The impetus behind these headline collections is our personal drive to understand currents at work in this world we share, and to share our understandings with whoever cares to pay heed.

That’s about as neat a way of defining the journalist-by-avocation, a deeply endangered species in this austerity-dominated environment.

We were driven to try to understand by the circumstances of our childhood, and we are possessed of both a certain set of skills and a persistence driven by an imperative that has, too often, run afoul of forces that prevail in a once significantly more secure and economically rewarding.

One of the great joys of the newsroom in those analog days where folks got modestly but comfortably paid to spend their das turning over rocks was the access to an ongoing flow of uo-to-the-minute news — provided first by noisy impact printers fueled by ink ribbons impressing letters on rolls of paper.

We spent good portions of our days in “wirerooms,” reading the news as keys hammered out the letters on constantly fed newsprint.

Computers came next, with newswires feeding into newsroom mainframes and out to terminals. Between stories, green character danced on blackbackgrounds on cathode ray tubes as you searched the queues for the latest works of wire service reporters and member media.

With a wide range of input, our own experience from years of digging, and a relentless curiosity, we have been working a long list of global news sources, seeking threads to weave together in a sort of linear gestalt in which we discern patterns for your consideration.

On with today’s compendium of things economic, political, and environmental, starting with a telling headline from Spiegel:

Feeding the Bubble: Is the Next Crash Brewing?

Twitter executives and founders at the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7 clap as their company launches its initial public offering.

Central banks around the world are pumping trillions into the economy. The goal is to stimulate growth, but their actions are also driving up prices in the real estate and equities markets. The question is no longer whether there will be a crash, but when.

Another telling sign of bubbledom from Business Insider:

Institutions Have Been Dumping Billions Of Dollars Of Stocks All Year, But Now The Selling Is Really Accelerating

Ditto, from SINA English:

Global housing market returns to bubble territory

It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis, along with the severe recession that followed. While the US is the best-known case, a combination of lax regulation and supervision of banks and low policy interest rates fueled similar bubbles in the UK, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Dubai.

Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London). In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centers in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

From the New York Times, reconsidering another form of austerity:

Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance

Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.

From the New York Times, unhealthy inflation:

As Hospital Prices Soar, a Single Stitch Tops $500

A day spent as an inpatient at an American hospital costs on average more than $4,000, five times the charge in many other developed countries, according to the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurance industries. The most expensive hospitals charge more than $12,500 a day. And at many of them, including California Pacific Medical Center, emergency rooms are profit centers. That is why one of the simplest and oldest medical procedures — closing a wound with a needle and thread — typically leads to bills of at least $1,500 and often much more.

From NBC News, have we got a deal for you:

Wal-Mart’s hottest Black Friday seller was a 29-cent towel

The must-have item at Wal-Mart on “Black Friday” wasn’t a mega TV, sleek tablet or the latest giggling Elmo. It was towels.

It’s a sign of the times that consumers battered by a recovery that has boosted corporate profits but has done little to raise their own bottom lines are reduced to scrapping over basic bathroom supplies.

From the Contributor Network, corporate parasitism:

Fast Food Giants Starve Workers’ Wages, Gorge on Taxpayers

As the nation’s largest fast food giants continue to push back against the ongoing fight for better wages by fast food workers across the country, a report released Monday reveals a world in which those companies are “pocketing massive taxpayer subsidies” as they feed their CEOs’ growing paychecks.

According to the report, Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay, published by the Institute for Policy Studies, current tax code allows corporations such as Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s “to deduct unlimited amounts from their income taxes for the cost of stock options, certain stock grants, and other forms of so-called ‘performance pay’ for top executives,” meaning that the more corporations pay their top earners, the less they pay in federal taxes.

From Al Jazeera America, stirrings in the new underclass:

Workers of the (finance) world unite – and unionize

New effort to organize low-wage bank workers in US targets entire industry

Gettin’ by with Bloomberg:

Americans Due to Replace Oldest Goods Since JFK; Jewelry? FDR

Americans have been holding on to their wobbly washing machines and sagging sofas even longer than their grandparents did 50 years ago, setting the stage for a rebound in consumer spending as old household goods wear out.

The average age of consumer durable goods — long-lasting items such as furniture, appliances and computers — is the highest since 1962, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis dating to 1925. Among things Americans are keeping for the longest time: jewelry and wristwatches and home and garden tools like lawnmowers.

From The Guardian, what we suspect is more a temporary setback than signs of defeat [think rebranding]:

ALEC facing funding crisis from donor exodus in wake of Trayvon Martin row

Rightwing lobby group appealing to major donors to return

Internal documents reveal so-called ‘Prodigal Son Project’

Network lost almost 400 state legislators over past two years

CNBC covers a candidate:

Detroit eligible for bankruptcy protection: Judge

A federal judge presiding over Detroit’s bankruptcy hearing said on Tuesday the city is eligible for bankruptcy protection.

The long-awaited decision will pit the city’s finance officials against its unions, creditors and retirees, ahead of what are expected to be steep cuts in pensions, as well as fire sales of treasured assets. The ruling is expected to be appealed.

From Reuters, another diagnosis:

Companies, academics say budget cuts threaten U.S. competitiveness

Mandatory U.S. budget cuts known as sequestration are resulting in job losses across the country and threaten to undermine U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, industry executives and academics said on Monday, urging Congress to reverse the cuts.

The Guardian covers a related cause for concern:

‘A picture of educational stagnation’: study finds US teen students lagging

US students scored at international average in science and reading and far below in math, while Asian nations dominated

Al Jazeera America covers another austerian cost:

Arizona’s privatized prison health care under fire after deaths

A year and a half ago, the state handed over prison healthcare to a private, for-profit company. Legislators who supported the privatization promised that it would save taxpayers money, while maintaining adequate levels of care for inmates. At least 27 other states have also privatized prison health care, rewarding private companies for keeping costs down.

But there are studies showing prisoners could be suffering as a result. An October report from the American Friends Services Committee in Arizona found that since the state privatized its prison health care, medical spending in prisons dropped by $30 million and staffing levels plummeted. It also found a sharp spike in the number of inmate deaths. In the first eight months of 2013, 50 people died in Arizona Department of Corrections custody, compared with 37 deaths in the previous two years combined.

Heading north of the border with Boing Boing and another corporate power-and-wealth grab:

ACTA about to be quietly written into Canadian law

Widespread, global protests killed ACTA, the secretive, over-reaching “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement,” which imposed brutal copyright rules on its signatories. But now, the Canadian Conservatives have introduced Bill C-8, which turns ACTA’s provisions into Canadian law, and they’re fast-tracking it through with little debate or public input.

From BBC News, UC Berkeley’s corporate sponsor recruits a powerful ally:

BP gets UK government support over US contracts ban

The UK government has intervened in support of BP over a US ban on the oil major seeking federal contracts. In a court filing lodged as part of BP’s appeal against the ban, the document says the move could be “excessive” and “destabilising”.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) barred BP from new contracts last year, after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster in which 11 workers died.

Quartz covers a parallel regional development:

How US trade negotiators are secretly changing intellectual-property law

If someone buys a book in Thailand, should she be able to sell it to a used bookstore—or anyone else—in the US? The US Supreme Court says yes. But US trade negotiators say no, and they’re working to make sure the same prohibition would apply around the world.

From EurActiv fears of another corporate power-and-wealth grab in progress:

NGOs fear TTIP clauses will affect EU chemicals regulation

Last week, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could include Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures which will not allow foreign investors to go to court in the US. Green Party observers have called the statement ‘astonishing’.

Speaking at a committee meeting in the European Parliament, de Gucht reportedly promised to check whether such settlements would allow lawsuits over health sector privatisations.

On to Europe, starting with an alert from ANSAmed:

Austerity poses a risk to citizen rights, Council of Europe

The austerity measures brought in by European governments are threatening the economic, social, political and civil rights of its citizens, said Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks

From EUbusiness, another alert:

Commissioner warns of far-right surge at May polls

European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem voiced concern Tuesday that the EU Parliament will shift toward the far right in elections set for May.

While Reuters covers a fine time for Banksters Behaving Badly:

EU readies multi-million euro benchmark rigging fines: sources

EU antitrust regulators will impose record multi-million euro fines on six banks including Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland on Wednesday for rigging key interest rate benchmarks, sources said.

British news begins with a headline from Global Times:

Cameron backs free trade

British Prime Minister David Cameron commenced a three-day visit to China on Monday with a 100-strong business delegation, the largest of its kind, and pledged to lay the groundwork for a free trade deal between Beijing and the European Union.

Cameron said the scale of the business delegation “mirrors the scale of the ambition that we have for the British-China partnership.”

While South China Morning Post covers the reception give Tory grandiosity:

Tiny old Britain? It’s only good for study and travel, says China’s state media

As British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a charm offensive at Shanghai Jiao Tong University yesterday, a state-owned newspaper derided the United Kingdom as merely a destination for Chinese students and tourists.

From The Guardian, British bubbling:

Bank of England committee flags up housing market concerns

Financial policy committee ‘concerned about potential risks to financial stability’ from possible housing bubble

From BBC News, selling off the commons to fix the commons:

UK government’s infrastructure spending plan unveiled

A plan to boost infrastructure spending in the UK over the next two decades is being unveiled by the government. The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) includes the government selling off its 40% stake in the Eurostar rail service.

In all, about £375bn of investment in energy, transport, communications, and water projects is planned.

An Irish item from Independent.ie:

Squeeze on household finances hits consumer confidence

Consumer sentiment fell to 71 in November from 76.2 in October, according to the KBC Bank/ESRI index.

Austin Hughes of KBC Bank said the fall indicated that the recovery in the economy was still fragile.

On to the Netherlands, with anti-Roma xenophobia from EUobserver:

Dutch against opening up to Romanians and Bulgarians

Eighty percent of Dutch people are against lifting restrictions on 1 January to allow Romanians and Bulgarians to come and work in the Netherlands. The poll of 1,800 people, carried out by Maurice de Hond, found that among supporters of the PVV – an anti-EU party – it is 100%.

From DutchNews.nl, poverty numeration:

1.2 million Dutch households below poverty line, 11% of children are poor

At least 1.2 million people were living in poverty in the Netherlands last year, a rise of over 150,000 people on 2011, according to a new report.

Research by the national statistics office CBS and the government’s socio-cultural think-tank SCP, shows 7.6% of the population is now living below the poverty line. Last year’s rise is the sharpest since the economic crisis began in 2008.

Germany next, with more bankster news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Germany’s Commerzbank raided in client tax probe

German authorities on Tuesday raided some 40 branches of Commerzbank, the country’s second biggest bank, over suspected tax fraud by hundreds of clients, the bank and prosecutors said.

From TheLocal.de, inflationary:

Crop failures push up German food prices

Food in Germany was more expensive this year, with some crops such as potatoes costing nearly half as much again as in 2012.

The cold winter, floods in June and a particularly hot summer are being blamed for crop failures leading to an above-inflation jump in German food prices over the past 12 months.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, another sign of the times:

Refugee Protests Leave Berlin Divided

A refugee slams a briefcase down on the table, snaps it open and takes out a series of plastic cards. “Here,” he says, “health card from Italy, residence permit, identity card. We have everything. Our asylum cases are complete. We’re allowed to move around in Europe, but we’re not allowed to work, not at all.”

It is Thursday morning in the Berlin district of Wedding. We are in a former retirement home that is now run by charity organization Caritas, and houses 80 refugees. Almost all are men from African countries. Many made the perilous journey from Libya to Lampedusa, and from there were sent on an odyssey through Europe. They were most recently living in tents on Oranienplatz square in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, protesting against deportations and unfair asylum laws.

France next, with austerian receptivity from TheLocal.fr:

Most French ‘ready to sacrifice public services’

Traditionally the French place a high value on their public services but as the economic crisis takes hold it appears the mood might be changing, according to the results of new poll published this week that were described “taboo-breaking”.

A majority of French people believe that it is now necessary to close some public services and lay off civil servants in order to help reduce public deficit, according to a new poll.

TheLocal.fr again, with another sign of the times:

Inequality on the increase in French education

The three-yearly Pisa report by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) published on Tuesday revealed that France has dropped three places in the global rankings compared to 2009, the last time the study was carried out.

The overall rankings for 2012, based on the performances of 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading, were dominated by Asian countries with France coming in 25th place out of 65.

On to Spain with El País and banksters behaving frugally:

Lending to households suffers record fall as banks remain parsimonious after bailout

Company credit also slumps to lowest level since 2007

ThinkSpain has Bankster Behaving Badly:

Novagalicia Bank fined for selling shares to baby

A BANK has been ordered to pay compensation after knowingly selling shares to a four-month-old baby.

The court of Ponferrada (León province) has declared the sale contract between the infant and Novagalicia Banco (NGB) null and void, and instructed the entity to refund the 4,800 euros it invested in subordinate shares, plus interest and legal costs.

From TheLocal.es, divisions:

Spain’s top parties won’t govern alone: Poll

Spain is facing an increasingly splintered political future with neither of the country’s two major parties likely to be able to form government alone in a future election, a new poll published on Sunday shows.

El País has mixed signals:

Unemployment falls in November for the first time in decades

Opposition points to falling Social Security affiliation as sign of declining active population due to emigration

And from ThinkSpain, going down?:

Spain falls 10 places on world corruption index, reveals Transparency

SPAIN is 40th out of a list of 177 countries on the world ‘corruption scale’, with number 177 – the most corrupt – being Somalia, according to figures released by a German charity.

On to Italy with TheLocal.it, and company for Spain:

Italy among most corrupt countries in Europe

Italy has been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, although it is slightly less corrupt than a year ago, according to Transparency International’s annual index released on Tuesday.

Italy came 69th in the list of 177 countries and territories in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The country’s public sector is perceived to be more corrupt than dozens of other nations including Saudi Arabia and Cuba, which came in joint 63rd place.

TheLocal.it with one reason why:

‘Anti-mafia’ mayor arrested for mafia ties

A mayor described as an “anti-mafia icon” has been put under house arrest for allegedly buying votes of the mafia she campaigned against, Italian media reported on Tuesday.

Carolina Girasole was arrested on Tuesday morning in Isola Capo Rizzuto, where she served as mayor from 2008 to 2013, La Repubblica reported.

A troikarch delivers a slam, via TheLocal.it:

Italy ‘failing to cut debt quickly enough’

Italy is failing to cut debt quickly enough but is past the worst of its crisis, the EU’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an interview in La Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday.

“Italy should respect a certain speed of debt reduction, and it is not doing so. The structural adjustment should have been equal to half a percentage point of gross domestic product, and it is only 0.1 percent,” he said.

The New York Times has the response:

PM Letta Raps EU’s Rehn for Sceptical Comments on Italy

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Tuesday criticised European Commissioner Olli Rehn for expressing scepticism about Italy’s ability to respect pledges to cut its public debt.

The economic and monetary affairs commissioner warned in a newspaper interview that Italy was not cutting its debt fast enough and he “had to be sceptical” over its plans to cut spending and sell state assets.

After the jump, Greek crisis, Ukrainian upheaval, Russian violence, change in Cuba, Brazilian slowdowns and setbacks, Indian concerns, Thai troubles, the Chinese neoliberal push, mixed Japanese signals, environmental notes, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

ANSAmed gives us our first Greek headline, one from the bright side:

Greece: manufacturing up in November for 1st time since 2009

Greek manufacturing output increased for the first time in more than four years in November, according to international market data vendor Markit’s PMI figures published on Monday, which showed that the firm’s composite index had reached a 51-month high.

From ANA-MPA, the Hellenic hustle:

President Papoulias urges Korean investments in Greece

President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias repeated his invitation to Korean businessmen to invest in Greece on Tuesday, during an official dinner given in his honour by South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye at the presidential mansion in Seoul.

From Greek Reporter, contrarian views:

Poll Shows Greek Pessimism Grows

Greeks buried under 3 1/2 years of austerity measures said they’ve essentially given up on any hope life will get better and are growing more pessimistic about the economy, according to a nationwide poll by GPO for Mega TV and radio’s  Overthrow.

Some 63 percent expect their lot will become worse over the next two to three years, compared with 15.6 % saying that it will improve and 19.9 % who believe that it will remain the same. Greece is relying on international aid to keep the economy from collapsing but it has come at the cost of relentless pay hikes, tax hikes and slashed pensions.

Kathimerini English covers a health plan labor crisis:

Striking EOPYY doctors rebuff government overture

Doctors at EOPYY, Greece’s main healthcare provider, on Tuesday appeared determined to continue with a strike in protest at the government’s civil service overhaul, rejecting a proposal by Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis for a one-month delay to the scheduled induction of staff into a scheme of forced transfers and layoffs.

And To Vima covers the government’s response:

Georgiadis warns EOPYY doctors against continuing their strike

Minister of Health announces his intention to take appropriate measures within the week to end the strike

The Minister of Health Adonis Georgiadis appeared on Mega Channel’s morning chat show and took the opportunity to warn EOPYY doctors to end their strike, or risk facing drastic measures later in the week. Mr. Georgiadis claimed that while he is up for discussion doctor objections, he will take measures so that patients can continue receive treatment.

From To Vima, crisis in another venue:

Unprecedented crisis in higher education reaching a climax

Minister Arvanitopoulos refers Rector Pelegrinis to Disciplinary Council on dubious misconduct charges

With the administrative employees at the National Kapodistrian University of Athens and the National Technical University of Athens deciding to continue their strike for a 13th consecutive week, essentially wasting the academic semester, the Minister of Education Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos has found himself under pressure from the government to take the necessary initiatives and resolve this matter.

And from ANSAmed, yet another crisis:

Greek commerce has lost 176,000 jobs, survey

Employment in Greek commerce has gone back 16 years, to 1997 levels, as more than 175,000 jobs have been lost since 2008, daily Kathimerini reports quoting the annual review of the sector by the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) issued on Monday.

The price has been heavy not only for salaried workers, but also for employers and the self-employed, who represent about half of those to have lost their jobs lost in commerce over the last five years. This has resulted from the closure of no fewer than 130,000 enterprises, against the opening of just 45,000 enterprises between 2009 and 2013.

From ANA-MPA, another one in the works:

Tsipras: Home foreclosures a ‘bomb’ under society’s foundations

The issue of home foreclosures is a “bomb” at the foundations of Greek society, Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday at the annual conference of American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce.

“There is a risk that red loans will fall into the hands of speculators abroad, where there is no room for negotiation,” Tsipras said about owners who cannot meet financial obligations and are in danger of losing their homes, adding that the issue of home foreclosures needs an immediate and clear solution.

Kathimerini English covers a governmental crackdown:

Nine school guards charged after ministry protest in Athens

Nine school guards who were arrested during a protest at the Administrative Reform Ministry on Tuesday morning have been charged with breaching the peace and resisting authority.

The nine were arrested for allegedly trying to enter the building without permission.

From To Vima, blowback from combining the mentions of immigrants and crematoria in the same sentence:

Trial of Golden Dawn candidate MP has been postponed

Golden Dawn candidate Alekos Plomaritis is being prosecuted for racist comments on Channel 4 documentary

The trial of Golden Dawn’s candidate MP Alekos Plomaritis over his racist comments on a documentary of British television network Channel 4 has been postponed for the 16th of September.

From New Europe, episcopal anger at a decision by the European Court of Human Rights:

Church leaders vehemently oppose an amendment after ECHR says same sex couples must enjoy same rights

Greece: MPs threatened with excommunication over gay marriage

On to the Ukraine with Deutsche Welle:

Opposition fail in bid to pass motion of no confidence in Ukrainian government

Ukrainian lawmakers have voted down a no-confidence motion against the government. The opposition was seeking to force it out of office over the president’s failure to sign a key agreement with the European Union.

More from euronews:

Anti-government protesters persist in Kyiv

Several thousand anti-government protesters rallied in Kyiv’s Independence Square on Tuesday afternoon. They’re upset about the Ukrainian parliament’s earlier rejection of a motion to hold a government confidence vote.

From RIA Novosti, a hint:

Ukraine Secures Deferral on Payment for Russian Gas

Ukraine Secures Deferral on Payment for Russian GasUkraine’s national energy company said Tuesday that it has agreed with its main natural gas supplier, Russia’s Gazprom, to defer payments for winter fuel deliveries to spring next year.

The Moscow Times covers another sign of the times:

Report Shows Ethnic Violence on the Rise

Nineteen people have been killed and 168 others have been injured in ethnically charged attacks in Russia so far this year, a think-tank that monitors xenophobia and extremism said in a report released Tuesday.

Off to Latin America, first with Bloomberg:

Argentines Hit With 35% Foreign Credit Card Tax for Holidays

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner increased a tax on credit card purchases abroad ahead of the southern hemisphere summer vacation period to stem a hemorrhaging of reserves to a seven-year low.

The government raised a levy on card purchases in foreign currency to 35 percent from 20 percent, according to a resolution published in today’s Official Gazette.

The Argentina Independent covers changes in Cuba:

Cuba: Experimental Agricultural Trade Law Takes Effect

An experimental law targeting agricultural trade in Cuba went into effect on Sunday in the country’s western provinces of Havana, Artemisa, and Mayabeque. The legislation, which seeks to increase efficiency and prevent losses, is another chapter in a series of economic reforms recently undertaken in the socialist island nation.

Decree 318, passed initially in November, allows farmers to sell the excess produce leftover after fulfilling state-contracted quotas. Normally, this excesss food would be wasted. The law also gives farmer cooperatives the ability sell produce to one another and to directly supply and manage wholesale public markets.

Xinhua covers a sagging BRICS [the others being Russia, India, China, and South Africa]:

Brazil sees worst GDP growth among G20, BRICS: finance minister

The South American giant’s GDP totaled 1.2 trillion reals (508 billion U.S. dollars) in the third quarter of 2013, down 0.5 percent compared to the second quarter of the year. However, compared to the same period last year, Brazil’s GDP was up 2.2 percent.

Brazil next with an agrofuel setback from Biofuels Digest:

At least 20 Brazilian mills seen mothballed despite higher gas prices

In Brazil, another 20 sugarcane mills are expected to shut down in the next few years, following in the footsteps of the more than 50 that have been shuttered since 2007, even though the government agreed to boost gasoline prices by 4%. The move to reduce subsidies on gasoline isn’t expected to be enough to boost demand for ethanol sufficiently to save the mills.

The Rio Times covers another Brazilian dilemma:

Rio’s Military Police Most Corrupt in Brazil: Daily

Rio’s Military Police is more likely to ask for bribes than São Paulo’s Military force

The Military Police in Rio de Janeiro are Brazil’s most corrupt police force, according to the National Victimization Survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and the United Nations Program for Development. The study also showed that the state of Rio is subject to more crime than the rest of the entire Southeast region, including São Paulo.

Off to Asia, starting with a regional story from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Asia takes top spots in OECD global education survey

Asian nations cemented their top positions in an eagerly awaited report on global education on Tuesday, with students from Shanghai again ranking first in maths, science and reading.

Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea rounded out the top five in maths skills.

From the Financial Express, a plea for deal:

India looks to spike European leverage, calls for Asian block to get natural gas price cuts

India called China, Japan and Korea to forge an Asian buyers block to undermine European leverage.

From Press Trust of India, a desperate fight for food self-sufficiency:

India refuses to budge as WTO members begin parleys

Refusing to budge from its tough stand on food security issues, India today pressed for a fair and balanced outcome of the WTO ministerial meeting here, with the 159-member body’s chief warning that it was “now or never” as formal negotiations started to reach a consensus on issues such as food subsidies and trade facilitation.

The Times of India covers distant rumblings:

Rupee weakens on Fed taper fears, but domestic data soothes

The rupee fell on Tuesday as the dollar gained after strong US economic data sparked expectations of an early tapering of the Federal Reserve stimulus, but a sharp easing in the current account deficit capped wider losses.

Data late on Monday showed India’s current account deficit narrowed to 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product, the lowest since the June quarter of 2009.

And the Financial Express covers a worrying sign:

Urban spending moderating, set to impact consumer sectors: India Ratings

Weak corporate performance, which moderates wage growth, is hurting urban spending.

Thailand next with The Guardian and a called timeout:

Bangkok truce as police swap teargas for red roses

Yingluck Shinawatra’s government opens doors to protesters in bid to defuse tension ahead of Thailand king’s birthday

More from Al Jazeera America:

Thai government allows protesters into prime minister’s office

Demonstrators shouted slogans and left peacefully, raising hopes for truce after days of unrest

China next, with a prediction from People’s Daily:

China’s economy to grow 7.5%

China’s economy is expected to expand 7.6 percent in 2013 and then edge down to around 7.5 percent in 2014, the State Information Center (SIC), a government think tank, has forecast.

The SIC advised the central government to set the economic growth target for 2014 at 7 percent in an effort to focus more effort on reform and adjusting the economic structure

Channel NewsAsia Singapore notes a major achievement:

China’s yuan surpasses euro as world’s 2nd trade currency

China’s yuan has overtaken the euro to become the second most-used currency in international trade finance, a global transaction services organisation said on Tuesday.

And China Daily USA, hints of a downgrade coming:

A potential ratings cut in US debt by the Chinese agency Danong would most likely not affect Chinese investors’ outlook on the US or have an impact on the US doing business with China, according to Joseph Gagnon, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“We’d be better off if China wouldn’t buy our bonds; we’d rather them buy our exports,” he said. “China earns dollars when they sell exports to the US, and they have to spend those dollars somehow. They can either spend them on bonds, or they can spend them on US exports. I don’t think China needs any more US Treasuries. I think we’d all be better off if China stopped buying US Treasuries.”

From Press Trust of India, regional power play:

China to substantially increase assistance to Nepal, Pak

China has decided to substantially increase its assistance to developing countries in South Asian region, particularly to Nepal and Pakistan, a top Chinese official said here today.

And China Daily, privation accelerates in a crucial sector:

Private hospitals face challenges

The Party’s decision to increase support for private hospitals presents an opportunity but with challenges, experts say, starting with access to insurance money and limits on doctors’ working hours.

The broad policy approved by the Third Plenary Session of the Communist Party of China’s 18th Central Committee, which ended on Nov 12, states the government should encourage the growth of medical institutions run by private companies or other NGOs.

People’s Daily covers more neoliberalism in progress:

China to simplify approval for foreign investment

China will simplify its foreign investment approval process in order to introduce a registration-based system for foreign investment projects, an official with the country’s top economic planner said Tuesday.

Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that the Chinese government will further enhance the role of foreign investment in its market-oriented economic development.

And China Daily weighs in with another prediction:

Inflation expected to rise next year, warns think tank

Inflation in China will quicken next year as food prices, wages and rents increase, a central government think tank said on Monday.

The Price Monitoring Center, a research institute under the top economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, forecast that the consumer price index will rise more than 3 percent next year.

From SINA English, Wall Street moves:

IPOs to resume after a yearlong freeze

China will resume initial public offerings in January after a freeze lasting longer than a year, and a reform plan on new listings has been carried out to boost the country’s stock market over the long term.

A total of 83 Chinese companies completed the examination and received approval from the China Securities Regulatory Commission. About 50 are expected to have finished all IPO procedures and be listed before the end of January 2014. More than 760 companies are in line for approval, and it will take about a year to audit all the applications.

China has not had a new listing since October 2012, when the commission cracked down on fraud and misconduct among advisers.

From People’s Daily, secret tribunal coming:

China seeks WTO dispute settlement with U.S.

China wants negotiations with the United States under the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute-settlement mechanism over anti-dumping measures by the U.S. against Chinese products, the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) said Tuesday.

“In its anti-dumping investigations and reviews, the U.S. has inappropriately applied targeted-dumping methodology, denied companies separate tax rates, and used unfavorable facts,” the ministry’s spokesman Shen Danyang said in a statement.

SINA English has another neoliberal play:

Door opens to offshore accounts in trade zone

The People’s Bank of China said on Monday it will permit businesses and individuals to open offshore accounts in the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, a decision intended to promote cross-border investment in the pilot area.

Off to Japan, where Grinnin’ Joe tries to demolish long established food sovereignty protections. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Biden urges Japan to open auto, farm markets

US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Japan to step up efforts to open its auto and farm markets in order to conclude a huge regional free trade deal.

From Bloomberg, deflating with inflation:

Japan Salaries Extend Slide as Inflation Begins to Take Root

Japan’s salaries extended the longest tumble since 2010, increasing pressure on household finances as inflation begins to take root.

Regular wages excluding overtime and bonuses fell 0.4 percent in October from a year earlier, a 17th straight monthly decline, according to labor ministry data released today. Total cash earnings rose 0.1 percent.

Jiji Press covers class preference:

Japan to Allow Rich Foreign Tourists to Stay Longer

Japan’s Justice Ministry said Tuesday it plans to allow wealthy foreign tourists to stay for up to one year, in order to attract visitors to the country.

The move can meet wealthy foreign tourists’ need for long resort stay, ministry officials said.

At present, foreign tourists can stay in Japan for up to 90 days.

And on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!

We begin with related nuclear news from the Asahi Shimbun:

Unprocessed radioactive waste in Tokai could explode if safeties fail

Stockpiles of unprocessed plutonium solutions and liquid waste at a nuclear reprocessing facility in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, could boil and spew radioactive substances or cause hydrogen explosions if safety devices were to fail, the Nuclear Regulation Authority says.

The assessment of the Tokai Reprocessing Plant of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, where 3.5 cubic meters of solutions containing plutonium and the 430 cubic meters of high-level radioactive liquid waste are stored, was part of a Dec. 2 report issued by the NRA.

While the Mainichi drops a really alarming number:

Radiation 36,000 times permissible level found in water at Fukushima plant

The operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant said on Dec. 2 that it has detected radioactive materials that topped 36,000 times the permissible level in underground water extracted in the area.

According to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), strontium-90 and other radioactive substances that emit beta rays were detected at a level of 1.1 million becquerels per liter in underground water pumped up from an observatory well on Nov. 28. The well is located at a sea bank east of the No. 2 reactor, about 40 meters from the ocean.

NHK WORLD covers remediation:

Govt. panel urges additional wastewater measures

A government panel has drafted a report on additional measures to control the radioactive wastewater accumulating at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Some perspective from The Guardian:

Fukushima two years on: a dirty job with no end in sight

The tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has led to the toughest nuclear cleanup ever. Radioactive water is still poisoning the sea – and it could take 40 years to fix the mess. Is Japan up to the challenge?

NHK WORLD has an ancillary move:

Reconstruction Agency opens office in Fukushima

Japan’s Reconstruction Agency has opened an office near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to help evacuees return home.

NHK WORLD again, padding payouts:

Fukushima town to add supplementary compensation

A town near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has decided to supplement compensation from the plant operator with additional payments for some residents.

All the residents of Okuma evacuated from the town following the nuclear accident. In December of last year, the town was divided into 3 zones according to radiation levels.

And the Japan Times, more alarming numbers:

Tepco expects 1,700 to quit by March

By the end of next March, Tokyo Electric Power Co. expects 1,700 workers will have taken voluntary retirement since the 2011 start of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant calamity, amid uncertain business prospects and pay cuts, according to Tepco documents.

Employees from the business strategy division at Tepco’s head office as well as nuclear engineers account for around 40 percent of the retirees, raising fears that the loss of personnel could affect the utility’s core activities.

And from the Japan Times, precautionary moves:

Aomori nuclear fuel plant needs another ¥200 billion for safety measures

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. plans to spend around ¥200 billion for additional safety measures at a plant to reprocess spent nuclear fuel in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, sources said Tuesday.

The measures are designed to meet the new safety standards for nuclear fuel facilities that will come into force Dec. 18.

And the Mainichi covers a legal challenge:

More than 800 join suit to seek suspension of Oi nuclear plant

More than 800 people joined a lawsuit Tuesday filed last year by 1,100 plaintiffs from 17 prefectures demanding the central government and Kansai Electric Power Co. shut down the utility’s Oi nuclear power plant.

The plaintiffs also demanded the government and Kansai Electric pay damages of 10,000 yen per person per month until the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan, is suspended, arguing an accident there would cause irrevocable damage and violate their right to live safely.

And from the Japan Times, calling a hold:

Abe shelves effort to gain passage of Turkey, UAE nuclear export deals

Due to the clash in the Upper House over the contentious state secrets bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government will not pursue approval in the current Diet session of two deals signed earlier this year to export nuclear reactor technology and know-how to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

From SINA English, fossil fuel blues:

Air pollution in Shanghai worst since records began

Shanghai endured another choking day yesterday with the air quality index surging past 300 into the highest range of severe pollution in a six-level system for the first time since official AQI records began a year ago.

For our final item, Al Jazeera America covers resistance across the border aimed at SWN Resources Canada:

Indigenous Canadian fracking protesters refuse to back down

Demonstrators defy court injunction intended to keep them from interfering with Texas-based company’s seismic testing

Anti-fracking demonstrators set tires ablaze to block a New Brunswick highway Monday in a fiery response to a judge’s decision to extend an injunction limiting their protests against a Texas-based shale gas exploration company.

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