Sixty-three spills spread within 1,500 feet of pigs, sheep and cows. Two hundred twenty-five spread within the same distance of buildings.

BBC News worries:

Giant US trade deal might weaken shark fin ban

Environmental campaigners are “extremely concerned” that a new trade deal involving the US could weaken attempts to end shark finning.

The first steps to outlaw the practice were agreed at a meeting in Bangkok last March. But the leaked draft text of the new deal involving 12 Pacific countries has no binding commitment to curb finning.

The long-running negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are due to conclude in April.

New Europe holds the line:

MEPs against the authorization of genetically modified maize

MEPs called on the European Commission not to allow the genetically modified maize crop Pioneer 1507 enter the EU market, because its insect-resistant pollen might harm butterflies and moths that do not pose a threat to crops.

As Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, a German member of the S&D group, who opposed the maize approval, stated: “Based on this proposal, we are clearly lacking evidence on the safety of this new GMO strain to have it on the EU markets.”

She also added: “We have decided to object to this proposal for an authorisation because we were very surprised by the Commission attitude to take a positive decision which had been opposed by 12 member states (with only six Member States voting in favour of the authorisation).”

And for our final item, a warning sounded often here from EUbusiness:

EU warns of Bisphenol health threat

The EU food safety watchdog warned Friday that exposure levels to Bisphenol A (BPA), already implicated as a health concern for babies, should be cut by a factor of 10.

The European Food Safety Authority said a review of recent studies showed “exposure to BPA is likely to adversely affect the kidney and liver, as well as causing effects on the mammary gland.”

BPA may also have an effect on the “reproductive, nervous, immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, as well as in the development of cancer,” it said.


2 responses to “Headlines of the day II: EconoHydroFukuFrack

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