We begin our collection of headlines form the economic, political, and environmental realms with a new reality from CNBC:

More men in their prime working years lack jobs, says WSJ

A large number of men who are still in their prime working years find themselves without jobs for extended periods, despite an improving economy, according to a piece in The Wall Street Journal.

The trend has been building for decades. The percentage of unemployed men 25 to 54 more than doubled between the early 1970s and 2007, from 6 percent to 13 percent, before jumping to 20 percent in the depths of the recession in 2009, according to the article.

As of December 2013, 17 percent of men are not working. Of that group, about two-thirds are not looking for work, which excludes them from the government’s official unemployment numbers.

Economists were alarmed to learn that 40 percent of those looking have been out of work for six months or more, according to the Journal. Some had expected employment figures to rebound to pre-recession levels, but the trend is actually getting worse.

One response, via The Hill:

Senate rejects jobless benefits

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked Democrats’ third attempt to pass an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

The Senate voted 58-40 Thursday on a proposal that would have continued unemployment insurance for three months, just short of the 60 votes needed to end debate.

“I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to yes,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “It’s a ‘no’ vote because they don’t want to extend unemployment insurance.”

Any excuse to gut environmental laws, via Salon:

House GOP overrides Endangered Species Act protections to pass California water bill

The bill would undermine years of conservation efforts in Northern California

Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would override federal rules and protections in California to allocate more water to farmers.

It would allow state and federal officials to pump more water out the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, a source of drinking water to 22 million Californians and home to endangered salmon, in what Gov. Jerry Brown called “an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California’s efforts to manage this severe crisis” and Rep. John Garamendi (D) referred to as “a theft of water from someone to give to somebody else, plain and simple.”

CNBC shivers in anticipation:

Hedge funds bet on US gas shortage as cold boosts demand

An unexpected fear haunts the land of the shale bonanza story: running low on natural gas.

Furnaces, utilities and power plants have guzzled trillions of cubic feet of the fuel as the U.S. slogs through what may be recorded as the coldest winter since the invention of gas futures in 1990.

Hedge funds are now betting the country will face a critical shortage before spring. The wager comes with long odds but a huge possible payout.

“It’s been a relentless cold,” says Eric Bass, managing partner at Velite Benchmark Capital Management, a Houston gas hedge fund. “This market has slowly started to realize there could potentially be an inventory problem.”

From Al Jazeera America, Banksters Behaving Badly™:

Banks under investigation for alleged currency exchange rate-fixing

Barclays, Goldman Sachs among institutions being investigated for allegedly manipulating foreign exchange markets

New York state’s financial regulator has opened an investigation into alleged manipulation of foreign exchange markets and is demanding documents from more than a dozen banks, a source familiar with the investigation told Al Jazeera.

Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Goldman Sachs and a number of other large banks that the Department of Financial Services regulates will be investigated in the probe, the source said.

Authorities in the U.S., Britain, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore have opened probes into whether the large banks manipulated foreign exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments.

Investigators suspect that traders from different banks may have used chat rooms to share information about trades in ways that benefited their positions.

Profligacy from The Guardian:

National lab in California scolded over Lusitania project

$80,000 in taxpayer money spent to help National Geographic with documentary about sinking of the ship during WWI

A federal watchdog agency reprimanded a national lab in Northern California for spending more than $80,000 in taxpayer money to help National Geographic with a documentary film about the sinking of the ship Lusitania during World War I.

The Energy Department’s inspector general said in a report issued last week that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory improperly used its licensing and royalty fees to perform tests for the documentary and should not have done the work.

“Federal officials at Livermore knew about it and didn’t take any action,” said Rickey Hass, a deputy inspector general at the Energy Department. “The work itself was not really the issue, but it was inappropriate in that it may have competed with private sector organizations and was funded with money that should have not been used for that purpose. It also wasn’t necessarily reported with complete transparency.”

NBC News greens the green:

Pot buyers add more than $1M to Colorado tax coffers

In the first month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, retailers who shared their proprietary data with NBC News say they have collected $1.24 million in tax revenue.

Half of the state’s 35 licensed recreational retailers participated in the NBC News survey. The 18 retailers shared the first 27 days of their tax data because they say they believe it will help their image.

In the first month of operation, sellers of recreational marijuana are doing brisk business in Colorado. One seller said she averages about $20,000 a day in sales.

Blowback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

India warns US of consequences on visa reform

India has warned the United States of consequences for its companies if lawmakers tighten visa rules on high-tech firms as part of an immigration overhaul.

Ambassador Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that India would see a decision to restrict certain temporary visas for skilled workers as a sign that the US economy is becoming less open for business.

“We think this is actually going to be harmful to us. It would be harmful to the American economy and, frankly, it would be harmful to the relationship” between the two countries, Jaishankar told AFP in an interview.

Sensible advice from Salon:

Elizabeth Warren calls on Obama to nominate fewer corporate judges

Massachusetts’ senior senator promotes more professional diversity in U.S. courts

Speaking at an event hosted by the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 groups who work on improving the justice system, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized President Obama for putting forward so many judicial nominees whose prior experience was mainly with big firms representing corporations.

“We face a federal bench that has a striking lack of diversity,” said Warren. “President Obama has supported some notable exceptions but … the president’s nominees have thus far been largely in line with the prior statistics.”

Repeating points made in the AFJ’s recent report on the federal judiciary’s excess of former corporate lawyers, Warren noted that 71 percent of Obama nominees’ prior experience was chiefly defending corporations. Just 3.6 percent of Obama’s nominees, according to the report, have previously worked mainly for public interest organizations.

Warren warned that, in America, “Power is becoming more and more concentrated on one side.” She recommended “professional diversity” in the judiciary, saying it would be “one way to insulate the courts from corporate capture.”

Heading north of the border with capital flight woes of another kind from South China Morning Post:

Exclusive: How mainland millionaires overwhelmed Canada visa scheme

Mainland millionaires swamped HK consulate with applications and led to freezing of world’s most popular investor immigration scheme

Canadian immigration department spreadsheets obtained by the Post show how the huge number of applications forced the government in Ottawa to freeze the world’s most popular wealth-based migration scheme. One document, dated January 8 last year, showed there was a backlog of 53,580 Hong Kong-based applications for Canadian federal investor visas.

That represented more than 70 per cent of the global backlog. And attempts by Ottawa in 2010 to tighten access to the coveted visas by doubling the wealth criteria had the effect of increasing Chinese domination. In 2011, applications sent to the Hong Kong consulate made up 86 per cent of the global total.

Analysis of arrival data suggests that about 99 per cent of applications in Hong Kong were lodged by mainlanders. Under the scheme’s current limits, applicants worth at least C$1.6 million (HK$11.2 million) receive residency if they “invest” C$800,000 in the form of a five-year interest-free loan to Canada.

On to Europe, first with BBC News:

ECB rejects deflation fears as it holds rates at 0.25%

The head of the European Central Bank (ECB) has said deflation is not a threat to the eurozone economy.

The ECB kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.25% after its latest meeting. The rate was cut to its current record low in November.

ECB president Mario Draghi said: “We have to dispense with this idea of deflation. The question is – is there deflation? The answer is no.”

Eurozone inflation slowed to 0.7% in January from 0.8% in December. The figure fuelled worries about whether the euro bloc could suffer deflation, potentially de-railing economic growth.

Another take from the London Telegraph:

Split ECB paralysed as deflation draws closer, tightening job vice in southern Europe

Mario Draghi said the ECB’s council had discussed a wide range of measures but needed more information

The European Central Bank has brushed aside calls for radical action to head off deflation and relieve pressure on emerging markets, denying that the eurozone is at risk of a Japanese-style trap.

Yields on German two-year notes almost doubled to 0.12pc as markets slashed expectations for future rate cuts, while the euro spiked 1.5 cents to more than $1.36 against the dollar, implying a further tightening of monetary conditions for Europe.

Mario Draghi, ECB president, said the bank is “alert to the risks, and stands willing and ready to act” if inflation falls even further below target or if the fragile recovery falters, but offered no clear guidance on future policy.

The Guardian hasn’t recovered:

Real wages likely to take six years to return to pre-crisis level

Average wages are at 2004 levels and it will take until six years before they return to 2009 peak according to leading thinktank

The Governor of Britain’s Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaks

Britons will have to wait six more years before their inflation-adjusted wages are back at pre-crisis levels and it “feels” like recovery, a leading thinktank has warned.

Average real wages are still at 2004 levels and it will take until 2020 before they return to their 2009 peak, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

“It’s a long way off,” said Simon Kirby, principal research fellow at the thinktank. “It will take a number of years before people actually start to feel the recovery.”

The gradual rise in wages could take even longer if Britain’s productivity performance, which has been “abysmal” in recent years, did not improve, he said.

BBC News splits:

Divorce rate up ‘because of recession’, report says

A wedding ring on the bible The recession of 2008/9 could be to blame for more marriages failing

The divorce rate in England and Wales has gone up, possibly because of the last recession, according to a report.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were 118,140 divorces in 2012, up 0.5% on 2011.

Between 2003 and 2009 there was a general downward trend in the number of divorces, but in 2010 they rose 4.9%.

“One theory suggests recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain,” the report says.

Off to Iceland and an immigration crisis denied via the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Minister Dismisses Ministry Employee Requests For Independent Investigation

Minister of the Interior Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir has allegedly denied requests from ministry staff for an independent investigation of the ministry over a leaked memo regarding a Nigerian asylum seeker.

DV reports that several ministry employees approached the minister with the suggestion that an independent investigator be brought in to examine the ministry with regards to the case of Tony Omos, a Nigerian asylum seeker who, along with the expecting mother of his child, Evelyn Glory Joseph, had his reputation impugned by a memo which leaked to certain members of the press last November. The memo made allegations about Tony and Evelyn which later proved to be untrue.

The minister allegedly told the employees who requested the independent investigation that this was not going to happen. Ministry employees are reportedly unhappy with the minister and her assistants over the matter.

The uncuttest kind of all from TheLocal.no:

Norway politician wants jail for circumcisers

A leading politician for Norway’s Centre Party has stepped up calls for a ban on ritual male circumcision, or failing that up to 10 years in prison, for those who botch the operation, as the government debates a proposed new law on the practice.

Jenny Klinge, the party’s justice spo complained about the stark difference in penalties under law for those who injure children through female genital mutilation and those who injure them through circumcision.

“It can not be such that when a boy dies, then it’s not punished at all, while if a girl dies it’s punishable by up to 10 years,”  Klinge said in parliament, according to NRK.

She called again for a ban, but said that failing that significant penalties should be put in place for those who injure children during the operation.

Danish austerity strikes again,, via the Copenhagen Post:

Parliament expected to end EU insurance coverage

As of August, CPR card will no longer cover Danish residents in other EU countries

You may want to be more careful on future trips to other EU countries. Today, parliament is expect to abolish the public travel insurance provided by the yellow health insurance card. According to DR Nyheder, a large majority will vote in favour of the bill, which then will come into effect by August.

When the proposal is passed, Danish residents will no longer have all their medical expenses paid when visiting another EU country. Instead they will fall under the same regulations as citizens of the respective country. To avoid unexpected medical bills on your next holiday in Europe, it will therefore be necessary to take out your own health insurance.

Nexit news from DutchNews.nl:

Leaving the EU would boost Dutch economy, report for PVV says

Leaving the European Union would boost the Dutch economy, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV, said on Thursday, quoting a study drawn up by a UK agency.

The Capital Economics report says leaving the EU would allow the Netherlands to increase its prosperity in a way only possible in the distant past. Economic growth figures would be higher than if the Netherlands remains in the EU, the report states.

The Netherlands would no longer be tied to EU rules and requirements, allowing a freer hand to trade with other countries. Gross Domestic Product would be between 10% and 12% higher by 2035 if the Netherlands left the EU, Capital Economics said.

EurActiv rebuts:

Dijsselbloem counters Wilders’ EU exit claim

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup, has hit back at far-right politician Geert Wilders’ claim that leaving the European Union would be good for the Dutch economy.

“The Netherlands is an economic powerhouse in Europe. We earn the bulk of our money in trade with EU countries so the Netherlands has a lot of interest in a single market with easy trade,” Dijsselbloem told local media, adding that quitting the EU would be “very unwise”.

On to Germany and a case of the Benz from TheLocal.de:

Daimler enjoys record €9 billion profit

Luxury auto maker Daimler said on Thursday that it achieved record sales and profits in 2013, and it expects to achieve “significant” growth again this year.

“Daimler concluded the year 2013 with record levels of unit sales, revenue, EBIT [earnings before interest and tax] and net profit,” the car maker said in a statement.

“The company anticipates renewed growth in 2014,” it added.

Net profit climbed by 28 percent to €8.72 billion and underlying profit, as measured by earnings before interest and tax, was up 23 percent at €10.82 billion.

Europe Online declines:

German factory orders post surprise slump in December

German industrial orders posted a surprise 0.5-per-cent fall in December despite a rebound in demand from the eurozone, the Ministry of Economics said Thursday.

The decline in the monthly data failed to offset the surge in orders in November, which jumped by an upwardly revised 2.4 per cent as a result of strong demand for bulk orders from Europe’s biggest economy.

“The trend toward increasing demand for industrial products continues despite the slight decline in December,” the ministry said.

TheLocal.de lights a fuse:

Court grants EU migrants German jobless benefits

A German job centre will have to pay a jobless Spanish family unemployment benefits, a court ruled on Thursday, in an apparent contradiction of German law.

The Court of Social Affairs in Dortmund ruled unemployed immigrants from the European Union could claim Hartz IV unemployment benefits, in a judgment which decided in favour of European Union law over German.

European law states citizens from other EU countries must be treated equally, which includes access to benefits.

But German law grants exemptions by classifying Hartz IV as a “social benefit” which can be denied to EU citizens rather than a “special benefit” which cannot be. It means EU migrants who are in Germany but are not seeking work are excluded from claiming unemployment benefits.

On to France and a walkout ahead from TheLocal.fr:

French teachers to strike over August return

Summer holidays are sacred in France and even more so it seems for French teachers. One union has called for a strike after the government did the unthinkable and timetabled the start of the autumn term before the end of August.

Even though back to school for autumn 2014 is a full six months away—and school isn’t even out yet—the first strike of the next school year has already been called.

The members of the national union of secondary and high school teachers (Sydicat National des Lycées et Collèges) sent out warning on Wednesday of the strike pencilled in for the end of August. This time its not about pay cuts or a lack of funding, but a decision to make them to return to school after the summer holidays, in the sacred holiday month of August.

The government has rewritten the school calendar so that teachers have to be back on August 29. Bearing in mind August is traditionally the month when the whole country pretty much shuts down and everyone goes to the beach, the move has not gone down well with in staff rooms.

Switzerland next and more hard times immigration politics from TheLocal.ch:

Immigration: ‘total chaos’ seen if curbs backed

Switzerland’s ties with the European Union face a crunch test on Sunday as voters decide whether to revive immigration quotas on EU citizens, in a referendum piloted by rightwing populists.

The result could be close, with the latest poll indicating 43 percent back the “Stop Mass Immigration” proposal and 50 percent oppose it.

Switzerland is not in the EU but is ringed by members of the 28-nation bloc, which is its main export market. If passed, the proposal would bind the government to renegotiate within three years a deal which gives the EU’s 500 million residents equal footing on the job market in this nation of 8.1 million people.

Opponents of the plan — the government, most political parties and the business sector — warn that ripping up free labour market rules for EU nationals in force since 2007 would unravel related economic deals.

Another consequence of the battle for women’s bodies from El País:

Doctors shun life-saving abortion

As 32-year-old Daniela found out, access to the procedure at a public hospital can be impossible

The government is planning to make the law covering terminations even tougher

La Paz Hospital, one of the largest public health centers in Madrid, refused to perform an abortion on Daniela, a 32-year-old woman who had lost all her amniotic fluid when she was 20 weeks pregnant. In these conditions, a fetus no longer has a chance to live, according to all the specialists consulted by this newspaper, and the mother is at risk of serious infection.

Even though she met all the requirements set out in the current abortion law – which the Popular Party government plans to toughen up on – the Madrid hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy. Eventually, Daniela, who was on intravenous antibiotics to prevent infections, was discharged from La Paz so she could go to a private center for her abortion, after the regional government confirmed her right to one.

A spokeswoman at La Paz said that all the doctors there are conscientious objectors – whose rights are enshrined in the current Spanish law on abortion – and that in 2010 the gynecology department in full decided not to carry out any abortions, ever.

thinkSPAIN charts the loss:

Salaries have fallen by 10 per cent since labour reform came into effect, say recruitment centres

Mass redundancies falling, but on-the-job training is a must, according to Adecco

WAGES have gone down by an average of 10 per cent, and the typical redundancy pay-off to 26 days’ salary per year of service, according to research by three recruitment agencies.

Adecco, the Sagardoy Foundation and the Excellence in Sustainability Club – which all form the official Observatory for monitoring the government’s labour reform – studied 200 companies, most of which have a minimum of 50 employees.

They say redundancy pay has gone down, but remains on the whole higher than the requisite 20 days’ salary per year of service which is the legal minimum for a ‘fair dismissal’.

TheLocal.es has poor possibilities:

Half of Spain’s job ads pay less than €1K/month

The so-called ‘mileurismo’ phenomenon continues to grow as data from employment portal jobandtalent.com reveals that 49 per cent of jobs offered in Spain in January had net salaries equivalent to less than €1,000 ($1,350) per month.

Information published in the company’s blog showed that jobs in the ‘mileurismo’ category – those that pay less than €1,000 a month – had risen from 30 per cent  to 49 per cent of those on offer.

Of those, positions offering gross annual salaries of under €15,000 rose from 20 per cent to 31 per cent of the total, and jobs offering €16,000 to €20,000  from 6 per cent to 18 per cent.

The blog presented the figures as a complement to data released this week by the Juan Alfaro Club of Excellence’s Labour Reform Monitor which showed that average wages across Spain had fallen by 10% since the introduction of new legislation designed to introduce flexibility into the job market.

But one number is heading up. From TheLocal.es:

Spanish bankruptcies hit the roof in 2013

The number of household and business bankruptcy filings leapt by 6.5 percent to 9,660, the National Statistics Institute said, as the economy emerged from a long recession.

Spain’s economy grew slowly in the second half of 2013, shaking off a double-dip recession but still weighed down by a 26-percent unemployment rate.

The eurozone’s fourth-largest economy is still overshadowed by the aftermath of a decade-long property bubble, which collapsed in 2008 destroying millions of jobs and flooding the nation in debt.

In a sign that the business sector’s decline may be steadying, however, bankruptcy filings rose at a slower pace last year when compared to a 15.1 percent increase in 2011 and a 32.2 percent surge in 2012. But the number of bankruptcy filings remains at historically high levels.

And battle over women’s bodies ends the same way, via thinkSPAIN:

Surrogate births not recognised under Spanish law, rules Supreme Court

CHILDREN born to surrogate mothers cannot be registered as the legal offspring of the parents who commissioned the woman who gave birth, Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled.

Whilst in the USA, couples who cannot have children or all-male couples can ‘rent a womb’ to enable them to start a family and register the baby as their own, Spanish law does not recognise the procedure, as two men discovered when they attempted to do so with their two children born in California.

The couple, who are married, had all the legal certificates issued by the county of San Diego, California to prove they were the legal fathers of the twin boys born in 2008 via a surrogate mother, in accordance with US law.

Italy next and another number of the way up from TheLocal.it:

Rents in Italy soar as wages stagnate

Italians are spending the bulk of their monthly salary on rent as prices climb and landlords refuse to negotiate even in times of job loss, a survey has revealed.

Over 40 percent of those surveyed by mioaffito.it, the Italian property website, said between 35 and 50 percent of their salary goes on rent, while 30 percent said they spend even more.

Rents in Italy have risen by 105 percent over the last twenty years, while average household salaries have gone up by just 18 percent, Gaia Merguicci, a community manager at mioaffito.it told The Local.

The average monthly rent in Italy is around €780, up from €738 since last August, according to data from the website. Florence saw the steepest climb over the past six months, with rents increasing by 14.2 percent.

However, the most expensive place to rent is the business hub of Milan, where the monthly average is €1,823 followed by Rome at €1,629 and Florence at €1,228. The cheapest place is Ragusa, in Sicily, where rents average €390.

The latest Bunga Bunga blowback from TheLocal.it:

Italian senate to join civil case against Berlusconi

The speaker of Italy’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday announced the Senate would declare itself a civil party in a trial against former premier Silvio Berlusconi for allegedly bribing senators, according to Italian media reports.

Speaker Piero Grasso said said it was his “moral duty” to declare the Senate a civil party despite an earlier recommendation by a parliamentary

committee for the upper house to stay out of the media magnate’s latest legal troubles.

Embattled Berlusconi was ousted from parliament and stripped of legal protection in November after he was found guilty of tax fraud.

TheLocal.it once again, and a heads up for the big winners:

Bonino defends German role in euro crisis

Italy’s Foreign Minister Emma Bonino on Thursday defended Germany against charges its austerity demands were the cause of suffering in the crisis-hit eurozone.

“Those who hold Germany responsible for everything are not only telling an untruth but also behaving unfairly,” Bonino told Munich daily the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

“I find this criticism of Berlin quite petty and only partially appropriate,” said Bonino, a former EU commissioner.

After the jump, the latest in the ongoing Greek disaster, Ukrainian warnings, drought and a protest victory in Latin America, Australian and Japanese tapering, Thai troubles, Chinese anxieties, Sony woes, a free-trade-for-dolphins ploy, U.S. and European GMO word wars, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

From Keep Talking Greece, enough to make you sick:

Greek Health SOS: new “reform” bill to leave patients without access to health care

Hundreds of doctors working at National Health Care system (EOPYY) and public hospitals gathered in downtown Athens on Thursday morning to protest the so-called “health reforms” that close down the National Health Care institution (EOPYY), will give the green light to lay-offs of some 3,000 doctors and close down thousands of units of primary health care across the country.

While EOPYY (former IKA, i.e. Greece’s biggest insurance fund for the private sector) will be dissolved the new health care institution called PEDY  has not been established yet.

The bill tabled by Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis will be voted in the Greek Parliament today.

The result, reported by Kathimerini English:

Health bill passes but doctors may continue protests

Doctors working for Greece’s main healthcare provider, EOPYY, are due to meet on Friday to decide whether to take part in further protest action after Parliament narrowly approved an overhaul of the primary healthcare sector on Thursday.

As doctors and nurses protested outside Parliament, 151 MPs voted in favor of the Health Ministry proposals and 119 opposed them. The ballot was “in principle” and lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill article by article by Tuesday at the latest.

The overhaul will lead to thousands of healthcare workers being put in a mobility scheme, with some likely to end up in a labor pool and, eventually, out of work. Doctors, however, believe that the government will not be able to fulfill its plans due to staff shortages.

Wooden horse occupants redux from Greek Reporter:

IMF Returning to Athens

Gerry Rice, spokesman of the International Monetary Fund, during a press conference at the offices of the IMF in Washington, reported that Poul Thomsen who is in charge of the IMF’s program with Greece will soon return to Athens.

In reference to a possible haircut of the Greek debt, Rice said that Greece ‘s European partners have agreed to proceed with debt relief if necessary but it will depend on whether Greece will meet its obligations. In such case Greek debt, as percentage of GDP will be reduced to 124% of GDP in 2020, and it will fall below 110% of GDP by 2022.

As far as the financing gap is concerned, IMF spokesman stated  that the issue would be discussed when the IMF mission returns to Athens, adding that European partners should propose “a specific way” to deal with the issue. Rice was also asked about the “objections” of the Financial Stability Fund, the “delays” in the announcement of the capital needs of Greek banks, and the reforms concerning the issue of recapitalization. He answered that this issue will be examined by Troika.

ANA-MPA professes:

Greece has made progress on issues relating to upcoming troika talks, gov’t spokesman says

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou on Thursday said that Greece has made significant progress on a number of issues that are included in the country’s upcoming negotiations with the troika representing its lenders.

“The implementation of our commitments has progressed to a significant degree and on certain issues we are [doing] even better than the initial forecasts,” Kedikoglou said in statements to the local radio station “Vima FM”. He predicted that Greece would be ready before the next Eurogroup meeting.

On the issue of debt sustainability, Kedikoglou said that Greece “wants to implement the Eurogroup agreement of November 2012, which refers to implementing commitments to reduce the debt without fiscal measures.”

Capital.gr endorses:

Greece’s 2014 fiscal gap issue largely resolved with lenders

Greece and its foreign lenders have largely bridged differences over a potential fiscal gap this year, removing a key sticking point holding up talks to release more bailout funds, two sources directly involved in the talks said to Reuters on Tuesday.

The latest review of Greece’s progress under its European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout has dragged on since September in large part due to wrangling over how Athens would plug a gap in this year’s budget, which had been estimated at 1 billion euros.

However, that is no longer the main issue in talks thanks to surprisingly strong data on a primary surplus for 2013, two sources involved in the negotiations said.

Some of the numbers from Capital.gr:

Budget revenues beat targets by 653 mln euros in 2013

Greek tax revenues stood at EUR 38.1bn, 1.75% ahead of the target (or by EUR 652.8mn) according to MinFin. VAT receipts stood at EUR 9.3bn, whereas the target stood at EUR 9.0bn, while the rest of the revenues from the tax bureaus landed 1.3% ahead of targets (or higher by EUR 360.2mn).

In a report, the ministry said that tax agency revenues totaled 38.14 billion euros in 2013, up 1.75 pct from budget targets, with VAT proceeds rising 3.2 pct to 292.5 million euros, while other tax agency revenues rose by 1.3 pct to 360.2 billion euros.

Annual tax returns totaled 3.7 billion euros in 2013, up from a budget provision of 2.90 billion euros, an increase of 27.47 pct. The Finance ministry noted that overdue tax debt to the state grew by 13.7 pct last year to 63.7 billion euros, after a 24.1 pct growth rate recorded in 2012. Tax agencies said that overdue tax proceeds were 31.8 pct higher compared with 2012 and 49.2 pct higher compared with 2011 to a new record high of 3.26 billion euros.

ANSAmed dodges:

Greece: farmers and doctors biggest tax-evaders for 2013

Greece’s Financial and Crime Unit (SDOE) had quite a big job on their hands last year. After numerous thorough controls, SDOE discovered that there are an abundance of Greek citizens from different groups that are not paying their taxes as they should, as GreekReporter website informs.

Greek farmers are on the top of the list of the biggest tax-evaders in Greece. In second come the contractors and in third, large enterprises. Fourth on the list of biggest tax-evaders in Greece stand the traders of agricultural products who are then followed by doctors.

SDOE also uncovered that a political figure is on the list of biggest tax evaders in Greece. According to SDOE’s official announcement, Pavlos Xaikalis, MP of Independent Greeks, is not paying his taxes properly. Later in the day, Xaikalis gave a brief interview to the Greek TV channel SKAI, where he confessed.

So what to do? From ANA-MPA:

Gov’t announces tax breaks, waives book of accounts for farmers

The government on Thursday announced a number of measures designed to reduce the tax burden on protesting farmers, including a decision to waive a requirement that farms keep books of account. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou announced the decisions made on Thursday, after a government meeting chaired by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

He said the meeting had decided to waive an obligation that farmers keep detailed books of accounts regardless of income, except for those who were obliged to keep books for other activities they were involved in. Those with an income exceeding 15,000 euros a year, however, will still be required to submit regular summarised statements of their income and spending.

The meeting also decided to exempt farmers entering the new system from the freelance workers’ levy for the first five years, as well as those that are three years before retirement.

All farmers will be obliged to submit an annual VAT statement at the end of the year, while the summarised statements of income and spending will also be submitted annually.

To Vima denounces:

Venizelos: “There is a German company behind every scandal”

The Vice President responded to the German Finance Minister’s comments about Greece joining the eurozone

The government Vice President Evangelos Venizelos has responded to comments made by the SPD president, Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finances Sigmar Gabriel, who claimed that Greece is badly organized state and only managed to join the Euro in 2001 thanks to falsified figures.

Mr. Venizelos stated that “Greece is state with problems just like all the other European states. Do we have corruption problems? Yes, we do. But if look closely, behind every scandal in Greece you will unfortunately find that there is usually a large German company; Siemens, Ferrostahl, MAN, Daimler Chrysler… I wonder, who has the problem? Why is it only us?”

The Vice President further explained that while Greece may have joined the euro thanks to a “flexible interpretation” of figures, but that was so that Italy could also join the euro, which at the time had even worse figures than Greece. Mr. Venizelos argued that Greece is unfairly being persecuted and isolated, when the problems affect Europe at large.

MacroPolis looks to the [far] Right:

Greece in danger of repeating familiar mistakes with Golden Dawn

Barring any last minute upsets, Golden Dawn will officially become Greece’s third-largest party when local and European Parliament elections are held in May. At least that is what opinion polls have been indicating for some time. It would represent another milestone in the shocking rise of the Neo-Nazi party, which has proved a challenge Greece’s political system has been unable to tackle.

In the 2009 national elections, Golden Dawn gained less than 0.3 percent of the vote. In June 2012, 6.9 percent of Greeks who cast ballots, 426,025 in total, did so in favour of the party led by Adolf Hitler-admirer Nikos Michaloliakos. There can be little doubt that Greece’s unprecedented economic crisis, which erupted shortly after the 2009 polls, has created fertile ground for extremists. Six years of recession, four years of asphyxiating austerity and record unemployment that reached 27.8 percent in December have all caused anger and anxiety, prompting many Greeks to seek easy answers to the country’s complicated problems.

But that’s not all. The economic crisis tells only part of the story. The disintegration of Greece’s political system has also played a significant part in the rise of Golden Dawn. For decades the two parties that governed Greece – PASOK and New Democracy – often fed their supporters a diet of cheap populism and ersatz nationalism. The tacit exchange of votes for public sector jobs or contracts and the promise that the state would always step in to protect vested interests created unsustainable expectations about what governments could offer.

Kathimerini English looks less far to the Right:

Ex-minister strengthens anti-bailout camp with new party

A new right-wing party unveiled on Thursday will be anti-memorandum but pro-Europe, pledged ex-Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras, who will head the grouping, called Union for the Homeland and the People.

Flanked by another former New Democracy member, Christos Zois, Polydoras said the party would push for a significant restructuring of Greek public debt but would not become embroiled in a debate about whether Greece should remain in the euro.

“For us there is no issue of whether we should be in the European Union or out, nor of the euro or the drachma,” he said. “There is only one criterion: the salvation of the people.”

While To Vima covers the Left:

SYRIZA responds to AJC’s allegations of anti-Semitism

Opposition refutes AJC claims and accuses it of bias and perpetuating the coalition government’s propaganda

The comments of Theodoros Karypidis, whose candidacy in the upcoming local government elections has gained SYRIZA support, prompted the American Jewish Committee to lash out against the Greek opposition party with allegations of anti-Semitism.

The Greek opposition party responded to the AJC expressing its surprise at the allegations of political extremism and entrenched anti-Semitic views, given the party’s vocal stance against neo-Nazis, fascists and holocaust deniers. SYRIZA further argues that the AJC’s rhetoric is very similar to that of the government and New Democracy’s propaganda.

The opposition party concedes that instances of anti-Semitism and racism are on the rise and explains that New Democracy is harboring extremist elements, such as the PM’s consultant Takis Baltakos who had argued that ND could form a coalition with Golden Dawn and Konstantinos Plevris, who has repeatedly praised Nazism in Greece.

On to Moscow and a stiff rebuke from The Independent:

Russian anti-Putin satirists have car vandalised with giant wooden penis

The state of political discourse in Russia could hardly be considered healthy – but it has reached an alarming new low after the car of an anti-government dissident was vandalised with a giant wooden phallus.

Satirists Arseny Bobrovsky and Katya Romanovskaya, who have achieved celebrity status in Russia after being revealed as the duo behind the hugely popular @KermlinRussia spoof Twitter account, woke up on Monday last week to find the 200lb penis chained to their BMW.

Posting on their joint Facebook account, the car’s owner, Bobrovsky, wrote: “Finally, the day has come when my work has been noticed and appreciated.”

And Moscow stakes a position on the neighbor to the south, via BBC News:

Ukraine crisis: Putin adviser accuses US of meddling

A senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of meddling in Ukraine, in breach of a 1994 agreement over non-intervention.

Sergei Glazyev said the US was spending $20m (£12.3m; 14.8m euros) a week on Ukrainian opposition groups, supplying “rebels” with arms among other things.

Accusing the US of ignoring the Memorandum on Security Assurances, he suggested Moscow could also intervene.

The American embassy in Kiev declined to comment on his accusations.

More from USA TODAY:

Russian adviser threatens Ukraine with military force

Ukrainian protesters say they have no doubt that Russia will intervene militarily in the unrest that has been plaguing the former Soviet territory for months.

Sergei Glazyev on Thursday accused the United States of funding the Ukrainian “rebels” by as much as $20 million a day for weapons and other supplies. He urged the Ukrainian government to put down the “attempted coup” or Russia may have to to intervene under the terms of a 1994 agreement between the U.S. and Russia, according to the Ukraine edition of the Russian daily Kommersant.

Glazyev was alluding to the Budapest Memorandum, a treaty in which the Ukraine agreed to turn over a nuclear arsenal on its soil left over after the fall of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part until it dissolved in 1991.

Latin America next and a dry run from GlobalPost:

Half of Sao Paulo’s water supply will run out in 45 days if there’s no rain

Thought Sochi had problems? Wait till Sao Paulo runs dry during World Cup

Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, is on the verge of rationing water because of a severe drought, according to a nonprofit group that monitors regional water resources.

The Cantareira water system is supplied to more than 10 million in South America’s largest city and is more than 75 percent empty.

The city could possibly see shortages when Brazil hosts the World Cup soccer tournament in June and July. January was the hottest month on record in the city and meteorologists expect little rain or relief in the next week.

Frontera NorteSur hands protesters a win:

Mexico Chucks Test Bonuses, National Exam

A controversial, national student test is now history in Mexico. Accompanied by other federal officials, Education Secretary Emilio Chuayfett announced this week that the ENLACE exam will be discontinued, as well as the policy of financially compensating educators and students for good test results.  In a press conference, Chuayfett said ENLACE was plagued with improper and unethical applications, corrupt practices and questionable results.

“Academic evaluation or school achievement can’t ever be linked to (economic) incentives for teachers,” Chuayfett said. “School achievement should be carried out for accountability’s sake, in a transparent manner by means of instruments that are not linked to incentives for teachers, schools or students.”

Introduced during the final years of the administration of President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), the ENLACE test was given to more than three million elementary and secondary  school students. In 2012 alone, the cost of administering the test was calculated in the neighborhood of $18 million. During the course of ENLACE’s life, an estimated $400 million in test bonuses were paid to educators. Previously, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation was based on student test performance.

And RT goes for the gold:

Uruguay’s president nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for legalizing marijuana

The president of Uruguay has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. According to his advocates, José “Pepe” Mujica’s much talked-about marijuana legalization is in fact “a tool for peace and understanding.”

For the second year in a row, the Drugs Peace Institute, which has supported Mujica’s marijuana legalization drive since 2012, insisting that the consumption of marijuana should be protected as a human right, has endorsed his candidacy, along with members of Mujica’s leftwing political party the Frente Amplio, the PlantaTuPlanta (Collective of Uruguayan growers) and the Latin American Coalition of Cannabis Activists (CLAC). . .

The Drugs Peace Institute said that Mujica’s stand against the UN-led prohibition of mind-altering substances is a “symbol of a hand outstretched, of a new era in a divided world.”

“It is a promise to bridge the gap between defiant marijuana consumers and the prohibiting society. Hopefully, the start of the acceptance of this consumption by society and the concomitant development of understanding of its use as a natural medicine, historically used for spiritual liberation, might initiate a process of healing in a world, very confused and deeply divided, over its religious legacy,” the Dutch NGO stated on its website.

Off to Australasia and a tapering from Nikkei Asian Review:

Australia’s central bank shows it’s ready to end easing

The Reserve Bank of Australia has sent the clearest signals yet that it has finished cutting interest rates, as evidence piles up that the country’s economy is responding to very cheap credit.

The bank’s governor, Glenn Stevens, is also showing more restraint in talking down the Australian dollar, which he had repeatedly done as of late last year to help the country’s resources and other exporters.

In its first policy decision for 2014, the RBA decided Tuesday to leave official interest rates at the record low of 2.5%. The central bank started to cut the key cash rate in November 2011 after it peaked at 4.75%.

More significantly, Stevens changed his language to suggest that any further rate reductions were unlikely. Economists believe this shift is important, and could point to potential increases in rates later this year.

The latest Thai troubles from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Thai farmers protest in new challenge to PM

Dozens of Thai rice farmers mounted a protest in Bangkok on Thursday in the latest show of public anger against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s embattled government.

A controversial scheme to guarantee farmers above-market rates for rice has become a lightning rod for anger among Yingluck’s critics, who say it has encouraged corruption, drained the public coffers and left the country with a mountain of unsold stock.

About 200 rice farmers, accompanied by trucks and combine harvesters, massed outside the commerce ministry in protest at the lack of payment under the scheme, which knocked the kingdom from its position as the world’s top rice exporter in 2012.

“I want the government to help because I have no money to use now. We have suffered a lot, otherwise we would not come,” said farmer Sunan Poompuang.

China next and a prognosis from South China Morning Post:

China the hardest hit by global surge in cancer, says WHO report

China is bearing the brunt of new cancer cases and deaths amid an alarming global rise in the disease in 2012, according to the World Health Organisation.

The country also registered the most new cancer cases and deaths from four types of malignant tumours – liver, oesophagus, stomach and lung.

The latest edition of the World Cancer Report said developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America were among the hardest hit by cancer. Overall, the world registered 14 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million deaths in 2012.

China accounted for 3.07 million newly diagnosed cases, 21.8 per cent of the global total. It also saw 26.9 per cent of the world’s total cancer deaths – about 2.2 million – according to the report.

China Daily, in need of a fix:

China’s oil demand is growing, US agency says

China’s escalating energy demand is increasing its reliance on oil imports despite the nation’s effort to control fossil-fuel consumption, according to a report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy said it expects China to import more than 66 percent of its total oil by 2012 and 72 percent by 2040 “as demand is expected to grow faster than domestic crude supply”.

The State Council’s 12th Five-Year Plan for energy development, published early last year, included a measure to cap oil imports at 61 percent by the end of 2015. The aim was to limit dependence on fossil fuels while developing cleaner burning fuels to protect the environment after more than three decades of rapid economic growth. The 61 percent cap was an increase from 2012, when China imported 57 percent of its crude-oil needs.

Want China Times covers the long reach of the Fed:

Fed to put the stop on Hong Kong property price rises: Xinhua

Hong Kong’s property prices are expected to drop, reports China’s state newswire Xinhua, which says that prices have been affected by the US Federal Reserve’s continued tapering off of its quantitative easing policy. The slowing liquidity could jolt both local property and equity markets.

Despite the influx of mainland Chinese listings in recent years, property stocks still represent a quarter of the Hong Kong equity market, as judged by the market value of the MSCI Investable Universe Hong Kong Index.

Hong Kong may be particularly affected by US policy because of the extent to which it has gained from the quantitative easing. The longstanding currency peg to the US dollar means that Hong Kong has had to import the ultra-loose US monetary policy, which has left the territory awash with cheap money.

Nikkei Asian Review worries:

Subprime sequel? Near-default stirs fears of China’s shadow investments

A Chinese financial bomb was recently defused at the last moment, but many fear it is a matter of time until one of the nation’s investment products goes boom.

China’s shadow banking sector — made up of intermediaries that sell financial products — is vast and continues to grow. The sector’s bread and butter, so-called wealth management products, promise high returns to Chinese individuals constrained by capital controls. Yet investors’ cash is frequently funneled into other investments, such as real estate, which may or may not perform well.

The worry is that one of these days, a big wealth management product will default, with the shock wave spreading worldwide. Many see the hallmarks of the subprime-mortgage-backed securities mess in the U.S., a key trigger of the global financial crisis that hit in 2008.

And a taxing proposal from South China Morning Post:

PBOC vice-governor Yi Gang suggests Tobin tax on foreign exchange

A top mainland financial regulator has suggested the country could introduce a tax on foreign exchange transactions among other steps to guard against speculative capital flows amid further economic liberalisation.

Yi Gang , head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), wrote in an article for the Communist Party theoretical journal Qiushi that China should “study in depth” the so-called “Tobin tax” on financial transactions.

Nobel laureate James Tobin proposed the lev

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