Today’s compendium of economic, political, and environmental events is a doozy. Starting with a taper at home we cover the latest developments in Europe, the Greek meltdown, Ukrainian angst and Russian manuvers, Latin American politics, Indian economic anxieties, the latest Chinese neoliberal move, Japanese conundra, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, here’s David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times on the discomfort Rush Limbaugh and his fellow loudmouths of the Right are feeling over the new occupant of the papal throne:

The Globe and Mail covers the lead story on the global economic front:

Fed surprises Wall Street with plans to taper massive U.S. stimulus program

U.S. Federal Reserve will reduce its $85-billion a month in bond purchases by $10-billion starting in January, citing a stronger U.S. job market.

U.S. stocks rose on the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average climbing more than 150 points.

One reaction, via Reuters:

Dow, S&P end at record highs after Fed’s stimulus cut

The Dow and the S&P 500 closed at all-time highs on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve announced a small reduction in its stimulus program, confirming that the U.S. economy was on firm footing.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 293.03 points or 1.85 percent, to end unofficially at 16,168.29, a record closing high. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 29.65 points or 1.66 percent, to finish unofficially at 1,810.65, also a record closing high. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 46.384 points or 1.15 percent, to close unofficially at 4,070.064.

And just how much debt has been bought? From Reuters:

BBC News see bright numbers:

US sees strong house building recovery as economy grows

US new home being built US new home construction activity is at its highest level for five years

US house building activity recovered strongly in November, nearly a third higher than in the same period last year, official figures show.

New construction of homes hit 1.091 million, up 29.6% compared to November 2012, the Commerce Department reported.

From the Progressive, neoliberal resurgent:

Wisconsin School Privatization Gets Shot of Rocket Fuel

The education committee in the Wisconsin state senate passed Senate Bill 76 on Wednesday, loosening the process for authorizing new charter schools in Milwaukee and allowing these schools to replicate themselves automatically if they outperform average Milwaukee Public Schools on test scores by 10 percent.

Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school company that aims to open new schools in Milwaukee, lobbied for the bill and appears to be its primary beneficiary.

Bloomberg Businessweek covers downbeat numbers for would-be corporateers:

MBA Salary Outlook: Pay Stays Flat in 2014

The value of an MBA isn’t keeping up with inflation for many new graduates. According to research by the Graduate Management Admission Council, 42 percent of employers plan to pay the latest crop of MBAs the same salaries in 2014 as they did this year.

Among the companies that responded to the GMAC survey, 45 percent said they would increase wages for new MBAs to keep up with inflation (about 1 percent in the U.S.). Only 11 percent said they planned greater-than-inflation bumps for new MBA hires, compared with 20 percent that plan similar raises for positions filled by workers recruited from other companies. Two percent said they would pay MBAs less in 2014 than what they offered this year. GMAC researchers surveyed 211 employers in 33 countries.

Of to Canada for the ultimate in neoliberal excuses for downsizing the commons, via CBC News:

Canada Post’s Deepak Chopra says seniors want exercise from picking up mail

An emergency parliamentary committee is asking questions about cancellation of urban mail delivery

The head of Canada Post says seniors have told the corporation they want more exercise and fresh air in answer to an MP’s question about how the elderly will be especially hard hit by the cancellation of home mail delivery.

And from Jiji Press, though perhaps better never than late:

TPP Ministerial Talks May Be Put Off to Feb. or Later

The next ministerial session of Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, currently planned for January, could be put off to February or later due to a delay in preparatory work among Japan, the United States and 10 other countries involved, informed sources said Wednesday.

Uncertainty over the negotiations is growing as the 12 countries are failing to conclude the trade talks by the end of this year.

Off to Britain with BBC News and better numbers:

UK unemployment rate at lowest since 2009

At 7.4%, this is the lowest rate since the February-to-April period in 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people out of work fell by 99,000 to 2.39 million in the three months to October, the ONS said.

BBC News covers a darker side of the jobs picture:

Curbs on EU benefits to come into force on 1 January

New rules on how long EU jobseekers will have to wait to claim benefits are to be brought in early, No 10 has said.

The change to a three-month wait before EU citizens can apply for UK out-of-work benefits is being rushed through Parliament to start on 1 January. It coincides with the date people from both Romania and Bulgaria will be able to work in the UK without restrictions.

David Cameron said the move sent a “clear message”, but Labour said it had been left to the “very last minute”.

While The Independent raises questions about the nature of the so-called recovery:

Food poverty is creating ‘hidden country’ that is being ignored by the Government, MPs claim

Food poverty is creating a “hidden country” that is being ignored by the Coalition government, MPs have claimed, reporting shocking cases of fights breaking out over discount vegetables in Tesco and cancer patients forced to use food banks because of a lack of Government support.

Speaking as MPs debated the causes behind a huge increase in food bank use since the recession, Labour MP Fiona McTaggart reported that hungry people in her Slough constituency were now “fighting each other in Tesco” when discount fruit and vegetables are  made available at the end of the day.

And The Guardian can’t stomach it:

Horsemeat dinner is served, courtesy of the mafia

Organised crime has taken a hold on Britain’s food, banking and other industries, which are now effectively beyond the rule of law

Organised crime and mafia-type networks penetrate the heart of a country’s mainstream economy when there is a breakdown of the rule of law, or so the criminology theories go. We like to think that the breakdown of law is something that happens elsewhere – in fragile states where political instability and weak institutions allow criminals to operate with impunity, and ordinary people have little access to justice – not the sort of thing that would happen here, surely.

Yet last week a government-commissioned review of the horsemeat scandal warned that organised crime had penetrated our mainstream food manufacturing and retailing sectors. Food fraud is such a risk, it said, that we need a new, specialised police force to deal with it, because criminals laundering meat know they are likely to go undetected and, even if detected, likely to go unpunished.

BBC News tackles a hot question:

Europe launches probe into Hinkley Point nuclear plan

European Union regulators are to investigate whether UK support for a plan to build a new nuclear power plant breaks state aid rules.

French energy giant EDF is leading a consortium building a £16bn plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The UK government has guaranteed power prices from the plant for 35 years.

The European Commission said it wanted the views of third parties because of the unprecedented nature and scale of the Hinkley deal.

One to Ireland and a rosy scenario from Independent.ie:

ESRI: we’ve turned a corner and end of austerity in sight

THE country’s leading thinktank has given its most upbeat assessment since the crisis began, saying the economy has “turned the corner”.

The analysis from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) comes as the Government vowed to end austerity the year after next.

In another sign of our return to normality in the EU countries since leaving the troika programme, Ireland will now begin to contribute to the bailout for Greece.

TheJournal.ie is somewhat less rosy:

Moody’s downgrades Bank of Ireland’s deposit ratings

The investment service said the results of the stress test that will be undertaken by the ECB next year are “difficult to anticipate”.

MOODY’S INVESTMENT SERVICE has downgraded Bank of Ireland’s (BOI) deposit ratings reflecting Moody’s view of an increased risk to bondholders.

In a statement they said “deposit ratings to Ba2/NP from Ba1/NP and senior debt ratings to Ba3 from Ba2, prompted by the concurrent lowering of the bank’s baseline credit assessment (BCA) by two notches to b1 from ba2.

From The Guardian, banksters behaving badly, in this case allegedly playing €7.2 billion in numbers games at Anglo Irish Bank to make things seem much rosier than reality:

Three former Irish bank executives appear in court on conspiracy charges

Denis Casey, Peter Fitzpatrick and John Bowe all granted bail by Dublin’s district court and are due to appear again in March

Three former Irish bank executives, including the ex-chief executive of one of the country’s largest lenders, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud in the run-up to the country’s banking crisis, a court heard on Wednesday.

Former chief executive of Irish Life and Permanent, Denis Casey, the lender’s former finance director Peter Fitzpatrick, and former head of treasury at Anglo Irish Bank, John Bowe, were granted bail by Dublin’s district court and are due to appear again next March.

From Independent.ie, a notable warning:

Government must act urgently to detect foreign bribery, OECD warns

THE IRISH Government must urgently increase its resources to detect and investigate foreign bribery more efficiently, a global economic think-tank has warned.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said Ireland had not prosecuted a foreign bribery case in the 12 years since the offence came into being.

Norway next, with the straight dope from TheLocal.no:

Bergen hospital to hand out free heroin

A hospital in Bergen is planning to give out heroin to hardened addicts in an effort to reduce the number of overdoses and other health complications.

“The solution has been tested in several large cities in Europe, such as Amsterdam and Zurich. We intend to have the same general approach,” Ola Jøsendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital, told the Bergens Avisen newspaper.

TheLocal.se takes us to Sweden and more of that hard times intolerance:

Nazi activity increases in Sweden: report

Swedish neo-Nazi groups were more active in 2012, according to a new report, while the number of groups operating within the white power movement has declined.

According to a new report by the Expo Foundation, neo-Nazi groups carried out 1,824 activities in 2012, an increase of 24 percent on 2011 and signifying a break in a downward trend since 2008.

At the same time the number of groups operating within the racial ideology movement has declined from 25 active organisations in 2011 to 18 in 2012, continuing a decline from 40 groups registering activities in 2008. According to Expo this trend indicates a concentration with several groups having merged

The Copenhagen Post smells a rat:

New trade agreement would give US influence over Danish law

US and business lobby could have major influence on trade regulations

A proposal hidden in a proposed trade agreement between the US and EU could give the business community and the US major influence on future regulations in Denmark and other EU countries. According to a report by the Brussels-based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the Regulatory Co-operation Council (RCC), a joint regulatory commission that the agreement would put in place to oversee the agreement, will allow industry lobbyists to get very close to the legislative process.

“This model allows business organisations a seat at the table with regulators,” Kenneth Haar, a researcher at CEO told Information newspaper. “It will probably result in a deregulation offensive.”

DutchNews.nl concludes:

Nationalised SNS Reaal to be split into a bank and an insurer

Nationalised financial services group SNS Reaal is to be split into a bank and an insurance company, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The plan to split up the company was presented to the commission by finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem in August. The aim is to create an independent SNS Bank which will focus on retail activities. The insurance side, Zwitserleven, will be eventually sold off and the property loans are being placed in a ‘bad bank’.

SNS Reaal was nationalised in February after running into financial problems caused by its property investments. In total, saving the bank cost the Dutch taxpayer €4.8bn.

EUbusiness sells out:

Belgium sells European Commission HQ for nearly 640 mn euros

Cash-strapped Belgium is nearly 640 million euros richer after selling the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters building to BNP-Paribas-Fortis bank and AG Insurance, a report said Wednesday.

The giant metal-clad Berlaymont dominates the area around the Schuman district in Brussels which is home to many of the main European Union institutions.

Futuristic when built in the 1960s as a symbol of European resurgence, the Belgian government sold the building to the Commission in 2004 for some 553 million euros on a 27-year lease, L’Echo said.

On to Germany and a Merkelian mandate from TheLocal.de:

Merkel: ‘EU must be ready for treaty changes’

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that European Union members must be ready for treaty changes to strengthen the 28-member bloc, speaking on the eve of an EU summit.

“Since the Lisbon Treaty we have a situation in Europe where everyone says, ‘we can develop everything but we can’t change the treaties’”, Merkel told parliament. “I don’t think that we can build a truly functioning Europe that way.”

The Iron Chancellor fires a broadside, from Europe Online:

Merkel attacks EU investigation of electricity subsidies

Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked Wednesday a likely European Commission investigation into Germany’s system of subsidized electricity for big industry.

“As long as there are European nations where electricity for industry is cheaper than it is in Germany, I can’t see how we can be contributing to a distortion of competition,” she told the Bundestag parliament in Berlin.

From RT, better late than never:

Bavarian town revokes Hitler’s honorary citizenship – 80 years on

A small German town council has finally voted to strip Adolf Hitler of honorary citizenship after criticism sparked by the officials’ failure last week to nullify the title awarded to the Nazi leader 80 years ago.

The full council of the Bavarian town of Dietramszell voted 21-0 to adopt a resolution that denounces the decision made in 1933, the year when President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor, reports Associated Press.

Europe Online swaggers:

German business confidence strengthens in December, Ifo says

German business confidence rose in December, the Munich-based Ifo economic institute reported Wednesday.

The gain was in line with analysts’ forecasts, following a November rebound. Ifo’s indicator rose 0.2 points to 109.5.

On to France and more bad news for workers from EUbusiness:

France adopts reform of debt-ridden pension system

Lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a reform of France’s debt-ridden pension system after the country faced pressure from the European Union.

The reform, adopted in final reading by the National Assembly in a show-of-hands vote, raises the pay-in period for pension contributions from the current 41.5 years to 43 years by 2035, meaning employees will need to work longer to be eligible for full pensions.

Switzerland next, and a freeze from TheLocal.ch:

Bern extends freeze on former leaders’ assets

The Swiss government on Wednesday extended by three years a freeze on the assets of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

The freeze, first ordered in 2011, applies to all assets held in Switzerland by the toppled leaders and by “politically exposed persons in their entourage,” the foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the decision.

Spain, with pain, from El País:

OECD calls on Spain to make layoffs even cheaper

Despite the labor reforms introduced by the Spanish government in February last year, the OECD suggested in a report released Wednesday that severance pay remains high and that more cuts are needed to tackle high unemployment, which stands at 26 percent.

The report also recommends that the government rein in the discretionary power of labor courts to declare dismissals null and void to “extreme cases.”

Deutsche Welle has more pain:

Spain bad loan ratio hits 50-year high

Spain’s central bank has released fresh figures revealing that the eurozone nation’s lenders have been unable so far to keep the amount of bad loans from rising steadily. The ratio has reached a new all-time high.

Spanish lenders’ non-performing credits hit the highest level since records started back in 1962, the country’s central bank reported Wednesday. The ratio of bad loans judged highly unlikely to ever be repaid rose to 13 percent of all outstanding credits in October, up from 12.68 percent in the previous month.

This meant the value of risky assets climbed by three million euros ($4.12 billion) month-on-month to a total of 190.97 billion euros.

And ThinkSpain says Show me the money!:

Brussels to investigate Real Madrid and Barcelona over illegal state aid

Real Madrid and Barcelona, along with five other Spanish football clubs, are to be investigated by the European Union over alleged illegal state aid.

Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia, Elche and Hércules are also going to be scrutinised by the European Commission, according to an announcement from the Spanish foreign ministry today.

And from El País, getting by with a little help from his friends?:

Madrid premier’s wife named in tax-fraud and money-laundering case

The premier of the Madrid region, Ignacio González, on Wednesday defended his own innocence and that of his wife, Lourdes Cavero, after a judge named her as an official suspect in an investigation into possible money laundering and tax fraud in connection with a luxury penthouse the couple owns in the area of Estepona, on the Costa de Sol.

The couple had been renting the 500-square-meter property in question since 2008 for 2,000 euros a month but bought it at the end of last year for 770,000 euros. Similar properties in the upmarket Alhambra del Golf residential area are being let for 6,000 euros a month.

The apartment was purchased for a million euros in 2008 by a trustee named Rudy Valner, a Mexican businessman, on behalf of a company called Coast Investor LLC, which is registered in Delaware, a US state that is attractive to businesses thanks to its low tax rates.

Italy next, and taking it to the streets with TheLocal.it:

Thousands rally at Rome anti-austerity protest

Thousands of protesters from the Forconi (Pitchforks) movement including far-right activists rallied in Rome on Wednesday for an anti-austerity protest.

Protesting against Italy’s widely discredited political class, they chanted “Go home!” and “Go and work!”

“For everyone’s good, you should all resign,” read a placard held up by one of between 2,000 and 3,000 people on Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo square. Organisers said they had expected 15,000.

From Al Jazeera America, righteous anger:

EU threatens Italy with legal action over migrants from Africa

Officials denounce conditions of refugee detention centers, but can’t agree on common immigration policy

The European Commission threatened Italy with legal action Wednesday for possible breaches of the EU’s rules on granting asylum, over its treatment of migrants arriving from Africa on the island of Lampedusa.

A video showing migrants standing naked in the cold while being sprayed for scabies at a detention center stirred outrage in Italy on Tuesday.

After the jump, Greek meltdown, Ukrainian angst, Russian manuvers, Latin American politics, Indian economic anxieties, the latest Chinese neoliberal moves, Japanese conundra, environmental woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

Our first Greek item and an ax about to fall, via To Vima:

Ministry of Interior completes municipal employee review

Central Municipality Union expresses reservation about criteria, claims inter-municipal mobility will fail

Ministry of Interior completes municipal employee review

The Ministry of Interior has completed its study on the staff needs of each municipality, which also notes how many employees are to enter an inter-municipal mobility scheme in order to cover needs. According to the study a total of 3,708 municipal employees are voluntary going to enter this mobility scheme, down from an original estimate of compulsory 4,500 transfers.

Based on the study the Municipality of Athens is thought to have 667 excessive employees, similarly to many other municipalities in Attica. Other municipalities, such as Larissa, do not appear to have excessive employees. The mayors have complained about the criteria used by the Ministry, as outdated data on employment is cited. The Mayor of Athens Giorgos Kaminis called an emergency Municipal Council meeting to discuss the Ministry’s “unacceptable” letter.

From Keep Talking Greece, still more grim tidings for workers:

Prosperous 2014: Wages to reduce further in Greek private sector

The incomes of employees in Greece’s private sector are expected to undergo a further reduction at 1.5%. And this although wages fell at 21.7% during the last three years, after Greece surrendered to the Troika bailout mechanism. But of, course and in contrast employees at the Greek public sector and utility companies have not suffered the same income losses.

This grim perspective for the new year comes from Bank of Greece’s report published yesterday.

ANA-MPA denies:

Parliament votes against holding inquiry into shipyard/submarine contracts

Parliament on Wednesday voted against a proposal for a Parliamentary examination committee to investigate the terms of contracts for the sale of Hellenic Shipyards in Skaramangas to private owners, with a majority of 167 out of a total 287 MPs that cast a vote. The proposal had been tabled by main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).

The MPs voting against were those of the ruling New Democracy-PASOK coalition government, opposition Democratic Left (DIM.AR) and the independent MPs Andreas Loverdos and Christos Aidonis.

While Greek Reporter covers another sale of the commons:

SOCAR Acquires Slice of Greek DESFA

Socar (the state oil company of Azerbaijan) has acquired a 66% share in the Greek natural gas transmission network operator (DESFA). This agreement is significant in terms of gas supplies to Europe from Azerbaijan.

The President of Socar, Rovnag Abdullayev will arrive in Athens on December 21, to conclude and sign the agreement.

To Vima makes a deal of great interest to the thousands of Greeks in foreclosure:

Minister of Growth presents deal on primary residence auctions

Regulation provides that borrower’s assets must not exceed 270,000 euros to claim protection from auctions

Minister of Growth presents deal on primary residence auctions

The Minister of Growth Kostis Hatzidakis presented the draft of the regulation related to the primary residence auctions. Protection is only available to residences with a maximum value of 200,000 euros, on condition that the annual family income is up to 35,000 euros. Furthermore, the total value of the borrower’s assets must not exceed 270,000.

More from Kathimerini English:

Minister says new foreclosure rules will protect nine out of 10 owners

A new framework that aims to prevent nine out of 10 homeowners from losing their properties if they do not keep up mortgage repayments was unveiled on Wednesday by Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis, who is also hoping that he has done enough to win the support of coalition MPs when the legislation is voted on later this week.

The current moratorium on foreclosures was due to expire at the end of the year. The troika had asked for at least a partial lifting next year but was not able to agree on a formula with the Greek government before officials left Athens this week.

ANSAmed offers perspective:

Crisis: Greece; house prices have fallen 37.6% in 5 years

House prices in Greece have plummeted 37.6% in real terms since the beginning of the financial crisis five years ago, daily Kathimerini writes quoting the Bank of Greece’s Monetary Policy report issued on Tuesday. The survey also mentions that estate agencies have reported an even greater drop in prices.

Notably, the slide has been steeper in Athens and Thessaloniki, with large properties in the most expensive areas of the country being the hardest hit.

euronews gets charged:

Electricity activists restore power to Greek families cut off by the state

For the people of Keratsini, the renegade band of power activists are a lifeline.

Euronews journalist Michalis Arampatzoglou said: “According to Hellenic Distribution Network Operator, 350,000 connections will have been excluded from electrical power supply by the end of 2013. At least 40 percent of them are either being reconnected illegally or staying without electricity.”

To Vima gives an incomplete:

School of Law officially declares academic semester to be “wasted”

The time allocated until February was not deemed enough to cover for the administrative employee strike

School of Law officially declares academic semester to be “wasted”

The School of Law at the National Kapodistrian University of Athens has announced that it secretly convened on Wednesday morning and after a vote, came to the conclusion that the academic semester has been lost, since the time allocated until February is not enough to cover for the lost time.

To Vima again, this time with the ongoing crisis at Greek’s largest healthcare program:

Georgiadis rejects two essential EOPYY doctor demands

Minister of Health claims that a “discussion from scratch” on healthcare reforms is out of the question

Even though the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras personally intervened so that the Ministry of Heath and striking EOPYY doctors can begin talks, it appears that the optimism of a quick end to the problem was short-lived. On the one hand the EOPYY doctors decided to continue their strike and on the other the Minister of Health has rejected two of the essential doctor demands.

Specifically Mr. Georgiadis rejected the demands for a three-month delay to the implementation of the reform and to discuss the terms of exclusive employment in the national healthcare system ESY. The Minister clarified that while these two demands cannot be satisfied, he was willing to talk with them.

Hard times for Fuhrer fans from EnetEnglish.gr:

Golden Dawn loses state funding

Syriza MP Manolis Glezos votes against motion

Motion to suspend funding was backed by 241 MPs, with 26 voting against and five abstaining

A Golden Dawn street gang A Golden Dawn street gang Parliament has voted by a large majority to suspend all state funding to the neonazi Golden Dawn party.

On to Cyprus with another tranche from Greek Reporter:

ESM Approves €100 Million Disbursement to Cyprus

The Board of Directors of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) approved on December 18 the disbursement of €100 million to Cyprus.

This follows the approval of the updated Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by the ESM Board of Governors and a positive assessment of the second quarterly review of Cyprus’ macroeconomic adjustment program.

This will bring the total ESM assistance for Cyprus so far to €4.6 billion. The remaining installments of approximately €9 billion committed to Cyprus by the ESM will be paid in quarterly disbursements by 2016.

Off the the Ukraine with Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Ukraine protesters fume over deal with Russia

President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday faced angry criticism from Ukraine’s opposition who accused him of selling out its interests to Russia and robbing the country of a European future after a landmark bail-out deal.

The opposition to Yanukovych feared there must be hidden strings attached to Russia’s $15-billion bond purchase and low gas price announced Tuesday and vowed to keep pushing for early elections.

Al Jazeera America gives release:

Russia passes amnesty bill favoring Greenpeace and Pussy Riot activists

The bill will let investigators drop charges against 30 Greenpeace activists, two members of punk band Pussy Riot

The State Duma voted 446-0 in favor of the bill, which mainly concerns first-time offenders, minors and women with small children. The move has been largely viewed as the Kremlin’s attempt to soothe criticism of Russia’s human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year.

From the Moscow News, a limp response:

Russian male smokers complain of impotence warnings

Russian men are asking the Health Ministry to remove warnings of impotence from cigarette packs amid a government bid to curb smoking.

“There are a lot of complaints. For men, the impotence issue is very important, and they’re asking to remove that picture,” RIA Novosti quoted Health Ministry official Natalia Kostenko as saying. “Apparently, this has affected men’s minds a great deal and they don’t want to see these pictures on cigarette packs.”

Here’s the image that sends chills down Russian male spines:

Latin America next, first with relief for activists from MercoPress:

Chilean congress rejects bill imposing harsher punishments for public disorder

Chile’s Lower house ended a two-year debate over the contentious ‘Hinzpeter Law’ aimed to impose stricter punishments for public disorder, but which critics argued it would also apply harsh penalties to peaceful protesters.

From the Rio Times, desperate measures?:

Brazil’s Central Bank to Instill Savings Culture

The Central Bank is looking to create a savings culture to avert future problems as economists predict a looming credit crunch.

Figures from the Central Bank show that family debt has risen from 37 percent in May 2010 to 45 percent in September of this year, and that an estimated 25 million Brazilians will be late paying their bills in 2013.

The explosion of credit that followed a major shift in banking practices in the early 2000s saw consumer credit rocket from 23 percent of the total in 2002, to 46 percent. As with the housing market, there remains the fear that boom periods are rarely far from an equally dramatic bust.

From Quartz, a spooky business fail:

Brazil is snubbing Boeing in a jet deal after NSA spying soured relations

Today Brazil’s government announced it won’t buy $4.5 billion worth of US fighter jets in a move attributed to anger over controversial US intelligence-gathering that targeted Brazilian citizens and officials, including president Dilma Rousseff.

The Brazilian government’s official statements pointed to performance and cost issues as the reason to pick Sweden’s Saab AB to develop 36 fighters, though many observers had believed Boeing had the upper hand while bidding to expand Brazil’s air force.

Off to India and central bankster money games from the Financial Express:

The Raghuram Rajan effect: Stocks rally, bond yields crash

Three months into his new job, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan today moved to shed his hawkish inflation stance and surprised the markets and analysts by unexpectedly holding key rates.

This comes barely a week after both retail and wholesale inflation continued to climb, leading to expectations of another rate hike. The RBI decision boosted equities and sent bond yields crashing 13 basis points. The rupee gained intra-day but pared the gains ahead of the US Fed meeting outcome.

The Economic Times covers yet another play:

RBI to launch CPI-linked savings certificate by month-end

To offer a hedging option to investors who are getting a negative real rate of return due to high inflation, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan today said the apex bank will launch the consumer price inflation (CPI)- indexed savings certificate product by this month end.

The rate of interest for the product’s inaugural run will be 1.5 per cent above the annual average of the CPI.

BBC News cracks down:

Lokpal bill: Indian lower house passes anti-corruption bill

The lower house of India’s parliament has approved a new anti-corruption bill under which an independent ombudsman will have powers to prosecute politicians and civil servants.

On Tuesday, the upper house passed the so-called Lokpal bill, a main demand of campaigners led by Anna Hazare.

And the big flap of the week, Al Jazeera America covers the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on chargs of visa application perjury in recruiting an Indian housekeeper paid less than $4 an hour:

India-US spat over diplomat’s arrest escalates with official boycott

Indian leaders boycott US congressional delegation and initiate retaliatory steps over arrest of diplomat in New York

Simmering tension between New Delhi and Washington over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York escalated into a major row Tuesday with the boycott of a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation by India’s political leaders.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and federal home minister Sushilkumar Shinde refused to meet the visiting officials in protest against the “despicable and barbaric” treatment meted to the arrested diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York.

More from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

India vows to “restore dignity” of diplomat stripped in US

India vowed on Wednesday to bring home a female diplomat who was arrested and strip-searched in New York last week “at any cost” amid rising anger against the United States over her treatment.

With one newspaper hailing the government for “taking on Uncle Sam”, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid pledged to “restore the dignity” of the diplomat — whose treatment at the hands of a superpower has touched a raw nerve here.

The Financial Express ups the ante:

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade says she ‘broke down’ on ‘repeated’ body cavity searches by US cops

‘Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade called on the UPA government to ensure her safety after arrest.’ PTI ‘Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade called on the UPA government to ensure her safety after arrest.’

The 39-year-old deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested and handcuffed in public while dropping her daughter to school on Thursday, in an email to her headquarters here said she stressed to arresting authorities that she had diplomatic immunity but was still subjected to repeated searches.

“I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, in a hold-up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity,” the email said, according to a source privy to the information.

Press Trust of India escalates again:

India accuses US of fraud, says diplomat trapped in conspiracy

The diplomatic row over the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat in New York showed no signs of abating with India today accusing the US of a “fraud” and alleging that the diplomat had been trapped in a “conspiracy”.

The Times of India caries a semi-apology:

John Kerry calls Shivshankar Menon to express regret about Devyani’s treatment; defends US laws

“As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms Khobragade’s arrest,” state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a written statement, adding, “In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India,” Harf added.

However, the US administration made it clear that it stands by the reasons behind the arrest, and the regrets expressed was only in relation to the treatment. “The secretary understands very deeply the importance of enforcing our laws and protecting victims, and, like all officials in positions of responsibility inside the US. government, expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in our country. It is also particularly important to secretary Kerry that foreign diplomats serving in the United States are accorded respect and dignity just as we expect our own diplomats should receive overseas, “ the statement said.

The Economic Times finds misconduct:

763 private placement agencies violated PF norms

The government today said 763 private placement agencies are reported to have violated the provisions of Employees’ Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952.

Minister of State for Labour and Employment Kodikunnil Suresh stated this while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha on whether private placement agencies supplying contract workers to government departments have come under the scanner of EPFO for allegedly stripping workers of salaries and evading Provident Fund payments.

China next, with more neoliberalism from South China Morning Post:

China to push for more trade pacts to strengthen global economic influence

Foreign minister highlights regional deals as the country seeks to move beyond territorial disputes with its neighbours

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a forum on Monday that economic diplomacy would be one of the five major focuses of Chinese diplomatic affairs next year, along with improving relationships with the United States and other major powers.

Several initiatives, such as wrapping up the negotiations for a free-trade zone with Japan and Korea, would be advanced, Wang said. He also said China was open to other regional trade pacts, such as the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Global Times inflates:

Home prices in China still rising

Out of 70 major cities tracked by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen saw the largest year-on-year rise in new home prices in November, according to figures published by the NBS Wednesday.

Shanghai led the rise, with a year-on-year increase of 21.9 percent in November. Beijing saw an increase of 21.1 percent, Shenzhen saw a 21 percent jump, and Guangzhou’s prices rose by 20.9 percent.

Out of the 70 cities, only Wenzhou in East China’s Zhejiang Province saw a fall in prices, with a slight drop of 1.2 percent year-on-year in November.

Xinhua mulls relief:

Housing sector may lose steam

After previous rounds of hikes, home prices in China’s largest cities might lose momentum as early as this quarter, a report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said on Wednesday.

The growth rate is expected to stabilize throughout next year and could even drop at the end of 2014, it added

From South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s government relieves:

Top court dismisses seven-year residency requirement for CSSA benefits

Top court says denial of social security to new immigrants is unconstitutional, possibly adding an extra HK$750m to city’s annual CSSA bill

The unanimous Court of Final Appeal ruling means new arrivals will no longer be required to live in the city for at least seven years before they can apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) benefits.

SINA English flows:

China outbound investment up 28.3% in 11 months: govt

Chinese overseas investment rose to $80.2 billion in the first 11 months of 2013, the government announced Wednesday — exceeding the entire total for last year.

Outbound investment calculated on the basis of deals closed rose 28.3 percent in January-November from the same period last year, the ministry of commerce said, topping the $77.2 billion recorded during all of 2012.

Investment to Russia surged 685 percent during the 11 month period, and also leaped 232.2 percent to the United States.

South China Morning Post airs gripes:

Beijingers unhappy over fare rise plan

Subway authorities say scrapping flat fare will ease congestion during capital’s rush hours

Beijing’s announcement that it is considering scrapping the two yuan (HK$2.54) flat fare on its subway – the busiest in the country – has sparked controversy among the public.

The Guardian, cybersmoggery:

China seeks to curb worst air pollution in 50 years

Better data, technology and a switch from coal to electric and gas-fired power plants could help cities become smog-free

Japan next, stocking up with Kyodo News:

Japanese IPOs set to hit 6-year high in 2013 on stock market upsurge

The number of initial public offerings in Japan in 2013 is expected to rise to a six-year high of 54, supported by a stock market upsurge over the past year, Japan Press Exchange Group Inc. said Wednesday.

The figure is almost triple the very low level of 19 in 2009, following the September 2008 Lehman shock, and the highest since 2007, when nearly 100 companies went public in Japan.

The Japan Times with a deficit:

Trade deficit soars on fuel import costs

The trade deficit ballooned 35 percent last month compared with a year ago, the biggest November deficit on record, as fuel imports soared following the 2011 nuclear catastrophe, the government said Wednesday.

The run of 17 straight months of deficits is the longest since comparative records were first tallied in 1979, the Finance Ministry said.

One consequence from the Japan Times:

All major Japanese power utilities to raise rates for February

The nation’s 10 major power utilities will raise their rates for February to reflect the higher prices of crude oil and liquefied natural gas for thermal power generation, Jiji Press learned Wednesday.

It will be the first time for all 10 major firms to raise their rates together since August.

Bureaucratic behavior from the Japan Daily Press:

Tokyo Metro Government to setup a panel to investigate Gov. Inose scandal

The Tokyo metropolitan government has decided that it needs to set up a special panel for investigating the current loan scandal that implicates Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose in a charge of mismanagement of funds during the city’s last election, this revealed by members of the metropolitan assembly on Tuesday. Inose has been at the center of an inquisition that has lasted 20 hours over four days the past two weeks, but he has flipflopped on some of his substantial claims and remarks several times, putting the credibility of his story in doubt.

Inose has been implicated in a scandal for allegedly accepting 50 million yen (approx. US$486,000) from the controversial Tokushukai medical group. The loan was reportedly made before last December’s gubernatorial election, putting into a bad light Inose’s use of the funds

The Japan Times covers the initial consequences:

Tokyo Gov. Inose to announce resignation over money scandal

Embattled Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose is set to announce his resignation on Thursday over money he received from scandal-hit hospital chain Tokushukai, metropolitan assembly members and others said Wednesday.

Inose will announce at a press conference Thursday that he is quitting his post, which he held for only around a year, over the scandal in which he received 50 million yen from Tokushukai, the assembly members said.

With the latest from the Asahi Shimbun:

Tokyo governor announces resignation over money scandal

Embattled Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose announced his resignation on Dec. 19 over an unfolding money scandal and outrage over his contradictory statements and vague replies about his role in the matter.

Inose, 67, told a news conference he had decided to step down to prevent the scandal from further stalling the Tokyo metropolitan assembly’s administrative business.

Jiji Press covers Corporateers Cavorting Corruptly:

Japan Health Min. Eyes Criminal Accusation against Novartis

Japan’s health ministry will bring a criminal accusation against Novartis Pharma K.K. for using fabricated clinical trial data to promote sales of its hypertension drug Diovan, informed sources said Wednesday.

The ministry is now consulting with the Justice Ministry and other authorities to determine where to file the charge, the sources said, adding the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is likely to receive the criminal compliant, which would say the Tokyo-based unit of Swiss drug giant Novartis AG violated the pharmaceutical affairs law banning exaggerated advertisement.

The Japan Times with Banksters Behaving Badly:

Two other former execs sentenced to seven years; fines total ¥15.6 billion

AIJ’s Asakawa gets 15 years for huge pension fund fraud

Kazuhiko Asakawa, former president of AIJ Investment Advisors Co., was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison for orchestrating a high-profile fraud case that cost his pension fund clients some ¥24.8 billion.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced his subordinates — former AIJ executive Shigeko Takahashi and Hideaki Nishimura, president of AIJ subsidiary ITM Securities Co. — to seven-year terms. The three defendants were also fined a total of ¥15.6 billion.

And on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!

The Japan Times declares:

Tepco formally declares surviving Fukushima No. 1 reactors defunct

Tokyo Electric Power Co. officially declared Wednesday that the two reactors that suffered no major damage at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in the 2011 disaster are defunct, meaning the nation will have only 48 operable commercial reactors.

“With this decision, all of the plant’s six reactors will be classified as defunct,” Tepco said in a press release following a meeting of its board. “It is extremely regrettable that we hugely betrayed the local people’s trust due to the accident and are deeply ashamed of ourselves.”

NHK WORLD looks it over:

French journalists inspect Fukushima Pref.

French journalists have toured Fukushima Prefecture to see how residents are tackling radiation contamination from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

French radiation protection specialists arranged the tour for about 20 journalists. The specialists are concerned that French media reports on Fukushima may not have been accurate.

The Japan Times regulates:

New rules for spent fuel reprocessing in effect

Tougher safety standards were introduced Wednesday for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plants and other facilities handling nuclear fuel, based on the lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The new regulations cover 247 facilities, including a spent fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

NHK WORLD assists:

New measures for nuclear victims’ compensation

The government will wrap up new measures for victims of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi plant nuclear disaster. These will include new compensation for residents forced to evacuate and unable to return due to radioactive contamination.

Support for the victims who want to return to their homes and can do so will be expanded. But many evacuees cannot return to their homes and need to settle somewhere else due to the contamination.

The Japan Daily Pres

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