We begin with CNBC, delivering the blow:
1.3 million losing unemployment benefits Saturday
More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm election year.
For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.
Bloomberg Businessweek notes an uptick:
Amazon Reveals Holiday Sales: Cyber Monday Orders Rose 39%
In what is now a post-Christmas tradition, Amazon.com (AMZN), the largest online retailer, opened some of its own gifts—sales figures from the holiday season. While the company’s disclosures were maddeningly selective and omitted any mention of the last-minute delivery snafus by shipping partners FedEx (FDX) and United Parcel Service (UPS), the data are nonetheless revealing.
Amazon said its customers ordered 37 million items on Cyber Monday, its busiest shopping day of the year. That figure is a healthy 39 percent higher than last year’s peak day. Although Amazon operates its website in only about a dozen countries and languages, it says it shipped to 185 countries over the holidays.
Perhaps most interestingly, the consumer shift to smartphones appears to be boosting Amazon’s sales. More than half of customers shopped on their mobile devices, the company said.
CNET has too much information:
11 percent of people shop online naked, survey says
A PayPal survey reveals and reveals and reveals. The most revealing aspect is that a considerable percentage of people admit they actually like to online shop in the nude
The Los Angeles Times finds class neglect:
College recruiters give low-income public campuses fewer visits
Recruiters’ patterns mean students at underserved schools may lose out in the competition for college entrance and aid, experts say.
Recruiters’ visits often are an important first contact for students to discover campuses far beyond their hometowns and for the colleges to discover talented applicants. Students may be left behind in the competition for college entrance and financial aid when admissions officials skip their campuses, counselors and education experts said.
A Times survey of public and private high schools across Southern California found that campuses with a high proportion of low-income and minority students had far fewer visits from college recruiters.
As does the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
Another big bank pays to settle charges of bias against blacks, Hispanics
If you were black or Hispanic and wanted a home loan, a number of banks put you on a separate, more expensive track regardless of your credit score and gainful employment.
These rates, the Justice Department alleges, were based on the color of your skin — practices that helped mushroom the extent of the U.S. housing crisis.
The pattern is becoming increasingly clear from a series of court settlements negotiated with lenders by the department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the last three years with the likes of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Suntrust and now PNC Financial Services Group.
Al Jazeera America sways:
Hollywood’s impact in Washington goes beyond social issues
The entertainment industry’s influence in politics extends into international treaties and drones
During a visit to Hollywood last month, President Obama hailed the global reach of the entertainment industry.
“Believe it or not,” he told a star-studded crowd gathered at DreamWorks Animation, the mega-studio helmed by one of his most devoted supporters, “entertainment is part of our American diplomacy.”
There is no question about Hollywood’s role in exporting American culture abroad. The president’s statement, though, was a tacit acknowledgment of the industry’s influence in Washington and beyond.
Indeed, Hollywood’s insistence on tough anti-piracy provisions is partly blamed for preventing the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade pact between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, from being finalized as planned by the end of the year.
Al Jazeera America again, with the green rush in the Rockies:
Colorado issues first batch of recreational pot sales licenses
Retail shops, marijuana growers and cannabis bakers across the state received the documents Friday
When the first cannabis retail licenses were given out in Denver on Friday, applause broke out as business owners took pictures and said they never thought they would see the day when they would get a permit to sell pot.
The Los Angeles Times covers the shape of things to come:
Portable drug test a new addition at New Year’s DUI checkpoints
The upcoming New Year’s crackdown on drunken driving will include a new test for many people who are pulled over — an oral swab that checks for marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.
The voluntary swabbing has been used just 50 times this year. But Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer is pushing to use it at more checkpoints and jails as officials try to limit the number of drivers impaired by substances other than alcohol.
Anther media blow, delivered by Al Jazeera America:
How the Village Voice and other alt-weeklies lost their voice in 2013
The papers — which documented parts of cities that other media missed — suffered major blows this year
For all the good memories, though, 2013 has been a rough year for alt-weeklies. The Boston Phoenix, among the oldest and most storied, collapsed in March, putting about 50 employees out of work, just six months after an optimistic move to glossy stock; the paper was losing roughly $1 million a year. Susan Orlean, a New Yorker writer who, like Joe Klein, Janet Maslin and David Denby, worked for the Phoenix early on, compares it to the disappearance of her alma mater. “I am a child of the alt-weekly world,” she says, “and I feel like it has played such an important role in journalism as we know it today.” The New Haven Advocate was folded, along with two other weeklies, into The Hartford Courant this month after a year that saw heavy layoffs. In May, the two top editors of The Village Voice resigned rather than cut a quarter of the staff.
The troubles are not confined to the northeast: The LA Weekly, whose issues typically offer less than half the pages they did a decade ago, recently announced substantial cuts in its theater coverage, to which the paper had a three-decade commitment. Most places, page counts and staff sizes are way down.
Some of the causes of the alt-press meltdown are more complex than those of daily newspapers, which have been felled primarily by the Internet and corporate overreach. But the results are at least as tumultuous.
The New York Times covers yet another devastating blow inflicted by Howard Jarvis, godfather of Proposition 13 and the man who told esnl nearly 40 years ago that his goal was “to demolish local government and eliminate all the bureaucracy”:
Police Salaries and Pensions Push California City to Brink
Desert Hot Springs, population 27,000, is slowly edging toward bankruptcy, largely because of police salaries and skyrocketing pension costs, but also because of years of spending and unrealistic revenue estimates. It is mostly the police, though, who have found themselves in the cross hairs recently.
“I would not venture to say they are overpaid,” said Robert Adams, the acting city manager since August. “What I would say is that we can’t pay them.”
Though few elected officials in America want to say it, police officers and other public-safety workers keep turning up at the center of the municipal bankruptcies and budget dramas plaguing many American cities — largely because their pensions tend to be significantly more costly than those of other city workers.
Al Jazeera America covers another front in the same war:
Retired Illinois teachers sue state over pension law
Lawsuit claims changes violate protections in Illinois constitution for retirement benefits of public sector workers
A group of teachers and public school officials filed a class-action lawsuit Friday in state court seeking to void Illinois’ new pension reform law on grounds the cuts to pension benefits violate the state constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, claims that changes to current and retired teacher pensions passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month violate a clause in the Illinois Constitution which says pension benefits can’t be cut.
Wait-and-see economy slows recovery from Great Recession
While there’s little sense that the U.S. economy is headed for another downturn, most forecasters expect further improvement in 2014 will be gradual. Unless and until the job market improves substantially, and higher wages drive a convincing pickup in consumer spending and demand, the lingering damage to confidence will likely keep the weakest economic recovery in memory plodding along at a frustratingly slow pace.
Boing Boing seeks an out:
South Dakota: the Bermuda of the prairie, letting billionaires avoid millions in estate tax
America’s billionaires are able to avoid paying millions in inheritance taxes by renting empty storefronts in South Dakota in order to give their trust-funds an SD address, from which they can exploit a deliberate loophole in state tax-law. Over $121 billion in trust-funds is administered through South Dakota, mostly for out-of-state families — a figure that’s tripled in four years. South Dakota’s corrupt tax laws also allow for avoiding millions in tax from ordinary investments by the richest people in NY and MA.
South Dakota itself has some dire poverty — two of the 10 poorest counties in America are in SD — and lawmakers describe their project to turn the state into “the Bermuda of the prairie” as an economic development project, creating jobs for lawyers and bankers, and “[forging] ties with prosperous families that may one day decide to build a factory or a warehouse here.”
USA TODAY judges harshly:
Judge questions lack of fraud-related prosecutions
New York U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff is well-known for questioning the federal government in judicial rulings.
Why haven’t top business executives faced fraud charges for wrongdoing related to the national fiscal crisis? A senior federal judge questions whether weaknesses in the U.S. prosecutorial system could be to blame.
While not concluding that frauds definitely sparked the crisis, New York District Court Judge Jed Rakoff questioned in an essay for the New York Review of Books’ Jan. 9 issue whether federal prosecutors gave other cases higher priority because they would take less time and resources to investigate and lead to high-profile trials or guilty pleas.
The Globe and Mail recycles:
Florida housing market may get a boost from ‘boomerang buyers’
South Florida housing experts are trumpeting changes that allow foreclosure sufferers to buy back into the American Dream sooner than they probably imagined, calling 2014 the year of the “boomerang buyer.”
Revisions made over the summer to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) guidelines and technical updates in November to Fannie Mae loan approval systems have opened the door for some former homeowners to buy again just one year after foreclosure.
Next up, a global story from Reuters:
March of state companies resets global trading patterns
As U.S. and European banks drop out of commodity trading, Russian, Chinese and Gulf state firms are filling the gap in an attempt to exert greater control over the pricing of the raw materials on which their economies so heavily depend.
Last week, the Kremlin oil champion Rosneft (ROSN.MM) bought the oil trading unit of Morgan Stanley (MS.N), one of the largest and oldest trading desks on Wall Street, as banks reduce exposure to trading.
The state companies are joining trading houses like Glencore (GLEN.L) and Vitol and large oil firms like BP (BP.L) and Shell (RDSa.L) to take advantage of the retreat from trading by banks because of the greater regulation of banking activities that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
It won’t be long before such deals are repeated, say executives from major trading houses as they see a new class of rivals challenging their supremacy in connecting buyers and sellers of commodities, predominantly oil.
Off to Europe, first with a headline from the London Telegraph:
Eurozone ‘sleepwalking into a decades-long deflation trap’
World’s largest bond fund Pimco says falling prices are the biggest risk to the currency bloc in the new year
The eurozone is “sleepwalking” its way towards a Japanese-style deflationary trap that could last decades, the world’s largest bond fund has warned.
The Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) said deflation posed the biggest threat to the single currency bloc in 2014. A stubbornly strong euro together with painfully slow reforms and a “paucity of ambition” threatened to push the bloc’s already low inflation rate into negative territory, the fund said.
Britain next, and a dire prediction from The Observer:
Mortgage rise will plunge a million homeowners into ‘perilous debt’
High prices leave borrowers exposed as it emerges that 13 million people paid for Christmas on credit
More than a million homeowners will be at risk of defaulting on their mortgages and losing their properties in the wake of even a small rise in interest rates, a bombshell analysis reveals. Borrowers who have failed to pay down their mortgages when interest rates have been at record low levels now face being overwhelmed by “perilous levels of debt” when the inevitable hike comes.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned of a “financial ticking timebomb”: “The rising cost of energy, food and travel has been absorbing any spare income people may have. This means that in some cases there is little or nothing left to cope with larger mortgage repayments.”
The Observer hopes:
Prime London property prices show signs of slowdown
Estate agents report cooling of market in most exclusive London areas but ripple effect likely to raise prices in south-east
Soaring house prices in London’s prime locations are showing signs of a slowdown, according to new figures.
Estate agent Knight Frank, which monitors prices in the capital’s most exclusive boroughs, reports that prices of properties in prime central London locations ended the year 7.5% higher – outperforming gold, which fell in value by a quarter between January and mid-December.
However, the annual rate of increase was below the 8.7% recorded last year and the 12.1% seen in 2011. Prices in Chelsea rose by 2.7%, with growth of 5.8% in Mayfair and 6.7% in Knightsbridge, meaning that all three areas underperformed the wider prime central London average for the first time in a decade. Areas such as Islington and Marylebone saw prices rise by about 12%.
BBC News draws legal lines:
European Court of Human Rights ‘risk to UK sovereignty’
Lord Judge was responding to comments by the ECHR’s president
Claims the European Court of Human Rights can set law on social matters threatens Parliamentary sovereignty, a former lord chief justice has said. Lord Judge said Parliament needed to decide how much power it was willing to give up to the court in Strasbourg.
Meanwhile, the European court’s head said Britain is violating international law with a ban on prisoners voting. Judge Dean Spielmann said if Britain did not adhere to European human rights laws it could face leaving the EU.
The Observer finds the average Brit more tolerant than Tories:
Britons ready to welcome migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, poll finds
Ipsos Mori survey shows 72% of people aged 35-44 support rights of east European workers to live and work in UK
In spite of a surge of anti-immigrant rhetoric from leading politicians, British people are happy to accept migrants from the east of Europe who learn English, get a job, pay taxes and become part of their local community.
As many as 68% of those asked said they would be happy for migrants to come on those terms. That sentiment was particularly strong among people aged between 35 and 44, with 72% supporting their right to come to live and work in the UK.
Germany next, and bad news from cheap travel from The Independent:
Rental ban to end Berlin’s reign as holiday lets capital
Berlin’s reputation as one of Europe’s coolest yet cheapest cities has boosted tourism by 275 per cent in only two decades. But Germany’s capital is preparing to turn its back on budget-flight visitors with new rules which will outlaw cut-price private accommodation.
Legislation which comes into force on 1 January will make it illegal for the owners of Berlin’s estimated 12,000 private holiday apartments to rent them to tourists for short breaks. Those who fail to obey the rules risk being fined €50,000 (£41,700).
The new laws are both a response to Berlin’s lack of affordable flats for longer-term rentals and an attempt to answer complaints from residents about the influx of weekend visitors to what the director of Berlin’s tourist marketing agency has called “the capital of holiday lets”.
Via Europe Online, is this really a good idea?:
Germany seeks permit to explore sea bed off Madagascar for minerals
Germany has applied for a license to mine raw materials in the Indian Ocean in the race for excavating valuable minerals from under the sea-bed.
The license costs 500,000 dollars and would secure Germany exclusive access for at least 15 years to about 10,000 square kilometres south-east of Madagascar, the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources said.
Spain next, and a call from Europe Online:
Spain’s Basque nationalists call for greater autonomy
Northern Spain’s Basque region has demanded more autonomy but would not follow the example of nearby Catalonia, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) said Friday.
“We will go our own way,” PNV leader Andoni Ortuzar told Cadena SER radio.
The north-eastern region of Catalonia, which has traditionally been the country’s economic powerhouse, wants to hold a referendum on its independence on November 9, 2014. That plan was rejected earlier this month by the Spanish government, which has vowed to prevent the vote.
El País watches big money players:
George Soros takes stake in debt-laden construction firm FCC
Financier joins Bill Gates among builder’s shareholders
Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros has bought a 3-percent stake in heavily indebted Spanish construction firm FCC from the group’s founding family. Last week, Esther Koplowitz, whose father founded the company, sold 3.8 percent of her majority stake for 15 euros a share, amounting to 72 million euros. Soros is the second internationally renowned investor to take a stake in the company in recent months, following Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ purchase in October of nearly 6 percent.
FCC registered losses of 675 million euros ($923 million) in the nine months to September.
Italy net with banksters in trouble from Europe Online:
Italy MPS bank in new trouble as shareholders reject capital boost
Shareholders of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) voted down on Saturday a plan to boost the capital of Italy’s third-largest bank by at least 3 billion euros (4.1 billion dollars), casting fresh uncertainty over its future.
President Alessandro Profumo and chief executive Fabrizio Viola wanted to raise cash in January, to shore up the bank’s finances ahead of upcoming European Union banking tests and for the early repayment of state bailout loans.
But Fondazione MPS – a body controlled by local politicians that is the bank’s biggest shareholder with a 33.5 per cent stake – blocked the plan and forced its postponement by six months.
After the jump, the latest Grecian grim tidings, Turkish troubles, Mexican outrage, German bribes, Thai turmoil, Korean angst, Chinese neoliberalism, Japanese and environmental concerns, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . .
Greek Reporter gives us our first Hellenic headline, a grim assessment:
Greek Traders: “Unemployment in Greece is Sky High”
According to the annual survey of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (NCHC), Greek unemployment is one of the most pressing issues that the coalition government must deal with. Young people between the ages of 15-24 are most at risk of finding themselves out of work. According to the Hellenic Statistic Authority (EL.STAT), 57.2 percent of young people are without a job.
The majority of the unemployed (71 percent) have had no work for 12 months or more, while 23.3 percent of the total have never worked. There were 3,635,905 people employed and 1,345,387 unemployed.
The percentage of those who live in Greece but have foreign citizenship and are currently unemployed is large (36.6 percent) compared to Greeks (26.1 percent). Unsurprisingly, those with a University degree or a PhD have more chances of finding a job.
From Greek Reporter again, illegal play, illegal pay:
German Firm Paid Greek Defense Bribes
The representative of a German company doing defense contract deals with Greece has reportedly admitted that the company paid bribes to officials – some of whom are now being probed – but dismissed it, saying it took place “many years ago.”
The official, who was not named, worked for Rheinmetall, which, along with another German firm, Atlas Elektronik, has come under the spotlight in a growing investigation into a spreading scandal in the Greek Defense Ministry.
A former minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, is already serving a 20-year-sentence after being convicted of corruption and money-laundering for bribery in contract deals while serving there and his successor, Yiannos Papantoniou, has been charged – along with his wife – of failing to declare the source of his wealth.
More from Kathimerini English:
Ex-ministry cadre links top officials to deal kickbacks
Over four days of testimony before investigating magistrates, ex-Defense Ministry official Antonis Kantas is alleged to have implicated former minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos in under-the-table payments for the purchase of tanks and other defense procurements, Kathimerini understands.
Kantas, who was deputy head of procurements at the ministry between 1996 and 2002, during Tsochatzopoulos’s stint as minister, is said to have claimed that an unnamed associate of a Greek arms dealer had told him the firms he represented would be favored in procurement deals. The associate said this had been agreed in meetings between the dealer, identified only as T.L., and Tsochatzopoulos and Yiannis Sbokos, head of procurements at the ministry at the time.
Another pol in trouble, via Kathimerini English:
Ex transport minister to face court for driving with fake license plates
Former Transport Minister Michalis Liapis is to stand trial on Monday on charges of false certification and forgery after being caught on December 17 driving a car with false license plates.
Returning to Athens Airport on Friday afternoon from a trip to Malaysia, Liapis told the scrum of reporters he was confronted with that he had gone on the trip to “relax after my dramatic experience” and blamed the Greek media for hounding him after his arrest.
The former conservative minister, who claims to have handed in his license plates to the authorities as financial constraints prevented him from paying increased road tax, faces a suspended jail sentence of between six months to five years if convicted.
From Greek Reporter, with the number one reason also the topic of today’s chart of the day, income reduction:
Greeks Quit Eating Out
According to a survey entitled, “Nutrition and Economic Recession,” 93 percent of those polled claimed to have reduced the amount of times they eat out in restaurants and taverns.
The poll was carried out by EKPIZO in collaboration with the Department of Home Economics and Ecology, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece and the results published on Consumer Day, March 15 2013. although last-minute of stays.
Kathimerini English has still more pols in hot water:
Golden Dawn crime probe may implicate more MPs
Investigating magistrates handling a criminal probe into the neofascist Golden Dawn have new evidence that is likely to lead to charges being brought against more party MPs early next year, Kathimerini has learned.
The new evidence was found during the inspection of computers found at the homes of several prominent party deputies, including Christos Pappas, Giorgos Germenis and Panayiotis Iliopoulos, who already face criminal charges. It is likely that magistrates Ioanna Klapa and Maria Dimitropoulou, who are perusing documents and other evidence seized from the homes of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, will resummon some of the nine MPs already facing charges for additional testimony.
Off to Turkey with a complaint from Bloomberg News:
Erdogan Says Graft Probe Aims to Derail His Government
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out four times yesterday at a graft probe that’s ensnared his government as anger over the scandal sparked protests and clashes.
Protests erupted in 10 cities overnight, including Istanbul and Ankara, before being broken up by police with tear gas and water cannons, reminiscent of anti-government demonstrations that roiled the country in June. Police detained 70 people in Istanbul, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
Europe Online threatens:
Turkey’s ruling party threatens three lawmakers with expulsion
Three lawmakers from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been threatened with expulsion for publicly criticizing the government, local media reported Friday amid the widening fallout of a corruption scandal.
Former culture minister Ertugrul Gunay, Izmir parliamentarian Erdal Kalkan and Ankara lawmaker Haluk Ozdalga were to be disciplined “for their verbal and written remarks stigmatizing [the] party and the government,” the party decided Thursday, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
Kalkan announced his resignation from the party on Twitter before the decision was made.
And the London Telegraph cites fiscal fallout:
Turkey first of Fed Taper victims as political crisis scares investors
Lira tumbles as Turkey goes from star performer to ‘sick man’ of the emerging market block
The Turkish lira has tumbled to a record low amid a deepening political crisis in Ankara, the first emerging market domino to wobble as the US Federal Reserve starts to wind down global dollar stimulus.
The currency has weakened by 6pc against the euro over the last two days, culminating a 25pc fall this year. Foreign funds have cut holdings of Turkish debt by a quarter since the May.
Off to Latin America, first with transit troubles from the Los Angeles Times:
Mexico City subway rate increase enrages commuters
The 2-peso bump inspires a civil disobedience movement, underscoring how close to the economic edge many Mexicans find themselves.
A recent increase in subway fares in Mexico City has touched off a protest movement of civil disobedience — with infuriated young commuters jumping over turnstiles to make their point — and has ignited a new round of political trouble for the capital’s besieged mayor.
Bloomberg News predicts:
Latin America’s Rout Seen Extending Into Next Year
Foreign investors are betting the worst rout in Latin American currencies since 2008 will extend into next year as commodity export prices slump and rising U.S. bond yields lure money out of the region.
The Bloomberg JPMorgan Latin America Currency Index of the region’s six most-traded currencies fell 9.6 percent this year and touched 94.5 today, within 1 percent of a four-year low. International investors boosted wagers to a record $21.7 billion this week that Brazil’s real will keep falling, data compiled by BM&FBovespa SA show. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg only forecast Mexico’s peso will avoid further losses in the region next year.
International Business Times cites opposition:
Bolivia’s Bill To Ban Child Labor Is Opposed By Child Workers, President Evo Morales Delays Vote To January
Bolivia’s attempt to ban child labor has found powerful opposition – enough for the government to delay its drafting of a bill. And the opponents are precisely the people the bill aims to protect: child workers.
The bill for the Código de la Niñez y Adolescencia (Code of Children and Adolescents), which prohibits young people from ages 5 to 14 years old from working, seeks to affirm the right of children to study and have access to health care and education. The proposal was presented on December 19, and it sparked a violent protest organized by a group of child laborers who demanded their right to earn a living.
And the Buenos Aires Herald covers yet another German corporation soaked in mordida:
Siemens’ ex-managers charged with bribes
Former managers of Siemens company in Argentina are closer to face trial for allegedly paying bribes.
Judge Lijo accuses them of paying off Menem-era officials to win a contract to produce ID cards
Seventeen people, including former managers of the Siemens company, were yesterday accused of paying off officials in order to help win a contract to produce the national identity cards during Carlos Menem’s term in office.
The decision was made by Federal Judge Ariel Lijo, who decided to indict them for having allegedly committed bribery. He also ordered a 500-million-peso lien on their assets.
And a debt restructring from the Buenos Aires Herald:
Gov’t signs debt restructuring deal with 18 provinces
National government officials today met with provincial governors to sign a deal whoch will refinance the debts of 18 provinces every three months.
“This system of financial coordination and information will allow us to have a better coordination regarding fiscal and public policies affairs,” Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said after signing the deals.
Off to Australasia, first with a Down Under cause from Want China Times:
Australia’s housing price rise attributed to Chinese buyers
According to the Australian Financial Review, there have been reports each week of Chinese or ethnic Chinese buyers dominating the Australian housing market.
The business newspaper also noted that housing prices in Sydney had risen 11.6% over the year up to October.
India next, and a change from South China Morning Post:
India anti-graft hero sworn in as Delhi leader
Arvind Kejriwal, elected on a strict anti-corruption platform, takes public transport to his own swearing-in ceremony
Anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal yesterday rode the subway to his swearing-in ceremony as Delhi’s chief minister, in what supporters hope will be a watershed moment in India’s graft-ridden politics.
Huge cheers rang out as Kejriwal, who arrived for the ceremony on the city’s subway, took the oath of office in front of tens of thousands of supporters assembled in a Delhi park wearing white caps emblazoned with Kejriwal’s slogan, “I am a common man”.
Reuters has more:
Taking power in New Delhi, ‘common man’ leader talks of revolution
“Today, the common man has won,” Kejriwal said in a triumphant speech at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds, the very place were huge protests over corruption erupted in 2011, opening the way for the birth of the AAP.
“This truly feels like a miracle. Two years ago, we couldn’t have imagined such a revolution would happen in this country.”
Next, the latest eruption in the ongoing troubles in Thailand from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:
Gunman in deadly attack on Thai opposition rally
A gunman opened fire at opposition protesters in the Thai capital on Saturday, killing one person and wounding several others, as demonstrators sought to disrupt candidate registrations ahead of February elections.
The shooting fanned tensions in the politically divided kingdom, coming after weeks of mass street protests seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curb her billionaire family’s political dominance.
Bangkok Post threatens:
Suthep: We’ll seize Bangkok after New Year
Anti-government protesters plan to “seize Bangkok” after the New Year holiday, leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed on Saturday, while red-shirt supporters of the government called for a fight against a possible coup.
Mr Suthep told protesters from the Democracy Monument stage that after they return from visiting their families over the holiday, they should come back to take over the capital to return power to the people.
“I ask my brothers and sisters in various provinces to be prepared and help us seize Bangkok,” he said.
The Koreas next, first with a headline from the South via Want China Times:
Li Ka-shing takes on South Korea’s property market
Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest person, intends to tackle South Korea’s real estate market, reports the Shenzhen-based Securities Times.
It has been reported that Li, the world’s eighth richest man based on Forbes’ latest rich list with net assets of US$31 billion, is participating in the acquisition of the Macquarie Group’s Korean unit via Singapore-based ARA Asset Management, an affiliate of Li’s Cheung Kong Holdings conglomerate.
The acquisition target, Macquarie Real Estate Korea, currently manages US$555 million worth of properties placed in two real estate investment trusts (REITs), according to a regulatory filing. The ARA will also acquire a 10.02% equity stake in one of the REITs, though no financial details have yet been revealed.
While Channel NewsAsia Singapore takes us to the North:
North Korea’s cabinet to tighten control of economy
North Korea’s cabinet will tighten its grip on the economy after the shock execution of leader Kim Jong-Un’s uncle, whose control over key sectors weakened the country’s finances, a senior official said on Friday.
On to China with Want China Times:
Chinese firms step up investments in international ports
Chinese enterprises have emerged as one of the biggest investors in overseas ports in recent years, eyeing better trade opportunities as international seaport operators struggle to generate profits after the 2008 financial crisis, reports the Beijing-based China Economic Weekly.
People’s Daily gains value:
Yuan hits 20-year high versus US dollar
The yuan strengthened to a 20-year high against the US dollar yesterday after the central bank set a record reference rate that signals support for further appreciation of the Chinese currency.
The yuan touched 6.067 per US dollar on the spot market yesterday morning, its highest level since China unified official and market rates at the end of 1993. The yuan had reached 6.0702 on Monday.
The yuan closed at 6.086 yesterday, 0.1 percent stronger than on Thursday.
International Business Times sets the date:
China Won’t Become World’s Largest Economy Until 2028: CEBR
While the U.S. eventually is forecast to lose its position as the world’s largest economy, this day is now expected to come later than many previously suggested due to both strength in the U.S. economy and the relative slowdown in China’s domestic economy, according to a study released Thursday.
The annual world economic league tables from the Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) predicts China won’t eclipse the U.S. economy until 2028.
CNNMoney measures red ink:
China debt grows to $4.6 trillion
It’s no secret: China has a growing debt problem.
The world’s second-largest economy has been struggling to arrest local government debt — the result of easy credit and round after round of stimulus.
While it’s hard to gauge the scale of the problem, a recent government think tank report may shed some light. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates local government debt reached 19.94 trillion yuan ($3.3 trillion) by the end of 2012. Local government debt accounts for most of total government debt, which is expected to have hit 27.7 trillion yuan ($4.56 trillion), or roughly 53% GDP.
BBC News deposes:
China: More than 500 resign over election fraud
More than 500 municipal lawmakers in one Chinese province have stood down following an electoral fraud scandal, according to state media.
The 512 officials resigned after accepting bribes from 56 members of the provincial assembly to elect them to their posts, Xinhua news agency said.
The 56 disgraced lawmakers for central Hunan Province were also dismissed.
Xinhua looks ahead:
Top legislature pushes for genetic safety rules
China’s top legislature Saturday suggested that the State Council, China’s cabinet, research legislation on genetic resource management and safety.
A total of 30 national lawmakers filed a motion on drafting a law on genetic resources at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March this year.
Off the Japan, with a clarion call from the neoliberal camp via Bloomberg News:
Japan’s Nishimura Calls for Quick Corporate Tax Cut to Under 30%
Japan needs to quickly lower its corporate tax rate to less than 30 percent to boost the nation’s competitiveness in the global market, Deputy Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said.
“I’d like to see deeper corporate tax cuts in the special economic zones” in which the government hopes to loosen business regulations, Nishimura, 51, said in an interview today at his Tokyo office.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to experiment with reforms in the labor market, health care and agriculture and other areas in the zones — a central plank of his growth strategy. Japan will lower its tax on corporate profits to 35.6 percent from 38 percent in April when a temporary levy to fund reconstruction of regions devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami ends.
Jiji Press pushes another neoliberal desideratum:
Japan Govt Official Calls for TPP Accord in Feb.
A senior Japanese government official said Saturday that Tokyo will aim to conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations in February.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, told reporters that the 12 countries participating in the negotiations, including Japan and the United States, are working to arrange the next ministerial meeting in February.
“Unless we wrap up the talks early, the momentum may fizzle out and the negotiations could drag on,” he said, stressing the need to conclude the talks at the envisaged ministerial meeting.
The Yomiuri Shimbun privatizes globally:
Govt may provide medicare system overseas by 2020
The Yomiuri Shimbun The government will likely start providing Japanese-style medical facilities and services—including the establishment of cancer centers, the dispatch of doctors and the introduction of remote image diagnosis—in 16 countries by the end of 2020, it was learned Saturday.
It plans to offer 29 medical projects overseas, mainly to Asian and Middle Eastern nations, as part of efforts to promote Japan’s medical expertise and equipment worldwide, according to government sources.
The government plans to first conduct on-site studies and promote Japanese-style medical services through cooperation between the public and private sectors.
And so to Fukushimapocalypse Now!
The Asahi Shimbun beseeches:
Former TEPCO employee seeks donations for downtrodden Fukushima workers
As a former employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Akihiro Yoshikawa says he knows about the miserable conditions, declining morale and how workers are treated like garbage at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
His mission now is to spread awareness of the circumstances surrounding those struggling to deal with the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and to help them get through the winter.
“I wanted to get people thinking about their working environment and do something to improve it,” Yoshikawa, 33, said.
NHK WORLD sets a deadline:
Japan’s tax authorities will end next year grace periods granted to residents affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.
The National Tax Administration Agency currently extends deadlines for final tax returns and payments of national taxes in 12 municipalities around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
But agency officials now plan to end this special measure. They say long grace periods mean that people have to pay a comparatively huge amount after it ends. They also cite a growing number of people who are paying taxes without applying for a delay.
The Asahi Shimbun prepares to fire up:
Restart sought for reactor damaged in 2011 tsunami disaster
In a step toward restarting its Onagawa nuclear power plant, Tohoku Electric Power Co. has filed an application with the government’s nuclear watchdog for safety checks, a first among nuclear facilities affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The utility is keen for the No. 2 reactor at the Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture to come back online as its net profit has been weighed down with ballooning fuel costs to operate thermal power plants to make up for the suspension of nuclear plants.
Tohoku Electric filed the application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Dec. 27.
Other fuels, other problems from International Business Times:
Forget Keystone XL; Competing Pipelines Will Bring Oil-Sands From Alberta To US Gulf Coast
While the debate continues over whether or not to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, similar pipeline projects that have gone relatively unnoticed may soon bring crude oil from Alberta and North Dakota to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline project would bring Canadian oil-sands as well as crude from North Dakota from Patoka, Ill., to St. James, La., to refineries along the Mississippi River and the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
The Eastern Gulf pipeline, a joint venture between Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas and Enbridge Inc. of Alberta, Canada, still needs federal and state approvals, but it is expected to pass the regulatory process without any problems because most of the construction is already in place. If all goes well, the pipeline could go online by 2015.
USA TODAY plumbs a mystery:
The starfish are dying, and no one knows why
Something is killing starfish up and down the West Coast and no one knows what.
A mysterious illness that first appeared in June in Washington state has now spread from Sitka, Alaska, to San Diego. Starfish first waste away and then “turn into goo,” divers say. Whatever is causing it can spread with astonishing speed — a healthy group of starfish can die in just 24 hours.
“It’s widespread, it’s very virulent and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz who is one of the lead researchers in an international effort to track the outbreak.
The Los Angeles Times is parched:
L.A. is on track to set dry-weather record
2013 is shaping up as the driest year since official record keeping started in 1877. But officials say water supplies are in good shape.
As 2013 draws to a close, it is headed for the record books as the driest year in downtown Los Angeles since 1877, when official measurements began.
Only 3.60 inches have fallen at the National Weather Service station at USC since Jan. 1, about half an inch less than was recorded in 1953 and 1947, which until now had tied for the lowest rainfall.
Al Jazeera America has more:
California could experience ‘historic’ drought in 2014
The Central Valley’s wine industry fears protracted dryness will cut into profits
California water authorities told Al Jazeera Friday that barring a series of heavy storms, California faces a drought next year that would restrict residents’ access to water and hurt agricultural production in the heartland in the long-term.
Business Insider charts another environmental crisis:
Global Shrimp Crisis Is Hitting Menus Everywhere
Prices have soared to a 12-year high since a deadly illness called Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) swept through shrimp farms in Thailand.
Shrimp has become Exhibit A in how the globalization of the food-supply chain has expanded to include not just commodities like coffee, sugar and beef, but virtually everything on the table. Once a local delicacy prized for freshness, shrimp is now produced at farms in Asia, South America and Mexico, and sucked up by distributors wherever the price is cheapest.
Shrimp reproduce quickly, can be frozen easily and have a freezer life of 12 months. That has spawned a multibillion-dollar global shrimp farming business and made the crustacean a popular item on menus at chains like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Panda Express.
For our final item, another environmental crisis from Courthouse News Service:
Sea Lion Poop Becomes a Bone of Contention
Sea lion poop and cormorant guano in pricey La Jolla have wafted a lawsuit into the San Diego mayor’s office.
Citizens For Odor Nuisance Abatement sued the City of San Diego and its Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, in Superior Court, demanding they clean up the odorous excrement from rocks by La Jolla Cove, and remove a fence that limits public access to it.