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12/5/16

Weapons Industry: Global arms sales in 2015 reached €348 billion with US share €225.47 or 80% of total reports SIPRI

Global weapons industry sales reached  €348 billion in 2015
Arms sales went on a downward slide last year, falling by 0.6 percent compared to 2014, according to the latest analysis on the global arms industry by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The trade had been experiencing a downward trend since 2011, but the reduction in arms sales last year showed that the pace of decline had slowed.

Despite the decrease, arms sales for the world's top 100 companies in 2015 reached $370.7 billion (348 billion euros), the think tank said in its study, indicating that the sinking numbers were no sign that the world was getting more peaceful.

"It [arms sales] has decreased, but it is still over a third higher than it used to be in the early 2000s," Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI arms and military expenditure program, told DW. "It is slowing down, possibly indicating a reversal of the trend since 2010. So it is difficult to say at this stage …

There are contradictory trends all over the world and it is difficult to identify a clear trend so far," she added.

US firms remain on top of the arms sales industry.

Companies based in the US dominated the arms business, with total sales amounting to $209.7 billion (€225.47 Billion) , or more than 80 percent of the total arms business in the world. Lockheed Martin maintained its position as the largest arms producer on the planet.

EU-Digest

USA: Why Alec Baldwin Thinks Trump Tweets Signal Something Sinister

Before you dismiss President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Twitter tirade against Alec Baldwin, consider the actor’s response to the soon-to-be world leader.

Trump called Baldwin’s now famous impersonation of him “sad” on Saturday night, saying on Twitter that the actor’s bit on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” “just can’t get any worse.”

Read more: Why Alec Baldwin Thinks Trump Tweets Signal Something Sinister

Italy: Mateo Renzi Loss of no impact on EU as Euro hits two-week high - by T.Cunningham, B. Henderson, H. Yorke

The euro has jumped to its highest level in more than two weeks in volatile trading as markets shrugged off the outcome of the Italian constitutional referendum.

The single currency tumbled to a 21-month low overnight, dropping by as much as 1.4pc to $2.0505 against the dollar, after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi conceded defeat in a referendum over his plan to reform the constitution and said he would resign.

However, in mid-morning trade the euro  jumped back above $1.07 against the dollar in mid-morning trade as investors bet against an immediate snap election. It climbed by as much as 0.48pc to $1.0715, its highest level since November 17.

Note EU-Digest: the big plus for the EU was the defeat in Austria of the Conservative Populist party last night - as to Italy it seems like business as usual.

EU-Digest

12/4/16

ITALY: Renzi big loss in referendum and he resigns

Via euronews: Italian PM suffers heavy defeat in constitutional vote

Read the full report - click here

EU: ECB caught in monetary policy maelstrom

The European Central Bank (ECB) has done everything in its power to fuel inflation and boost economic growth, but has had limited success. Now, risks and side effects are becoming more evident.

During the height of the euro crisis in the summer of 2012, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi pledged he would save the euro "whatever it takes." His rhetoric abruptly quieted down financial speculation against several eurozone member states.

Thereafter, the ECB cut interest rates until its key refinancing rate hit zero percent this spring. In addition, commercial banks holding money with the ECB are being punished with a negative deposit rate. Moreover, the central bank supports struggling banks with emergency loans and free credit. After all, the ECB has launched a massive asset-buying program, also known as Quantitative Easing (QE) in the spring of 2015, meaning the bank acquires government and company debts at large scale, thus effectively printing and circulating more and more money.

Not surprisingly, Draghi appears happy with his extremely accomodative monetary policy. After all, inflation, credit volume and economic growth have all been on the rise in the eurozone, if only modestly. But take a closer look and it's hard to share Draghi's optimism. The return of inflation at very low levels - the last number was 0.5 percent - can be primarily traced back to rebounding price of crude oil and groceries.

By contrast, eurozone members fiscal policies have had precious little little effect on those mark-ups. The gush of newly-minted euros, instead, is keeping "zombie banks" and "zombi companies" artificially alive, as it fails to kickstart anemic growth in the euro currency area..

It isn't entirely speculative, therefore, that the ECB's monetary policy is part of the problem, not the solution. Deutsche Bank economist Stefan Schneider told DW that the willingness of eurozone governments to reform their economies has "markedly dropped after Draghi's whatever-it-takes announcement, especially in countries at the bloc's southern periphery" - a fact that has also been substantiated by OECD analyses, he adds.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that higher interest rates before the 2012 debt crisis, had forced governments of crisis states to implement more than half of OECD's recommended growth initiatives. Last year, however, this share dropped to below 20 percent. This shouldn't come as a surprise: Draghi's promise, in conjunction with the bond purchase program, has minimized the difference in interest rates between German sovereign debt and those of crisis-hit states in the south of Europe. Without psychological strains, it is doubtful that politicians will go through with unpopular reforms when there is no fiscal pressure.

Read more: ECB caught in monetary policy maelstrom | NRS-Import | DW.COM | 02.12.2016

Austria: Left-leaning 'professor' Van der Bellen to become Austria's new president

Independent candidate and former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen – affectionately known as "the professor" among his supporters – won Austria's presidential election on Sunday over right-wing populist Norbert Hofe.

Read more: Left-leaning 'professor' Van der Bellen to become Austria's new president - France 24

UN expert says: Torture and abuse ′widespread′ in Turkey following July coup bid

The UN's special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, told reporters in Ankara on Friday that measures taken in Turkey following the July coup attempt had created an "environment conducive to torture."

"Testimonies received from inmates and their lawyers suggest that in the days and weeks following the failed coup torture and other forms of ill treatment were widespread," he said.

Melzer's made the comments after a six-day tour of Turkey to investigate allegations of torture. His visit comes one month after US watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Turkish police of torturing detainees arrested in connection with coup attempt.

The UN rapporteur also cautioned that Turkey's prisons and holding cells were often overcrowded: "Most facilities visited were overcrowded, with occupancy ranging from 125 to more than 200 per cent of the actual capacity." However, Melzer also noted that, after visiting facilities in Ankara, Diyarbakir, Sanliura and Istanbul, the overall conditions were generally satisfactory.

Recent legislation and statutory decrees passed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had created a "climate of intimidation," he said, discouraging victims from filing complaints or speaking out about their abuse.

"Holding cells, currently keeping individuals for up 30 days without any access to fresh air, are not suitable to detain anyone for more than 48 hours," Melzer said.

Sweeping security measures adopted as part of Turkey's state of emergency, which was extended by 12 weeks in October, mean that people are held in custody without judicial review for up to 30 days and without access to a lawyer for five days, according to Melzer.

"Worldwide experience shows us that it is precisely in the first hours and days after arrest that the risk of abuse, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment, is highest," he said, urging the Turkish government to live up its declared "zero-tolerance" policy on torture.

Read more: UN expert: Torture and abuse ′widespread′ in Turkey following July coup bid | News | DW.COM | 02.12.2016

USA - Trump and His Betraying Makeover - by Ralph Nader

Attention workers who voted for Trump, either eagerly or as a vote against the hawkish, Wall Street favorite, Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump, less than a month after the election, has already begun to betray you.

You can often see where a president-elect is going by his nominations to high positions in his forthcoming administration. Across over a dozen crucial posts, Mr. Trump has chosen war hawks, Wall Streeters (with a former Goldman Sachs partner, Steven Mnuchin, as his pick for Treasury Secretary) and clenched teeth corporatists determined to jettison life-saving, injury and disease preventing regulations and leave bigger holes in your consumer pocketbooks.

In addition to lacking a mandate from the people (he lost the popular vote), the president-elect continues to believe that mere showboating will distract from his breathtaking flip-flops in his campaign rhetoric. Remember his last big TV ad where he blasted “a global power structure” responsible “for robbing the working class” with images of Goldman Sachs flashing across the screen?

Fast forward several weeks and he has selected cabinet secretaries who want to dismantle the public school system with your taxes going to private schools, reduce regulation of banks, cut consumer protections and weaken labor laws and job safety standards. Other appointees say they want to privatize Medicare, which has led health insurance company stocks to soar, and some want to transfer Medicaid to even more hostile state manipulations.

Regarding national security, his White House advisors are advocates of imperial intervention and bombing Iran. Trump wants to renege on the Iran nuclear agreements the U.S. made with a dozen leading nations and risk escalation of hostilities. Granted, Trump did talk about the Iran deal, with little knowledge of its careful safeguards and ongoing implementation. He also told voters that he didn’t believe in the U.S. policing the world with costly military might.

Perhaps the best sign of where Trump is heading comes from the major surge in the stock markets, the booming bank stocks anticipating looser regulations so they can speculate more readily with “other peoples’ money” and industries looking forward to more easily emitting pollutants into your air, water, and soil.

As an accomplished sleight-of-hand specialist – a failed gambling czar who always jumped ship with his gold and left his workers, creditors and shareholders stranded – Trump recently traveled to Indiana to brag about the decision by Carrier to keep intact 800 of the 2000 jobs it plans to ship to Mexico. You’ll recall Trump made Carrier, a subsidiary of giant United Technology (UT), his poster-child for showing how the U.S. is losing jobs under NAFTA.

Well Trump’s boast, for starters, will cost Indiana taxpayers $7 million for Carrier to agree, with presumably, additional goodies for United Technologies coming later. Already, UT and Carrier have long been loaded up with tax and other “incentives,” subsidies and all the complex corporate welfare that defense companies receive from the Pentagon.

Being a long-time recipient himself of crony capitalism, Trump hopes that his working class supporters will never catch on to this kind of back room “deal-making” when he is in the White House. Big corporations are drooling at the prospect of further tax cuts, weaker law and order (e.g. deregulation) and the many sub-visible freebies of the corporate welfare state.

Guess who gets left holding the bag? Why, you, of course, the workers and small taxpayers. Stay tuned, for more corporatists, Wall Streeters and militarists are on their way to Trump’s Washington.

A French writer once said, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Then there is Trump’s highly bruiseable and dangerous ego, as he gets up at 3am to tweet his mad impulses and false assertions.

Trump doesn’t like to be accused of disloyalty by workers who supported him. Therein lies some leverage. Laborers, who were crucial to the Boaster’s Electoral College victory, will have many opportunities to laser-focus on Trump’s betrayals in very personal ways. They should take them.

Read more: Trump and His Betraying Makeover

Egypt: Christians Under the Gun in Egypt

The end of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt meant big changes. But just not for the country's beleaguered Christians.

Sadly, news about the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is nothing new. In parts of Iraq and Syria the situation has gotten so bad that the Obama administration declared ISIS' actions to be "genocide."

But a recent story about the persecution of Christians in the region didn't come out of the Levant, but instead, out of Egypt.

Now if this story sounds familiar, that's because, sadly, it is. For years we've been talking on BreakPoint about the plight of Egypt's native Christians, known as the Copts.

As I said back in 2013, "Egypt [is] central to the birth of Christianity." It's right there in Scripture: it was to Egypt that the Holy Family fled from Herod. And Egypt produced some of Christianity's greatest minds such as Origen and the great defender of orthodoxy, Athanasius. The father of monasticism, Anthony, was also Egyptian, and for much of the Church's early history, Alexandria was the mind and soul of the faith.

"Egypt was Christian for six centuries before the coming of Islam," and the people we call "Copts" are the descendants of those who kept the faith in the face of enormous pressure to abandon it.

Those pressures continue to this day. Even under non-Islamist governments, Copts are, at best, second-class citizens. They're harassed at every turn. For instance, repairing their churches, never mind building a new one, requires overcoming huge obstacles.

And that's under relatively "friendly" regimes. When the Muslim Brotherhood took power following the "Arab Spring," they faced what Nina Shea called "jihad" in which it was "open season" on them and their institutions.

Read more: Christians Under the Gun in Egypt

12/3/16

Saudis Brace for Bankruptcy, Bring Dramatic Measures to Public Sector

A two-year drop in oil prices has inflicted a dramatic blow to the economy of one of the world’s richest countries. If no changes are made, Saudi Arabia, according to some Saudi experts, will go bankrupt in three to four years.

Since 90 percent of the kingdom's income is derived from oil exports, the price drop, from over $110 per barrel in mid 2014 to a low of just over $30 recently, is a disaster, as national monetary reserves are depleted at a  breathtaking rate.

In 2015, Saudi foreign reserves were estimated at $654.5 billion, after the Saudi monetary agency lost almost $73 billion following the oil price drop, according to a 2015 Al Jazeera report. The monetary agency also withdrew some $70 billion managed by overseas financial institutions, and the state budget deficit that year was estimated at $98 billion.

This year's budget deficit is expected to be only slightly smaller. Riyadh, in an unprecedented move, offered its first international bond sale last week, worth $17.5 billion, to bring in additional much-needed cash.

Read more{ Saudis Brace for Bankruptcy, Bring Dramatic Measures to Public Sect

USA - Donald Trump Presidency: Two-thirds of Trump voters viewed the election as America’s last chance - by Philip Bump

 One of the more common refrains during America's nearly ever-present campaign season is that this election, this year, is the most important of our lives. We documented this in July, noting that it was first used in one form or another back in 1856, but has been common since at least 1980. Why is each election most important? Well, that's often a bit more nebulous.

According to a new survey from PRRI and The Atlantic, we can describe one way in which voters in 2016 felt this was the most important election in history. Forty-one percent of respondents — including two-thirds of those who voted for Donald Trump — felt that the 2016 election was critical because it was our last chance to "stop America's decline."

Read more: Two-thirds of Trump voters viewed the election as America’s last chance - The Washington Post

Nuclear Holocaust; The Coming War on China - by John Pilger

The Unthinkable - Could it happen again?
When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, “disappeared”, a political embarrassment.

I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency.  The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.

The great danger this beckons is not news, or it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.

Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.

To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia”, which meant that almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one US strategist, “the perfect noose”.

Read more: The Coming War on China