On with the show. . .

We start at home with palatial via the Los Angeles Times:

New Bel-Air mansion reflects resurgence of behemoth L.A. homes

At 60,000 square feet, Chateau des Fleurs is not even the city’s largest. ‘It’s no question’ houses are getting bigger, says one high-end real estate agent.

Nearby is the contemporary colossus where Tony Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, lives with his wife, Jeanne, and their seven children in nearly 40,000 square feet, including a seven-car garage, according to the city. (Real estate blogs have put the Pritzker manse at closer to 50,000 square feet. Pritzker declined to comment on the size.)

International Business Times covers class war and housing on San Francisco Bay:

Bay Area Protesters Attack Google Shuttle Bus

Incident reflects rising tensions over high rents spurred by tech boom.

Protests against rising rents and real estate in the Bay Area due to the influx of high-tech workers in Silicon Valley escalated today, with an attack on a Google employee shuttle bus in West Oakland. National Public Radio affiliate KQED confirmed the incident, in which the rear window to the shuttle was smashed, along with other unconfirmed damage.

Today’s incident comes on the heels of earlier protests in San Francisco and Oakland, which previously had been  focused on the issue of tenants being displaced due to rising rents and real estate prices. The character of the West Oakland incident seemed to many to be more aggressive toward Google and its employees than other bus-related protests in San Francisco, which have been characterized as nonviolent.

More from The Register, including a second target:

‘F*** off, Google!’ Protest blockades Google staff bus AGAIN – and Apple’s

Second ruckus in two weeks as ‘anti-gentrification’ movement spreads to Oakland

Today’s brouhaha comes just two weeks after a Google bus was blockaded in San Francisco by protestors seeking to raise awareness of the distortions filthy rich tech workers are enforcing on San Francisco’s constricted rental market.

Activists stopped buses earlier today throughout the bay, though according to reports many of these blockades were broken up by the police within half an hour or so.

And what else is Google doing? From Computerworld, another story featuring a company bus:

Google seeks to commercialize humanoid robots

Google rolls in to give star treatment to Boston Dynamics at DARPA Robotics Challenge

The first sign that Google now owns robotics heavyweight Boston Dynamics was when the Google bus rolled into the DARPA Robotics Challenge to offer engineers a place to kick back and take a nap.

Officials at Google, a company known for offering extravagant perks like meditation pods and beach volleyball courts to employees, showed up at the Homestead Miami Speedway in southern Florida today to show support for their new team and to get a look at the Atlas robot, built by Boston Dynamics, and one of the stars of the challenge.

Last week, Google confirmed reports that it had acquired Boston Dynamics, a company known for creating impressive robots like the four-legged BigDog robot, as well as Atlas, a six-foot-tall, 330-pound two-legged robot designed to function much like a human.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, self-defeating labor:

BART union dismayed by proposal to ban strikes

BART union leaders expressed more dismay than anger Thursday at new board President Joel Keller’s proposal for an advisory ballot measure that would urge state legislators to prohibit strikes by public transportation workers.

“I want to say how disappointed I am,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, who has known Keller for years. “You have become a person I do not recognize. You have used this board and this board meeting to make a political statement to advance your positioning for candidacy to regain your seat next year.”

USA TODAY covers another phase of economic war, the bakster/city front:

Detroit might sue Bank of America, UBS over ‘swaps’

City says it will sue if banks don’t agree to better settlement that led to bankruptcy.

The city of Detroit threatened to sue Bank of America and UBS if the banks don’t agree to a better settlement over a disastrous 2005 debt deal that helped plunge the city into Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Jones Day lawyer Thomas Cullen told Judge Steven Rhodes Friday that the city has already notified the banks that it may sue if the banks don’t agree to settlement terms that are more favorable to the city.

More on Detroit from Sky News:

Detroit Artwork Valued As City Faces Bankruptcy

Masterpieces by Van Gogh and Rembrandt and other works from Detroit’s museum get a price tag as a result of the city’s bankuptcy.

Christie’s auction house has valued some of the most valuable artworks in the Detroit Institute of Arts, after the city filed for bankruptcy.

The appraisal put Van Gogh’s Self Portrait With Straw Hat at between $80m and $150m (£490m and £918m); Bruegel the Elder’s The Wedding Dance is valued at between $100m and $200m (£61m and £122m). Rembrandt’s The Visitation is worth between $50m and $90m.

Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr Emergency manager Kevyn Orr ordered the appraisal. The auction house valued around 2,800 paintings, sculptures, pieces of pottery and other city-owned artwork, and estimated an overall fair market value of between $454m and $867m.

From CNBC, surgin’ sales:

Sales of bank-owned homes surge

The steep jump in home prices this year is benefiting the big banks, pushing them to sell their repossessed properties at a faster pace.

Sales of bank-owned (REO) homes accounted for 10 percent of all residential property sales in November, according to RealtyTrac. That is up from 9.1 percent in October and accounted for the third consecutive month of increases in REO sales.

Behind the numbers from MarketWatch:

All-cash home sales reach new high

Why the Fed tapering may help drive more all-cash buyers

More Americans are buying homes in all-cash deals, according to a new report. But real-estate experts say this increase may not be a good sign for the health of the housing market, which may also be impacted by the Federal Reserve’s decision to pull back on its bond-buying program

All-cash purchases accounted for 42% of all sales of residential property in November 2013, up from 39% during the previous month, according to data from real-estate data firm RealtyTrac released Friday. “This is still a very cash- and investor-driven market,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

Reuters has Banksters Behaving Badly:

Deutsche Bank to pay $1.9 billion to settle U.S. mortgage case

Deutsche Bank said on Friday it will pay $1.9 billion to settle claims that it defrauded two U.S. government-controlled companies in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis.

The sum, equal to 1.4 billion euros, is the second-largest settlement disclosed in litigation brought by the Federal Housing Finance Agency covering allegations that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were deceived into buying debt whose risks had been hidden.

And USA TODAY has Bankster Behaving Badly:

Judge: Ex-Morgan exec owes company $31.1M

A former hedge fund manager at Morgan Stanley has to fork over $31.1 million to the bank for engaging in insider trading, a federal judge ruled.

The amount is the compensation that Joseph “Chip” Skowron III received during the three-and-a-half year period he was engaged in insider trading as a portfolio manager at bank-owned FrontPoint Partners, said the ruling from the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

The New York Times covers an escalation:

An Easing of Rules on Charges by Amex

After a decade of legal battles, the three major credit card companies are backing away from longstanding policies that prevented merchants from charging customers extra for paying with plastic.

Developments in two cases in the last week have the potential to change pricing practices everywhere from big box retailers to corner coffee shops — but whether they actually do remains to be seen.

On Thursday, a group of small and midsize businesses reached a settlement agreement with American Express in a class-action lawsuit. Under the agreement, which a judge must approve, Amex will allow surcharges to its cardholders as long as the same amount is levied on other credit and charge card users. It agreed to drop a measure that required debit card surcharges at the same level, according to a lawyer representing the company.

Reuters rules:

U.S. spat looms with foreign regulators over swap rules

The United States is on a collision course with regulators abroad as it plans to force foreign banks to comply with a host of new rules for risky derivatives, two sources close to the European Union said on Friday.

The U.S. swaps regulator has temporarily lifted many of the rules it drew up after the credit crisis, but they kick back into force on Saturday, and there is little sign the agency will allow much more leeway.

With only one more day to go, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission must also hammer out Memoranda of Understanding, documents that say how it cooperates with foreign regulators, one of the sources said.

From MercoPress, Obama pushes yet another trade deal — or, rather, the vast expansion of an existing one:

US planning a new trade agreement with Latam, but through NAFTA

The President Barack Obama administration is “exploring” a regional trade plan for the Americas that would be the most ambitious hemispheric initiative in years, but contrary to the failed experience of George Bush’s FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), this time it would be instrumented through Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement) partners Mexico and Canada, according to a Miami Herald interview of Andres Oppenheimer with Secretary of State John Kerry.

North of the border next and a major decision from CBC News:

Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s prostitution laws

Parliament has 1 year to bring in new law as Criminal Code provisions remain in place

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws in a unanimous decision, and given Parliament one year to come up with new legislation — should it choose to do so.

In striking down laws prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients, the top court ruled Friday that the laws were over-broad and “grossly disproportionate.”

On to Europe and semantic antics from New Europe:

EU negotiator “at pains” to point out negotiations are not about deregulating markets

EU: TTIP no deregulation agenda

The EU’s Chief Negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) said the mammoth EU-US trade deal is not about deregulation, as a third round of talks wrapped up in Washington on December 20.

“I think we can be very satisfied by the end of this third round of talks. We remain on track to deliver an ambitious trade and investment deal which will boost our economies, deliver growth and, more importantly, create jobs for both Europeans and Americans at a time when they’re most needed,” said Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

The EU’s Chief Negotiator added “I am again stressing that any deal would uphold the highest standards of consumer, environment, health and labour protection.”

CNNMoney puts Google in a fine fix:

European Union regulators have rejected Google’s latest proposals to settle an antitrust case, raising the risk of a hefty fine for the U.S. company.

At the heart of the three-year old case is the way Google presents search results. EU antitrust authorities say Google is breaking the law by not giving enough prominence to competitors such as Microsoft and Expedia.

Google submitted revised proposals in October to give more space to its rivals. On Friday, EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia said the proposals were “not acceptable.”

And then there’s the continental downgrade, via the Toronto Globe and Mail:

S&P’s cut of EU triple-A rating disputed by European officials

Credit agency Standard & Poor’s cut its long-term rating of the European Union by one notch to AA+ on Friday, saying it had concerns about how the bloc’s budget was financed, a view EU leaders and other officials dismissed as misguided.

“In our opinion, the overall creditworthiness of the now 28 European Union member states has declined,” S&P said in a statement that came 11 months after it announced it had a ‘negative’ outlook on the bloc.

“EU budgetary negotiations have become more contentious, signalling what we consider to be rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states.”

Britain next, with a downgrade rationale from the London Telegraph:

Britain’s euroscepticism is a major factor in EU’s loss of triple-A rating, says S&P

The European Union has lost its AAA credit rating after the Standard and Poor ratings agency warned that David Cameron’s referendum promise and increased squabbling over Brussels spending raised doubts over its future.

The agency downgraded the debt rating from “AAA” to “AA+” in a blow to the EU as it struggles to restore its credibility amid the lingering eurozone economic crisis and a decision by national governments to cut long-term European spending.

More from The Independent:

David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe

The Prime Minister reveals he’s prepared to block the entry of new member states unless stricter ‘freedom of movement’ controls are imposed

David Cameron raised the stakes in his fight to curb migration by threatening to veto the admission of new members to the European Union unless they accept tough new controls on their citizens moving to the UK.

The Prime Minister’s dramatic move fuelled tensions with other EU nations at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels.  In yesterday’s session,  Mr Cameron was greeted with silence when he called for the need for stricter transitional controls on the right to work  throughout the EU when countries join the 28-nation bloc in future.

He went further at a press conference, revealing that he would be prepared to block the entry of new member states unless stricter “freedom of movement” controls were imposed. He said: “I would make the point that on new accessions, they are by unanimity so they don’t happen unless everybody agrees. So you do have a real opportunity, irrespective of treaty change, to insist on a different approach.”

From the London Telegraph, a disconnect:

Rents rise twice as fast as wages

Average rents rose 1.6pc in November, driven by ‘acute’ property shortages

To Let signs

Rents are rising at twice the annual rate of earnings, as tenants jostle for limited accommodation – especially around urban centres offering better employment prospects.

Average rents across England and Wales reached £753 a month in November, up 1.6pc from November 2012.

Wages have risen by just 0.8pc – average regular monthly pay before tax stands at £1,941.

Bloomberg News declines:

U.K. Consumer Sentiment Declines for Third Month, GfK Says

U.K. consumer confidence unexpectedly fell for a third month in December as Britons’ outlook on the economy worsened and the climate for purchases of big-ticket items deteriorated.

A consumer sentiment index by GfK NOP Ltd. dropped 1 point from November to minus 13, the London-based research group said today. The median forecast of 24 economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 1-point increase to minus 11.

On to Ireland and a warning from Independent.ie:

Ratings agency S&P pours cold water on Government’s growth forecasts

It said GDP would rise by 1.5pc, not the 2pc forecast by the Department of Finance. That forecast also puts it at odds with the bullish assessment by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) earlier this week of 2.7pc growth.

It shows that some of the international observers are not as confident about growth levels as the domestic experts.

Scandinavia next, and another sort of downgrade from TheLocal.no:

Statoil slashes estimate of giant North Sea oil find

Norway’s Statoil has slashed the estimate of the oil held in its largest Norwegian find in decades as it delays the start of production by a year.

The company reduced the top range of its estimate for oil resources in the Johan Sverdrup field from 3.6 billion barrels to 2.9 billion barrels, a cut of almost 20 percent as it updated the market on its development plan.

The field, one of the largest discoveries in the world in 2010/2011, was first made by Statoil’s partner, Lundin Petroleum, which like Statoil has a 40 percent stake in the field.

TheLocal.se is trustworthy:

SKF sets aside millions for anti-trust probe

The world’s largest industrial ball bearing makers on Friday said it would set aside almost half a billion dollars to pay a possible fine, as the European Commission looks into whether SKF broke anti-trust laws.

Swedish ball bearing manufacturer SKF, under investigation for alleged anti-competitive behaviour, said it would book a $455 million provision to cover a potential fine.

SKF, the world’s biggest maker of industrial bearings, said in a statement that a European Commission investigation into “possible infringements of

European competition law by certain bearing manufacturers” supplying the European car industry could lead to a fine in 2014.

TheLocal.se again, case closed:

Prosecutor shuts down probe into Roma register

A Swedish prosecutor has closed an investigation against two police officers suspected of crimes in connection with a Roma register operated by Skåne police, arguing that the police had a legitimate legal reason for the lists.

“The main question is whether this was an ethnic register. The answer to that question is that there is no longer any reason to believe that,” prosecutor Mats Åhlund explained to news agency TT.

“There are problems with the method, but that does not mean that someone should be charged.”

The Copenhagen Post counts paychecks:

New figures show gender income inequality still an issue

Danish women continue to earn less than men, new report shows

Danish women earn less than their male counterparts, according to a new report from Statistics Denmark.

Whether looking at ordinary employees, the self-employed or retirees, the disposable income of women in 2012 was less than that of men. Only among the unemployed do women bring in more money than men.

According to the report, the average annual disposable income for women in 2012 was 186,000 kroner – roughly 36,000 kroner less than men’s. The difference between women and men is even greater when comparing the employed. Working women had 241,000 kroner in disposable income – 42,000 kroner less than employed men. And according to a consumer economist at Sydbank, men’s disposable income increased at a rate higher than women’s throughout 2012.

Holland next, and growing hopes with DutchNews.nl:

Councils join forces to call for legalised marijuana production

The mayors of 25 Dutch local authority areas have increased their pressure on the cabinet to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

The initiative is being powered by the mayors of Eindhoven and Heerlen and a Utrecht alderman, the Volkskrant said.

The manifesto is a reaction to justice minister Ivo Opstelten’s decision not to approve experiments with regulated growing. He said on Thursday this would be illegal and would not solve the problems.

DutchNews.nl again, deflating:

House prices fell 4.7% in November

House prices were down 4.7% in November compared with the year earlier period, the national statistics office said on Friday.

The drop is slightly higher than in October, when houses were 4% cheaper than in 2012. Compared with August 2008, when house prices reached a peak, prices are now down by over 20%.

On to Germany and a downsizing we sorely lament from TheLocal.de:

Spiegel Online slashes English section

The online English language section of famous German news magazine, Der Spiegel, is to be drastically cut. It is not making enough money, magazine bosses decided.

The online English language section of famous German news magazine, Der Spiegel, is to be drastically cut. It is not making enough money, magazine bosses decided.

Despite Spiegel Online International having experienced a surge in demand as a result of the internet monitoring scandal involving US intelligence agency, the NSA, a spokeswoman said the section’s outgoings were more than it was making.

Deutsche Welle covers retreat:

German utility giant Eon mulls pullout from Southern Europe

Germany’s biggest utility company, Eon, has been reported to be moving out of Southern Europe. It’s allegedly planning to sell its assets there amid a drive to refocus it efforts on more lucrative markets.

German electricity conglomerate Eon was planning to sell its asset stakes in Italy and Spain, an unconfirmed report by the new magazine “Der Spiegel” claimed Friday. It said the company’s CEO, Johannes Teyssen, had made up his mind to use the freed resourced for strategic investments in its home market Germany plus Russia, Britain and Sweden.

Back in 2008, Eon spent more than $9 billion (6.59 billion euros) to acquire Southern European interests, with “Der Spiegel” maintaining that hydroelectric power generation plants in Italy would be among the assets that the utility company was putting up for sale.

France next, and a rejection from TheLocal.fr:

France will not ‘copy’ UK economic model: PM

British economic policies have created mass poverty and inequality and France will not be copying them. That was the view of none other than France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Read what else he had to say about the UK.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Thursday that his government will not copy British economic policies as they had created poverty and inequality.

“I see a lot more poverty, more inequalities and if I was to look for a model to reform France I would want to save the French model reforming it and certainly not copy what others do, especially not if we’re not talking about the best,” Ayrault told French private TV network TF1.

Spain next, with a knock on the door from Europe Online:

Spanish police raid ruling party headquarters

Spanish police conducted a 14-hour search at the headquarters of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP), part of an ongoing corruption probe that has rocked the government.

The raid, ordered by judge Pablo Ruz, began late Thursday and ended on Friday.

Ruz said he was looking for evidence related to the alleged channelling of bribes from construction companies to the party and its leaders.

El País takes a great step backward:

Government approves most restrictive abortion laws since return of democracy

Justice minister announces that terminations in cases of deformity of fetus will no longer be allowed

Legislation means an end to access to the procedure on demand up to 14 weeks into term

As was expected, the Cabinet on Friday approved a series of controversial modifications to Spain’s current abortion law, which was passed by the Socialists in 2010 and was the subject of harsh criticism from the conservative Popular Party (PP) when it was in the opposition.

Lisbon next, with a boost from the Portugal News:

Economy reaches pre-bailout high

The economic climate indicator has recorded its third successive month of growth. This latest increase has now pushed this figure to levels last seen in the spring of 2011, when Portugal was forced into seeking international financial assistance in order to pay its dues.

Statistics Portugal (INE) has for the third consecutive month released numbers revealing renewed optimism in the national economy. After a slight increase this past August of 0.3 percent, every passing month since has reported stronger results, with September seeing growth in the economic indicator of 0.8 percent followed by 1.3 percent in October.

In accordance with the economic outlook released by the INE late Wednesday, all areas reported increases, except for construction and public works, which continue to struggle.

El País notes an austerian rejection:

Top Portugal court throws out retirement payment cut

Decrease was meant to apply to benefits of state workers

The Portuguese Constitutional Court has thrown out one of the key aspects of next year’s state budget, forcing the center-right government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to go back to the drawing board and find other measures to meet the deficit-reduction target agreed with the IMF and the European Union as part of its 78-billion-euro bailout program.

The court ruled as unconstitutional the government’s decision to cut the state pension of civil servants in order to bring what they receive in line with private-sector workers.

The response was quick and firm. From New Europe:

Eurogroup president says rigorous bailout implementation “crucial” after court rejects pension cuts

Dijsselbloem: Portugal must stick to reforms

Portugal’s Constitutional Court rejected government plans to converge state and private sector pensions , a reform outlined in the country’s €78 bailout program. Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on December 20 that rigorous implementation of the program is crucial for the success of Portugal’s bailout efforts.

“The reform effort must be sustained. An ambitious and credible fiscal consolidation strategy as well as the rigorous implementation of structural reforms will be crucial to ensure investors’ confidence in the government’s policies, with a view to a successful conclusion of the adjustment programme,” said Dijsselbloem in a statement reacting to the decision.

Next, Italy, with another blow to Google from TheLocal.it:

Italy backs ‘Google tax’ in 2014 budget

Italy’s parliament approved a controversial law on Friday forcing tech giants like Google to sell advertising online only through Italian intermediaries, provoking anger from digital economy experts.

The new law is part of the 2014 budget and is a watered-down version of a bill that would have imposed sales tax on all e-commerce activities in Italy and now applies only to the sale of advertising space.

ANSAmed sells out:

Etihad aims to buy 49% stake in Alitalia, board OKs increase

Emirates company confirms deal; govt, others interested

Etihad Airways is in advanced talks with Alitalia to buy a 49% stake in Italy’s cash-strapped national carrier. However, the government has assured other companies are interested in a strategic alliance with Alitalia.

Meanwhile a capital increase worth 300 million euros has been wrapped up with Poste Italiane giving their green light to the deal, which depended on reaching a 225 million threshold from partners.

After the jump, Greek chaos continues, Ukrainian pardons, Latin American commodity freezes and labor news, a U.S.-Indian spat heats up, China;s neoliberal push continues, Japanese gansters, and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now!

Greece next, with grim holiday news from Keep Talking Greece:

Greek Christmas present: state cuts poverty allowance to 20,000 people with disabilities

The Greek state prepared an ugly Christmas surprise to 60,000 people who had been receiving poverty allowance and are below 65 years old. Applying one more loan agreement (Memorandum of Understanding) conditions, the lavish welfare benefits (EKAS) of 400-600 euro per month will be cut.

Thousands of retirees under age 65 will see their pension reduced drastically, as of 1 January 2014. At the same time , the government is considering to impose new income and asset criteria to all welfare benefits .

The measure affects a total of 60,000 pensioners, among them 20,000 who receive pension before the age of 65 due to their disabilities.

Kathimerini English covers a showdown:

Coalition faces a double test in Parliament

MPs are due to vote twice on Saturday, on the new property tax and the partial lifting of a moratorium on home foreclosures, with the government hoping its slim parliamentary majority will hold but with one New Democracy lawmaker indicating he would not back the legislation.

The ballot on the property tax, which will be by roll call, was due to take place on Friday but was put off until around noon on Saturday. The vote on the foreclosures ban is expected in the evening.

To Vima covers another kind of surveillance, one with teeth:

Significant changes introduced to the Public Revenue Collection Code

Tax authorities will be able to seize bank accounts, wages and rent payments without issuing any warnings

On Thursday evening, the Ministry of Finances submitted a draft bill in Parliament which brings a number of changes to the existing Public Revenue Collection Code. The purpose is to adapt the legislation to the new Tax Procedures Core, which will come into effect in the New Year.

The amended regulations essentially change the current system of confirmation and payment. Amongst the innovations is that for the first time the lender the ability to chose which debts will be paid off. Until recently the tax authorities determined the sequence of debts to be paid off.

To Vima again, with an anti-racist move:

Mayor of Piraeus bans food distribution “for Greeks only”

Police director has been informed in writing of Golden Dawn’s “shameful” and exploitative charity event

The Mayor of Piraeus Vasilis Michaloliakos decided to disallow Golden Dawn’s food distribution “for Greeks only” that was planned to take place on Saturday outside the newly-revamped Municipal Theater.

But there’s plenty of room for improvement, as Greek Reporter discovers:

Greek Police Chief Accused by Amnesty International of Racist Comments

Amnesty International has called on the Greek government to investigate allegations that the Greek Chief of Police advised officers that undocumented immigrants should be detained for as long as possible, and their “lives made unbearable.” This was part of a related announcement posted on the organization’s website yesterday.

The alleged comments were made during a meeting of police officials, reported Hot Doc magazine. The police chief is alleged to have said, “If they told me I could go to a country …, and would be detained for three months and then would be free to steal and rob, to do whatever you want… that is great.” He continued “We aim to increase the detention period ….we increased it to eighteen months…for what purpose? We must make their lives unbearable…” Hot Doc magazine also included an audio of the comments by the Police Chief.

To Vima extends:

University Senate saves semester, extends teaching to 9th of August

Senate decides to extend teaching into August to cover for time lost over administrative employee strike

The Senate of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens has announced that the academic year will last from the 16th of December until the 9th of August and as such, the semester which was considered wasted has been saved.

According to the NKUA Senate, each semester requires 13 weeks of teaching plus additional two weeks allocated for exams, meaning that there is ample time to cover for the time lost due to the administrative employee strike. As such, the Senate has called all of the university departments to align with the decision and plan their teaching schedules accordingly.

ANA-MPA rallies:

Farmers rally in Athens to protest taxation of agricultural land; one protester injured

Farmers and representatives of cooperatives and unions gathered in Athens’ downtown Syntagma Square on Friday to protest the taxation of farmland, which they say is a tool of their trade and therefore its taxation is unacceptable.

Limited incidents between protesting farmers and police were recorded outside the parliament and one protester was rushed to a hospital after suffering a head injury.

To Vima gets fired up:

Police report barrage of arson attacks in Athens and Rhodes

Arsonists target bank ATMs in Athens and the local offices used by Golden Dawn and PASOK in Rhodes

A barrage of arson attacks took place last night, with arsonists targeting bank ATMs in Athens and the Golden Dawn and PASOK offices in Rhodes.

ANSAmed sells out:

Greece: bids for Hellenic Sugar Industry opens today

The binding offers in the international tender for a 82.33% stake in Greece’s Hellenic Sugar Industry will be opened today, Friday, at 3 p.m. as daily Kathimerini reports adding that at least four bids have been tabled, compared with eight groups that had been short-listed in the first stage of the tender in September.

As to who the bidders might be, sources point to the groups which had expressed an interest and were short-listed in the unsuccessful tender last May. These originated from France, Poland and Serbia, and also included European and US private equity funds. No Greek interest has been reported, likely due to inability to gain backing from domestic banks.]

euronews banks on crisis:

Church food banks last resort for impoverished Greeks

More than 5,000 Greeks form long queues outside the Mission Apostoli in this church in Athens every day.

Apostoli is an NGO supported by the Greek Orthodox church that gives away food. Increasingly those people hit the hardest by austerity are relying on places like this to survive. With the middle classes now being dragged into poverty, the crisis is acute.

And Kathimerini English casts doubt:

Greeks most pessimistic in EU about Union’s future

A Eurobarometer poll published on Friday indicated that only 29 percent of Greeks are optimistic about the bloc’s future, against an EU average of 51 percent.

Just 13 percent of Greeks said they felt that their voices count in the Union. Cyprus came last with 11 percent and the EU average was 29 percent.

Cyprus next, with an injection from EUbusiness:

IMF releases EUR 83.5m loan payment for Cyprus

The International Monetary Fund Friday released the next installment of its bailout of Cyprus, 83.5 million euros ($114 million), a desperately needed support for the struggling eurozone economy.

The IMF financing is part of 10-billion-euro bailout package for Cyprus with the European Union.

The IMF said the 83.5 million euros were made available to Cyprus following the completion of the IMF executive board’s second review of Cyprus’s performance under an economic program supported by a one-billion-euro loan approved in May.

Off to the Ukraine and a pardon from RIA Novosti:

Ukrainian Parliament Pardons Pro-EU Protesters

Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday adopted a law to free all protesters detained while attending demonstrations in favor of integration with the European Union.

A total of 339 lawmakers out of 367 who attended the session supported the bill, which had been proposed by the opposition, the Ukrinform national news agency reported.

The amnesty also means that no new cases will be opened against Ukrainian pro-EU protesters and that their convictions will be annulled.

Deutsche Welle plots a coup:

EU signals door still open for Ukraine, but maybe not for Yanukovych

The EU has said it’s ready to resume talks with Ukraine. However, the bloc emphasized that, while the door remained open to Kyiv, it was “not necessarily” still open to its current Moscow-aligned government.

EU Gipfel in Brüssel Gruppenfoto

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, which holds the rotating EU presidency, indicated at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday that the EU would resume its work with Ukraine, but not without conditions.

“Europe is open for [the] Ukrainian people, but not necessarily for this government. That’s the message,” Grybauskaite said, referring to the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Off to Latin America, first with a freeze from Reuters:

Argentina freezes prices on up to 200 goods

The Argentine government on Friday announced price freezes on up to 200 goods to offset an uptick in already steep inflation, in a move that for the first time affects suppliers, in addition to supermarkets.

Private economists say Argentine inflation is running at more than 25 percent annually. Official figures, widely disputed as manipulated, put inflation in the 12 months through November at 10.5 percent.

The price freezes affect products that represent roughly two-thirds of typical low-income household purchases, the government said.

MercoPress offers dietary reassurance:

Stiglitz says China demand for better diet will keep Mercosur countries busy

The commodities-exporting economies of Latin America will continue expanding in the years ahead, driven by demand from China despite slower growth in its economy, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said during a conference round in Uruguay.

“Incomes in China have risen and the diet is changing and you Latin Americans will benefit from that” “Incomes in China have risen and the diet is changing and you Latin Americans will benefit from that.”  Latin America is reliant on demand from trade partners in Asia, especially China, as well as in Europe and North America.

Stiglitz, a former chief economist for the World Bank, said China’s changing diet will keep the tap open for Latin American raw materials even as its economy slows to about 7% growth from 9%.

MercoPress hires:

Despite sluggish economy, Brazil unemployment at record low 2.6% in November

Unemployment in Brazil’s six-largest cities was 4.6% in November compared with 5.2% in October, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, or IBGE, said on Thursday. That was the lowest monthly reading since December 2012, when unemployment was also at 4.6%.

Off to Asia, first with the Times of India:

Retroactive immunity could resolve Devyani Khobragade standoff

As India and the US seek a way out of the standoff over the Devyani Khobragade case, the government is hoping that the US state department will make amends by giving the Indian diplomat full immunity before charges are filed against her by mid-January.

But that was a non-starter, as The Hindu reported:

No retroactive immunity for Devyani, says U.S

The US State Department has clarified that in the event that the credentialing process of senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade at the United Nations goes through successfully the full diplomatic immunity that she would receive would only apply to her from the day on which she was officially confirmed to her new post and not retroactively.

More from Firstpost:

Why the US dept statement spells real trouble for Devyani

The US State Department clarification that it would neither drop the charges against Devyani Khobragade nor apologise to India is a huge setback for the external affairs ministry which appeared confident of a victory in the “visa-fraud” row on Thursday.

In his TV interviews, minister Salman Khurshid justifiably chose to ignore the statement by an unstoppable New York attorney Preet Bharara, saying that he will deal with only the State Department, the interlocutor that country needs to liaise with.

But now, the same State Department has come out with its position that not only supports Bharara, but also makes things appear worse for India.

The Guardian covers one reaction:

Indian protesters attack Dominos Pizza store over diplomatic row with US

Demonstrators smash up fast-food franchise in Mumbai in retaliation for envoy being ‘treated like common criminal’

Protesters ransacked a Dominos Pizza outlet in a Mumbai suburb on Friday, demanding a ban on US goods as officials from the two countries struggled to defuse a row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York.

And USA TODAY adds some context:

India maids speak out on diplomat’s arrest

Maids in India say they have few protections.

Thailand next, and coming vote from the Bangkok Post:

Government firm on Feb 2 poll date

The government is standing firm on its position that the election must take place on Feb 2 as scheduled, says caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri.

He made the announcement after joining caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at a meeting with Election Commission officials on Friday afternoon.

While that meeting was taking place, some senior members of the opposition Democrat Party were lobbying the governing Pheu Thai Party to agree on a plan to postpone voting until political tensions ease.

More from the China Post:

Thai protesters march to oust PM, postpone election

Anti-government protesters resumed marches in Bangkok on Friday, trying to energize supporters in the centre of the Thai capital before a planned mass rally at the weekend to put pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.

On to China with a warning from SINA English:

Inflation expected to rise in China

Expectations of higher inflation in China in the coming quarter are rising, according to a central bank quarterly economic survey released on Thursday.

The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, said that its index of inflation expectations stood at 72.2 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from the previous survey.

The survey said that 61.6 percent of respondents thought prices were higher in the current quarter than the previous one, up 1.8 percentage points from the previous three months.

China reassures, via SINA English:

Li: China-US ‘mutual interests beat differences’

Economic ties are a “ballast” for overall China-US relations, Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday, despite recent maritime tensions between the two navies.

The premier hoped the countries, the world’s largest economies, can properly handle differences, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and look at the bigger picture and long-term perspective.

Mutual interests have outweighed differences since diplomatic relations resumed 35 years ago, Li said.

China Daily delivers the reward:

Tech bans to be relaxed: US

Ties with Beijing will advance well despite recent friction, experts say

The development is a sign that recent military and trade friction will not deter the two nations from steadily advancing their economic relations, experts said.

Wang Chao, vice-minister of commerce, said the US has agreed to promote high-tech exports to China, especially in civil aviation, information technology and oil and gas exploration for civilian use. The agreement was reached at annual trade talks between the two countries in Beijing.

People’s Daily casts a broader reach:

China and US should explore avenues of all-round cooperation, premier says

Economic ties are a “ballast” for overall China-US relations, Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday, despite recent maritime tensions between the two navies.

The premier hoped the countries, the world’s largest economies, can properly handle differences, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and look at the bigger picture and long-term perspective. Mutual interests have outweighed differences since diplomatic relations resumed 35 years ago, Li said.

From the London Telegraph, a cash infusion:

China credit crisis fears as central bank injects funds

Chinese stocks fall on liquidity crisis fears despite central bank pumping in cash

China’s central bank has rushed to pump money into the stalling banking system but markets across Asia still fell sharply amid fears that the world’s second-largest economy faces a credit crisis.

Cash rates on China’s money markets jumped after the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to ease a liquidity squeeze on banks. Both the Shanghai Composite Index and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index also fell amid concerns over structural problems in China’s financial system.

BBC News rejects:

China rejects US corn on fears over genetic modification

China has rejected 545,000 tons of imported US corn found to contain an unapproved genetically modified strain.

An unapproved strain called MIR162 was found in 12 batches of corn, China’s product safety agency said.

China backs genetically modified crops to increase food production, but has faced opposition from critics who question their safety.

And Want China Times corners corporate capers:

Shanghai health official arrested for involvement in GSK scandal

Shanghai prosecutors on Dec. 18 arrested Huang Fengping, former deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning, for “suspected crimes,” while media reports claim that he may have been involved in alleged economic crimes related to British pharmaceutical and healthcare giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), according to the Beijing Times.

Huang, who was taken away by investigators in September, was recently brought back to Shanghai for further probes and was later suspended from his posts. Huang is believed to be involved in the GSK bribery case via the Huashan Hospital, while one of his close relatives also works for the multinational.

Off to Japan and the week’s second mob hit from JapanToday:

Fishing union boss shot dead in Kitakyushu

Police said the head of a fishermen’s union was shot dead Friday, the second fatal shooting in as many days in a nation unaccustomed to gun crime.

Tadayoshi Ueno, 70, was found lying in the street in the southern city of Kitakyushu after residents nearby heard what was believed to be the sound of gunfire.

Local police said he was confirmed dead at hospital, with reports suggesting he had been shot multiple times. Gun crime is rare in Japan, and incidents involving firearms usually have a connection to organized crime groups.

Jiji Press plots mob consequences:

Japan FSA Eyes Extra Action against Mizuho over Gang Loans

Japan’s Financial Services Agency is considering taking additional administrative action against Mizuho Bank over loans it had extended to gangsters in a tie-up with an affiliated consumer credit company, it was learned Friday.

The bank under the wing of Mizuho Financial Group Inc. <8411> has been under fire for leaving the problem unattended for a long period of time.

And JapanToday covers still more corporate misbehavin’:

Health ministry to seek criminal prosecution of Novartis

The health ministry intends to file a criminal complaint against the local arm of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis over alleged fabrication of drugs data.

Novartis Pharma KK has been under fire since a university said the data might have been skewed to promote a popular blood-pressure drug.

Kyodo News eases extensively:

BOJ maintains ultraeasy monetary policy, economic assessment

The Bank of Japan on Friday kept intact its ultraeasy monetary policy and left unchanged its assessment of the domestic economy, while the BOJ chief said the central bank will keep an eye open for any possible detrimental effects of the sales tax hike next April.

On the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision Wednesday to start tapering its stimulus program in January, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the move reflects the country’s steady economic recovery with growth in personal spending, housing investment and exports.

Jiji Press talks trade talks:

TPP Minister Amari to Come Back Next Year: Prem. Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday night that Akira Amari, minister in charge of economic revitalization and Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, will certainly come back from his illness next year.

“I want Amari to work hard in the TPP negotiations” among Japan, the United States and 10 other countries, Abe said in a television program.

While the Japan Times discovers the always and inevitable consequence of all that easing:

Japan Inc. builds mountain of cash

Japanese companies’ cash holdings rose to a record last quarter, highlighting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s struggle to spur the investment and wage increases needed to end a 15-year deflationary malaise.

Corporate holdings of cash and deposits rose to ¥224 trillion, up 5.9 percent from a year earlier, according to a Bank of Japan report released Thursday.

The yen’s 17 percent slide against the dollar this year has boosted exporters’ profits, contributing to a cash pile similar in size to Russia’s gross domestic product. As Abe campaigns to reflate the world’s third-biggest economy, he’s relying on company spending to drive a longer-term recovery once the jolt from the unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus wears off.

Jiji Press notes a unanimity missing across the Pacific:

Japan’s Govt, Biz, Labor Leaders Confirm Need for Wage Hikes

The Japanese government on Friday agreed with labor and business leaders on the need for wage hikes in the country.

While the government will make efforts to create the environment for realizing a favorable economic cycle, labor and management will hold full discussions to reflect improved corporate earnings in wages so that the country can overcome deflation, the three sides said in a written agreement adopted at the day’s meeting, the fifth of its kind.

“The government, and labor and management are united for the aim of helping Japan beat deflation,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the meeting.

And on to Fumushimapocalypse Now!

First with a malignant headline from Fox News:

Sickened by service: More

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