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4/26/17

French Presidential Elections: Can France's 'new man' prevail?-by Trudy Rubin

 Trudy RubinTrudy RubinThe final vote for the next French president, on May 7, will not only be critical for all of Europe but will have a major impact on the United States.

Despite their country's political and cultural differences from America, the French are going through an election upheaval that is amazingly similar to the convulsion that produced Donald Trump. The country is split between the winners from an open, globalized society and the losers who feel abandoned by traditional politicians.

On Sunday, in a first-round ballot with a field of 11 candidates, voters rejected mainstream parties of left and right, along with a host of independent candidates. The top two choices for a runoff were a political novice, Emmanuel Macron, who heads a new centrist party and supports an open society, closely followed by the populist, immigration-bashing nationalist, Marine Le Pen.

The polls show Macron ahead by 20 percent, yet - in these strange times - the outcome is far from certain. Should Le Pen pull an upset, we could see the collapse of NATO and the European Union and a further surge of populism on the continent.

In conversations this week with the current French ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, and a former French ambassador Pierre Vimont, I heard serious concerns about the likely results.

"I would bet yes for Macron," says Araud, who was in Philly speaking for the French-American Chamber of Commerce and at Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania. But then the ambassador listed his caveats.

Le Pen appeals to those who have been hurt by free trade agreements or automation. "It's not by chance that Hillary Clinton lost in the [U.S.] rust belt," he says, "and Marine Le Pen has done well in the French rust belt." Moreover, says Araud, the problem goes well beyond the issue of trade. "Ahead of us we have more automation, so how do we retrain a 45-year-old truck driver? We are facing a real problem that may worsen.

"As in America, the result in Europe is that we increasingly have dual societies, where 50 percent are quite comfortable and confident, and the other part of the population is suffering, with their income stagnating and dropping. They are looking for scapegoats, like immigrants."

This new political climate has helped Le Pen overcome the long-standing French distaste for the neo-fascist origins of her National Front Party. She has disavowed the party's anti-Semitic founder, her father, who advanced to the second round in 2002 presidential elections but then lost 80 percent to 20 percent.

Araud fears that Le Pen could win "because Macron is an unknown quantity and he will need people from the left and right to vote for him." That poses a problem which may look familiar to Clinton's supporters. In the first round of voting, third place with 20 percent of the ballots went to a far leftist with a certain resemblance to Bernie Sanders; many French Berniacs, including young activists, say they will never vote Macron, while some may switch to Le Pen.

Some voters for the fourth-place candidate, from France's conservative Republicans Party, may also vote Le Pen. And many disgruntled voters may stay home.

So the future of Europe depends on this: whether the 39-year-old Macron, a banker whose only political experience was a brief stint as economics minister for the current socialist government, can convince enough French voters that he offers new answers for a divided country.

Note EU-Digest: We can only hope the French voters contraruto the US voters will vote with their head and not vote for candidate Le Pen who is not only supported by Putin, but who will also destroy France and the EU.

Read more:Can France's 'new man' prevail?

USA: Trump tax plan needs dynamic scoring to justify budget - by Linette Lopez

We now know a bit more about President Donald Trump's massive tax cut, which he has called "the biggest in history."

We know it's intended to be a simplification that would cut corporate tax rates to 15% and eliminate deductions and things like the alternative minimum tax, which would be a big deal for Trump himself.

We know that, according to the Tax Policy Center, the corporate tax cut alone could cost the country $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

Most importantly, we know that if the plan has any hope of survival, its architects must engage in a massive generational theft, and they would use a classic budget trick to pull it off.

The trick is a method is called dynamic scoring, which in reality is just a fancy way of justifying massive increases in the national debt.

"As we said, we're working on a lot of details," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said during a press conference on Wednesday to unveil the plan. "This will pay for itself with growth and reduced deductions."

Dynamic scoring has to do with the "growth" part of Mnuchin's explanation. To make tax cuts that look as if they wouldn't put a massive hole in the budget, policy wonks estimate the future benefit of tax cuts to the economy after making a load of assumptions — including about what a future government might do in response to falling tax revenue.

Those imagined benefits are then added to future budget projections, and — BOOM — you've got a healthy-looking balance sheet for America.

Now, you might think that so-called fiscally conservative Republicans would be opposed to things like this and that Trump might face opposition from his party.

But he won't. That's because there is a way to make Washington's budgets sound more sensible than they are. That's where dynamic scoring, much beloved by deficit hawks like House Speaker Paul Ryan, comes in.

The Republican-controlled House adopted dynamic scoring last year, but it's still up for debate in the Senate, where opponents like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have been critical of the practice. They say it politicizes the budgeting process.

That's in part because there's no exact way to dynamically score anything. This is not a science. There's no set process, and there are no set rules on the assumptions made. For example, Mnuchin said during the press conference that his office was playing with a bunch of different models. (That's reassuring.) 

Read more: Trump tax plan needs dynamic scoring to justify budget - Business Insider

EU-Electric Car Market: E-mobility and the growth of the electric vehicle in a decarbonized Europe – by ENEL

Mercedes Electric Car
Last November, the European Commission presented a package of clean energy initiatives with the aim of achieving global leadership in renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. The package seeks to provide a fair deal for consumers and support the EU’s commitment to cutting CO2 emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030.

The so called “jumbo package” also includes specific measures to support e-mobility, such as promoting the installation of recharging points in new, non-residential buildings. With these measures, there is a commitment to use renewable electricity in transport and to ensure renewable sources and new technologies are integrated and allowed to compete on a level playing field.

It is hoped that these changes will improve the penetration of electric vehicles (EVs) in the transport sector. Figures currently estimate their market share to be well under 1 percent, although analysts predict a potential upsurge that could see this figure as high as 35 percent by 2035.

“E-mobility has the potential to be a game changer,” explains Simone Mori, Executive Vice President for European Affairs at Enel. “It can help to deliver a whole range of inter-connected benefits, from cleaner air and less pollution, to greater energy security. But barriers exist and these need to be pulled down if these benefits are to be realized.”

EVs are also supporting the market for renewable energy sources (RES), with car batteries offering new opportunities for grid-connected storage and bringing “prosumers” into the electricity market.

A key to this is the continued development of innovative Vehichle2Grid (V2G) technology, which allows managing bi-directional flows between the EV’s battery and the electric grid. By acting as a “virtual power plant,” they can sell the energy back to the grid and help the system operator improve reliability by balancing supply with demand. Enel is currently working on major V2G programs in Denmark and the U.K., with the goal of introducing it to other European cities.

There are further wins for both consumers and the environment. Building the market share of EVs means a higher use of electricity in satisfying consumers’ energy needs in transport, which improves energy efficiency by reducing primary energy needs. In fact, evidence shows that in the past decade, as the use of electricity as an energy carrier has grown, the economy’s energy intensity — the ratio between final energy consumption and GDP — has decreased, providing the tangible proof of the benefits of electrification. In particular, EVs can be three to four times more energy efficient than conventional cars, therefore they bring greater energy security to Europe by reducing energy imports. With poor air quality currently exposing urban populations to numerous health risks, e-mobility can dramatically reduce air pollution in our cities.

Read More: Decarbonizing Europe By Growing The Electric  Vehicle Market Politico

4/25/17

Germany: Ivanka Trump gets booed, hissed at during Berlin event – by Annie Karni

Ivanka Trump arrived in Berlin Tuesday morning armed with facts and figures to recite at what was expected to be a high-brow international summit to discuss women entrepreneurship, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But on her first international trip as an official representative of the United States, the first daughter was put on the spot about her father’s attitudes toward women, booed and hissed at by the crowd, and grilled by the moderator about what, exactly, her role is in President Donald Trump’s administration.
“You’re the first daughter of the United States, and you’re also an assistant to the president,” the moderator, WirtschaftsWoche editor-in-chief Miriam Meckel, said.

“The German audience is not that familiar with the concept of a first daughter. I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing, your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?”

It was an aggressive opening for the first daughter, who was seated next to Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and one seat down from Merkel. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands was also a participant on the W20 panel. And it appeared to put her on the spot.

She did not define what her new role as a senior White House official entailed, but said that she cared “very much about empowering women in the workplace” and defined her goal as enacting “incremental positive change. That is my goal. This is very early for me, I’m listening, learning.”

But she was booed and hissed at by the majority-women audience at the conference when she lauded her father for supporting paid leave policies. “I’m very proud of my father’s advocacy,” she said, calling him “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive.”

Meckel, the moderator, pushed her to address the vocal disapproval from the audience.

“You hear the reaction from the audience,” she said. “I need to address one more point — some attitudes toward women your father has displayed might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empower-er for women.”

 She defended her father from her vantage point of loyal daughter — a familiar crouch from when she was confronted by uncomfortable questions about her father on the campaign.

A private meeting with Merkel, a privilege normally reserved for the most senior foreign representatives, was not on Ivanka Trump’s agenda.

And despite the insistence of the White House that Ivanka Trump was invited to attend the panel by Merkel in her role as a senior White House official a  German government spokesman also stressed that, contrary to reports that Merkel had personally asked Ivanka Trump to attend the conference, she was in fact invited by two women’s groups organizing the event.

“The Chancellor didn’t invite her,” spokesman Georg Streiter said during a press briefing on Monday. Streiter added that after Merkel’s “pleasant discussion” with Ivanka Trump in Washington, she signalled to the organizers that she would welcome Ivanka Trump’s participation.

Read more: Ivanka Trump gets booed, hissed at during Berlin event – POLITI

EU-US Trade Deal: TTIP stumbles on - by Peter Sharpless

The much-discussed Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership is on the verge of collapse after the French government threatened to stop the deal at its present stage due to concerns over effects on the environment and consumer rights.

This comes amid a scandal after Dutch Greenpeace leaked documents from the negotiations between U.S. and E.U. officials. The talks have been held mostly in secret but what is known about the negotiations concerns Trade Unions, campaign and environmental groups all over Europe.

What is TTIP? - TTIP is a trade agreement which is being negotiated between the E.U. and the U.S. since last February. The aim of the agreement is to reduce the regulatory barriers on trade for big business and come to a mutual recognition of each other’s trade standards. Something which could potentially affect things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations. It has been hotly debated how far along negotiations actually are, but a chart that has been leaked states that they’re at an advanced level.

The deal isn’t completely dead in the water but it is struggling for air; and it is looking increasingly unlikely after these latest setbacks that the deal will get the go ahead. For the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to become law it requires ratifying by each one of the 28 member states of the E.U.; and with protests springing up and persisting in various European cites, it is an uphill challenge in which the hill keeps growing to get TTIP enshrined in law. This latest round of negotiations was the 13th and on conclusion of the round the EU’s chief negotiator for TTIP Ignacio Garcia Bercero said in a statement: “On the E.U. side we are ready to work hard to try to conclude these negotiations in 2016 but, only if the substance of the deal is right. It needs to be the most ambitious, balanced and comprehensive agreement ever concluded between either us or the U.S.”

Read more: TIP stumbles on | Holland Times

4/24/17

USA: Trump Administration: Trump's 100-days promises: A long way to go on most of them - by J. Colvin and C. Woodward

Sure enough, the big trans-Pacific trade deal is toast, climate change action is on the ropes and various regulations from the Obama era have been scrapped. It's also a safe bet President Donald Trump hasn't raced a bicycle since Jan. 20, keeping that vow.

Add a Supreme Court justice — no small feat — and call these promises kept.

But where's that wall? Or the promised trade punishment against China — will the Chinese get off scot-free from "the greatest theft in the history of the world"? What about that "easy" replacement for Obamacare? How about the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and huge tax cut that were supposed to be in motion by now?

Trump's road to the White House, paved in big, sometimes impossible pledges, has detoured onto a byway of promises deferred or left behind, an AP analysis found.

Of 38 specific promises Trump made in his 100-day "contract" with voters — "This is my pledge to you" — he's accomplished 10, mostly through executive orders that don't require legislation, such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

He's abandoned several and failed to deliver quickly on others, stymied at times by a divided Republican Party and resistant federal judges. Of 10 promises that require Congress to act, none has been achieved and most have not been introduced.

"I've done more than any other president in the first 100 days," the president bragged in a recent interview with AP, even as he criticized the marker as an "artificial barrier."

In truth, his 100-day plan remains mostly a to-do list that will spill over well beyond Saturday, his 100th day.

It was not what you call a success story for President Trump these 100 first days.

Read more: Trump's 100-days promises: A long way to go on most of them

French Presidential elections: Parties in France Unite Against Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Penn is expected to have great difficulty in overcoming the united opposition of all other French mainstream political parties now united against her in support of Emmanuel Macron, the Centrist Candidate

Read more: Parties in France Unite Against Marine Le Pen - The New York Times

EU - Merkel Trumps U.S. Putting EU Ahead Of Britain In 'Trade Queue,' Begs Questions - by Roger Aitken

Shock, horror! U.S. President Donald Trump may prioritize the European Union (EU) over Britain for a trade deal following discussions in Washington with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Remainers in the UK weren’t surprised and reacted with heavy sarcasm. But what does it mean for UK export and investment prospects?

Alastair Campbell, journalist, broadcaster and Downing Street press secretary under former Prime Minister (PM) Tony Blair, tweeted this weekend following news reported in The Times: “What's that Times front page I see? Trump putting EU deal ahead of UK? But they held hands...surely not?

Another ex-journalist who worked for the BBC, Ben Bradshaw, Labour politician and MP for Exeter, wrote on the same social media channel: “Trump puts EU before UK in trade deal - what a surprise! Another reason why leaving the Single Market & Customs Union would be madness.

It all comes within days of British PM Theresa May calling a snap general election that is scheduled for June 8. Hold onto your seats.

According to the report in The Times, the U.S. could forge a free-trade agreement with the EU bloc now that Trump had a change of heart on the issue after Frau Merkel persuaded the New York-billionaire to warm to the idea and became convinced it would be easier than he first thought.

That said, it apparently didn’t stop ‘The Donald’ from asking Merkel - in the first meeting between the West's pre-eminent leaders - no less than ten times if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany according to a senior German politician who was quoted in the report.

Read more: Merkel Trumps U.S. Putting EU Ahead Of Britain In 'Trade Queue,' Begs Questions

Suriname: A struggling country's past and future shaped by Alcoa and its aluminum - by Rich Lord and Len Boselovic

Suriname: The Brokopondo dam at Afobaka
The following excerpts come from a lengthy and fascinating  report in the US Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Pulitzer Center , describing the Multi-National Aluminum Company of America's exploitation of  Suriname's (a former Dutch colony on the North East Coast of South America) natural resources (bauxite deposits) since 1916. 

It must be noted that several governments, especially in Latin America and Africa, have been receptive to the negative images and have adopted hostile policies towards MNCs. 

However, a careful examination of the nature of MNCs and their operations in the Third World reveals a positive image of them, especially as the allies in the development process of these countries.

Even as MNCs may be motivated primarily by profits to invest in the Third World, the morality of their activities in improving the material lives of many in these countries should not be obscured through miss-perceptions and negative publicity usually circulated by corrupt local governments.

"It electrified this South American country even as it drowned a jungle, so the 1.2-mile-long dam Alcoa built here to harness the Suriname River is more than stone and turbines. It’s a symbol, in this tropical land of 560,000, of progress, trauma and a global company’s ability to dominate a little country’s landscape and society.

Now the Alcoa Corp. is leaving Suriname, and the Afobaka Dam’s future rivets everyone from the capital’s dealmakers to the forest’s subsistence farmers.

In a country just north of the equator that would fit within a combined Pennsylvania and West Virginia — a country that’s already in a downturn locals call “the crisis” — Alcoa’s decision to permanently end mining and refining has delivered a resonating blow.

Alcoa, the aluminum company founded in Pittsburgh in 1888 that eventually spanned six continents, set up shop here in 1916 when it found bauxite beneath the jungle floor. Cutthroat conditions in the global aluminum market compelled a shutdown in November 2015.

Halfway through that century, Alcoa finished the dam, flooding a forest people’s heartland but also jolting a plantation-based economy into the industrial age. Alcoa created mammoth mining and refining sites and raucous river towns, building a middle class while toughing out a nation’s independence, civil war and an unstable government.

Alcoa found in Suriname, circa 1916, “an almost forgotten and impoverished Dutch colony … which had to look forward to a future without a glimmer of hope,” according to a glossy, celebratory magazine the company produced in late 2014.

It was a land of subsistence farms and wild rubber extraction, plus “colonial plantations” producing cocoa, coffee and sugar. In Alcoa’s first half-century there, the company mined bauxite to the east and south of the capital and sent it abroad, by boat, for processing.

In 1958, the company, the local minister-president and the Dutch governor agreed on a plan to power an ore-to-aluminum industrial complex and signed the 75-year Brokopondo Agreement, named for the town just north of the proposed dam site.

From 1959 through 1965, Alcoa built the Afobaka Dam, and in Paranam a refinery to turn bauxite into alumina, and a smelter to convert that to aluminum ingots. The plans were crafted “on the drawing table of Alcoa’s Engineering Department in Pittsburgh,” according to a company history of the project.

The lengthy Brokopondo Agreement contained just one sentence about the 6,000 people living in 43 villages just upstream of the dam — leaving it to the government to “remove the population, the buildings and other property from the reservoir area.”

The lengthy Brokopondo Agreement contained just one sentence about the 6,000 people living in 43 villages just upstream of the dam — leaving it to the government to “remove the population, the buildings and other property from the reservoir area.”

The 1958 agreement gave Suriname’s government a fraction of the dam’s cheap electricity priced at 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour. But circumstances changed in 1999 when Alcoa closed the smelter, a big user of the dam’s electricity.

Although many say the smelter’s small size and environmental issues were the reasons for the shutdown, there was a nagging suspicion among some that Alcoa had another motive.

Henk Ramdin, Suralco’s general manager until retiring shortly before the smelter was shuttered, said many employees at the time believed the company could make more money selling the power than it could making aluminum.

“They didn’t say it openly, but I could feel it,” Mr. Ramdin recalled.

An Alcoa spokesman wrote that such decisions are based on “a comprehensive evaluation of market conditions, regulatory certainty, and capital requirements,” but declined to be more specific.

The dispute over the dam and electricity pricing came to head in October 2015, when Alcoa and Suriname’s current minister of natural resources signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding outlining proposed terms for Alcoa’s departure.

Alcoa agreed to clean up its mines and industrial sites to U.S. standards, to consider eventual mining of bauxite in western Suriname, and to give the dam to the country’s government at the end of 2019 — 13 years before the Brokopondo Agreement ended."

For the complete report click here: A struggling country's past and future shaped by Alcoa and its aluminum | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette