Wired, By Vince Beiser, March 26
The killers rolled slowly down the narrow alley, three men jammed onto a single motorcycle. It was a little after 11 am on July 31, 2013, the sun beating down on the low, modest residential buildings lining a back street in the Indian farming village of Raipur. Faint smells of cooking spices, dust, and sewage seasoned the air. The men stopped the bike in front of the orange door of a two-story brick-and-plaster house. Two of them dismounted, eased open the unlocked door, and slipped into the darkened bedroom on the other side. White kerchiefs covered their lower faces. One of them carried a pistol.
Inside the bedroom Paleram Chauhan, a 52-year-old farmer, was napping after an early lunch. In the next room, his wife and daughter-in-law were cleaning up while Paleram’s son played with his own 3-year-old boy.
Gunshots thundered through the house. Preeti Chauhan, Paleram’s daughter-in-law, rushed into Paleram’s room, her husband, Ravindra, right behind her. Through the open door, they saw the killers jump back on their bike and roar away.
Gallic nation threatens to blow Europe’s Franco-German axis apart, warns former Italian prime minister.
The Telegraph, By Szu Ping Chan, March 21
France has become Europe’s “big problem”, according to the former prime minister of Italy, who warned that anti-Brussels sentiment and the rise of populist parties in the Gallic nation threatened to blow the bloc’s Franco-German axis apart.
Mario Monti – who was dubbed “Super Mario” for saving the country from collapse at the height of the eurozone debt crisis – said France’s “unease” with the single currency had already created tensions between Europe’s two largest economies.
“In the last few years we have seen France receding in terms of actual economic performance, in terms of complying with all the European rules, and above all in terms of its domestic public opinion – which is turning more and more against Europe,” he told The Telegraph.
A judge has thrown out large sections of T-Mobile’s employee handbook for having a chilling effect on union organizing.
Washington Post, By Lydia DePillis, March 19
Carolina Figueroa works at a T-Mobile call center in Albuquerque, N.M., in the bilingual retention section, trying to talk Spanish-speaking customers out of canceling their accounts. She likes her job, and the pay is decent — $18.50 an hour after eight years working there, plus health coverage, which covers the bills for her and her young daughter.
There’s only one problem: the employee handbook, which covers some 40,000 employees across the country. As long as she’s worked there, workers at the call center have been discouraged from discussing wages and working conditions, through provisions that bar things like disclosure of employee information, making disparaging statements about the company and pursuing wage complaints through anyone other than human resources. Employees can be disciplined or fired for violating any of the rules.
US statement says of UK membership that it is ‘worried about a trend of constant accommodation’ of China, in a rare public breach in the special relationship.
The Guardian, By Nicholas Watt, Paul Lewis & Tania Branigan, March 12
The White House has issued a pointed statement declaring it hopes and expects the UK will use its influence to ensure that high standards of governance are upheld in a new Chinese-led investment bank that Britain is to join.
In a rare public breach in the special relationship, the White House signalled its unease at Britain’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by raising concerns about whether the new body would meet the standards of the World Bank.
The $50bn (£33.5bn) bank, which is designed to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with great suspicion by Washington officials, who see it as a rival to the World Bank. They believe Beijing will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region.
The White House statement reads: “This is the UK’s sovereign decision. We hope and expect that the UK will use its voice to push for adoption of high standards.”
Reuters, By Krista Hughes, March 4
Washington – The United States expects a global deal to cut customs red tape and streamline import procedures to come into force this year, a senior trade official said on Wednesday.
Mark Linscott, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for World Trade Organization and Multilateral Affairs, said Washington was “pretty confident” the deal agreed in Bali in 2013 would be up and running by year-end.
“It’s quite realistic to expect that the trade facilitation agreement [wikipedia: The “Bali Package”, WTO: Trade Facilitation] can come into force by the end of the year,” he told a Washington International Trade Association event.
Virginia Brown, director of trade and regulatory reforms at USAID, said the aid agency was ready to work with countries on implementation steps, which in many cases require lawmakers’ approval. “Our bread and butter is drafting that legislation and getting it through the legislative process,” she said.
The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24
Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.
”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.
”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”
Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.
The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
Reports suggest JP Morgan will initiate charges on certain deposits
Bidness, Etc., By Larry Darrell, February 24
The largest bank in the US in terms of assets, JP Morgan Chase & Co., is likely to start charging large customers on deposits and is making holding money costly for clients, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The move is an attempt to reduce the effect on deposits that are affected by billions of dollars and is said to bring the number down in 2015. It is the recent in a series of discussions by big banks to discourage certain deposits by corporate clients that are attracted by the low interest rates and new regulations.
Sources privy to the matter said that the memo in place cites new rules that will not affect retail clients. However, some financial firms and corporate clients might be charged higher fees. It is reported that JP Morgan will unveil the bank’s strategy with investors on Tuesday.
“We are adapting to a changing regulatory environment across our company,” Wall Street Journal quotes the JP Morgan memo sent on Monday.
Wall Street Journal [paywalled]: J.P. Morgan to Start Charging Big Clients Fees on Some Deposits
US union leaders have launched a large-scale strike at nine refineries after failing to agree on a new national contract with major oil companies.
BBC, February 1
It marks the first nationwide walkout since 1980 and impacts plants that together account for more than 10% of US refining capacity.
The United Steelworkers Union (USW) began the strike on Sunday, after their current contract expired and no deal was reached despite five proposals.
The USW said it “had no choice”.
“This industry is the richest in the world and can afford to make the changes we offered in bargaining,” USW International Vice President of Administration Tom Conway said in a statement.
Reuters: Workers strike for second day at nine U.S. oil, chemical plants
Al Jazeera investigates ties between Louisiana and the Chinese government in a proposed $1.85 billion methanol plant.
Al Jazeera, By Massoud Hayoun, January 26
This article is part one of a three-part series on China’s role in redeveloping southern Louisiana called China’s Louisiana Purchase.
St. James Parish, LA — A prominent Chinese tycoon and politician — whose natural gas company has a dubious environmental and labor rights record that recently started coming under fire in the Chinese press — is parking assets in a multibillion dollar methanol plant in a Louisiana town. And he appears to be doing it with help from the administration of likely GOP 2016 presidential ticket contender Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Not many locals in a predominantly black neighborhood of St. James Parish — halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — know that Wang Jinshu, the Communist Party Secretary for the northeastern Chinese village of Yuhuang and a former delegate to the National People’s Congress, is the man at the helm of a $1.85 billion methanol plant to be built in their town over the next two years with a $9.5 million incentive package from the state. The details of the project are unclear, residents say, largely because they were not told about the project until local officials, amid discussions with state officials and Chinese diplomats, decided to move forward with the project in July 2014.
“We never had a town hall meeting pretending to get our opinion prior to them doing it,” said Lawrence “Palo” Ambrose, a 74-year-old black Vietnam War veteran who works at a nearby church. “They didn’t make us part of the discussion.”
Al Jazeera, by Tom Kutsch, January 14
“Banks are under assault.”
That was the resounding message from Jamie Dimon, CEO and President of JPMorgan Chase, in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, announcing a fourth quarter decline in profits for the nation’s largest bank.
“We have five or six regulators coming at us on every issue,” he said, adding that this spoke of a general wrong directed at his industry: “You all should ask the question, ‘How American that is? How fair that is?”
Zero Hedge: Bank Of America Misses Revenue By $2 Billion As Trading Revenue Collapses; Fires Thousands
Zero Hedge: “It’s Carnage” – Swiss Franc Soars Most Ever After SNB Abandons EURCHF Floor; Macro Hedge Funds Crushed
Zero Hedge: UBS’ Take On The Swiss Shocker: “The SNB’s Standing Is Undermined… There Could Be A Significant Deflationary Shock”
Zero Hedge: Market Wrap: “It’s Turmoil” – Overnight Gains Wiped Out, Futures Trade Below 2000 On SNB “Shock And Awe”
Bloomberg, By Liam Vaughan, December 29
Halfway down a muddy, secluded road on marshland in suburban Essex sits Wharf Pool, a lake stocked with some of the biggest freshwater fish you will ever see.
A white sign with red lettering reads: “Private Syndicate: Strictly Members Only.” A metal gate, a barbed-wire fence and two CCTV cameras bar the way. Anglers hoping to spend time on the lake’s carefully tended banks must join a waiting list. Those who make it to the top pay a membership fee that buys them the chance to catch a carp that weighs more than a Jack Russell. There are hundreds of them swimming beneath the surface. It’s close to shooting fish in a barrel.
An hour away by train, in London’s financial district, the lake’s owners ply their trade. Wharf Pool was purchased for about 250,000 pounds ($388,000) in 2012 by Richard Usher, the former JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) trader at the center of a global investigation into corruption in the foreign-exchange market, and Andrew White, a currency trader at oil company BP Plc. (BP/)
With revenue of almost $400 billion last year and operations in about 80 countries, BP trades large quantities of currency each day. Traders at the company regularly received valuable information from counterparts at some of the world’s biggest banks — including tips about forthcoming trades, details of confidential client business and discussions of stop-losses, the trigger points for a flurry of buying or selling — according to four traders with direct knowledge of the practice.
Zero Hedge picks up the story: The Rigging Triangle Exposed: The JPMorgan-British Petroleum-Bank Of England Cartel Full Frontal
The ugly ramifications of the Trade in Services Act (TiSA)
Wolf Street, By Don Quijones, December 25
Much has been written, at least in the alternative media, about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two multilateral trade treaties being negotiated between the representatives of dozens of national governments and armies of corporate lawyers and lobbyists (on which you can read more here, here and here). However, much less is known about the decidedly more secretive Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which involves more countries than either of the other two.
At least until now, that is. Thanks to a leaked document jointly published by the Associated Whistleblowing Press and Filtrala, the potential ramifications of the treaty being hashed out behind hermetically sealed doors in Geneva are finally seeping out into the public arena.
Washington Post, By David Nakamura, December 26
President Obama is preparing a major push on a vast free trade zone that seeks to enlist Republicans as partners and test his premise that Washington can still find common ground on major initiatives.
It also will test his willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement. Already, fellow Democrats are accusing him of abandoning past promises on trade and potentially undermining his domestic priority of reducing income inequality.
The dynamic, as the White House plots strategy for the new year when the GOP has full control of Congress, has scrambled traditional political alliances. In recent weeks, Obama has rallied the business community behind his trade agenda, while leading Capitol Hill progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have raised objections and labor and environmental groups have mounted a public relations campaign against it.
The administration is moving aggressively in hopes of wrapping up negotiations by the middle of next year on a 12-nation free-trade pact in the Asia Pacific before the politics become even more daunting ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the administration,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a pro-trade Democrat viewed by the administration as a key ally. “They need to get out and educate members and address the concerns they might have. I’ve been advising colleagues who are skeptical and not supportive of trade to at least engage in conversations and feedback.”
Business Insider, By Mike Bird, December 11
French inflation just sank to another five-year low, down at 0.4% in November, compared to the same month last year, leaving France even further away from the European Central Bank’s 2% inflation target.. Analysts were expecting a 0.5% figure.
But it’s even worse than that. France’s core inflation is now at -0.2%. It’s negative for the first time the country started recording it. It’s much harder to blame falling oil prices for that: core inflation deliberately strips out volatile items like fresh food and energy, to try to give an idea of the underlying trend.
BBC, December 7
Japan’s economy shrank more than initially estimated in the third quarter of 2014, according to revised gross domestic product (GDP) figures.
The economy contracted by 1.9% in annual terms from July to September, well above a preliminary reading of 1.6%.
It also shrank 0.5% on a quarterly basis, compared with an initial estimate of 0.4%, data showed.
A big fall in business spending plunged the economy into a deeper recession.
The revised figures, which come just days before Japan’s national elections, showed that business spending dipped by 0.4% from the previous quarter, instead of the 0.2% estimated in the preliminary reading.