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12/15/17

The Netherlands tops the Good Country Index - by Mina Solanki

Amsterdam downtown
This year, the Netherlands has climbed to the top of the Good Country Index. Based on several indicators, this index ranks countries according to what they contribute to the greater good of humanity.

A Good Country is a country that helps its people and does not harm, but preferably furthers the interests of people in other countries as well. No moral judgements are made about the country being assessed.

This year, the Good Country Index published its third edition, with previous editions assessing countries in 2016 and 2014. In this edition, the index focussed on 163 countries and ranked them according to seven categories.

The seven categories were: global contribution to science and technology, culture, international peace and security, world order, planet and climate, prosperity and equality and health and wellbeing.

For each category, five indicators were used, which were given fractional rankings. The category ranking resulted from calculating the mean of the five indicators, and the overall ranking from the average of the categories. The data used to determine the ranking was from 2014, unless otherwise purported in the results.

The Netherlands took overall first place, in the 2017 edition, scoring particularly well on global contributions to culture, world order and prosperity and equality. In these categories, the Netherlands scored second, third and fourth place respectively. Notably, the Netherlands did not score first place in any one category.

Taking second and third place were Switzerland and Denmark. Switzerland obtained its highest score, second place, in the global contribution to planet and climate, and Denmark also landed second place in the global contribution to prosperity and equality.

Following on from Switzerland and Denmark, Finland and Germany placed fourth and fifth in the Good Country Index. Neither scored first place on any one category. In sixth place is the first of the countries assessed to score first place on a category, namely Sweden, with first place for the global contribution to health and wellbeing.

Finishing at the bottom of the ranking are Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan in respective 161st, 162nd and 163rd place. Libya takes last place in the global contribution to culture.

Read more: he Netherlands tops the Good Country Index

Stock Markets: Bitcoin buyers should be prepared to lose all their money, top UK regulator warns

Bitcoin buyers have been issued a "serious warning" from one of Britain's leading financial regulators.

Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), told BBC's "Newsnight" on Thursday, "If you want to invest in bitcoin, be prepared to lose all your money."

Bailey said a lack of backing from governments and central banks for the world's most popular digital currency was evidence that putting money into bictoin was not a secure investment. He also said buying bitcoin was akin to gambling because it had the same level of risk.

Bitcoin's meteoric price rise has stunned critics and enthusiasts alike, leaving investors scrambling to understand the driving factors for the digital currency's runaway rally.

Bitcoin traded at $17,159 on Friday morning, according to CoinDesk's bitcoin price index. The digital currency has a market value of approximately $291 billion — the largest among the cryptocurrencies. A year ago, one bitcoin was worth around $780.

"If you look at what has happened this year, I would caution people … We know relatively little about what informs the price of bitcoin," Bailey told the BBC.

Soaring interest from institutional and retail investors has prompted global exchanges, such as the Cboe, to launch futures contracts.

Meantime, CME Group is poised to a launch bitcoin futures contract on Sunday and a German stock exchange operator is reportedly considering whether to follow suit.

The launch of bitcoin futures contracts represents a significant step in the legitimization of cryptocurrencies, according to some market participants. Futures are derivatives, or financial instruments, that obligate a trader to either buy or sell an asset at a specified time and at a specified price.

Bitcoin bulls have frequently referenced the cryptocurrency's scarcity value as a primary reason for its staying power. Somewhat like gold, bitcoin supply grows at glacial and ever-decreasing fixed rates with only 21 million bitcoins set to be in existence.

But while the trading of bitcoin futures on two of the world's largest exchanges is expected to provide a layer of official oversight that had not previously existed, several leading voices have expressed skepticism.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon called bitcoin a "fraud" that would eventually blow up, while billionaire investor Warren Buffett urged traders to "stay away from it," calling the rally a "mirage."


Read more: Bitcoin buyers should be prepared to lose all their money, top UK regulator warns

12/14/17

USA: Net Neutrality is Dead in the US: FCC Votes to Approve "Internet Freedom" Plan

The Federal Communications Commission just voted to approve a plan that effectively ends net neutrality. The culmination of months of work by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Thursday’s vote means the internet may never be the same again.

Net neutrality is the longstanding principle that internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon — where Pai previously worked as a lawyer before his career at the FCC — cannot play favorites over access to content, create a tiered internet where sites or users that pay more have access to a fast lane, or otherwise control how people get online. 

As expected, the vote was three in favor and two against, split along party lines. Chairman Ajit Pai received the support of both Republican commissioners for his plan, which he made public the week before Thanksgiving. Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voted against the plan. The deliberations were interrupted for several minutes when, according to Pai, security advised them to take a recess.

Thursday’s vote reverses the 2015 decision of the Obama-era FCC, which reclassified ISPs as utilities instead of information services under what’s known as Title II regulations. That earlier move came in part because a 2014 court decision found the FCC could no longer impose net neutrality regulations on ISPs unless they were categorized as utilities.

Note EU-Digest: This actually means US internet providers can set pricing now for tall kinds of additional services including the speed you want your internet to connect and process information. It will have a huge impact on what people do online in America. 

In Europe during the summer 0f 2016 hundreds of thousands of Internet users banded together to keep the Internet open and free. Together, we sent a loud, clear message to BEREC, the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications: protect net neutrality. And it worked! BEREC’s final guidelines, which were published on 30 August 2016, offer some of the strongest net neutrality protections we could wish for. 

So long as these new rules are properly enforced by national telecom regulators, they represent a resounding victory for net neutrality. The European public has made clear that it will not leave the future of its digital public space to big telco lobbyists and multi national corporations , but wants to decide for itself. To that end, civil society has to stay watchful and observe that telecom operators don’t violate the new laws. Indeed Europeans are slowly understanding that united we win, and divided we fall.

Read more: Net Neutrality is Dead in the USA: FCC Votes to Approve "Internet Freedom" Plan | Inverse

Israel-Argentina: What is Israël’s project in Argentina? - by Thierry Meyssan

In the 19th century, the British government were undecided as to where they should settle Israël – either in what is now Uganda, in Argentina or in Palestine. In fact, Argentina was at that time controlled by the United Kingdom and, on the initiative of French baron Maurice de Hirsch, had become a land of refuge for Jews who were fleeing the pogroms in central Europe.

In the 20th century, after the military coup d’Etat against democratically elected President General Juan Perón, a current of antisemitism developed within the armed forces. A brochure was distributed accusing the new State of Israël of preparing an invasion of Patagonia, the « Andinia Plan ».

It has become apparent today that even though the Argentinian extreme right had exaggerated the facts in the 1970’s, there was indeed a project for implantation (and not invasion) in Patagonia.

Everything changed with the Falklands War in 1982. At that time, the Argentinian military junta attempted to recuperate the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which from their point of view had been occupied by the British for a century and a half. The UNO recognised the legitimacy of the Argentinian claim, but the Security Council condemned the use of force to recover these territories. The stakes are considerable, since the territorial waters of these archipelagos offer access to all the riches of the Antarctic continent.

At the end of this war, which cost more than a thousand lives (official British figures are largely understated), London imposed a particularly severe Peace Treaty on Buenos Aires - Argentinian armed forces are limited to their most simple expression. Above all, the control of their Southern and Antarctic air space is confiscated for the profit of the Royal Air Force, and they are obliged to inform the United Kingdom about all their operations.

In 1992 and 1994, two particularly devastating, murderous and mysterious attacks successively destroyed the Israëli embassy and the headquarters of the Israëli association AMIA. The first attack took place when the station chiefs of Israëli Intelligence had just left the building. The second occurred in the context of joint Egypt-Argentinian research for the development of Condor ballistic missiles. In the same period, the main Condor factory exploded, and the sons of Presidents Carlos Menem and Hafez el-Assad died accidentally. The various enquiries gave rise to a succession of manipulations.

After having blamed Syria, prosecutor Alberto Nisman turned on Iran, whom he accused of having ordered the two attacks, and Hezbollah, who he claimed had carried them out. The ex- Peronist President Cristina Kirchner was accused of having negotiated the end of the legal proceedings against Iran in exchange for advantageous oil prices. Prosecutor Nisman was found dead at his home, and President Kirchner was found guilty of high treason. However, last week, a coup de theâtre destroyed everything we though we knew – the United States FBI handed over DNA analyses which attest to the absence of the presumed terrorist among the victims, and the presence of a body which has never been identified. 25 years later, we know nothing more about these attacks.

In the 21st century, benefitting from the advantages offered them by the Falklands War Treaty, the United Kingdom and Israël are now setting up a new project Patagonia.

British billionaire Joe Lewis has acquired immense territories in the South of Argentina and even neighbouring Chile. His properties cover areas several times larger than the State of Israël. They are situated in Tierra del Fuego, at the extreme Southern point of the continent. In particular, they surround the Lago Escondido, which effectively denies access to the entire region, despite a legal injunction.

The billionaire has built a private airport with a two kilometre landing strip, in order to be able to receive civil and military aircraft.

Since the Falklands War, the Israëli army has been organising « holiday camps » (sic) in Patagonia for its soldiers. Between 8,000 and 10,000 of them now come every year to spend two weeks on Joe Lewis’ land.

While in the 1970’s, the Argentinian army noted the construction of 25,000 empty houses, which gave rise to the myth of the Andinia Plan, hundreds of thousands have been built today.

It is impossible to verify the state of the construction work, since these are private lands, and Google Earth has neutralised the satellite photographs of the area, just as it does with NATO’s military installations.

Neighbouring Chile has handed over a submarine base to Israël. Tunnels have been dug in order to survive the polar winter.

The Mapuche Indians who inhabit both Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia were surprised to learn that the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM) had been reactivated in London. This is a mysterious organisation which fights for independence. First accused of being an old association recuperated by the Argentinian secret services, the RAM is today considered by the left as a legitimate secessionist movement, but by the Mapuche leaders as an initiative financed by George Soros.

On 15 November 2017, the Navy lost all contact with the submarine ARA San Juan, which was finally declared lost at sea. It was one of the TR 1700 class diesel-electric submarines which were the flagships of the reduced Argentinian army. The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) has announced that it has recorded an unusual acoustic phenomenon in the Atlantic, close to the area from which the San Juan sent its last signal. The government finally admitted that the submarine was on a non-specified « secret mission », of which London had been informed. The USA began a search, while the Russian Navy deployed a drone capable of exploring the ocean to a depth of 6,000 metres, but found nothing. The San Juan probably exploded. The Argentinian Press is convinced that the submarine had either collided with a mine, or was destroyed by an enemy torpedo.

It is impossible for the moment to determine if Israël is engaged in a programme for the exploitation of Antarctica, or if it is building a rear base in case of defeat in Palestine.

Read more: What is Israël’s project in Argentina?, by Thierry Meyssan

US Economy: The United States of Indebted America

By many measures, the American economy is booming. Yet that's not always translating into stronger financial health for a large share of US consumers.

One-third of Americans are weighed down by overdue debt, meaning their outstanding payments are in arrears and have been handed off to debt collectors, according to new research from The Urban Institute. That's not a healthy situation for households because overdue debt can lower one's credit score, making it harder to finance purchases such as a home or car while also making it more expensive to borrow money.

The problem is worse in some regions of the country, especially those where health insurance coverage is sparser, incomes are lower and the share of nonwhite households is higher, according to the Urban Institute's data. Almost one in five households have medical debt in collections, a sign of how many Americans struggle with the cost of health care, including those insurance.

That's not only a personal challenge but a community issue because those indebted households may struggle to pay their property taxes or rent on time.

"I don't think people understand how pervasive this is," said Signe-Mary McKernan, a Urban Institute senior fellow and co-director of its Opportunity and Ownership Initiative. "This matters to individuals, but our research shows it matters a great deal to the communities they live in."

She added, "When families have little to no savings and have a disruption, they're more likely to miss bills and get evicted. That's very expensive for cities."

Read more: The United States of Indebted America - CBS News

Macedonia's Biggest Problem: It's Called Macedonia -by Edward P. Joseph

The “Interim Accord” was supposed to function as a stop-gap solution, halting the Greek blockade on its neighbor and opening diplomatic relations between the two countries, pending a permanent solution. Twenty-two years later and there is still no final agreement on the name—and the failure to close this chapter weighs heavily on the increasingly unstable Balkans. Thanks to rare political dynamics in both Athens and Skopje, there is a fleeting opportunity to resolve the name dispute. But doing so will once again take bold U.S. leadership.

Policymakers routinely scoff at the name dispute as a “ridiculous” Balkan squabble. In fact, it’s quite serious. Solely because of its complaint that Macedonia has stolen Greek heritage—the legacy of Alexander the Great—Athens continues to block Macedonia’s membership in NATO and its advancement towards the EU. The vacuum leaves the country—and the region—in limbo. Without a clear pathway to Brussels, Macedonia’s democratic development has stalled, perpetuating anxieties that the country could be divided.

The same syndrome exists in divided Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, each of which faces structural hurdles to joining NATO or the EU. Irresponsible nationalists in those countries have made strident calls for territorial division, a step that would reopen the conflicts of the 1990s. Exacerbating these trends, Russia and Turkey have begun to actively undermine Western strategy in the region. Once thought to be an inexorable process, the incorporation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia into Euro-Atlantic institutions is now open to question

In other words, “plenty” is the answer to Shakespeare’s eternal question of “what’s in a name?” .

Read more: Macedonia's Biggest Problem: It's Called Macedonia | The National Interest

Britain: Scared about your human rights after Brexit? You should be - by Schona Jolly

There was a time, not so long ago, that David Davis was a great fan of the EU charter of fundamental rights. He liked it so much that he used it to take up a legal challenge against the snooper’s charter (brainchild of the-then home secretary Theresa May), which ended up in Luxembourg.

How times change. Yesterday’s draft repeal bill sees Davis knocking out the protection of the charter on the day that we exit the EU. That means a whole swath of rights and protections will be lost to British citizens if it goes through unamended. It’s true that we will still have the rights inherent in the European convention on human rights (ECHR), but the two frameworks are different. While there is some overlap, the EU charter takes up a gamut of protections which are increasingly important in our fast-evolving society.

Take the right to data protection, which Davis relied on with deputy Labour leader Tom Watson for the challenge (until Davis withdrew from the case) leading to the European court of justice ruling against the general and indiscriminate retention of emails or electronic communications by government, with serious implications for the snooper’s charter. Or take the protection of children’s rights, or the freestanding right to equality. As with every argument when human rights treaties are involved, it’s always worth digging to see precisely which rights people are comfortable about losing.

 Although May has declared her commitment to workers’ rights, her record on human rights is chequered. Meanwhile, the government’s position is dubious. The parliamentary joint committee of human rights expressed serious concern about the government’s approach to safeguarding individuals’ fundamental rights post-Brexit, other than those protected under the ECHR. It noted that the government “seemed unacceptably reluctant to discuss the issue of human rights after Brexit. The minister of state responsible for human rights was either unwilling or unable to tell us what the government saw as the most significant human rights issues.” Meanwhile the UN high commissioner for human rights recently issued strong words against May’s call for human rights to be overturned if they were to “get in the way” of the fight against terror”.

Rights don’t often seem as though they matter, until they do. By then, it might be too late. 

Read more: Scared about your human rights after Brexit? You should be | Schona Jolly | Opinion | The Guardian

US Wars: Wars are bleeding the US economy dry and the success rate of these wars? A bigger than life O

Investment in the US military versus return on investment?
Emily Larsen wrote in  the Daily Caller on Friday 8 November, that President Donald Trump claimed the U.S. has spent $7 trillion in the Middle East at a rally in Florida on Friday. This time he Presidewnt Trump seemed to have at least the some of the figures right  even thogh he might have mixed up the sequence of these figures..

Trump said: “We have spent as of two months ago almost $7 trillion in the Middle East,” Trump said. “And you know what we have? We have nothing. It’s worse than it was 17 years ago when they started.”

Trump made similar claims during the 2016 presidential election and in his first months in office, alluding to the cost of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Some figures from studies mainly, based on figures provided by the military estimate U.S. spending on wars in the Middle East is high, about $4.4 trillion, but not as high as Trump claims.

War spending in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria since 2001 is about $4.4 trillion, according to professor Neta Crawford from Brown University’s Costs of War project.

The Department of Defense (DOD) reported in June it had spent only $1.5 trillion on war-related costs since Sept. 11, 2001. But Crawford says that direct DOD spending doesn’t tell the whole story.

“War costs are more than what we spend in any one year on what’s called the pointy end of the spear,” she told The Wall Street Journal last month. “There are all these other costs behind the spear, and there are consequences of using it, that we need to include.”

Crawford’s $4.4 trillion figure includes costs through 2017 for operations overseas, medical and disability claims for veterans, counter terrorism efforts by the Department of Homeland Security and interest on borrowing for the wars.

Her estimate comes closer to Trump’s $7 trillion figure, when including expected future spending. When including expenditures for veteran health care through 2056 and estimated war costs for 2018, total war-related spending rises to $5.6 trillion.

A Harvard working paper from 2013 estimated that the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will total between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. These figures are also closer to Trump’s claim, but they are also based on cost estimates of veteran care for decades to come. Trump’s claim is based on costs to date.

Another factor is that the wars in the Middle East are financed almost entirely with debt. Crawford’s study estimates that accumulated interest on war appropriations through 2013 alone will add $7.9 trillion to the national debt by 2056. But, again, these are expected costs, not costs so far.

Note EU-Digest: the bottom line,whatever way one tries to juggle with the figures, is quite clear. The US is spending far too much on its military activities and basically have very little or nothing to show for it.  

Consequently, the EU must at least have the courage to also question these expenditure,  specially after President Trump scolded them for not paying their share of NATO expenditures. After all, what would otherwise be the purpose for EU nations to remain in the NATO?   

EU-Digest

12/13/17

Global Warming: World Bank won't back oil and gas projects after 2019


The World Bank has confirmed that it will stop financing upstream oil and gas projects after 2019 except under exceptional circumstances in the world's poorest countries.

The global financial institution made the announcement at climate summit in Paris on Tuesday, which took place roughly two years after the historic COP21 climate conference in the same city.

At Tuesday's summit, French insurance giant AXA announced that it will cease insuring the oilsands sector and new coal projects, and will divest more than US$3.5 billion from oilsands and coal companies. This includes divestment from energy giants TransCanada, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge, all of which have Canadian offices and are constructing major pipelines: Keystone XL, the Trans Mountain expansion and Line 3, respectively.

The announcements were among highlights of a one-day "One Planet Summit" attended by about 50 world leaders and 2,000 participants, including Canada and Quebec environment ministers, environmental organizations, business officials and public figures such as actor Sean Penn.

The goal was to find financial solutions to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and allocate more money to help developing countries that will help their transition to low-carbon economies in the fight against climate change.

“We’re determined to work with all of you to put the right policies in place, get market forces moving in the right direction, put the money on the table, and accelerate action,” World Bank president Jim Young Kim told the closing plenary.

Conference co-organizers, including the Government of France, the World Bank and the United Nations, called in advance of the summit for “concrete action” to reignite momentum as the United States remains absent from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. Reached in December 2015, the accord aims to keep global warming below 2°C this century.

“We are losing the battle,” French President Emmanuel Macron told participants. “The agreement has become fragile and we’re not going fast enough.”

Several financially stable countries and multilateral institutions made important pledges to help developing countries meet their commitments under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord on climate action.

That roadmap calls for the world to raise US$100-billion every year to help such countries meet their emissions goals by 2020. Last year however, the OECD estimated that only US$43 billion had been pledged, including $2.65 billion in funding from the Government of Canada by 2021

The absence of the United States remained bittersweet and disappointing for most participants, including California Governor Jerry Brown and former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who talked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “irresponsible” decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

But former New York mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg said he thought it had increased momentum.

“There isn't anything Washington can do to stop us, quite the contrary, I think that President Trump has helped rally people who understand the problem to join forces and to actually do something rather than waiting for the federal government to do something,” Bloomberg said at a press conference.

Bloomberg and several other major economic leaders, including Bank of England governor Mark Carney, announced 237 companies worth more than $6.3 trillion had committed to participate in a wide-reaching Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.

The task force aims to gather reliable data about the environmental metrics of its members, such as the carbon footprint of their operations.

According to the task force, only 20 per cent of major companies are currently reporting this kind of data. Bloomberg and his partners want to change that so CEOS, board members and shareholders can make informed decisions about their management practices and investment.

“Nobody would survive a board meeting where they said, 'I don't know that this risk is going to happen so let's just sit around and do nothing,'" said Bloomberg.

One of the task force members is AXA, the world’s third largest insurance company.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was among the world leaders who said private sector involvement in climate financing is urgent in the race against environmental catastrophe.

“We need to be smarter about this. We have to stop the old school way of thinking where governments are going to take actions,” she said at a panel. “We're missing a lot if we don't leverage the private sector.”

Responding to McKenna's comments however, Environmental Defense national program manager Dale Marshall emphasized that public financing will always be necessary.

“It's really hard to leverage private sector dollars to do adaptation work and that's really where governments need to step in with public money,” Marshall told National Observer.

Pembina Institute federal policy director Erin Flanagan made similar comments. National transitions to a low-carbon economy should be led by governments, she explained, and public policy must create a clear and assertive framework for the private sector, so it understands how it can support the green transition.

“If industry knows that the government is serious about achieving emissions neutrality by 2050, they will be less likely to build gas plants, they will be less likely to build new oil sands operations,” she told National Observer at the summit. “I think we still have a way to go at home to make sure that that consensus on the deadline is well developed.”

Meantime, McKenna unveiled a partnership with the World Bank to support developing countries’ transition away from traditional coal-fired electricity and toward clean energy. A press release said the parties would share best practices "on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities."

The partnership announcement came just as a Canadian and German environmental organizations released a report listing six Canadian financial companies among the world's top 100 investors in new coal plants. Friends of the Earth and Urgenwald looked at the top 100 private investors putting money down to expand coal-fired electricity — sometimes in places where there isn't any coal-generated power at the moment.

Together, Sun Life, Power Corporation, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife Financial and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have pledged $2.9 billion towards building new coal plants overseas, the report said.

Urgewald tracks coal plants around the world and reports there are 1,600 new plants in development in 62 nations, more than a dozen of which don't have any coal-fired plants now.

Read more: World Bank won't back oil and gas projects after 2019 | National Observer

Middle East: Europe might step in, if Trump's Mideast initiative fails- by Uri Savir

Rarely in recent years has there been so little talk in international corridors on Europe's role in the Middle East. With the Trump administration distancing itself from Brussels, the European Union (EU) has become isolated, and its worldwide influence has been weakened. In fact, US President Donald Trump is not hiding his disrespect for the EU and most of its leaders. He minced no words when talking of British Prime Minister Theresa May, despite his support of Brexit. The same — and more — is true regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel, over her immigration policies.

Today, leading EU countries are also less integrated given the Brexit talks, and Merkel’s domestic crisis. This leaves mainly European headquarters in Brussels and Paris active on the Middle Eastern front.

A senior source close to Federica Mogherini, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, told Al-Monitor that Mogherini maintains ongoing contact with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, including on Middle Eastern issues. Still, it seems that the administration only partially shares Trump’s policy initiatives with her. Trump's proclamation on Jerusalem certainly came as an unpleasant surprise. In fact, Mogherini had conveyed in recent weeks to Washington the EU's support of a US initiative for regional cooperation, as long as it does not harm the Iranian nuclear deal, and as long as it favors an Israeli-Palestinian peace in the form of a two-state solution. Mogherini had also conveyed Europe's strong objections to any new US policy on Jerusalem that could destabilize the region. In her chilly looking meeting with Tillerson in Brussels on Dec. 5, Mogherini reiterated Europe's objection to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. After Trump's proclamation, Mogherini was quick to state, "The European Union expresses serious concern about today’s announcement by the United States President Trump on Jerusalem and the repercussions this may have on the prospect of peace.''

The EU had also been warning both Washington and Jerusalem against settlement expansion in the West Bank. According to the senior official, Brussels is quietly supporting the Palestinian reconciliation agreement, and is in constant contact with Ramallah in order to sustain the Abbas regime. Europe has actually increased its economic assistance both to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said, “There is indeed an opportunity to advance an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution process, especially given the changes in Saudi Arabia for a more moderate Islam and Saudi pride over the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. We will support a Trump initiative in this direction. But if it fails, 2018 may very well witness an EU regional initiative, because the Israeli-Palestinian status quo cannot be sustained.”

A senior French Quai d’Orsay official echoed the view of the Brussels headquarters. French President Emmanuel Macron is the European leader closest to Trump. Macron decided early on in his presidency to keep an open line of communication with Trump, also on issues of disagreement such as the Paris climate agreement and the value of the Iran nuclear deal. The French president, argued the diplomat, toes the line with Washington on an anti-Islamic terror policy. Macron visited Riyadh on Nov. 9 and coordinated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman policies against radical terror, also in Lebanon and in Europe.

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Macron is letting Trump lead the way, for the moment at least. Macron is not following up on the Paris peace conferences on a two-state solution initiated by his predecessor Francois Hollande. Still, Macron's administration has espoused traditional French policy guidelines on a two-state solution. But while letting Trump go ahead with his Middle East initiative, Macron expressed his clear-cut objection to the Jerusalem proclamation, saying in a statement, "Jerusalem: France does not approve the US decision. France supports the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states." He added that conciliation and dialogue need to be fostered.

It seems that the prevailing approach both in Brussels and in Paris up until this weekend was “give Trump a chance.” The Jerusalem issue might alter this policy motto. But with or without that, in case of disappointment over the US initiative, the EU may be the one initiating. And if so, France would probably take the lead.

A senior PLO official close to Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Palestinian president is in close contact with the heads of the EU and is hoping for a European initiative, as he believes that Washington’s policies are tilted toward Israel.

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official reacted to these European statements with usual cynicism, saying on condition of anonymity that “as far as Israel is concerned, the only international player present in the Israeli-Palestinian field — be it this year, next year or thereafter — is the United

Read more: Europe might step in, if Trump's Mideast initiat

EU: Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees - by Nikolaj Nielsen

Perched on the side of a mountain some 50km from the Syrian border, St John's monastery in Lebanon is home to around a dozen hermits and priests.

A printing press that published books in Arabic, the world's first, can still be found within its halls.

Today, the monastery has become an educational refuge for Syrian children hoping for a future that was removed from them when the regime under Bashar al-Assad indiscriminately dropped barrel bombs on his own people.

In one class of around a dozen children, a 10-year old girl calls out the letters of the alphabet in French. Some have never attended school before.

Learning French is among many obstacles they face in an effort to insert them into a wider Lebanese public school system where they'll be segregated and most likely bullied.

"One of the main reasons why [Syrian refugee] children are out of school in Lebanon is language," said Poppy Alice Hardee, an area manager for the NGO, Terre des Hommes Italia.

Public schools in Lebanon are taught in English and in French, depending on the area, which puts Syrians at an immediate disadvantage.

Read More: Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

USA: Stinging LossFor Donald Trump in Alabama who Is Losing His Only Superpower - by Jeet Heer

Once it became clear that Doug Jones had won an upset victory over Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race on Tuesday, the immediate question was: How would the president take the news? Donald Trump, after all, was deeply invested in the race to replace former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Elevating Sessions to attorney general seemed like a safe move back in November of 2016. Alabama was a deep red state where, in the presidential election a week earlier, Trump had won 62 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 34; and in the 2014 Senate election, Sessions had won by a margin that even a communist dictator would admire: 97 percent of the vote.

But as it turned out, Alabama was a double loss for Trump. First, Alabama Republicans rejected Trump’s choice for the primary, Luther Strange, who had been appointed to Sessions’s seat in the interim. Instead, they went with a gleaming-eyed, fanatical Moore, a candidate so Trumpian that even Trump blanched at supporting. But, amazingly, even after credible allegations of child molestation surfaced against Moore, Trump decided that he would support the theocratic candidate, spending his political capital in a rally in neighboring Pensacola, Florida.  

Read more: Donald Trump Is Losing His Only Superpower | New Republic