We begin today’s coverage of things economic, political, and environmental with a global focus, starting with this from The Guardian:
ILO warns young hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise
- International Labour Organisation says firms are increasing payouts to shareholders rather than investing in new workers
The world could face years of jobless economic recovery, with young people set to be hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise this year, a report from the International Labour Organisation warns.
As the World Economic Forum kicks off in the Swiss town of Davos on Wednesday with a focus on growing inequality, the ILO has highlighted a “potentially dangerous gap between profits and people”.
The UN agency forecasts millions more people will join the ranks of the unemployed as companies choose to increase payouts to shareholders rather than invest their burgeoning profits in new workers.
Intellectual property idiocy from Vanity Fair:
The Word “Candy” is Basically Owned by Candy Crush Now
Candy Crush Saga—which should really be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for providing the world’s population with a way to occupy itself while waiting for friends to show up at restaurants—made some waves yesterday when its maker, the company King, announced it had trademarked the word “candy.” Yes, this is an effort on King’s part to protect the absurdly popular game—the top-downloaded free app and highest-revenue grossing app in 2013—from any “intellectual property infringements.”
They’ve successfully received a trademark from the European Union related to the use of the word “candy” for computer games, but also—much less intuitively—in the realms of clothing and footwear.
CNBC shuts it down:
A ‘tsunami’ of store closings expected to hit retail
On Tuesday, Sears said that it will shutter its flagship store in downtown Chicago in April. It’s the latest of about 300 store closures in the U.S. that Sears has made since 2010. The news follows announcements earlier this month of multiple store closings from major department stores J.C. Penney and Macy’s.
Further signs of cuts in the industry came Wednesday, when Target said that it will eliminate 475 jobs worldwide, including some at its Minnesota headquarters, and not fill 700 empty positions.
Experts said these headlines are only the tip of the iceberg for the industry, which is set to undergo a multiyear period of shuttering stores and trimming square footage.
Gendered joblessness from International Business Times:
More US Women Have Been Jobless For More Than Six Months Than In 2007; Overall The U.S. Has More Than Double The Long-Term Unemployed
It’s been over four and a half years since the official end of the longest period of economic contraction since the Great Depression, but there are still more long-term unemployed, job-seeking Americans than there were in 2007. And the situation is worse for women, according to a study released Wednesday from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, which studies the effect of community development on vulnerable children, youth and families.
“We’re seeing a growing proportion of females among the long-term unemployed,” said Andrew Shaefer, doctoral candidate at the university’s Department of Sociology and author of the study, which analyzes data from the official Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Wire keeps it:
Cash-Hoarding Companies Are Hurting the Economic Recovery
Roughly one-third of the world’s largest non-financial companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, are hoarding $2.8 trillion in unspent cash, preventing much-needed funds from entering the global economy and stalling our recovery from the 2008 recession.
The Financial Times reports that a Deloitte analysis found 32 percent of non-financial companies listed in the S&P Global 1200 index are holding 82 percent of the total unspent cash — a level of reserves not seen since 2000. According to FT, the study emerges as companies face pressure to spend:
An influential survey of fund managers conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch released on Tuesday showed a record 58 per cent of investors polled want companies’ cash piles spent on capex [capital expenditures]. A record 67 per cent said companies were “underinvesting” and less than a third of asset managers surveyed want companies to return more money to shareholders – the usual complaint of investors.
These companies have been carefully stowing money away since the economic collapse, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do if you care about growing the economy.
Countering Tea Party dogma via Bloomberg:
San Francisco’s Higher Minimum Wage Hasn’t Hurt the Economy
San Francisco is often ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to protecting public health and the environment. The city was the first to ban plastic bags in stores, it is considering one of the most restrictive bans on the sale of bottled water, and smoking bans have spread from public parks and entry ways to all public events. San Francisco even banned the free toys in McDonald’s (MCD) Happy Meals.
San Francisco was also one of the first cities to increase the minimum wage beyond the federal level and mandate better benefits for low-income workers. The wage increase went into effect in 2004, long before the notion of one percenters and the recent wave of wage protests by fast-food and retail workers. And now everyone from President Obama to Fox News star Bill O’Reilly is talking about raising the federal minimum wage.
For those who need more evidence, a new book hopes to persuade them. When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level argues that San Francisco’s decision to increase the minimum wage and offer other benefits, such as sick leave pay, hasn’t hurt the city’s economy at all. The three editors—all labor experts—found that from 2004 to 2011 overall private employment grew 5.6 percent in San Francisco and 3 percent in Santa Clara County. Other Bay Area counties saw an overall 4.4 percent drop during that time. Among food-service workers, who are more likely to be affected by minimum-wage laws, employment grew 17.7 percent in San Francisco, faster than either of the other Bay Area counties.
North of the border and the fall of the Canadian dollar from the Globe and Mail:
Loonie’s plunge deepens as Poloz ponders weak inflation
The Bank of Canada’s angst over low inflation sent the dollar into a nosedive, but Governor Stephen Poloz says a cheaper currency is simply the “icing on the cake” for an economy that will be driven by stronger U.S. growth.
The bank gave no signal on future interest rate moves as it kept its key overnight rate unchanged at 1 per cent, where it has been since September, 2010, and maintained its official neutral stance on the direction of its next move. But the bank’s language about inflation and currency caused the loonie to drop sharply.
How to sustain the world’s recovery from financial crisis is the focus as delegates gather for this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. As Joanna Partridge reports there’s an air of confidence around the Swiss ski resort this year.
“We are more concerned about low inflation today than we were three months ago,” Mr. Poloz explained to reporters after the central bank’s first rate announcement of 2014. The bank said in its monetary policy report that it still views the dollar as strong enough to “pose competitiveness challenges for Canada’s non-commodity exports.”
Trans-Atlantic anxieties from TheLocal.de:
Food industry warns over EU-US trade pact
Food industry professionals meeting in Berlin have voiced concerns over a looming US-EU free trade pact, fearing a transatlantic onslaught of genetically modified foods, hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken.
Small farmers in particular worry about a softening of European food safety standards and a joint “race to the bottom” if liberalised trade rules pit them against American agro-industry giants and food multinationals.
Others concerned, too, via Spiegel:
Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?
Opposition to the planned new trans-Atlantic free trade agreement is growing. So far, criticism has focused on the fact that the deal seems directed exclusively at economic interests. Now fears are growing that corporations will be given too much power.
The negotiating partners enthusiastically extol the increase in prosperity the trade agreement would create. The pact, which would be the world’s largest, would cover 800 million people and almost one-third of global trade. US President Barack Obama has spoken of the creation “hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.” The European Commission has calculated it would spur the EU economy by €120 billion ($162.5 billion).
Nevertheless, there are plenty of skeptics to be found. After the third round of negotiations, an unusually broad alliance of anti-globalization groups, NGOs, environmental and consumer protection groups, civil rights groups and organized labor is joining forces to campaign against TTIP.
Alarm bells ringing from the London Telegraph:
Crippled eurozone to face fresh debt crisis this year, warns ex-ECB strongman Axel Weber
Ex-Bundesbank head Axel Weber expects fresh market attacks on eurozone this year and economist Kenneth Rogoff says the euro was a “giant historic mistake”
Axel Weber, the former head of the German Bundesbank, said the underlying disorder continues to fester and region is likely to face a fresh market attack this year.
“Europe is under threat. I am still really concerned. Markets have improved but the economic situation for most countries has not improved,” he said that the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Mr Weber, now chairman of UBS, said the European Central Bank’s stress test for banks in November risks setting off a new sovereign debt scare, reviving the crisis in the Mediterranean countries.
More worries via BBC News:
Economic recovery in Europe is not over, bosses say
Top leaders at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos have warned Europe is not fully out of recession.
They called for a more flexible labour market and a focus on innovation, technology and trade to stop Europe falling behind the US and China.
Axel Weber, chairman at UBS, said after a crisis it was natural to want to “look on the bright side”, but that such excitement was “too one sided”.
He said Europe’s recovery was “lacklustre and uneven”.
TheLocal.ch plays semantics:
Europe called ‘emerging country’ at Davos
Top bosses and economists warned the global elite on Wednesday not to get over-excited by a gradual economic upturn in Europe, which one chief executive branded an “emerging country.”
While the mood of doom surrounding the eurozone that stalked Davos at the height of the crisis has abated, staggering rates of youth unemployment and sluggish growth are still battering Europe, delegates heard.
Christophe de Margerie, head of French energy giant Total, said: “Don’t take it as being provocative (but) I think Europe should be reclassified as an emerging country.”
The Guardian deprives:
Shorter lifespans among poor costing Europe trillions
- Report reveals that avoidable cost of health inequalities is now greater than most European nations’ combined GDP
European nations face an annual bill of more than €1.3tn (£1.1tn) as the lives of the poorest in society are shortened through illness and disability, a EU report claims. New figures show that the “avoidable cost of health inequalities” is greater than most European nations’ GDP, and the report warns that “ignoring the social, economic and health costs of health inequalities will risk economic recovery”.
The study reveals that losses in labour productivity cost the continent €141bn, and premature deaths another €1.3tn – greater than the economies of 24 EU nations. By comparison, the UK’s economy, the third biggest in Europe, was worth €1.9tn.
On to Britain with BBC News:
UK unemployment rate drops to 7.1%
The UK unemployment rate has dropped to 7.1%, close to the point at which the Bank of England has said it will consider raising interest rates.
The number of people out of work fell by 167,000 to 2.32 million in the three months to November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The ONS also said the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 24,000 to 1.25 million in December.
Reining in from Europe Online:
EU can curb short-selling, court says following British complaint
The European Union can intervene to curb short-selling in certain situations, the bloc’s top court ruled Wednesday, rejecting a British complaint over the measure.
The ruling confirms the powers granted to the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in 2012 to intervene in EU financial markets to curb short-selling in cases of serious financial instability.
In short-selling, traders attempt to make money by betting that an asset’s value will fall.
The law was introduced in the wake of the EU’s financial crisis, when short-selling was blamed for contributing to a freefall in European banks’ share prices. But Britain, which has a strong financial sector, opposed the law and took the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Numbers rising from DutchNews.nl:
Unemployment rises to 8.5%, 100,000 joined the jobless ranks in 2013
The Dutch unemployment rate rose to 8.5% in December, an increase of 0.3 percentage point on November.
In 2013 as a whole, the jobless total rose by 100,000 to 668,000, the national statistics office CBS says. The number of unemployment benefit claims rose nearly 29% in December, compared with the year earlier period and 4.5% month on month.
Calculated according to the International Labour Organisation definition, the Dutch unemployment rate is now 7%.
And another Dutch alarm from DutchNews.nl:
More people are falling behind on paying their bills
Some 740,000 people are registered as having debt repayment problems at the credit registration agency BKR, following a 20,000 increase over the past six months.
‘Divorce and unemployment in particular have boosted the number of consumers with problems paying their bills,’ director Peter van den Bosch said in a statement.
The BKR registers loans provided by banks and other credit firms. Of the 8.6 million people in the register, 8.6% are at least two months behind in their payments.
TheLocal.de cozies up:
Germany and France commit to closer ties
Germany and France are to strengthen ties by co-operating more on foreign policy and adopting a unified stance in EU negotiations, it emerged following a meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers on Tuesday.
The two foreign ministers used Tuesday’s talks to breathe new life into bilateral ties after Europe’s financial crisis exposed major differences in approach to budgetary discipline and growth.
“We must take advantage of the situation: France and Germany both have three years ahead of them without any national elections,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.
Fabius also indicated that the countries would co-operate more closely in economic and defence policy, as we well as on tackling climate change.
On to France and the comeback kind from The Guardian:
Nicolas Sarkozy plans 2017 comeback
- Bernadette Chirac says former French president will run against man who ousted him, François Hollande, at next election
That Nicolas Sarkozy is contemplating his comeback is hardly a secret in France.
Now one of the former president’s most high-profile supporters and confidantes, the former first lady Bernadette Chirac, has confirmed Sarkozy is planning a return to the political fray.
France 24 carries on:
Hollande gets popularity boost after affair revelations
Far from taking a hit, French President François Hollande’s popularity seems to have been boosted – albeit by a slender margin – since revelations surfaced he was having an affair with an actress 18 years his junior.
The latest survey, by the BVA polling institute, gave him 31 percent approval, up from 26 percent in October, the lowest popularity rating for a French president in modern times.
The BVA poll was conducted on January 16 and 17 – a full week after the story broke in a French gossip magazine that Hollande was seeing 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet.
‘Spaniards are taking our jobs’: French builders
French builders claim Spanish companies are stealing work from them, paying lower wages and cutting corners to win construction contracts.
“The Spanish have much lower wages so they can always undercut us,” Patrick La Carrere, head of the builders’ federation in southwest France told business site Bloomberg recently.
Minimum wages in France are now almost double that of Spain’s (€1,445, or $1960, a month against €753).
And with the Spanish fleeing their own construction slump and an unemployment rate of 27.6 percent, France is facing an influx of Spanish construction companies.
Analysis: Hardest yet to come for France’s Hollande on reforms
French President Francois Hollande has won cautious backing from Berlin, Brussels and financial markets for a centrist reform push that could be his last chance to get the euro zone’s second largest economy motoring.
A week after his January 14 announcement, it is not clear how and when he will pull off the public spending and tax cuts at the heart of the plan. It is also uncertain whether French business will play ball with his goal of cutting unemployment.
Moreover, the new determination to cut taxes opens a whole new Pandora’s box: the question of whether Paris will bring its public deficit into line with EU targets next year as promised.
And a denial from France 24:
McDonald’s denies evading French taxes
McDonald’s has denied a report by French weekly L’Express that claims the US fast-food giant transferred profits abroad to evade French taxes.
According to the report, published in the French magazine’s Wednesday edition, McDonald’s has transferred 2.2 billion euros to foreign tax havens since 2009.
L’Express, quoting French tax officials, says the money was sent to subsidiaries in Luxemburg and Switzerland “thereby evading VAT and corporate taxes in France”.
In a statement published on Tuesday, shortly after the report was leaked to the French press, McDonald’s acknowledged that French tax authorities had searched its offices in the Paris suburb of Guyancourt in October, but denied any wrongdoing.
TheLocal.fr eases up:
Abortion: French MPs vote to relax legislation
France headed in the opposite direction of Spain on Tuesday when lawmakers voted to relax the legislation around abortion, effectively making it easier for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.
French lawmakers gave the green light on Tuesday to a change in the country’s abortion laws that will please certain women’s rights campaigners but has angered some critics on the political right.
The National Assembly voted late in the night to pass a key amendment to the current legislation, which states that the woman must prove that having a baby would put her “in a situation of distress” before she can terminate the pregnancy. Lawmakers voted to delete the notion of having to prove “distress”, which critics argued was archaic, meaning it will now be down to the woman’s choice.
On to Spain and agony prolonged from El País:
Olli Rehn: “It will take 10 years to fix the Spanish crisis”
- EU economic commissioner denies he is an austerity hawk
- “In the North, it’s the opposite; I’m considered too soft”
The European Union commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, denied he was a hawk in terms of the fiscal consolidation programs imposed in Spain and other countries in the southern periphery of the euro zone and claimed that these programs had served their purpose, which was to restore investor confidence in those countries.
In an interview with EL PAÍS a day before Spain formally exited on Thursday the some 41-billion-euro European bailout program to clean up its banking system, Rehn, a Finn, said he did not see himself as the “king of spending cuts.”
Deutsche Welle diagnoses:
Spain logs alarming jobless rate as it exits bailout program
Fresh data have shown Spain is emerging only haltingly from a long recession. The fourth-largest eurozone economy saw its jobless rate rising again at the end of 2013, but that won’t stop its exit from a bailout package.
Spain’s unemployment rate rose to 26.03 percent in the final quarter of 2013, up from 25.98 percent in the previous three months, the national statistic institute INE reported Thursday.
The deterioration, albeit a minor one, spoiled a central bank report on a 0.3-percent economic expansion in the same quarter.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Spain faced five more years with jobless rates topping 25 percent unless it enacted yet more reforms, also with a view to helping firms slash wages rather than cutting jobs.
El País retreats:
Rajoy looking for consensus on “sensitive issue” of abortion
- Justice chief Gallardón goes on the attack against Socialists
- But prime minister promises to hear out all sectors of society
The long-awaited debate in Congress over the government’s controversial abortion reform got underway Wednesday during a heated session in which Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón accused the opposition Socialists of taking a “selfish” stand against the planned changes.
Gallardón, the architect of the measure, stunned many members of the Socialist bench when he told them that because they didn’t recognize a fetus’ right to life, this could also lead them to not recognize the right to life of the living.
On to Italy and the Bunga Bunga tale de jour from BBC News:
Berlusconi ‘witness tampering’ inquiry in Ruby trial
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to be investigated for alleged witness-tampering in an underage prostitution trial.
He and his lawyers are accused of meeting the female witnesses to discuss the evidence they would give.
Berlusconi was convicted last year of paying for sex with an underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”.
Sounds like New Jersey, via EUobserver:
EU-funded project in Italy suspected of mafia links
Three NGOs on Wednesday (22 January) filed an official complaint with the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, demanding an investigation into an EU-sponsored motorway in Italy, where construction firms are suspected of fraud and infiltration by the mafia.
The project at stake is the Passante di Mestre motorway – a bypass around the northern Italian city of Mestre, just across the bay from Venice. Last year, it received a loan of €350 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to refinance the debt accumulated by the project since its start, in 2003.
Initially budgeted at €750 million, the motorway has faced delays and the cost has almost doubled to €1.3 billion.
After the jump, Greek crisis, Ukrainian deaths, a Lenin departure, Aussie stagflation anxieties, Thai troubles, Chinese neoliberal moves, European fracking deregulated, poisoned rivers, vast tracts of Chinese farmland polluted, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Our first Greek headline and anxiety from To Vima:
Staikouras troubled by State Council ruling on wage cuts
- Ministry estimates a 1-billion-euro shortfall If the State Council ruling applies to academics and judges
The Deputy Minister of Finances Christos Staikouras spoke to the Financial Times about how the State Council’s recent ruling regarding the wage cuts of uniformed officers is troubling the Ministry, as it now has to return the funds.
In his interview with Kerin Hope, Mr. Staikouras is particular concerned that if the State Council ruling applies to other categories of civil servants who have experienced major wage cuts due to the government’s troika-mandated austerity policies, such as academics and judges, then the budget will be further burdened with an additional 1 billion euro in refunds.
FinMin Stournaras tells EP “negotiations with the troika will last as long as it takes”
The negotiations with the troika of Greece’s creditors will last as long as it takes, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras underlined here on Wednesday while addressing the European Parliament on the economic governance and the rotating six-month EU presidency.
Commenting on statements made by Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem on the course of the negotiations with the troika of Greece’s lenders, he cited a recent speech by Dijsselbloem before the Dutch national parliament when he acknowledged the big progress made in Greece and that the December prerequisites have been met, noting at the same time that there are still pending issues.
“Those pending issues are being discussed with the troika, we are at the end of the programme. This evaluation is difficult. As the Greek government, we are trying to achieve what’s best for the Greek people. That’s why the negotiations with the troika will last as long as it takes. At the end we will have an agreement,” the Finance minister said.
Kathimerini English dictates:
Troika says Greece must dismantle barriers to competition for review to conclude
The troika has warned Greece that the ongoing review of its adjustment program will not be completed in February unless Athens adopts the dozens of recommendations made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for removing regulations that distort competition.
In an e-mail sent by Greece’s lenders to Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis, which has been seen by Kathimerini, the troika says it is unable to see how the review can be concluded if the Greek government does not remove the barriers to competition identified by the OECD or provide satisfactory explanations for leaving some of the regulations unchanged.
ANA-MPA offers a rare voice of sanity:
‘Time for troika to go home,’ EP’s Swoboda says
“It’s time for the troika (of Greece’s lenders) to go home and for Greece take up the responsibility of reforms that need to be done in the country,” Hannes Swoboda, head of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament said on Thursday at a press conference following a meeting with the mayor of Thessaloniki, Northern Greece, Yiannis Boutaris.
“Unnecessary sacrifices have been made, but we cannot turn the clock backwards. We can stop now and turn to growth and the creation of investment and jobs,” Swoboda pointed out, asked what the consequences for the Greek people would be if the investigation of the EP’s Committee found that troika had made mistakes.
He said he was in favour of the EP monitoring and checking troika’s activities in Greece, but such a proposal was not supported by the European Popular Party, which holds the majority in the Commission.
To Vima totes up:
Eurostat estimates Greek public debt at 171.8% GDP
- Statistics show that Greece still has, by far, the largest rate of public debt in the EU and Eurozone
According to the latest data published by Eurostat, the Greek public debt was estimated at 171.8% of GDP at the end of the third trimester of 2013.
This means that Greece continues to have the highest rate of debt in the European Union by far, followed by Italy (132.9% GDP), Portugal (128.7%) and Ireland (124.8%).
As does ANSAmed:
Crisis: Greece; bad loans rising to 40% by end-2014, says Pw
Nonperforming loans (NPLs) in Greece will rise to a staggering 40% by the end of 2014, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers experts who used the same parameters that BlackRock Solutions did during local banks’ last stress tests, as daily Kathimerini reports.
Stabilizing bad loans is the biggest challenge for local lenders in 2014 and a key condition for the cash flow in the Greek economy to return to normal.
The latest available data on NPLs released by the Bank of Greece showed that loans unpaid for over three months amounted to 29.3% of the total at the end of June. Bank officials estimate that bad loans were close to 35% at end-December, and that they will continue to increase this year too, albeit at a slower pace, before peaking in 2015 and starting to decrease from the year after that. However the slowdown expected in the next 12 to 24 months can only take place if the positive climate is not reversed again due to political turbulence or clashes with the country’s creditors.
Greek households strained due to crisis and recession, survey shows
The economic crisis has strained a large part of Greek households, with 4 out of 10 having at least one unemployed member in the family, holding significant debts to the banks and believing they will not get by, according to a survey by the Institute of the General Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE) released Thursday.
Greek households maintain a high rate of property ownership, but one third of them are afraid they may lose their house due to accumulated debt.
The survey, conducted in cooperation with polling company MARC, found that 97 percent of households have had their income shrink significantly and their living standards downgraded.
Kathimerini English whistles in the dark:
New Democracy plays down SYRIZA lead
Two opinion polls published on Wednesday gave SYRIZA a clear lead over New Democracy but conservative officials insisted there was still plenty of time for their party to recover its popularity before the European Parliament and local elections in May.
A survey by Public Issue for Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper indicated that support for SYRIZA runs to 31.5 percent, compared to 28 percent for New Democracy.
According to the poll, Golden Dawn is in third place with 10 percent, followed by PASOK and the Communist Party (KKE) on 6.5, Independent Greeks on 4.5 and Democratic Left (DIMAR) on 3.5.
A second survey by Pulse for To Pontiki weekly also put SYRIZA in the lead. The leftists were seen garnering support of 23 percent, whereas New Democracy drew backing of 20 percent. Golden Dawn had 11 percent, PASOK 5.5, KKE 5, Independent Greeks 4.5 and DIMAR 2.5.
From Keep Talking Greece, fascism redefined:
Nea Dimokratia MP: Colonels’ military dictatorship “was a revolution”
A political uproar has been caused by a Nea Dimokratia lawmaker who claimed that the the junta, the colonels’ military dictatorship (1967-1974) was a revolution. Speaking to a private television channel, Dimitris Christogiannis said “at that time the junta was a revolution” and that “the junta was not the same thing as terrorism”. Christogiannis’ statement triggered angry reactions not only at main opposition part left-wing SYRIZA but also at Samaras’ coalition partner PASOK. Both parties demand that prime minister Antonis Samaras and conservative Nea Dimokratoa clear the issue.
Speaking to private Action24 TV about possible junta supporters within Samaras’ conservative Nea Dimocratia, Dimitris Christogiannis said:
“Possibly there were some,” Christogiannis said and asked the journalist “ Do you put on the same level junta supporters and terrorists? What was the junta at that time? It was a revolution. …. We should not make comparisons with terrorism…. At that time I was young and I don’t remember very well….. .”
And a body count from euronews:
Two dead, 10 missing during alleged push-back operation off Greek island
- A top European human rights official has criticised Greece following a deadly boat accident.
A fishing boat crammed with migrants capsized near Farmakonisi, a tiny Greek island in the Aegean Sea near Turkey. The boat was being towed by a coast guard vessel. The bodies of a woman and an 11-year-old boy were found. A further 10 people were missing, among them infants and children.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued a statement saying it is “dismayed” to have learned of the tragedy. The survivors, now on the island of Leros, told UNHCR they were being towed in the direction of Turkey at the time of the accident.
On to Cyprus and another decline from ANSAmed:
Crisis: Cyprus’ industrial turnover down 14.6% in Jan-Oct
The Index of Industrial Turnover in Cyprus for October decreased by 14.6% year-on-year from October 2012, the statistical service Cystat announced as CNA reports.
The Index reached 84.1 units (base 2010=100), while marking a decrease of 14.4% during the January-October period, compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. For Manufacturing, the index for October 2013 reached 78,3 units, recording a decrease of 11,3% compared to October 2012.
On the the Ukraine and a body count from EUbusiness:
Five dead as Ukraine police battle protesters in Kiev
Ukrainian police and protesters on Wednesday engaged in ferocious clashes in the centre of Kiev, leaving five activists dead in the first fatalities in two months of anti-government protests.
An area in the centre of the capital was turned into a virtual war zone as protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police and the security forces responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
The opposition movement’s medical service said that five of its activists had been killed and four of them reported found with gunshot wounds. Prosecutors have so far confirmed two deaths.
A follow-up from Reuters:
Ukraine opposition say they’ll brave bullets after talks with Yanukovich fail
Ukrainian opposition leaders emerged from crisis talks with President Viktor Yanukovich on Wednesday saying he had failed to give concrete answers to their demands, and told their supporters on the streets to prepare for a police offensive.
Using emotional language following the deaths earlier in the day of at least three protesters – two of them from gunshot wounds – the three opposition leaders who met Yanukovich said they were ready to face police bullets.
Boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko told the thousands of protesters gathered on Kiev’s Independence Square that during three hours of talks the president had given no clear response to their demands that the government be dismissed and sweeping anti-protest laws ditched.
“Today they (the police) are preparing to clear us out of the ‘Maidan’ (Independence Square),” Klitschko declared. “We must do all we can to stop them clearing us out,” he said.
Another fail via EUbusiness:
Ukraine talks fail to end deadlock, uneasy truce holds
Crunch talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych failed Thursday to end Ukraine’s crisis but an uneasy truce held after five days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.
Ukraine’s three main opposition leaders held several hours of talks with Yanukovych but the relatively minor concessions offered by the president were greeted with derision by tens of thousands of protesters on Independence Square in Kiev.
In a development likely to severely alarm the embattled Yanukovych, angry protesters in half a dozen regions in the nationalist west of Ukraine seized control of regional adminstration buildings.
Washington imposes, via EUobserver:
US imposes Ukraine sanctions, EU voices ‘worry’
The US has imposed sanctions on Ukrainian officials deemed guilty of ordering violence against pro-EU protesters.
Its embassy in Kiev said on Wednesday (22 January): “In response to actions taken against protestors on the Maidan in November and December of last year, the US embassy has revoked the visas of several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence.”
It added: “We are considering further action against those responsible for the current violence.”
Merkel settles for oratory, via TheLocal.de:
Merkel: ‘No sanctions for Ukraine but protect lives’
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Ukraine must safeguard the lives of pro-EU demonstrators following deadly clashes with security forces, but she rejected calls for fresh sanctions against Kiev.
Merkel sharply condemned the violence, which activists say has left five dead, as well as new Ukrainian legislation barring protests, as the EU debates possible reprisals.
“We expect the Ukrainian government to ensure basic rights – particularly the possibility to stage peaceful demonstrations, to protect lives, and that violence not be used,” she told reporters after a cabinet meeting, in which she also confirmed the G8 summit in 2015 will be held in southern Bavaria at Schloss Elmau.
And Associated Press demands:
Ukraine opposition sets 24-hour deadline
Ukrainian opposition leaders issued a stark ultimatum to President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday to call early elections within 24 hours or face more popular rage, after at least two protesters were killed in confrontations with police in a grim escalation of a two-monthlong political crisis.
The protesters’ deaths, the first since the largely peaceful protests started in November, fueled fears that the daily demonstrations aimed at bringing down the government over its decision to shun the European Union for closer ties to Moscow and over human rights violations could turn more violent.
With a central Kiev street ablaze and covered with thick black smoke from burning tires and several thousand protesters continuing to clash with riot police, opposition leaders urged tens of thousands of demonstrators in a nearby square to refrain from violence and remain in the main protest camp for the next 24 hours.
On to Moscow and a move afoot from Global Times:
Lenin’s body might be moved out
The body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin might be moved out from Red Square in the near future, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said on Tuesday, as the 90th anniversary of the great figure’s death comes on Wednesday, Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.
Lukin said a decision on the transfer of Lenin memorial will be made sooner or later, saying “Red Square is not a place for a cemetery.” He said Lenin and Bolshevik memorials in Russia are not appropriate to their role in history as “Their role is big,” but “is very difficult and contradictory.” The Russia Beyond The Headlines reported that the Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky made a similar comment earlier on Tuesday.
And bad news threatened for Israel from New Europe:
EU: Israel could face economic isolation and sanctions
The EU’s deteriorating relationships with Israel went through yet another tense moment when the head of the bloc’s delegation to the country said that it could face deepening economic isolation if it presses ahead with the construction of more Jewish settlements.
“We have made it clear to the parties that there will be a price to pay if these negotiations falter,” said Faaborg-Andersen. “If Israel were to go down the road of continued settlement expansion … I’m afraid that what will transpire is a situation in which Israel will find itself increasingly isolated, not necessarily because of any decision taken at a governmental level but because of decisions taken by a myriad of private economic actors.” He said this could include companies, pension funds or consumers who shun settlement goods.
He added that such action has resulted from commercial considerations and a growing focus on “corporate social responsibility.”
Off to Latin America, starting with an Argentine crackdown from the Associated Press:
Argentina slaps new limit on online purchases from abroad: 2 per year allowed
Argentina’s government is slapping another restriction on online and mail-order purchases from abroad as it tries to stem the outflow of dollars.
Wednesday’s announcement in the official gazette limits Argentines to just two such purchases a year. Purchases beyond that will be dealt with as imports, subject to more extensive paperwork.
It comes only a day after the government said it would require people to submit a statement to the tax agency before they can receive goods ordered from abroad. Such goods can be taxed at 50 percent.
Argentine Peso Plummets Most Since 2002 as Depreciation Quickens
Argentina weakened the peso the most since 2002 today as the government tries to arrest a decline in foreign reserves and close a gap with a burgeoning black market for dollars.
The peso tumbled 3.5 percent to 7.14 per dollar, according to state-run bank Banco de la Nacion Argentina. That’s the biggest fall for a single day since 2002, the year the government abandoned a peg to the U.S. dollar, said Francisco Diaz Mayer, a currency trader at ABC Mercado de Cambios in Buenos Aires.
“We know they want to devalue the currency, we just don’t know what target they have in mind,” Mayer said in a telephone interview. “Perhaps the central bank is using it as a test to see the reaction but if we see a faster depreciation tomorrow we can begin to think of it as a change in strategy.”
MercoPress talks trade talks:
Uruguay warns trade negotiations with EU could leave “a Mercosur member out”
Uruguayan foreign minister Luis Almagro said it should not come as a surprise if the negotiations for a trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union does not include all four original full members and leaves one out, although the objective is for all members to be part of the accord.
“During the coming Mercosur summit in Caracas, scheduled for February we will see if it is an accord of three countries plus one, or if the accord is with one country plus contributions from other members, or if we face other options” said Almagro.
BBC News goes nuclear:
Bolivia ‘to build first nuclear reactor’
Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced plans to build the country’s first nuclear reactor.
Mr Morales said the development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has become a strategic priority for his country.
Speaking to members of the Bolivian Congress, he said that Iran, France and Argentina had volunteered to help with the development of the project.
Off to Down Under and worries from the Australian Financial Review:
Spectre of stagflation hangs over bond and equity investors
It is one of the ugliest words in financial markets, but one that might start to confront Australian investors in the coming year: “stagflation”, the combination of weak economic growth and rising inflation.
Thailand next with BBC News:
Thai ‘red-shirt’ leader shot as emergency rule begins
A leader of Thailand’s pro-government “red-shirt” group has been shot, as the 60-day state of emergency came into effect in Bangkok and nearby provinces.
Kwanchai Praipana, a local radio presenter who played a large role in Bangkok protests in 2010, was wounded at his home in Udon Thani in the north.
It came as anti-government protesters continued to block parts of Bangkok to force the prime minister to resign.
Fallout from Nikkei Asian Review:
Thai political crisis mires already-slowing economy
The political unrest in Thailand is dragging on the economy, and the coming general election may not bring much-needed stability.
The government’s declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok on Wednesday dims the prospects for a vibrant tourism industry. Share prices and the baht continued to slide.
For the central bank, it was not business as usual. With its headquarters closed owing to anti-government street protests, the Bank of Thailand’s monetary policy committee met outside the capital.
More Indochina violence from BBC News:
Burma mobs ‘kill 30 Rohingyas’
More than 30 Rohingya Muslims were killed in attacks by Buddhists last week in Burma’s Rakhine state, the BBC has been told.
Foreign officials who had managed to access the area in the far west of the country told the BBC they had found evidence of a mass killing.
Human rights group Fortify Rights claims a series of attacks took place over five days last week.
The government and local officials have strongly denied claims of a massacre.
Singapore next, and bankster hubris blowback from The Independent:
British expat Anton Casey causes uproar in Singapore after mocking “poor people” calling a taxi driver a “retard”
- Porsche-driving Anton Casey has received death threats after his offensive comments went viral
A British businessman has issued an apology after receiving death threats in Singapore for mocking “poor people” and calling a taxi driver a “retard” in a series of abusive remarks.
Anton Casey, a fund manager married to a former Miss Singapore, has caused an uproar in the country after posting a picture of his son sitting on a train on Facebook with the caption: “Daddy, where is your car & who are all these poor people?”
Another photo shows the five-year-old in his Porsche, with an equally offensive caption: “Ahhhh reunited with my baby. Normal service can resume, once I have washed the stench of public transport off me.”
On to China and a trial from BBC News:
China activist lawyer Xu Zhiyong on trial
Xu Zhiyong, a prominent human rights lawyer who campaigned against corruption, has gone on trial in China. Mr Xu is charged with “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”. He is one of several activists from a transparency movement to be tried this week.
Rights groups have criticised President Xi Jinping – who pledged to fight corruption – over their trials. They come as a report says many members of China’s elite have set up offshore companies in overseas tax havens.
The trial of Xu Zhiyong, who was arrested in July 2013, began on Wednesday in Beijing.
Want China Times invests:
Chinese power generation firm plans to invest in Canadian projects
China Huadian Corporation (CHC) is proactively looking to invest in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects after its exploitation of shale gas in China has commenced.
Since shale gas cannot be mass produced in the near future, acquiring existing liquefied gas resources is the other option being pursued by the Chinese state-owned firm.
CHC had begun contacting Malaysian state gas company Petronas in an attempt to buy a stake in a natural gas project located in northeast Canada, as well as buy a stake in Canada-based Pacific Northwest LNG. The Pacific Northwest LNG project, run by Progress and owned primarily by Petronas, would need an estimated US$9-$11 billion in investment in the overseas market.
China Daily broadens neoliberalization:
China approves 12 more free trade zones
China’s central government has given the nod to 12 free trade zones (FTZs) following the one in Shanghai, amid a spurt of nationwide enthusiasm for such schemes.
Tianjin Municipality and Guangdong Province have been green-lit to set up FTZs, a source with knowledge of the approval told Xinhua-run Economic Information Daily on Wednesday, refusing to leak the remaining 10.
After consent from the cabinet, a group of central government departments will conduct a joint survey of the proposed zones, and hammer out specific establishment plans in a process that may last more than a year, said the source.
So far, Tianjin and Guangdong have completed the survey part, which the other 10 have just started, according to the source.
South China Morning Post clears the air:
Beijing announces strict new curbs on heavy industry to combat smog
- New measures to combat smog, including strict curbs on heavy industry and stiffer fines, but critics argue city could have been even tougher
Beijing has banned new heavily polluting industrial plants and expansions of existing ones in the first local clean air act on the mainland aimed at tackling smog.
Violators of pollution discharge limits will also face stiffer penalties.
The city’s regulation on air pollution prevention, which will take effect from March 1, states that tackling the tiny particulate pollutants that cause smog is at the centre of Beijing’s clean-up campaign, according to the document posted on the municipal government’s website.
Want China Times moves out:
Beijing considers industry fund to transfer excess capacity abroad
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is considering setting up an industry investment fund to encourage businesses with a production capacity surplus to transfer capacity to other countries, with its size estimated to reach 100 billion yuan (US$16.53 billion), reports the Shanghai-based National Business Daily.
Overcapacity is not a new problem in China — there have been two previous rounds, the first during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. In 1999, China implemented the first exclusive policy to support sectors looking to transfer capacity overseas and mainly targeted the textile, garment and home appliance sectors as well as other light industry.
China Daily fires up the GMO machine:
Nation vows to keep up with transgenics
China will strive to keep up with the world’s transgenic technology development while maintaining rigorous standards for genetically modified food and keeping consumers well informed about such food, the country’s top agricultural authority said on Wednesday.
“In the field of (transgenic) molecular-scale seed breeding technology, which is in the vanguard of the world’s life science, we as a large agricultural country cannot fall behind,” said Chen Xiwen, deputy chief of the Central Rural Work Leading Group.
“In research we must strive to keep up with the advanced level in the world,” the senior rural planner for the central government said while answering a question from China Daily at a news conference.
He said China ranks second or third in the world in terms of area devoted to GM crops, which have been a controversial issue globally.
South China Morning Post departs:
Chinese emigration draining wealth and skills, says CCG think tank
A Beijing-based think tank urged the central government yesterday to upgrade its immigration office to a ministerial-level agency to tackle a “migration deficit” caused by a growing trend of people taking their skills and wealth abroad.
The number of mainland emigrants reached 9.34 million last year, compared with 848,900 immigrants, leaving a migration deficit – or an excess of emigrants over immigrants – of 8.5 million.
The figures were contained in the Annual Report on Chinese International Migration 2014, published by the Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG).
The deficit has increased 129 per cent since 1990, when it was 3.71 million. It makes China the fourth-largest source country for international emigrants after India, Mexico and Russia. The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the top four destinations for mainlanders.
The Guardian fills the pipeline:
Chinese oil giants make use of offshore shell companies in Caribbean
- Secret financial records link scandal-hit oil companies to dozens of offshore entities, many of them undeclared
China’s scandal-mired oil giants and their senior executives have made extensive use of offshore shell companies in the Caribbean, secret financial records reveal.
The country’s biggest oil companies – Sinopec, PetroChina and the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) – are among the world’s largest businesses, but executives in the industry are embroiled in multiple corruption probes, many tied to networks of shell companies around the world.
Research by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on leaked financial records from the British Virgin Islands, reveal dozens of companies tied to the three oil giants, many of which are not disclosed on any publicly available filings by the businesses.
On to Japan. . .and is it kosher? From JapanToday:
Japan’s whaling ship gets halal certification
Japan’s whaling mothership has been awarded a halal certificate to prove the whales it takes from the Antarctic Ocean are slaughtered in accordance with Muslim law, a company spokesman said Wednesday.
The Nisshin Maru was certified last year before it headed off to the southern ocean for this season’s controversial hunt, a spokesman for ship owner Kyodo Senpaku, said.
“Special inspectors examined the ship when it was docked in Hiroshima last year,” he told AFP. “It was certified officially on November 24.”
On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!
First up, the disaster of the day from RT:
Radioactive leaks continue to plague Fukushima, new Unit 3 problem found
Highly radioactive water, believed to have leaked from one of the damaged reactors, has been detected inside Unit 3 Reactor at the compromised Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. There’s been no leakage to the outside of the building, TEPCO announced.
According to Asia’s largest utility, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), water leakage was identified for the first time by a robot removing debris on the first floor of Unit 3 Reactor at the Fukushima plant. Video filmed by the robot
shows highly radioactive water, found to contain high levels of radioactive cesium and cobalt. On Saturday, one of the workers who was busy monitoring the robotic device’s screen, discovered that water was leaking to the drainage ditch in the northeast area of first floor, where the main steam isolation valve is located.
Here’s TEPCO’s video of the leak, taken robotically:
From SimplyInfo, some troubling details:
More On Fukushima Unit 3, TEPCO Fails To Explain Levels
TEPCO released two new handouts on the leak at unit 3. This gives some additional insight but still fails to explain a number of critical issues.
TEPCO does not provide any data to explain their claim for where the water level in containment is. They cite using pressure readings to determine this but give no information to show how they came to such a conclusion. Available pressure readings show a single sensor for the containment structure and one for the suppression chamber (torus). The torus has considerably more pressure than the containment structure. The suppression chamber is around 183 kpa and the containment structure at .22 kpa. TEPCO also does not explain how lower containment penetrations would remain intact yet the MSIV room ones failed. This is a requirement to have happen for their theory that water inside unit 3 containment is unusually high.
Also not explained is why water leaks from the two containment hatches have created much higher ambient radiation levels than the leak from the MSIV room. If both are simply leaks of water from containment they should be nearly equal in radiation level. Levels near the water leak on one of the hatch doors was over 4 Sv/h while the levels near the MSIV room leak are around 30 mSv/h.
NHK WORLD finds the obvious:
Fukushima inner leaks possibly from opening
The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says water leaks inside the No. 3 reactor building likely came from an opening in the containment vessel.
Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Company said high levels of radioactivity in the leaked water suggest the water is most likely from that used for cooling down nuclear fuel that melted after the accident in March 2011.
They spotted the leak on the first floor of the reactor building last Saturday when watching images filmed by a camera on a remote-controlled robot.
The officials suspect the water is leaking from around an opening for a steam pipe in the wall of the containment vessel.
RT charts it out:
Promising the muon: Scientists to map Fukushima nuclear hotspots with cosmic radiation
Japanese scientists say they have successfully completed a pilot program that allows them to use cosmic rays to determine the location of nuclear fuel inside the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.
“The technology enables you to find where nuclear fuel is anywhere in the world,” Fumihiko Takasaki, a researcher at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation (KEK), told AFP news agency.
The experiment – using a technique known as muon scattering radiography – had been running at a disused nuclear plant in Ibaraki between from February 2012 until last month.
From The Province in Vancouver, Canadian nuclear anxiety amok:
Fukushima fears in B.C. fuel demand for potassium iodide
B.C. saw a rush of people looking to load up on potassium iodide in 2011, after the initial Japanese earthquake, tsunami and meltdown.
And again in recent months, pharmacies have reported seeing a second surge of interest in the product, available as pills or drops.
These customers, pharmacists said, are all citing recent stories and rumours they’ve heard about Fukushima, mostly online, and many of dubious scientific legitimacy.
But federal and provincial health experts are advising against the use of potassium iodide for this purpose, saying it is not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful.
The Japan Times grouses:
Tokyo voters unhappy with nuclear focus
As campaigning for the Tokyo gubernatorial race got under way Thursday, just a little more than a month since Naoki Inose resigned over a money scandal, voters expressed bewilderment over how fast the focus seems to have turned to nuclear energy.
A 50-year-old construction company employee from Itabashi Ward said he was disappointed.
“It’s completely wrong (for nuclear power to become a key issue),” he said. “I think the (2020 Tokyo) Olympics is a big subject. Inose’s resignation came so unexpectedly it has clouded what the real issues are.”
Nuclear worries of an earlier era reborn, via International Science Times:
Plutonium From Nuclear Tests Still High In The Air, But Volcanos Could Bring It Closer To Earth, Study Says
At the height of the Cold War, the United States was feverishly testing its latest nuclear bombs. They detonated the warheads all over the place: underwater, underground, above ground, and high in the air. Today, new research shows that the radioactive effects of that testing still linger high in the atmosphere, with bits of plutonium attached to aerosol particles in the stratosphere.
The research also demonstrates that volcanos, and in particular the one in Iceland that spawned the infamous “ash cloud” of 2010, could help to bring that radioactive matter closer to earth. A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications examined volacano debris as a previously unknown method for transporting “anthropogenic radionuclides” (science code for man-made radioactive particles) through layers of atmosphere.
European Frackers unbound, via EUobserver:
EU ditches plan to regulate on shale gas
The European Commission has backed away from tabling new laws to regulate shale gas extraction, choosing to leave national governments in charge on the controversial practice.
Instead, the EU executive proposed a set of recommendations for governments to maintain environmental standards. These include rules on minimum distances between fracking sites and residential and water-protection areas
The EU executive also wants governments to make sure that fracking companies put in place water-management plans, capture and use gases such as methane that are also extracted, and minimise gas flaring.
When one toxin ain’t enough, via The Guardian:
West Virginia: second chemical leaked during spill prompts new probe
- Freedom Industries failed to report second chemical leak during spill that tainted drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians
A second chemical was released during a spill that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians, state officials said Wednesday, though the newly identified substance appears to be less toxic than the coal-cleaning agent already known to have leaked.
State regulators sharply criticized the company at the center of the 9 January spill for failing to report the presence of the second chemical and ordered them to disclose everything that leaked into the Elk River from their storage tank by 4 pm Wednesday.
“Having to order them to provide such obvious information is indicative of the continued decline of their credibility,” said Randy Huffman, secretary of the state’s department of environmental protection.
And for our final item, a poisoned landscape from The Guardian:
China could lose millions of hectares of farmland to pollution
- Agriculture official says land could be taken out of production because of severe heavy metal pollution
Farmers dig ditches to lead water from a white polluted stream into farm fields, in Dongchuan district of Kunming, Yunnan province Farmers dig ditches to lead water from a white polluted stream into farm fields, in Dongchuan district of Kunming, Yunnan province Photograph: STRINGER/CHINA/REUTERS
Millions of hectares of agricultural land in China could be withdrawn from production because of severe heavy-metal pollution, according to a Chinese agriculture official.
Chex Xiwen, the deputy director of China’s top agricultural authority said that farmland near rivers, especially which are sources of drinking water, will also be taken out of production if there is a risk of pollution from the use of fertilisers and pesticides.