Category Archives: Environment

Li Min: Whale Killing


A China Daily editorial cartoonist weighs in on Japan’s obstinate refusal to stop slaughtering some of the most majestic creatures on the planet:

BLOG Japan whaler

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliAsianWoes


Today’s compilation of economic, political, and environmental developments opens with a somber statement from the Economic Times:

US economy may be stuck in slow lane for long run

Two straight weak job reports have raised doubts about economists’ predictions of breakout growth in 2014. The global economy is showing signs of slowing _ again. Manufacturing has slumped. Fewer people are signing contracts to buy homes. Global stock markets have sunk as anxiety has gripped developing nations.

Some long-term trends are equally dispiriting.

The Congressional Budget Office foresees growth picking up through 2016, only to weaken starting in 2017. By the CBO’s reckoning, the economy will soon slam into a demographic wall: The vast baby boom generation will retire. Their exodus will shrink the share of Americans who are working, which will hamper the economy’s ability to accelerate.

At the same time, the government may have to borrow more, raise taxes or cut spending to support Social Security and Medicare for those retirees.

From the Daily Dot, the latest from the party of family values:

Are fake candidate websites the new political attack ads?

Republican politicians finally figured out how to use the Internet as a campaign tool, and they’re really proud of themselves. Unfortunately, the GOP’s newfound Web savvy has taken the form of a campaign program that’s ethically questionable, intensely negative, and may or may not be against the law.

The National Republican Congressional Committee created a spate of fake websites for Democratic candidates that at first glance look like normal, legit sites, but then rip into the candidate in the text. The faux sites also have donation forms that send funds to the NRCC. There are several fake microsites up now, and the committee says it’s buying up URLs to create even more.

So is this shit even legal? It’s not an easy thing to answer. The spoof sites teeter on the fine line between parody and fraud, and the devil is in the details of the election law. According to Federal Election Commission regulations, political groups can’t use a candidate’s name in a “special project”—like a website—unless it “clearly and unambiguously shows opposition to the named candidate.”

Cementing class divisions with the San Jose Mercury News:

High prices sending Bay Area renters and homebuyers to outlying communities

Squeezed by astronomical home prices and rents that are almost as unaffordable, a growing number of Bay Area residents are pulling up stakes and trading long commutes for cheaper housing.

They’re heading to places like Tracy, Mountain House, Patterson, Hollister and Los Banos. Some are buying bigger homes and others are renting for much less, hoping to put money aside for a down payment of their own one day, in a replay of the eastward migration during the dot-com boom.

“Rentals in the Bay Area are just too high,” said Alma Gomez, an administrative assistant for Union City who’s heading east with her family.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers another kind of costly leak:

Bay Bridge’s new problem: leaks

The just-opened eastern span of the Bay Bridge, already beset by questions about flawed welds and cracked steel rods, has a new problem: It leaks.

Rainwater is dripping into the steel structure beneath the road deck on the suspension stretch of the span, which is supposed to be watertight, Caltrans said. Outside experts say that could pose a risk of corrosion on a bridge that cost $6.4 billion and is supposed to last well into the 22nd century.

“That’s a problem, a big problem,” said Lisa Thomas, a metallurgical engineer who studies material failure at a laboratory in Berkeley and analyzed bridge rods that snapped last year. “They want it to last 150 years, but with water coming in, something is going to corrode until it’s too thin and weak.”

From the Washington Post removing pedal appendage from orifice:

AOL chief reverses changes to 401(k) policy after a week of bad publicity

AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong told employees in an e-mail Saturday evening that he was reversing the company’s 401(k) policy and apologized for his controversial comments last week.

“The leadership team and I listened to your feedback over the last week,” Armstrong wrote in his e-mail to the company. “We heard you on this topic. And as we discussed the matter over several days, with management and employees, we have decided to change the policy back to a per-pay-period matching contribution.”

The policy change would have switched 401(k) matching contributions to an annual lump sum, rather than being distributed throughout the year with every paycheck. The switch would have punished employees who quit or were fired mid-year. It would also have cost employees who stayed, since they would not see the benefits of compounding in their retirement accounts.

The Financial Express covers funny money:

Bitcoin gang inches towards 100-member mark, hits $13-bn value

Enhanced regulatory oversight in India and other countries seems to be having little impact on spread of bitcoins and other virtual currencies, whose number is fast moving towards a century with a total valuation of close to USD 13 billion.

A number of new entrants, such as bitgem, catcoin, unobtanium and sexcoin, have arrived on the scene even as regulators across the world grapple with risks posed by such currencies and transactions conducted through them.

At least 93 virtual currencies are at present being used by people across the world over the internet, as also for some offline transactions, and their total valuation has reached USD 13 billion (over Rs 80,000 crore), out of which bitcoin alone accounts for over USD nine billion, according to market estimates.

At end of December last year, the number of virtual currencies stood at 67.

Of to Europe and a cautionary note from the London Telegraph:

Eurozone banks face £42bn ‘capital black hole’

Government adviser Davide Serra says this year’s stress tests by European authorities are likely to find fresh problems in the eurozone banks.

Eurozone banks are facing a new capital black hole of as much as €50bn (£42bn), according to one of the UK’s most respected financial analysts.

Davide Serra, the chief executive of Algebris, who advises the Government on banking, said that this year’s stress tests by the European Banking Authority and the European Central Bank were likely to find fresh problems in the eurozone banks.

He said that Germany had one of “the worst banking systems in the world” and that three or four regional Landesbanken were likely to be wound up. He also said banks in Portugal and Greece were likely to need more capital.

Britain next and life at the bottom of the pyramid from The Independent:

Working poor trapped in unbreakable cycle of poverty turn to food banks in their lunch breaks

Millions of low-paid workers are trapped in an unbreakable cycle of poverty, and are even turning up at food banks in their lunch breaks asking for help to feed their families, the Archbishop of York warns.

Dr John Sentamu, writing in The Independent, says low pay is a “scourge on our society” and challenges David Cameron to back up his “warm words” with action to boost the incomes of the working poor.

An independent commission chaired by the Archbishop says the economic recovery will make no difference to the lives of the five million lowest-paid workers unless they paid the so-called “living wage”.

They are being suffering a “double squeeze” on their incomes as their wages remain stagnant and their and living costs rise steadily.

Bankster insecurity from The Guardian:

Barclays blasted over ‘catastrophic’ theft of thousands of customer files

  • Files containing names, addresses, medical details and NI numbers have allegedly been sold for use by scammers

Barclays is under scrutiny by regulators and could face a hefty fine after thousands of confidential customer files were stolen in a data breach described as catastrophic by an adviser to the business secretary, Vince Cable.

The files, containing details on 2,000 individuals including their names, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers, mortgages and levels of savings, were allegedly sold for use in boiler-room scams, in which vulnerable savers are snared into fraudulent investments.

“This is catastrophic, just awful,” the Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, who is parliamentary private secretary to Cable and has campaigned on mis-selling by banks, told the Guardian. “What protections have Barclays got in place? Are the police going to pursue this, are they going to prosecute, and is someone going to go to jail for this? They should do.”

From The Independent, playing to the base of the base:

David Cameron accused of ‘pandering’ to xenophobia with rhetoric on immigration

Laszlo Andor, the Employment Commissioner, who has previously attacked the Government for its “nasty” curbs on benefits for foreign nationals, will step up his attack during a visit to Britain.

He will accuse politicians of avoiding the “inconvenient truth” that most migrants move for work and are an “asset” to economies like Britain’s with an ageing population.

Mr Andor will warn the Prime Minister he cannot base policy on “perceptions, gut feelings or anecdotes”.

In a speech in Bristol, he will say: “Politicians should be responsible enough to talk about facts, rather than to pander to prejudice, or in the worst cases, xenophobia.”

The Observer crowns hypocrisy:

Royal estates ‘fail to meet targets to build affordable homes’

  • Study finds Crown Estate and Duchy of Cornwall regularly get councils to cut ratios of affordable homes on cost grounds

Two of Britain’s largest landowning bodies, which between them generate millions of pounds a year for the Queen and Prince Charles, are regularly failing to meet affordable housing targets when building new homes on their land.

Amid an escalating housing crisis, planning documents unearthed by the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveal that both the Crown Estate and the Duchy of Cornwall are persuading councils to allow them to cut their affordable housing quotas on the grounds that meeting them would be too expensive.

An investigation by the bureau for the Observer has examined the two landowners’ plans to build 4,299 homes in 31 schemes. Of these, 14 developments, set to produce 2,470 units, fail to meet local targets, resulting in at least 213 fewer affordable homes being built. The bureau also found that 10 of the 19 largest Crown Estate developments have not or will not meet affordable housing targets.

And New Europe bubbles:

London housing market under price bubbles risk

Housing market in London is beginning to show signs of bubble-like conditions, said a research report issued by Ernst and Young Item Club (EY ITEM Club) on Monday, while asking the government to monitor the trend closely and be prepared to intervene.

The EY ITEM Club forecast showed the average house price in London is expected to reach nearly £600,000 by 2018, some 3.5 times the average price in Northern Ireland and more than 3.3 times the average in the North East.

It said the average house prices in Britain growing by 8.4% this year and 7.3% in 2015, before cooling to around 5.5% in 2016.  House prices would show a regional divergence. Outside of London and the South East, the regions with the highest levels of house price growth are expected to be the South West and East of England, both set to grow by 6.2% from 2013-18.

Switzerland next and job-creating electoral results from TheLocal.ch:

Voters back national rail infrastructure plan

A project to boost financing for passenger rail infrastructure won widespread support from Swiss voters in a national referendum on Sunday.

More than 62 percent of the electorate voted for the improvements designed to improve train service through 6.4 billion francs’ worth of projects between now and 2025.

The plan will also add an extra billion francs a year to the four billion francs already allocated annually for rail infrastructure and maintenance.

It will allow for improvements to service on Lausanne-Geneva, Bern-Lucerne, Zurich-Chur, Lucerne-Giswil, Bellinzona-Tenero and Zurich-Fiesch routes, according to the federal government, which backed the proposal.

The expansion gives the green light for the financing of such projects as the expansion of Geneva’s main train station Cornavin (790 million francs) and a billion-franc modernization of the Lausanne station and its links with Renens, the nearby suburb.

While BBC News has another electoral result, and a possible Swiss miss:

Swiss immigration: 50.3% back quotas, final results show

Swiss voters have narrowly backed a referendum proposal to bring back strict quotas for immigration from European Union countries.

Final results showed 50.3% voted in favour. The vote invalidates the Swiss-EU agreement on freedom of movement.

Fiercely independent Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but has adopted large sections of EU policy. Brussels said it regretted the outcome of the vote and would examine its implications.

A Yes vote of more than 50% was needed for the referendum to pass.

On to Spain and life on the sombra side from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s shadow economy flourishes in downturn

Spain’s shadow economy — where cash is king, there are no contracts and the taxman is cut out of the equation — is flourishing amid an economic downturn that has pushed the jobless rate to 26 percent.

Economists estimate Spain’s underground economy equals 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

The parallel economy “unfortunately is a longtime problem” in Spain, which “has worsened due to the economic crisis”, said Santos Nogales of the UGT, Spain’s second-largest labour union.

“Undeclared work does not distinguish between nationalities. It touches immigrants and many Spaniards,” he added.

thinkSPAIN delivers a shock:

New electricity bill structure ‘penalises energy saving’ and increases costs for low-use households, say consumer groups

CONSUMER protection groups have criticised the government’s new electricity billing structure as it ‘penalises’ those who use the least power and does not provide any incentive to save on energy consumption.

A year ago, the ‘fixed’ part of a household bill accounted for 35 per cent and the variable part, relating to consumption, was 65 per cent, but this was changed last July with a gradual move towards the standing charge taking up a higher percentage of what is paid by residential homes.

Now that this gradual migration has finished, from this week onwards, the fixed charge will be 60 per cent of the bill and the variable consumption-related part 40 per cent.

While New Europe lays off:

Jobless total spikes

Spanish government figures show that the number of people registered as unemployed has risen by 113,097 as temporary job contracts created over Christmas come to an end, AP reported.

On 4 February, the Labor Ministry said the reduction put the total number of those registered in unemployment offices at 4.81 million in January. Year-on-year, the figure was down 166,343.

Quarterly unemployment surveys – seen as more accurate by economists – show Spain’s unemployment rate was 26% in the fourth quarter of 2013, with six million people out of work. The rate is the second highest in the 28-country European Union after Greece.

Spain is battling to recover from a two-year recession. However, the government insists the economy is improving and will create jobs in 2014.  Almost 100,000 people were laid off from the services sector, while employment also fell in agriculture, by 8,110 people and in industry, by 3,577.

And from TheLocal.es, not a crowning glory:

Spain princess ‘evasive’ in fraud hearing

Spain’s princess Cristina tried to distance herself from unprecedented fraud accusations Saturday, telling a judge she had simply trusted her husband, one of the lawyers in the courtroom said.

Spanish King Juan Carlos’s youngest daughter was “evasive” as she testified as a criminal suspect in the Palma de Majorca court, said Manuel Delgado, a lawyer for a civil party in the case, left-wing association Frente Civico.

The first direct member of the Spanish royal family in history to face such a hearing, the 48-year-old blonde Cristina said she “had great trust in her husband”, the lawyer told reporters during a break in the proceedings.

Long thought untouchable as a royal, Cristina finds herself at the centre of the scandal, accused of being complicit in the allegedly fraudulent business dealings of her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, who is also under investigation.

While Al Jazeera America covers the culture wars:

Thousands protest proposed abortion restrictions in Spain

Thousands of women marched in the streets of Madrid Saturday to protest against the Spanish government’s plan to limit access to abortion, which could force many women to travel abroad to obtain the procedure.

Protesters chanted “Freedom of abortion!” and waved signs such as “MPs and rosaries, out of my ovaries”, targeting the Catholic Church as the supposed driver of the new restrictions.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government said in December it would eliminate a 2010 law that allows women to opt for an abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The new legislation would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.

After the jump, Greek protests and woes, outrage in Bosnia, crisis in the Ukraine, Mexico rising, hard times in South Korean heavy industry, Chinese austerity and an exodus, Japanese corporate games, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliSinoFuku


Opening our compendium of headlines fromn the economic, political, and environmental developments, a Trans-Pacific Panic from Techdirt:

USTR Finally Realizing Its All Encompassing Secrecy May Be A Problem, Calls Frantic Meeting For All ‘Cleared’ Lobbyists

  • from the you’re-doing-it-wrong dept

It’s been funny for years watching the USTR continue to repeat the same laughable line about how they’ve had “unprecedented transparency” concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement — an agreement that is still completely secret, other than a couple chapters leaked to Wikileaks. Here’s a hint: if the text of the agreement is only available thanks to Wikileaks, you’re not being transparent, precedented or not. Even the NY Times slammed the USTR’s lack of transparency, and multiple members of Congress have been arguing that they’re not at all comfortable with the lack of transparency from the USTR. Because of this, it seems that the USTR’s desire for fast track authority, which would let it route around Congressional review, is on life support and close to dead.

Given that, it appears that the USTR is in panic mode, and has frantically called an all day meeting for all “cleared advisors” (i.e., the corporate representatives who actually do get to see the document) concerning the whole transparency issue.

From the New York Times, double trouble:

Payroll Data Shows a Lag in Wages, Not Just Hiring

For the more than 10 million Americans who are out of work, finding a job is hard. For the 145 million or so who are employed, getting a raise is even harder.

The government said on Friday that employers added 113,000 jobs in January, the second straight month of anemic growth, despite some signs of strength in the broader economy. The unemployment rate inched down in January to 6.6 percent, the lowest level since October 2008, from 6.7 percent in December.

But the report also made plain what many Americans feel in their bones: Wages are stuck, and barely rose at all in 2013. They were up 1.9 percent last year, or a mere 0.4 percent after accounting for inflation. Not only was that increase even smaller than the one recorded in 2012, it was half the normal rate of wage gains in the two decades before the last recession.

More from Deutsche Welle:

US employment figures fail to thrill analysts

  • Fresh figures from the US Labor Department have shown employers have hired far fewer workers in January than expected. Analysts viewed this as a loss of momentum in the national economy after an already weak December.

Meager job gains towards the end of last year were barely improved upon in January, the US Labor Department reported Friday.

The latest monthly figures showed nonfarm payrolls rose only by 113,000, with 185,000 penciled in by analysts.

With strong job increases in construction, cold weather was not a major factor for the slow pick-up, nurturing fears of a general loss of momentum of the national economy.

CNBC diversifies:

Wealthy avoiding stocks, buying art

Art often imitates stocks—at least when it comes to prices.

But so far this year, stock markets are down and art is up.

Sotheby’s two days of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales racked up £215.8 million (more than $345 million), the highest ever for a sale series in London. All its lots sold. The top was Camille Pissarro’s 1897 painting “Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps,” which went for £19.7 million, or about $32 million—nearly double its top presale estimate.

Christie’s had a good week, too, selling Juan Gris’ 1915 still life “The Checked Tablecloth” for $56.7 million. The previous record for a Gris was $28 million. The Impressionist and Modern evening sale totaled $288 million.

Collectible cars are also on a tear. A 1957 Ferrari Testarossa sold in Britain this week for $40 million. And a series of auctions in Paris set a spate of new records for certain cars. RM Auctions gaveled down on a 1955 Jaguar D-Type for about $5 million.

The Project On Government Oversight notes the exceptional:

Head of SEC Given Waiver to Oversee Past Client

Mary Jo White, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), will be allowed to oversee her former client, Credit Suisse, according to a new ethics waiver the U.S. Office of Government Ethics posted to its website this week.

Before coming to the SEC, White, a former attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton, represented Wall Street giants such as UBS and JPMorgan. President Obama nominated her to head the SEC in January 2013.

Her waiver underscores the complications that can often arise when a former white-collar defense attorney becomes a top regulator overseeing an industry she used to represent.

According to the waiver, signed by the SEC’s ethics officer on Feb. 6, White had been prohibited from overseeing Credit Suisse since joining the agency because she provided legal services to the bank during her stint at Debevoise. In the two years prior to her SEC nomination, she “billed in total less than one hour (0.5 hours in January 2012 and 0.4 hours in February 2012) for work on Credit Suisse matters,” the waiver says.

Wrist-slappage from the Los Angeles Times:

Gov. Brown, Newsom to get warning letters from ethics agency

Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among 40 officials receiving warning letters from the state ethics agency after their campaigns received improper contributions from a lobbying firm, representatives said Friday.

A firm headed by Kevin Sloat has reached a tentative agreement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay more than $100,000 in fines involving violations of California’s campaign finance laws, according to sources familiar with the investigation who are not authorized to speak publicly.

The firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates provided prohibited contributions, including expensive wine and cigars, at fundraisers held for elected officials at his Sacramento mansion.

Top-heaviness from The Wire:

Universities Are Cutting Tenured Faculty While They Load Up on ‘Non-Academic’ Administrators

As the cost of college remains exorbitant, recent trends indicate schools in the United States are trading tenured professors for non-academic administrative staff. It’s pretty clear where American colleges have their priorities, and it’s not in academics. Students are paying more to attend schools that are spending less to teach them, and instead spending that tuition money on administration.

According to a new report from the New England Center for Investigating Reporting, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years.” Meanwhile, full-time tenured faculty positions are at the lowest rate in 25 years, while the prevalence of adjunct professors – part-time, non-tenured professors – is at its highest. In fact, according to the American Association of University Professors, “more than three of every four (76 percent) of instructional staff positions are filled on a contingent basis,” meaning without tenure.

The reason that non-tenured professors are so much more popular than tenured faculty is simple: they’re cheaper. Adjunct professors, especially, make very little. Most are paid on a per-course basis, making somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 for each course taught.

Bloomberg Businessweek bemoans:

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Be Born at AOL

AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong ruffled more than a few of his employees’ feathers when he disclosed this week that two AOL workers’ “distressed” babies had whacked the company with $2 million in medical bills.

The costly children were cited—along with more than $7 million in costs from the Affordable Care Act—as the reason AOL (AOL) changed its 401(k) account match to an annual lump sum payment. Workers who aren’t on the payroll at year’s end will forfeit AOL’s 3 percent matching contribution to the accounts. IBM (IBM) made a similar change in 2012. If you plan to quit, management thinking goes, forget about collecting our share of your retirement savings.

Many employees didn’t react well to either bit of news, according to news reports. First, there’s the financial blow to workers, who will lose 401(k) funds if they leave AOL, as well as miss the opportunity to have the company’s match bolster their financial returns over a full year. There’s also the shock that accompanies hearing your boss tag a colleague’s difficult pregnancy and her newborn child as the reason your retirement plan was cut.

Stark realization from the Exchange:

Why Walmart is getting too expensive for the middle class

Walmart is struggling with weak sales and an underperforming stock price. The company recently cut its profit outlook, with analysts polled by S&P Capital IQ expecting just a 2.1% gain in sales when Walmart reports its quarterly earnings on February 20. That’s for a company that has consistently outcompeted nearly every other retailer except, perhaps, Amazon. Walmart’s stock has suffered, rising just 4% during the past year, while the S&P 500 index rose 17% during the same timeframe.

Walmart, though known as a discounter, may be too expensive for millions of shoppers finding themselves more pinched — not less — as the pace of the so-called recovery accelerates. “Their consumer is shifting downward,” says Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for financial-data firm Bloomberg LP. “The competition for Walmart is changing. It’s now dollar stores.”

Where some of their money went, via the Los Angeles Times:

Walton group funds more charter schools in L.A. than elsewhere

Los Angeles charter schools have been the largest recipients of funding from the foundation associated with the family that started Wal-Mart, according to figures released Wednesday.

Since 1997, the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation has distributed $35.9 million in start-up grants to 159 L.A.-area charters. By comparison, Walton has supported the creation of 125 charters in New York City.

Last year alone, the foundation made grants to 23 new L.A. schools, totaling more than $4.69 million, that were set to open in the near future. Both the annual and cumulative totals are higher than for any other region.

Charter schools are independently managed, free from some rules that govern traditional schools and outside the direct control of the local Board of Education. In California, local school boards are required by law to authorize and oversee all financially viable and academically sound charter school petitions. No school system has more charters than the L.A. Unified School District.

More from Slashdot:

25% of Charter Schools Owe Their Soul To the Walmart Store

Among the billionaires who helped Bill Gates pave the way for charter schools in WA was Walmart heiress Alice Walton. The Walton Family Foundation spent a whopping $158+ million in 2012 on what it calls ‘systemic K-12 education reform,’ which included $60,920,186 to ‘shape public policy’ and $652,209 on ‘research and evaluation.’

Confirming the LA Times’ speculation about its influence, the Walton Foundation issued a press release Wednesday boasting it’s the largest private funder of charter school ‘startups,’ adding that it has supported the opening of 1 in 4 charter schools in the U.S. since 1997 through its 1,500 ‘investments.’

In These Times fuels around:

Angering Environmentalists, AFL-CIO Pushes Fossil-Fuel Investment

Labor’s Richard Trumka has gone on record praising the Keystone pipeline and natural gas export terminals.

Trumka’s comments come at a sensitive time, as trade unions and leading environmental groups have sought to build political partnerships with each other in recent years.

The nation’s leading environmental groups are digging their heels in the sand by rejecting President Obama’s “all-of-the above” domestic energy strategy—which calls for pursuing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but simultaneously expanding oil and gas production.

But it appears the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, won’t be taking environmentalists’ side in this fight, despite moves toward labor-environmentalist cooperation in recent years. On a recent conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed two initiatives reviled by green groups: the Keystone XL pipeline and new natural gas export terminals.

“There’s no environmental reason that [the pipeline] can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs,” said Trumka.

In response to a question from In These Times, Trumka also spoke in favor of boosting exports of natural gas.

Bad news from the Associated Press:

Moody’s downgrades Puerto Rico credit rating

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Puerto Rico’s credit rating to junk status.

The announcement Friday by the credit rating agency comes just days after Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. territory’s debt to junk as well.

Moody’s says its decision was based in part of not seeing sufficient economic growth to help reverse negative financial trends.

News from north of the border via South China Morning Post:

Exclusive: Vancouver facing an influx of 45,000 more rich Chinese

  • Over 60pc seeking Canadian wealthy investor visa are from China and want to live in British Columbia’s main city, data shows

A South China Morning Post investigation into Canada’s immigration programme for millionaire investors has revealed the extraordinary extent to which it has become devoted to a single outcome: Helping rich mainland Chinese settle in Vancouver.

Immigration Department data obtained by the Post suggests there was a backlog of more than 45,000 rich Chinese waiting for approval of their applications to move to British Columbia as of January last year. They are estimated to have a minimum combined wealth of C$12.9 billion (HK$90 billion).

And a complication, also from South China Morning Post:

Canada floats new citizenship rules that could affect thousands of Chinese

  • Longer abode requirement and demand for tax returns may affect thousands of Hongkongers and mainlanders granted permanent residency

Canada has unveiled sweeping reforms that would require immigrants spend more time as permanent residents, file tax returns and sign an undertaking to continue living in the country if they want to become citizens.

The proposed redrawing of the Citizenship Act, unveiled on Thursday, would lengthen the period of residency required from three years to four years.

Language proficiency requirements would be extended to children as young as 14 and adults as old as 64, and penalties for fraudulent applications toughened.

China is the biggest single source of applications for Canadian permanent residency and among those who may be affected by the changes are the 110,813 mainland Chinese and 3,305 Hongkongers granted permanent residency between 2010 and the middle of last year.

And a global alarm from Spiegel:

Troubled Times: Developing Economies Hit a BRICS Wall

  • Until recently, investors viewed China, Brazil and India as a sure thing. Lately, though, their economies have shown signs of weakness and money has begun flowing back to the West. Worries are mounting the BRICS dream is fading.

It was 12 years ago that Jim O’Neill had his innovative idea. An investment banker with Goldman Sachs, he had become convinced following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that the United States and Europe were facing economic decline. He believed that developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia could profit immensely from globalization and become the new locomotives of the global economy. O’Neill wanted to advise his clients to invest their money in the promising new players. But he needed a catchy name.

It proved to be a simple task. He simply took the first letter of each country in the quartet and came up with BRIC, an acronym which sounded like the foundation for a solid investment.

O’Neill, celebrated by Businessweek as a “rock star” in the industry, looked for years like a vastly successful prophet. From 2001 to 2013, the economic output of the four BRIC countries rose from some $3 billion a year to $15 billion. The quartet’s growth, later made a quintet with the inclusion of South Africa (BRICS), was instrumental in protecting Western prosperity as well. Investors made a mint and O’Neill’s club even emerged as a real political power. Now, the countries’ leaders meet regularly and, despite their many differences, have often managed to function as a counterweight to the West.

On to Europe and uber-bankster empowerment from Reuters:

ECB to gain far-reaching powers as euro zone banks’ supervisor

The European Central Bank will attain significant powers over the euro zone’s commercial banks once it becomes their supervisor later this year, including withdrawing bank licences and assessing acquisitions, it said on Friday.

From November, the ECB will supervise directly around 130 of the bloc’s largest lenders as part of a broader push towards closer integration of Europe’s banks that aims to create a more level regional playing field for the sector.

The region’s other 5,900 or so banks will remain under the brief of national supervisors, though the ECB will have powers to intervene if it deems necessary.

“(The ECB) will be exclusively competent to grant and withdraw authorizations for credit institutions and to assess acquisitions of qualifying holdings in all credit institutions,” it said in a draft document that laid out how the ECB and national supervisors will cooperate under the new Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM).

Channel NewsAsia Singapore tosses in a monkey wrench:

Germany sends ECB’s crisis-killing action to EU court

Germany’s highest court expressed doubts on Friday about the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme, credited with stopping the eurozone crisis, and sent the case to the European Court of Justice.

Some analysts suggested that the decision might turn out to be helpful to the central bank.

Back in September 2012, the Constitutional Court had rejected legal challenges by a group of eurosceptics to the two key eurozone crisis tools — the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European fiscal pact.

As a result, German President Joachim Gauck was able to sign those two crisis tools into law.

But the eurosceptics also filed a last-minute challenge to the ECB’s OMT bond purchase programme, arguing that it amounted to monetisation of sovereign debt and overstepped the central bank’s mandate.

The London Telegraph-ic take:

German court parks tank on ECB lawn, kills OMT bond rescue

  • Doubtful whether ECB’s back-stop scheme for bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again

Germany’s top court has issued a blistering attack on the European Central Bank, arguing that its rescue plan for the euro violates EU treaty law and exceeds the bank’s policy mandate.

The tough language leaves it doubtful whether the ECB’s back-stop scheme for Spanish and Italian bonds can be implemented if Europe’s debt crisis blows up again, and greatly complicates any future recourse to quantitative easing if needed to head off Japanese-style deflation.

And an affirmation from EUbusiness:

ECB insists bond buying programme ‘within mandate’

The European Central Bank insisted on Friday that its contested OMT bond buying programme did not breach its rules, after Germany’s constitutional court expressed some scepticism.

“The ECB takes note of the announcement made today by the German constitutional court. The ECB reiterates that the OMT programme falls within its mandate,” the central bank said in a short statement.

On to Britain and a disappointment from Bloomberg:

U.K. Manufacturing Rises Less Than Forecast as Growth Eases

U.K. factories increased production by less than forecast in December, suggesting manufacturing is set for steady rather than runaway growth this year.

Output rose 0.3 percent from November, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. That compares with the 0.6 percent median of 26 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Industrial production, which also includes utilities and mines, climbed 0.4 percent, also less than predicted.

While the U.K. economy expanded at the fastest rate since 2007 last year, industry surveys on services and manufacturing this week suggested the pace may have eased at the start of 2014. The Bank of England kept its key policy rate at a record-low 0.5 percent yesterday, while a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research today says consumer spending and a buoyant housing market will drive growth.

The Guardian has guilty knowledge:

Bank of England ‘knew about’ forex markets price fixing

  • Notes from 2012 meeting reportedly show key Bank officials were told of rival currency dealers’ sharing of customer orders

The Bank of England has been dragged into the mounting controversy over allegations of price fixing in the £3tn-a-day foreign exchange markets after it emerged that a group of traders had told the Bank they were exchanging information about their clients’ position.

The latest twist in the unfolding saga – already the subject of investigations by regulators around the world – puts the focus on a meeting between key officials at the central bank and leading foreign exchange dealers in April 2012, when they discussed the way they handled trades ahead of the crucial setting of a benchmark in the prices of major currencies. This benchmark is used to price a wide variety of financial products and is the subject of regulators’ attention amid allegations that traders at rival banks were sharing information about their orders from clients to manipulate the price.

New Europe complicates frack-tiosly:

Shale Gas Fear Leaves UK Vulnerable

Cuadrilla Resources, one of the energy firms hoping to exploit the UK’s shale gas resources, has announced two new exploration sites in Lancashire. But drilling for shale gas in Britain is going to be extremely controversial.

“There is potential but the level of public reaction to it is extremely negative at the moment and anybody trying to carry even testing at the moment is finding a lot of demonstrations,” Justin Urquhart Stewart, Director of Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe on 7 February, adding that the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is going to find it very difficult to actually get it through. “The potential is there but realistically I think they’re going to run into a lot of public concern unless it can be proven not to be dangerous to local communities,” Urquhart Stewart said. Unlike America, Britain is a crowded island and has a much bigger impact on a smaller area, he said.

From The Guardian, a land rush:

Fresh wave of super-rich looking to buy up London properties, says estate agent

  • Political and economic instability driving rise in inquiries from Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine and elsewhere, reckons Frank Knight

Political and financial upheaval in some of the world’s largest emerging economies is driving a wave of rich migrants to London to park their wealth in the city’s property market, according to data from a leading estate agency.

Knight Frank, a specialist in upmarket properties, said on Friday that online inquiries from Argentina, Ukraine and Turkey have soared during the past year.

“There is potentially a further wave of investment headed for the prime central London property market,” said Tom Bill of the firm’s residential research team.

The Observer covers austerian reality:

Changes to state pensions will hit the poorest, warns think tank

  • Inequalities set to grow as people in the most deprived parts of the country live healthy lives 20 years shorter than the average

Changes to the state pension age will only expand the already yawning gap between rich and poor in Britain, according to an academic study.

Inequalities are set to grow because of the failure to take into account differences in health and life expectancy across the country, says the report from independent think tank the International Longevity Centre – UK and backed by the charity Age UK.

While most people will live to state pension age and beyond, a large proportion are unlikely to get there in good health, especially in more disadvantaged parts of the UK – places like inner city Glasgow, where the healthy life expectancy is just 46.7 years – close to 20 years lower than the national average of 65.

BBC News embarrasses:

Immigration minister Mark Harper quits over cleaner’s visa

Immigration minister Mark Harper has resigned from the government after it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.

Mr Harper notified Prime Minister David Cameron, who accepted his resignation “with regret”, Number 10 said.

It added there was “no suggestion” the 43-year-old Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean had “knowingly employed an illegal immigrant”.

Fellow Tory James Brokenshire has been appointed the new immigration minister.

The Observer has frustrations:

Nick Clegg: Britain must join debate on new approach to war on drugs

  • Deputy PM angry at Tory refusal to debate alternatives and says: ‘If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’

Nick Clegg has dragged the case for reforming the drugs laws to the centre ground of British politics, saying that blanket prohibition has seen cocaine use triple in less than 20 years, a trend that has helped perpetuate conflict and violence in South America.

Writing in today’s Observer, after a week in which he visited Colombia to learn first-hand the devastating effects that Europe’s enthusiasm for cocaine has had on the country, Clegg said the UK needed to be at the heart of the debate about potential alternatives to blanket prohibition and that he wanted to see an end to “the tradition where politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences”.

The deputy prime minister said such an approach “has stifled debate and inhibited a proper examination of our approach. Put simply, if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform”.

On to the Emerald Isle and a neoliberal endorsement from the Irish Times:

Taoiseach defends corporate tax policy at OECD

  • Kenny shrugs off French anger at loss of internet companies and backs efforts to close tax loopholes

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and the four Cabinet Ministers who flew on the government jet to Paris yesterday did not see a single member of the French socialist government.

Instead, they spent the day at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that hotbed of liberal economics, at a sensitive time in Franco-Irish relations. The US internet giant Yahoo had just announced it is transferring financial operations from France to Ireland.

Asked about Yahoo’s defection, President François Hollande said “we must act” against “big companies who move to countries with low corporate tax”. He promised to raise the subject with President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

On to Germany and a case of bad heilth from Deutsche Welle:

German newspaper report highlights right-wing crime in Germany

  • More than 11,000 right-wing criminal offenses were committed last year, according to a report by a German newspaper. Of those cases, more than 500 were violent.

German police registered 11,761 criminal offenses motivated by right-wing extremism between January and December of 2013, Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper reported on Friday. Of the reported cases, 574 were violent offenses that resulted in injuries to 561 people, according to Tagesspiegel.

Of the 5,631 suspects in the offenses, 126 people were arrested. In 11 cases, warrants were issued. Some 788 cases were reported as being of an anti-Semitic nature, including 32 cases of assault and other violent crimes.

According to the newspaper, the figures come from monthly inquiries by the Bundestag’s Vice President Petra Pau and her Left Party parliamentary faction. With the release of the December figures, a complete look at the last year is now available.

Tagesspiegel said, however, the actual number of right-wing criminal offenses for 2013 is expected to climb, as many incidents are registered after the fact. In 2012, the total number was initially listed as 11,660, but late registrations ended up driving the total up to 17,134.

TheLocal.de boosts the books:

German trade surplus hits record level

Germany’s trade surplus soared to a new record high in 2013, although export momentum tailed off at the end of the year, official data showed on Friday.

Europe’s biggest economy notched up a trade surplus of €198.9 billion in 2013, the highest since foreign trade data have been compiled.

In 2012, the surplus had stood at 1€89.8 billion.

Germany has come under fire for its booming trade surplus, with critics arguing that its economic prowess comes at the expense of the eurozone’s weaker members.

On to France and the rural right from France 24:

France’s National Front courts the rural vote

As municipal and European elections approach, France’s far-right party the National Front is poised for another strong showing. Rural areas are key to the party’s strategy: economic decline and feelings of neglect in the countryside have been fuelling the National Front’s renaissance.

Our assignment was to understand why the far-right is making strides in rural areas. So we headed out for the “Meuse”, a department in the east of France where the party traditionally does well.

To our initial surprise, villagers readily expressed their support for the National Front, even on camera. “We’re 100 percent for Marine Le Pen around here”, smiled one supporter as we approached. “I’m not afraid to say so, and I always will!”

Reuters turns the coat:

Special Report: Francois Hollande puts on a new political face

As Hollande heads without a First Lady to the United States on Monday, he is projecting a more business-friendly persona than the “regular guy” left-winger France chose in May 2012 to replace conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Several people who know Hollande say that, deep down, he has always been more of a centrist, who had calculated that he should present himself as a man of the left to win election.

“This is not so much a U-turn as a self-revelation. He has finally outed himself,” said Serge Raffy, author of the 2011 Hollande biography “Itineraire secret” (Secret Route).

Switzerland next and a defining vote from Deutsche Welle:

Referendum to keep foreigners out of Switzerland?

  • On Sunday, the Swiss vote on whether to restrict immigration to their country. The ramifications of a yes vote, experts say, could be huge. To their shock, the referendum has a decent shot at passing.

When Germans hear Switzerland, they first think of the children’s book “Heidi”, snow-covered mountains and secure bank accounts. Their neighbor to the south is a popular vacation destination, but more and more Germans also come to Switzerland to work. They can do so because the small, neutral state entered a freedom of movement agreement with the European Union in 1999. Even though Switzerland isn’t a member of the union, EU citizens have been allowed to immigrate to Switzerland with hardly any restrictions since then.

That might change soon. In a nationwide referendum, the Swiss are voting on an “initiative against mass-immigration” this Sunday (09.02.2014). The initiative was put forward by the nationalist-populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP). The party wants to restrict the number of immigrants and allocate a limited number of slots to certain national or occupational groups.

Roughly 80,000 immigrants enter Switzerland every year – and this in a country of 8.1 Million. According to the German weekly “Die Zeit”, this is the largest population growth the country has experienced since the 1960s.

On to Iberia and austerian woes from thinkSPAIN:

More firms and individuals in Spain declared insolvent last year than ever before in history

A RECORD number of companies and sole traders went into receivership or were declared bankrupt last year – a total of 9,660, which is the highest ever seen since bankruptcy became legally-recognised 10 years ago.

This represents a rise of 6.5 per cent on the figure for 2012, and never before have this many insolvencies been declared in the space of a year in Spain, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

In the first three years after the Insolvency Law was passed in 2004, up to and including 2007 there were between 968 and 1,147 firms going bankrupt or into receivership each year, but this shot up to 3,298 with the start of the financial crisis.

This again nearly doubled in 2009 when the recession and mass unemployment began to truly bite in Spain, reaching 6,197 that year, dropping slightly to 5,962 in 2010 but then soaring again in 2011 to 6,863. However, the last two calendar years have seen a sharp increase, with insolvencies shooting up by over 50 per cent.

The Associated Press takes a turnabout:

Spain to restore nationality to Sephardic Jews

Spain has announced new measures to speed up the naturalization of Jews of Sephardic descent whose ancestors fled the Iberian peninsula five centuries ago when they were told to convert to Catholicism or go into exile.

The Cabinet approved a bill amending previous legislation that granted nationality by naturalization to Sephardic Jews who chose to apply for it. The reform will allow dual nationality, enabling people who can prove Sephardic ancestry to also retain their previous citizenships.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said Friday the measure smooths the bureaucracy involved in obtaining Spanish nationality.

Italy next, and corruption with a flair from TheLocal.it:

Space boss quits over tango dancer scandal

The head of Italy’s space agency submitted his resignation on Friday after a scandal over dubious expenses including hiring as a consultant a former tango dancer with no apparent aerospace credentials.

Enrico Saggese in a statement denied the accusations and said that he wanted to step down “so as to better defend my integrity, honour and prestige”.

Prosecutors opened an investigation on Thursday into corruption, including Saggese’s use of a credit card provided by an agency subcontractor.

They are also looking into consultancy fees paid to the wife of an employee to provide “psychological assistance” and expense-paid trips to the United States for several managers of the space agency.

After the jump, the latest Greek disasters, Ukrainian turmoil, class war in Brazil, Argentine anger, a Latin American plague, Pakistani stalemate, the latest Thai violence, Vietnamese letdown, Chinese uncertainty, an Abenomics fail, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroSinoFukuFuel


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

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

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

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

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

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

One response, via The Hill:

Senate rejects jobless benefits

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

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

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

Any excuse to gut environmental laws, via Salon:

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

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

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

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

CNBC shivers in anticipation:

Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand

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

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

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

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

From Al Jazeera America, Banksters Behaving Badly™:

Banks under investigation for alleged currency exchange rate-fixing

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

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

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

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

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

Profligacy from The Guardian:

National lab in California scolded over Lusitania project

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

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

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

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

NBC News greens the green:

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

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

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

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

Blowback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

India warns US of consequences on visa reform

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

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

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

Sensible advice from Salon:

Elizabeth Warren calls on Obama to nominate fewer corporate judges

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exclusive: How mainland millionaires overwhelmed Canada visa scheme

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

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

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

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

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

ECB rejects deflation fears as it holds rates at 0.25%

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

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

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

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

Another take from the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian hasn’t recovered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC News splits:

Divorce rate up ‘because of recession’, report says

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minister Dismisses Ministry Employee Requests For Independent Investigation

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

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

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

The uncuttest kind of all from TheLocal.no:

Norway politician wants jail for circumcisers

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

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

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

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

Danish austerity strikes again,, via the Copenhagen Post:

Parliament expected to end EU insurance coverage

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

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

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

Nexit news from DutchNews.nl:

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

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

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

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

EurActiv rebuts:

Dijsselbloem counters Wilders’ EU exit claim

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

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

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

Daimler enjoys record €9 billion profit

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

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

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

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

Europe Online declines:

German factory orders post surprise slump in December

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

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

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

TheLocal.de lights a fuse:

Court grants EU migrants German jobless benefits

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

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

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

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

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

French teachers to strike over August return

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration: ‘total chaos’ seen if curbs backed

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors shun life-saving abortion

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

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

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

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

thinkSPAIN charts the loss:

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es has poor possibilities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish bankruptcies hit the roof in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Surrogate births not recognised under Spanish law, rules Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

Rents in Italy soar as wages stagnate

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

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

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

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

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

The latest Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Italian senate to join civil case against Berlusconi

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

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

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

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

Bonino defends German role in euro crisis

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

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

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

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

David Horsey: A little California dry humor


From the editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Californicated

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Zimmerman Reportedly Set To Fight Rapper DMX

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

From The Guardian, costly folly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG Drought

From the Washington Post, stiffing the Praetorians:

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

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

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

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

The Register delivers the blow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Cheech called — your prescription is ready!

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

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

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

A parallel development from the Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto home prices surge, again ‘outpacing family incomes’

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

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

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

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

UN demands action from Vatican on child sex abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eurozone retail sales fall sharply in December

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

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

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

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

On to Britain with qualified optimism from Sky News:

Economic Recovery: ‘End In Sight’ For Austerity

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

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

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

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

An alarm from The London Telegraph:

NHS faces ‘unprecedented squeeze’, think tank warns

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News saves face:

Aidan Burley: MP Resigns Over Nazi Stag Party

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

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

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

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

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

  • Prosecution says FitzPatrick did nothing to stop bank shares move

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

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

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

TheLocal.no laughs at Uncle Sam:

US committee approves blundering Norway envoy

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

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

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

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

Switzerland next and an embarrassment from TheLocal.ch:

Minister faces questions over Luxembourg links

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

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

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

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

Bern tells parents: Jessico not a boy’s name

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNCF faces ban in US over Holocaust role

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

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

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

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

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

PP and PSOE lose ground in latest CIS survey

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es adds a monkey wrench to the mix:

Police reveal extent of bribes to ruling party

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

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

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

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

Spanish services sector grows at fastest pace in over six years

  • Companies increase staffing levels for first time in 70 months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off to Italy and pricing the commons with The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.it takes Bunga Bunga on the road:

‘Berlusconi for PM’ campervan tours Italy

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

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

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

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

From TheLocal.it, lost tolerance:

Italian MP laments ‘massive’ refugee influx

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFukuFolly


We begin today’s headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms with the inevitable outcome of a healthcare system that isn’t public, via the New York Times:

Health Care Law May Result in 2 Million Fewer Full-Time Workers

A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office says that the Affordable Care Act will result in more than 2 million fewer full-time workers in the next several years, providing Republican opponents of the law a powerful political weapon leading up to this years midterm elections.

The law is also expected to have a significant effect on hours worked, the nonpartisan budget office said in a regular update to its budget projections released Tuesday. With the expansion of insurance coverage, more workers will choose not to work and others will choose to work fewer hours than they might have otherwise, it said. The decline in hours worked will translate into a loss of the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time positions by 2024, the budget office said.

Republicans immediately seized on the report as evidence of the health care law’s adverse effect on the economy.

From USA TODAY, third third state?:

Alaska moves toward August vote on legal pot

Alaska could be the next state to reconsider the prohibition on marijuana, following legalization votes by Colorado and Washington last year.

Alaska elections officials posted data Tuesday showing that a petition for a statewide vote on marijuana legalization has gained enough signatures and met legal thresholds needed to put the issue before voters.

Under Alaska law, the petition when officially certified would appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot. No formal opposition to the initiative has emerged thus far.

Reuters readies the job ax:

RadioShack to close about 500 stores: WSJ

U.S. electronics chain RadioShack Corp is planning to close about 500 stores within months, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The struggling retailer, which is due to report results for the fourth quarter later this month, said it could not comment on rumor or speculation.

RadioShack has been working with bankers from Peter J Solomon Co to boost its liquidity and with AlixPartners on its operational turnaround.

Its sales have been in free-fall amid executive departures, strong competition and an image problem. Despite its ubiquitous presence in the United States, analysts say it has not done enough to transform itself into a destination for mobile phone shoppers, nor has it become hip enough to woo younger shoppers.

And another ax-wielder from the New York Post:

500 layoffs expected today at Time Inc.

Tuesday is D-day at Time Inc.

Around mid-morning, staffers are expected to start hearing how deep the cuts will be as Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp unveils what is likely the last big downsizing before Time Warner spins off the publishing group as a separate company later this year.

“It’s very nerve racking,” said one source inside the company that publishes People, Time, Sports Illustrated and In Style.

The recently acquired American Express Publishing and the London-based IPC subsidiary, are expected to be particularly hard hit.

Out first global headline, via The Independent:

Das Capital: Trust in banks wanes as savers find other ways to protect their money

  • The ultra-rich are switching to real assets – gold, commodities, farm land

All systems – social, cultural, spiritual, economic and financial – rely on trust. Policy makers are now systematically undermining trust in institutions, turning to financial repression in attempting to deal with the economic crisis.

Current government policies focus on low interest rates, with returns artificially set below the true inflation rate. Where interest rates are near zero, governments print money, manipulating the amount rather than the price of money.

These measures reduce borrowing costs allowing borrowers to maintain high levels of debt. Rates below that of inflation help reduce the value of the debt, effectively decreasing the amount that must be paid back in economic terms. The policy subsidises borrowers at the expense of savers.

The London Telegraph sounds a warning:

Emerging markets more vulnerable than ever to Fed tightening, warns BIS

  • Bank for International Settlements says there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries

Emerging markets may be even more vulnerable to an interest rate shock today than they were during the East Asia crisis in 1998, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has warned.

The Swiss-based watchdog said there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries, leaving them exposed to “powerful feedback” risks as borrowing costs rise in the West.

“The deeper integration of emerging market economies into global debt markets has made emerging market bond markets much more sensitive to bond market developments in the advanced economies,” the BIS said in a working paper.

New Europe pontif-icates:

Pope warns that ‘unjust’ unemployment can lead to sin, moral destitution and even suicide

Francis discussed three types of destitution — material, moral and spiritual — in his first message for Lent, the solemn period leading up to Holy Week and Easter, that was released Tuesday.

Moral destitution, he said, “consists of slavery to vice and sin” such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.

He noted that sometimes “unjust social conditions” like unemployment lead to this type of destitution by depriving people of the dignity of work and access to education and health care.

“In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide.”

How, then, about folks who are doing quite well, Say, such as the consumers of this little joy from the London Daily Mail:

The Mile-Low Club: Travel company launches £175k Valentine’s Day submarine package with interior design of your choice and aphrodisiac menu (flights to the mooring not included)

  • Luxury travel company unveil submarine treat whereby couples can choose to harbour wherever they like
  • Also includes aphrodisiac menu featuring champagne and oysters
  • The bespoke submarine will actually travel 200m under the water
  • Price for a basic vessel starts at £175,000
  • Extras including helicopter transfers, entertaining rooms and champagne breakfast available

And from TheLocal.de, the crabby old man was right:

Too much reality TV ‘harms pupils’ grades’

Have you ever been worried that too much reality TV might be frying your brain or more to the point your kids’ brains? Well you better read on.

Parents everywhere have been muttering it under their breaths for years and now French researchers claim to have dealt conclusive proof.

A study by the Ministry of Education linked body DEPP (Direction of Evaluation, forecasting and performance) shows a dramatic reduction in results for 15-year-old pupils who watch too much reality TV.

The study, which relied on stats from the Ministry of Education, looked at the impact on grades of the typical activities of young kids in France from playing video games to listening to music and sending texts to friends but it was watching shows like The Voice,  Koh Lanta (the French version of Survivor)  or the Infamous Angels of Reality TV, featuring Nabilla (pictured) that appears to have the most detrimental impact on standards.

“It is the frequent watching of reality TV programmes that impacts the most negatively on the cognitive and academic performances,” said the study.

On to Europe and intolerant umbrage from EUobserver:

MEP receives 41,000 emails against gay rights

An MEP who drafted a resolution on securing the basic rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) people in the EU has so far received almost 41,000 emails against the proposal.

“My website was hacked as well, I don’t know who it was from. It might be coincidence, it might not be a coincidence,” Green Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek told the Strasbourg assembly on Monday (3 February).

A large banner which says “Warning – visiting this website may harm your computer!” has replaced her personal site since last week.

Her office said they are working to get it back to normal. They suspect it was hacked by ultra-conservative groups.

Casting a cynical eye with EUbusiness:

Ombudsman wants EU probed for corruption

The European Union’s own institutions should be probed for corruption, the EU’s watchdog said Tuesday, a day after Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem described the bloc’s graft problem as “breathtaking.”

“The EU administration has to live up to the very highest standards,” European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in a statement, adding that it largely does so and compares favourably with many member states.

However, it should not be complacent, and accordingly, O’Reilly encouraged the European Commission to “include the EU institutions in the next Anti-Corruption Report.”

On to Germany and action in Berlin from MintPress News:

Fed Up With Agribusiness, Protesters Take To The Streets In Berlin

The protesters said agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes, and damages the environment and biodiversity.

United under the declaration, “we are fed up,” around 30,000 people from several associations representing farmers, beekeepers and consumers, as well as environmental, development and food organizations, gathered in Berlin to demonstrate against large-scale agribusiness.

The protesters said that agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes and damages the environment and biodiversity. They demanded environmentally friendly farming, protection for bees, access to land and healthy, affordable food for all. They’re also seeking fair prices for farmers, an end to hunger, food scandals, monocultures, GMOs and land grabs by governments and investors.

Escorted by some 70 tractors, they marched through the streets of the German capital, from Potsdamer Platz to the government buildings of the Ministry of Agriculture and the offices of the federal chancellor. The demonstrators expressed their demands to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

On to France and a taxing threat from EUbusiness:

French to make 1 bn euro tax claim against Google: report

French authorities have decided to make a tax claim of 1 billion euros against Google following a probe into the tax strategies by the US Internet giant, Le Point magazine reported Tuesday.

A Google spokesman in France declined to comment on the report, saying the company does not comment on rumours.

The French finance ministry also declined to comment, citing tax confidentiality.

France is one of a growing number of cash-strapped nations to pursue more aggressively what they see as abuse of tax and accounting rules that allows some multinational companies to pay less tax.

What Ailes France from France 24:

Is a new Tea Party brewing in France?

Interior Minister Manuel Valls has warned that France was seeing the birth of its own version of the grassroots, anti-tax Tea Party movement amid a surge of anti-government demonstrations by right-wing groups and religious conservatives across the country.

“We are witnessing the creation of the French version of the Tea Party. By exploiting the political and leadership crisis on the right, and the National Front party’s move away from the far-right, a conservative and reactionary right has been set free,” Valls, a Socialist, told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview published on Sunday.

The eye-opening comparison came hours ahead of massive rallies in defence of traditional families in Paris and the eastern city of Lyon. They were organised by the so-called “Manif Pour Tous” (Protest for all) group that staged massive protests against gay marriage last year.

Sunday’s march, which police said drew 80,000 people in Paris, was just the latest public display of anger against President François Hollande’s government in recent days.

EUbusiness goes medical:

France announces EUR 1.5 bn anti-cancer plan

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday announced a 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) anti-cancer plan aimed at reducing inequalities in treatment of the disease.

The 2014-2019 plan aims to give “the same chances to everyone everywhere in France” in preventing and fighting cancer, Hollande said in a speech to medical professionals.

His announcement comes a day after the United Nations warned that new cases of cancer will rise by half by 2030, reaching 21.6 million per year compared to 14 million in 2012.

On to Spain and a new low from El País:

Number of people in work in January declines to lowest level in 12 years

  • Jobless claims in Spain climb by 113,097 in first month of year

The number of people signed up with the Social Security system in Spain declined by 184,031, or 1.13 percent, in January from the end of last year to 16.173 million, the lowest figure since April 2002, according to figures released Tuesday by the Labor Ministry.

In what is traditionally a bad month for the labor market, jobless claims rose by 113,097, or 2.4 percent, from December to 4.814 million.

The ministry said that on a month-on-month basis, this January was the “least negative” since 2007, given that since the current comparable statistical series began there has never been an increase in the number of people signed up with the Social Security system. On a year-on-year basis, the number of affiliates declined by 5,829, or 0.04 percent.

TheLocal.es looks for resolution:

UN urges Spain to drop Civil War taboos

A UN expert on Monday urged Spain to break a decades-long taboo by investigating atrocities allegedly committed in its 1936-39 civil war and the Franco dictatorship that followed.

UN justice rapporteur Pablo de Greiff said Spain should scrap a 1977 amnesty law that stops victims from prosecuting the alleged perpetrators of such atrocities, which divide Spaniards to this day.

In a report, he urged Spain to scrap the amnesty and called on “the state institutions to show a decisive and determined commitment” to investigating and making sure that victims are compensated.

The amnesty was seen as a necessity by the leaders tasked with unifying Spain after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

Portugal next and a temporary halt to a sale of the commons from Deutsche Welle:

London auction house cancels sale of Miro paintings

Citing legal uncertainties stemming from the lawsuit in Portugal, auction house Christie’s said on Tuesday that it had decided to cancel the sale of the Miro paintings pending the resolution of the dispute.

“While the recent injunction to stop the sale was not granted, the legal uncertainties created by this ongoing dispute mean that we are not able to safely offer the works for sale,” Christie’s said in a press release.

Hours before the auction’s scheduled start time, a judge denied the opposition Socialist Party’s request for an injunction to stop the sale. Portugal’s government pleaded that harsh austerity measures have left the country short of cash, and it could not make retaining the collection of the Catalan surrealist Miro one of its priorities.

Portugal’s public prosecutor backed the appeal to stop the sale, which accused the administration of ignoring “the immeasurable immaterial value” of the collection to the country, forced into austerity measures following a 78-billion-euro ($105 billion) rescue by international creditors in 2011.

The Portugal News charts reduced losses:

BCP stems losses by around half a billion

BCP, Portugal’s largest private sector bank, announced a €740 million loss for 2013, down from €1.219 billion in 2012, following the closure of the stock market on Monday.

“This loss is significant but also substantially below that of the previous year. This reflects the macroeconomic situation and is in accordance with the restructuring plan agreed with the General Directorate of Competition of the European Commission,” BCP President Nuno Amado told a press conference.

The loss also includes €126 million in provisions for early retirement and redundancy payoffs as the bank advances with its plan expected to see several hundred employees leave the firm over the first half of this year.

On to Italy and an austerian declaration from AGI:

President Napolitano says Italy must stay course on debt

Italy cannot afford to let up its efforts to keep its public debt in check, President Giorgio Napolitano said in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Despite the government’s concerted response to financial market pressure and significant achievements in 2013, Italy cannot afford to relax in its efforts to further curtail its public debt, he said.

After the jump, the latest from tghe Greek meltdown, a Turkish retraction, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, a Latin American trade deal push and Brazilian woes, Australian immigration profits and environmental havoc, Indian protests, Thai warnings, troubling Chinese numbers, Japanese neoliberalism, toxic spills and criminal probes, ecocidal costs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: California groundwater losses


From a new UCCHM Water Advistory [PDF] from the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine, estimating cumulative 51-year cumulative groundwater losses in the irrigated agricultural heartland of California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins:

Microsoft Word - UCCHM_Water_Advisory_1.docx

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoSinoFuku


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF residents caught in middle of tech hostilities

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

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

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

The Verge Googles eyesore:

California orders Google to move floating barge from current construction site

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

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

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

IBM Uses Dutch Tax Haven to Boost Profits as Sales Slide

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

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

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

MarketWatch tanks anxiously:

U.S. stocks see worst selloff in several months

  • Manufacturers expand in January at slowest rate in eight months

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

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

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

From the New York Times, a belated recognition:

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

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

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

The Washington Post notes a sea change:

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

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

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

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

Could Post Offices Become Public Banks?

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

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

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

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

From Medical Daily, a notable side effect:

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

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

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

On to Europe with an anxious twist from CNNMoney:

Pressure building for ECB rate cut

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

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

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

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

Quartz covers mordida:

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

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

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

Al Jazeera America sets the cost:

Report: EU corruption costs $162B annually

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

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

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

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

One more headline [only], from BBC News:

Corruption across EU ‘breathtaking’ – EU Commission

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

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

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

Frank-Walter Steinmeier made his first visit to London since returning to the foreign minister’s post on Monday, asking his British counterpart William Hague not to lose sight of the benefits of EU membership.

“In this 21st century world, we want to protect our political, economic and cultural influences,” Steinmeier said, adding that, on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, such European ties “really must not be underestimated.”

The German foreign minister said it would be “an exaggeration” to assert that Germany and the UK were on precisely the same page when it came to treaty reform for the EU.

Xinhua sounds the alarm:

London housing market under price bubbles risk, warns Ernst and Young

Housing market in London is beginning to show signs of bubble-like conditions, said a research report issued by Ernst and Young Item Club (EY ITEM Club) on Monday, while asking the government to monitor the trend closely and be prepared to intervene.

The EY ITEM Club forecast showed the average house price in London is expected to reach nearly 600,000 pounds (980,000 U.S. dollars) by 2018, some 3.5 times the average price in Northern Ireland and more than 3.3 times the average in the North East.

It said the average house prices in Britain growing by 8.4 percent this year and 7.3 percent in 2015, before cooling to around 5.5 percent in 2016.

And simultaneously booms:

British manufacturing off to strong start in 2014

Britain’s manufacturing sector maintained its strong growth into 2014, posing an improved domestic demand and solid output growth supported by rising export orders in January, said a survey report on Monday.

The report, jointly issued by Markit and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), showed the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for the British manufacturing sector was at 56.7 in January of this year.

The figure is at its lowest level in three months, but still showed a robust improvement in overall operating conditions for the manufacturing sector.

A reading of 50 points or greater indicates expansion, while below 50 indicates contraction.

A qualified UK separatism endorsement from El País:

Spain will not oppose Scottish EU entry: foreign minister

  • But García-Margallo warns that re-entry to the Union will take considerable time

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has stated that should Scotland elect to break away from the United Kingdom, Spain will not oppose the move because it does not have any bearing on the internal affairs of the country. “If the Constitution of the United Kingdom permits – and it seems that it does – that Scotland call a referendum on their possible independence, we will say nothing on the matter,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

However, the minister adhered to the Popular Party (PP) administration’s line over Catalonia’s own designs on a referendum for independence; one of staunch resistance.

On to Sweden and a call from TheLocal.se:

EU: Sweden should ban secret party donations

While the EU’s executive body acknowledged that Sweden was among the least corrupt countries in the EU, it pointed to several areas of potential improvement.

Specifically, Sweden could improve its transparency if it considered a general ban on anonymous political party donations. Sweden remains one of few EU countries without total party-funding transparency, and the government came under fire last month when it decided to keep the lid on private donations.

The report also hinted that Sweden could do more to combat the risk of corruption at the municipality and county level, which the commission said could be fixed by making authorities obliged to secure transparency in public contracts with private entrepreneurs.

TheLocal.se again, with hard times intolerance:

Afrophobic hate crimes on the rise in Sweden

Hate crimes directed against Sweden’s black population have increased in recent years, according to a report published on Monday, prompting grave concern from Sweden’s integration minister.

Afrophobia, defined as hostility towards people with a background from sub-Saharan Africa, is soaring in Sweden, according to the researchers who compiled the government-commissioned report. They wrote on Monday in the opinion pages of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) that it was time society took these statistics seriously.

Between 2008 and 2012, the number of reported hate crimes against Afro-Swedes, defined as anyone with African heritage living in Sweden, rose by 24 percent, while hate crimes in general during the same period decreased by six percent. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the number of Afrophobic hate crimes rose by 17 percent, the researchers explained.

On to Brussels and a critique via DutchNews.nl:

Brussels criticises ‘revolving door’ between Dutch politics and industry

While the Dutch integrated approach to preventing corruption and bribery could serve as a model to other EU countries, the Netherlands should still do more to improve transparency in politics, the European Commission said on Monday.

While welcoming the fact that much has been done in the Netherlands to improve transparency, the Commission went on to recommend improvements in the way the business interests of ministers are examined.

Officials’ private, financial and business interests are considered a private matter and information about their assets and interests is not available to the public, the report points out.

Nor are there any rules forcing MPs to declare potential conflicts of interest or barring them from holding financial interests or engaging in external activities.

Germany next and a peculiar call from TheLocal.de:

Industry boss: ‘Too many students harm economy’

One of Germany’s top commerce experts warned on Monday that there were so many young people at university, and so few in traineeships, that the country’s economy would suffer.

“The consequences to Germany’s economy will be damaging, if the trend to study at any cost is not stopped,” said Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK).

Schweitzer was referring to the amount of young people who undertake lengthy study in Germany, while companies struggled to fill traineeships.

“The truth is that many years of increasing student numbers in Germany have resulted in our classrooms now bursting at the seams, while companies are desperately seeking apprentices,” he said in a statement.

France next and a concession to the “family values” set from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande puts off family law to avoid new fight

A day after massive protests over President François Hollande’s “family phobia”, his government on Monday abruptly postponed plans to pass a controversial new family bill, that would likely have picked another fight with France’s traditional conservatives.

France’s Socialist government on Monday put off plans for a new family law after demonstrations by thousands of angry conservatives.

Hollande’s administration announced on Monday it was postponing its plans to move ahead with legislation that would have legalized medically assisted procreation for same sex couples, and tackled issues like surrogacy.

A source in Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office said the government would no longer present a bill this year that officials had said was aimed at modernising the law to reflect the new “diversity” of families.

Nature’s newsblog takes the pledge:

Hollande pledges to avoid cuts to France’s science funding

French President François Hollande promised to spare the research and higher education budget from savings of €50 billion (US$67 billion) that his government has pledged to find over the next three years to reign in its massive public deficit.

The government will find other ways to cut the deficit, avoid tax increases and ensure business can increase investment and create jobs, he said during a visit to the University of Strasbourg.

In a speech devoted entirely to research and higher education, Hollande also said he would maintain the controversial research tax credit (CIR) because companies appreciate it and it helps attracts foreign investment.

And from TheLocal.fr, a demand:

EU: France must root out corruption at local level

France remains a country where the worlds of international business and public procurement are blighted by shady dealings and corruption, according to a new EU report. But just how bad is corruption in France and how does it compare to other countries in Europe?

France needs to do more to fight corruption a new report from the European Commission argues, especially in the areas of international business transactions and public procurement, which are still ripe with misdeeds.

“Corruption-related risks in the public procurement sector and in international business transactions have not been addressed,” the report concludes.

On to Switzerland and the first of a schizy set of headlines from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss ban proposed on sex education for kids

Swiss voters will decide whether to ban compulsory sex education for children under nine after conservative groups mustered enough signatures to force a plebiscite, the authorities said on Monday.

The federal administration said campaigners had gathered more than the 100,000 signatures of voters required to put their measure to the public for approval.

The campaign coalition — whose goal is the “protection against sexualisation in kindergartens and primary schools” — handed in its petition in December and the government is now obliged to set a date for a vote.

And out of left field, also from TheLocal.ch:

Swiss want to reopen pot legalization debate

A Swiss parliamentary committee looking into drug issues wants to reopen the debate on the legalization of marijuana in the wake of developments in the US, Uruguay and New Zealand.

“Many models that exist around the world should be studied and analyzed, that is the basis of our reflection,” Toni Berthel, committee president and a member of the Swiss association for addiction, is quoted as saying by the ATS news agency.

Berthel confirmed information reported on Sunday by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly newspaper about the new look at Swiss cannabis laws.

Spain next and a matter of perception from El País:

95 percent of Spaniards see corruption as institutionalized

  • “Political will is absent” in battle against graft, notes Brussels report

Ninety-five percent of Spaniards believe corruption is generalized, according to the first continent-wide study on the issue by the European Commission. Only respondents in Greece (99 percent) and Italy (97 percent) outdid Spain. The report, which was presented on Monday in Brussels, underscores the magnitude of the issue in Europe: three out of four EU citizens believe corruption is an institutional problem.

In two areas of the survey Spain topped the charts. Asked if the level of corruption has risen in the past three years, 77 percent said yes, more than in the other 27 member states. Two out of every three respondents said that corruption affected their daily lives, more than in any other nation. The survey was conducted in February and March 2013, when a series of corruption scandals involving the government, labor unions, political parties and the monarchy occupied the front pages in Spain.

From TheLocal.es, Coke Zero:

Zero tolerance to Coke plant closures

Thousands of workers from Coca-Cola bottling factories in Spain marched on Sunday in protest at plant closures they say will cost 750 jobs.

In red caps and vests bearing the logo of the giant US drinks company, crowds marched in Madrid and the eastern city of Alicante, where two of the threatened plants are located.

Coca-Cola’s plan to close four of its bottling factories in Spain is expected to lead to 750 workers being laid off and 500 others being offered relocation to other plants.

Another protest from thinkSPAIN:

Nationwide protest over ‘abusive’ electricity costs

THOUSANDS of people across Spain joined in a countrywide protest over rocketing electricity prices on Saturday.

Demonstrations were held in 23 cities, mostly provincial capitals, including Madrid, Valencia, Alicante, Barcelona, Murcia, Málaga, Almería, Granada, Córdoba, Huelva, Sevilla, Cádiz, Jaén, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Carrying banners calling for Luz a precio justo (‘electricity at a fair price’), the demonstrators clamoured against the government’s forcing the consumer to bear the cost of its own debt with energy suppliers, leaving already hard-pressed householders suffering prohibitive prices.

And an austerian measure from TheLocal.es:

King freezes wages of Queen and Princess

King Don Juan Carlos has gone against the trend of royal secrecy in Spain and publicized the new fixed salaries of his wife Queen Sofía and daughter-in-law Princess Letizia.

It’s the first time the 76-year-old monarch has willingly made information on royal earnings available to Spain’s general public.

In a press release published by Spain’s Zarzuela Palace, the newly-fixed wages of royal family members have been disclosed in detail.

Queen Sofía of Spain will earn €131,739 in 2014, a sum roughly resembling her wages last year but which is no longer determined by so-called representation costs.

As for Letizia Ortiz, wife of Prince Felipe and future queen of Spain, she will receive a grand total of €102,464.

El País schmoozes:

Rajoy looks to 2015 race with soothing pledges for tax reform and stimulus measures

  • PM bashes Rubalcaba for being negative and blames Socialist leader for current “agony”

The Popular Party (PP) on Sunday officially kicked off the beginning of the second half of its current term in government with pledges from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to carry out his long-awaited ambitious tax reform and other economic measures to help Spain get back on its feet.

As PP officials begin to look toward the next general elections scheduled for the end of next year, the ruling party has tried to use its three-day political conference in Valladolid to showcase proposed strategies in an effort to win voters’ confidence in its recovery plan. But at the close of national meeting, Rajoy avoided offering any specifics on his plans, but was able to muster rallying cheers from stalwart party members with an unusually aggressive attack on opposition Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

The verbal blitzkrieg was seen as an attempt to breathe new life into an increasingly embattled Popular Party, which finds itself bitterly divided on a range of issues, including the government’s proposal for abortion reform; the route that should be taken that would lead to ETA’s eventual demise; and the ongoing public corruption inquiries that have engulfed many of its members.

Italy next, starting with a Bunga Bunga bounceback from New Europe:

Italy: Poll finds Berlusconi-led government would win election

Judges may be convicting him and prosecutors opening yet new probes, but it seems that Italians would yet again elect a Berlusconi-led government it they had to vote now. According to a new poll published in February 3, a center-right alliance led by embattled former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would be the most likely winner if Italians were to vote now under a reform proposal currently before parliament.

The poll, commissioned by newspaper Corriere della Sera and conducted by the Ipsos agency found that potential center-right coalition would get 37.9 percent of the vote, above the 37 percent threshold needed under the new rules being examined to obtain a large winner’s bonus of parliamentary seats without having repeat elections.

The centre left according to the same poll would get 36 percent while Bepe Grillo’s 5-Star protest movement 20.7 percent.

TheLocal.it hyperbolizes:

Five Star bloggers ‘potential rapists’: MP

Italy’s lower house speaker has accused the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of instigating violence and slammed bloggers on the party website as “potential rapists” following a flurry of sexist abuse online.

Laura Boldrini was commenting on a post on the Facebook page belonging to the Five Star Movement’s leader Beppe Grillo, which asked on Saturday “what would you do if you found Boldrini in your car?”

The question, which accompanied a satirical video and was taken up on the movement’s official website, sparked a series of abusive comments, including calls for Boldrini to be raped.

The post was an “instigation to violence, just look at the comments it prompted, nearly all of which were made in a sexist context,” Boldrini said in an interview late Sunday on Italian television.

And from TheLocal.it, ubiquity:

Almost all Italians think corruption is rife

Almost all Italians believe that corruption is widespread in their country, according to the European Commission’s anti-corruption report released on Monday. While some progress has been made, the EU’s executive body highlighted a number of areas in need of urgent action.

Ninety-seven percent of Italians think that corruption is rife, second only to Greece with 99 percent and well above the European average of 76 percent, the European Commission report found.

Bribery and connections are the easiest ways to get certain public services, 88 percent of Italians believe, compared to 73 percent of Europeans.

People in Italy, however, are more optimistic than those in Greece, where 93 percent of the population believe bribery is the easiest way to get what you want, compared to 92 percent in Cyprus and 89 percent in Slovakia and Croatia.

TheLocal.it again, with oldies and not-so-goodies:

Crisis-hit Italians survive on out of date food

Italians may be well-known for their healthy diet, but more are eating food well past its use-by date as the effects of the financial crisis continue to bite, according to new figures from Coldiretti, the Italian farmers association.

Fifty-nine percent of Italians, or six out of ten, eat out of date food, with fifteen percent eating food that is a month or more old, the association revealed.

Eight percent are eating food that is way beyond a month after its use-by date, while 34 percent are consuming products up to a week old and two percent never check expiry dates.

Coldiretti said the “worrying trend” poses a “significant risk to health”

After the jump, the latest on the Greek crisis, Ukrainian uncertainty, Russia currency freefall, Indian action, Thai troubles continue, Vietnamese expectations, more Chinese warning signs and neoliberal moves, Abenomics fails, pesticide alerts and other environmental woes, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .and more:  Continue reading

Stark images of California’s epochal drought


UPDATE: At the end.

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

BLOG Drought West

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

BLOG Drought

From Climate Central:

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian:

Nevada farmers turn to prayer as drought grips western US states

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoGrecoEcoFukuics


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

Super rich shift their thrills from luxury goods to costly experiences

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

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

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

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

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

Warnings of things to come from the London Telegraph:

Currency crisis at Chinese banks ‘could trigger global meltdown’

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

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

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

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

Reuters covers losses:

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

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

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

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

The New York Times brings it closer to Casa esnl:

Parched, California Cuts Off Tap to Agencies

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

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

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

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

MintPress News eases up:

CA Law Enforcement Proposes Softening Drug Laws

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

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

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

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

The Guardian condescends to profit:

US newspapers fall out over ‘dead peasant’ insurance

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

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

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

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

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

More losers from Al Jazeera America:

More jobless Americans losing benefits every week

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

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

The Guardian loads up the money bin:

Google reports 17% revenue rise for fourth quarter

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

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

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

From The Hill, Hillary-ous idiocy:

Mont. House candidate calls Hillary Clinton ‘Antichrist’

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

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

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

Bloomberg plays the middle:

House Republicans’ Economic Agenda Targets Middle Class

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

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

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

The Guardian spots the flaw:

The problem with retirement savings: making enough money to save

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

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

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

Across the Atlantic with Europe Online:

Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly falls in January

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

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

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

Bothering BBC News:

Fall in eurozone inflation rate fuels deflation concerns

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

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

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

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

Edible insecurity from EurActiv:

Food security hindered by seed market dominance, MEPs warn

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

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

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

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

On to Britain with The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

All or none with EUbusiness:

British PM pledges renewed EU referendum push

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

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

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

Norway next, with an exclusive from TheLocal.no:

Norway oil fund blacklists Israeli firms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

US view of Germany ‘better than ever’

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

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

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

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

Europe Online declines:

German Christmas retail sales unexpectedly slump

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

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

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

Another decline from RFI:

France deports fewer illegal immigrants in 2013

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

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

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

TheLocal.fr hits the bricks:

Thousands march for traditional family values

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

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

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

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

While France 24 notes odd political bedfellows:

Muslims join Paris protest against gender equality drive in schools

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

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

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

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

From Spain, a countermarch from TheLocal.es:

Thousands join Madrid abortion-rights rally

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

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

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

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

Xinhua takes vows:

Spanish PM Rajoy promises fiscal reform, tax cuts

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

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

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

The ultimate human austerian cost from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s suicide rate highest in eight years

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

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

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

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

A Fourth Estate loss from TheLocal.es:

Corruption-probing newspaper chief sacked

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

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

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

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

Spain’s top banks enjoy 2013 profit surge

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

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

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

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

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

Xinhua takes us to Portugal:

Portuguese protest against gov’t austerity measures

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

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

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

Italy next, and a populist movement critiqued via AGI:

M5S has been shown ‘excessive’ tolerance, says Letta

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoFukunoma


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC News booms:

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

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

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

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

A cautionary note from Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

Banksters behaving badly from Reuters:

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

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

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

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

Tapering with BBC News:

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

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

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

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

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

Screwing the poor with The Guardian:

Congress axes $8.6bn from food stamps in farm bill

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

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

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

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

Golden State woes from the San Francisco Chronicle:

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

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

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

Bloomberg itemizes:

California Farms Going Thirsty as Drought Burns $5 Billion Hole

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

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

And a global story from New Europe:

UNDP: Income inequality increased compared with 1990s

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

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

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

Advice from China Daily:

Replace dollar with super currency: economist

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

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

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

On to Europe and a regulatory call from Deutsche Welle:

EU presents more proposals to curb risky banking activities

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

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

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

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

Deutsche Welle again, with labor action:

European air traffic controllers go on strike over EU initiative

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

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

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

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

Britain next and an alarm from Xinhua:

Warning bells ring over British current account deficit

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

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

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

The Guardian takes note:

Mortgage lending at six-year high

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

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

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

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

And a polyglot headline from the London Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

Bordering on controversy with TheLocal.de:

UK and Germany locked in immigration debate

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

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

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

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

Profiteering with The Independent:

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

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

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

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

Iceland next, and a counterfactual from Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.de has income:

Foreign investment floods into Germany

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

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

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

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

Europe Online admonishes:

Deutsche bank warns of challenging year ahead

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

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

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

New Europe exudes:

Record-high for consumer confidence in Germany

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

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

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

While Deutsche Welle declines:

Beer sales in Germany lowest since early 1990s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DutchNews.nl falls off:

Dutch savings are down for the first time in 20 years

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

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

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

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

French arms industry enjoys boom in trade

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

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

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

Departures note from TheLocal.fr:

Foreign investors desert France in 2013: report

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

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

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

A culture war panic from France 24:

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

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

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

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

Hints of things to come? From TheLocal.fr:

‘First ever’ bill proposes legal cannabis in France

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

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

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

Swiss hard times intolerance from TheLocal.ch:

Support for immigrant quotas rises before vote

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

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

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

On to Spain and a warning from El País:

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

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

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

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

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

More misery demanded from TheLocal.es:

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

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

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

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

El País reduces:

Spanish banks drastically cut exposure to sovereign debt

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

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

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

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

Off the books with the London Telegraph:

Untaxed work equal to 25pc of GDP in Spain

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

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

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

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

More cultural warring from thinkSPAIN:

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

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

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

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

El País draws the line:

Five regions rebel against Popular Party’s education reform

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es enumerates:

One third of Spanish kids at risk of poverty

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

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

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

El País deplores:

Council of Europe slams Spain for denying healthcare to illegal immigrants

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

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

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

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

On to Lisbon and a demand from the Portugal News:

Socialists demand pension cut clarification

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

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

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

Italy next and a rebuke from ANSAmed:

Council of Europe blasts Italy on pensions, poverty

  • Lacks ‘overall and coordinated approach’

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

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

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

Raising a ruckus with The Guardian:

Italian parliament erupts amid vote on central bank capital

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

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

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

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

Emulation from TheLocal.it:

27 percent of Italians want to be more German

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

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

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

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

Headlines of the day II: PoliEconoEcoFukus


A statement of reality from Quartz:

This land is not your land

  • Pete Seeger died in an America with record inequality

BBC News sounds a belated theme:

State of the Union: Obama promises action on inequality

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Businessweek chills out:

Frozen Northeast Getting Gouged by Natural Gas Prices

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

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

PandoDaily exerts plutocratic pressure:

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph constricts:

Emerging markets forced to tighten by US and Chinese monetary superpowers

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

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

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

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

More from Nikkei Asian Review:

Inflation-wary emerging economies go for rate hikes

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

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

Xinhua charts an uptick with mixed results:

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

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

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

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

Quartz predicts:

Global unemployment is about to get worse

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

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

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

ANSAmed has numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

More from Bloomberg:

Euro Jobless Record Not Whole Story as Italians Give Up

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

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

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

And still more from New Europe:

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

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

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

EurActiv divides:

Schäuble advocates separate eurozone parliament

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

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

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

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

Brussels sets advisory group on EU-US trade deal

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

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

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

On to Britain by way of the Irish Times:

No longer flush: Queen down to her last million

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

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

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

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

BBC News booms:

UK economy growing at fastest rate since 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Sky News adds nuance:

Cable Warns About Wrong Type Of Recovery

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

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

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

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

Denmark next and strange bankster dealings from the Copenhagen Post:

Leaked document: Goldman Sachs wasn’t highest DONG bidder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The London Telegraph drops a bombshell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

France blocks return of Roma schoolgirl’s family

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

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

The Dibriani family can appeal the latest ruling.

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

Spain next, and fundamentalist politics from GlobalPost:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.es boosts:

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

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

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

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

El País retreats:

Madrid abruptly cancels plans to outsource management at public hospitals

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

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

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

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

ANSAmed moves out, forcibly:

Evictions of mortgage defaulters rise in Spain

  • Almost double those in 2012, reports central bank

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

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

Italy next and a new low from TheLocal.it:

Italian wages rise at lowest rate since 1982

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

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

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

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

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

Billionaire party founder withdraws from Austrian parliament

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

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

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

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

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

Ticking time bombs: DDT linked to Alzheimer’s


Back when esnl was a toddler, DDT was a ubiquitous presence in America’s towns and villages, with trucks deployed to blast the power over everyone and everything in an effort to keep down mosquitoes to combat various diseases, most notably polio.

DDT, we were told, was harmless to humans, and we children often followed the trucks, acquiring a ghostly white dusting in scenes like this:

And in this 1947 BBC clip from a news segment on fighting malaria in Kenya, a British entomologist actually eats the stuff to show villagers how safe it was:

Only with the publication of biologist Rachel Carson’s best-selling Silent Spring [previously] did folks begin to realize the chemical had a dark side, and played a direct role in the severe decline of bird populations, declines that ended only when use of the chemical was banned.

Well, now the other shoe has dropped, leaving us to wonder just how many other modern “miracles” will we discover only too late have been poisoning us and our children for generations to come..

From Rutgers University via Newswise:

Scientists have known for more than 40 years that the synthetic pesticide DDT is harmful to bird habitats and a threat to the environment.

Now researchers at Rutgers University say exposure to DDT – banned in the United States since 1972 but still used as a pesticide in other countries – may also increase the risk and severity of Alzheimer’s disease in some people, particularly those over the age of 60.

In a study published online today in JAMA Neurology, Rutgers scientists discuss their findings in which levels of DDE, the chemical compound left when DDT breaks down, were higher in the blood of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients compared to those without the disease.

DDT – used in the United States for insect control in crops and livestock and to combat insect-borne diseases like malaria – was introduced as a pesticide during WWII. Rutgers scientists – the first to link a specific chemical compound to Alzheimer’s disease – believe that research into how DDT and DDE may trigger neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, is crucial.

“I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility,” says Jason R. Richardson, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI). ”Our data may help identify those that are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and could potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and an improved outcome.”

Although the levels of DDT and DDE have decreased significantly in the United States over the last three decades, the toxic pesticide is still found in 75 to 80 percent of the blood samples collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This occurs, scientists Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoPoliFukufolly


Our tour of things economic, political, and ecologic begins with some hopeful opposition from nsnbc international:

Congressmen Oppose Fast Track and Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP

Last week, House Representative Tim Bishop met with union leaders, environmentalists and various activists to join forces against the fast track being debated in Congress concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

To the attendees, Bishop said: “I urge my colleagues in Congress to do something, to see to it that we help to create an economy that creates good, solid, middle-class jobs. This agreement takes us in the opposite direction.”

Bishop wrote a letter to President Obama stating that he and 150 other members of the House reject the fast track.

One point of the TPP is to ensure sovereignty among corporations, which is why they have been integral in the creation of the drafts while schmoozing those they deem having power to sway the final document as in their best interests.

Cheapskates from The Hill:

Hotel industry vows to fight back against ‘extreme’ minimum wage bills

The hotel industry says it plans to fight state-by-state this year to defeat “extreme” minimum wage legislation.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which includes hotel chains such as Best Western International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and Marriott International, placed wage legislation near the top of its lobbying agenda for 2014.

The group plans to “lead the charge to beat back the growing emergence of extreme minimum and living wage initiatives that are proven job-killers and ultimately hurt those who are building successful careers from the entry level,” according to an advance copy of the agenda obtained by The Hill.

Insert lowest extremity into orifice yet again, from The Verge:

Kleiner Perkins founder apologizes for Nazi comments, goes on wild class warfare rant

  • Tom Perkins says his Richard Mille watch “could buy a six pack of Rolexes”

Appearing on Bloomberg West today, Perkins said that while he regretted his use of the word “Kristallnacht,” he stood by his original message. “I don’t regret the message at all,” he said. “The message is that any time the majority starts to demonize a minority, no matter what it is, it’s wrong, and dangerous. And no good ever comes from it.” He also said “the majority” should not attack the 1 percent. “It’s absurd to demonize the rich for being rich and for doing what the rich do, which is get richer by creating opportunity for others,” he said. But he also drew scorn for saying that his Richard Mille watch, estimated to be worth $379,000, “could buy a six pack of Rolexes.”

Kleiner Perkins responded to Perkins’ original letter with a tweet saying Perkins had not been involved with the firm for years. “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree,” the firm said. “They chose to sort of throw me under the bus, and I didn’t like that,” Perkins said today.

The Associated Press has a fair deal:

Marijuana contests join county fair in Colorado

Colorado’s Denver County is adding cannabis-themed contests to its 2014 summer fair. It’s the first time pot plants will stand alongside tomato plants and homemade jam in competition for a blue ribbon.

There won’t actually be any marijuana at the fairgrounds. The judging will be done off-site, with photos showing the winning entries. And a live joint-rolling contest will be done with oregano, not pot.

But county fair organizers say the marijuana categories will add a fun twist on Denver’s already-quirky county fair, which includes a drag queen pageant and a contest for dioramas made with Peeps candies.

North of the border and a decline from CBC News:

Canadian dollar closes below 90 cents

The Canadian dollar slipped below 90 cents US Monday, its lowest point since July of 2009.

The loonie closed at 89.96 US after gaining ground earlier in the session, as concern over emerging market currencies snowballed.

The steep slide in stocks that began last week slowed on Monday in U.S. markets, but Toronto stocks continued their drop, hurt by falling gold prices and a dip in oil and natural gas prices.

A global warning from a man with something to sell you. From MercoPress:

Coca Cola CEO warns youth unemployment is a great risk for social peace

Unemployment among teens and young adults represents a huge global problem, says Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola. In the United States, teenage unemployment totaled 20.2 percent in December and if the situation isn’t addressed, the results could be devastating, the social peace and fabric of the world is in danger.

“Seventy-five million [young] people [globally] are unemployed, do not have the opportunity to work at the moment,” Kent said in a talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “That’s bigger than France. It’s a terrible thing when people are coming into the workforce in their late teens and early 20s and don’t have opportunities to create value”. In May 2012, the global youth unemployment rate totaled 12.6%, compared to 4.5% for the adult unemployment rate, according to the International Labor Organization. “If we’re not successful in creating better

On to Europe and a shoulder shrug from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Euro chief says no contagion from emerging markets

The eurozone’s recovery will not be affected by contagion from growing fears over emerging economies, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Monday.

The eurozone’s recovery will not be affected by contagion from growing fears over emerging economies, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Monday.

The worries over markets such as Argentina and Turkey come as the euro is overcoming the worst of its debt crisis.

“I think they’re quite different, separate issues,” Dijsselbloem told reporters ahead of a meeting in Brussels of finance ministers from the 18 countries that use the euro.

Dismal numeration from New Europe:

31.2 million EU citizens are either looking for better jobs or given up

  • Bloomberg survey reveals serious labour and social crisis in Europe

Labour and social crisis in Europe is deepening as the labour underutilisation rate is increasing according to a Bloomberg survey published on 27 January.

The US financial news agency said that economists predicted that Eurozone unemployment in December will remain at an all-time record high of 12.1 per cent meaning that 19 million European citizens are out of work. However, the Bloomberg survey indicated that labour and social crisis in Europe is much worse, as in the third quarter of 2013, 31.2 million people of all ages in Europe are either frustrated from their current jobs or stopped the job hunt.

According to Bloomberg, the most recent labour underutilization rate in Italy, the third-biggest economy in the Eurozone, was at 24 per cent being more than double the official jobless rate. Di Gilio, who has a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering and lives with his parents, stooped searching for a job and said Bloomberg journalists. “I don’t want to work myself to death to survive…My friends who do work still need their parents’ support and those who start working often don’t get paid.” Di Gillio stressed, that looking for employment would be worth it if he had the chance to improve his living standards by being able to buy a house and start a family.

Hard times intolerance and familiar targets from GlobalPost:

Roma face mounting discrimination across Europe

Three months after news about a girl alleged to have been abducted by Roma proved false, prejudice continues to grow.

Greece isn’t alone in mistreating Roma, says Eleni Tsetsekou, a consultant on Roma to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

“There’s no difference in Roma lives in other European countries, or in how they’re confronted by the majority of people,” she said. “Negative stereotypes are always present and deeply rooted.”

Romanian and Spanish schools also remain segregated between Roma and non-Roma children despite the European court’s decision. In France, police have dismantled Roma shantytowns and deported even minors, violating laws allowing for the free movement of EU citizens.

In Hungary, local governments have turned off water supplies to Roma districts. In Slovakia, towns have erected concrete barriers to isolate Roma neighborhoods. In Bulgaria, the far-right political group Ataka openly blames Roma for the poverty-stricken Balkan country’s economic ills.

On to Britain and an upbeat take from the London Telegraph:

Economy growing at fastest pace since financial crisis

  • Official figures to show UK economy grew by 1.9 per cent last year – the fastest pace since the financial crisis struck seven years ago

The British economy is growing at the fastest pace since the financial crisis struck seven years ago, official figures will confirm on Tuesday.

The latest positive sign on the economy came as Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said Britain is now experiencing “a real recovery” and business leaders spoke of “real upsurge”.

However, he also warned that there were significant risks to a sustained recovery, particularly the housing market.

BBC News covers the geography of class:

Centre for Cities says economic gap with London widening

The economic gap between London and the rest of the UK is widening because other cities are “punching below their weight”, according to research.

London has created 10 times more private sector jobs than any other city since 2010, analysis by the Centre for Cities found.

The think tank is calling for more power to be devolved to the regions.

From EurActiv, a neoliberal wet dream

David Cameron pledges to rip up green regulations

David Cameron will on Monday (27 January) boast of tearing up 80,000 pages of environmental protections and building guidelines as part of a new push to build more houses and cut costs for businesses of up to £850 million (€1 billion) per year.

In a speech to small firms, the prime minister will claim that he is leading the first government in decades to have slashed more needless regulation than it introduced.

Among the regulations to be watered down will be protections for hedgerows and rules about how businesses dispose of waste, despite Cameron’s claims to lead the greenest government ever.

PetaPixel eliminates a craft we’ve practiced:

UK Newspaper Chain Follows in Sun Times Footsteps, Shutters All Photographer Jobs

Britons tend to take their newspapers a bit more seriously than Yanks, but that hasn’t stopped a newspaper chain there from Chicago Sun-Timesing (yes, we verbed it!) its way to ignominy by firing its entire photography staff.

It’s unclear exactly how many photographers will hit the pavement as a result of the decision by Johnston Press, but the National Union of Journalists counts 24 at newspapers scattered across Scotland and the Midlands.

Faithfully following the script set by the Chicago Sun-Times last year, the axed professionals will be replaced by freelancers, reader-submitted photos and reporters with smartphones.

Norway shows the door, via TheLocal.no:

Record number of foreigners deported

A record number of foreign citizens were deported from Norway last year, after country’s police stepped up the use of deportation as a way of fighting crime.

Some 5,198 foreign citizens were expelled from the country in 2013, an increase of 31 percent since 2012, when 3,958 people were deported.

“It is the highest number we’ve had ever,” Frode Forfang, head of the Directorate of Immigration (UDI), told NRK. “We believe that one reason for the increase is that the police have become more conscious of using deportation as a tool to fight crime.”

Nigerian citizens topped the list of those expelled for committing crimes, with 232 citizens expelled as a punishment in 2013, followed by Afghan citizens with 136 expelled as a punishment, and 76 Moroccans expelled as a punishment.

Germany next, and lumpen-loopholes from TheLocal.de:

A third could miss out on minimum wage rise

  • More than a third of low-paid workers in Germany could miss out on the proposed nationwide minimum wage because of exceptions being put forward by employer organizations and Conservative politicians.

A nationwide minimum wage of €8.50 an hour is due to be introduced in Germany in 2015.

But research released on Monday by the Hans-Böckler Foundation, a centre-left think-tank, found around two million of the more than five million workers who would otherwise have their wages boosted, would miss out on wage rises under plans to exclude certain sectors and workers.

Head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer said in December that seasonal workers and pensioners should be excluded. According to the report, such exceptions could turn the minimum wage into a “Swiss cheese” policy – full of holes – and pose a serious threat to the job market.

Keep Talking Greece takes it to the bank:

German Bundesbank: “Capital Levy” on citizens to avoid government bankruptcies

Germany’s Bundesbank said on Monday that countries about to go bankrupt should draw on the private wealth of their citizens through a one-off capital levy before asking other states for help.

“(A capital levy) corresponds to the principle of national responsibility, according to which tax payers are responsible for their government’s obligations before solidarity of other states is required,” the Bundesbank said in its monthly report.

It warned that such a levy carried significant risks and its implementation would not be easy, adding it should only be considered in absolute exceptional cases, for example to avert a looming sovereign insolvency.

On to France with the London Telegraph:

Rise in French jobless claims means Francois Hollande fails to keep his promise

  • French President Francois Hollande had repeatedly promised to get unemployment falling by the end of 2013

French jobless claims rose a further 10,200 in December to hit a new record, dashing President Francois Hollande’s hopes of keeping his pledge to start lowering unemployment by the end of 2013.

Labour Ministry data showed the number of people registered as out of work in mainland France reached 3,303,200 last month, the largest total since records have been kept. It represented an increase of 0.3pc over one month and 5.7pc over one year.

Mr Hollande has struggled to kick-start activity in the eurozone’s second-biggest economy and keep his oft-repeated promise to get unemployment falling by the end of last year.

On the edge with TheLocal.fr:

‘Millions of French workers’ close to burnout

The French are known for the 35-hour week, a guaranteed five weeks of vacation and as keepers of the sacred notion of a proper lunch break. Yet more than 3 million of the working population is on the brink of burning out, a new study revealed. And what about expats?

The French may have a reputation for working as much as they play, but that stereotype is countered by a growing body of evidence that suggests they are slogging away too far too hard.

About 3.2 million French workers, who put an excessive and even compulsive effort into their jobs, are on the verge of burning out, a new study says.

The study from Technologia, a French firm that looks at way to reduce risks to workers, found that farmers, at 23.5 percent, were most prone to excessive work, followed closely at 19.6 percent of business owners and managers.

The all-consuming nature of people’s jobs has left them feeling exhausted, emotionally empty and sometimes physically in pain, Technologia found.

Spain next and a bizarre justification from TheLocal.es:

‘Spain’s abortion law will boost economy’

The Spanish government has prepared a memo claiming that tough new abortion laws will have a “positive impact” on the country’s economy thanks to an increased birth rate, it emerged on Monday.

The claims were part of a draft “impact analysis” study into the effects of Spain’s new abortion reform, put together by the country’s justice ministry.

Spain’s conservative Popular Party hopes the planned legislation would boost the country’s birth rate rise as abortions would only be possible in cases of rape or when the mother’s life was seriously at risk during pregnancy.

The authors of the study do remark however that the new draft law’s “economic impact is difficult to quantify” and “should not be directly associated with its approval” as that is not its primary objective.

Lisbon next with a mixed result from the Portugal News:

Deficit met but no easing of austerity

Following confirmation by the General Directorate of the Budget that Portugal had met its troika deficit target, Luís Marques Guedes, Minister to the Presidency, added the government would not be easing on its austerity measures.

Marques Guedes said that the exact deficit for 2013 would only be definitively ascertained in March but that the value would be in the region of 5%, significantly short of the troika agreed target of 5.5%.

The Minister went on to dismiss any “illusions” as to scope for relaxing tax hikes and budget cuts and said there remained “a road of effort and of rigour ahead.”

This followed the report that the state had clocked up a provisional deficit of €7.15 billion in 2013 against a target set at €8.9 billion.

Italy next and the class divide from ANSAmed:

Almost half of Italy’s wealth owned by richest 10%

  • Family incomes eroded, poverty up in 2010-2012 says central bank

Between 2010 and 2012, low- and middle-income families in recession-battered Italy have seen their quality of life eroded along with their incomes while the richest have gotten richer, according to a biannual study on family finances released Monday by the Bank of Italy.

Poverty rose from 14% in 2010 to 16% in 2012 amid Italy’s worst postwar recession, with almost half of Italian families living on less than 2,000 euros a month, the central bank report said.

Also in 2012, the richest 10% owned 46.6% of the country’s total net worth, up from 45.7% in 2010 and equal to a 64% concentration of wealth, according to the report.

Only 50% of households have annual incomes higher than 24,590 euros, while 20% of them cope with annual incomes of less than 14,457 euros, or roughly 1,200 euros per month. Just 10% of families make more than 55,211 euros per year, the Bank of Italy said.

TheLocal.it exits:

More Italians flee while migration to Italy falls

The number of Italians leaving their recession-hit country to seek work elsewhere rose sharply in 2012, while incoming migration levels dropped, official figures showed on Monday.

The figures support reports that Italy – hit hard by the financial crisis and rocketing unemployment levels – is losing brain power and labour to other
countries and has also become less appealing a destination for foreigners.

The number of Italians leaving the country rose by 36.0 percent to 68,000 people, up from 50,000 in 2011. They headed primarily for Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and France, the national institute of statistics (ISTAT) said.

More than a quarter of over 24-year-olds emigrating had university degrees, it said. Conversely, the number of immigrants arriving dropped by close to 10 percent in 2012 from a year earlier, to 321,000 people.

After the jump, the Greek meltdown continues, a Ukrainian concession and dark undercurrents, Argentine outrage, a new port for Cuba, a Latin boundary dispute resolved, an Indian crash, Thai troubles, Vietnamese bank fraud, reduced expectations in China, Abenomics woes and an iconic downfall, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoPoliEcoFuku’d


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

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

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

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

More Californiosity from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Income inequity a hot topic on California ballots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG Drought

Hopeful signs, via The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

Linking up with Nikkei Asian Review:

Silicon Valley venture capital enhancing US-China economic ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coincidence?

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

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

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

Fiat-Chrysler to seek US stock listing, British base

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

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

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

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

From USA TODAY, Alpine redoubt surrenders:

Swiss banks closer to deals in tax-evasion probe

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

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

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

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

And Sky News has good news for Wall Street banksters:

Non-EU Banks Slip Through Bonus Cap Loophole

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

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

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

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

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

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

A global story from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian covers an exodus:

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

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

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

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

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

Priests’ organisation accuse Education Minster of “underminding religion”

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

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

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

Germany next and a gain for eurofoes from Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s euroskeptic party revamps its image

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

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

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

More from EUbusiness:

German eurosceptics poll 7% ahead of European vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TheLocal.de charts a familiar trend:

‘Land grab’ ups prices in eastern Germany

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

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

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

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

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

Right-wing MEP wants to punish beggars in Denmark

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

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

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

From DutchNews.nl, booming business:

One of Tilburg’s biggest industries is marijuana: NRC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy next and a forced quit from EUbusiness:

Italy minister resigns amid abuse of power, corruption probes

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

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

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

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

More corruption from Corriere della Sera:

Tax-dodging Magnate owned 1,243 Properties

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

From Rome’s glitzy jet-set and a two-storey penthouse a stone’s throw from the Vatican to an investigation by the prosecution service complete with financial police searches. Angiola Armellini, daughter of a surveyor who made a fortune covering the capital with 90,000 cubic metres of concrete, is alleged to have hidden 1,243 properties from the tax authorities. The buildings, of which 1,239 including three hotels are located in the municipality of Rome, are claimed to be worth €2.1 billion, including cash assets.

Public prosecutor Paolo Ielo entered Ms Armellini in the register of persons under investigation along with eleven nominees and accountants alleged to be complicit. Ms Armellini faces charges of criminal association, failure to submit tax returns and submitting fraudulent returns. Criminal association charges have also been brought against the accountants. Investigators calculate that the taxable base for the avoidance amounts to €190 million. City authorities also want to recover ICI property tax that was almost never paid. The bill could be €3.5 million for two years, a figure which multiplied by five – before that a time bar comes into play – becomes €17 million.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian crisis spreads, Latin American woes and protests, Aussie neooliberalism, Indian uncertainty, Bangla woes, Thai turmoil, Cambodian protests, Chinese financial uncertainty, Japanese wiseguy hopes, tarsands costs, fracking havoc, drought victims, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

They’rrrre Back!: Juice Rap News, Season 2


The Aussie dynamic duo at Juice Rap News [previously] is back for their second season, and they open with a lively omnium gatherum, covering everything from Max Kaiser to the NSA. . .plus our least-favorite villain de jour, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Without further ado, from The Juice Media:

“THE NEWS” ✇ JUICE RAP NEWS ✇ SEASON 2 EP 1

Program notes:

“The News”. It’s the most viral meme of reality on the planet: if it’s not on “the News” it didn’t happen – right? Welcome back to Season 2 of Juice Rap News, in which intrepid anchorman Robert Foster embarks on a new era of adversarial rap journalism by casting a critical eye on the paradigm that shapes our collective reality each night; featuring a smorgasbord of guests, from the stalwart General Baxter and Terence Moonseed having a friendly chat on about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to our special correspondents in Russia and the Colonies. Meanwhile, what is going on in Finance, Show-biz and the Weather? Special surprise guests are in tow to cover all this and more, helping Robert delve deeper into this very odd phenomenon of ‘The News’ itself.

-Written & created by Giordano Nanni & Hugo Farrant in a suburban backyard home studio in Melbourne, Australia, -on Wurundjeri Land.

Plutopia: Bombmaking cities of the U.S., U.S.S.R.


A stunning talk by University of Maryland historian Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, about the deadly consequences for the plutonium-making high security cities in the two principal Cold War adversaries.

From the wonderful collection of videos at TalkingStickTV:

Kate Brown — The Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters

From an account by the Kennan Institute’s Mattison Brady about a talk Brown presented there:

Brown observed that Chernobyl and Fukushima were disasters that “involved big meltdowns and occurred while the cameras were running.” That is, they were accidents that involved total failure of the plants and could not be hidden or covered up. The disasters at Hanford [Washington] and Maiak, however, were catastrophes “in slow motion” and, more importantly, were not truly accidents. They were, Brown contended, “intentional – part of the normal working order.” Brown did not, however, paint a picture of simple recrimination for the plant managers. Rather, she illustrated the dangerous combination of misinformation, miscommunication, hopefulness, and, above all, pressure that contributed to many of the recurring mistakes made at each plant.

The two plutonium plants and, by extension, their constituent populations “orbited each other and were produced in each other’s image.” Each time the project in one country was in danger of having its budget cut, the other would make some significant breakthrough, which would in turn spur production at the other. The rivalry fueled the growing arms race and ensured their continued existence and funding. The constant atmosphere of fear and pressure led each of the plants to taking dangerous short cuts to meet the mushrooming production goals.

One such shortcut was the length of time used uranium fuel was allowed to cool before being processed. This fuel, pulled from the cooling ponds long before the recommended 90-day period, was called “green” and, when processed, would release vastly more radioactive iodine than fuel left to cool longer. War-time pressure in 1944 called for this cooling period to be minimized, but the post-war arms race meant that the Soviet Maiak plant ran green fuel for many years and that in 1949 the Hanford plant ran a dangerous experiment with green fuel (called the “Green Run”) to see how they could trace the hot radioactive isotopes as they scattered across eastern Washington State.

Headlines of the day II: EconoEcoGrecoSinoFuku


Today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental begins in the U.S. with a weighty entry from Pacific Standard:

Grand Obese Party?

Researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between support for Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace.

Seems Republicans really are the party of fat cats.

Writing in the journal Preventative Medicine, a pair of University of California-Los Angeles researchers examined county-level obesity rates and voting patterns. After controlling for various factors known to influence weight, such as poverty and educational attainment, they found a small but statistically significant correlation between support for 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace. Specifically, a one percent increase in county-level support for Romney corresponds to a 0.02 percent increase in age-adjusted obesity rates.

The researchers argue this reflects poorly on the Republican party’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” for reducing obesity risk. Successful fat-fighting strategies “will necessarily involve government intervention,” they argue, “because they involve workplace, school, marketing and agricultural policies.”

Bigger government or bigger waistlines: The choice is yours.

From the Los Angeles Times blowback cosmetics:

Tech industry in San Francisco addresses backlash

Tech industry leaders launch a goodwill campaign in San Francisco, promising to create more jobs and affordable housing.

Their first stab at reconciliation: addressing complaints about the 18-foot-tall shuttles that clog narrow streets and block city bus stops. The shuttles frequently cause delays for city buses, making some residents fume that they have to cool their heels in old dingy vehicles while those who work for some of the world’s wealthiest companies get plush seats, tinted windows, air conditioning and Wi-Fi.

The standoff came to a head this week when San Franciscans turned out for a noisy public hearing to assail a pilot program to charge the shuttles a small fee for using city bus stops. They demanded that the city address the growing economic inequality.

The hearing came just hours after dozens of protesters blocked a bus bound for Google and another bound for Facebook for about 45 minutes, hanging a sign on one that read “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies.”

More from Salon:

When companies break the law and people pay: The scary lesson of the Google Bus

  • All over America, big corporations flout laws or even make their own, while ordinary people face harsh penalties

Ever since Rebecca Solnit took to the London Review of Books  to ruminate on the meaning of the private chartered buses that transport tech industry workers around the San Francisco Bay Area (she called them, among other things, “the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule us,”) the Google Bus has become the go-to symbol for discord in Silicon Valley.

From the Los Angeles Times, a new Bay Area bankster for the University of California:

UC’s new investment chief’s compensation could top $1 million

The hiring of Canadian investment fund exec Jagdeep S. Bachher and his pay package trigger little discussion, but two regents oppose paying new Berkeley provost $450,000 a year.

The UC regents on Thursday hired an executive of a Canadian investment fund to be the chief manager of the university system’s $82 billion in endowment and pension investments and will pay him more than $1 million a year if he achieves good returns.

Although that pay package triggered little public discussion, the salary for another new executive hire attracted more opposition at the regents meeting here. Some regents opposed the $450,000-a-year salary for Claude Steele, who is becoming UC Berkeley’s provost and second-in-command. They complained that the pay is higher than that of some chancellors.

For the new investments chief, Jagdeep S. Bachher, the regents approved a $615,000 base salary and set a maximum total payout of $1.01 million if UC investments perform well. That would be slightly less than the $1.2 million that Marie N. Berggren was paid in 2012, her last year before she retired in July. The compensation comes mainly from investment returns, not tuition or tax revenues, officials said.

But the real bucks go elsewhere, says BBC News:

JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon pay rises to $20m in 2013

The chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon, will be paid $20m (£12.1m) for the past year’s work.

Mr Dimon’s pay was cut to $11.5m in 2012 following huge trading losses. This was half the $23m he received in 2011.

JP Morgan’s profits fell 16% last year, after costs resulting from legal issues dented the bank’s figures.

Mr Dimon was paid $1.5m as a basic salary, and an additional $18.5m in shares, the company said.

And more good news for banksters from Al Jazeera America:

Holder: US will adjust banking rules for marijuana

  • News comes as Texas Gov. Rick Perry announces he will support policies that favor marijuana decriminalization

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Obama administration plans to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.

During an appearance at the University of Virginia, Holder said it is important from a law enforcement perspective to give legal marijuana dispensaries access to the banking system so they don’t have large amounts of cash lying around.

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally-insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges. Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.

Mixed news for workers from CNBC:

US manufacturing growth slows in January: Markit

U.S. manufacturing growth slowed in January for the first time in three months, hobbled by new orders, though a recent trend of stronger growth appeared to be intact, an industry report showed on Thursday.

Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index dipped to 53.7 from December’s reading of 55.0. Economists polled by Reuters expected no change.

Slower rates of output and new order growth were the main factors behind the fall, the survey showed. Output slipped to 53.4 from 57.5 while new orders fell to 54.1 from 56.1.

And the company run by America’s richest family runs into rough waters, via Quartz:

Chinese state TV has accused Wal-Mart of skirting inspections to sell even cheaper goods in China

China Central Television claims to know the secret behind Wal-Mart’s low prices at its stores in China. The state-owned TV network, better known as CCTV, said on Jan. 23 that the US retailer has been allowing products from unlicensed suppliers on to its shelves, and thus bypassing quality and safety checks.

Wal-Mart’s response (paywall), the Wall Street Journal reports, is that the company only fast-tracks items from suppliers with which it has already been doing business, and then only in certain limited cases. (Wal-Mart hasn’t responded to questions from Quartz.)

The four-minute CCTV report, titled “Wal-Mart’s ‘special channels’ secret,” features shots of what CCTV says are company documents that show managers signed off on over 600 products that lacked licenses for distribution. The program says the store passes off sub-standard goods as belonging to well-known brands.

Reuters has more bad news for Wal-Mart workers:

Wal-Mart’s cuts 2,300 jobs at Sam’s Club

Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Friday it had cut 2,300 jobs, or roughly 2 percent of the total workforce at its Sam’s Club retail warehouse chain, its biggest round of layoffs since 2010.

The action follows a lackluster U.S. holiday season and layoffs announced earlier this month from U.S. retailers Macy’s Inc, J.C. Penney Co Inc and Target Corp.

Wal-Mart company spokesman Bill Durling said in a telephone interview that the cuts will include hourly workers and assistant manager positions.

Bumpy waters from Bloomberg:

S&P 500 Slides Most Since June on Emerging Market Turmoil

U.S. stocks sank the most since June, capping the worst week for benchmark indexes since 2012, as a selloff in developing-nation currencies spurred concern global markets will become more volatile.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) retreated 2.1 percent to 1,790.31 at 4 p.m. in New York to close at the lowest level since Dec. 17. The benchmark index declined 2.6 percent this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDU) slid 318.24 points, or 2 percent, to 15,879.11 today. The 30-stock gauge lost 3.5 percent this week. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 52 percent above the 30-day average at this time of day.

Background from Nikkei Asian Review:

Emerging-nation currencies fall in chain reaction

Behind this development are concerns that investors will pull their money out of emerging markets because the U.S. has started to taper its quantitative monetary easing this month.

Argentina’s peso plunged 12% on Thursday. Earlier that day, a senior Argentine government official told reporters that the nation’s central bank did not buy or sell dollars on Wednesday. A view that the bank is allowing the peso to slide spurred further selling of the currency.

The peso’s drop triggered a rush to exchange funds in emerging-nation currencies to dollars and yen. The Turkish lira weakened to around 2.3 to the dollar on Friday, a record low. The currency has declined about 7% so far this year. Local media reported that the Turkish central bank intervened Thursday but to no avail. Meanwhile, the yen strengthened to the 102 range against the greenback.

The South African rand dropped to the lowest level in five years against the dollar. A strike by workers at a key platinum mine led to concerns that a slowing of resource exports would hamper the country’s ability to acquire foreign exchange reserves, fueling sales of the rand.

From Reuters, a graphic look at the Argentine currency’s collapse:

BLOG Peso

The Financial Express frets:

World Economic Forum: Fear of China ‘hard landing’, Japan row, stalks Davos

The risk of a hard landing for the economy in China as well as the threat of military conflict with Japan stoked fears at the World Economic Forum in Davos today.

Days after the world’s second-largest economy registered its worst rate of growth for more than a decade, top politicians and economists at the annual gathering of the global elite said the near-term outlook was bleak.

Li Daokui, a leading Chinese economist and former central bank official, said: “This year and next year, there will be a struggle, a struggle to maintain a growth rate of 7-7.5 per cent, which is the minimum to create the 7.5 million jobs every year China needs.”

And The Guardian counts seats:

The 85 richest people in the world: men still in the driving seat

  • Women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck, on the £1tn double-decker bus revealed by Oxfam this week

The list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1tn – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico’s telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

At its snowy retreat in the Swiss Alps, the World Economic Forum is debating how much inequality is too much. The aid charity Oxfam pointed out that a glance through the richest 100 people in the world shows that the pendulum has already swung heavily in favour of an elite group: the top 85 in the Forbes rich list control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together.

A look down the list of 85 shows that if this group – whose wealth tops £1tn – can squeeze on a double decker bus, then Mexico’s telecoms magnate Carlos Slim swaps driving responsibilities with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and the tiny group of wealthy women need only seven seats, mostly on the bottom deck.

Another global story from New Europe:

IEA: Main Oil and Gas Flows To Move To Asian Region

A working visit to Astana, International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven presented the World Energy Outlook 2013, saying that in the nearest future the main trade flows of oil and gas will move to the Asian regions, which will change the geopolitics of oil.

“Northern America’s need for import of crude oil will practically disappear by 2035, and that region will become a key exporter of petroleum products. At the same time, Asia will become a center of the world’s crude oil market: large volumes of crude will be delivered to this region through a few strategically important transport routes” van der Hoeven said.

According to her, crude oil will be supplied to Asia not only from the Middle East, but also from Russia, the Caspian region, Kazakhstan, Africa, Latin America, and Canada.

The Global Times brings the focus to Europe:

Euro zone recovery fragile, fiscal consolidation should continue, says ECB president

The European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi said in Davos on Friday that the recovery of the euro zone economy is fragile and fiscal consolidation should continue.

Addressing the 44th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Draghi said, “the bottom line of this is that we have seen the beginning of a recovery which is still weak, which is still fragile and it’s still uneven.”

According to Draghi, improvements have been witnessed on the financial markets and the “very accommodative” monetary policy was being passed through to the real economy.

A bankster rules struggle from New Europe:

EU finance ministers, MEPs set for clash over bank resolution rules

European finance ministers will hold talks Tuesday on the resolution mechanism for failing Eurozone banks agreed in late December. Greek presidency sources confirmed that the new ECOFIN president, Ioannis Stournaras, will inform his counterparts on the positions of the European Parliament on the current agreement, as presented in a recent letter addressed to the presidency. In their letter, the MEPs make it clear that they will block SRF’s intergovernmental part.

Back in December the 28 EU finance ministers agreed to a general approach on the rules to close failing banks, which included the creation of an initial 55 billion-euro resolution fund over the next 10 years using bank levies. The formation and the functioning of the fund would be set up in a separate agreement among nations, excluding EU’s lawmakers.

The European Parliament also asks the simplification of the functioning of the single resolution board, so as the decision on the closure of a failing bank to be taken by the European Commission and not by the Member States.

More rule-wrangling from EUobserver:

EU audit reform reduced to ‘paper tiger’

The EU is close to overhauling rules for financial auditors, but critics say the reform will be a paper tiger unable to break up the dominant position of the world’s four biggest audit firms.

The legal affairs committee of the European Parliament on Tuesday (21 January) approved a draft agreement struck late last year with member states and the European Commission on the so-called audit reform package.

A jaundiced eye cast by the London Telegraph:

EU bank bonus rules will be ‘avoided’, says Fitch

  • The European Union bonus cap will prove ineffective in reducing banking industry pay, according to Fitch

Banking industry pay will not fall as a result of the incoming European Union cap on bonuses, according to Fitch.

The ratings agency warned that an “inconsistent” approach in the enforcement of the cap, as well as banks using loopholes in the new law to “avoid” paying lower bonuses, would mean overall compensation levels are unlikely to decrease.

In a report, Fitch pointed to a survey by the German financial regulator of the implementation of the cap among domestic banks that showed many lenders continuing with their old pay practices.

Corporate Europe Observatory looks at the bigger picture:

A union for big banks

Far from being a solution to avoid future public bailouts and austerity, Europe’s new banking union rules look like a victory for the financial sector to continue business as usual.

With the financial crisis, member states took over massive debts originated in the financial sector to save banks. Four and a half trillion euros had been risked for bailouts – and the final bill was 1,7 trillion euro. Not only did this send national economies spiralling downwards and set off a public debt crisis, it also led to a regime of harsh austerity policies, imposed by the EU institutions and the IMF as conditions for loans.

With that in mind, the banking union sounds heaven sent. It is claimed to make the banking sector safe, and should there be problems, a new system would ensure failed banks are wound down in an orderly manner with expenses paid by the banks themselves, with only a minimal cost to the public purse. An end not only to financial instability, but to austerity loan programmes as well.

If all this sounds unreal, it’s because it is. The banking union has been oversold as a fix to the banking sector. It may sound appealing that in the wake of the financial crisis, the potential power of EU institutions should be employed to address the dangers of financial markets. But in practise, the model adopted has deep flaws and carries so many risks, that one might ask if the point is to protect the public or serve the big banks.

On to Britain and hints of a failed divorce from EUbusiness:

Britain’s EU referendum suffers big setback

Britain’s planned 2017 referendum on whether to stay in the European Union was close to collapse Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron’s party suffered a major setback.

A vote in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, means that a bill proposing the in/out referendum looks likely to run out of time to become law. Members of the Lords voted to change the wording of the question that British voters would be asked on the subject of Britain’s membership of the 28-nation bloc.

The original wording of the question as included in the bill was: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?”

Following fierce debate, members of the Lords voted by a majority of 87 to amend it after determining that question was misleading. They did not introduce an alternative, though one peer proposed: “Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU?”

Sky News warns:

Nestlé Chair Warns Over UK Exit From Europe

  • Food giant boss Peter Brabeck-Letmathe tells Sky News that withdrawal from the trading bloc could put UK investment at risk.

The consumer goods giant Nestle would be forced to re-evaluate the extent of its presence in the UK if Britain decided to leave the European Union, its chairman has told Sky News.

In an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said the company was committed to its business in the UK but that he could not envisage a separation from its biggest trading partner being in the country’s interest.

Nestle, which makes Nespresso coffee capsules and Kit-Kat chocolate bars, employs approximately 8,000 people in the UK and accounts for exports worth roughly £400m. Its other brands include Nescafe, Smarties and Yorkie.

From The Independent, A UC-like salary in the U.K.:

Fury at £105,000 pay rise for Sheffield University boss Sir Keith Burnett after he refused to raise employees’ salaries to the living wage

The decision to award the increase to Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of Sheffield University – one of the elite Russell Group – has infuriated staff at the institution, who have been told their rises must be limited to just 1 per cent. They have joined national strike action over the award which included a two-hour walkout of lessons and lectures earlier this week.

The package awarded to Sir Keith includes £27,000 in lieu of pension payments after he withdrew from the pension scheme. However, according to accounts, that still leaves him with a 29 per cent rise, or £78,000, the largest in the sector in 2012/13.

The pay rise was awarded at a time when the institution rejected demands for all staff at the university to be paid according to the living wage of £7.65 an hour. Pablo Stern, of the University and College Union at Sheffield, told the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine that Sir Keith’s pay package was “astonishing”. He added: “This university used to pride itself on being a civic institution with a strong community feel. That has disappeared.”

Cooking the books with The Independent:

Treasury accused of resorting to ‘dodgy statistics’ to claim raise in living standards

Treasury ministers came under fire from economists today after they insisted that living standards were finally beginning to rise for the vast majority of workers.

The claim signalled the Conservatives’ determination to combat Labour’s repeated accusations that the country faces a “cost of living” crisis because wages are falling in value in real terms.

However, according to the Treasury analysis, increases in take-home pay were higher than inflation last year for all but the top ten per cent of earners. It coincided with an assertion by David Cameron that Britain was starting to see signs of a “recovery for all”.

The department’s statistics only took income tax cuts into account and excluded reductions to in-work tax credits and other benefit changes, prompting Labour accusations that ministers were resorting to “dodgy statistics” to claim people “have never had it so good”.

On to Ireland and a virtual regulatory plea from TheJournal.ie:

Virtual insanity? Call for Central Bank to regulate BitCoin

  • The Irish Bitcoin Association says that recognising the currency would make it safer for consumers.

Vincent O’Donoghue of the Irish Bitcoin Association today told RTÉ News that the currency should be recognised, so that it would be safer to use.

“We’re calling on the Central Bank to have a close look at it. It’s something for the future.

“IT developing the way it, it would be disingenuous to ignore it.”

Off to Norway with the New York Times:

Amid Debate on Migrants, Norway Party Comes to Fore

In a nation that has long prided itself on its liberal sensibilities, the intensifying debate about immigration and its effects on national identity and the country’s social welfare system has been jarring — and has been focused on the anti-immigration Progress Party, which is part of the new Conservative-led government.

The Progress Party came under intense scrutiny in 2011, when a former member, a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then killed 69 more people, mostly teenagers, in a mass shooting at a Labor Party summer camp on the island of Utoya. Mr. Breivik, who was convicted of mass murder and terrorism, had been a member of the Progress Party, attracted by its anti-Islamic slant, from 1999 until he was removed from the rolls in 2006 for not paying dues, having quit the party because it was not radical enough.

Still, the performance of the Progress Party in the first general elections since the Utoya massacre and its success in winning a place in government have raised some eyebrows; quite unfairly, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, minister of transportation and communication and a deputy leader of the party, said in an interview.

TheLocal.no feels aggrieved:

‘Obama must apologise for envoy gaffe’

Norway’s Progress Party has demanded a personal apology from US President Barack Obama after his nomination for Norway’s new ambassador described its members as “fringe elements” who “spew out their hatred” (PLUS VIDEO).

“I think this is unacceptable and a provocation,” Jan Arild Ellingsen, the party’s justice spokesman, told Norway’s TV2 television channel. “I expect the US president to apologize to both Norway and the Progress Party”.

George Tsunis, a Greek-American property millionaire who was one of Obama’s biggest individual campaign donors, displayed only the scantiest knowledge of Norway at a senate hearing this week ahead of his appointment, describing the Progress Party, which has seven ministers in the government, as if it were a fringe far-right group.

He then referred to the country’s “president”, apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy.

USA TODAY voices confidence:

Obama ‘confident’ with ambassador pick despite blunders

President Obama still has confidence in his pick to be the next ambassador to Norway, even after demonstrating that he might need to bone up on Norwegian politics before heading to Oslo.

George Tsunis, managing director of Chartwell Hotels and a major fundraiser for Obama’s 2012 campaign, has been pilloried by Norway’s press after he stumbled over a question about Norway’s Progress Party during his confirmation hearing last week.

Under questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tsunis seemed to be unaware that Norway’s Progress Party —which has taken a hard line on immigration policy — was part of the government coalition.

The Wire takes the Casablanca route:

Norway Is Shocked That Our Ambassador Nominee Is Clueless About Norway

And an immigrant story with a poignant twist from TheLocal.no:

Locals pay for loved beggar’s Romania burial

A beggar became so popular in the four years he spent on the streets of Tromsø, northern Norway, that when he died locals raised 100,000 kroner ($16,000) to ship his body back home to Romania for burial.

When Ioan Bandac died of lung cancer just before Christmas, he left a note outlining his one final wish – that he be buried in his home city of Bacau, Romania.

And on Thursday, his body was finally laid to rest in one the city’s churchyard,  after a Romanian orthodox service. “It’s fantastic to be here,” Bandac’s Norwegian girlfriend Helena told state broadcaster NRK. “I did not get that long with Ioan — just three and a half years.”

On to France with another hard times intolerance headline, via TheLocal.fr:

French MP avoids prison over Hitler Gypsies rant

A French lawmaker avoided being sent to jail this week over a rant about travellers in which he was caught on camera saying “Hitler did not kill enough”. The MP and town mayor has also managed to keep hold of both of his elected roles.

A French lawmaker was convicted of glorifying crimes against humanity for saying Hitler “did not kill enough” gypsies, but avoided prison at his sentencing on Thursday.

MP Gilles Bourdouleix uttered the remarks in July 2013 as he confronted members of a travelling community who had illegally set up camp in the western town of Cholet, where he is also mayor.

His remarks left anti-racism campaign groups outraged, as well as most of France and its politicians.

An economic booster shot from France 24:

Helmet Hollande wore for Gayet tryst flies off shelves

A French motorcycle helmet manufacturer has publicly thanked President François Hollande for being photographed wearing their helmet on his way to an alleged secret tryst with actress Julie Gayet.

Hollande, 59, was pictured by paparazzi working for Closer magazine arriving at a Paris address to allegedly meet the famous French actress, while riding pillion on a scooter and wearing a “Dexter” helmet made by French company Motoblouz.

Motoblouz CEO Thomas Thumerelle, who employs 45 people at his plant at Carvin in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, was so delighted he took out a quarter page ad in national daily Liberation (see below) on Wednesday, titled “Thank you Mr President – for having used our helmet for your personal protection”.

On to Spain and another downturn from El País:

Economy shed jobs for sixth year in a row in 2013

  • Unemployment as a percentage of the population rises as thousands exit the labor market

The Spanish economy shed jobs for the sixth year in a row in 2013, official statistics show.

While the job destruction was less intense than in previous years, the loss of 198,900 positions, added to other years’ job cuts, yields an accumulated figure of 3.75 million since the crisis began in 2008.

The figures were released on Thursday as the Bank of Spain confirmed government estimates that the economy grew 0.3 percent in the fourth quarte

More from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s unemployment: Seven shocking facts

  • Spain’s unemployment rate hit 26 percent again this week. Here The Local gives you seven stats that will help you understand just how serious the situation is.

New unemployment figures from Spain’s National Statistic Institute (INE) show that recent macroeconomic improvements in Spain are yet to create new jobs.

While Spain has now clocked up two consecutive quarters of fragile growth, the INE data — based on a quarterly survey of 65,000 homes nationwide known as the EPA — shows the country’s unemployment climbed back up to 26.03 percent at the end of 2013, up from 25.98 percent three months earlier.

Here The Local provides seven statistics that highlight the extent of Spain’s unemployment problem.

  1. Spain has now seen six straight years of job destruction. Some 198.900 jobs disappeared in Spain last year, and 3.5 million have vanished since the country’s crisis began in 2008.
  2. There are 1.832.300 households in Spain where nobody has a job. That is 1.36 percent more than a year earlier.
  3. Some 686.600 households in Spain have now income at all — not even social security. That is twice the figure seen in 2007, or before the crisis struck.

thinkSPAIN electrifies:

Spain’s electricity hikes between 2008 and 2012 were second-highest in the EU after Lithuania

ELECTRICITY bills in Spain went up between 2008 and the end of 2012 more than in any other European Union member State except Lithuania, figures show.

During this four-year period, the cost of power to households and businesses rose by 46 per cent in Spain, and 47 per cent in Lithuania says the European Commission.

Brussels puts this down to rising distribution costs, increases in IVA, or VAT, in EU countries, and ‘eco-taxes’ relating to renewable energy.

And a boost for the arts from El País:

Government announces plans to slash sales tax on works of art

  • Cut in VAT rate to 10 percent could be followed by similar measures to promote culture

Bowing to intense pressure, the Spanish government on Friday announced it was going to lower the value-added tax (VAT) rate charged on transactions involving works of art to 10 percent from 21 percent.

Speaking at a press conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said the move was to bring Spain in line with other countries in Europe, such as Italy and Germany, where the VAT rate on works of art is 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

The government controversially increased the VAT rate on all cultural items in 2012, from 8 percent to 21 percent. Asked if the VAT rate on other cultural items would also be cut, Sáenz de Santamaría said the reduction for works of art was a “first step.” “We have to introduce measures to promote Spanish culture and we have brought forward one of them,” she said. Culture Ministry sources said the government was also “studying new measures” for the film industry.

On to Lisbon and an uptick from the Portugal News:

Unemployment levels fall

The number of people registered as being unemployed in Portugal has dropped, while the government has announced plans to encourage business and entrepreneurs within the country in a bid to further boost employment levels.
Unemployment levels fall

The number of unemployed persons registered with the employment office in Portugal dropped by 2.8 percent year on year in December, making the total number of unemployed people 690 535 and marking a fall by 0.2 percent in the month of December.

Monthly data published by the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training ( IEFP ) highlighted that at the end of December there were 20,117 fewer unemployed persons registered with the employment office than a year earlier.

And a presidential boost from the Portugal News:

President upbeat about economic future

Portuguese president Cavaco Silva has said that he is hopeful about the economic future of the country despite a less than positive forecast given by the credit ratings agency Standard and Poor.

Portugal’s president has said that he is convinced that the country will success-fully conclude its bailout this May, adding that he appreciated the heavy sacrifices that continue to be asked of the Portuguese people.

Cavaco Silva said that while Portugal was still a few months away from its Economic and Financial Adjustment Programme object-ives, that he felt there was no reason why the country should not reach these targets successfully. In his speech he also gave a brief summary of 2013, noting that although it had not been “an easy year for Portugal”, the economy had registered some encouraging signs that allowed 2014 to look more “hopeful”.

Italy next with ANSAmed and more privatizations of the commons:

Chunks of Italy’s post office, air agency up for sale

  • Italian cabinet approvals sale of parts of companies

The Italian cabinet has approved decrees to sell large chunks of the post office and its air traffic agency, sources said Friday.

The government has said it wanted to sell off a 40% share of the national postal service, Poste Italiane Spa, for at least four billion euros by the end of the year as part of efforts to raise much-needed capital to offset Italy’s huge debt.

A similar-sized share will be offered in Enav, the Italian air traffic control company.

Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni has said that a larger share of the postal service might be sold later.

Bunga Bunga cutbacks from TheLocal.it:

Berlusconi budget cuts hit models and dancers

Silvio Berlusconi has cut off monthly payments of €2,500 to a host of young women who attended his parties as part of cost-cutting measures by the ageing playboy, Italian media reported on Friday.

The decision could also have something to do with his coming under investigation for witness tampering opened by prosecutors in connection with his conviction for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute.

“He helped us out, me and the other girls,” said Aris Espinosa, 24, one of the models and dancers known as “Olgettine” after the street in Milan, Via Olgettina, where they lived in apartments paid for by Berlusconi.

At one point, a total of 14 young women were living in the apartments and they were heard calling Berlusconi and his accountant in multiple police wiretaps to ask for more cash – referred to as “flowers” or “fuel”.

After the jump, the ongoing debacle in Greece, Ukrainian divisions and hints of compromise, munificence to Mexico, Venezuelan currency woes, Argentine inflation, Indo-Japanese nuke-enomics, Thai and Burmese troubles, Korean elder woes, Japanese promises, environmental woes, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: EconoEuroGrecoSinoFuku


We begin today’s coverage of things economic, political, and environmental with a global focus, starting with this from The Guardian:

ILO warns young hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise

  • International Labour Organisation says firms are increasing payouts to shareholders rather than investing in new workers

The world could face years of jobless economic recovery, with young people set to be hit hardest as global unemployment continues to rise this year, a report from the International Labour Organisation warns.

As the World Economic Forum kicks off in the Swiss town of Davos on Wednesday with a focus on growing inequality, the ILO has highlighted a “potentially dangerous gap between profits and people”.

The UN agency forecasts millions more people will join the ranks of the unemployed as companies choose to increase payouts to shareholders rather than invest their burgeoning profits in new workers.

Intellectual property idiocy from Vanity Fair:

The Word “Candy” is Basically Owned by Candy Crush Now

Candy Crush Saga—which should really be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for providing the world’s population with a way to occupy itself while waiting for friends to show up at restaurants—made some waves yesterday when its maker, the company King, announced it had trademarked the word “candy.” Yes, this is an effort on King’s part to protect the absurdly popular game—the top-downloaded free app and highest-revenue grossing app in 2013—from any “intellectual property infringements.”

They’ve successfully received a trademark from the European Union related to the use of the word “candy” for computer games, but also—much less intuitively—in the realms of clothing and footwear.

CNBC shuts it down:

A ‘tsunami’ of store closings expected to hit retail

On Tuesday, Sears said that it will shutter its flagship store in downtown Chicago in April. It’s the latest of about 300 store closures in the U.S. that Sears has made since 2010. The news follows announcements earlier this month of multiple store closings from major department stores J.C. Penney and Macy’s.

Further signs of cuts in the industry came Wednesday, when Target said that it will eliminate 475 jobs worldwide, including some at its Minnesota headquarters, and not fill 700 empty positions.

Experts said these headlines are only the tip of the iceberg for the industry, which is set to undergo a multiyear period of shuttering stores and trimming square footage.

Gendered joblessness from International Business Times:

More US Women Have Been Jobless For More Than Six Months Than In 2007; Overall The U.S. Has More Than Double The Long-Term Unemployed

It’s been over four and a half years since the official end of the longest period of economic contraction since the Great Depression, but there are still more long-term unemployed, job-seeking Americans than there were in 2007. And the situation is worse for women, according to a study released Wednesday from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, which studies the effect of community development on vulnerable children, youth and families.

“We’re seeing a growing proportion of females among the long-term unemployed,” said Andrew Shaefer, doctoral candidate at the university’s Department of Sociology and author of the study, which analyzes data from the official Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Wire keeps it:

Cash-Hoarding Companies Are Hurting the Economic Recovery

Roughly one-third of the world’s largest non-financial companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, are hoarding $2.8 trillion in unspent cash, preventing much-needed funds from entering the global economy and stalling our recovery from the 2008 recession.

The Financial Times reports that a Deloitte analysis found 32 percent of non-financial companies listed in the S&P Global 1200 index are holding 82 percent of the total unspent cash — a level of reserves not seen since 2000. According to FT, the study emerges as companies face pressure to spend:

An influential survey of fund managers conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch released on Tuesday showed a record 58 per cent of investors polled want companies’ cash piles spent on capex [capital expenditures]. A record 67 per cent said companies were “underinvesting” and less than a third of asset managers surveyed want companies to return more money to shareholders – the usual complaint of investors.

These companies have been carefully stowing money away since the economic collapse, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do if you care about growing the economy.

Countering Tea Party dogma via Bloomberg:

San Francisco’s Higher Minimum Wage Hasn’t Hurt the Economy

San Francisco is often ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to protecting public health and the environment. The city was the first to ban plastic bags in stores, it is considering one of the most restrictive bans on the sale of bottled water, and smoking bans have spread from public parks and entry ways to all public events. San Francisco even banned the free toys in McDonald’s (MCD) Happy Meals.

San Francisco was also one of the first cities to increase the minimum wage beyond the federal level and mandate better benefits for low-income workers. The wage increase went into effect in 2004, long before the notion of one percenters and the recent wave of wage protests by fast-food and retail workers. And now everyone from President Obama to Fox News star Bill O’Reilly is talking about raising the federal minimum wage.

For those who need more evidence, a new book hopes to persuade them. When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level argues that San Francisco’s decision to increase the minimum wage and offer other benefits, such as sick leave pay, hasn’t hurt the city’s economy at all. The three editors—all labor experts—found that from 2004 to 2011 overall private employment grew 5.6 percent in San Francisco and 3 percent in Santa Clara County. Other Bay Area counties saw an overall 4.4 percent drop during that time. Among food-service workers, who are more likely to be affected by minimum-wage laws, employment grew 17.7 percent in San Francisco, faster than either of the other Bay Area counties.

North of the border and the fall of the Canadian dollar from the Globe and Mail:

Loonie’s plunge deepens as Poloz ponders weak inflation

The Bank of Canada’s angst over low inflation sent the dollar into a nosedive, but Governor Stephen Poloz says a cheaper currency is simply the “icing on the cake” for an economy that will be driven by stronger U.S. growth.

The bank gave no signal on future interest rate moves as it kept its key overnight rate unchanged at 1 per cent, where it has been since September, 2010, and maintained its official neutral stance on the direction of its next move. But the bank’s language about inflation and currency caused the loonie to drop sharply.

How to sustain the world’s recovery from financial crisis is the focus as delegates gather for this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. As Joanna Partridge reports there’s an air of confidence around the Swiss ski resort this year.

“We are more concerned about low inflation today than we were three months ago,” Mr. Poloz explained to reporters after the central bank’s first rate announcement of 2014. The bank said in its monetary policy report that it still views the dollar as strong enough to “pose competitiveness challenges for Canada’s non-commodity exports.”

Trans-Atlantic anxieties from TheLocal.de:

Food industry warns over EU-US trade pact

Food industry professionals meeting in Berlin have voiced concerns over a looming US-EU free trade pact, fearing a transatlantic onslaught of genetically modified foods, hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken.

Small farmers in particular worry about a softening of European food safety standards and a joint “race to the bottom” if liberalised trade rules pit them against American agro-industry giants and food multinationals.

Others concerned, too, via Spiegel:

Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?

Opposition to the planned new trans-Atlantic free trade agreement is growing. So far, criticism has focused on the fact that the deal seems directed exclusively at economic interests. Now fears are growing that corporations will be given too much power.

The negotiating partners enthusiastically extol the increase in prosperity the trade agreement would create. The pact, which would be the world’s largest, would cover 800 million people and almost one-third of global trade. US President Barack Obama has spoken of the creation “hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.” The European Commission has calculated it would spur the EU economy by €120 billion ($162.5 billion).

Nevertheless, there are plenty of skeptics to be found. After the third round of negotiations, an unusually broad alliance of anti-globalization groups, NGOs, environmental and consumer protection groups, civil rights groups and organized labor is joining forces to campaign against TTIP.

Alarm bells ringing from the London Telegraph:

Crippled eurozone to face fresh debt crisis this year, warns ex-ECB strongman Axel Weber

Ex-Bundesbank head Axel Weber expects fresh market attacks on eurozone this year and economist Kenneth Rogoff says the euro was a “giant historic mistake”

Axel Weber, the former head of the German Bundesbank, said the underlying disorder continues to fester and region is likely to face a fresh market attack this year.

“Europe is under threat. I am still really concerned. Markets have improved but the economic situation for most countries has not improved,” he said that the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mr Weber, now chairman of UBS, said the European Central Bank’s stress test for banks in November risks setting off a new sovereign debt scare, reviving the crisis in the Mediterranean countries.

More worries via BBC News:

Economic recovery in Europe is not over, bosses say

Top leaders at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos have warned Europe is not fully out of recession.

They called for a more flexible labour market and a focus on innovation, technology and trade to stop Europe falling behind the US and China.

Axel Weber, chairman at UBS, said after a crisis it was natural to want to “look on the bright side”, but that such excitement was “too one sided”.

He said Europe’s recovery was “lacklustre and uneven”.

TheLocal.ch plays semantics:

Europe called ‘emerging country’ at Davos

Top bosses and economists warned the global elite on Wednesday not to get over-excited by a gradual economic upturn in Europe, which one chief executive branded an “emerging country.”

While the mood of doom surrounding the eurozone that stalked Davos at the height of the crisis has abated, staggering rates of youth unemployment and sluggish growth are still battering Europe, delegates heard.

Christophe de Margerie, head of French energy giant Total, said: “Don’t take it as being provocative (but) I think Europe should be reclassified as an emerging country.”

The Guardian deprives:

Shorter lifespans among poor costing Europe trillions

  • Report reveals that avoidable cost of health inequalities is now greater than most European nations’ combined GDP

European nations face an annual bill of more than €1.3tn (£1.1tn) as the lives of the poorest in society are shortened through illness and disability, a EU report claims. New figures show that the “avoidable cost of health inequalities” is greater than most European nations’ GDP, and the report warns that “ignoring the social, economic and health costs of health inequalities will risk economic recovery”.

The study reveals that losses in labour productivity cost the continent €141bn, and premature deaths another €1.3tn – greater than the economies of 24 EU nations. By comparison, the UK’s economy, the third biggest in Europe, was worth €1.9tn.

On to Britain with BBC News:

UK unemployment rate drops to 7.1%

The UK unemployment rate has dropped to 7.1%, close to the point at which the Bank of England has said it will consider raising interest rates.

The number of people out of work fell by 167,000 to 2.32 million in the three months to November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The ONS also said the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 24,000 to 1.25 million in December.

Reining in from Europe Online:

EU can curb short-selling, court says following British complaint

The European Union can intervene to curb short-selling in certain situations, the bloc’s top court ruled Wednesday, rejecting a British complaint over the measure.

The ruling confirms the powers granted to the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in 2012 to intervene in EU financial markets to curb short-selling in cases of serious financial instability.

In short-selling, traders attempt to make money by betting that an asset’s value will fall.

The law was introduced in the wake of the EU’s financial crisis, when short-selling was blamed for contributing to a freefall in European banks’ share prices. But Britain, which has a strong financial sector, opposed the law and took the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Numbers rising from DutchNews.nl:

Unemployment rises to 8.5%, 100,000 joined the jobless ranks in 2013

The Dutch unemployment rate rose to 8.5% in December, an increase of 0.3 percentage point on November.

In 2013 as a whole, the jobless total rose by 100,000 to 668,000, the national statistics office CBS says. The number of unemployment benefit claims rose nearly 29% in December, compared with the year earlier period and 4.5% month on month.

Calculated according to the International Labour Organisation definition, the Dutch unemployment rate is now 7%.

And another Dutch alarm from DutchNews.nl:

More people are falling behind on paying their bills

Some 740,000 people are registered as having debt repayment problems at the credit registration agency BKR, following a 20,000 increase over the past six months.

‘Divorce and unemployment in particular have boosted the number of consumers with problems paying their bills,’ director Peter van den Bosch said in a statement.

The BKR registers loans provided by banks and other credit firms. Of the 8.6 million people in the register, 8.6% are at least two months behind in their payments.

TheLocal.de cozies up:

Germany and France commit to closer ties

Germany and France are to strengthen ties by co-operating more on foreign policy and adopting a unified stance in EU negotiations, it emerged following a meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers on Tuesday.

The two foreign ministers used Tuesday’s talks to breathe new life into bilateral ties after Europe’s financial crisis exposed major differences in approach to budgetary discipline and growth.

“We must take advantage of the situation: France and Germany both have three years ahead of them without any national elections,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.

Fabius also indicated that the countries would co-operate more closely in economic and defence policy, as we well as on tackling climate change.

On to France and the comeback kind from The Guardian:

Nicolas Sarkozy plans 2017 comeback

  • Bernadette Chirac says former French president will run against man who ousted him, François Hollande, at next election

That Nicolas Sarkozy is contemplating his comeback is hardly a secret in France.

Now one of the former president’s most high-profile supporters and confidantes, the former first lady Bernadette Chirac, has confirmed Sarkozy is planning a return to the political fray.

France 24 carries on:

Hollande gets popularity boost after affair revelations

Far from taking a hit, French President François Hollande’s popularity seems to have been boosted – albeit by a slender margin – since revelations surfaced he was having an affair with an actress 18 years his junior.

The latest survey, by the BVA polling institute, gave him 31 percent approval, up from 26 percent in October, the lowest popularity rating for a French president in modern times.

The BVA poll was conducted on January 16 and 17 – a full week after the story broke in a French gossip magazine that Hollande was seeing 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet.

TheLocal.es hustles:

‘Spaniards are taking our jobs’: French builders

French builders claim Spanish companies are stealing work from them, paying lower wages and cutting corners to win construction contracts.

“The Spanish have much lower wages so they can always undercut us,” Patrick La Carrere, head of the builders’ federation in southwest France told business site Bloomberg recently.

Minimum wages in France are now almost double that of Spain’s (€1,445, or $1960, a month against €753).

And with the Spanish fleeing their own construction slump and an unemployment rate of 27.6 percent, France is facing an influx of Spanish construction companies.

Reuters anticipates:

Analysis: Hardest yet to come for France’s Hollande on reforms

French President Francois Hollande has won cautious backing from Berlin, Brussels and financial markets for a centrist reform push that could be his last chance to get the euro zone’s second largest economy motoring.

A week after his January 14 announcement, it is not clear how and when he will pull off the public spending and tax cuts at the heart of the plan. It is also uncertain whether French business will play ball with his goal of cutting unemployment.

Moreover, the new determination to cut taxes opens a whole new Pandora’s box: the question of whether Paris will bring its public deficit into line with EU targets next year as promised.

And a denial from France 24:

McDonald’s denies evading French taxes

McDonald’s has denied a report by French weekly L’Express that claims the US fast-food giant transferred profits abroad to evade French taxes.

According to the report, published in the French magazine’s Wednesday edition, McDonald’s has transferred 2.2 billion euros to foreign tax havens since 2009.

L’Express, quoting French tax officials, says the money was sent to subsidiaries in Luxemburg and Switzerland “thereby evading VAT and corporate taxes in France”.

In a statement published on Tuesday, shortly after the report was leaked to the French press, McDonald’s acknowledged that French tax authorities had searched its offices in the Paris suburb of Guyancourt in October, but denied any wrongdoing.

TheLocal.fr eases up:

Abortion: French MPs vote to relax legislation

France headed in the opposite direction of Spain on Tuesday when lawmakers voted to relax the legislation around abortion, effectively making it easier for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

French lawmakers gave the green light on Tuesday to a change in the country’s abortion laws that will please certain women’s rights campaigners but has angered some critics on the political right.

The National Assembly voted late in the night to pass a key amendment to the current legislation, which states that the woman must prove that having a baby would put her “in a situation of distress” before she can terminate the pregnancy. Lawmakers voted to delete the notion of having to prove “distress”, which critics argued was archaic, meaning it will now be down to the woman’s choice.

On to Spain and agony prolonged from El País:

Olli Rehn: “It will take 10 years to fix the Spanish crisis”

  • EU economic commissioner denies he is an austerity hawk
  • “In the North, it’s the opposite; I’m considered too soft”

The European Union commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, denied he was a hawk in terms of the fiscal consolidation programs imposed in Spain and other countries in the southern periphery of the euro zone and claimed that these programs had served their purpose, which was to restore investor confidence in those countries.

In an interview with EL PAÍS a day before Spain formally exited on Thursday the some 41-billion-euro European bailout program to clean up its banking system, Rehn, a Finn, said he did not see himself as the “king of spending cuts.”

Deutsche Welle diagnoses:

Spain logs alarming jobless rate as it exits bailout program

Fresh data have shown Spain is emerging only haltingly from a long recession. The fourth-largest eurozone economy saw its jobless rate rising again at the end of 2013, but that won’t stop its exit from a bailout package.

Spain’s unemployment rate rose to 26.03 percent in the final quarter of 2013, up from 25.98 percent in the previous three months, the national statistic institute INE reported Thursday.

The deterioration, albeit a minor one, spoiled a central bank report on a 0.3-percent economic expansion in the same quarter.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Spain faced five more years with jobless rates topping 25 percent unless it enacted yet more reforms, also with a view to helping firms slash wages rather than cutting jobs.

El País retreats:

Rajoy looking for consensus on “sensitive issue” of abortion

  • Justice chief Gallardón goes on the attack against Socialists
  • But prime minister promises to hear out all sectors of society

The long-awaited debate in Congress over the government’s controversial abortion reform got underway Wednesday during a heated session in which Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón accused the opposition Socialists of taking a “selfish” stand against the planned changes.

Gallardón, the architect of the measure, stunned many members of the Socialist bench when he told them that because they didn’t recognize a fetus’ right to life, this could also lead them to not recognize the right to life of the living.

On to Italy and the Bunga Bunga tale de jour from BBC News:

Berlusconi ‘witness tampering’ inquiry in Ruby trial

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to be investigated for alleged witness-tampering in an underage prostitution trial.

He and his lawyers are accused of meeting the female witnesses to discuss the evidence they would give.

Berlusconi was convicted last year of paying for sex with an underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”.

Sounds like New Jersey, via EUobserver:

EU-funded project in Italy suspected of mafia links

Three NGOs on Wednesday (22 January) filed an official complaint with the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, demanding an investigation into an EU-sponsored motorway in Italy, where construction firms are suspected of fraud and infiltration by the mafia.

The project at stake is the Passante di Mestre motorway – a bypass around the northern Italian city of Mestre, just across the bay from Venice. Last year, it received a loan of €350 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to refinance the debt accumulated by the project since its start, in 2003.

Initially budgeted at €750 million, the motorway has faced delays and the cost has almost doubled to €1.3 billion.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Ukrainian deaths, a Lenin departure, Aussie stagflation anxieties, Thai troubles, Chinese neoliberal moves, European fracking deregulated, poisoned rivers, vast tracts of Chinese farmland polluted, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading