Lots to cover, including the latest bizarre twists at Fukushima after the jump/

Our first story, in which the third point precisely refutes the claim made just before, comes from the Department of Ironic Self Refutation via the London Daily Mail:

Home Depot founder hits out at Pope Francis claiming the pontiff ‘fails to understand rich Americans’

Billionaire Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone has announced he is uncomfortable with Pope Francis’ recent comments on wealth

In an interview with CNBC – Langone explained that he does not think the pontiff appreciates or understands Americans

Announced that a potential anonymous donor might not contribute a seven-figure sum to the restoration of Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral because of this

The Washington Post covers betrayal:

Younger military veterans are angered by budget cuts to their pension benefits

The plan to trim pension increases for working-age military retirees such as Preston is by far the most controversial provision in a bipartisan budget deal approved by Congress and signed last week by President Obama.

The cut is small — a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase — but it has provoked outrage among veterans, some of whom argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact. And even though lawmakers, especially in the GOP, fulminate about the need to cut the cost of federal health and retirement benefits, many have vowed to roll the cut back when Congress returns to work next week.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers a border booster:

Mexican sales tax hike seen as boon on US border

Mexican license plates are common in parking lots of shopping malls in U.S. border cities. They will be even more familiar after Mexico raises its federal sales tax in border regions to match the rest of the country, say merchants and shoppers.

The increase to 16 percent from 11 percent, which takes effect Wednesday, has sparked large protests on the Mexican side of the border. Facebook pages with secessionist tones have generated about 200,000 “likes.” Thousands have signed petitions to challenge the tax hike in court.

The Mexican government says the two-tiered tax structure, which was introduced decades ago to make border cities competitive, is no longer justified. Others say the increase may backfire by driving more shoppers north of the border, harming the economy and raising less tax revenue than anticipated.

Another piece of American industry goes, via Bloomberg:

Fiat Agrees to Buy Rest of Chrysler in $4.35 Billion Deal

Fiat SpA (F) agreed to buy the remaining stake in Chrysler Group LLC owned by a United Auto Workers retiree health-care trust in a $4.35 billion deal, the last step needed before the Italian and U.S. carmakers can merge.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both carmakers, structured the deal so that Chrysler puts up most of the cash, easing strains on the Italian parent as it seeks to end losses in Europe. The agreement with the trust, structured as a voluntary employee beneficiary association or VEBA, gives Fiat full ownership of the No. 3 U.S. automaker less than five years after its government-financed bankruptcy.

Frackers ahoy, via Jiji Press:

Sumitomo Eyeing Shale Gas Biz in N. America

Major Japanese trader Sumitomo Corp. is considering embarking on shale gas- and share oil-related business in North America, President Kuniharu Nakamura has said in a recent interview.

Sumitomo is examining such possibilities as liquefying shale gas for exports to Japan and leasing machinery used in shale gas production, he said.

Media sellout in the works, via Reuters:

Chinese recycling tycoon says he wants to buy New York Times

An eccentric Chinese recycling magnate said on Tuesday he was preparing to open negotiations to buy the New York Times Co.

Chen Guangbiao, a well-known philanthropist, is something of a celebrity in China. During a particularly murky bout of pollution in January, the ebullient and tireless self-promoter handed out free cans of “fresh air.

But Chen says he is perfectly serious in his bid to buy the Times, something that he said he had been contemplating for more than two years. He said he expected to discuss the matter on January 5, when he is due to meet a “leading shareholder” in New York.

“There’s nothing that can’t be bought for the right price,” Chen said.

Austerity’s the fault, via the Los Angeles Times:

California’s funds for mapping earthquake faults running out

Fault line maps are crucial to enforcing building regulations and understanding risks of new development, seismic experts say.

California is about to run out of money for mapping earthquake faults, leaving many communities across the state with limited information about the seismic risks of new development.

The California Geological Survey has about 300 more fault maps left to complete, including some covering highly populated areas like the Westside of Los Angeles, the San Diego Bay area, and the San Gabriel Valley. But officials say the budget for mapping will run out once the state completes work on the Hollywood fault early next year.

A new way to get Boomers out of hospitals fast? From Disinformation:

Targeted Advertisements Will Be Appearing In Hospital Rooms

Healthcare costs in the United States are spinning out of control, but never fear, there are new sources of revenue in the pipeline.

And the ever-present austerian symptom, via Bloomberg:

Americans on Wrong Side of Pay Gap Run Out of Means to Cope

Rising income inequality is starting to hit home for many American households as they run short of places to reach for a few extra bucks.

As the gap between the rich and poor widened over the last three decades, families at the bottom found ways to deal with the squeeze on earnings. Housewives joined the workforce. Husbands took second jobs and labored longer hours. Homeowners tapped into the rising value of their properties to borrow money to spend.

Those strategies finally may have run their course as women’s participation in the labor force has peaked and the bursting of the house-price bubble has left many Americans underwater on their mortgages.

CBS DC has another one:

Retirement Unlikely For Many Blue-Collar Americans

The share of U.S. workers who are 55 and older is expected to continue growing, according to the “The Oxford Handbook of Retirement 2013.” The group comprised 12.4 percent of the workforce in 1998. The share jumped to 18.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to be almost 25 percent by 2018.

The book is edited by Mo Wang, co-director of the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. In an interview, Wang said it’s a misconception that lower-wage workers are slackers in preparing for retirement.

“People don’t have adequate earnings,” Wang told The Associated Press. “It’s not because they don’t want to save. It’s because they just can’t.”

As does Sky News:

Young People Sell Future Earnings To Investors

Start-up firms are offering an alternative to traditional debt by letting people sell a portion of their future earnings for cash.

A new industry is offering people the chance to “sell” a portion of themselves to investors in return for a cut of their future earnings.

Start-up companies such as Pave match carefully vetted, mainly young individuals, known as “prospects” with those willing to offer a one-time cash infusion.

On average prospects seek to raise around $20,000 (£12,100), although so far amounts have ranged between $3,000 (£1,800) and $50,000 (£30,300).

Ars Technica delivers the chop:

HP to cut 5,000 more jobs in 2014, bringing total layoff count to 34,000

Hewlett-Packard swung back into the black in 2013, maybe poised for “expansion.”

Bubble-formation slowing? From MarketWatch:

Case-Shiller: Home prices up, but boom fading

U.S. home prices remained on a solid upward trend in October, according to a report released Tuesday, but price gains may not be as strong in 2014.

The home-price index covering 10 major U.S. cities increased 13.6% in the year ended in October, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price report. The 20-city price index also increased 13.6%, close to the 13.7% advance expected by economists.

Both increases are the best since February 2006, the report said.

And from the London Daily Mail, the day’s biggest news for a few million Americans:

Marijuana opponents predict Denver to go ‘hogwild’ today while ‘potrepreneurs’ bet cannabis tourism in Colorado will be like ‘Napa Valley wine tours’

Thousands celebrate Colorado becoming the first state in America to legally sell marijuana for recreational use

Sean Azzariti, 32, a former Marine and veteran of two tours of Iraq will become the first legal customer in the nation’s history

So far, 136 stores have been granted licenses to sell recreational cannabis

In addition, 78 marijuana cultivation facilities have been licensed by the state

But smoking marijuana in public remains illegal

Groups including Colorado Highlife Tours are betting on the weed tour market going off ‘like a Napa Valley wine tour’

And as a public service, we here at esnl feel obligated to warn readers bout the horrors of the devil’s weed. So spark one up, sit back, and enjoy. . .Reefer Madness [1936], a cautionary tale about the dangers of Marihuana and Jazz from the bowels of Old Hollywood [albeit [shudder] colorized [but do note the smoke]:

We head north of the border with a dour Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada is headed in the wrong direction, majority says in poll

Support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is dropping sharply, according to a new poll showing a majority of Canadians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The Nanos Research poll also shows 56 per cent of people rate the government’s 2013 performance as “somewhat poor” or “very poor,” a far higher share than the poll had found in earlier years. In particular, 44 per cent of respondents in the Prairies said the government’s 2013 performance was “very poor,” signalling unrest in the Harper Conservatives’ backyard.

The Globe and Mail again, with brighter news:

Canadian dollar new favourite among the world’s central banks

The world’s central banks are stashing away Canadian dollars at a faster rate than any other major currency, a vote of confidence at a time when the loonie has lost some of its shine in foreign-exchange markets.

Official holdings of Canadian dollars surged 23.6 per cent to $112.5-billion (U.S.) in the third quarter of this year from their level in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data published Monday.

Off to Europe with discontent from The Independent:

A Greek archipelago for €8.5m, a Maltese passport for €1m and Polish castles going for a song… welcome to the great European fire sale

For some, austerity Europe is a land of opportunity – castles, islands, citizenship are all up for grabs. But not all the locals are happy

For a non-EU citizen with dreams of the good life and a few million in the bank, 2014 could be a good year. First, snap up Maltese citizenship, and thus a European Union passport, for €1.15m (£960,000). Then splurge on a former cardinal’s villa in Italy as the principle residence. For a fairytale winter getaway, Polish castles are going for a song. And what could be better for a summer bolt-hole than a Greek archipelago, a snip at €8.5m?

Europe’s fire sale, which began as the economic crisis forced governments to find innovative ways to plug holes in their dwindling budgets, has reached new heights as ever-more intriguing state assets are touted for sale.

But a backlash is brewing, with governments and enraged citizens clashing over exactly who has the right to flog a nation’s history and culture.

EUbusiness drops the barriers:

European labour market opens for Romanians, Bulgarians

Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to work in any of the European Union’s 28 countries from Wednesday, sparking fears of mass invasion and benefits tourism in Britain and Germany.

Britain rushed through a series of measures to ban EU migrants from claiming unemployment handouts from the moment they arrive, while German lawmakers raised concerns about social benefits fraud.

But Bucharest and Sofia slapped down the fears, saying their countrymen are not planning an exodus en masse.

The British take from the London Telegraph:

Non-EU citizens will be able to work in Britain after Bulgarian restrictions lifted

Hundreds of thousands of people from poor countries outside the European Union will be free to find jobs in Britain as a result of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians being lifted

Romania and Bulgaria, whose citizens will now have the right to work freely in the UK, are offering passports to people in non-EU countries including Moldova and Macedonia.

Historic ties also mean that some Serbs, Ukrainians and Turks are eligible to claim passports that would allow them to work anywhere in the EU.

The Guardian ponders Tory intolerance:

Alarm sounded on anti-Roma rhetoric as door opens to more EU workers

Cross-party group calls for calm dialogue after Tory council leader blames Roma in London for disruption and crime

Politicians are inflaming community tensions with anti-Roma rhetoric, an alliance of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs has warned as Britain opens its borders to Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

MPs on the all-parliamentary party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma sounded the alarm about provocative language as a prominent Tory council leader suggested some Roma are planning to come to the UK to “pickpocket and aggressively beg” following the end of labour market controls on the two eastern European countries.

Meanwhile, the real thieves and pickpockets are faring quite well. From The Guardian:

£2m: average pay award for JP Morgan’s top staff in 2012 revealed

Banks disclose figures in dying hours of 2013 to comply with new European rule demanding information on bankers’ pay

Fresh evidence of the pay deals on offer in the City has emerged, with the biggest US bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, revealing it gave more than 100 of its top staff in London an average of £2m each in 2012.

The disclosure comes after Goldman Sachs said its high flyers received £2.7m on average – up 50% on the year before – adding to anger about bankers’ bonuses.

The Guardian overcharges:

Energy firms paid £4bn more for power than market rate, claims Labour

Big six firms deny inflating prices to make extra profits from their own plants or striking expensive deals to detriment of consumers

Households may have paid £150 over the odds for their electricity over the past three years because energy companies bought their power for almost £4bn more than the average market rate, Labour has claimed.

In a new analysis of official figures, the Labour party, which has pledged to freeze prices for 20 months if it wins the general election in 2015, said the big six energy suppliers appear either to be inflating their prices to make extra profits for their own power plants, or striking very expensive deals to the detriment of consumers.

Norway next, where TheLocal.no covers growing numbers:

2014 will be record refugee year – Norwegian charity

A Norwegian charity has predicted that the number of refugees in the world will continue to rise in 2014, after a record year in 2013. Norway needs to be ready to help, the charity’s boss says.

“The international community must be ready to strengthen its efforts,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugees Council.

The war in Syria is currently the biggest source of refugees, although conflicts in Africa are also a significant factor. South Sudan could be heading for a catastrophic civil war and the Central African Republic continues to be one of the world’s most under-reported war zones, according to the charity.

A necon demand, via TheLocal.no:

Jensen: Norway’s firms pay too much tax

Norwegian companies pay too much in tax, Finance Minister Siv Jensen has said, particularly in comparison to neighbouring countries. She now plans to appoint an expert committee to look at how corporation tax can be cut.

“A major challenge from the Norwegian perspective is that the difference between us and most other countries is getting very big. There’s no doubt that there’s a gap to close – particularly when you look at  proposals for further tax reductions in the countries around us. We have a situation where high corporation tax is distorting competition, to the detriment of Norwegian companies,” she said.

Germany next, and a conservative demand from Europe Online:

Personal responsibility plea central to Merkel’s New Year’s message

Personal responsibility and initiative are two of the qualities Germans will need to move both their country and Europe forward in 2014, Chancellor Angela Merkel argued in her New Year’s message, released Tuesday.

“The state can invest. It can create good conditions,” she said in her annual message.

“But politics can only accomplish a little without all of you in our country. What every one of us accomplishes individually on a small scale – that affects our country in large.”

Off to Paris and a promise from FRANCE 24:

Hollande vows to create jobs in New Year’s address

French President François Hollande reiterated his pledge to reduce unemployment in a televised message on Tuesday evening, the president’s annual New Year’s message to the French people from the Elysée Palace.

Hollande proposed establishing a “responsibility pact” for corporations that would lower their labour charges in return for boosting recruitment as part of a raft of measures to reduce unemployment, which he had vowed to reduce by the end of 2013.

France’s unemployment numbers rose 0.5% in November to almost 3.3 million, with the jobless rate continuing to hover stubbornly at 10.5% within metropolitan France.

TheLocal.fr covers a lighter-shade-of-blue law:

France says DIY stores can open on Sundays

Home improvement stores will be allowed to open on Sundays it has been announced after a fierce debate over the country’s strict laws on trading on the traditional day of rest.

Retailers can only open on a Sunday under certain conditions — if they are located in a tourist or a high-density area, for example. Any shop selling food can operate until 1:00 pm.

But the rules have infuriated workers who want to work Sundays at a time of sky high unemployment, and drawn criticism that they are archaic and ill-suited to a time of economic hardship.

Spain next, with an upbeat pronouncement from El País:

Economy minister forecasts “significant” job creation for 2014

De Guindos says government labor reforms will help drive recovery

Following on from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s year-end speech, in which he said 2014 would be the year of economic recovery, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos predicted in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that the creation of jobs this year would be “significant.”

“In 2014, the projections we have at the Economy Ministry point to a net creation of jobs, even above what we forecast when we drew up the state budget,” De Guindos said in an interview recorded a few days previously with radio station Cadena Ser.

TheLocal.es delivers a blast:

‘Spain’s abortion law is pure ideology’: Le Monde

France’s prestigious Le Monde newspaper dedicated their Monday editorial to Spain’s new abortion law, calling it both ‘regressive’ and a politically motivated attack on ‘the left’s moral high ground’.

Le Monde ran the piece under the title “Abortion: Spain’s step backwards”.

The left-leaning daily begins by describing how its European neighbour was once at the forefront of “progressive” laws that protected women’s rights, from abortion to gender violence.

El País offers a counterblast:

Bothersome intellectuals and media” threaten families, says cardinal

Cardinal Antonio María Rouco said Sunday that Spain’s traditional Christian families were being threatened by “a culture of sadness,” including a “bothersome environment generated by intellectuals and the media.”

Speaking in his homily during an outdoor Mass held in Colón square in Madrid, which was dedicated to the day of the Holy Family, Rouco told thousands of church-goers that for “the chronically and terminally ill, the unemployed,” and “youths who have succumbed to alcohol, drugs and wild sex,” “there was no other place” like the family unit to seek refuge and help.

El País again, with intra-party blowback in the reigning neoliberal party:

Extremadura premier joins chorus of PP voices speaking out against abortion law

“No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one,” says Monago

Another top Popular Party (PP) official publicly came out against his government’s proposed abortion law on Monday. Extremadura premier José Antonio Monago said he plans to present his argument against the reform on January 8 during the party’s next executive committee meeting.

“No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one,” Monago said during his New Year’s message.

TheLocal.es drops the curtain:

EU calls time on Spain’s bank bailout

The eurozone aid programme for struggling Spanish banks closed as scheduled on Tuesday after providing some €41 billion ($55 billion) to get them through the debt crisis, a statement said.

The support “has proven instrumental in recapitalizing and restructuring Spain’s troubled banks, which are today on a sound footing,” said Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, the fund set up to help eurozone countries at the height of the crisis.

More hard times for another member of the ruling party via thinkSPAIN:

Bárcenas admitted to hospital

FORMER treasurer of the PP Luis Bárcenas was admitted to hospital yesterday due to an allergic reaction, according to prison governors at the Soto del Real jail in Madrid.

Bárcenas, investigated for tax evasion and over the alleged cash-in-hand dealing and bribery thought to have taken place within the PP party for over 20 years, has been behind bars since June 27 – despite having consistently cooperated with judge Pablo Ruz and his investigations.

Portugal next, with an offer of help via EUobserver:

EU prepares to offer Portugal more aid

European Commissioner for economic affairs Olli Rehn wrote in a Monday editorial in the business daily Diario Economico that the EU would offer additional help to Portugal once its bailout ends in May, reports the AFP. Portugal received €78bn in 2011 from international creditors in exchange for deep reforms.

Italy next, and a worrisome report from TheLocal.it:

Syrian behind shock migrant film disappears

The Syrian man who filmed fellow immigrants being subjected to naked disinfection showers in Italy has disappeared, national media reported on Tuesday.

The Syrian, who arrived by boat in early October, has not been seen at the Lampedusa immigration centre since Sunday morning, Corriere della Sera said.

His footage led to the centre’s management staff being sacked, a national investigation launched and the EU to warn Italy of the way it treats migrants.

And AGI enthuses:

Italian Labour Minister sees an economic trend reversal

“There are signs of a possible trend reversal”, said Italian Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini on the Radio Anch’io show. GDP stopped falling in the third quarter of this year and the “first signs of recovery” are forecast for the fourth quarter.

In the same period, “new labour contracts outnumbered the contracts terminated”, the minister said defining it “an important fact that shows that the labour market is gaining momentum”.

Still referring to the labour market, Giovannini recalled that a Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan has been submitted in Brussels: “We are now waiting for the green light to allocate 1.5 billion euros.”

Eastern Europe next, with BBC News:

Latvia becomes 18th state to join the eurozone

Latvia has begun the new year by joining the eurozone, becoming the 18th member of the group of EU states which uses the euro as its currency.

After the jump, the lastest from Greece, Turkish troubles, Iranian oil, Putin warns, Aussie anxiety, Vietnam opens up, China debts and doubts, Japanese worries, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

Greece first, with promises of a bright tomorrow from To Vima:

Papoulias: “The troika era as we know it is coming to an end”

President of Democracy Karolos Papoulias expressed his thoughts and wishes for the New Year

In his message and wishes for the New Year, the President of Democracy Karolos Papoulias spoke of the need to implement a national plan for the recovery of the country’s production base. Mr. Papoulias hoped that 2012 “will be the last year of recession” and stressed the prospect of “the troika era as we know it coming to an end and transitioning to a situation of strict control that will not however be obsessive, but based on rational institutional rules”.

ANA-MPA soars:

Greek stock market among top performers worldwide with 28.06 pct rise in 2013

The Greek stock market ended the year with a net gain of 28.06 pct, putting the Greek market among the top performers worldwide.

Striking news, via To Vima:

EOPYY doctor strike continues until 10th of January

Doctor federation announced decision to continue its strike in order to defend “decency of the sector”

The EOPYY doctor union announced its intention to continue its strike from the 7th to the 10th of January and called all of its members to take part in “the struggle for the decency of the sector”. POSEYP-EOPYY also clarified that emergency incidents will be handled by the security staff.

Greek Reporter rebrands:

New Name and Logo for SYRIZA

New year, new name and new logo for Greece’s major opposition party, SYRIZA.  The new official name of the party from the first day of the New Year will be changed to “SYRIZA- Coalition of Radical Left” from “SYRIZA-United Social Front,” as it was decided on the party’s founding congress.

There is no official explanation why the party decided to change its name. This probably has to do with its transformation from a coalition to single party last July and the difference on the party’s name signs the dissolution of the political groups at the interior of SYRIZA.

Greek Reporter rejects:

Theodorakis Rejects Greek Presidency Notion

Famed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who has been on a rant against the government and the country’s international lenders, has rebuffed a suggestion from PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, who’s also Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister, to be a candidate for Greek President, a position which is filled by the Parliament. It is now held by Karalos Papoulias, a member of the PASOK Socialists who are a minority partner in the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader. Typically, the President’s job is held by a member of the opposition, but that is now the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).

Not only did Theodorakis reject the idea, the cantankerous composer blistered Venizelos for even suggesting it and said the PASOK leader was trying to implicate him in a “political game.” Venizelos, who reversed his objection to the firing of workers at the former national broadcaster ERT and backed more austerity measures being imposed by the government, was characterized by Theodorakis as one of the “servants” of the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).

Greek Reporter again, with dreams of fool’s gold:

Las Vegas Sands Considering Casino in Athens Greece

World’s largest casino operator, Las Vegas Sands, is examining the option of operating a casino in Athens, Greece. The company is considering this option after rejecting plans for the creation of a 30-billion-euros mega-resort in Spain.

The head of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Sheldon Adelson — when talking to Bloomberg — reported that he is examining the options of creating a new casino resort in various European capitals such as Athens, Rome, Madrid, and Paris.

ANA-MPA coughs up:

Former defence ministry official Antonis Kantas returns millions of euros to the state

Former defence ministry official Antonis Kantas, who is held on remand over kickbacks for defence contracts, has deposited through his lawyers more than 7 million euros in a bank account in the name of the Greek state, finance ministry sources said on Tuesday.

Kantas’ defence attorneys underlined that the return to the Greek state of the first 7.5 million euros confirms in a tangible manner that their client meets his commitment to assist the work of justice in any possible way. They also noted that every effort will be made to ensure that the rest of the bribe money, that was deposited in foreign banks, will be returned shortly.

To Vima is troubled:

Government deeply concerned over domestic terrorism resurgence

Officers fear that the latest terrorist attack in Halandri could affect Greece’s international status

Yesterday’s armed attack against the residence of the German ambassador in Halandri has caused great concern amongst government officials over the repercussions a resurgence of domestic terrorism might have on Greece, as the country prepares to assume leadership of the EU.

The Prime Minister Antonis Samaras contacted his German counterpart Angela Merkel to inform her that his government is determined to tackle the latest bout of terrorism. Similarly Vice President Evangelos Venizelos updated the German Foreign Affairs Minister Steinmeier on the progress of the police investigation.

ANSAmed finds a bright spot:

Trade: Greek exports to Turkey up sevenfold in a decade

Greek exports to Turkey, such as cotton, fuel and plastics, have increased sevenfold within a decade, soaring from 369 million euros in 2002 to 2.6 billion in 2012, as daily Kathimerini reports quoting official figures. There was a 38% increase from 2011 to 2012 as well.

Turkish exports to Greece also grew from 645 million euros in 2002 to 1.02 billion last year, despite a 9.73% annual decline in 2012 compared with 2011. Tourism from Turkey has also soared, posting a 57.6% annual increase last year, while in January-February 2013 the number of Turkish visitors to Greece doubled compared to the same period last year. In total, about half a million Turkish citizens arrived in Greece on a visa.

And on to Turkey, with a resigned Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Another ruling party MP quits over Turkey corruption scandal

Another lawmaker from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a high-level bribery and corruption probe, local media reported.

Another lawmaker from Turkey’s ruling party resigned on Tuesday over a high-level corruption scandal, further shaking Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on power.

Hasan Hami Yildirim had criticised the government for exerting pressure on the judiciary over the graft investigation, which has plunged Turkey into political turmoil just three months ahead of key elections.

Turkish nuclear dreams from Nikkei Asian Review:

Japan to swap know-how for slice of Turkey’s nuclear project

Japan and Turkey have agreed to set up a science university in Istanbul, providing a venue where Japanese engineers can share their knowledge of nuclear power and other disciplines, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has told The Nikkei.

Turkey has requested the creation of a technical university as part of a nuclear reactor construction deal it reached with Japan. The two nations will sign a memorandum of understanding when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Japan from Jan. 6-8 to discuss the details of the nuclear project. Yildiz is scheduled to accompany Erdogan.

Iran next, with hopes from SINA English:

China may raise Iran oil imports with new contract

China may buy more Iranian oil next year as a state trader is negotiating a new light crude contract that could raise imports from Tehran to levels not seen since tough Western sanctions were imposed in 2012, running the risk of upsetting Washington.

An increase would go against the spirit of November’s breakthrough agreement relaxing some of the stringent measures slapped on Iran two years ago over its nuclear programme.

The November deal between Tehran and the group known as P5+1 – made up of the United States and five other global powers – paused efforts to reduce Iran’s crude sales but required buyers to hold to “current average amounts” of Iranian oil imports.

Russia next with a vow from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Putin warns ‘terrorists’ face total destruction

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday threatened “terrorists” with total destruction after twin suicide strikes claimed 34 lives and raised alarm over security at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

A bombing at the main railway station of the southern city of Volgograd killed 18 people on Sunday while a second strike that hit a trolley bus on Monday claimed 16 lives.

Heading Down Under resourcefully with the Australian Financial Review:

Fears of China resources shock abate

Despite a slowdown in the pace of growth, China’s economy is still expanding relatively fast and its demand for Australia’s resource exports seems unlikely to suffer the dramatic fall some have feared.

Another headline from Australia reminds us that regulation under a so-called liberal government paved the way for the Rupester’s reign Down Under just as Bill Clinton’s administration paved the way for Murdoch Up Over. From The Guardian:

Hawke cabinet’s media changes paved the way for News Corporation

Decisions in 1986 allowed Rupert Murdoch to dominate the press, a consequence that hurt Rudd and Gillard governments

In 1986 the Hawke cabinet made decisions that unleashed far-reaching changes in Australian media ownership and control.

The changes resulted in the dominance of the Australian press by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, a consequence felt keenly by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments in 2007-13.

Latin America next with Reuters and port troubles:

Chinese iron trade fuels port clash with Mexican drug cartel

When the leaders of Mexico and China met last summer, there was much talk of the need to deepen trade between their nations. Down on Mexico’s Pacific coast, a drug gang was already making it a reality.

The Knights Templar cartel, steadily diversifying into other businesses, became so successful at exporting iron ore to China that the Mexican Navy in November had to move in and take over the port in Lazaro Cardenas, a city that has become one of the gang’s main cash generators.

This steelmaking center, drug smuggling hot spot and home of a rapidly growing container port in the western state of Michoacan occupies a strategic position on the Pacific coast, making it a natural gateway for burgeoning trade with China.

Asia next, starting in India with BBC News:

India scraps $753m Finmeccanica helicopter deal

India has cancelled a $753m (£455m) helicopter deal with Italian defence giant Finmeccanica after allegations of corruption, officials say.

The contract was for 12 luxury helicopters to transport VIPs.

Defence officials said they scrapped the deal because an integrity pact had been breached by the firm’s Anglo-Italian helicopter arm AgustaWestland.

India suspended payments in February after allegations that AgustaWestland paid bribes to win the contract.

Vietnam next, and yet another major neoliberalization from South China Morning Post:

Vietnam set to loosen restrictions on foreign ownership in listed firms

New legislation will let non-nationals hold up to 60 per cent of shares in some listed companies

Vietnam’s prime minister is expected within days to approve an amended law allowing foreigners to own up to 60 per cent of shares in some listed firms, the latest incremental move towards easing state controls on the economy.

The bill would increase the foreign ownership limit and voting rights from 49 per cent to 60 per cent, but only in certain sectors and companies, and after approval of shareholders and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung himself.

On to China and currency events from Nikkei Asian Review:

Yuan spiked in 2013 as illicit funds flooded China

The Chinese currency staged the sharpest appreciation against the dollar in two years in 2013, lifted up by a flood of money brought into the country by unscrupulous parties looking to reap profits from relatively high interest rates.

The yuan climbed 2.91% against the greenback over the year. It traded at 6.0539 to the dollar in the Shanghai foreign exchange market Tuesday, marking a record high for the third straight trading day.

Want China Times neglects:

Chinese state firms looking malnourished in 2013: report

Among the 100 Chinese companies whose market value shrunk the most in 2013, 80% are state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Of this figure, 38 are central government-owned enterprises and suffered a total value erosion of 1.3 trillion yuan (US$215 billion), while the combined market value of 42 local state-owned businesses fell by 741.2 billion yuan (US$122 billion).

Six state firms sit on the top 10 list with China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) having seen the highest market value decline among all state firms. CNPC’s market value slipped from 1.46 trillion yuan (US$241 billion) at the beginning of 2013 to 1.24 trillion yuan (US$204 billion) by the end of the year.

People’s Daily does the old soft shoe:

Xi: China to promote cultural soft power

President Xi Jinping has vowed to promote China’s cultural soft power by disseminating modern Chinese values and showing the charm of Chinese culture to the world.

Efforts are needed to build China’s national image, Xi said when delivering a speech at a group study session of members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on Monday.

China should be portrayed as a civilized country featuring rich history, ethnic unity and cultural diversity, and as an oriental power with good government, developed economy, cultural prosperity, national unity and beautiful mountains and rivers, Xi said.

While Global Times goes the traditional route:

Reeducation through Marxism

Perhaps the best way to get a better understanding of the Marxist view of journalism is to think of Marx himself as a journalist, and not as a political thinker, Zhu Songmei, a journalism student of Tsinghua University said while expressing her view on the controversial Marxist ideology class now being made compulsory for all journalists in China.

“It is necessary to understand Marxism as that’s what we promote, but I doubt if it is that useful in real life,” Zhu told the Global Times, adding that she wants to join a mainstream media outlet such as the People’s Daily or Xinhua News Agency after graduation.

In future, students of China’s top 10 journalism schools including Fudan University and Renmin University of China will have the chance to reach a closer understanding of Marx’s principle that “Party publications are weapons of the Party.”

Bloomberg News rings the opening bell:

China Approves $353 Million of Share Sales as IPOs Resume

China’s securities regulator approved the initial public offerings of five companies seeking to raise about $353 million, paving the way for share sales to resume after a freeze of more than one year.

Neway Valve (Suzhou) Co. received approval for a first-time sale in Shanghai that could seek about 839 million yuan ($138 million) and will start marketing its shares early next month, the maker of industrial valves said in statements to the Shanghai Stock Exchange yesterday. Truking Technology Ltd., Guangdong Qtone Education Co., Guangdong Xinbao Electrical Appliances Holdings Co. and Zhejiang Wolwo Bio-Pharmaceutical Co. secured approval to list on the smaller Shenzhen exchange, separate filings by the companies showed.

China, the world’s largest IPO market in 2010 with a record $71 billion raised, hasn’t had an initial public offering since October 2012 as the securities regulator cracked down on fraud and misconduct among advisers and issuers. Fifty companies are expected to be ready by the end of January, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said Nov. 30 after pledging to move toward a U.S.-style IPO registration system.

And from The Guardian, a cautionary note:

China’s growth and manufacturing output decline as property prices soar

Data comes after studies showing real estate prices rising and detailing the mounting debts of local authorities

Chinese manufacturing activity declined in December, piling pressure on communist leaders grappling with the slowest economic growth in the country since 1999, amid booming property prices and rising local government debts.

An industry group, the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, said on Wednesday that its purchasing managers index for December declined to 51 from the previous month’s 51.4, where numbers above 50 indicate increasing activity.

Japan next, with shrinkage from NHK WORLD:

Japan population shrank at fastest pace since WWII

Japan’s population shrank last year at its fastest pace since the end of World War Two. This marks the 7th straight year of decline.

A health ministry survey shows that one million 31 thousand babies were born in 2013. That’s down 6 thousand from the previous year and the fewest since the end of the war.

The estimate also shows one million 275 thousand people died last year. That’s an increase of 19 thousand from the year before and the most after the war. These figures show Japan’s population dropped by 244 thousand last year.

The Asahi Shimbun buoys:

Abe optimistic on economy in 2014; tax hike could be game changer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his economic policies will continue to reward investors next year after the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s benchmark index closed 2013 at a six-year high.

But analysts’ forecasts were mixed on stock prices after the consumption tax rate rises from 5 percent to 8 percent in April. They also had differing predictions for the yen.

The Japan Times keeps it easy:

Bank of Japan likely to maintain easing policy, chief says

Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda indicated the central bank will keep intact its current monetary easing policy in 2014 with prospects that the economy will continue to recover despite possible adverse impact from the consumption tax hike in April.

In a recent interview, the BOJ chief poured cold water on the view in financial markets that the bank is likely to further ease its monetary policy as early as the first half of the year.

Tokyo Times doesn’t smile for the birdie:

Japanese camera makers’ sales are falling sharply

Japanese companies that are making photo cameras, such as Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus, are losing money as their sales are falling sharply.

The companies’ sales drop has started since mobile phones that take high-quality photos ate into the compact camera business. The sales of mirrorless cameras – seen as a high hope by the firms’ marketing departments – did not bring as much profit as estimated, because buyers put connectivity above picture quality.

Panasonic reported a 40 percent drop in overall camera sales in April-September. “If you look mid-to-long term, digital camera makers are slipping and the market is becoming an oligopoly,” said Credit Suisse AG imaging analyst Yu Yoshida, according to the international press.

Uncovered cover-up, via the Mainichi:

Foodmaker says pesticide residue far more damaging than thought

A subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. said Tuesday that pesticide residue found in some of its frozen food products could sicken a child who consumed just one-eighth of a croquette, dramatically revising its previous estimate of 60 croquettes comprising a toxic dose.

An official of Aqlifoods Co. told a press conference early Tuesday the company initially did not have enough knowledge about the toxicity.

The Gunma Prefecture-based company detected malathion, an organic phosphate typically used as a pesticide, in a total of nine samples from seven different product lines after examining 20 items from 10 product lines that drew consumer complaints about odors since November. There have been no reports of illness, according to the company.

The highest concentration was detected in a croquette package bought by a consumer in Tokyo, which registered 15,000 parts per million, 1.5 million times higher than the acceptable pesticide residue.

The Japan Times brings the latest, sinister development:

Foul play probed in tainted food

Police are investigating whether someone intentionally laced high levels of pesticide in frozen food products made at a Gunma Prefecture-based subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc.

The police are investigating the incident because pesticide was not used at the food factory and its concentration levels were too high to be residue from the farms where the vegetables in the products were grown.

And on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!

RT covers high anxiety:

Plumes of mysterious steam rise from crippled nuclear reactor at Fukushima

Fresh plumes of most probably radioactive steam have been detected rising from the reactor 3 building at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, said the facility’s operator company.

The steam has been detected by surveillance cameras and appeared to be coming from the fifth floor of the mostly-destroyed building housing crippled reactor 3, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the plant’s operator.

The steam was first spotted on December 19 for a short period of time, then again on December 24, 25, 27, according to a report TEPCO published on its website.

The company, responsible for the cleanup of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, has not explained the source of the steam or the reason it is rising from the reactor building. High levels of radiation have complicated entry into the building and further inspection of the situation.

NHK WORLD looks to bury the bad news:

Govt. to seek local consent for storage facilities

Japanese government officials are getting ready to explain to people in Fukushima the details of a plan to store radioactive waste collected from decontamination work.

The intermediate storage facilities would be designed to hold contaminated soil and debris for up to 30 years. Last month, the central government asked three towns around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to host them.

NHK WORLD is resigned:

Nuclear plants unlikely to resume operations soon

Officials with the Nuclear Regulation Authority in Japan say no nuclear plants are likely to resume operations in the near future.

They set new safety standards last July following the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The guidelines call on operators to prepare for severe accidents and to reinforce facilities to make them earthquake-resistant.

Seven utilities have applied for safety screenings for 9 plants so they can restart operations.

And The Guardian looks at the long haul:

Fukushima ghost towns struggle to recover amid high radiation levels

Post-tsunami reconstruction and radiation cleanup could take 10 years, but officials say something has been permanently lost

Nearly three years after a major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation leak devastated coastal and inland areas of Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, 175 miles north-east of Tokyo, Namie has become a silent town of ghosts and absent lives.

Namie’s 21,000 residents remain evacuated because of continuing high radiation levels, the product of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, six miles to the south. Homes, shops and streets are deserted except for the occasional police patrol or checkpoint.

From the San Diego Free Press, another face of Fukushima closer to home:

USS Ronald Reagan Sailors to Refile Suit For Fukushima Radiation Poisoning

After U.S. Navy sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan responded to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan for four days, many returned to the U.S. with thyroid cancer, Leukemia, brain tumors and more.

At least 71 sailors—many in their 20s—reported radiation sickness and will file a lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima Daiichi energy plant.

The men and women accuse TEPCO of downplaying the danger of nuclear radiation on the site. The water contaminated the ship’s supply, which led to crew members drinking, washing their bodies and brushing their teeth with contaminated water. Paul Garner, an attorney representing 51 sailors, said at least half of the 70-plus sailors have some form of cancer.

And here’s a video report from The Young Turks:

Fukushima Responders Starting To Get Sick

<iframe class="youtube-player" type="text/html" width="500" height="3

Show more