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11/25/14

UKRAINE: ​Russia loses €110bn with sanctions and falling oil prices says Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

Russia is losing around €110 billion a year due to Western sanctions, but they are not as critical to the economy as lower oil prices, which add $90-100 billion in losses, says Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

"We lose about $40 billion a year because of the political sanctions and around $90-100 billion a year due to the 30 percent reduction in oil prices," RIA quotes Siluanov speaking Monday at the International Financial and Economic Forum.

Lower investment and foreign loans along with capital outflow, estimated at $130 billion this year, are the key components of the loss, Siluanov explained.

Read more: Russia loses € 110bn with sanctions and falling oil prices – Finance Minister — RT Business

USA Riots: Outrage across US over Ferguson ruling

Thousands of people rallied in US cities including Los Angeles and New York to protest against a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gunshots rang out and police lobbed tear gas at an angry crowd in suburban St Louis after the grand jury decision was announced late on Monday.

Angry protesters overran barricades and taunted police in Ferguson, with some chanting "murderer" and others throwing stones and bottles, as police car windows were smashed and protesters tried to set vehicles ablaze.

Officers responded by firing what authorities said was smoke and pepper spray into the crowd, as some in the crowd tried to stop others from taking part in the violence.

The protesters ignored calls by US President Barack Obama on Monday night to accept the grand jury's decision.

"We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," Obama said. He echoed Brown's parents in calling for any protests to be peaceful.

Read more: Outrage across US over Ferguson ruling - Americas - Al Jazeera English

11/24/14

Alternative Enrgy: The Netherlands has laid the world’s first solar road – we go eyes-on to investigate - by Joel Hruska

Earlier this week, the first solar roadway opened in Amsterdam — a 70-meter stretch of cycle path between two suburbs of the city that generates solar power from rugged, textured glass-covered photovoltaic cells.

My significant other, Jessica Hall, happens to be spending a semester in Amsterdam and was willing to trek out to the Krommenie-Wormerveer cross-connection to see this solar roadway in action.

Below, we’ll answer some common questions people have raised about the projects and the road itself. One thing to know about the Netherlands is that biking is huge there, despite the wet, maritime climate. Building a solar bike path isn’t a throwaway gesture as it is in the United States, and the bike path itself, as you’ll see, is laned like a modern road.

This project is built by SolaRoad — it’s different from the crowdfunded Solar Roadways project that  Extreme Tech wrote about earlier this year.

Read more: The Netherlands has laid the world’s first solar road – we go eyes-on to investigate | ExtremeTech

Internet: Symantec Discovers ‘Regin’ Spy Code Lurking on Computer Networks - Nicole Perlroth

Security researchers say they have discovered a sophisticated piece of malicious code spying on researchers, governments, businesses, and critical telecommunications infrastructure since 2008.

The malware, called Regin, was first discovered by Symantec, the antivirus company, which released a white paper describing its findings on Sunday. On Monday, The Intercept, a digital magazine started by the journalist Glenn Greenwald, reported that the Regin malware is part of a decade-long joint operation by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, or G.C.H.Q. The Intercept report is based in part on disclosures from former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden.

“In the world of malware threats, only a few rare examples can truly be considered groundbreaking and almost peerless,” Symantec wrote. “What we have seen in Regin is just such a class of malware.”

Symantec found evidence that the malware has been used on targets in 10 countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and Russia, as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mexico, Ireland, Belgium and Austria. The Intercept reported Monday that the malware had been used to spy on companies in the European Union, notably Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and Internet provider.

The Regin malware is highly customizable, researchers said, and can be tweaked to include new features and capabilities, depending on the target. Symantec’s researchers estimate that it likely took months “if not years” to develop and said the malware’s “authors have gone to great lengths to cover its tracks.”

The researchers believe the malware was first used to spy on individuals in 2008, until it was “abruptly withdrawn” in 2011. The Intercept reported that the malware was used to infect a Belgacom server in 2010.

Then, last year, Symantec said the authors started using a new version of the same malware to spy on a variety of victims. Among them: academic researchers, individuals and small businesses, companies in the airline, energy and hospitality sectors as well as telecom companies, in what researchers believe was an attempt to gain access to telephone calls routed through their call centers.

Regin is undeniably a spy tool, based on its functions, the researchers said. It is configured to grab screenshots and take over a computer mouse’s point-and-click function. It can also grab passwords, monitor network traffic and gather information from the computer’s memory. It can scan for and retrieve deleted files.

Beyond those basic functions, its capabilities vary from target to target. In one case, Symantec’s researcher found that Regin had been tweaked to sniff traffic sent to mobile telephone base station controllers. In another case, it had been customized to parse mail from Microsoft’s Exchange email databases.

The Intercept reported Monday that the tool was part of a joint N.S.A.- G.C.H.Q. program, codenamed “Operation Socialist.”

Vanee Vines, a N.S.A. spokeswoman declined to comment on what the agency called “speculation.”
“The discovery of Regin serves to highlight how significant investments continue to be made into the development of tools for use in intelligence gathering,” Symantec researchers said.
Read more: Bits - Business, Innovation, Technology, Society

Where the Billionaires Are - while middle class, wages haven’t budged in 25 years -by Zach Wener-Fligner

Of the world’s population of more than 7 billion, around 200,000 people—or 0.003 percent—have a net worth of more than $30 million.

These super-wealthy individuals (UHNWs, as the research firm Wealth-X deems them, for "ultra-high net worth") control a handy $29.7 trillion, according to an analysis of Wealth-X data charted by CNN.
UHNWs make the 1 percent look like paupers. And there are far more of them in some places than others. The United States, for example, has more than three times as many ultra-wealthy folks as any other country. Here’s the complete list of countries with more than 1,000 people with a net worth of at least $30 million.

In the U.S. the richest 1 percent of the 1 percent are increasing their wealth faster than anyone else. The main reason is capital gains: From 1992 to 2007, the average salary of the country’s top 400 earners (as measured by U.S. tax returns) doubled, while their capital gains increased a stupefying 1,300 percent.
Meanwhile, among the middle class, wages haven’t budged in 25 years.

 Read more: Where the Billionaires Are - The Atlantic

Turkey's President Erdoğan Says Women's Position In Society Is For Motherhood

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday at a women's rights summit in Istanbul that women and men cannot be equal because it is "against nature," claiming that women and men have inherently different roles in society. Erdoğan, a devout Muslim, made statements during his time as prime minister that suggested he held conservative ideas about women's rights, but his speech Monday underscores just how strongly he rejects the notion that women should have the same civil liberties as men.

"You cannot get women to do every kind of work men can do, as in Communist regimes," he said. "You cannot tell them to go out and dig the soil. This is against their delicate nature."

Erdoğan attacked feminists in his speech, claiming they "reject the concept of motherhood."
"Our religion (Islam) has defined a position for women (in society): motherhood," Erdoğan said. "Some people can understand this, while others can't. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don't accept the concept of motherhood."

Erdoğan expanded his message, saying that women should each have at least three children and that abortion was "murder." He also said he was against the morning-after pill.

Opponents of Erdoğan took to Twitter to protest the president's statements, some claiming that he is "backwards," others saying he "is digging himself a grave."

Read more: Turkey's President Erdoğan Says Women's Position In Society Is For Motherhood

Europe's Challenge: A 'Twilight Zone' in Russia's Shadow, or a 'World of Rules?' -  Radek Sikorski

In Harvard Yard, on 5 June 1947, on the steps of Memorial Church, momentous words were said.
It is logical that the United States should do what it can to assist the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.

Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.

U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall set in motion the most profitable financial investment in human history: the reconstruction of Western Europe:

The Marshall Plan was part of a wider Western ambition after World War II. To create a World of Rules.
New global institutions were set up, led by U.S. leadership and generosity.

The United Nations. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The International Court of Justice.
Despite harsh Cold War ideological differences, these institutions took root. They grew and flourished.

Why? Because the world -- or at least a part of the world -- had agreed that explicit international military aggression had to stop.

Differences between peoples and nations should be settled by peaceful negotiation.


On one side of the line are countries and peoples free to choose their own democratic destiny.

On the other side are countries in a decaying Twilight Zone. A blighted, unhappy and unstable place outside the World of Rules.

If we get this wrong, our shared Western decades-long strategic ambition to create a Europe whole and free will falter.


Read more: Europe's Challenge: A 'Twilight Zone' in Russia's Shadow, or a 'World of Rules?' | Radek Sikorski

The Netherlands: Dutch jihadi bride: 'Is she a victim or a suspect?' - by Harriet Alexander, and Anna Mees

She was a blonde-haired, blue eyed Catholic girl whose family was a pillar of the Dutch town of Maastricht. He was a smiling, bicycle-riding Dutch former soldier - a man considered such an asset to his country he was encouraged to try out for their elite special forces.

And yet the marriage of Sterlina Petalo and Omar Yilmaz was, for their families, anything but a cause for celebration.

Yilmaz, 26, was one of the most high-profile Europeans to become a jihadi, travelling to Syria to live in the Islamic State and fight on behalf of the extremists. He gloried in the teenage fantasy of war - posting a series of Instagram photos of himself pouting at the camera on a motorbike, amid bombed-out buildings in his combat fatigues, AK47 slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. Miss Petalo was a recent convert to Islam, who fell in love with Yilmaz after seeing him on television, picturing him as a Robin Hood figure.

Last week their story took a remarkable twist when it was revealed that Miss Petalo had in fact returned to her hometown - after her mother travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border to bring the 19-year-old home from the jihadist-held city of Raqqa.

“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said her mother, Monique Verbert. “She rang me and said 'Take me home.’ But she could not leave Raqqa without help.”

The pair arrived back in the Netherlands on Wednesday, said Annemarie Kemp, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office. Clad in a niqqab, with only her eyes showing, the teenager - who has changed her name to Aicha - was photographed being driven through the town on her way to custody.

“Upon her arrival, Aicha was detained at once on suspicion of crimes threatening state security,” said Ms Kemp.

Miss Petalo is being held in a police cell - the prosecutor, Roger Bos, ruled on Friday that she should be detained for questioning for three more days. Mrs Verbert, 49, an administrator for BP, argued that her daughter’s flight to Syria was little more than teenage infatuation. Today Monday November 24 the court will decide whether to press charges.

Note EU-Digest: Every civilized human being should condemn the violence and terror IS is using to instill fear and terror in the areas where they operate. In that same breath one should also condemn social media and the International Press for publicizing these horrific scenes of barbarism, including the decapitation of body parts. This is pure commercially based sensationalism, which can only lead to popularizing these horrific acts in the minds of susceptible young people - case in point Ms Petalo who acted upon her teenage fantasy of a "glorified" war and followed this "insanely obsessed man" into certain disaster. 

Kudos to her mother for taking the proper action to bring her daughter back to reality and safety.    
Read more: Dutch jihadi bride: 'Is she a victim or a suspect?' - Telegraph

11/23/14

Israel - Palestine: Recognizing Palestine a 'Grave Mistake?' Israeli Prime Minister Warns France

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that it would be a "grave mistake" for France's parliament to recognize a Palestinian state in a vote on Dec. 2, reported France 24.

"Do they have nothing better to do at a time of beheadings across the Middle East, including that of a French citizen?" he said while talking to reporters in Jerusalem.
"Recognition of a Palestinian state by France would be a grave mistake," he added.
"The State of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, the only state that we have, and the Palestinians demanding a state do not want to recognize the right have a state for the Jewish people."
France's vote to recognize Palestine is reportedly symbolic and, while non-binding, is similar in nature to recent resolutions passed by British and Spanish governments. In October, Sweden ruled to officially recognize Palestine. As of early November 2014, 135 of the 193 United Nations member states have officially recognized Palestine as a state.

The proposal is being used as "an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict," according to France 24, and is modeled after one approve on Oct. 13 by British lawmakers, which was designed to "recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution."

Earlier Sunday, Israel's cabinet approved a bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While the bill is still waiting to pass parliament before becoming law, Sunday's vote is sure to strain relations with Arab Israelis - which make up about 20 percent of Israel's population - and Palestinians, as it excludes a "significant part of the population, both Arabs and Druze, many of whom serve in the Israeli military," according to France 24.

"The devil is in the details. Will the final bill talk about equality for all of Israel's citizens? Where will the democratic nature of the state fall into this bill?" said Gallagher Fenwick of France 24.
Read more: Recognizing Palestine a 'Grave Mistake?' Israeli Prime Minister Warns France : News : Headlines

Energy Renewables and the Private Sector: IKEA a shining star when it comes to efforts made by the private sector

The lion’s share of debate about the progress of renewable energy is missing an important dimension. It seems that the media, banks and NGOs largely value the worth of each renewable source by their rate of adoption at the national and international level. These measurements seem to rely on macro-economic indicators or on agreements such as that made last week by the U.S. and China. However, the efforts of private corporations to go green, while not wholly unnoticed, do not seem to weigh in. It would make no sense in most other industries to measure their health purely by public efforts. In fact, many renewable energy developers today are seeking to change their industry’s reputation as being dependent on government subsidies and costly to the taxpayer with little return. One way to fight this reputation is to show concrete evidence of global corporations going renewable. This week has given plenty of evidence of just that, with IKEA, Google and Amazon all making real commitments.

Back in March, IKEA acquired the Hoopeston wind farm in Illinois, which is set to produce more than enough energy to power all its stores and distribution stores in the country. 65% more. But this energy will not be sent to IKEA’s stores, instead, the Swedish retailer will sell it off as part of a strategy to offset its entire consumption by 2020. This week, an ever bigger announcement came. IKEA has purchased a 165MW wind farm in Cameron County, Texas, marking “the single largest renewable energy investment made by the IKEA Group globally to date.” IKEA goes on to say that it will invest $1.9 billion in renewables by the end of 2015.

Where IKEA is investing in renewables to offset its energy usage, Google and Amazon are doing so for a far more practical reason: data centers have incredibly high energy consumption and renewable projects can be a good way to reduce that burden. To power its new 600 million euro data center at Eemshaven in the Netherlands, Google has agreed to buy a wind farm being built by Eneco near Eemshaven. The 19-turbine 62MW wind farm will power the data center from day one, and comes on the heels of Google buying two other wind farms in Sweden to provide for its data center in Finland.

Other tech and retail leaders are making forays in the same direction, albeit with less emphasis. After being slammed on Greenpeace’s ranking of the green track records of IT leaders, Amazon seems to want to become more sustainable. Amazon Web Services, responsible for cloud computing, stated that it was taking a “long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.” Unlike Google and IKEA, though, Amazon has not stated any outright investments it is planning on making. It will likely take years for Amazon to become fully renewable, but even doing so for its cloud computing needs would be a major achievement, given how the likes of Pinterest, Netflix and Spotify rely on Amazon’s cloud.

On the negative side of the equation, Walmart is slipping backwards, having used renewables for 3 percent of its energy needs in 2013, as opposed to 4 percent in 2011. Although long identifying itself in its corporate branding as a green leader, a new think tank has revealed that Walmart is relying on coal for 40% of its energy needs in the U.S. This is a particularly damning accusation since Walmart’s stores use more power than Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont combined, according to the report. Walmart immediately rebutted the report, saying it gets 24 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources—and that it would “expand its renewable energy projects and procurement to reach 7 billion kilowatt-hours of wind, solar, hydroelectric and biogas globally by 2020, up from 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours today.”

Whether companies are making quantifiable commitments to renewables or are fudging the statistics to look sustainable, it is becoming increasingly nonsensical to weigh up the value of renewable energy sources through public investment alone.


EU-Digest

The Internet: Orwellian Big Brother is a Reality: "Government in Your Internet"

From the Snowden leaks to the recent passage of the Brazilian government “Marco Civil da Internet”, a set of legislation designed to enforce net neutrality, freedom of expression and privacy, there is no mistaking that this is a critical time for the internet and it’s digital citizens.

Cloud and hosting providers need to pay close attention to developing legislation and technologies to address the privacy and security needs of its customers in this fast changing environment.

Shortly after the NSA’s PRISM program was first reported, Forrester Research predicted that US cloud providers could lose up to $180 billion in business over the next three years due to concerns around the scope of surveillance the program enabled.

In a March Ted Talk Snowden said, “The best way to understand PRISM, because there has been a little bit of controversy, is to first talk about what prism isn’t. Much of the debate in the US has been about meta data. They’ve said ‘it’s just meta data, it’s just meta data’ and they’re talking about a specific legal authority called section 215 of the Patriot Act. That allows sort of a warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance of the entire country’s sort of phone records, things like that…PRISM is about content, it’s a program through which the government could compel corporate America, it could sort of deputize corporate America to do it’s dirty work for the NSA.”

Some companies initially resisted compliance, challenging the NSA in court, but they all lost. Later after the Snowden revelations, a new ruling forced the declassifying of the 2008 Prism decision.
“It was never tried by an open court, they were tried only by a secret court,” Snowden said. “And something that we’ve seen…15 federal judges have reviewed these programs and found them to be lawful, but what they don’t tell you is those are secret judges in a secret court based on secret interpretations of law that’s considered 34,000 warrant requests over 33 years, and in 33 years only rejected 11 government requests.

These aren’t the people that we want deciding what the role of corporate America in a free and open internet should be.”

Although the NSA continually tries to explain the measures and secrets as an important part of national security and characterizes its data collection as “only meta data”, it’s having a hard time spinning the Snowden revelations in its favor. Even late night political comedians are picking up on this topic. John Oliver addressed NSA policies Sunday in an interview with former NSA agency chief Keith Alexander which resulted in a funny yet powerful commentary on the organization.

In a blog post Monday, the NSA again addressed its policies in relation to internet security and the Heartbleed vulnerability. It explained some of its thinking on keeping threats secret.

“But there are legitimate pros and cons to the decision to disclose, and the trade-offs between prompt disclosure and withholding knowledge of some vulnerabilities for a limited time can have significant consequences,” Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator said.

“Disclosing a vulnerability can mean that we forego an opportunity to collect crucial intelligence that could thwart a terrorist attack stop the theft of our nation’s intellectual property, or even discover more dangerous vulnerabilities that are being used by hackers or other adversaries to exploit our networks.”

Discussion and news on privacy, net neutrality and data sovereignty happens daily. Multi- stakeholder governance as a means to address keeping governments out of the internet or at least equally represented is a hot topic. At the two day NetMundail conference last week,  guidelines were discussed for future internet governance.

As the discussion continues to evolve it’s important for cloud and web hosting providers to stay informed of the issues and new legislation so they can best serve their customers in whatever part of the globe they happen to be. As cloud services become more prevalent and are hosted in multiple countries, service providers may be facing more restrictions based on where data is physically stored and which country has domain over the data.

The WHIR interviewed  Jelle Frank van der Zwet of Interxion at World Hosting Days in Germany. When asked about the need for data centers in foreign countries, he had this to say, “If you want to do business in Germany, you must have a data center and infrastructure in Germany. That goes for Amazon, that goes for any cloud provider, small or large if you want to do business in Germany I recommend you have your infrastructure in Germany. I would say the same for France.”

His comment in the context of the greater discussion about data sovereignty and NSA backdoor access into United States based company’s data underscores the importance of where data is hosted in relation to local laws and policies, a growing concern among cloud and hosting providers.

For example, the US Supreme Court ruled recently that a government search warrant will require American companies providing internet, email, and online storage services to hand over data stored anywhere in the world.

Read more: Orwellian Big Brother is a Reality: Government in Your Internet - WHIR

China - Outer Space Research: Beijing edges ahead in the space race

As united as Asian countries may be in their attempts to keep pace with the West, they are worlds apart when it comes to catching up with its space exploration program. So far, it was clear who was winning the space race –with the US running out of steam, only Russia was left.

But it is rapidly losing its advantage as its Asian neighbors are busy looking to boldly go where no one has gone before. Beijing is especially close on Moscow's heels. Other than the Americans and the Russians, the Chinese are the only ones to have made it to the moon as yet.

China's lunar rover, Yutu – or Jade Rabbit – successfully landed on the moon last year. Even though it soon lost contact with controllers, the Chinese are pushing ahead with their ambitious space program. To be fair, they're not the only ones to have run into problems in the ether. In late October, the US witnessed the failure of two space missions.

First, the unmanned Antares rocket designed to transport supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) exploded seconds after liftoff. Two days later, Richard Branson‘s SpaceShipTwo blew up testing new fuel over the California desert.

Read more: Beijing edges ahead in the space race | Asia | DW.DE | 22.11.2014

Middle East- Syria - Kobani: Kurds seize Islamic State arms cache; Iraq touts progress in Baiji battle

Kurdish fighters captured six buildings used by Islamic State fighters besieging the Syrian town of Kobani on Tuesday, and seized a large amount of the militant group’s weapons and ammunition, a group monitoring the war said.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Iraqi security forces entered the country’s largest refinery for the first time on Tuesday after months of battling Islamic State militants who had surrounded it, a police colonel and state television said. If confirmed, the recovery of the facility could provide critical momentum for government forces.

Read more: Kurds in Kobani seize Islamic State arms cache; Iraq touts progress in Baiji battle - The Globe and Mail