We begin today’s headlines from the economic, political, and environmental realms with the inevitable outcome of a healthcare system that isn’t public, via the New York Times:

Health Care Law May Result in 2 Million Fewer Full-Time Workers

A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office says that the Affordable Care Act will result in more than 2 million fewer full-time workers in the next several years, providing Republican opponents of the law a powerful political weapon leading up to this years midterm elections.

The law is also expected to have a significant effect on hours worked, the nonpartisan budget office said in a regular update to its budget projections released Tuesday. With the expansion of insurance coverage, more workers will choose not to work and others will choose to work fewer hours than they might have otherwise, it said. The decline in hours worked will translate into a loss of the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time positions by 2024, the budget office said.

Republicans immediately seized on the report as evidence of the health care law’s adverse effect on the economy.

From USA TODAY, third third state?:

Alaska moves toward August vote on legal pot

Alaska could be the next state to reconsider the prohibition on marijuana, following legalization votes by Colorado and Washington last year.

Alaska elections officials posted data Tuesday showing that a petition for a statewide vote on marijuana legalization has gained enough signatures and met legal thresholds needed to put the issue before voters.

Under Alaska law, the petition when officially certified would appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot. No formal opposition to the initiative has emerged thus far.

Reuters readies the job ax:

RadioShack to close about 500 stores: WSJ

U.S. electronics chain RadioShack Corp is planning to close about 500 stores within months, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The struggling retailer, which is due to report results for the fourth quarter later this month, said it could not comment on rumor or speculation.

RadioShack has been working with bankers from Peter J Solomon Co to boost its liquidity and with AlixPartners on its operational turnaround.

Its sales have been in free-fall amid executive departures, strong competition and an image problem. Despite its ubiquitous presence in the United States, analysts say it has not done enough to transform itself into a destination for mobile phone shoppers, nor has it become hip enough to woo younger shoppers.

And another ax-wielder from the New York Post:

500 layoffs expected today at Time Inc.

Tuesday is D-day at Time Inc.

Around mid-morning, staffers are expected to start hearing how deep the cuts will be as Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp unveils what is likely the last big downsizing before Time Warner spins off the publishing group as a separate company later this year.

“It’s very nerve racking,” said one source inside the company that publishes People, Time, Sports Illustrated and In Style.

The recently acquired American Express Publishing and the London-based IPC subsidiary, are expected to be particularly hard hit.

Out first global headline, via The Independent:

Das Capital: Trust in banks wanes as savers find other ways to protect their money

The ultra-rich are switching to real assets – gold, commodities, farm land

All systems – social, cultural, spiritual, economic and financial – rely on trust. Policy makers are now systematically undermining trust in institutions, turning to financial repression in attempting to deal with the economic crisis.

Current government policies focus on low interest rates, with returns artificially set below the true inflation rate. Where interest rates are near zero, governments print money, manipulating the amount rather than the price of money.

These measures reduce borrowing costs allowing borrowers to maintain high levels of debt. Rates below that of inflation help reduce the value of the debt, effectively decreasing the amount that must be paid back in economic terms. The policy subsidises borrowers at the expense of savers.

The London Telegraph sounds a warning:

Emerging markets more vulnerable than ever to Fed tightening, warns BIS

Bank for International Settlements says there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries

Emerging markets may be even more vulnerable to an interest rate shock today than they were during the East Asia crisis in 1998, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has warned.

The Swiss-based watchdog said there had been a “massive expansion” in borrowing on global bond markets by banks and companies in developing countries, leaving them exposed to “powerful feedback” risks as borrowing costs rise in the West.

“The deeper integration of emerging market economies into global debt markets has made emerging market bond markets much more sensitive to bond market developments in the advanced economies,” the BIS said in a working paper.

New Europe pontif-icates:

Pope warns that ‘unjust’ unemployment can lead to sin, moral destitution and even suicide

Francis discussed three types of destitution — material, moral and spiritual — in his first message for Lent, the solemn period leading up to Holy Week and Easter, that was released Tuesday.

Moral destitution, he said, “consists of slavery to vice and sin” such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.

He noted that sometimes “unjust social conditions” like unemployment lead to this type of destitution by depriving people of the dignity of work and access to education and health care.

“In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide.”

How, then, about folks who are doing quite well, Say, such as the consumers of this little joy from the London Daily Mail:

The Mile-Low Club: Travel company launches £175k Valentine’s Day submarine package with interior design of your choice and aphrodisiac menu (flights to the mooring not included)

Luxury travel company unveil submarine treat whereby couples can choose to harbour wherever they like

Also includes aphrodisiac menu featuring champagne and oysters

The bespoke submarine will actually travel 200m under the water

Price for a basic vessel starts at £175,000

Extras including helicopter transfers, entertaining rooms and champagne breakfast available

And from TheLocal.de, the crabby old man was right:

Too much reality TV ‘harms pupils’ grades’

Have you ever been worried that too much reality TV might be frying your brain or more to the point your kids’ brains? Well you better read on.

Parents everywhere have been muttering it under their breaths for years and now French researchers claim to have dealt conclusive proof.

A study by the Ministry of Education linked body DEPP (Direction of Evaluation, forecasting and performance) shows a dramatic reduction in results for 15-year-old pupils who watch too much reality TV.

The study, which relied on stats from the Ministry of Education, looked at the impact on grades of the typical activities of young kids in France from playing video games to listening to music and sending texts to friends but it was watching shows like The Voice,  Koh Lanta (the French version of Survivor)  or the Infamous Angels of Reality TV, featuring Nabilla (pictured) that appears to have the most detrimental impact on standards.

“It is the frequent watching of reality TV programmes that impacts the most negatively on the cognitive and academic performances,” said the study.

On to Europe and intolerant umbrage from EUobserver:

MEP receives 41,000 emails against gay rights

An MEP who drafted a resolution on securing the basic rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) people in the EU has so far received almost 41,000 emails against the proposal.

“My website was hacked as well, I don’t know who it was from. It might be coincidence, it might not be a coincidence,” Green Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek told the Strasbourg assembly on Monday (3 February).

A large banner which says “Warning – visiting this website may harm your computer!” has replaced her personal site since last week.

Her office said they are working to get it back to normal. They suspect it was hacked by ultra-conservative groups.

Casting a cynical eye with EUbusiness:

Ombudsman wants EU probed for corruption

The European Union’s own institutions should be probed for corruption, the EU’s watchdog said Tuesday, a day after Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem described the bloc’s graft problem as “breathtaking.”

“The EU administration has to live up to the very highest standards,” European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in a statement, adding that it largely does so and compares favourably with many member states.

However, it should not be complacent, and accordingly, O’Reilly encouraged the European Commission to “include the EU institutions in the next Anti-Corruption Report.”

On to Germany and action in Berlin from MintPress News:

Fed Up With Agribusiness, Protesters Take To The Streets In Berlin

The protesters said agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes, and damages the environment and biodiversity.

United under the declaration, “we are fed up,” around 30,000 people from several associations representing farmers, beekeepers and consumers, as well as environmental, development and food organizations, gathered in Berlin to demonstrate against large-scale agribusiness.

The protesters said that agribusiness threatens the livelihoods of small family farmers, leads to standardization of tastes and damages the environment and biodiversity. They demanded environmentally friendly farming, protection for bees, access to land and healthy, affordable food for all. They’re also seeking fair prices for farmers, an end to hunger, food scandals, monocultures, GMOs and land grabs by governments and investors.

Escorted by some 70 tractors, they marched through the streets of the German capital, from Potsdamer Platz to the government buildings of the Ministry of Agriculture and the offices of the federal chancellor. The demonstrators expressed their demands to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

On to France and a taxing threat from EUbusiness:

French to make 1 bn euro tax claim against Google: report

French authorities have decided to make a tax claim of 1 billion euros against Google following a probe into the tax strategies by the US Internet giant, Le Point magazine reported Tuesday.

A Google spokesman in France declined to comment on the report, saying the company does not comment on rumours.

The French finance ministry also declined to comment, citing tax confidentiality.

France is one of a growing number of cash-strapped nations to pursue more aggressively what they see as abuse of tax and accounting rules that allows some multinational companies to pay less tax.

What Ailes France from France 24:

Is a new Tea Party brewing in France?

Interior Minister Manuel Valls has warned that France was seeing the birth of its own version of the grassroots, anti-tax Tea Party movement amid a surge of anti-government demonstrations by right-wing groups and religious conservatives across the country.

“We are witnessing the creation of the French version of the Tea Party. By exploiting the political and leadership crisis on the right, and the National Front party’s move away from the far-right, a conservative and reactionary right has been set free,” Valls, a Socialist, told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview published on Sunday.

The eye-opening comparison came hours ahead of massive rallies in defence of traditional families in Paris and the eastern city of Lyon. They were organised by the so-called “Manif Pour Tous” (Protest for all) group that staged massive protests against gay marriage last year.

Sunday’s march, which police said drew 80,000 people in Paris, was just the latest public display of anger against President François Hollande’s government in recent days.

EUbusiness goes medical:

France announces EUR 1.5 bn anti-cancer plan

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday announced a 1.5 billion euro ($2 billion) anti-cancer plan aimed at reducing inequalities in treatment of the disease.

The 2014-2019 plan aims to give “the same chances to everyone everywhere in France” in preventing and fighting cancer, Hollande said in a speech to medical professionals.

His announcement comes a day after the United Nations warned that new cases of cancer will rise by half by 2030, reaching 21.6 million per year compared to 14 million in 2012.

On to Spain and a new low from El País:

Number of people in work in January declines to lowest level in 12 years

Jobless claims in Spain climb by 113,097 in first month of year

The number of people signed up with the Social Security system in Spain declined by 184,031, or 1.13 percent, in January from the end of last year to 16.173 million, the lowest figure since April 2002, according to figures released Tuesday by the Labor Ministry.

In what is traditionally a bad month for the labor market, jobless claims rose by 113,097, or 2.4 percent, from December to 4.814 million.

The ministry said that on a month-on-month basis, this January was the “least negative” since 2007, given that since the current comparable statistical series began there has never been an increase in the number of people signed up with the Social Security system. On a year-on-year basis, the number of affiliates declined by 5,829, or 0.04 percent.

TheLocal.es looks for resolution:

UN urges Spain to drop Civil War taboos

A UN expert on Monday urged Spain to break a decades-long taboo by investigating atrocities allegedly committed in its 1936-39 civil war and the Franco dictatorship that followed.

UN justice rapporteur Pablo de Greiff said Spain should scrap a 1977 amnesty law that stops victims from prosecuting the alleged perpetrators of such atrocities, which divide Spaniards to this day.

In a report, he urged Spain to scrap the amnesty and called on “the state institutions to show a decisive and determined commitment” to investigating and making sure that victims are compensated.

The amnesty was seen as a necessity by the leaders tasked with unifying Spain after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

Portugal next and a temporary halt to a sale of the commons from Deutsche Welle:

London auction house cancels sale of Miro paintings

Citing legal uncertainties stemming from the lawsuit in Portugal, auction house Christie’s said on Tuesday that it had decided to cancel the sale of the Miro paintings pending the resolution of the dispute.

“While the recent injunction to stop the sale was not granted, the legal uncertainties created by this ongoing dispute mean that we are not able to safely offer the works for sale,” Christie’s said in a press release.

Hours before the auction’s scheduled start time, a judge denied the opposition Socialist Party’s request for an injunction to stop the sale. Portugal’s government pleaded that harsh austerity measures have left the country short of cash, and it could not make retaining the collection of the Catalan surrealist Miro one of its priorities.

Portugal’s public prosecutor backed the appeal to stop the sale, which accused the administration of ignoring “the immeasurable immaterial value” of the collection to the country, forced into austerity measures following a 78-billion-euro ($105 billion) rescue by international creditors in 2011.

The Portugal News charts reduced losses:

BCP stems losses by around half a billion

BCP, Portugal’s largest private sector bank, announced a €740 million loss for 2013, down from €1.219 billion in 2012, following the closure of the stock market on Monday.

“This loss is significant but also substantially below that of the previous year. This reflects the macroeconomic situation and is in accordance with the restructuring plan agreed with the General Directorate of Competition of the European Commission,” BCP President Nuno Amado told a press conference.

The loss also includes €126 million in provisions for early retirement and redundancy payoffs as the bank advances with its plan expected to see several hundred employees leave the firm over the first half of this year.

On to Italy and an austerian declaration from AGI:

President Napolitano says Italy must stay course on debt

Italy cannot afford to let up its efforts to keep its public debt in check, President Giorgio Napolitano said in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Despite the government’s concerted response to financial market pressure and significant achievements in 2013, Italy cannot afford to relax in its efforts to further curtail its public debt, he said.

After the jump, the latest from tghe Greek meltdown, a Turkish retraction, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, a Latin American trade deal push and Brazilian woes, Australian immigration profits and environmental havoc, Indian protests, Thai warnings, troubling Chinese numbers, Japanese neoliberalism, toxic spills and criminal probes, ecocidal costs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

Our first Greek headline marks a refreshing change from The Guardian:

Greece’s factory sector returns to growth for first time in four years

Evidence of manufacturing recovery in much of eurozone comes as ISM survey shows sector suffering in US

Janet Yellen was sworn in as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve Monday, ascending to the top job at the central bank at a time when the US economic recovery was rocked by fresh worries about manufacturing and the debt ceiling.

Her first day of the job started as Treasury secretary Jack Lew warned “time is short” to solve the US’s latest budget battle, with a new deal supposed to be agreed before February 7. Lew’s comment’s followed disappointing manufacturing figures for January which combined to knock over 200 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average by noon. The Dow has fallen close to 5% since its all time high at the end of the year, dropping in part on fears that China’s growth is slowing and amid signs of more economic woes in emerging markets.

Truly tragic numbers from Keep Talking Greece:

Survey: 56% of Greek seniors are starving. No wonder when 32% pensioners receive below €500

More than half of seniors in Greece are confronted with the ghost of starvation as they are economically unable to meet their primary needs and cost of food. This comes by a survey conducted by Greek non-governmental organization Life Line that deals with seniors’ problems.

56% of program participants experience food insecurity with severe existence of hunger.

27% of program participants experience food insecurity and live in totally inappropriate “solutions” accentuating the overall condition of their health.

17% of participants experience food insecurity , which leads in most cases to depression and panic about their future .

From Spiegel, calling out the dog and pony:

Fresh Aid: Greece Plans to Impress Creditors With Good News

A SPIEGEL report that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is considering a third rescue package for Greece has electrified the struggling nation. Athens wants to impress its creditors with a stream of good news. But it still has a long list of unkept promises.

New loans are welcome, but don’t ask us for any new austerity measures. This pretty much sums up Athens’ reaction to Germany’s reported willingness to approve further loans to Greece to cover the country’s multi-billion euro projected financing gap in 2015-2016.

Although there was no official reaction to SPIEGEL’s report, published on Monday, government sources say that Berlin’s intentions were known to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, adding that Germany will not pull the rug from under Greece’s feet, especially with the European election due in May.

EurActiv cats doubts:

Athens visit exposes divisions among EU Troika investigators

A two-day investigation by the European Parliament into the Troika’s handling of the Greek debt crisis ended last week in a clash with the Greek leftist opposition Syriza party, exposing divisions within the EU team, EurActiv Greece reports.

In Athens, the two MEPs responsible for the Parliament inquiry, Austrian MEP Othmar Karas of the European People’s Party (EPP) group and French MEP Liêm Hoang Ngoc of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), could only agree on the urgent need to bring more transparency and democratic accountability to the Troika.

The EU Parliament probe, launched in January, aimed to shed light on how the Troika – consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – managed the crisis in the four countries under its surveillance, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Cyprus.

Speaking in the Greek parliament on Wednesday (29 January), Karas claimed that the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, remained silent when asked about his party’s proposals to guide Greece out of the crisis when the two met in Strasbourg on 11 December.

Syriza reacted angrily.  “These are false and slanderous allegations”, said party spokesperson Panos Skourletis, accusing Karas of taking sides with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

New Europe protests literary inflation:

Greece’s publishers, writers gather to protest against lifting of price controls on books

Austerity policies in Greece have a new enemy — but it’s one which prefers civilized debate to angry street demonstrations.

Leading Greek writers and publishers gathered at a bookstore in central Athens Tuesday to express their opposition to the proposed lifting of price controls on books sold in the recession-hit country.

International rescue creditors are pressing for sweeping market deregulation detailed in a report last year by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and includes major changes to the sale of everything from bread to baby formula.

Authors and publishers at Tuesday’s gathering said deregulation would give market control to chain stores, threaten publication of quality books in Greek and ultimately the country’s national heritage.

From Keep Talking Greece, a taxing decline:

Switzerland turns down Greece’s wish to retroactively tax Greeks’ bank deposits

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf turned down the proposal of her Greek counterpart Yiannis Stournaras to impose taxes on Greeks’ bank accounts and transfer the money to Athens.

Currently in the Greek capital, Widmer-Schlumpf told Stournaras that Switzerland does not do such deals any more, focusing instead on automatic information exchange between tax authorities, currently negotiated at international level.

“Models we had earlier considered and discussed to prevent untaxed money in Swiss banks are partly outdated,” Widmer-Schlumpf said.

Greek Reporter looks to the north:

Former Greek Prime Minister: ‘Merkel Imposed the IMF On Greece’

The former Greek Prime Minister and PASOK’s leader, George Papandreou continues his lectures. This time, he delivered a lecture at the London School of Economics (LSE). The subject of his speech was the Present and the Future of the European Union.

In Monday’s lecture at LSE, Mr. Papandreou underlined once more that Ms. Merkel imposed the participation of the IMF in the Greek bailout plan because Berlin did not trust the European Commission’s surveillance of Greece.

“When I was Greece’s Prime Minister and the International Markets were saying that we were about to default, I had no place to turn for help” said the former Greek Prime Minister. Meanwhile, he was asked to reveal why he decided to hold a referendum in 2011 and not in 2010, a decision that caused frustration to the markets and brought Greece one step shy from going bankrupt. George Papandreou claimed that there was no law that would allow such a decision, meanwhile the country was two days away from defaulting.

To Vima frets:

Deputy Minister of Growth fears that the Greek economy is “relaxing”

Mr. Mitarakis explained that “many structural problems” are being addressed to bring balance to the economy

The Deputy Minister of Growth Notis Mitarakis was a guest speaker at the 2014 Global Capital Forum on the investment opportunities in Greece, where he revealed his fears of the Greek economy “relaxing”.

Mr. Mitarakis noted that “we have not yet ended the battle for our economy and the relaxation concerns me. Because we may have friends, but won’t just have friends in this struggle that is not yet over. We must continue achieving our goals to ensure a viable growth”.

Additionally the Deputy Minister revealed that the OECD’s recommendations will be adapted to Greek legislation by next week, so that consumer prices are addressed “since there are many structural problems that were not addresses and lead to hikes during the crisis, such as with milk”.

Kathimerini English seeks to recuse:

Golden Dawn spokesman asks for judges to be removed from probe

Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris (photo) made an official request on Tuesday for the two magistrates handling a judicial probe into the far-right party to be removed from their positions.

Kasidiaris argues that Ioanna Klapa and Maria Dimitropoulou have shown that they are not impartial.

Among the arguments made by Golden Dawn is that Klapa is married to a founding member of Democratic Left (DIMAR) and had failed to declare this to her superiors.

In his document, Kasidiaris says DIMAR sees Golden Dawn as its “ideological enemy.”

On to Turkey and a stunning retraction from nsnbc international:

Turkish Chief Judge declares “Ergenekon” Organization never existed

The former chief judge, presiding over the controversial Ergenekon trials in Turkey, which landed hundreds of military officers, opposition leaders, scholars and intellectuals in prison, stated that after having examined all evidence at length, he had to conclude that an organization called Ergenekon never existed.

Köskal Sengün, the former chief judge presiding over the controversial Ergenekon trials in Turkey’s 13th High Criminal Court, was suspended and reassigned to the Bolu province east of Istanbul. The striking statement which substantiates the claims that the AKP government of P.M. Erdogan has abused the Turkish justice system to conduct a de facto coup d’état was made during an interview with judge Segün on T24 news.

The Turkish Aydinlik Daily quotes the former chief judge as saying “I would decline the charges if they were presented today”, adding that judge Sengün confessed that the judges had accepted the charges before they even had read the complete files, let alone the additional documents.

TheLocal.de seeks a hand:

Turkey urges German support for EU bid

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Germany on Tuesday to step up support for his country’s bid to enter the European Union, but acknowledged Turkey must also press on with reforms.

Erdogan told a Berlin think-tank on a visit to Europe’s top economy that the EU could also benefit from Turkey’s presence at the bloc’s table such as in regional conflict resolution.

“We expect and would like also to receive the support from Germany for the path into the EU and the EU admission process,” Erdogan told the German Council on Foreign Relations.

And New Europe declines:

Merkel: I am “sceptical” on Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan endeavoured to secure Angela Merkel’s full support for Ankara’s bid to join the EU during a visit to Berlin overshadowed by concerns about his crackdown on the judiciary and police after a graft probe implicated members of his government and AKP parliamentarians.

“We want to see more [support]. I would like to remind you that the population of Turks in Germany alone is greater than the population of many European countries,” Erdogan told the German Council on Foreign Relations before meeting Merkel.

The German Chancellor stood her ground.

“It is no secret and nothing has changed in my view that I am sceptical about full membership for Turkey,” Merkel said in a press conference but added that this should not prevent the talks from going ahead.

On to the Ukraine and a search for restrictions from The Guardian:

Ukrainian opposition seeks to curtail president’s powers

Opposition wants repeal of some of the key powers accumulated by Viktor Yanukovich, including power to appoint PM

Ukrainian opposition parties have called for a constitutional change that would curtail the powers of the president, Viktor Yanukovich.

Buoyed by western expressions of support, the opposition pressed in parliament for a return to a previous constitution, which would mean Yanukovich losing some of the key powers he has accumulated since being elected in 2010.

These include appointing the prime minister, government and regional governors. The opposition also wants an unconditional amnesty for detained protesters to be broadened into an unconditional pardon.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore plans a move:

Ukraine president mulls early elections to end crisis

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych could call early elections to end mass anti-government unrest, a top lawmaker told AFP on Tuesday, as protest leaders demanded curbs to presidential powers in a stormy parliamentary debate.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was set to arrive in Kiev to press for a resolution, as Europe and the United States discussed a possible financial aid package to Ukraine in exchange for democratic reforms.

Ukraine’s protests erupted in November after Yanukovych rejected a key EU pact in favour of closer ties with Moscow, and the turmoil has now become an all-out movement to oust him.

On to Latin America, starting with the usual suspects doing the usual things via Frontera NorteSur:

The New Free Trade Fever

20 years after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, little interest has been shown until now by the governments of the signatory countries for reopening the trade pact. But a similar agreement between Mexico and the European Union, signed in 1997 and enacted in 2000, is under review and could be expanded.

Three working groups from the European Commission are expected to be in Mexico February 11-13 for discussions that could lead to changes in the current agreement, especially as they pertain to the energy, agricultural, financial services and telecommunications sectors.

Legal reforms promulgated by the Pena Nieto administration and approved by the Mexican Congress are encouraging a new look and possible fine-tuning of the 1997 accord.

MercoPress charts bad numbers:

Brazil’s experiences the worst January trade balance in years: 4.06bn deficit

Brazil’s balance of trade began 2014 with disappointing results, after closing January with a deficit of 4.06 billion dollars, according to the figures released by the Ministry of Industry, Development and Foreign Trade. Exports totaled 16.02bn dollars, while imports reached 20.08bn.

January confirms the poor tendency of last year which ended with a trade surplus of 2.561bn dollars, the lowest in more than a decade and a fall of almost 87% compared to the 19.44bn surplus of 2012.

The government attributed the erosion of the trade surplus to maintenance works on petroleum platforms, that have reduced Brazilian crude oil production and forced the country to increase fuel imports in order to meet domestic demand. Likewise the lack of sufficient refining capacity has forced Petrobras to massive imports.

MercoPress again and desperate measures:

Brazilian police challenge Rousseff and threaten to strike during the World Cup

Only four weeks away from the World Cup and in a climate of growing social unrest Brazil police unions are threatening the government of President Dilma Rousseff with a national strike. For Rousseff it also means an additional challenge since on February 10 the ruling Workers Party will be launching her re-election bid for next October’s presidential election.

“There is the possibility of a general strike which has already been decided last week by the 27 regional branches of the federal police union, together with the national board” said Luiz Baldens, vice-president of the national organization.

“We have decided to change the way we discuss issues with the authorities. The government insists with a wage increase ignoring all other demands. The government is always delaying, we are waiting for replies since 2012, we’re going to change the way we act” added the union official.

Off to Australasia and immigration for profit from South China Morning Post:

Chinese snap up Australia ‘significant investor’ visas

90pc of applicants to Australian residency scheme for ‘significant investors’ launched just over a year ago are wealthy mainland nationals

Nine out of 10 applicants for an Australian immigration scheme aimed at wealthy investors are from the mainland and they have pumped a total of A$325 million (HK$2.2 billion) into their new country of residence in the first year since the launch of the plan.

Sixty-five “significant investor” visas have been granted to mainlanders and 91 per cent of the 545 applicants for the permits were Chinese nationals since the scheme began just over a year ago, according to figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Paul Bernadou, a Hong Kong-based migration lawyer, said 90 per cent of his clients were mainlanders and Australia was their second choice after Hong Kong.

On to India and umbrage from the Mainichi:

Citizens across India protest nuclear deal with Japan during Prime Minister Abe’s visit

During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Jan. 25-27 visit to India, where he and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met to discuss a range of issues including the two countries’ pending nuclear energy agreement, several thousand citizens across the country had a message to share: PM Abe was welcome in India — but his nuclear technology was not.

Demonstrations against the proposed India-Japan nuclear agreement, which aims to allow Japan to export nuclear reactors to India, were held on Jan. 25, which was observed as a national day of protest against the agreement. The demonstration events were organized in conjunction with a campaign launched by the New Delhi-based Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), a network of anti-nuclear and peace organizations across India that was formed in November 2000 to urge both India and Pakistan to dismantle their nuclear weapons programs.

According to CNDP Research Consultant Kumar Sundaram, protests were organized in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai, as well as locales where new reactor projects are proposed, including Koodankulam, Jaitapur, Mithi Virdi, Fatehabad, Chutka and Kovvada.

Thailand next and action sought from the Japan Times:

Thai opposition petitions court to annul election

Thailand’s main opposition party petitioned a court Tuesday to annul last weekend’s national election, launching a legal challenge that could prolong the deeply divided country’s political paralysis.

The Democrat Party’s petition to the Constitutional Court also urges the dissolution of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling party, which called Sunday’s elections in a bid to defuse anti-government protests that started three months ago.

Wiratana Kalayasiri, a former opposition lawmaker and head of the Democrat Party’s legal team, said the petition argues the polls violated the constitution on several grounds, including that they were not completed in one day.

An alarm from South China Morning Post:

US warns against military coup in Thailand, voices fears over tensions

The United States has warned against any moves to stage a military coup in Thailand and said it was “concerned that political tensions” are challenging the nation’s democracy.

“We certainly do not want to see a coup or violence … in any case of course. We are speaking directly to all elements in Thai society to make clear the importance of using democratic and constitutional means to resolve political differences,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after anti-government protesters tried to disrupt Sunday’s election.

While there had been “peaceful and orderly polling” in most areas “there were also disturbing incidents of violence on the eve of the election”, as well as efforts to block voters getting to the polls, she said.

And from South China Morning Post again, an undone deal:

Beijing cancels deal to buy rice from Thailand after graft probe launched

China rattled by anti-corruption investigation into sale of rice, officials say

China has cancelled a deal to buy 1.2 million tonnes of Thai rice after Thailand’s anti-corruption agency launched investigations into a state rice-buying scheme, the Thai commerce minister said yesterday.

The cancellation will add to pressure on Thailand’s government, which is struggling to secure funds for the rice scheme at a time when farmers who have not been paid are protesting in the provinces.

“China lacks confidence to do business with us after the National Anti-Corruption Commission started investigations into the transparency of rice deals between Thailand and China,” minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan said.

China next and another bubble alarm from Bloomberg News:

China Savers’ Penchant for Property Magnifies Bust Danger

Chinese households’ concentration of wealth in real estate is magnifying the danger to the world’s second-largest economy of any property bust, as the nation grapples with the consequences of its record credit surge.

Some 66.1 percent of family assets were in housing in 2013, a national survey of about 28,000 households shows. Mortgage debt as a share of disposable income rose to 30 percent from 18 percent in 2008, according to estimates by Nicholas Lardy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The buildup raises the stakes for any slide in property prices amid China’s efforts to head off defaults by local governments and developers that propelled a run-up in borrowing that now amounts to more than double the size of the economy, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. A hit to household wealth could impair consumer spending, rebuffing policy maker efforts to rebalance the economy toward domestic demand.

GlobalPost decamps:

As war on corruption mounts, China’s rich flee to America

The US grants far more green cards to wealthy Chinese as president Xi Jinping cracks down.

Amid a widening crackdown on corruption, China’s wealthiest citizens are increasingly seeking a better life abroad.

The United States is their favored destination.

That’s the surprising conclusion of a new Hurun Report survey of 393 Chinese millionaires. According to the report, 64 percent of wealthy Chinese (those with $1.6 million or more) have emigrated or are planning to do so. Hurun also found that a third of the super-rich (those with $16 million or more) have established homes elsewhere.

A higher percentage of the wealthy favor sending their offspring overseas. Eighty percent want their children educated abroad. The US is the top choice for university, and the second choice (behind the UK) for high school.

And People’s Daily charts another warning sign:

Service sector growth slowest in 23 months

Business activity in China’s service sector expanded in January at the slowest rate in 23 months due to the weak real estate sector.

The official non-manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index fell for the third straight month to 53.4 in January from 54.6 in December, the National Bureau of Statistics and China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said yesterday.

This was the lowest reading since February 2012.

The bureau surveys 1,200 non-manufacturing enterprises in 27 industries to generate the monthly gauge where a reading above 50 indicates expansion.

On to Japan and the usual desperate measure enriching the rich in the name of the common good from NewsOnJapan:

Govt. OKs tax reform to boost economy

The Japanese government has formally approved a tax reform package designed to boost the economy.

Under the package, an extra corporate tax imposed after the 2011 disaster to aid rebuilding efforts will be scrapped at the end of this fiscal year in March, one year earlier than scheduled.

To encourage capital investment, the bills will allow companies to deduct some spending on high-tech equipment from their corporate taxes or to post the spending as a loss.

NHK WORLD spots another troubling sign:

Abe seeks ways to amend Constitution easier

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his intention to revise Article 96 of the Constitution, which stipulates procedures for making amendments to the Constitution. The move is aimed at making it easier to make such changes.

Article 96 says amendments must be initiated by the Diet, with at least two-thirds of the members of each of its chambers in favor of the move. The motion then requires a majority of all public votes cast in a referendum to be in favor.

Abe had earlier said the article should be revised so that amendments can be made with the support of more than half of both the Lower and Upper Houses of the Diet.

And the Mainichi seeks alternatives:

Construction plans for mid-sized geothermal plants booming across Japan

Construction plans for dozens of mid-sized geothermal power plants have surfaced across Japan, with its rich geothermal resources coming under the spotlight in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Chuo Electric Power Co. will herald the move in April by initiating the operation of a new geothermal plant in Kumamoto Prefecture — the country’s first such facility to be inaugurated in 15 years. Orix Corp. and Toshiba Corp. are also planning to put their geothermal power station into service sometime around the spring of 2015. There are also dozens of other plans across the country to build geothermal plants each with a maximum output of less than 15,000 kilowatts.

“We’d like to connect our customers living in urban condominiums and rural areas,” said Yasutoshi Hirano, vice president at Chuo Electric Power Co., a Tokyo-based company that makes bulk purchases of electricity to supply power to condominium households at low prices.

And with that, it’s time for Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First up, avoidance from the Japan Times:

Fukushima village’s young stay away

Mayor wants evacuees to return, but most so far are senior citizens

Two years have passed since Yuko Endo, mayor of the village of Kawauchi, made a widely publicized plea calling on residents to return home after being forced to evacuate because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

While some residents have returned, there have been few young people among them, posing a challenge for village officials in restoring the community to what it was.

Large swathes of the highland farming village were declared evacuation or “stay indoors” zones after three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to the northeast suffered core meltdowns and spewed radioactive fallout into the environment.

NHK WORLD takes a long-overdue step:

Radiation study planned for Fukushima workers

Japan’s government will conduct an in-depth study of workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to find out how they were affected by radiation from the 2011 nuclear accident.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will soon set up a panel of radiologists and other experts to determine specifically what and whom to study.

The ministry has already conducted medical checks of about 19,000 workers who entered the plant in the immediate aftermath. It recorded the results in a database. Some 30,000 workers have been engaged in decommissioning the damaged reactors.

NHK WORLD again, with a plea:

Fukushima governor wants waste storage plan change

The governor of Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture has proposed that storage facilities for highly radioactive waste be built in 2 of its municipalities, not 3 as requested by the central government.

Yuhei Sato made the proposal on Tuesday when he met the mayors of Okuma and Futaba towns for the first time since the government in Tokyo announced its storage plan in December.

The plan calls on the prefectures and the 3 municipalities to allow building of intermediate storage facilities in Okuma, Futaba and Naraha towns. It says the central government will buy 19 square kilometers of land in the towns for construction sites.

Tuesday’s talks were held behind closed doors.

Another nuke, more woes from the Japan Times:

Hokkaido reactor needs construction work to satisfy new regulations

One of the reactors owned by Hokkaido Electric Power Co. doesn’t comply with the new nuclear regulations and will have to undergo construction work to come up to code, regulators said.

The work required for the No. 3 unit at the Tomari power plant “will not finish in several months,” the utility said Tuesday, indicating that the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety assessment will be protracted and the reactor’s return to operations could be facing a significant delay.

The No. 3 unit is one of 16 reactors up for NRA inspections under the safety requirements introduced last July in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The problem with the No. 3 reactor is in the emergency system that cools the interior of the reactor’s primary containment vessel by spraying water from a ring-shaped pipe.

From Salon, another fuel, another problem:

Up to 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash spilled into N.C. river

Officials don’t believe that drinking water supplies have been affected

Up to 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were dumped into North Carolina’s Dan River, Duke Energy announced Monday. The leak, which began Sunday afternoon, stemmed from a broken pipe underneath a coal ash pond containing the waste left behind from a now-defunct power plant — waste that, according to the Associated Press, contains “arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic.”

CNN gets serious:

Federal grand jury investigates West Virginia chemical spill

A federal grand jury investigation has been launched into the West Virginia chemical spill that left 300,000 people unable to use their water supply, CNN learned Tuesday.

Sources familiar with the grand jury’s activities tell CNN that subpoenas have been issued requiring testimony for what one federal official confirms is a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, an independent water test conducted at CNN’s request has found trace levels of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, remain in both untreated river water and tap water from two homes in Charleston.

The results by TestAmerica found the chemical is within the safe level of 1 part per million set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; whether that level is safe is disputed.

From BBC News, a story you won’t hear on Fox:

Alaska’s Arctic icy lakes lose thickness

The ubiquitous shallow icy lakes that dominate Alaska’s Arctic coastal plain have undergone a significant change in recent decades.

These lakes, many of which are no more than 3m deep, melt earlier in the season and retain open water conditions for much longer.

And 20 years of satellite radar also now show that far fewer will freeze right through to the bottom in winter.

The Independent asks a question:

Is Tony Abbott’s Australian administration the most hostile to his nation’s environment in history?

Shark culling, dumping on the Great Barrier Reef and the felling of Tasmanian forests have made the country an ‘international laughing stock’, environmentalists say

In Western Australia, endangered great white sharks are being slaughtered. In Queensland, dredging spoil is to be dumped on the Great Barrier Reef. In Tasmania, ancient forests – harbouring some of the planet’s tallest trees – are in danger of being stripped of their World Heritage listing.

Australians could be forgiven for wondering if the federal government they elected last September is the most conservation-hostile in living memory.

Critics warn that moves by Tony Abbott and his Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will not only degrade the country’s most outstanding natural assets, but make Australia an international laughing-stock. The UN has already threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” when its World Heritage watchdog committee meets in Qatar in June.

And for our final item, the Jakarta Globe totals the tab:

Billions Needed to Fund Deforestation Prevention Plan: Report

Donor nations, rainforest-rich countries and multilateral institutions will have to spend tens of billions of dollars in the next few years to ensure that nations undergoing deforestation will have incentives to halt the practice, a report released on Monday said.

Without the money to buy forest-based emissions reductions, the mechanism known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) will be largely undermined, restricting incentives to keep trees standing, it said.

Deforestation is a major producer of heat-trapping gases in the world, accounting for around 15 percent of global emissions. Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria are among the largest emitters of carbon dioxide from deforestation.

REDD is the main program to combat forest destruction. It is being evaluated at the United Nations convention on climate change and will be part of the next global deal on climate, due to be signed next year.

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