We’ll begin today’s compendium of things political, economic, and ecologic right here in esnl’s own Golden State with this from the Pew Research Center:

In 2014, Latinos will surpass whites as largest racial/ethnic group in California

According to California Governor Jerry Brown’s new state budget, Latinos are projected to become the largest single racial/ethnic group in the state by March of this year, making up 39% of the state’s population. That will make California only the second state, behind New Mexico, where whites are not the majority and Latinos are the plurality, meaning they are not more than half but they comprise the largest percentage of any group.

California’s demographers also project that in mid-2014, the state’s residents will be 38.8% white non-Hispanic, 13% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 5.8% black non-Hispanic, and less than 1% Native American. But the state’s demographics in 2014 are very different from what they had been. In 2000, California’s 33.9 million residents were 46.6% white non-Hispanic, 32.3% Latino, 11.1% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 6.4% black non-Hispanic and about 1% Native American. In 1990, white non-Hispanics made up more than half (57.4%) of the state’s then 29.7 million residents, while 25.4% of Californians were Latino, 9.2% were Asian American or Pacific Islander, 7.1% were black non-Hispanic and about 1% were Native American.

More Californiosity from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Income inequity a hot topic on California ballots

When state voters cast their ballots in November, they could be making decisions on several measures intended to bring the income levels of rich and poor closer together. They include a cap on hospital executives’ pay, more taxes on oil companies and a higher minimum wage.

There’s real money behind each effort. The hospital CEOs are being targeted by a deep-pockets union. The oil-tax measure would be financed by a rich former hedge-fund manager, and a Silicon Valley millionaire is behind the minimum-wage hike.

The money lining up against them is just as formidable. Business groups, the health care industry and oil giants are expected to do whatever it takes to try to defeat what some conservatives denounce as the products of class-warfare ideology.

And some reallly bad news for a very dry state from the San Jose Mercury News:

California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say

California’s current drought is being billed as the driest period in the state’s recorded rainfall history. But scientists who study the West’s long-term climate patterns say the state has been parched for much longer stretches before that 163-year historical period began.

And they worry that the “megadroughts” typical of California’s earlier history could come again.

Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years.

Just how bad is it? From the USDA’s National Drought Monitor:

Hopeful signs, via The Guardian:

Occupy the minimum wage: will young people restore the strength of unions?

The ‘Fight for 15′ movement, driven by millennials, picks up where Occupy left off and shows a new interest in labour unions

Alicia White, 25, defied the odds of a poor background by attending college on a partial scholarship and going to graduate school. While she spends her days applying for jobs, the only work she has found so far is face-painting at children’s birthday parties.

“By going to college and graduate school, I thought I was insulating myself from being broke and sleeping on friends’ couches and being hungry again. The big, scary part is that I am going to end up where I was, but now I am going to be in that awful situation with $50,000 of debt,” White says.

White’s story is no exception. One in two college graduates are now either unemployed or underemployed. Millennials – even those from the middle class – are experiencing income inequality and America’s failed dream of upward mobility first-hand. The mismatch of college-educated young workers with low-wage, unskilled, precarious jobs is creating a new face of the once-dwindling American labor movement: young, diverse, led by millennials in their twenties and thirties, and fighting what they see as an unfair labor market. Their modest cause? Pushing for a higher minimum wage.

Linking up with Nikkei Asian Review:

Silicon Valley venture capital enhancing US-China economic ties

Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China, is rapidly expanding its influence in Silicon Valley through a tech-oriented seed accelerator it supports.

Tsinghua, the alma mater of a legion of political and business leaders in China, including President Xi Jinping, is capitalizing on its powerful alumni network to make deep inroads into the heart of technological innovation in the U.S.

The seed accelerator set up by the university in April 2012, InnoSpring, has established a solid presence in America’s vibrant venture capital scene in less than two years.

Obama dives deeper into Reaganomics, resurrecting the Gipper’s “Enterpise Zones” with a new moniker. Via Bloomberg News:

Old Idea to Fix Inner Cities Gets New Name: ‘Promise Zones’

In 1994, Bill Clinton tried to revitalize the mean streets of West Philadelphia. At the time, unemployment and crime were high, graduation rates were low, and businesses were exiting. Clinton’s Philadelphia-Camden Empowerment Zone, one of several in troubled urban areas around the country, received $100 million over 10 years in federal grants and tax credits for companies that hired neighborhood residents and invested in the community. Two decades later, not a lot has visibly changed in West Philly. Shop owners work behind bulletproof glass, jobless men sit on stoops drinking beer, and another president is looking to local leaders and businesses to turn things around.

At a White House ceremony on Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first 5 of 20 “promise zones” in parts of San Antonio, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and West Philadelphia, including a half-dozen blocks that also were part of Clinton’s zone. Obama’s plan calls on federal agencies to help business owners cut through bureaucracy to win federal grants and bring together schools, companies, and nonprofits to support literacy programs and job training. “We will help them succeed,” the president said. “Not with a handout, but as partners with them, every step of the way. And we’re going to make sure it works.”

From Reuters, relevant to our latest Charts of the Day:

Why are US corporate profits so high? Because wages are so low

U.S. businesses have never had it so good.

Corporate cash piles have never been bigger, either in dollar terms or as a share of the economy. The labor market, meanwhile, is still millions of jobs short of where it was before the global financial crisis first erupted over six years ago.


Not in the slightest, according to Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs:

“The strength (in profits) is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages, which are still growing at just a 2% nominal pace. The weakness of wages and the resulting strength of profits are telling signs that the US labor market is still far from full employment.

Another another American institution offshores its money and most of its ownership, via TheLocal.it:

Fiat-Chrysler to seek US stock listing, British base

The newly combined Fiat-Chrysler automaker will seek a fiscal domicile in Britain and a stock listing on a New York exchange, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne, who has overseen the company’s gradual purchase of Chrysler since 2009, is set to make the proposal to the board next week, people familiar with the plans told the Journal.

The Italian automaker completed its acquisition of Chrysler this week in a $4.35-billion transaction after a five-year merger that creates a new global car giant.

The deal involved buying the remaining 41.46 percent stake in Chrysler not held by Fiat from Veba, a fund controlled by the US autoworkers’ union UAW.

From USA TODAY, Alpine redoubt surrenders:

Swiss banks closer to deals in tax-evasion probe

More than 100 financial institutions willing to ID tax evaders in exchange for non-prosecution deals.

More than 100 Swiss banks and other institutions have signaled they will seek non-prosecution agreements and provide information to U.S. authorities investigating suspected off-shore tax evasion by Americans, a top Department of Justice official said Saturday.

The announcement by Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally provided the first government confirmation on the number of Swiss banks that are expected to disclose how they helped U.S. clients evade taxes, provide financial data about the clients and pay fines to settle criminal investigations.

In all, 106 Swiss financial institutions filed formal letters of intent by the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline set by federal investigators, said Keneally, who made the announcement at the winter meeting of the American Bar Association’s tax section in Phoenix.

And Sky News has good news for Wall Street banksters:

Non-EU Banks Slip Through Bonus Cap Loophole

Wall Street banks can raise bonuses without a vote from their parent’s shareholders under new EU rules, Sky News learns.

Major global banks such as Morgan Stanley and Nomura are benefiting from a loophole in new European pay rules that could leave British rivals at a big disadvantage.

Sky News understands that banks based outside the European Union (EU) are able to approve bigger bonuses for employees of their subsidiaries in the trading bloc without recourse to external shareholders.

That means Wall Street and Asian banks can instantly consent to variable pay for senior staff worth double the level of their salaries, the maximum permissible under the new EU cap.

A quick trip to Canada and a mind-boggling headline from the uber-conservative National Post:

‘Economically worthless but emotionally priceless’: Children don’t make you happy, but can still be rewarding, expert says

A global story from The Guardian:

IMF fears global markets threat as US cuts back on cash stimulus

Sudden slump in Argentina leads to fears that other emerging countries could face troubles

The International Monetary Fund is closely monitoring recent events in the world’s emerging markets amid concerns that the withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the US will add to the turmoil caused by the sudden slump in Argentina.

The IMF believes that the next phase of the gradual removal of stimulus to the US economy by the Federal Reserve, due later this week, could be the trigger for fresh turbulence in countries seen as vulnerable to capital flight, such as Turkey and Indonesia.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, told participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the so-called tapering by the US central bank was a potential problem.

And from Reuters, look forward for more of those too-big-to-fail banks:

Top bankers expect EU stress tests to reignite banking M&A

Bankers expect a thorough European Central Bank (ECB) health check of the euro zone’s largest banks to reignite domestic and cross-border merger activity by rebuilding confidence among lenders.

The sovereign debt crises that nearly caused a break-up of the single currency in 2011/12 has generated mistrust among banks and caused an effective breakdown of cross-border bank investment flows as they hoarded capital at home.

But the ECB’s asset quality review, an assessment of the balance sheets of more than 120 banks that is due to be completed next autumn, should bring transparency on the quality of banks’ loans and other assets, bankers and regulators at the World Economic Forum in Davos said.

Off to England and another sign of the times from The Independent:

Exclusive: Eating disorders soar among teens – and social media is to blame

Social media blamed for the doubling in the number of youngsters seeking help for anorexia and bulimia in the last three years

The number of children and teenagers seeking help for an eating disorder has risen by 110 per cent in the past three years, according to figures given exclusively to The Independent on Sunday.

ChildLine says it received more than 10,500 calls and online inquiries from young people struggling with food and weight-related anxiety in the last financial year. The charity believes this dramatic increase could be attributed to several factors, including the increased pressure caused by social media, the growth of celebrity culture, and the rise of anorexia websites.

The problem is most prevalent among girls of secondary school age. During 2012-13, counselling with girls about concerns of eating problems outnumbered counselling with boys by 32:1.

The Guardian covers an exodus:

The great migration south: 80% of new private sector jobs are in London

Talented young people are leaving provincial cities to make a success of their lives in London and never go back, report shows

Talented young people are leaving provincial cities in their 20s, making a success of their lives in London and never go back. London is where the work is: the capital was responsible for four out of every five jobs created in the private sector between 2010 and 2012.

The brain drain meant that every major city outside the south-east is losing young people to London. One in three 22-30 year olds leaving their hometowns end up with Oyster cards and Boris as their mayor.

On to Ireland for a very familiar headline from Independent.ie:

Priests’ organisation accuse Education Minster of “underminding religion”

THE Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has hit out at Education Minister Ruairi Quinn after he claimed that primary schools should divert time spent teaching religion to core subject areas.

The Labour Minister has sparked fury after suggesting that schools should use time allocated for religion to focus on improving pupils’ reading and maths.

The group described Mr Quinn’s remarks as “unacceptable” and accused the Labour TD of attempting to devise educational policy “on the hoof”.

Germany next and a gain for eurofoes from Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s euroskeptic party revamps its image

The upstart Alternative for Germany party attracted voters in the last election with its tough anti-euro currency stance. Now, in a quest to enter the European Parliament, the party is embracing populist sentiments.

At their most recent political convention, members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) were hoping to come up with a list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections, but their plan didn’t quite work out. Around 100 candidates had applied for the 10 available positions. Following a 12-hour session, only six candidates had been decided on – and the session has been extended to next weekend.

Nevertheless, AfD leader Bernd Lucke used the meeting as an opportunity to present the party’s new slogan, “Mut zu Deutschland” (loosely translated: “Courage to be German”) – which replaces the former slogan “Mut zur Wahrheit” (“Courage to Uphold Truth”) that helped the AfD gain 4.7 percent of the votes in Germany’s last federal election. The party members present welcomed the move.

More from EUbusiness:

German eurosceptics poll 7% ahead of European vote

The eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party scored seven percent in a poll published Sunday ahead of May’s European Parliament elections where populist groups are hoping to boost their numbers.

The Emnid institute poll was published by newspaper Bild am Sonntag a day after the political newcomer party elected its top European candidates and railed against Germany’s mainstream political groups.

Party chief Bernd Lucke, 51, branded Chancellor Angela Merkel a “chameleon” and, under a campaign dubbed “Courage for Germany”, promised an alternative to “adaptable, streamlined, slick politicians who stand for nothing”.

The AfD, which has said it favours a return from the euro to the deutschmark currency, was formed last year but missed out on seats in September national elections, scoring just below a five percent threshold.

The rise in anti-euro sentiment met with harsh words from Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner. From Reuters:

German SPD leader raps ‘stupid’ eurosceptic campaign in Europe vote

The head of Germany’s Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition on Sunday denounced eurosceptic parties on the far left and right as “stupid” and pledged a tough fight against them in the European parliamentary election campaign.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, also Merkel’s economy minister and head of the Social Democrats, blasted the “uniting enemies of Europe on the left and right” over their anti-European campaigning for the May election.

“Let’s stand up against these stupid slogans about Germany being ‘the paymaster of Europe’,” Gabriel said, referring in particular to the campaign of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that has attracted voters opposed to spending taxpayer money on bailing out struggling euro zone countries.

TheLocal.de charts a familiar trend:

‘Land grab’ ups prices in eastern Germany

Land prices in eastern Germany are rising at dizzying rates and local farmers feel they are being squeezed out by foreign investors in a phenomenon known as “land grabbing”.

The price of a hectare of land has risen by 54 percent between 2009 and 2012 in Brandenburg state and by 79 percent in neighbouring Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, even if prices remain below those in the west of the country — at least for now.

The rural east of Germany has vast swathes of arable land inherited from communist times, when farming was in the hands of huge collectives, known as LPGs.

But today the land is increasingly being snapped up by foreign investors, often with no background or interest in farming, pushing prices up and forcing out locals.

Denmark next, and more of that hard times intolerance from New Europe:

Right-wing MEP wants to punish beggars in Denmark

Police in Denmark should be allowed to arrest beggars on the spot and the courts should be less lenient, according to one Member of the European Parliamentary who is aligned with the Dansk Folkeparti (a right-wing populist party).

Morten Messerschmidt pointed to official justice ministry figures showing a drop in the number of people convicted of begging over the past five years. For instance, only seven of the 185 people charged with begging were ever convicted.

According to Messerschmidt, this number is “surprisingly low”. He said the reason is probably because police are required to issue a warning to beggars before arresting them. He also said that a growing number of beggars in Denmark are Eastern European.

From DutchNews.nl, booming business:

One of Tilburg’s biggest industries is marijuana: NRC

Between €728m and €884m is earned from marijuana production in Tilburg region on an annual basis, the NRC said at the weekend, quoting confidential research.

The illegal industry is so large that it poses a ‘serious threat to the safety and integrity of society,’ said the report, which was put together by researchers from Tilburg University and crime prevention experts.

Marijuana production in the area involves 2,500 people and between 600 and 900 plantations, the city’s mayor Peter Noordanus told the NRC. The drugs trade has grown into a criminal industry which ‘increasingly corrupts the legal and economic infrastructure,’ report said.

On to France and wild in the streets with France 24:

Thousands take part in Paris ‘Day of Anger’ targeting President Hollande

Several thousand people marched through central Paris on Sunday in a “Day of Anger” directly targeting France’s embattled President François Hollande and his policies, ending in both clashes and arrests.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse several hundred youths who lobbed police with bottles, fireworks, iron bars and dustbins.

Police said at least 150 people had been arrested after the clashes, during which 19 officers were injured, one of these “potentially seriously”, according to one police source.

Italy next and a forced quit from EUbusiness:

Italy minister resigns amid abuse of power, corruption probes

Italy’s Agriculture Minister resigned Sunday amid allegations of abuse of power over the appointment of staff in the public healthcare system and in the wake of an investigation into the management of European Union funds for agriculture.

“I am resigning as minister. I cannot remain part of a government which has not defended my honour,” Nunzia De Girolamo said on Twitter.

De Girolamo was accused this month of exerting improper influence over the choice of healthcare managers in the city of Benevento in the Campania region, following revelations in the media of phone-tapped conversations in 2012.

She is the second minister to step down from Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s shaky coalition government.

More corruption from Corriere della Sera:

Tax-dodging Magnate owned 1,243 Properties

Angiola Armellini, daughter of construction entrepreneur, under investigation for hiding more than €2.1 billion from tax authorities

From Rome’s glitzy jet-set and a two-storey penthouse a stone’s throw from the Vatican to an investigation by the prosecution service complete with financial police searches. Angiola Armellini, daughter of a surveyor who made a fortune covering the capital with 90,000 cubic metres of concrete, is alleged to have hidden 1,243 properties from the tax authorities. The buildings, of which 1,239 including three hotels are located in the municipality of Rome, are claimed to be worth €2.1 billion, including cash assets.

Public prosecutor Paolo Ielo entered Ms Armellini in the register of persons under investigation along with eleven nominees and accountants alleged to be complicit. Ms Armellini faces charges of criminal association, failure to submit tax returns and submitting fraudulent returns. Criminal association charges have also been brought against the accountants. Investigators calculate that the taxable base for the avoidance amounts to €190 million. City authorities also want to recover ICI property tax that was almost never paid. The bill could be €3.5 million for two years, a figure which multiplied by five – before that a time bar comes into play – becomes €17 million.

After the jump, the latest from Greece, Ukrainian crisis spreads, Latin American woes and protests, Aussie neooliberalism, Indian uncertainty, Bangla woes, Thai turmoil, Cambodian protests, Chinese financial uncertainty, Japanese wiseguy hopes, tarsands costs, fracking havoc, drought victims, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

From The Guardian, our first Greek headline, and nothing to cheer about:

Greece faces new black hole in finances amid rising tensions with creditors

Greek finance minister Yannis Stournaras prepares for dressing down in Brussels over evidence of resistance to reforms

European finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday are due to express disquiet over the resistance Athens is displaying to adopting reforms, as the Greek government weighs up the cost of a court ruling reversing wage cuts for security forces agreed under the country’s bailout.

The Greek economy minister, Yannis Stournaras, was steeling himself for a dressing down – even though he is chairing the session in Greece’s capacity as current EU president – amid evidence of spiralling tensions between the debt-crippled nation and its international creditors.

The EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which have already postponed completing their latest review of the economy, signalled that rescue funds will not be forthcoming if Greece fails to implement improved competition rules. Prime minister Antonis Samaras’s increasingly beleaguered administration has indicated it will be unable to enforce all of the reforms, going so far as to propose alternatives at the weekend.

From Deutsche Welle, Banksters Behaving Badly:

Greek bankers embroiled in corruption scandal

The former chairman of the Hellenic Postbank stands accused of issuing dubious loans to befriended business partners under preferential terms. The bad deals are said to have cost the Greek people some 400 million euros.

The full extent of the affair is still unclear. But what is known so far is that state prosecutors are examining allegations that the former chairman of Hellenic Postbank, Angelos Filippidis, approved numerous loans to companies that had previously failed credit checks. As a result, Greek taxpayers are said to have been burdened with losses totaling some 400 million euros. Filippidis also stands accused of having accepted bribes for issuing his approvals.

Thirty-nine people are currently being investigated in connection with the Postbank affair. The bank was once a quasi-government financial institution owned and operated by the Greek postal service. Two former deputy directors have been arrested in Athens. Filippidis was detained in Istanbul, leading to rumors that he had squirreled away the money he allegedly received in bribes in Turkish banks. Athens prosecutors are also looking into allegations of secret accounts in Switzerland and Montenegro.

More austerian angst from Greek Reporter:

Property Taxes Could Leave Greeks Homeless

During the conference of the Hellenic Property Federation (POMIDA) which was held on Saturday in Athens, the president of the Federation Stratos Paradias, underlined in his remarks the urgent need to change the legislative framework on the new property tax, before hundreds of property owners, sellers and even notaries default on their payments and land in prison.

A poll conducted by Greek company Kapa Research and presented during the conference, revealed a general deterioration in the lease market and the difficulty of property owners to meet their tax obligations. The new property tax (ENFIA) which was passed last month by the parliament in Greece as part of the imposed austerity measures is described by 73 percent of citizens as unfair.

According to the poll, in a single year the property taxes were doubled, corresponding to 43.3 percent of the total income, as opposed to 22 percent in 2012. One in two owners admit not getting any income from their property, but only paying taxes, while 38 percent of the population does not have sufficient income to meet their upcoming obligations

A neo-Nazi campaign announced from Kathimerini English:

Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris says he will run for Athens mayor

A senior lawmaker from Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party will run for the office of Athens mayor in May, in a show of defiance against a government crackdown that sent its leader to jail, pending trial.

Golden Dawn remains Greece’s third most popular party, drawing support for its anti-immigrant and anti-austerity agenda, even after the killing of an anti-fascist rapper by one of its supporters last year which prompted the crackdown.

“I will be a candidate for mayor of Athens, even from jail,” Golden Dawn lawmaker and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris told party supporters at a central Athens hotel on Saturday night.

On to the Ukraine and a denial from the New York Times:

Opposition Says No to Ukraine on Power Share

In a striking concession aimed at defusing Ukraine’s civil uprising and preserving his own grip on power, President Viktor F. Yanukovych on Saturday offered to install opposition leaders in top posts in a reshaped government, but they swiftly rebuffed the offer to the delight of thousands of protesters on the street craving a fuller victory in the days ahead.

With mass protests spreading across the country, Mr. Yanukovych proposed one opposition figure, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, as prime minister and another, the former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, as vice prime minister for humanitarian affairs. Mr. Yatsenyuk is a leader of Fatherland, the party of Mr. Yanukovych’s archrival, the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko.

“No deal,” Mr. Yatsenyuk wrote on Twitter, addressing Mr. Yanukovych as thousands of angry protesters streamed to the still-occupied Independence Square, undeterred by the biting cold. “We’re finishing what we started,” he added. “The people decide our leaders, not you.”

Metastasis from BBC News:

Ukraine protests ‘spread’ into Russia-influenced east

Protests in Ukraine appear to be spreading further outside the capital Kiev, with reports of unrest in the east, north and south of the country.

Protesters besieged government buildings and in some cases clashed with police and government supporters.

On to Egypt and a body count from USA TODAY:

Death toll from Egypt protests rises to 49

Egyptian officials say the death toll from clashes between security forces and protesters on the third anniversary of the country’s 2011 uprising has risen to 49.

The Health Ministry, quoted by the official MENA news agency on Sunday, said another 247 were wounded. The agency quotes the Interior Ministry as saying 1,079 were arrested.

Security forces crushed demonstrations by rival Islamists and some secular activists. Pro-army civilians joined the police in some of the clashes.

And next up, Latin America, starting at the summit with the Associated Press:

LatAm summit in Cuba focus on poverty, inequality

Leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean are arriving in Havana this weekend for a summit of a fledgling regional bloc that was conceived as a force for integration and a counterbalance to their most powerful neighbor, the United States.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC for its initials in Spanish, was formed in 2011 and comprises every nation in the Western Hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada. By Sunday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and several foreign ministers were already in Havana for the summit. Lower-level officials began meeting over the weekend and foreign ministers are taking the stage Monday. The formal meetings of heads of state begin Tuesday.

Nobody was a bigger advocate for the bloc than the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington seen by many as the standard-bearer for the region’s political left before he succumbed to cancer in March.

From MercoPress, profiteers beware:

Maduro sets limits on company profits and prison terms for hoarding or over charging

Venezuela decreed a new price control law that sets limits on company profits and establishes prison terms for those charged with hoarding or over-charging, part of populist President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to tame inflation.

Maduro, who was elected last year to succeed the late Hugo Chavez, blames a 56.2% jump in consumer prices in 2013 on an “economic war” led by political adversaries, while critics call it evidence of the failure of Venezuela’s state-driven economic model.

The Fair Price Law, which carries out many of the same functions as the almost identically-named Fair Price and Cost Law of 2011, appears to unify a disparate set of controls that were first created by Chavez in 2003.

ITV stages a s[h]it-in:

Rio sewage protesters take toilets for beach sit-in

Activists sat on toilets along Rio de Janeiro’s famed Ipanema beach to protest against the lack of basic sanitation in the Brazilian city.

The protest organisers, Meu Rio (My Rio), said the toilets represented the thousands of litres of untreated sewage that ends up into the sea waters of Rio everyday.

Activists carved out silhouettes of bacteria and other micro-organisms, carried to the beach in sewage, on the sand.

These beaches are set to host several of Rio’s events at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics.

BBC News protests:

Brazil police arrest dozens after anti-World Cup protest

Police in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo say they have detained 128 people during clashes that followed a demonstration against this year’s football World Cup.

A car was damaged by fire. Shops, banks and a police vehicle were also damaged.

The violence forced the authorities to cancel some of the festivities planned for the city’s 460th anniversary. Earlier, some 2,500 people took to the street to complain about the costs of staging the World Cup in Brazil.

And Channel NewsAsia Singapore struggles:

Argentina rolls back dollar restrictions hoping to contain market volatility; Monday test day

Argentina lifted on Friday restrictions on personal US dollar purchases for citizens, ending a prohibition on greenback savings that began at the end of 2011. The new measures, which occur one day after both the official and parallel ‘blue’ dollar saw record rises, were announced in a short press conference by Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and Economy Minister Axel Kicillof. The measures become effective from Monday onwards.

“We have decided to authorize the buying of dollars on behalf of individuals, according to their declared incomes,” Capitanich announced.

He added that restrictions had always been temporary and had served their purpose. At about eight Pesos to the dollar, he said the Argentine currency “has reached an acceptable convergence level” under a policy of “managed flotation”.

Off to Australasia, starting with another neoliberal favorite from News Corp Australia:

Abbott government set to revive and expand work-for-dole scheme

JOBLESS Australians will be forced to work for free collecting rubbish, maintaining parks and volunteering in aged care homes, as the federal government expands its work-for-the-dole scheme this year.

The Liberal Government’s tough new plan will again make work-for-the-dole compulsory and anyone who turns down a job close to home will lose the payment.

Local councils will be encouraged to recruit volunteers from Australia’s army of 805,000 unemployed to pitch in with community chores, including rubbish collection and park maintenance.

Non-profit aged care homes and charities are also expected to offer unpaid work to the unemployed.

On to Singapore, and some delightful news about a bilious British bankster who took to Facebook to mock Malaysian poor. From RT:

British banker fired, escapes to Australia after his remarks on ‘poor’ Singapore

A Singapore-based UK banker, Anton Casey, who triggered massive public outrage over his Facebook remarks insulting Singapore residents, has been dismissed from his post and forced to flee to Australia.

His employer Crossinvest (Asia) Pte Ltd and Casey “parted ways”, the company indicated on Saturday, as quoted by AFP.

“Those comments go against our core corporate and family values that are based on trust, mutual understanding and are respectful of diversity,” the company’s statement said.

New Delhi next, with suspicions from the Times of India:

RBI may keep policy rates on hold as inflation remain sticky

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is likely to maintain status quo on key rates when it reviews its monetary policy on Tuesday as inflation remain sticky.

Exerts and market analysts say the central bank would like to see more clarity on inflation trend before tinkering with the policy rates.

“We are expecting no change in the policy rates. Despite recent decline there is an upside risk to inflation,” Arun Singh, a senior economist at Dun & Bradstreet, told IANS.

India Today goes missing in the U.S.A.:

Vedic Pandits go ‘missing’ in US, reports Hi India

In a shocking revelation, as many as 163 Indians, most of them brought to the US as teenagers from villages in northern India to be trained into Vedic Pandits by two institutions set up by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of transcendental meditation fame, appear to have gone missing over the last 12 months.

Of the 1,050 young Indians brought to the Maharishi Vedic City and the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, 163 – some of them just 19 years old – have gone missing in the last one year, Hi India, a Chicago-based weekly newspaper for the Indian community, reported in its latest issue.

Both the Vedic city and the university are owned by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s family. According to the report, the management running these places did not even care to trace the missing people.

Bangladesh next, and the cost of turmoil from the Press Trust of India:

“Political violence caused 4.7% GDP loss in Bangla”

Widespread political violence, strikes and shutdowns that battered Bangladesh’s economy over the past six months could result in GDP growth falling below 6 per cent, a leading economic watchdog warned today.

Losses caused by political violence during strikes organised by the opposition between July 2013 and January 2014 has been estimated at 4.7 per cent of the GDP, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) said in its latest report.

Thailand next, and more turmoil from the New York Times:

Protesters Block Early Voting in Thai Capital

Hundreds of thousands of Thais were blocked from voting on Sunday as antigovernment demonstrators obstructed polling places in Bangkok and southern Thailand in a campaign to suspend democracy and replace Parliament with an unelected “people’s council.”

In a day of sometimes-tense confrontations between protesters and would-be voters, one protest leader was shot dead by an unknown assailant and 11 people were wounded, according to Bangkok’s emergency services. Suthin Tharatin, a leader of one faction of the protesters, was shot as he tried to block a polling place on the outskirts of Bangkok, heightening fears of more widespread violence.

Critics of the protest movement, which is battling to purge the country of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her influential family, called Sunday’s shutdown of polling places a major blow to democracy in Thailand and a possible portent of further moves to seize power from the government.

The results were quick to materialize, as Xinhua reports:

Advance voting cancelled in 89 Thai constituencies

Thailand’s anti-government protesters on Sunday prevented 89 constituencies out of the total 375 nationwide from going through with the advance voting for the Feb. 2 election.

As a result, 440,000 people, or 22 percent of the 2 million who had registered to vote in advance, failed to cast their votes, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn was quoted by Bangkok Post as saying.

Of the 89 constituencies, 33 were in the capital Bangkok and 56 in southern provinces, according to Somchai.

Cambodia next, and more turmoil from the Mainichi:

Cambodian police clash with protesters

Riot police in Cambodia clashed with hundreds of anti-government protesters in the capital on Sunday, leaving several people injured.

The protesters were demanding the release of 23 other demonstrators who were arrested during a crackdown earlier this month.

When police blocked them from entering the capital’s Freedom Park, protesters hurled rocks, water bottles and shoes toward security forces, who hit back with batons and tasers.

Next up, China, and a warning from the Times of India:

Major default looms in China’s huge ‘shadow banking’ system

A shockwave is looming in China’s multi-trillion dollar “shadow banking” system, with an unprecedented default only days away on a $500 million investment product sold to hundreds of people.

Staff at China’s biggest bank ICBC pushed the “Credit Equals Gold #1 Trust Product” by promising returns of 10 per cent a year, far more than traditional deposits, investors say.

But the coal company it was supposed to fund never obtained key licences for its activities, state media reported, and now the firm that structured it, China Credit Trust, says it may not be able to repay 3.0 billion yuan ($492 million) due on Friday.

The situation is a test case for cleaning up the risky “shadow banking” system in the world’s second-largest economy.

More big money loans, this time official, from Xinhua:

CDB’s urbanization loans near 1 trillion in 2013

China Development Bank (CDB) lent 996.8 billion yuan (163 billion U.S. dollars), two third of its total loans in 2013, to boost urbanization, the bank said on Sunday.

Hu Huaibang, chairman of the CBD board, said the bank will continue to support key national projects like urbanization, subsidized housing, industrial restructuring and global cooperation in 2014.

CBD is a state-owned financial institution with responsibility of providing medium- to long-term financing for the national economic strategy.

China Daily demands:

China’s banks must evolve or perish

As China’s traditional banks raise interest rates to claw back lost deposits, they must find new profit sources as Internet finance is booming.

Earlier this week, the China Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China and the Bank of Communications raised the deposit rate by 10 percent to the upper limit in some branches, for some clients, or for a fixed period.

Experts see this as an attempt to restore some of the deposits that have been diverted into Internet products such as Yu’E Bao, a personal online finance product by Internet giant Alibaba which allows users to place any amount of savings into a money market fund.

At the end of 2013, Yu’E Bao had 43 million users with aggregate deposits of 185 billion yuan (about $31 billion), the single biggest public fund in China.

Want China Times casts a pall:

China reports significantly heavier air pollution in December

The density of key air pollutants PM2.5 and PM10 shot up in China by 55.7% and 30.1% respectively in December, the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said Friday.

The 74 major cities monitored nationwide had on average more than 70% of days in December failing to meet ministry air quality standards.

East China’s Yangtze River Delta faced an even worse situation. Twenty-five cities there reported air pollution on 81.6% of the days, including heavy or very heavy pollution on 34.6% of the days.

On to Japan, and more support for the belligerent prime minister from Süddeutsche Zeitung:

A Japanese Mafia In Crisis Banks On Abenomics

Like Japan itself, the country’s mafia — known as the yakuza — is still facing a long-term economic crisis. Its income has dwindled over the past two decades, and now the world of organized crime, just like the legal economy, is setting its hopes on Abenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategy to stimulate the economy by printing money without addressing the real problems.

Until recently, the yakuza and the Japanese economy followed almost parallel curves. When the economy was booming, organized crime flourished alongside it. But now the yakuza is facing a threat to its very existence, as recent years have seen successive prefectures introduce laws forbidding companies from doing business with yakuza members, most notably in the banking sector.

Before, yakuza members were often given preferential treatment, but the new law is forcing many companies to cut their longstanding ties with the organization. So far no sentence or fine has been imposed for violations, so companies are not motivated by fear of punishment. Instead, they want to protect their reputations, which would be severely damaged if their dealings with the yakuza were made public. Clients would flee as they did from the Mizuho bank, one of Japan’s three largest, when its ties to the yakuza were revealed.

Next up, Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!

First, a story of hide and seek from JapanToday:

Researchers use cosmic rays to see nuclear fuel inside reactor

Japanese researchers say they have succeeded in using cosmic rays to find nuclear fuel inside a reactor, a technology that might be helpful in the complicated decommissioning at Fukushima.

By observing the way the particles behaved near reactors, container vessels and spent fuel pools, they were able to obtain a clear visual picture of the fuel, they said.

“We are conducting this study carefully as this enables you to find where nuclear fuel is anywhere in the world,” said Fumihiko Takasaki, a researcher at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, or KEK, one of the laboratories involved in the research.

CNBC proliferates:

Going nuclear—and small—with new type of reactor

The fortunes of the battered nuclear power sector may hinge on the development of small- and medium-sized reactors (SMRs), now being heralded by some as industry as the next wave in the industry.

Ten countries, including the United States, are exploring plans to construct SMRs, and that could have broad implications for electricity generation.

As coal plants across the country are decommissioned, an opportunity rises for renewable energy sources, especially natural gas and nuclear power. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given the green light to four SMR-style facilities and is considering one more in the Tennessee Valley.

Other fuels, other problems from the Canadian Press:

Transport of Alberta oilsands products risky, U.S. study warns

It’s not a question of whether a spill will occur but about being prepared, expert says

U.S. scientists are warning that there are environmental risks, regulatory holes and serious unknowns regarding the shipment of Alberta oilsands products by pipeline, rail and tanker.

The findings are in a 153-page report from last September by the emergency response division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The unit has expertise in preparing for, evaluating and responding to oil and chemical spills in coastal environments.

Enbridge, the company behind the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to the British Columbia coast, counters that most of the concerns raised in the report are out-of-date, overstated or being resolved.

Indemnify the frack out of it with The Guardian:

Fracking firms ‘should pay £6bn a year tax to compensate for climate change’

Cambridge University study says shale gas companies should pay for harm they will cause to environment

Shale frackers operating in Britain should be paying £6bn a year in taxes by the middle of the 2020s to compensate for the damage wreaked on the environment, according to a study from Cambridge University.

The government has made clear drillers such as Cuadrilla Resources and IGas should provide sweeteners to local communities affected by their activities but it would also be right for shale gas producers to pay for contributing to global warming, argues Chris Hope, a parliamentary adviser and reader in policy modelling at the Judge Business School in Cambridge.

“Shale gas will contribute to climate change in two ways, from carbon dioxide emissions when the gas is burned, and from the fugitive emissions of underground methane that leak into the atmosphere when the gas is extracted,” he says.

For our final item, victims of drought from the San Francisco Chronicle:

California drought threatens coho salmon with extinction

The lack of rain this winter could eventually be disastrous for thirsty California, but the drought may have already ravaged some of the most storied salmon runs on the West Coast.

The coho salmon of Central California, which swim up the rivers and creeks during the first winter rains, are stranded in the ocean waiting for the surge of water that signals the beginning of their annual migration, but it may never come.

All the creeks between the Golden Gate and Monterey Bay are blocked by sand bars because of the lack of rain, making it impossible for the masses of salmon to reach their native streams and create the next generation of coho.

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