A rare day when Fukushima rates only a tangential headline. But never fear, things are at a rolling boil in lots of other venues. . .

We begin with a hint of things to come from Want China Times:

US dollar era could end: Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent

Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Sargent says the era of the US dollar as the world’s largest trade currency could come to an end, China Entrepreneur magazine reports.

Sargent, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2011, made the comments in an interview during a recent visit to China.

The US dollar rapidly became the world’s top trade currency after the conclusion of World War II because wars have affected the US relatively less, allowing the country to maintain its balance of payments, Sargent noted, adding that predictions about the end of the US dollar era have been premature.

In the future, however, all national governments will take more precautions but will still allow the public to decide what trade currency they prefer to use. If they end up deciding to use a different currency like the Chinese yuan, then the era of the US dollar will effectively end, Sargent said.

The Contributor Network delivers the inhumane:

TX Rep on Why He Joined Congress: To Stop Single Moms from Getting Welfare

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty, which introduced major initiatives designed to help lift Americans out of poverty. President Obama marked the occasion by recommitting himself to fighting poverty, declaring that “our work is far from over.”

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler), on the other hand, used the occasion to reaffirm how much he hates poor people, especially single mothers.

In a speech on the House floor Wednesday night, Gohmert explained that the War on Poverty inspired him to run for Congress. But it wasn’t because he wanted to fight poverty, it was because he hated welfare. Gohmert said that as a state district judge, he realized that “the government will send you a check for every baby you have out of wedlock” and he decided he had to stop it.

Just for the sake of reality, consider the following as our riposte to Gohmert’s, er, gomerism, via Montclair Sociologist:

A relative of Obama’s commerce secretary goes for the [Acapulco] gold via Bloomberg:

Pritzker Scion Backs Pot Plans as Getting High Gets Legal

Robert Frichtel will have 10 minutes to persuade a roomful of investors in Las Vegas to part with as much as $6 million for a business leasing space for growing marijuana.

Frichtel’s firm will be among 12 companies making pitches Jan. 23 to as many as 70 angel investors assembled by the ArcView Group, based in San Francisco. Members include Joby Pritzker, whose family started Hyatt Hotels Corp., and Adam Wiggins, co-founder of Heroku Inc., a software maker acquired by Salesforce.com Inc.

“Everybody is running toward this as the next entrepreneurial wave — the green rush,” said Frichtel, 50, president and chief executive officer of Advanced Cannabis Solutions Inc., based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

TheLocal.de covers a landmark:

German carmakers celebrate record US sales

German automakers predict further growth in the US market after achieving record sales in 2013 by capitalizing on expanding demand for luxury vehicles, the head of the VDA automakers association said Monday.

The country’s carmakers have managed to outpace the market, expanding sales by 75 percent since the financial crisis pushed US sales to the lowest level in decades in 2009.

“During those crisis years we, the German auto industry, did not make the mistake of underestimating the importance of the US market,” VDA’s president Matthias Wissmann said at the Detroit auto show. “On the contrary, our companies consistently expanded their activities here in the United States. This long-term strategy is paying off.”

The Washington Post strikes close to Republican home:

Survey: Strong concern about health coverage among congressional staffers

The vast majority of congressional staff directors think their employees are worried about their health benefits after a GOP amendment to the Affordable Care Act forced them off their normal federal-worker plans, according to a survey released Monday.

Ninety percent of chiefs of staff and local directors in a Congressional Management Foundation survey said their employees are concerned about the benefit changes, while 86 percent said their workers are worried about cost.

Congressional staffers previously qualified for coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, but an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to the health law now prohibits lawmakers and their staffers from taking part in the program.

Those individuals must now seek coverage through their spouses, parents, or the federal exchange established under the health law. Otherwise, they have to pay a penalty for not having insurance.

Another institution gets an offshore owner via BBC News:

Japan’s Suntory buys Jim Beam drinks group in $16bn deal

Japanese family-owned drinks firm Suntory is to buy the US beverage group Beam Inc, the company behind the Jim Bean bourbon brand.

Under the deal, worth $16bn (£9.7bn) in all, Suntory will pay $13.6bn in cash and take on Beam’s debt.

It will make Suntory the world’s third largest maker of distilled drinks.

Belated realization from Al Jazeera America:

Larry Summers joins the reality-based economics community

Former Obama adviser discovers that prolonged economic downturns are a serious problem

In a remarkable departure from earlier versions of Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, Harvard president and top Obama economic adviser has recently been sounding the alarm about secular stagnation — a prolonged period when the economy operates below its potential level of output. This discovery may provoke choruses of “duh” from the tens of millions of workers who for years have had the opportunity to live with secular stagnation in the form of unemployment, underemployment or stagnant wages.

But even if his discovery is not news to most people, it is a huge development nonetheless. Summers is one of the world’s most prominent economists. In the mainstream of the profession, it has long been a matter of virtual absolute faith that the economy tends to sustain full employment levels of output. Any departures from full employment are quickly corrected by the self-adjusting market, ideally with a push from a reduction in interest rates by central banks.

Gee, ya think so? From Salon:

Noam Chomsky: Trans-Pacific Partnership is a “neoliberal assault”

The political theorist and linguist slams the agreement that has little to do with free trade

Critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a purported free trade deal between 11 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Japan, which has been in negotiations for some years — have noted that the deal has little to do with free trade. Rather, the TPP is about limiting regulation, helping corporate interests and imposes fiercer standards of intellectual property (to, again, largely benefit corporate interests).

Noam Chomsky has joined the chorus decrying the TPP. On Monday he told HuffPost Live that the deal, which is not yet finalized, is “designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

Chomsky said it was “a joke” that the deal is designated a “free trade” agreement. “It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke,” Chomsky said. “These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”

On to Europe, first with a warning from the Australian Financial Review:

IMF adds four European countries to financial risk list

The IMF has added Denmark, Finland, Norway and Poland to its list of countries that must have regular check-ups of their financial sectors, under an effort to prevent a repeat of the global financial crisis.

Looking down with EUbusiness:

Portugal, Greece, Latvia highlight eurozone deflation risk

Consumer prices rose by an average of 0.3 percent in 2013 in Portugal and fell by 0.9 percent in Greece, according to data released Monday, showing the risk of deflation in the eurozone periphery remains real.

In Baltic state Latvia, inflation was zero in 2013 compared with price levels in 2012, official data in Riga showed. Latvia became the eurozone’s 18th member on January 1 this year.

Portugal’s INE statistics agency said that annual consumer price inflation picked up to 0.2 percent in December, from the -0.2 percent registered in November. It said the disinflation trend in 2013 was mostly due to a 0.7-percent drop in energy prices.

In Greece, annual inflation came in at -1.7 percent in December, after hitting -2.9 percent in November, according to EL.STAT.

Another warning, via Reuters:

ECB’s Mersch says recovery on wobbly legs

The euro zone economic recovery is still very tentative and fragile and is Europe’s number one challenge for 2014, European Central Bank Executive Board member Yves Mersch said on Monday.

“I see the big challenge for this year in the still very tentative upturn,” Mersch said in the text of a speech to be given at an Ifo Institute event in Munich. “The economic recovery in Europe still stands on wobbly legs.”

Mersch also urged those countries which can afford it to invest in infrastructure.

While he did not specifically name Germany, it has faced criticism from countries in Europe and beyond for spending less on infrastructure over the past decade.

On to Britain with a weighty entry from RT:

Obesity pandemic looms large as half of Britons could be overweight by 2050

Prognoses that only half the UK population will be obese by 2050 ‘’underestimate the true scale of the problem,’‘ a new report has warned. The National Obesity Forum says Britain is in for the worst case obesity scenario.

“It is entirely reasonable to conclude that the determinations of the 2007 Foresight Report (i.e. that half the population might be obese by 2050 at an annual cost of nearly 50 billion pounds), while shocking at the time, may now underestimate the scale of the problem,” the report by the National Obesity Forum stated.

“Obesity and weight management are a direct cause of many health problems and are already placing enormous demands on the NHS at a time when health resources are stretched like never before. The current situation is unsustainable,” Professor David Haslam, the forum’s chair said.

Just say no, via EUobserver:

UK parliament should have right to veto EU laws, MPs say

The UK parliament should have the right to throw out EU laws, according to a letter from Conservative MPs to Prime Minister David Cameron.

In the letter, made public on Sunday (12 January), 95 Conservatives (out of a total of 225) stated that the House of Commons should be able to block new EU legislation and repeal existing measures that threaten Britain’s “national interests”.

A national parliament veto power would allow the UK to “recover control over our borders, to lift EU burdens on business, to regain control over energy policy and to disapply the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”.

The idea was quickly dismissed by ministers.

Neoliberal gospel from the Irish Independent:

Slash tax to create jobs and attract business, report urges

INCOME tax should be dramatically slashed to encourage risk-taking in business and bring in foreign start-up companies, the Government is being advised.

A radical report by an expert group on entrepreneurship, seen by the Irish Independent, has recommended a flat tax on all income of 15pc to 20pc in a long-term strategy to attract corporations, immigrant business people and keep wealthy Irish in the country.

The low flat rate of tax would be on all income and would also be aimed at eliminating evasion.

“High income tax rates results in fewer jobs, results in more people on social welfare, and results in a dying economy,” the report by the Entrepreneurship Forum says.

On to Amsterdam, with a bill to come from DutchNews.nl:

Prisoners to pay €16 a day for their time in jail: justice ministry

The cabinet is planning to make convicted criminals pay towards the cost of the investigation into their crimes as well as a fee for each day they spend in jail.

The justice ministry said in a statement on Monday it is to introduce a charge of €16 a day for prisoners, people in psychiatric prison and the parents of juveniles in detention.

Prisoners and parents would be liable to pay the charge for a maximum two years, costing them up to €11,680.

Hints of coming Danish deflation from the Copenhagen Post:

Inflation at a historic low

The yearly rise of consumer prices has reached its lowest rate in 60 years

Last month saw consumer prices rise by 0.8 percent over December 2012 – the second-largest jump of the year – but as a whole, inflation was at a historic low in 2013.

With prices rising just 0.8 percent from 2012 to 2013, it marked the lowest inflation rate in 60 years.

A drop in the price of food and petrol are among the explanations for the historically low inflation rate, according to Arbejdernes Landsbank chief economist Lone Kjærgaard.

Germany next, putting on a happy face with New Europe:

Germany: Government wants German army to be an attractive employer

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced her plan to reform the labour relations in the German army.

“My goal is to make the armed forces to be one of the most attractive employers in Germany…In doing so, the most important issue is the compatability of employment and family,” Ms. Von der Leyen told the national Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag. The German Defence minister also served as a Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and a Minister of Family Affairs in the previous governments.

Chinese new agency Xinhia reported that according to German media reports, soldiers often criticise the family-unfriendly conditions in the German army. The complaints made to Hellmut Konigshaus, Parliamentary Commissioner for the German Armed Forces, have reached a record high in 2013. Ms. Von der Leyen said that she intends to promote part-time work for soldiers who need to take care of their children or parents and also expand child care services in army barracks. Moreover she stressed that, “anyone who, for example, uses the option of a three- or four-day week while raising a family must still have career prospects.”

Europe Online books a profit:

Volkswagen overtakes GM with 16-per-cent growth in China

German auto giant Volkswagen AG on Monday reported annual sales of 3.27 million vehicles in China last year, up 16.2 per cent, beating the sales volume of US rival General Motors.

“2013 was a very successful year for us, and we intend to continue our growth in 2014,” said Jochem Heizmann, the head of Volkswagen Group China.

Sales of the company’s Volkswagen-branded vehicles rose by nearly 17 per cent to 2.51 million.

EurActiv voices opposition:

French senators strongly attack EU-US trade deal

During a debate in the French Senate, all political parties harshly criticised the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but the French government defended the potential deal, EurActiv France reports.

The minister in charge of foreign trade, Nicole Bricq, admit with regret that France was the country where the mobilisation against what they call the ‘transatlantic treaty’, is the strongest.

A debate, which took place in the Senate on Thursday (9 January), showed bipartisan opposition to the agreement and the government found itself somewhat isolated on the topic after facing criticism from speakers from all political sides.

Though we usually avoid sexcapades, in the case of the French President trysts have transformed into troubles for an already deeply troubled regime. From The Independent:

The French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler has demanded a “rapid clarification” of her status – both romantic and public – following President François Hollande’s reported love affair with a 41 years old actress.

The President’s official companion has told a French journalist that she believes  that an official statement needs to be made to the French people despite Mr Hollande’s insistence that the episode is merely part of his “private life”.

François Hollande And Julie Gayet’s ‘Love Affair Flat’ Linked To Corsican Mafia

Ms Trierweiler, 49, was still in hospital suffering from depression and shock tonight, three days after Closer magazine revealed that Mr Hollande was having an affair with the actress Julie Gayet. Her office announced that doctors judged that she needed more rest and she would not leave the hospital as originally planned today.

“She needs to recover after the shock she received,” her office said. “She needs quiet.”

And the latest twist from TheLocal.fr:

Hollande-Gayet ‘love nest’ linked to mafia

Reports in France over the weekend linked a “love nest” allegedly used by President François Hollande and actress Julie Gayet to two figures with connections to the Corsican mob. It is the latest twist in a tale that is dominating the headlines in France on Monday.

The story of French President François Hollande’s alleged affair with an actress took a darker turn over the weekend when reports surfaced saying the suspected trysts took place in a Paris apartment owned by someone with ties to the Corsican mob.

The apartment on Rue du Cirque, not far from the Elysée Palace in the city’s 8th arrondissement, was allegedly made available to Hollande and actress Julie Gayet by a woman who was married to a recently slain Corsican mafioso and who is the ex-wife of Michel Ferracci, who also has alleged links to Corsican mafia, French newspaper Le Monde claimed.

Spain next, first with a pitch from TheLocal.es:

Spanish PM to sell recovery in Obama talks

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is set to visit US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday in what some in the Spanish media have called a long overdue meeting.

It has taken two years and one month, but Rajoy will finally make an official visit to the residence of the US President on Monday. In the heavily scrutinized world of international diplomacy, such details can take on significance.

Spain’s El Mundo pointed out on Monday that Barack Obama only waited 10 months after being elected to invite ex-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The daily also pointed out that the leaders of Greece and Italy hadn’t had to wait so long to pay their respects to Obama.

El País boosts:

Economy grew 0.3 percent in fourth quarter, De Guindos says

Minister presents advance figures to bolster government claims that recovery is gaining pace

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos announced on Monday in Congress that the fledgling recovery of the Spanish economy gained more strength in the fourth quarter of 2013. According to advance figures from the government, GDP grew 0.3 percent between October and December compared with the previous quarter. That is two points higher than the figure for the second quarter, when Spain finally managed to leave behind the longest recession of the democratic era.

During his appearance in Congress, De Guindos summed up the positive signs now appearing in the Spanish economy, with the aim of bolstering the government’s argument that the recovery is gaining pace. The country is now “faced with a recovery, albeit fragile, but one that is, after all, a recovery,” he said.

The Portugal News re-ups:

Prime Minister to seek second mandate

Pedro Passos Coelho announced his intention to seek a second mandate as Portuguese Prime Minister and will correspondingly stand as candidate for the leadership of the Social Democrat Party, the senior coalition party in power, he told a party meeting in a Lisbon hotel.

“My intention is to once again stand as candidate for the leadership of the Social Democrat Party and thereby to campaign in the next parliament elections as a candidate for Prime Minister,” Passos Coelho said to warm applause.

The party leadership elections are due on January 22 with national elections due in 2015.

The current prime minister added that the party leadership election was taking place “in the middle of an ongoing process” that had first begun in 2010 when he took over the party leadership when still in opposition.

From Lisbon, have we got a deal for you! From EUbusiness:

Barroso says Portugal would do well to take new aid programme

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Monday taking a precautionary credit line would boost confidence in Portugal once it finishes its EU-IMF rescue later this year.

“A precautionary programme would without a generate more confidence and security,” Barroso was quoted as saying by Portuguese journalists in Brussels.

“It would be the best option, in principle, but it is still a little early to decide.”

As Portugal nears the end of its 78-billion-euro ($106-billion) EU-IMF bailout in May there has been increasing discussion whether it will follow in Ireland’s footsteps and forgo any of the EU’s new assistance programmes.

Off to Italy and a declaration from a rising new party via AGI:

M5S voters support decriminalizing clandestine immigration

The on-line M5S referendum on decriminalizing clandestine immigration attracted 24,932 respondents, who expressed their vote on Beppe Grillo’s blog.

15,839 voters were in favour of decriminalization and 9,093 were against. .

The harsh reality from TheLocal.it:

‘Migrants are treated like dogs’: Italian MP

In December, shocking footage showed migrants being disinfected at a migrant “welcome centre” on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Shortly after, MP Khalid Chaouki spent a number of nights at the centre to experience just how bad conditions for migrants are. He speaks to The Local about what he discovered.

While the Italian government and the EU launched investigations into the Lampedusa centre, Khalid Chaouki flew there to experience for himself what life was like for people arriving on Italy’s shores.

After landing on December 22nd, the Democratic Party (PD) MP found the centre in an “appalling” state, with water leaking into the rooms and “awful” hygiene conditions. Filthy mattresses piled up, while there was nowhere set aside for people to eat, he said at the time.

After the jump crimes, austerity, and punishment in Greece, Turkish tempers, Latin American medicine, an Indian surprise, Thai troubles, Aussie immigration politics, Chinese marketization, a Japanese admonition, and the latest environmental news. . .

Our first Greek item charts decline with MacroPolis:

Greece saw first annual deflation in almost half a century in 2013

The drop in Greece’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) decelerated to 1.7 percent in December after peaking with a 2.9 percent decline in November, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

On a monthly basis, the CPI rose 0.9 percent for the first time since September. The average rate of CPI change in 2013 was negative at -0.9 percent for the first time in more than 45 years, according to the Bank of Greece.

The positive change in prices by 0.9 percent in December compared to November is fully attributed to a jump in clothing and footwear prices by 9.4 percent most likely reflecting a 10-day sales period introduced for the first time in the beginning of November. The same reason also explains the deflation peak on a yearly basis in November, when clothing and footwear prices retreated 11.5 percent.

ANSAmed captures another fall-off:

Crisis: Greece, retail sector expects turnover to drop 10%

Winter sales begin today to last until February 28

Greece’s suffering retail sector will be looking for a boost from winter sales, which begin on Monday and are due to last until February 28, as Kathimerini online reports.

Estimates from the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE) put the expected turnover in this sales window at 5 billion euros, down from 5.5 billion in 2013 – i.e. a decline of just under 10%. The annual drop last year had amounted to 14%, while in 2012 it had come to 14.89%. In contrast to last year’s winter sales, stores will be allowed to open on the first Sunday on of the sales period, which is on January 19, if they wish

From Greek Reporter, one sale does go through:

BP Buys Greek Oil Reserves

The agreement for the purchase of the Prinos oil field reserves was signed on Monday afternoon at the Greek Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, between Energean Oil, the Greek company exploiting the reserves and British multinational BP Oil International.

The $500 million price tag relates to oil production estimates for the Prinos field over the 6 year duration of the contract at current oil prices. It also marks the return of BP to the Greek energy market, which the British company abandoned in 2009, selling its domestic assets to Hellenic Petroleum S.A.

This return to the Greek market is seen by observers as important, particularly in terms of developments expected over the next few months regarding other potential reserves in Greek controlled waters.

ANSAmed charts another decline:

Crisis: Greece’s industrial output continues to suffer

Greece’s industrial slump deepened further as output contracted in November for a fifth consecutive month, to the tune of 6.1%, as daily Kathimerini reports quoting data released by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), highlighting the ravages of a six-year recession even as the debt-laden economy is showing tentative signs of recovery elsewhere. The revised figure for the previous month pointed to a 4.7% contraction.

The reduced production of wood, petroleum, carbon and metal products led to a 5.8% decline in manufacturing output in November. The drop brings the overall decline in Greek industrial output to an annual pace of 3.9% in the first 11 months of the year, compared to a 3.4% drop for the whole of 2012. Greek industrial production has been on the wane since 2008, and has dropped by about 30% since its peak.

Deutsche Welle serves it up:

Soup kitchens for the Greek middle class

In Greece even the middle class is suffering because of the crisis. Soup kitchens and food donations for the needy are being organized – even in fancy suburbs of Athens.

In Athens’s elegant and green suburb of Kifissia Maria Kefalas-Salmatani distributes food and medicine to the needy. In 2003, the contractor had been elected to the City Council – with the promise to create a new home for disabled children and young people. But since then, the priorities of the local government have changed: Due to the rapidly-spreading economic crisis, the councilor has to first care for the needy. The majority of start-up funding – approximately 4000.000 EUR – was given by an EU program. Today, the auxiliary project is primarily funded by private donations. By the end of January, the local administration of Kifissia will also open a social pharmacy for the needy.

To Vima withholds:

13% VAT rate for food and restaurants extended to end of 2014

Reduced tax rate applies to food delivery services and goods intended for immediate consumption

13% VAT rate for food and restaurants extended to end of 2014

According to the regulation issued by the General Secretary of Public Revenue Haris Theoharis, the 13% reduced VAT rate for food and restaurants will be extend until the 31st of December 2014.

The lower VAT rate, which was implemented in August, is applicable to food delivery services, coffee and hot drink kiosks, as well as other goods intended for immediate consumption at restaurants.

Mr. Theoharis clarified that the regular 23% VAT rate will remain in place for night clubs, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages accordingly and other related goods, which are not intended to be consumed immediately.

Greek Reporter coughs it up:

One in Three Greek Physicians Found With Unjustified Incomes

As part of a full-scale operation conducted by the Greek Financial and Economic Crimes Unit (SDOE) targeting money laundering in the health sector, it was revealed that hundreds of physicians all over Greece were involved in tax evasion and black-economy practices.

According to the newspaper “Eleftheros Typos,” the opening of bank accounts owned by physicians working in the Greek National Health System revealed huge amounts which couldn’t be justified by the physicians’ legal incomes. It is suspected that these amounts come from bribes and illegal practice outside the NHS.

The results of the investigation show that at least 1 in 3 of the investigated doctors has been found with unjustified amounts in his bank accounts. In many cases, the black-market money discovered, amounts up to thousands of euros.

From the over 500 physicians audited — mainly gynecologists and obstetricians — the tax evasion percentage exceeds 35%.

Prosecutions aplenty with Kathimerini English:

Judiciary steps up parallel corruption probes

Suspect questioned in bank loan scandal as two more arrested for submarines

The judiciary stepped up a corruption probe on two fronts on Monday, arresting two officials suspected of taking under-the-table payments for a submarine deal and questioning the first suspect in a new scandal embroiling the state-led Hellenic PostBank (TT) in the issuing of millions of euros in unsecured loans.

The former managing director of Skaramangas Shipyards, Sotiris Emmanouil, and an associate of ex-Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, Yiannis Beltsios, were arrested in connection with taking bribes to secure arms deals. Emmanouil is alleged to have received some 23 million euros in kickbacks to secure submarine deals with German firm HDW Ferrostaal. Authorities arrested him in his luxury home, which was subsequently seized.

Warrants for the arrest of the two men were issued after former Defense Ministry official Apostolos Kantas alleged during testimony that they had received under-the-table payment.

And for our next entry in Law & Order: Athens, consider the following from EnetEnglish.gr:

Former finance minister Papaconstantinou to stand trial over Lagarde list

Judges rule that the statute of limitations for the alleged offences has not expired

Former Pasok finance minister George Papaconstantinou faces charges of dereliction of duty, doctoring a document as well as breach of faith over allegedly removing the names of three of his relatives from the Lagarde list of suspected Greeks with undeclared cash deposits in a Swiss branch of HSBC bank

Former Pasok finance minister George Papaconstantinou will face an investigation for having tampered with a confidential tax list in late 2010, judges have decided.

Meeting on Sunday, the five-member judicial council of a special court called to look into the case agreed with the finding of a Supreme Court prosecutor that the statute of limitations related to the alleged offences has not expired.

As a former minister, Papaconstantinou would have avoided prosecution only for the May 2012 election produced a shortlived parliament. Under the law, ministers lose criminal liability if no action is taken against alleged offences during two consecutive sessions of parliament. But judges ruled that, as it sat for only 24 hours, the parliament formed after the May 2012 elections could not count as a normal session of the body.

Neos Kosmos slams the cell door:

Another Golden Dawn MP placed behind bars

Three other Golden Dawn MPs, among them the leader Nikos Michaloliakos, have been put in custody since late September

Another Golden Dawn MP was placed behind bars on Sunday, meaning a third of the Greek far-right party’s 18 lawmakers are currently being held in pre-trial detention.

Continuing a crackdown against Golden Dawn, Stathis Boukouras was remanded in custody on Sunday afternoon, court officials said. He joined two other MPs, Giorgos Germenis and Panayiotis Iliopoulos, who were also put behind bars at the weekend. All three face charges of joining and directing a criminal organization.

And To Vima heats up:

Government and police concerned about upcoming urban militant attack

Escaped November 17 member Christodoulos Xiros may be cooperating with other urban guerrilla groups

The recent escape of convicted November 17 member Christodoulos Xiros during a leave of absence from the Korydallos prison has alarmed the government and police alike, who fear that he may be planning a terrorist attack.

In 2003 Xiros was convicted to ten life-time sentences and 25 years imprisonment for his participation in 8 terrorist attacks, robberies and other crimes attributed to November 17. After the lengthy appeal process his sentence was reduced to 6 life terms.

The authorities’ predominant fear is that in light of the assumption of the EU’s presidency by Greece, militant and terrorist groups will want to take advantage of the unique and international publicity opportunity and escalate their actions.

Turkey next, with resolution from New Europe:

Turkey: Erdogan sticks to his guns

Turkey’s government said on January 13 that it has no plans to withdraw legislation that would tighten Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on the judiciary. Last week, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors – the HSYK – said coming under justice ministry control would undermine its independence.

The bill would strengthen the Justice Ministry’s hold on a council that appoints judges and prosecutors while a major corruption scandal in which cabinet ministers have been implicated, is being investigated in Turkey. Three ministers’ sons were arrested and are among tens of people facing charges.

The police officers that were in charge of their arrests along with hundreds of others have been removed.

PM Erdogan claims the corruption charges are a conspiracy orchestrated by followers of an Islamic movement which he says has infiltrated the police and judiciary. The movement correspondents say, is headed by a former Erdogan supporter and enjoys support in judicial circles.

Latin America next, and medic-aid from the Los Angeles Times:

Brazil’s president imports Cuban doctors to ease shortage

The Mais Medicos program, which will bring 11,000 Cubans, is already helping, backers say. But the doctors are not being paid capitalist-style.

Brazil has seen a rapid increase in wealth during the last decade, and more than 40 million people have risen from poverty into the middle class. But as the country prepares to take the global stage as host of the 2014 World Cup, much of the population has not seen commensurate improvements in public services.

Brazil’s Constitution calls for free care for all citizens who have no private plan, but in reality that remains little more than a promise. Neglected communities, long lines and bloody tragedies are often easier to stumble upon than an available doctor.

MercoPress beefs up:

Paraguay plans to climb from eighth to world’s fifth exporter of beef by 2018

One of Paraguay’s priorities is to make the country the world’s fifth exporter of beef by 2018, according to Industry and Trade minister Gustavo Leite. The land locked member of Mercosur currently holds the eighth position.

“But we also want Paraguay to become the world’s third per capita consumer of beef (behind Uruguay and Argentina), because let’s not forget that Paraguayans love to eat beef and love their barbecue”, added Leite.

The minister revealed that the plan is based on incorporation an estimated 120.000 small cattle farmers to a national production program, applying modern technology and sanitary practices.

The Guardian covers funny money:

World Bank’s ethics under scrutiny after Honduras loan investigation

Private lending arm lent millions to palm oil company accused of links to assassinations and forced evictions, audit reveals

The verdict could not have been clearer: the World Bank’s private lending arm failed to comply with its own ethical standards when it lent millions of dollars to a Honduran palm oil company accused of links to assassinations and forced evictions.

This was the damning verdict by the World Bank’s Office of the Compliance Adviser/ Ombudsman (CAO) on Friday. It had investigated whether a $30m (£18.2m) loan by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to Corporation Dinant, an agribusiness owned by one of Honduras’s richest and most powerful men Miguel Facussé, was made after proper environmental and social due diligence.

MercoPress digs in:

Nicaragua announces that construction of inter-ocean canal begins this year

President Manuel Ortega said on Saturday that the construction of a massive inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua that could significantly alter global trade would start at the end of 2014. Ortega gave a Chinese group a concession to manage the future shipping channel for 50 years, with the possibility to renew the contract for another 50.

“The Nicaraguan government and HKND Group are pleased to confirm that canal construction work will begin as planned in December 2014,” Ortega announced alongside Chinese tycoon Wang Jing, whose group has secured the rights to dig and operate the waterway.

The massive 30-billion-Euro project would connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and rival the century-old Panama canal.

And the Miami Herald loses it:

Bogota mayor loses appeal to keep job, calls for national protests

Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro is calling for national protests after the Inspector General’s Office Monday ratified a ruling that will oust the one-time guerrilla and presidential candidate from office and ban him from politics for 15 years.

It’s not clear when the ruling will take effect and Petro maintains that his ouster isn’t official until President Juan Manuel Santos ratifies it.

“From Bogotá we call on all the democratic forces of the country and all the citizens to mobilize against this coup,” Petro wrote on Twitter shortly after the announcement was made.

Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez maintains Petro violated the constitution and broke environmental regulations when he ordered the city to take over trash collection in 2012. The transition was messy, leaving tons of garbage in the streets for a few days and forcing the city to use dump trucks due to the lack of garbage trucks.

BBC News rounds up the posse:

Mexico vigilantes clash with Knights Templar cartel in Michoacan

A group of vigilantes in Mexico has seized the small town of Nueva Italia after clashing with alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel.

More than 100 men entered the town in western Michoacan state on Sunday morning and disarmed local police.

There were exchanges of fire with alleged gang members before the vigilantes occupied the town.

The vigilante group was set up by residents who say the army and the police have failed to protect them.

On to Australasia with the Herald Sun in Melbourne, Australia:

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to personally decide visa cancellations

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison will personally cancel the visas of undesirable residents from now on, denying them any right of appeal.

The announcement comes after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal stopped the planned deportation of New Zealander Sean Gabriel, who had a hand in the 2008 violent robbery of prominent Melbourne doctor Mukesh Haikerwal and four others.

That decision was made by the department, and Mr Gabriel’s appeal to the AAT ended in a ruling he would have difficulty adjusting to life in New Zealand and should stay.

A curious move in India’s capital by a populist government from The Hindu:

Delhi govt. withdraws approval for FDI in retail

The policy reversal could impact Delhi’s FDI-friendly image with the city’s consumers being amongst the top spenders in the country.

The Arvind Kejriwal-ruled Delhi government has decided to withdraw Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multibrand retail. On Monday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government informed the Centre of its decision to renege on its predecessor, the Sheila Dikshit dispensation’s approval of the policy.

Monday’s policy reversal could impact Delhi’s FDI-friendly image. Delhi consumers being amongst the top spenders in the country made the State an attractive destination for FDI in retail. The State is also amongst the biggest receivers of FDI.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told reporters that his government was not opposed to FDI but the decision had to be taken as it was part of the AAP’s manifesto.

Thailand next, and action from the New York Times:

Protesters Occupy Bangkok’s Central Business District

Bangkok’s central commercial district was swarmed by antigovernment protesters on Monday as part of a so-called shutdown of the city, a largely peaceful demonstration that cut off most traffic to Thailand’s costliest real estate and most prestigious addresses.

The protest was the boldest move in two months of protests against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Protesters frustrated with what they say is a dysfunctional political system have issued some of the most radical political demands seen in Asia in recent years: the scrapping of elections scheduled for February, a hiatus for democracy and the formation of an alternative form of government involving an unelected “people’s council” that would replace Parliament.

More from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Thai protesters threaten stock exchange

After turning central Bangkok into a flag-waving sea of protest on Monday, anti-government protesters now say they are preparing to take their campaign to the next level by seizing Thailand’s stock exchange.

Tens or even hundreds of thousands of flag-waving protesters massed at key intersections in the city, setting up rally stages along with tents for sleeping and stalls offering free food.

The well-organised protest movement has vowed to occupy parts of the capital until Yingluck quits, threatening to disrupt a February election which it fears will only return the Shinawatra clan to power.

“Today will be written in Thai history,” firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told a rally on Monday night, vowing to intensify the shutdown until the government falls.

Deutsche Welle reaches out:

Thai PM seeks dialogue as anti-government ‘shutdown’ halts Bangkok

Amid a massive “shutdown” protest, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has offered to meet with the opposition in a bid to ease tensions. Protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating until Yingluck resigns.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Kissana Pattanacharoen, said more than 15,000 police and soldiers had been deployed to maintain security. Monday’s demonstration was reported to have been relatively peaceful however, at least eight people have died in protest-related violence, since the latest anti-government rallies began.

Thailand’s military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years, but this time it has tried to stay neutral with army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha publicly refusing to take sides.

On to China, and m well, this from South China Morning Post:

Chinese firm to replicate the Titanic for 1 billion yuan for inland theme park

Sichuan firm to spend billion yuan on attraction recreating experience of famous ship’s sinking

A Sichuan company intends to spend one billion yuan (HK$1.27 billion) building the world’s first full-scale replica of the Titanic as part of a theme park in the southwestern province’s Daying county.

The company, Seven Star Energy Investment, announced in Hong Kong on Sunday that it would fund the construction while a US partner would design the ship. The replica would be permanently docked on the Qi River, and become the main attraction of a planned theme park.

“When the ship hits the iceberg, it will shake, it will tumble,” Su Shaojun, chief executive of the investing firm, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “We will let people experience water coming in by using sound and light effects … They will think: ‘The water will drown me; I must escape with my life’.”

South China Morning Post brings the ridiculous:

Nanjing politicians claim pupils at risk of gender identity disorder due to excess of female teachers

Pupils taught by female teachers in primary schools are more likely to become “feminine boys and macho girls”, China News Service quoted members of the political advisory body in the eastern city Nanjing as saying.

Members of Nanjing’s Political Consultative Conference submitted a proposal calling for more male teachers in primary and secondary schools during a municipal Political Consultative Conference, according to the report on Monday.

Four in five teachers in Nanjing are female, the proposal pointed out, adding that this raised the possibility that pupils could suffer from gender-identity disorder.

Nikkei Asian Review goes urban:

China urging mass migration from rural farms to regional cities

President Xi Jinping’s government will launch an ambitious initiative to relocate some 100 million rural farmers to small regional cities by 2020, seeking to narrow the income gap and spur domestic demand via infrastructure development.

The urbanization rate, which indicates the proportion of city dwellers among China’s 1.3 billion population, stood at 52.6% in 2012. The government is considering setting the next target at upward of 60% by 2020. These goals would require roughly 100 million rural residents to relocate to urban areas over the next seven years.

While People’s Daily points to an urban conundrum:

Chinese cities unable to meet housing price control target: experts

It’s virtually impossible for major Chinese cities to meet their housing price control target set for 2013, experts say.

The prices of newly-built housing in the four first-tier cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, kept a 20 percent growth rate from September to November, according to statistics published by National Bureau of Statistics.

The statistics also show that the new housing prices in 26 other major cities have been growing at over 10 percent in the same period.

“Generally speaking, it’s virtually impossible for the four first-tier cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, to meet their annually housing price control targets,” Zhang Dawei, director of research at Centaline Property, a real estate agency, said. “As for cities with over 10% growth rates, it’s also the same.”

Want China Times inflates:

RMB appreciation unappreciated as inflation dampens affordability

Despite the rising value of the Chinese yuan to the US dollar, spiking domestic inflation has many Chinese nationals complaining about goods and services becoming more and more unaffordable, reports the Beijing Times.

At the end of last year, the Chinese yuan, or renminbi, to US dollar exchange rate was 6.0969 yuan to US$1, compared to the 8.2765 yuan rate when China’s central bank began reforming the country’s exchange rate regime on July 21, 2005.

The 35.7% appreciation in the value of the yuan during this eight-year period has been a positive development for Chinese exchange students studying overseas, but locals who have remained in the country are complaining that their money is becoming less valuable given that the consumer price index, the main measure of inflation, has averaged around 3.1% per year.

Tokyo next, and a political ploy from the Japan Times:

Top Tokyo election issue shouldn’t be atomic power: Abe

2020 Games, day care issues raised amid focus on Hosokawa

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested Sunday that nuclear power should not be the main focus of the closely watched Tokyo gubernatorial election on Feb. 9.

In response to growing speculation that former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa might be a key contender in the race and call for ending Japan’s use of nuclear power, Abe said: “Energy policy is an issue not only for Tokyoites, but all people in Japan.

“Energy issues will of course likely be discussed, but balanced debate is also necessary for other issues that must be dealt with by a Tokyo governor,” he told reporters in the Mozambique capital. Abe, who is considered pro-nuclear, is in Maputo on the third leg of his weeklong tour of four Middle East and African nations.

Al Jazeera America looks back:

Coal mining’s long legacy of water pollution in West Virginia

As tap-water restrictions continue for 300,000 residents, activists say there’s nothing new about chemical-laden water

Officials on Monday started lifting the ban on tap water prompted by last week’s chemical spill in the Elk River. About 300,000 people in nine counties have been unable to use their water other than to flush toilets for the past five days.

Experts, however, say the problem goes much deeper, and that coal mining made many wells and streams useless years ago. “For more than a century, the coal industry has had pretty much free rein to do whatever it wants,” said Vivian Stockman, spokeswoman for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Al Jazeera America gets ready:

UK environmentalists brace for flood of fracking

PM Cameron said England is ‘going all out’ for fracking days before oil giant Total announces exploration plan

Environmentalists in the United Kingdom are reeling after French energy giant Total became the first company to announce an investment in fracking in the country.

The $48 million play is tiny by industry standards, but many see it as the first sign that Prime Minister David Cameron’s push to allow the controversial practice has paid off, despite protests from environmentalists and local communities, who say the environmental danger posed by shale gas exploration (commonly know as fracking) outweighs the potential economic benefits.

Sky News goes bully:

Fracking: Cameron Offers Councils Drill Money

Angry protests break out as David Cameron says he is going “all out for shale” with a promise of £1.7m drill cash for councils.

The announcement sparked angry scenes at a fracking site in Barton Moss, near Salford, Manchester, where protesters confronted lorries entering the plant, then handcuffed themselves to the vehicles.

Six people – three men and three women – were arrested on suspicion of either obstructing the highway or obstructing police.

About a hundred people have been living in tents and caravans at the spot near the M62 where IGas has been given permission to carry out exploratory drilling.  Most are local but others have travelled from various parts of the UK to join in.

The Guardian fades away:

China wetlands shrank 9% in a decade

340,000 square kilometres – an area larger than the Netherlands – have disappeared since 2003, forestry officials say

China’s wetlands have shrunk nearly 9% since 2003, forestry officials said on Monday, aggravating water scarcity in a country where food production, energy output and industrial activity are already under pressure from water shortages.

China has more than a fifth of the world’s population but only 6% of its freshwater resources, and large swathes of the nation, especially in the north, face seve

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