We begin our collection of things economic, political, and environmental with a reminder from Mother Nature via Nikkei Asian Review:

Crazy weather disrupting economic activity worldwide

A merciless cold snap gripping the U.S., blizzards burying Japan, record rainfall inundating the U.K., and droughts searing South America. Abnormal weather patterns are wreaking havoc across the world, and while the impact on production is still limited, nature’s fury is beginning to take a toll on global economic activity. Some regions are experiencing a drop in consumer spending and sluggish car sales, and global prices are rising for commodities such as coffee beans.

The U.K. is being drenched. Not since 1766 has the southern part of the nation seen so much rain in January, and the wet weather continues. The upper part of the Thames River is flooding and the damage is widening. And with rail lines submerged, the distribution of goods has stalled in some parts.

Normally hot Thailand is locked in a cold front that claimed more than 60 lives through the end of January. With temperatures dipping to 10 C in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, the government has begun distributing free blankets to a population ill equipped to fend off the cold.

Another icy front swept across much of the U.S. this week, forcing some government agencies to shut down in Washington. Many retailers were also forced to close.

Another weather report from United Press International:

Obama offers short-term relief to California; warns of global warming

President Obama announced a four-prong approach Friday to help Californians get through one of the state’s worst-ever droughts.

Speaking at the farm of Joe Del Bosque in Los Banos, Calif., Obama said his administration’s assistance for the parched state would include accelerating $100 million from the farm bill to help ranchers, allocating $15 million more on top of the $20 million given hard-hit communities last week, directing the Interior Department “to use its existing authorities, where appropriate, to give water contractors flexibility to meet their obligations,” and ordering all federal facilities in California “to take immediate steps to curb their water use, including a moratorium on water usage for new, non-essential landscaping projects.”

“As anybody in this state could tell you, California’s living through some of its driest years in a century,” the president said. “Right now, almost 99 percent of California is drier than normal — and the winter snowpack that provides much of your water far into the summer is much smaller than normal.

“While drought in regions outside the West is expected to be less severe than in other years, California is our biggest economy, California is our biggest agricultural producer, so what happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food that you put on your table.”

Bloomberg sounds another warning:

Factory Production in U.S. Falls by Most Since 2009

Factory production in the U.S. unexpectedly declined in January by the most since May 2009, adding to evidence severe winter weather weighed on the economy.

The 0.8 percent decrease at manufacturers followed a revised 0.3 percent gain the prior month that was weaker than initially reported, figures from the Federal Reserve showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 0.1 percent advance. Total industrial production dropped 0.3 percent even as utility output climbed the most in almost a year.

Assembly lines slowed last month as colder weather tempered production, the Fed said, showing a pause in the momentum of an industry that’s helped bolster the economy. A pickup in capital spending and faster hiring that drives consumer purchases will be needed to spur production gains.

From RT, the latest appalling reminder of who rules:

‘Corporate rights’: Judge blocks popular move to end tax breaks for big energy

Citing corporate rights under the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a St. Louis, Missouri circuit court judge has temporarily blocked a citizen-led municipal ballot initiative that could end city tax breaks to “unsustainable” fossil fuel companies.

Judge Robert Dierker granted this week a temporary restraining order that, for now, puts a citywide ballot initiative on hold. The measure “would end public financial incentives, such as tax abatements, to fossil fuel mining companies and those doing $1 million of business with them per year,” according to Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE).

MORE has led the effort to put the proposed charter amendment on St. Louis’ April 8 ballot. Volunteers with the Take Back St. Louis coalition gathered over 22,000 signatures last year in an effort to put the proposal in front of St. Louis voters. In addition to curbing tax breaks, the measure would require the city to work on a sustainable energy plan that makes way for renewable energy efforts on vacant city-owned property.

Dierker said the ballot initiative was “facially unconstitutional” given it may collide with state law and because targeting unsustainable-energy companies is a “patent denial of equal protection to those entities.”

From PandoDaily, a rare win:

BREAKING: PBS to return John Arnold’s $3.5 million, following Pando exposé

Following Pando’s exclusive report on a secret financing deal between public broadcasting officials and the nation’s leading anti-pension activist, officials from PBS have announced they are returning the $3.5 million from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

In a breaking-news story published Friday afternoon, the New York Times credited PandoDaily for breaking the original story and ultimately for public broadcasting officials’ decision to return the money:

WNET, the New York City public television broadcaster, said Friday that it will return a $3.5 million grant it received to sponsor an ambitious project on public pensions amid charges that it solicited inappropriate underwriting for the series.

In the absence of the funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the project, called “Pension Peril,” will go on hiatus

From the Los Angeles Times, a rational change:

Obama issues guidelines for banks on funds from legal marijuana sales

The Obama administration issued guidance to prosecutors and banks Friday meant to make it easier for legal marijuana sellers to open bank accounts.

But the guidance fell short of giving banks carte blanche to get involved in a business that is legal in some states for medical or recreational purposes but is still illegal under federal law.

A memo issued Friday by Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to all federal prosecutors said that prosecution may not be appropriate for banks dealing with marijuana sellers if they are operating legally in their states and stay away from red zones, such as the sale of the drug to minors or across state lines. The banks must also follow new Treasury Department procedures.

Although President Obama and Holder have indicated they have no desire to be tough on pot, the cautious move Friday reflects a reluctance to go too far because of solid opposition to marijuana legalization within the ranks of law enforcement.

And a video report on implications from Bloomberg News:

A Pot Banking Guide to Financial Institutions

Program note:

Peter Cook reports on marijuana banking guidelines for financial institutions on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line.”

North of the border with the Financial Post and anther indicator:

The Canadian dollar hasn’t had this bad a start to a year in more than 4 decades. Has it seen the worst?

Traders are betting the Canadian dollar fell too far, too fast in its worst start to a year in more than four decades, as rising commodities prices and a forecast budget surplus damp speculation for interest-rate cuts.

The cost to insure against the loonie weakening further dropped to the lowest in three years, and analysts are downgrading the currency at the slowest pace since October, when the Bank of Canada began a policy shift that sent it tumbling to a 4 1/2-year low of C$1.1224 per U.S. dollar on Jan. 31. Canada’s dollar has gained more than 2% since then to C$1.0981, and is forecast to end the first quarter at C$1.10, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 64 respondents.

From the Financial Post, a prospering sector:

Canadian arm of weapons maker General Dynamics wins ‘biggie’ Saudi contract worth up to $13-billion

U.S. weapons maker General Dynamics Corp has won a contract worth up to $13 billion for its Canadian division to build light-armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa said was the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canadian history.

General Dynamics said on Friday the 14-year contract for military and commercial vehicles and training and support services has a value of $10 billion, but could be worth about $13 billion if all options were exercised.

The company did not identify the customer, but Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast issued a statement saying the vehicles would be sold to Saudi Arabia and would create and sustain 3,000 jobs each year in Canada.

On to Europe, first with a regional story from the New York Times:

France and Germany Lead Euro Zone to Higher Growth

The euro zone economy grew slightly faster than expected in the last three months of 2013, an official report showed on Friday, bringing welcome news for the global economy amid signs of slowing in the United States and China.

Although growth in the 18-nation currency union is still weak, at a 1.1 percent annualized rate, it was the euro zone’s third straight quarter in positive territory, indicating that the bloc is well beyond the year-and-a-half recession that ended in mid-2013.

The broader 28-member European Union also grew, though weakly, for the third consecutive quarter. The Union, with a market of 500 million consumers and an economy worth about 11.7 trillion euros, or $16 trillion, is one of the pillars of the global economy, and the extended weakness there has been a major source of concern for officials in the United States.

A qualification from EUbusiness:

Expect more sluggish growth in eurozone: analysts

New growth figures on Friday should show the eurozone economy continuing only a modest recovery as key problems remain, among them near-record unemployment and the threat of deflation.

Recent data has been very mixed, especially after a much weaker-than-expected third quarter, sparking concerns the bloc risked falling back into recession.

That worst fear is unlikely to be realised in Friday’s fourth-quarter data, analysts said, but the outlook remains fragile and the growth report will be very closely scrutinised for any sign of weakness.

Blame-placing from EUobserver:

MEPs accuse troika of causing ‘social tsunami’

The troika caused social devastation by forcing eurozone crisis countries to ignore social and welfare standards, MEPs have said.

Deputies on the European Parliament’s employment committee backed a report by Spanish centre-left MEP Alejandro Cercas by 27 votes to seven on Thursday (13 February), which accuses governments of ignoring the European Social Charter and employment conventions set out by the International Labour organisation (ILO).

Speaking with reporters following the vote, Cercas accused the troika – officials who manage bailout payments on behalf of EU and international lenders – as well as eurozone finance ministers, of riding roughshod over the EU treaties and creating a “social tsunami.”

“The arrogance of economic fixation has made policy makers forget that there are conventions which you must stick to … even in a crisis you can’t reduce pensions below the breadline,” he said.

“It’s time for employment and these social benefits which have been destroyed by structural reforms need to be brought back,” he noted, adding: “budgets are now balancing and we need to bring back those who have been left behind.”

On to Britain and more weather from The Guardian:

Expect no let-up in severe weather, UK forecasters warn

Around 5,000 military personnel committed to flood relief work as violent storms set to batter southern coast over weekend

Violent storms will batter cliffs and promenades along the south coast this weekend, with tidal surges and gale-force winds set to cause more flooding for days to come. Forecasters warned that there would be no let-up in the severe weather as defence chiefs committed 5,000 military personnel to the flood relief mission.

Two people were killed late on Friday in the stormy weather and the high winds left more than 16,000 homes in north Wales without power.

And rough sailing for labor, via The Guardian:

Public sector jobs are set to be cut by 40% throughout Britain

Report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that the planned reductions would hit the poorest parts of the country the hardest

The biggest cull of public sector jobs for at least 50 years will see vulnerable parts of the state endure reductions in headcount of up to 40%, Britain’s leading tax and spending thinktank said today.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the reductions planned as part of the coalition’s deficit reduction programme would hit the poorest parts of Britain hardest, and warned they would prove “challenging” for those parts of government bearing the brunt of austerity.

The IFS said that the government’s own spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, was expecting 1.1m jobs to go in the eight years from 2010-11, of which only a quarter had so far been lost.

The London Telegraph scolds:

New Cardinal Vincent Nichols: welfare cuts ‘frankly a disgrace’

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, condemns Government’s austerity programme as a ‘disgrace’ for leaving poor facing ‘destitution’

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric has accused the Coalition of leaving increasing numbers of people facing “hunger and destitution”.

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, said that while the need to reduce spending on benefits is widely accepted, the Government’s reforms have now destroyed even the “basic safety net”.

Archbishop Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the welfare system had also become increasingly “punitive”, often leaving people with nothing for days on end if they fail even to fill a form in correctly.

He said it was “a disgrace” that this was possible in a country as rich as Britain.

And speaking of the rich. . . From Sky News:

Investors Warn Of Fresh Barclays Pay Revolt

Leading investors tell that a protest vote over the bank’s £2.4bn bonus pot is “inevitable” given the fall in profits.

Barclays is facing a battle to avert a mass revolt of its leading investors at this year’s annual meeting amid fury over the £2.4bn bonus pool announced this week.

Sky News has spoken to a number of Barclays’ biggest shareholders who have warned in recent days that they are unlikely to be dissuaded from voting against the bank’s remuneration report or individual directors involved in setting pay.

They are furious that Antony Jenkins, the chief executive, announced this week that bonus payments for 2013 were 10% higher than the previous year despite a slump in profits from £7bn to £5.2bn.

Investors will not cast their votes until much closer to Barclays’ annual meeting on April 25, but three big City institutions said a major revolt looked “inevitable”.

The Guardian investigates:

Foreign exchange benchmarks face investigation by FSB regulator

Financial Stability Board to open investigation into allegations of price manipulation into world’s largest financial market

Foreign exchange benchmarks will be reviewed by the world’s top financial regulator, the latest front to be opened in a global investigation into allegations of price manipulation in the world’s largest financial market.

The Financial Stability Board (FSB), which co-ordinates regulation for the Group of 20 (G20) leading economies and is chaired by Bank of England governor Mark Carney, said on Friday it would open its own investigation.

It is the latest step in an investigation into allegations that a handful of senior traders exchanged market-sensitive information and colluded to manipulate benchmark currency rates.

The US Department of Justice and Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are among those leading the investigations into potential wrongdoing in the $5.3tn-a-day (£3.2tn) market.

Bad news for the Tories from EUbusiness:

Eurosceptics beat British PM’s party into third place in by-election

The eurosceptic UK Independence Party received a boost ahead of European polls in May by beating British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives into third place in a by-election, results showed Friday.

The opposition Labour party comfortably won the election in Wythenshawe and Sale East in northwest England, receiving 55 percent of ballots in a vote triggered by the death of Labour MP Paul Goggins, who had represented the area since 1997.

But the anti-EU, anti-immigration UKIP — whose leader Nigel Farage said the election campaign was “as dirty as they come” — polled second with 18 percent, ahead of the Conservatives who won 15 percent of the vote.

The Liberal Democrats of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the junior partner in the coalition government with the Conservatives, got just five percent and lost their deposit for the ninth time since the last general election in 2010.

The Independent spots a curious connection:

NHS adviser Sir Stuart Rose has private health link

The former Marks & Spencer’s boss appointed by Jeremy Hunt to advise on improving the NHS could “make a fortune” from hospital takeovers by private companies, the country’s biggest union has claimed.

Sir Stuart Rose, who will lead a review of management in the NHS, is also paid to sit on the advisory board of Bridgepoint, an international private equity group, which is the major shareholder of private health firm Care UK.

Care UK is in the running to take over the George Eliot NHS Hospital Trust – one of 14 hospital trusts in Sir Stuart’s review. Rachael Maskell, national officer for health at the Unite union, said Sir Stuart’s appointment represented a “gobsmacking conflict of interest” and called on him to confirm he would not profit personally from Care UK’s bid for the Warwickshire hospital.

Oln to Iceland and another country ready to jump on the band wagon via the Reykjavík Grapevine:

Health Minister “Very Supportive” Of Decriminalising Drugs

Minister of Health Kristján Þór Júlíusson surprised many attendees at a meeting of young conservatives by expressing his support for re-examining Iceland’s drug laws.

Vísir reports that the minister was one of the guest speakers at an event hosted by Heimdallur, a society of young conservatives, which bore the title, “Is the punitive policy against drugs working?”

Kristján apparently believes it is not, as he told attendees, “I am very supportive of the opinion that we ought to try to decriminalise [drug] use in this matter.”

Taking questions from the audience, the minister was asked if he believed that even the most basic drug laws need review, to which he replied, “That’s what I’m offering. I am convinced that we need to try other remedies.”

Germany next, and a departure from an almost-new cabinet via euronews:

German minister quits over alleged leak of confidential information on porn probe

German Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has stepped down over allegations he breached confidentiality passing on information about an inquiry into child pornography.

The leak is now under scrutiny by the authorities.

In Friday’s hastily arranged press conference Friedrich told reporters he was convinced he acted correctly in both the political and legal senses and added such was the pressure now he did not think he could do his job as Minister of Agriculture with the required political support. He vowed he would be back in the political arena.

It’s claimed Friedrich, a member of the CSU – Merkel’s sister party passed on information when he was interior minister to Sigmar Gabriel the chairman of the Social Democrat Party, telling him fellow SPD lawmaker Sebastian Edathy was the target of a child pornography probe. Gabriel then told other senior members of his party.

Swiss dissent from TheLocal.ch:

Student groups fight threatened mobility curbs

In yet more fallout from the decision of Swiss voters to curb immigration to Switzerland from the European Union, student organizations are alarmed about the impact this will have on educational exchange programmes.

“Switzerland is on a slippery slope of isolating its students and academics from the outside world,” Elizabeth Gehrke, vice-chairwoman of the European Students’ Union (ESU), said in a statement issued on Thursday.

“This could have devastating effects that would be difficult to reverse.”

One of the chief concerns is that educational and research exchanges between the EU and the Swiss may be scrapped if bilateral agreements between the two sides are nullified.

New Europe stays mum:

Portugal: No decision on “clean” bailout exit

The Portuguese government denied that it had already taken the decision for a “clean” bailout exit saying it is too early to make the option.

A “clean” bailout exit, means for Portugal to exit the bailout programme with international lenders without seeking a precautionary loan as a safety measure. On 13 February, Portuguese Cabinet Office Minister Luis Marque Guedes said the decision whether to seek a precautionary program after Portugal’s bailout exit would only be taken “at the right moment” stressing that “the right moment is not three months beforehand.” Minister Guedes also said that the government has time to “assess the development of the situation.”

In a statement issued on Thursday, Prime Minister of Portugal Pedro Passos Coelho also reaffirmed that “no decision has been taken on this subject by the Portuguese government and … no preference has even been communicated to any institution.” Mr. Coelho said that his government will make its decision on the issue before the country exit the bailout program in May.

Italy next, and an assessment from New Europe:

Italian economy in recovery, government in intensive care

Italy’s economy grew by 0.1 percent in the last three months of 2013 compared to the third quarter, the national statistics institute, Istat, said on Friday in preliminary estimates while a government crisis was unfolding in Rome following the ousting of Prime Minister Enrico Letta by his Democratic Party rival Matteo Renzi.

Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP) slightly increased after nine months of negative or zero growth – the country’s longest postwar recession that ended in the third quarter with flat GDP.

Last year the Italian economy contracted 1.9 percent, Istat added in the preliminary estimates.

Also on Friday, the Italian central bank said the country’s public debt fell by €36.5 billion to €2.0675 trillion euros from November to December. The Italian debt is the second largest compared to GDP in the eurozone after Greece’s.

More from BBC News:

Florence mayor Matteo Renzi tipped to be Italy’s youngest PM

Florence mayor Matteo Renzi is expected to be offered the chance to become Italian prime minister, as talks begin on forming a new government.

President Georgio Napolitano is starting consultations following the resignation of Enrico Letta.

He was ousted in a vote called by Mr Renzi at a meeting of their centre-left Democratic Party. The 39-year-old would be Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Mr Letta was under increasing pressure over Italy’s poor economic performance.

And a Bunga Bunga reminder from the Associated Press:

Berlusconi remains a force in Italy turmoil

He has been convicted of tax fraud, booted out of the Senate and banned from political office.

In other countries, that would be three strikes. But in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi has not lost his political legitimacy, and it will be on full display when the former premier leads his Forza Italia party to meet with Italy’s president to discuss prospects for a new government after Premier Enrico Letta’s resignation Friday.

Berlusconi’s reemergence on Italy’s political scene comes just days after a court in Naples put him on trial yet again, this time for allegedly paying a senator 3 million euros ($4 million) to switch parties to bring down a rival government.

“Silvio Berlusconi is a survivor. He has survived many crises, political and legal. He is not going to give up,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an Italian political analyst based in London. “Italians are used to seeing Berlusconi as a political leader, regardless of whether he is a felon or regardless of whether he lost his seat in the Parliament.”

And another country eases up via RT:

Italy overturns ‘absurd’ drug law equating marijuana and hard drugs

Italy’s constitutional court has overturned a controversial law equating cannabis with cocaine and heroin. The decision could see around 10,000 people released from the country’s overburdened jails.

The court ruled the law was “illegitimate,” without elaborating further.

The law, passed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2006, has been blamed for Italy’s swelling prison population, as sentences for selling, growing or possessing marijuana effectively tripled.

Official data shows that Italian prisons are operating beyond capacity, with 62,000 inmates residing in facilities meant to house a maximum of 48,000.

After the jump, the latest Greek woes, Venezuelan disorders, Argentine anxieties, another leglaization call from Uruguay, an Indian resignation, Thai police action, mixed Chinese news, Japanese structural woes, economic alarm bells, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

For our first Greek headline, that latest numbers from ANSAmed:

Crisis: Greece’s economy shrank by 3.7% in 2013

Greece’s economy performed better than forecast last year, for the first time since it plunged into its debt crisis in late 2009, Kathimerini online reports quoting statistics data released on Friday.

Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 3.7% in 2013, less than a 4% contraction forecast by the government and the country’s lenders, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

That was Greece’s sixth consecutive year of a recession, caused mainly by austerity measures demanded by the EU/IMF. GDP contracted by 23% over 2008-13 and is expected to grow by 0.6% this year.

More numbers from To Vima:

ELSTAT: Recession in final trimester of 2013 lower than expected

Greek Statistics Authority confirms prediction of a lower rate of recession than previously estimated

The Greek statistics authority ELSTAT published its latest data set today, according to which the rate of recession in the final trimester of 2013 was 3.7%, significantly less than what the troika had previously estimated.

The rate of recession in the first trimester of 2013 was 5.5%, which dropped to 3.7% in the second trimester and to 3% in the third trimester. The initial troika estimate for the final semester was 4.2%, however the rate of recession was found to be 3.7%.

On an annual basis, in 2013 the Gross Domestic Product dropped by about 3.7% to 3.9%. If confirmed, this development will help the government come to a better deal with the troika in upcoming negotiations.

Capital.gr notes an uptick:

Eurostat: Greece one of four countries with rise in industrial production

Industrial production rose by 2.6 percent in Greece in December, compared to November, Eurostat said on Wednesday.

According to AMNA, the EU’s statistics agency said in a report that Greece was one of only 4 eurozone states registering a rise, while 19 registered a drop. Besides Greece, the others with improved industrial production in December include Slovenia (up 2.7 pct), Portugal (up 0.7 pct), and Great Britain (up 0.4 pct).

For the same period, both in the EU and the eurozone, industrial production fell by 0.7 pct, with the greatest drop recorded in Estonia (down 5.7 pct), Sweden (down 2.7 pct), Holland (down 2.6 pct) and Croatia (down 2.4 pct).

From ANSAmed, some migrants are liked more than others:

Greece offers Saudis 5-year residency for investments

Provided they are over 250,000 euros

Greece has issued a new law that allows investors from non-EU countries to obtain resident permits for five years, provided the investment is at least 250,000 euros, GTP website reports quoting Greek Consul General in Jeddah Chronis Polychroniou as announcing.

According to Arab News, the consul called on the Saudi business community to take advantage of the great opportunities available to them in Greece in several areas including energy, real estate, industry and tourism.

Polychroniou’s announcement came on the sidelines of a visit by Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni to Saudi Arabia with the aim of promoting of Greek tourism and opening up new markets.

Keep Talking Greece lays blame:

MEP Cerkas: Troika’s austerity caused a “social tsunami” and “acted like butchers”

The troika caused a social tsunami in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland. This is the result of the members of the Employment Committee of the European Parliament who have investigated the impact of austerity and bailout program imposed on the debt-ridden Euro zone countries. “Unemployment grew, small companies disappeared, poverty rose even among the middle classes,” says the report asking at the same time for a jobs and social recovery plan.

“The European social dimension was completely forgotten by those who acted as if Europe was only a creditors’ club”, said rapporteur Alejandro Cercas, Socialist MEP from Spain during a press conference.

“They have improvised measures without consulting the people. They could have acted as surgeons, cutting superfluous…But in some cases we have seen that they acted as butchers.”

Greek Reporter proposes:

Tsipras Says He’d Stiff The Troika

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras doesn’t want Greece to pay its loans

In a wordy statement, major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras said if his party ever comes to power the first order of business will be to renege on the terms of two bailouts of $325 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).

While the next due elections are more than two years away, Tsipiras said he expects the ruling parties of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and its partner, the PASOK Socialists, will be repudiated in May elections for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament and bring new elections that will see the Leftists elected.

Tsipras, who has waffled on what he’d do about the loans – at times saying he would renegotiate or renege or pay only part of them – said he’s opposed to the attached austerity measures that have created record unemployment or deep poverty but he hasn’t offered a clue how he’d govern the country without money.

More jobs on the line from Kathimerini English:

Upheaval expected next week in the healthcare sector

A massive overhaul of Greece’s cash-strapped healthcare system is not expected to start next week without significant tension between the Health Ministry and doctors with the country’s biggest provider, the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY).

One of the most contentious parts of the overhaul is the closure of EOPYY’s polyclinics and the placement of their staff in a civil service mobility scheme. The Health Ministry has given the managers of Greece’s EOPYY polyclinics until Monday to comply with the directive. The union representing EOPYY’s doctors, however, has said that it is prepared to take legal action against any polyclinic administrator who complies with the ministry’s demands.

The ministry’s plan is to shut down the system for around one month as it oversees the transition of EOPYY into the new Primary National Healthcare Network (PEDY). During this one-month period, it hopes to evaluate all of the staff placed in the mobility scheme in order to determine who will be rehired by PEDY and who will be let go.

A total of 8,691 doctors and employees from all of EOPYY’s services and about 1,200 hospital staff are to be inducted in the mobility scheme.

To Vima complains:

EVIKEN: “The cost of energy is crippling Greek industry”

Greek federation of industries requests lower cost of energy from the Ministry of Environment and Energy

The Hellenic Union of Industrial Consumers of Energy (EVIKEN) has requested from the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Chance to take steps towards supporting the industrial recovery efforts, particularly with regards to the cost of energy.

According to EVIKEN, the cost of energy is excessive for emergent, innovative and extroverted businesses, which in turn is causing many to abandon their investment plans in Greece. The union warns that unless the Ministry decides to take some initiatives to reduce the cost of energy, then there is a real threat of industries shutting down.

The industrial energy consumer union will also make their demands public at a press conference in Brussels scheduled by the European arm of the International Federation of Industrial Energy Consumer (IFIEC) on the 27th of February.

Keep Talking Greece grabs for the pocketbook:

Lost in taxes: Greek FinMin to ask 55% tax in advance from employees & pensioners

A new tax blow awaits the usual taxpayer classes that pay their taxes anyway: the class of employees and pensioners. In a new attack of ‘tax paranoia’ the Greek Finance Ministry decided to squeeze the last drop of blood  for one more time by introducing the measure of taxes in advance if the employees and pensioners have any additional income from renting a property or having an additional self-employed work.

These taxpayers will pay in advance 55% of the tax they should and thus for the money they will receive a year later or even never.

Another downturn from Greek Reporter:

Greek Apartment Prices Drop 10.3 pct in 2013

Greek ApartmentApartment prices continued falling in 2013, although at a slower pace, the Bank of Greece said on Friday. In a report, the central bank said that apartment prices fell by 10.3 pct on average last year for a decline of 22 pct in the 2012-2013 period.

More specifically, the prices of “new” apartments dropped year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2013 by 9.5% (Q1: -10.2%, Q2: -11.4% and Q3: -10.4, according to revised data), and the prices of “old” apartments by 7.8% (2013 Q1: -12.2%, Q2: -11.9%, Q3: -8.4%). The prices of “new” apartments declined by 10.4% on average in 2013, against 12.1% in 2012, whereas for “old” apartments prices declined by 10.2% in 2013, against 11.4% in 2012.

According to data broken down by geographical area, apartment prices are estimated to have declined year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2013 by 10.9% in Athens, 6.9% in Thessaloniki, 8.3% in other big cities and 4.6% in other areas of Greece. For the whole of 2013, the respective annual rates of change were -11.9%, -8.6%, -10.0% and -7.9%.

On to the Ukraine and a plea from EUbusiness:

Ukraine leader calls for concessions as protesters freed

Ukraine’s leader called Friday for the opposition to yield some ground as authorities announced the release of detained protesters just days ahead of a mass, anti-government demonstration.

The move appeared to be a concession from the government of Viktor Yanukovych, but it is unlikely to appease protesters, who for more than two months have been occupying Kiev’s central Independence Square and nearby buildings in a bid to oust their leader.

“I don’t want to wage war,” Yanukovych said in a televised interview. “I want to safeguard the state and resume a stable development. We are asking the opposition to also make concessions.”

On to Latin America and the latest on the Venezuelan turmoil from Reuters:

Venezuela seeks protest leader’s arrest after unrest kills three

A Venezuelan court ordered the arrest on Thursday of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges including murder and terrorism linked to street protests that resulted in the deaths of three people the day before.

Using a slogan “The Exit,” the U.S.-educated Lopez has for two weeks helped organize sporadic demonstrations around the country to denounce President Nicolas Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages.

The president accuses him of sowing violence to try to stage a coup similar to the one 12 years ago that briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, though there is little indication that the protests could topple Maduro.

More from the Associated Press:

Security forces break up Venezuela protests

Venezuelan security forces backed by water tanks and tear gas have dispersed anti-government demonstrators who had blocked Caracas’ main highway.

Some 500 student protesters who had choked off traffic for several hours responded by throwing stones and burning trash. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries as protesters regrouped at a nearby plaza.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rebuked the students in a televised address and says he won’t tolerate any more disruptions on the nation’s roadways.

The clash came on the third day of protests after a large anti-government rally left three dead and dozens more wounded on Wednesday.

Still more from The Guardian:

Venezuela braces for more violence – but it could work in Maduro’s favour

Violent protests could make Chavistas rally round president after growing discontent about country’s economic woes

Week-long protests in Venezuela turned violent on Wednesday leaving three people dead, more than 20 injured, and the president, Nicolás Maduro, struggling to restrain mounting discontent among opposition groups and radical elements of his Chavista movement.

Initially sparked by unrest over soaring inflation, rising crime and the arrests of student protesters, the demonstrations in Merida, Tachira and Anzoategui have escalated into deadly clashes between opposition activists and pro-government Chavista militias known as colectivos.

The president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, said the first killing was of a colectivo member in downtown Caracas during an opposition march.

Argentine anxieties from MercoPress:

Argentine government condemns “clear efforts of destabilization” in Venezuela

The Argentine government has condemned what it terms “clear efforts of destabilization” in Venezuela, following Wednesday’s clashes which left three dead and dozens injured on the streets of Caracas.

With references to ‘speculation’ by corporations and financial groups, allegedly conspiring to oust legitimate governments democratically elected, the release reiterates many of President Cristina Fernandez criticisms when referring to the Argentine situation.

“After recent events in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Argentine government reiterates its strong support for the constitutional government elected by the citizens of that country, and notes the clear efforts of destabilization that confront institutional order in our brother nation” the Foreign Ministry signaled in a press release on Thursday.

And a recommendation from The Guardian:

Uruguayan president says US and Europe need new strategy on drugs

José Mujica says countries that are biggest markets for drugs should consider moves such as regulated sale of marijuana

The US and Europe need a new strategy on drugs and should look at alternatives such as the regulated sale of marijuana, says the Uruguayan president, José Mujica, whose country recently legalised the production and sale of cannabis.

In an interview on Thursday, the 78-year-old former leftwing guerrilla said the world’s largest economies, which are the biggest markets for illegal narcotics, needed to tackle drug trafficking using tools other than prohibition.

“The industrial societies are the ones that have to change,” he said. “For a small country, it’s possible to experiment with this, but it’s also very possible for a developed country because of the resources it has.”

In December, Uruguay’s parliament approved a bill to legalise and regulate the sale and production of marijuana.

On to Asia and an Indian resignation from BBC News:

Delhi anti-corruption chief minister Arvind Kejriwal quits

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has resigned after an anti-corruption bill was blocked in the state assembly.

Opposition politicians blocked the bill, which would have created an independent body with the power to investigate politicians and civil servants suspected of corruption.

They argued it was unconstitutional to introduce legislation that did not have the approval of the federal government.

His anti-corruption party made a spectacular debut in recent elections.

But correspondents say his refusal to seek prior approval for the bill is part of a power struggle unfolding between his local administration and the federal government.

Thailand next, and government reaction from JapanToday:

Thai riot police clear anti-government protest sites

Thousands of riot police were deployed in the Thai capital on Friday to clear areas occupied for weeks by opposition protesters, reclaiming the besieged government headquarters with no resistance.

The operation marked an unexpected shift in tactics by the embattled government, which has allowed the protesters to camp out at locations around Bangkok for several months in their bid to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office.

Security forces easily re-took areas around Government House, which Yingluck had been unable to use for about two months, according to AFP reporters. Most protesters appeared to have left the area already.

On to Beijing and a number from China Daily:

China’s inflation up 2.5% in January

China’s consumer price index (CPI), a main gauge of inflation, rose 2.5 percent year-on-year in January, the same as the previous month, official data revealed on Friday.

In breakdown, inflation rose 2.6 percent in cities, and 2.2 percent in rural areas, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in a statement.

Food prices, which account for roughly a third of CPI, rose 3.7 percent in January from a year ago, while prices of non-food products edged up 1.9 percent, NBS said.

Nikkei Asian Review notes a structural problem:

China’s great employment gap

China is starting to get a headache over a disconnect in its job market, hurt by an antiquated model that stresses creating a large number of jobs without much regard for their quality.

Factories and restaurants are facing labor shortages as migrant workers from farm villages — whose combined population totals a whopping 260 million — demand better conditions such as higher wages while educated young people refuse to take low-skill positions.

Migrant workers earned an average monthly income of 2,609 yuan between last October and December, up 13.9% on the year, according to CEIC, a research company analyzing Chinese economic data. Considering that the pace of increase was 11.8% from a year earlier, wages for migrant laborers are rising at a faster clip.

SINA English declines:

China’s January PPI down 1.6 pct

China’s producer price index (PPI), a main gauge of inflation at the wholesale level, contracted 1.6 percent year on year in January, following a 1.4-percent drop in December, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Friday.

A change in destinations from South China Morning Post:

Mainland millionaires turning backs on Canada and looking to the US and Europe, say migration agencies

Millionaires are looking elsewhere after axing of investor visa scheme, with the US and Europe the prime alternatives, migration agencies say

A rising number of wealthy Chinese are moving to the US and Europe because their once-favourite destination, Canada, has been scaling back entry, migration agents say.

Hong Kong-based immigration consultants are also trying to provide would-be migrants with alternative programmes after the scrapping of Canada’s investor visa scheme.

An accompanying grapghic reveals financial barriers to entry in several prime destinations:

Japan next, and more Big Pharma shenanigans from NHK WORLD:

Novartis employees’ deeper involvement suspected

NHK has learned that Novartis Pharma employees may have been involved from the planning stage of what was supposed to be an objective clinical study of a leukemia drug produced by the firm.

Doctors at medical institutions, led by the University of Tokyo Hospital, conducted the joint study of the side effects of the drug. The maker is the Japanese arm of a Swiss-based pharmaceutical company.

Novartis Pharma’s in-house rules ban employees from becoming involved in drug trials. But a doctor who participated in the study told NHK that in May 2012, just before the launch of the project, he received an e-mail from a University of Tokyo Hospital doctor explaining the trial plan and inviting him to take part.

The doctor says several of the documents attached to the e-mail, including the study plan and notes for patients, showed Novartis as their creator.

Structural woes from Nikkei Asian Review:

Worker shortages pose threat to Japan’s economic recovery

Personnel shortages present a potential bottleneck to the recovering Japanese economy, hampering construction of day care facilities and impeding the flow of people and goods on trucks and buses.

On Friday, Finance Minister Taro Aso said the government has set a highly unusual spending deadline for fiscal 2013 supplementary budget appropriations. “We would like around 70% of the funding to be spent by the end of June and 90% completed by the end of September,” Aso said. The supplementary budget is intended to support the recovering economy as a consumption tax hike takes effect in April, but it remains to be seen whether it will have the envisioned effect.

Nursery schools like this one in Chiba Prefecture were supposed to open in April but have been pushed back a few months due to shortages of workers and construction materials.

Behind the push are delays in implementing public works projects due to labor shortages. In Iwate Prefecture, 40% of projects put out for bidding between April and December of last year failed to bring successful bids. The government has tried to boost the cost of public works projects so laborers’ wages can be increased, but even that has failed to ensure that personnel can be found.

Up next, Fukushimapocalypse Now!

The latest hot numbers from Asahi Shimbun:

Record cesium level found in groundwater beneath Fukushima levee

A record level of radioactive cesium has been found in groundwater beneath a coastal levee east of reactor turbine buildings at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to the plant operator.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Feb. 13 that 37,000 becquerels of cesium-134 and 93,000 becquerels of cesium-137 were detected per liter of groundwater sampled earlier in the day in a monitoring well on the levee. The total reading of 130,000 becquerels per liter is the highest ever observed in groundwater beneath the levee.

The same sampling well had produced a cesium reading of 76,000 becquerels per liter on Feb. 12.

NHK WORLD seeks release:

IAEA: Consider discharging contaminated water

The International Atomic Energy Agency has advised the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to examine all options to treat contaminated water. These include resuming controlled discharges of radioactive water into the sea.

At Japan’s request, the IAEA sent its second inspection team to the crippled nuclear power plant last November to assess efforts to scrap reactors at the facility.

On Thursday, the IAEA released its final report that was submitted to the Japanese government.

Team leader Juan Carlos Lentijo says Japan has established a good foundation to improve its strategy and allocate the necessary resources to conduct the safe decommissioning of the plant.

The Mainichi mulls a restart:

Chubu Electric seeks to restart Hamaoka nuclear plant

Chubu Electric Power Co. applied Friday for a state safety assessment of the No. 4 reactor at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in central Japan, which was forced to shut down in 2011 after operation of the complex was deemed too risky.

The utility plans to finish installing huge seawalls and other safety measures by the end of September 2015 to satisfy the country’s new nuclear regulations compiled after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, and move on to reactivate the No. 4 unit.

Located on the Pacific coast, about 190 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, the Hamaoka complex in Shizuoka Prefecture is believed to be situated at the potential epicenter of a massive earthquake. Two of the five reactors at the plant were retired in 2009.

With the latest move, the total number of reactors in Japan for which applications for safety checks have been submitted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority rose to 17 at 10 power stations.

The Tokyo Times mulls more:

Abe’s government plans to restart 10 nuclear reactors by this summer

Japanese government aims to start again about 10 nuclear reactors by this summer, as more electricity is being used during that period.

The government is expected to compile a new energy plan for Japan and to present it by March, when the end of this fiscal year will end. The new plan could include the restart of the 10 nuclear power reactors.

The government’s work on the new plan was suspended to avoid negatively influencing the candidate supported by the ruling bloc during the Tokyo gubernatorial race that ended Sunday, according to the international press.

In order to start the reactors, the government is waiting for the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s report, that will say if it is safe or not to turn on the reactors.

The Yomiuri Shimbun measures up:

TEPCO develops ultraprecise dosimeter

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has developed an ultraprecise radiation dosimeter for people forced to evacuate from their homes due to the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The new model is capable of measuring radiation levels 100 times more accurately than existing products.

Since the dosimeter can store a huge amount of data, it is possible to see what kind of conditions increase or decrease levels of radiation exposure by cross-checking that data with the actions of a user.

And from the Japan Daily Press, another journalism bust:

BBC Filmmaker and Taiji dolphin activist detained at Osaka Airport

A filmmaker from the BBC and a known animal activist posted on his Facebook page that he’s currently being detained at Osaka’s Kansai Airport and accused of being an “eco-terrorist.” Martyn Stewart has been to Japan several times to film documentaries about the controversial dolphin hunt in Taiji, and claims that he is being treated “nothing short of criminal” by immigration officials at the airport.

“”I am locked in a cell room at Osaka airport waiting on an appeal to the high minister regarding my entry into Japan,” Stewart posted on his Facebook page on Thursday. He adds that he

Show more