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Grim reality of Serbia's EU 'dream'

A blizzard of platitudes has been unleashed by Europe's leaders this week as Serbia formally applies for EU membership. No opportunity to declare the occasion "historic" or to assert that Serbia has a European "vocation" is being passed up. Yet once these asinine buzzwords have been uttered, there will be no reason to rejoice. Belgrade's treatment by some EU governments has long been characterised by a brazen hypocrisy. Until the beginning of this month, the Netherlands was blocking Serbia's efforts to strengthen its relations with the union over suspicions it was not co-operating fully with the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

For the complete report: Grim reality of Serbia's EU 'dream' | David Cronin | Comment is free |

Finland: Six dead in mall shooting - gun control laws in Findland not up to EU standards

Finnish police have confirmed they have found the body of a gunman responsible for killing five people in a shooting rampage in the southern city of Espoo.

Investigators said 43-year-old Ibrahim Shkupolli shot dead three men and a woman with a 9mm pistol at a grocery shop inside the Sello shopping centre.

One of the shop's employees, Shkupolli's ex-girlfriend, was later found dead at a flat in the city.

For the complete report: BBC News - Police account of Finland mall shooting

Lets hear it for small local banks and get rid of the Banking Oligarchs

America's Main Street community banks -- the vast majority of which avoided the banquet of greed and corruption that created the toxic economic swamp we are still fighting to get ourselves out of -- are struggling. Many of them have closed down (or been taken over by the FDIC) over the last 12 months. The government policy of protecting the Too Big and Politically Connected to Fail is badly hurting the small banks, which are having a much harder time competing in the financial marketplace. As a result, a system which was already dangerously concentrated at the top has only become more so.

For the complete report: Take Your Money Out of the Hands of the Banking Oligarchs | | AlterNet

Complete body scan machines still not in use everywhere

On Tuesday, a devastating report in The Washington Post revealed that the full-body scanning equipment hyped after 9/11, which might have detected the explosives involved in last week’s incident, is still not in wide use. As the Post stated, “A plan that would have helped focus the development of better screening technology and procedures—including a risk-based assessment of aviation threats—is almost two years overdue, according to a report this fall by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.”

So, screening equipment that can detect plastic explosives exists, but it was not used in this case and, as the GAO predicted, “TSA cannot ensure that it is targeting the highest priority security needs at checkpoints; measure the extent to which deployed technologies reduce the risk of terrorist attacks; or make needed adjustments to its PSP [Passenger Screening Program] strategy.” As a result, the GAO concluded: “TSA lacks assurance that its investments in screening technologies address the highest priority security needs at airport passenger checkpoints.”

Robert Scheer: The Global War on Stealth Underwear - Robert Scheer's Columns - Truthdig


The war on drugs is not working; a new approach is needed

Morally there is little doubt the abuse of narcotics is wrong, and scientifically there is little doubt it is unhealthy both physically and mentally.

However, the way in which most Western Governments look at shielding society from the dangers of illegal drugs may be lacking. US President Richard Nixon coined the phrase “War on Drugs” back in the 1960s. Since then, America has waged this war, but with little success.

The 701st wealthiest individual in the world for the year 2009, according to Forbes Magazine, is Joaquin Guzman Loera. Senor Loera of Mexico is not a telecom or oil tycoon — he is a shipping tycoon, specializing in drug trafficking, and worth over $1 billion.

For the year 2009, Mexico is reporting more than 6,000 drug trafficking-related murders; 2,500 of those are in a border town, Ciudad Juarez, where 7,000 have been orphaned and nearly 100,000 citizens have fled — most across the Rio Grande into Texas. All of this with 6,000 Mexican troops policing the area.

Note EU-Digest: the EU is also loosing the battle against drug trafficking. It needs to overhaul all the present battle plans against traffickers, to include more innovative programs of surveillance and by increasing the penalties for traffickers and illegal users who are apprehended.

The war on drugs is not working; a new approach is needed - by Worth Richardson - Culpeper Star-Exponent

Britain: Is Alcohol England's Most Dangerous Drug

Professor Nutt has amplified his views on the dangers of alcohol. It was alcohol, he says, that was the ‘gateway drug’ and it remained the greatest threat to society. The Government’s failure to address the problem epitomised its disregard for scientific evidence. Professor Nutt said that the comparison he made between the harm caused by alcohol and Ecstasy, which led to his dismissal as Head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, ‘was incontrovertible’.

“When I say alcohol is more dangerous than Ecstasy, cannabis and LSD, I mean it, and the council means it,” Professor Nutt said. “The Government has to wake up to this time bomb and the health risks of alcohol. Across the political spectrum everyone knows that alcohol is the biggest killer.” He added: “If alcohol was discovered tomorrow it would definitely be illegal. It’s a dangerous drug — there’s no doubt about that. There is an issue about understanding that it’s alcohol that will kill people’s kids, not Ecstasy.”

Professor Nutt advocated the tripling of alcohol prices, with taxation the most obvious way of achieving this.

For additionalinformation : Is Alcohol England's Most Dangerous Drug | Gov Monitor

Pressure rises to stop antibiotics in agriculture

"The rise in the use of antibiotics is part of a growing problem of soaring drug resistance worldwide, The Associated Press found in a six-month look at the issue. As a result, killer diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and staph are resurging in new and more deadly forms.

In response, the pressure against the use of antibiotics in agriculture is rising. The World Health Organization concluded this year that surging antibiotic resistance is one of the leading threats to human health, and the White House last month said the problem is 'urgent.'"

For the complete report: Pressure rises to stop antibiotics in agriculture - BusinessWeek

Finland revises economic decline to 7.6 pct

Finland's economy will shrink by 7.6 percent this year, its worst performance in more than 50 years, the government said Friday.

The Finance Ministry had earlier predicted a 6 percent drop in GDP in the small Nordic economy severely hit by the recession because of its dependence on exports.

But, the ministry said, the worst is over.

For the complete report: Finland revises economic decline to 7.6 pct- by Matti Huuhtanen - BusinessWeek

Latvian economy shrinks 19 pct in 3rd quarter

Latvia's economy shed 19 percent of its value in the third quarter compared with a year earlier, the country's statistics agency said Wednesday, highlighting the woes in the European Union's worst economy.

Latvian Statistics said that the third quarter fall in gross domestic product was led by a severe drop in retail trade, down 28.7 percent year-on-year, and construction, down 36 percent.

From January to September Latvia, which is suffering its worst recession on record, saw its economy shrink a total 18.6 percent, the agency said.

The Baltic state is undergoing a drastic correction after four years of stellar growth that followed the country's membership to the EU. In 2006 the economy grew a dizzying 12.2 percent.

For the complete report: Latvian economy shrinks 19 pct in 3rd quarter - Taiwan News Online

Estonia rated as top economic reformer

Estonia has achieved a high ranking in a global list of top economic and political reformers. In a survey of 128 countries by the non-profit, pro-democracy Bertelsmann Foundation, Estonia was ranked fourth while Latvia came 13th, the Baltic Times (BT) reports.

The study measured the state of democracy and the market economy in each surveyed nation, in addition to the quality of the political scene, the news provider said.

Estonia also achieved third place in the management index part of the study, outranked only by Uruguay and Chile, BT added.

For the complete report: KMS

Romania: From Ceausescu to the New Italy

The recent election in Romania, in which President Traian Basescu was re-elected with 50.3% of the vote, underlined why, 20 years after the fall of Ceausescu, Romania has become the new Italy.

The parallels are remarkable. Both countries reclaimed democracy when they executed their dictators Benito Mussolini (April 28, 1945) and Nicolae Ceausescu (December 25, 1989). Both emerged from dictatorship flat on their backs economically and with many friends in the West fearing they would not sustain democracy. And within 20 years, with support from America and Western Europe, both became firmly democratic, much more prosperous, and economically and militarily relevant members of the European Union and NATO.

Today, both continue to punch above their weight classes in areas such as artistic and design creativity, peaceful relations with their minorities and neighbors, corruption, and culture (Herta Muller, born in Romania, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature).

But when Western Europeans think of Romania, two things likely spring to mind: vampires and corruption. The latter stereotype, at least, is not unfounded. In Transparency International's recent survey of corruption, Romania ranked 71st. That's well below the U.S. (19th), but only eight slots below Italy. But, as corruption did not hold Italy back from becoming the 7th largest economy in the world, neither has it stopped Romania from having one of the fastest growth rates in Europe. And significantly, for those who claim Romania and Italy are "too corrupt" to be successful, Transparency International ranks both less corrupt than Brazil, China, India and Russia, the "BRIC" countries that are said to be driving the world economy.

For the complete report: From Ceausescu to the New Italy by Jim Rosapepe and Sheilah Kast -

Bulgarian Culture Minister Reveals Plan to Create Bulgarian Louvre

Bulgaria Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov, has announced that Bulgaria will build a National Museum Complex over the next 2-3 years.

Rashidov said that the idea is to turn the 23 000 m2 area around the gallery for foreign art to become a Bulgarian Louvre. He pointed out that tourist revenues would be huge from the project and that Bulgaria must follow the UK, France and other EU countries in developing cultural tourism.

The implementation of the project will require BGN 25 M, with BGN 2,5 M already provided from the EU Regional Development Operational Program.

Rashidov said; "Bulgaria deserves to have a large exhibition area, because we have many rich archeological museums, possess some very valuable works of foreign art and wonderful art from the Bulgarian Renaissance to contemporary Bulgarian art."

For the complete report: - Sofia News Agency

Slovenia Trying to Become Greener, Not on Track to Kyoto Goals

Slovenia is falling behind when it comes to the Kyoto Protocol targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but it can boast a high share of power produced from renewables and substantial investments into making the Slovenian industry greener, shows a survey on environmental indicators that was presented on Wednesday.

For the complete report: STA: Slovenia Trying to Become Greener, Not on Track to Kyoto Goals

Auschwitz theft linked to Swedish neo-Nazis

Polish authorities have formally asked Sweden to help track down those behind the theft of the "Arbeit macht frei" ("work will set you free") sign at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

The infamous sign was stolen on December 17 but shortly afterwards it was recovered and five suspects were arrested.

On Tuesday, officials in Warsaw confirmed that Poland was to formally seek the request of Sweden in investigating the theft, confirming that Polish authorities suspect a Swedish link in the crime.

For the complete report: Auschwitz theft linked to Swedish neo-Nazis | Europe | Deutsche Welle | 30.12.2009

Hungary's current account surplus EUR 698m in Q3.

Hungary posted a current account surplus of 698 million euros in the third quarter of 2009, the National Bank of Hungary said on Wednesday.

The nine-month current account surplus stood at 586 million euros. Analysts at the bank had forecast the current account to come into zero balance in the third quarter. In the third quarter of 2008, a current account deficit of 2.239 billion euros was recorded and the nine-month deficit was 5.323 billion euros in 2008, the bank said.

For the complete report goto: Hungarian News Agency Corp.

It doesn't pay to get sick in the Czech Republic anymore

The number of sick leave cases in the Czech Republic has decreased by one-third in the first 11 months of 2009 since the changes in sick pay were introduced on January 1, compared to the same period in 2008, according to the Czech Social Security Authority (CSSZ) statistics released to CTK.

Mainly the number of short-term sick leave cases has decreased. On the contrary, the average length of sick leave has increased by one-fourth.

The changes in the sickness benefit system were part of the reform steps taken by the former coalition government of Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS).

Since January 2009 employees have had no right to sick pay during the first three days of illness, then their employees pay them sickness benefits until the 14th day of illness. Only from the 15th day people receive sick pay from the state.

For the complete report: Fewer Czechs on sick leave after changes in sickness benefits | Prague Monitor

The Pharmaceutical Industry Swindle: Swine flu recedes in North America, Europe, WHO says

The second wave of pandemic H1N1 influenza is winding down in North America and much of Europe ( was there a first wave?), but flu activity is still widespread and intensifying in India, Egypt and elsewhere and it's too soon to say the pandemic is over, officials of the World Health Organization said this morning. "It is still premature and too early for us to say we have come to an end of the influenza pandemic worldwide," WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan said in her annual year-end address to the media. "It would be prudent and appropriate continue to monitor the evolution of the pandemic for the next six to 12 months," she said, in large part because many experts expect a third wave. She added that she is very happy that the pandemic has proved to be milder than most experts had anticipated. "The fact that the long overdue influenza pandemic is so moderate in its impact is probably the best health news of the decade," she said. But "the one thing we need to guard against is a sense of complacency."

Swine flu recedes in North America, Europe, WHO says | Booster Shots | Los Angeles Times


Eurozone countries must cut deficits: ECB chief

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet urged the 16 countries using the euro to slash their deficits "in 2011 at the latest," in an interview published Sunday.

"In the eurozone, budget deficits should be reduced in 2011 at the latest, in some countries already in 2010, to preserve faith in state finances," he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "In Europe and around the world, there are lessons to be learned from the financial crisis to make the financial system more resilient."

He urged banks to help ease a credit crunch by making loans available. "Banks must live up to their central role in providing credit to the economy," Trichet said.

Note EU-Digest: the problem is that there still are no concrete regulations, either in the US or Europe, covering the financial industry. What is considered today as an improvement of the economy is only a reflection of the billions of euros, dollars and pounds of taxpayers money poured into the financial markets by governments in the West Unfortunately, the financial industry used it once again for speculative manipulation of the market and not to support the consumer. Only this time, when the financial system collapses again, the party will be over because most governments are broke.

For the complete report : AFP: Eurozone countries must cut deficits: ECB chief

Self-doubt tarnishes Brand America- by Edward Luce

In short, the metallic rust of decline has crept into the American soul. “You could argue that the first decade of the 21st century was the last decade of the American century,” says David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and student of US foreign policy. “We are now entering the multipolar century.”

Today the US is cleaning up the mess from the largest financial collapse in history – one that originated in the US and was caused by the actions of American public and private sector players. Perhaps the best way of expressing how much has changed is to recall the reaction of Chinese students in Beijing this year when Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, assured them that China’s dollar assets were in safe hands. His reassurances provoked laughter.

The biggest difference, therefore, is in America’s declining intellectual hegemony. In the 1990s the US was the model to which to aspire. It was Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, and an erstwhile cheerleader for the American model of capitalism, who pronounced the death of the Washington consensus at the G20 summit in London last April. Over the next decade US publicly held debt is forecast to more than double to 85 per cent of gross domestic product – the highest rate since the second world war. And that is without including the intragovernment debt in Social Security and Medicare, the government health scheme for the elderly, which would push US indebtedness well above 100 per cent of GDP during Mr Obama’s second term. Hegemons cannot for long survive such rising indebtedness.

Given the sclerotic condition of America’s political system, the smart money is on decline. Uncharacteristically for a country built on optimism, most Americans believe their country is on the wrong track. An even higher number believe their children will be worse off than them. Until Americans reacquire their optimism, observers will keep remarking on that rust in their soul. / US & Canada - Self-doubt tarnishes Brand America

Wall Street's 10 Greatest Lies of 2009

US treasury Secretary Tim Geithner patted himself on the back for making the "difficult and necessary” decisions of fronting Wall Street boatloads of money to cover its losses and capital crunch last fall. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (a Bush-Obama favorite) was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for saving the free world as we know it. And Congress is talking "sweeping reform" about a bill that leaves the banking landscape intact, save for some minor alterations. For starters, it doesn’t resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which separated risk-taking (once non-government-backed) investment banks from consumer oriented (government-supported) commercial banks.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is restructuring (the financial equivalent of re-gifting) old toxic assets into new ones, finding fresh ways to profit from credit derivatives trading, and paying itself record bonuses -- on our dime. Despite recent TARP payback enthusiasm, the industry still floats on trillions of dollars of non-TARP subsidies and certain players wouldn’t even exist today without our help.

Wall Street’s return to robustness and Main Street’s continued deterioration are the main takeaways for 2009 that stemmed from the 2008 choices to flush the financial system with capital and leave the real economy to fend for itself. Lies that exacerbate this divide only perpetuate its growth. With that, here is my top 10 list of lies. Please consider adding your own, and let’s all hope for a more honest New Year.

1) The economy has improved.

2) If you give banks capital, they will lend it out.

3) Taxpayers are being repaid.

4) Homeowners are being helped.

5) Big banks will help small businesses.

6) The Fed values transparency.

7) History will not repeat itself.

8) The pay czar will fight against – pay.

9) The lobbyists made us do it.

10) Citigroup is the picture of health and too-big-to-fail is over.

For the complete report: Wall Street's 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 | Media and Technology | AlterNet

Turkey wants Italy to return the bones of St Nicolas

The remains of the third century Bishop of Myra, popularly known as St Nicholas, are now in the Basilica of di San Nicola in the South Italian port of Bari. According to the paper, Turkish Culture Minister Ertugrul Günay wants to re-inter the bones in Demre.

Many miracles have been attributed to the Bishop of Myra and he was known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was also said to give charity in secret and would leave coins in shoes left out for him. This provided the model for the Dutch Sinterklaas, which later became the model for Santa Claus.

He was born in the Greek colony of Patara in Asia Minor in 270 CE; he was of Greek extraction and was very religious from an early age. He died in 346 CE. In 1071, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire loss of the Battle of Manikert and the invading Seljuk Turks temporarily took control over most of Asia Minor. In 1087, the saint's relics were stolen and transported to Bari.

A Turkish archaeologist is now claiming that St Nicholas said he did not want to be buried in Italy and because the saint lived and died in Turkey, he should be buried in Turkey. Ankara said it will pursue the matter delicately and a time frame has not been set for the return of the saint's bones.

Turkey demands St Nicholas's bones back | Radio Netherlands Worldwide

China executes EU citizen Akmal Shaikh, a 53 year old British resident for drug trafficking

Akmal Shaikh is the first European citizen to be executed in China since 1951, Western rights groups say. He leaves behind two children who are living in Poland with their mother.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "appalled" after China on Tuesday executed a British citizen caught smuggling heroin, dismissing pleas from the prisoner's family that he was mentally unsound. Akmal Shaikh's relatives and the British government had appealed for clemency, claiming the former businessman suffered from bipolar disorder, also called manic depression. Shaikh's defenders, including British rights group Reprieve which lobbies against the death penalty, say he was tricked into smuggling the heroin by a gang who promised to make him a pop star. Arrested in 2007, a Chinese court rejected his final appeal on Dec. 21.

Based on locally collected information by foreign embassies China executes four times as many people as the rest of the world put together. The exact toll is a closely-guarded Chinese 'state secret', but estimates range from more than 1,700 to as high as 10,000 a year. At least 60 per cent of public executions are carried out with a single gunshot to the back of the head. Others are by various other methods including lethal injections.

No fewer than 68 crimes are punishable by death in China, including tax evasion, fraud and bribery. Nevertheless the Chinese Government says that an estimated 90 per cent of the Chinese population support the death penalty. Since China applies strict controls on all forms of communications and information, including the Internet, Chinese government statistics can not be verified.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia programme director, said: "Much information about the death penalty is considered a state secret but Mr Shaikh's treatment seems consistent with what we know from other cases: a short, almost perfunctory trial where not all the evidence was presented and investigated, and the death penalty applied to a non-violent crime. "Under international human rights law, as well Chinese law, a defendant's mental health can and should be taken into account, and it doesn't seem that in this case the Chinese authorities did so. "It's simply not enough for the Chinese authorities to say 'we did the right thing, trust us'. Now there can be no reassessment of evidence, no reprieve after a man's life has been taken. The EU and the rest of the world should continue to press the Chinese government to increase the transparency surrounding the death penalty in China and to improve the due process offered all defendants, particularly those facing charges punishable by death."

Capital punishment has in the past been practiced in virtually every society, although currently only 58 nations actively practice it, with 95 countries abolishing it. The remainder having not used it for 10 years or allowing it only in exceptional circumstances such as war. In the EU member states, Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment.

Over the last ten years, EU Member States have indicated both individually and collectively that drug trafficking offences should be punished more severely, but so far the results have been dismal to say the least. Efforts to reduce cocaine use in Europe have had little effect, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), while cocaine use globally remains steady. The manufacture of synthetic drugs like ecstasy or methamphetamine ('crystal meth') continues to rise, as production shifts steadily to the developing world, according to the UNODC.

EU-Digest: China executes EU citizen Akmal Shaikh, a 53 year old British resident

China: EU Parliament adopts resolution against death penalties and life imprisonment sentences handed down to Tibetans and Uyghurs by Chinese courts

The European Parliament recently adopted a very broad resolution covering the death penalties and life imprisonment sentences handed down to Tibetans and Uyghurs by the Chinese courts. The resolution also called for "the reopening of sincere and results-orientated dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama's representatives, based on the 'Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People' and leading towards a positive, substantial and meaningful change in Tibet consistent with the principles outlined in the Constitution and laws of the People's Republic of China".

It added that "in order to ensure that Tibetans and Uighurs, China's two major ethnic minorities, can coexist peacefully with the great majority of the Chinese population, who are of Han ethnicity, it is essential to begin a frank, ongoing and mutually respectful dialogue. Strongly condemning the execution of the two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak in Tibet, and nine Uighurs in East Turkestan the Parliament called upon China to "suspend all the other death sentences passed by the Intermediate People's Courts of Lhasa and Urumqi and to commute those sentences, in the case of persons duly found guilty of acts of violence."

The resolution further instructs its President to forward the text to the European Council, the Commission, the Governments of the Member States, the Council of Europe, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Government of the People's Republic of China. The resolution also called upon China to "ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; deplores the often discriminatory treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in China."

For the complete report: UNPO - East Turkestan: European Parliament Adopts a Resolution defending Tibetans and Uyghurs


The Copenhagen Climate Talks turned out to be the backdrop to a series of much wider disputes

So what have the Copenhagen Climate talks achieved? Almost from the start they had become little more than the backdrop to a series of much wider disputes — disagreements between the rich and poor nations, the rivalry between the United States and Europe, and between West and East, and the interests of the oil states. The biggest problems of all lay with the Chinese. They firmly refused to accept any notion of legally binding limits on their emissions.

The opposition of Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela and a handful of others meant the accord could not be formally approved so instead it was simply ‘‘noted’’. For some, the battles between China and US signal far more than a battle about how to tackle climate change. A UN official said: ‘‘What we are seeing here is China flexing its muscles. They are the new emerging superpower and are determined that US should respect them for that. That’s the real agenda, not climate.’

The Times of India  Were Copenhagen talks just about ‘power shift’? - by

Is this Iran's second revolution?

The remarkable refusal of Iran's reformist opposition to give in, and the regime's increasing air of desperation as it attempts, with diminishing legitimacy, to force it to do so, has left many observers, foreign and domestic, wondering whether the second Iranian revolution is finally underway.

With every fatal bullet, with every ill-directed teargas canister and every ill-advised arrest, the heirs to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Islamic coup d'etat of 1979 find themselves stranded ever more invidiously on the wrong side of history.

Those who rose up with fervent courage to bring down the Shah 30 years ago are now cast in his vacated role of national oppressor, with their own revered martyr, Imam Hossein, used against them to dramatise the cruelty and inequity of their rule.

The fanatical students who drove an American president to ruin, the faithful warriors who faced down Saddam Hussein and his western backers during eight years of war, the ideologues who uniquely placed their supreme leader, the Vali al-Faqih, on the right hand of God, have now themselves become the establishment they so abhorred – incompetent, corrupt, and reviled. Is this Iran's second revolution? | by Simon Tisdall

Germany approves Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline project

Germany issued permission on Monday for the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline in its exclusive economic zone.

The permission was issued by Germany’s Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg. Earlier, Germany permitted the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in its territorial wasters.

Nord Stream AG, the project operator, has already received permits from Denmark, Sweden and Russia through whose waters the pipeline will pass, and also the Finnish exclusive economic zone permit and a permit for the 50-kilometer (31-mile) section of the pipeline in German territorial waters and landfall in Lubmin near Greifswald.

Nord Stream AG only has to obtain the second and final permit from Finland for the project’s construction.

For more : tehran times : Germany approves Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline project

Obama gives INTERPOL immunity to operate at will in the USA

Last week, as the nation's attention was focused on the Senate's debate on health care reform, President Barack Obama signed an amendment to Executive Order 12425 . It is only one paragraph long and few would pay much attention to what its effect is. But it has enormous implications.

The effect of Obama's amendment is to give them immunity from violating any American law. Agents of INTERPOL will now presumably have the same protection that foreign diplomats have while in this country. It is that immunity that has been used by other countries to spy on the United States. This arrangement, for example, now would make it possible for an American citizen being seized by INTERPOL agents and taken out of the country outside the reach of American courts and the rights they would enforce, most notably habeas corpus or the right for a judge to review a person's detention.

Note EU-Digest: the US should now also become a member of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

For the complete report fromthe Beaufort Observer : "Obama gives INTERPOL immunity to operate at will in the USA"

Germany Gets 16% of Power From Renewables, Handelsblatt Says - by Ragnhild Kjetland

"Renewable energy currently makes up 16 percent of total electricity consumption in Germany, Handelsblatt reported, citing an industry study.

That means the country has exceeded the European Union’s 2010 goal of 12.5 percent, according to a study by the Berlin- based utility association BDEW, the newspaper said in a preview of an article scheduled to be published tomorrow.

Electricity consumption fell by 5 percent in 2009 and the production of renewable energy rose to 93 billion kilowatt hours from 92.7 billion KWh the year earlier, Handelsblatt said."

For the complete report click here

Dutch hero passenger details fight to stop alleged terrorist -

A Dutch airline passenger told The Post how he leapt into action when an alleged Muslim terrorist tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner packed with 300 people just moments before landing. Chaos erupted as alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, tried to set off a sophisticated explosive device strapped to his body.

Schuringa dove over four passengers to reach Abdul Mutallab’s seat. The suspect had a blanket on his lap. "It was smoking and there were flames coming from beneath his legs. I searched on his body parts and he had his pants open. He had something strapped to his legs."

The unassuming hero ripped the flaming, molten object — which resembled a small, white shampoo bottle — off Abdul Mutallab’s left leg, near his crotch. He said he put out the fire with his bare hands. Schuringa yelled for water, and members of the flight crew soon appeared with fire extinguishers. Then, he said, he hauled the suspect out of the seat. "I took him in a choke to the first class and all the people were like, ‘What’s going on?!"

"I don’t feel like a hero," Schuringa told the Post as he recuperated with pals. "It was something that came completely natural ... It was something where I had to do something or it was too late."

For more: Passenger details fight to stop alleged terrorist -

The Independent : A disturbing prelude to an era of growing Chinese power - Leading Articles, Opinion - The Independent

"At the end of a decade in which China has become a global power, it is making headlines for the wrong reasons. First, it was accused of wrecking the climate change talks in Copenhagen. Then there was the savage sentence meted out to the courageous dissident Liu Xiaobo. His so-called crime has been to persistently call for constitutional change and reform of the one-party system, for which he has just been handed a swingeing 11-year sentence.

And now there is the firing squad awaiting the Briton Akmal Shaikh this week. Unless Beijing reacts at last to repeated pleas for clemency that have come from his relatives and from the Foreign Office, he may have the unhappy distinction of becoming the first European to be executed in China in half a century."

These draconian sentences highlight Beijing's indifference to democratic values.

Note EU-Digest: unfortunately the US has been relatively quiet on these matters relating to Democracy and Freedom of Speech since China finances most of the enormous US debt.

The Independent: A disturbing prelude to an era of growing Chinese power - Leading Articles, Opinion

SOUTHEAST EUROPE 2010: A partly splendored thing - by Nicolas Watson

The consensus is that emerging Europe will recover in 2010, albeit at a slower pace than certainly other emerging markets, but also perhaps even more so than the US and Western Europe. However, this view encapsulates what has become a growing problem in looking at the region since the crisis exposed its many vulnerabilities - that it's now simply too diverse to regard as a single entity.

In its top 10 economic predictions for 2010, the consultancy IHS Global Insight says growth in all the emerging regions will recover in 2010 and, with the possible exception of emerging Europe, will outpace the US, Europe and Japan. "Non-Japan Asia will be at the forefront, with GDP growth of 7.1%. Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa will see gains in the 3-4% range. The laggard will be emerging Europe, which will expand only 1.7%." The CEE region's generally high dependency on foreign credit made the effects of the global economic crisis, when it eventually arrived, that much worse. The forecasted decline in GDP for the ex-communist region as a whole – including the former Soviet Union – is more than 6% for this year, compared with 4% for the Eurozone. However, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) notes that this regional average hides a multitude of variations.

Neil Shearing, emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, agrees with IHS' overall contention that Asia is best placed to prosper, followed by Latin America and Brazil in particular, with CEE continuing to lag behind. He also notes there will be some bright spots in emerging Europe, generally speaking those economies that have received a competitive boost from weaker exchange rates and have comparatively low levels of foreign currency debt.

For more go to: SOUTHEAST EUROPE 2010: A partly splendored thing - BUSINESS NEW EUROPE

Reuters - UN sees slow 2010 global recovery, double-dip risk

"The United Nations on Wednesday predicted a fragile world economic recovery next year from a two-year crisis and said the risk remained of a 'double-dip' recession.

Stimulus packages deployed by many rich nations had played a large part in ending the downturn that began in 2007 and that has been widely blamed on the collapse of a global housing bubble, said a report by the U.N. economic division.

But the annual report, 'World Economic Situation and Prospects 2010,' warned that the recovery was 'far from robust' and could come to an abrupt halt if the packages, which it put at USD 2.6 trillion over 2009 and 2010, were withdrawn too soon."

Reuters - UN sees slow 2010 global recovery, double-dip risk:


Soccer World Cup 2010: Know Your Rivals - Group E Predictions

How do the experts of Group E think that the group will go? Here we ask our local experts for their thoughts on their teams' three games, in order of play. If you want to know how Greek experts feel about the prospect of meeting Argentina

World Cup 2010: Know Your Rivals - Group E Predictions - - by Tommy Vaneldik

Ontario and Quebec slam Ottawa on climate

Just as the federal government was getting comfortable at the delicate climate negotiations taking place in this city, along came Canada's two largest provinces armed with blistering criticism of the country's weak plans to reduce emissions.

Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces with the most ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gases, say they are disappointed with Ottawa's position, but confident it will be forced into improved targets over the next five days of critical talks toward a global climate change deal.

There may be hell to pay from the two giants of the federation, plus British Columbia and Manitoba, if that doesn't happen.

For the complete report: Ontario and Quebec slam Ottawa on climate -

Spain wants 2020 growth strategy EU helm

Spain will seek a way for recession-hit European economies to grow over the next decade when it takes over the EU presidency from January 1, its foreign minister said in an interview published today. "The most important goal is a coordinated exit from the economic crisis and establishing a sustainable growth strategy for European countries for the horizon of 2020," Miguel Angel Moratinos told El Pais newspaper. Spain has been among the European countries worst hit by the a global economic crisis.

Setting out the priorities for Spain's six-month presidency, Moratinos also revealed an ambitious personal goal. - Spain wants 2020 growth strategy EU helm

US Eonomy : Americans Think Federal Reserve Chairman US Economy - Ben Bernanke Prefers Wall Street Over Main Street

By a better than two-to-one margin, Americans think Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke puts Wall Street ahead of Main Street, according to a new poll by a liberal advocacy group.

The poll numbers come on the eve of a crucial confirmation vote in which senators will decide whether Bernanke should keep his job. Already, at least five Democratic and Republican senators have placed "holds" on his nomination, temporarily blocking it from moving forward The poll, commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America, recently asked more than 800 voters a simple question: "Who do you think that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cares about more, Wall Street or Main Street?"

Forty-seven percent of respondents said Bernanke favors Wall Street; 20 percent said Main Street; the rest weren't sure.

For the complete report: Americans Think Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke Prefers Wall Street Over Main Street

Second Boeing 787 plane takes an hour test flight and has landing gear door problems

Boeing's second 787 flew for a little over an hour Tuesday and had a little problem along the way. The jet took off Tuesday from Paine Field and landed one hour and six minutes later at Boeing Field. Test pilots are reporting the main landing gear door had problems retracting. The first test of the new 787 was last Tuesday. It's the first commercial airplane made mostly of lightweight composite materials

For the complete report : The Associated Press: Second Boeing 787 plane takes an hour test flight

Turkish soldiers held in 'deputy PM assassination plot' - Truth or fiction ?

Eight Turkish soldiers have been detained over an alleged plot to assassinate Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, the army has said.

It said the soldiers were taken to the army headquarters in Ankara after being interrogated by a prosecutor on Friday.

The arrests follow an inquiry which was launched last week after Mr Arinc said a car with two officers had been spotted several times near his house.

For the complete report: BBC News - Turkish soldiers held in 'deputy PM assassination plot'


UN Condemns The Imprisonment Of Chinese Dissident

"The UN human rights commissioner on Friday strongly condemned the 11-year prison term awarded to a prominent Chinese dissident.

'The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Liu Xiabo mark a further severe restriction on the scope of freedom of expression in China,' UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. Pillay termed the imprisonment as the latest example of a crackdown on human rights in China."

For complete report goto: UN Condemns The Imprisonment Of Chinese Dissident

EU eyes ``broad nuclear partnership agreement with Russia``

"The Council of the European Union recently adopted a mandate authorizing the Commission to negotiate a partnership agreement for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy between the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the Russian Federation," the European Commission said in a press statement.

EU eyes ``broad nuclear partnership agreement with Russia``

France berates China over sentencing of dissident

France chastised China on Saturday for jailing dissident Liu Xiaobo and reminded Beijing of its commitments to dialogue on human rights with the European Union.

For the complete report: France berates China over sentencing of dissident | Reuters

Europe: EU criticizes Chinese dissident's sentence

The Swedish EU presidency has condemned a Beijing court's decision to jail Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo for 11 years, saying it raises concerns about freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial in China.

"The Presidency of the European Union is deeply concerned by the disproportionate sentence against the prominent human rights defender Liu Xiaobo," it said in a statement on Friday.

"The verdict against Mr Liu gives rise to concern with respect to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial in China."

For the complete report : News - Europe: EU criticises Chinese dissident's sentence

Dollar's Slide Against Euro Continues

Overnight, the euro gained on the dollar after Greece unveiled a deficit-reduction plan, easing some economic concerns in the euro zone. Greece's parliament had approved a budget for next year, aimed at reducing the fiscal deficit to an estimated 9.1% of gross domestic product from 12.7% this year.

The euro has been under pressure over investor concerns that Greece might default on its foreign debt, as its deficit ballooned and servicing costs rocketed.

Dollar's Slide Against Euro Continues -

China's Christmas Gift to the World: International outcry after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years -

China meted out its harshest punishment for subversion in two decades yesterday, sentencing the country’s leading dissident to 11 years in jail in a verdict that provoked international condemnation.

Liu Xiaobo, who organised a petition calling for political freedoms, stood silently in the No 1 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing to hear the judge declare him guilty of “inciting subversion of state power”.

The guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion in a country where charges are rarely brought unless a court has already seen sufficient evidence to ensure a conviction, and where the sentence in sensitive cases is decided by the Communist Party. Only the severity of the punishment was in doubt.

Liu, who will mark his 54th birthday on Monday, was given no chance to respond to the sentence, but told his wife that he would appeal. “China’s Mandela was born this Christmas,” Beichen, a well-known Chinese blogger, said. A handful of protesters outside the court were removed by police.

For additionalinformation: International outcry after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years - Times Online

Poor Security Controls at Schiphol Airport did not Detect terror Subject

A Nigerian man is "talking a lot" to the FBI, said a senior U.S. official, after what the United States believes was an attempted terrorist attack on an inbound international flight.

The initial impression is that the suspect was acting alone and did not have any formal connections to organized terrorist groups, said the senior official who is familiar with the investigation.

The suspect, identified by a U.S. government official as 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, ignited a small explosive device Friday, shortly before a Northwest flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, made its landing in Detroit, Michigan.

Nigerian in custody after alleged airline terror act foiled -

Will Russia save the West

Rapid changes in the global economy and international politics are raising, once more, an eternal issue in Russia: the country's relations with Europe, and with the Euro-Atlantic region as a whole. Of course, Russia partly belongs to this region. Yet it cannot and does not want to join the West wholeheartedly — at least not yet. Meanwhile, this choice looks very different now compared to just a few years ago.

Will Russia save the West? | The Japan Times Online

Eurostar violates safety procedures says Euro tunnel

Eurotunnel has accused Eurostar of ignoring safety rules when evacuating passengers from trains last weekend.

The Channel Tunnel operator said evacuations were prolonged because people took bags with them "in complete violation" of safety procedures.

It also rejected claims it contributed to the chaos when 2,000 people were trapped in five broken down trains.

BBC News - Eurotunnel accuses Eurostar of ignoring safety rules


Christmas around the world

Thousands of pilgrims celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, with festivities on a scale unseen since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in 2001.

At midnight Mass, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land called on the faithful to pray for peace in the troubled region.

"Its inhabitants are brothers who see each other as enemies," the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal told worshippers. "This land will deserve to be called holy when she breathes freedom, justice, love, reconciliation, peace and security."
For the complete report: Festive night, holy night around the globe | The Australian

Christmas 2009 - the reason for the season

Christians the world over are celebrating the birth of Christ today as the most significant event in the history of mankind.

Others are celebrating this religious event as a commercially vulgarized popular holiday. Mostly by indulging in a spending frenzy on things they don't need or can afford and an excessive consumption of food and drink. The religious aspect of this holiday has definitely lost it against commercialism, mainly because commerce seem to do a far better job on the marketing aspect of "the issue".

So for all of you who know the "reason for this season" - a very merry Christmas and for those who don't, may your credit card bill in January be kind to you.


Dutch to quiz Venezuela over aggression comment

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said it wants Venezuela's ambassador to the Netherlands to clarify comments by President Hugo Chavez accusing the Netherlands of planning aggression against Venezuela. Chavez said on Thursday the Netherlands was preparing "aggression" against Venezuela by allowing U.S. troops access to Dutch islands off the Caribbean coast of the OPEC nation.

For more clickon: Dutch to quiz Venezuela over aggression comment | Markets | Reuters

McCook Daily Gazette: USA - Health care reform benefits Americans

The Senate health care reform bill reduces the deficit, relies on the free market, and adds competition that will benefit patients with lower cost and better health care. Reforms in the bill promote wellness and preventive programs, rural health services, small business tax credits and new insurance protections that will help Americans live healthier lives.

Among someof the benefits are:

§ Plans can no longer deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions

§ No lifetime or annual limits on coverage

§ Insurers will no longer be able to drop coverage when you get sick

§ Rates for premiums will not be not based on health status or gender

§ New appeals process to challenge decisions made by your insurer

§ Works to close Medicare Part D "donut hole," providing major savings for seniors on prescription drugs.

§ Within 90 days of enactment, provides $5 billion to help Americans with pre-existing conditions afford coverage

§ Starting 2014, provides tax credits to help Americans who cannot afford the cost of private health insurance.

Note EU-Digest: Only time will tell if ithe Health Care Reform benefits the average American. Right now it is a win-win situation for the Insurance Industry.

McCook Daily Gazette: State News: Nelson: Health care reform benefits for Americans

Italy: After the Berlusconi Episode a Woman knocks Pope down at Christmas Mass

Pope is celebrating the traditional Christmas Mass, despite being knocked down by a woman at the start of the service in St Peter's Basilica.

The woman - who is said to be mentally unstable - jumped the security barriers as Benedict XVI entered the basilica, causing the pontiff to fall. The Pope appeared to be unhurt and recovered to lead the mass.

The midnight service started two hours early because officials do not want the 82-year-old pontiff to get tired.

BBC News - Woman knocks Pope down at Christmas Mass


US Health Care Reform: Finish Line In Sight On Healthcare Reform

The finish line is clearly in sight for healthcare reform in the U.S. Senate.

Final procedural hurdles have been cleared, setting the stage for approval of a sweeping healthcare reform bill tomorrow morning.

The Senate legislation is estimated to cost more than 850-billion dollars over ten years.

That's less expensive than a House health reform bill that was passed earlier this year.

Senate Republicans are unanimously opposed to the Democratic bill, calling it a budget-busting monstrosity that will raise taxes and grow the soaring federal deficit.

Democrats claim making the complex and costly U.S. healthcare system more efficient will actually reduce the deficit.

Finish Line In Sight On Healthcare Reform

Christmas has blended into Turkish Holiday Festivities

"Everyone knows about the big white beard, the red suit and the reindeer. They write to Mr. Claus at the North Pole, and leave cookies out for him before going to bed on Christmas Eve.

What most people don’t know is that the legend of Father Christmas comes from what is now Turkey, a country that is 99 percent Muslim.

Santa is now a global phenomenon, but his story has humble roots: a 4th century archbishop named Nicholas, who lived in a small farming community on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast."

Fast forward to today, and a quick stroll along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s commercial artery, makes it clear that Turks have maintained their own peculiar relationship with this non-Islamic holiday — albeit one with less legend and more commerce. But if most Turks don't celebrate Christmas, why does the Noel spirit seem to be in the air? “Christmas and New Year are very close to one another. And Turks do celebrate New Year, so all the Christmas so-called season has migrated with its symbols to New Years,” said professor Ayse Oncu, of Istanbul’s Sabanci University. The adoption of secular Christmas symbols by urban Turks is a relatively new phenomenon — one that parallels the rise of a consumer culture here in Turkey.

Turkey Christmas: By Nicole Sobecki

US Recovery on Shaky Ground

The US economy is growing, but not as much as expected new figures
have shown.Data released on Tuesday showed the US GDP grew 2.2 per cent
from July through September, more than half a percentage point down from
earlier forecasts.The revised growth figure follows four successive quarters of decline in the world's largest economy, but prospects for a sustainable
recovery remain uncertain.
Al Jazeera English - Business - US recovery on shaky ground

Travel: Weather improves temporarily in Europe

This week’s travel chaos in Europe eased today as British Airways started flying again from London’s Heathrow Airport and Eurostar partially resumed rail service from London to Paris and Brussels, but the hassles are far from over. Thanks to continued rough weather and cascading flight cancellations and delays, thousands of passengers remained stranded at the height of the holiday travel season.
European travel woes ease, but thousands still stranded - Travel -


US Politics:Two Party System has now completely capitulated to Special Interests Groups as they become the ultimate winners of health care vote

The American public has just witnessed the power of special interest influence on a legislative process originally designed by our Constitution to represent the people of the United States, who now have very little representation if any. Although 60 votes were obtained — 58 Democrats, two independents and, surprise, no Republicans — by Harry Reid, he did not get them without compromise, or should I say without a payoff. It is plain and simple he had to buy votes in the name of compromise just to get a bill, good or bad.

Health care reform was initiated to reform the system for two reasons, first to provide health care for all Americans and second to provide that health care at a reasonable cost. The Senate bill does neither and has solidified the insurance industry's stranglehold on the American consumer for years to come.

The entire bill designed by the health care industry guarantees the industry 30 million more premium payers to fill their coffers and increase profits; those with pre-existing conditions will be required to pay higher premiums and the elderly will also pay higher premiums. Even if a family of four makes 400 percent of the poverty level ($88,000 per year), their premium will be subsidized by our tax dollars.

The bottom line: US political representatives have just given the insurance industry everything but the kitchen sink. My recommendation is to buy health insurance stocks, which just hit a 50-year high, and pray you don't get sick.

Special interests won health care vote - St. Petersburg Times

Senate Prepares Thursday Morning Vote on Health Care, Fast Exit for Christmas

Senators will be home for Christmas after they agreed late Tuesday to change the schedule to allow an 8 a.m. ET vote Thursday on health insurance reforms that kept the chamber debating in a record-breaking session that hasn't been matched since 1917.

A procedural vote is slated for Wednesday afternoon, and the Senate is planning to hold the final health care vote Thursday morning. The bill appears to have the momentum and support to push it through following months of intense negotiations -- though it looks a lot different than it did when two Senate committees first considered it. - Senate Prepares Thursday Morning Vote on Health Care, Fast Exit for Christmas

Netherlands Looks to Float Itself Out of Harm's Way

Most of this country would be underwater before the zebra-striped couch in Cees Westdijk's living room gets wet. That reveals two things about this spongy place. The first is the problem: The Netherlands sits in a continental dent that has had the Dutch fighting the intrusion of water for centuries The second is a solution: Cees' home floats. "The house is a little bit moving," says Cees, whose last name highlights the long war between the Dutch and the sea. In English, it means "West dike," a reference to the nation's protective barriers along its wave-chewed borders with the North Sea and several major rivers.

There are 50 "water houses" in Cees' neighborhood along the Maas, the country's first large-scale effort to build floating homes. The Dutch are a commercially ambitious people, but planners are signaling concerns about expanding development in natural areas that are needed to hold excess water. The idea is to give water space before it takes it. Floating homes allow for commercial development without displacing flood plains. Cees' house will only float perhaps once every five years, during infrequent, but imminent, flooding. There are 36 of these "amphibious houses" along the Maas, and 14 others that float all the time.

Netherlands Looks to Float Itself Out of Harm's Way - - by Evan Lehmann

Ryan Air - Profile: The Gospel according to Michael O'Leary

"While O'Leary may get a kick out of being the bad guy from time to time, he makes no excuses for his laser-like focus on costs. Quite simply this is what makes Ryanair stand out from virtually every other airline worldwide. At its interim results event Ryanair said it had cut its unit costs excluding fuel by 5% for the six months to the end of September. More tellingly, Ryanair figures show that its unit cost gap compared with budget rival easyJet is a staggering €23. Add another €33 and you arrive at the unit cost of Aer Lingus.

Never expect O'Leary or Ryanair to relent one bit on costs. As one former senior Ryanair manager told Airline Business: 'Michael would rather get a guaranteed €1 million of cost savings over the chance of potentially gaining €10 million of revenue.'

O'Leary's aggressive approach pervades Ryanair. Deputy chief executives Howard Millar and Michael Crawley are definitely not Michael O'Leary clones, but they have become empowered to exhibit plenty of his qualities. And the arrogance that comes with being big and strong, as well as committed to a simple vision of delivering low fares, goes deep into the airline's physche."

Profile: The Gospel according to Michael O'Leary

US growth downgrade weighs on world markets

"European stock markets and Wall Street futures gave up earlier gains Tuesday after figures showed that the U.S. economy grew less than previously estimated in the third quarter. In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 41.39 points, or 0.8 percent, at 5,335.38 while Germany's DAX rose 15.29 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,945.82. The CAC-40 in France was 18.95 points, or 0.5 percent, higher at 3,891.01. Wall Street was poised to open higher — Dow futures were up 33 points, or 0.3 percent, at 10,375 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 3.8 points, or 0.3 percent, at 1,112.

However, European markets and Wall Street futures had been trading even higher before the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent in the third quarter. That was way down on its previous estimate of 2.8 percent made just a month ago and stoked concerns that the recovery in the world's largest economy may not be as strong as anticipated in the markets."

The Associated Press: US growth downgrade weighs on world markets


World Economic System Last Rites: China could be the next economic shoe to drop

As we watch for the next shoe to drop in the form of a serious, national financial crisis while our leaders flee Europe’s great global warming freeze — ah, how nature mocks us — eyes spin from Greece to the entire basket of the subprime nations of Europe.

But perhaps we are missing the one great fall that may be at hand — China.

Last Friday the Chinese stock and property markets took a terrible hammering and as the week begins, they face floors that, if fathomed, will endanger the entire miracle and the last bastion of capitalism. Communist China.

China’s economy: swan or swansong? – Crikey


After the failure in Copenhagen, many must consider what went wrong. Europe needs to rethink its international environmental strategy.

The European Union can look back at a number of green success stories. Working together with developing nations, Europe played an important role at the Rio Conference in 1992, for the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and for progress in other fields, such as control of dangerous waste under the Basel Convention and the Biosafety Protocol under the Convention on Biodiversity.

But in Copenhagen, European leaders were sidelined by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. When the deal between Barack Obama and the emerging economies was done, the European Union faced the choice either to agree or to be accused of stopping an agreement in Copenhagen. The press conference where José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt were going to present the European view was delayed for more than two hours – a sign that discussions among EU Heads of Government were not easy.

Note EU-Digest: EU leaders should be able to understand by now that "united we stand divided we fall". The US, be it under Mr. Bush or Mr. Obama is not always right and the EU is not required to follow-up on anything the US says.

Climate breakdown shows need for new EU environmental strategy « Mats Engström

US Politics: Joe Lieberman kills public option Health Care Reform Bill

Jacob S. Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University. An expert on the politics of U.S. health and social policy, he is author, coauthor, or editor of numerous books and articles, both scholarly and popular, including The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream (2006; paperback, January 2008) and Health At Risk: America's Ailing Health System and How to Heal It (2008).  He writes:
       "Now that the core demand of progressives has been removed from the
       Senate health care bill--namely, the public health insurance option--
       should progressives continue to support the effort?

For me, the question is particularly difficult. I have been the thinker most associated with the public option, which I’ve long argued is essential to ensuring accountability from private insurers and long-term cost control. I was devastated when it was killed at the hands of Senator Joe Lieberman, not least because of what it said about our democracy -- that a policy consistently supported by a strong majority of Americans could be brought down by a recalcitrant Senate minority."

Why I Still Believe In This Bill - CBS News

French wielding too much power in EU says former Irish commissionar

EUobserver / Irish commissioner critical of Sarkozy - by Andrew Willis
Outgoing EU commissioner for internal market affairs - Charlie McCreevy - has said the French hold disproportionate power in Brussels, and are also masters at securing senior EU positions for their own.

In a speech to the Association of European Journalists in Dublin on Friday (18 December), the Irishman directed special criticism towards French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pointing to recent statements by the French leader as a "coming out" on EU matters.

Winter Weather Woes: Cold Snap Causes Christmas Chaos in Europe

SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International:

"Cold Snap Causes Christmas Chaos in Europe

Generally Germany is well geared for colder weather. But nobody anticipated that this weekend would bring the year's coldest. Temperatures sank as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius in some areas and snow and ice affected road, rail and airport services. The weather resulted in several deaths and hundreds of accidents.

Germany has not escaped the chaos that a severe cold snap has caused right across Europe."

One third of people feel guilty if they treat themselves and half prefer logos on their luxury goods

"Synovate's CEO for the UK and luxury research expert, Jill Telford, said people have an odd relationship with luxury. 'Some of us feel we deserve it and revel in unabashed luxury. Some indulge in it but feel they maybe should not have. Some cannot afford it, but want it. And for many, it's simply not even a consideration... the basics in life are tough enough to obtain. 'Of course a recession makes luxury retail even more challenging. Selling things that arguably people do not need during a time when many are at least morally forced to examine their spending patterns makes for interesting times."

The FINANCIAL - One third of people feel guilty if they treat themselves and half prefer logos on their luxury goods:

EADS execs, shareholders cleared of inside trading

"The French market regulator has cleared 17 current and former executives of Airbus' parent company EADS of insider trading in a multimillion-dollar scandal, citing a lack of evidence to show they used knowledge of delays to the A380 superjumbo program when selling their shares.

Thursday's decision follows a nearly 3-year probe, and a week of closed-door hearings, into what the EADS executives and board members knew about technical problems with the Airbus' A380 superjumbo and mid-range A350 aircraft. They were suspected of using such insider information when they sold shares or exercised stock options worth millions of euros (dollars) in 2005 and early 2006"

EADS execs, shareholders cleared of inside trading - BusinessWeek - by Emma van Dore

Europe, US hit by cold wave as snow derails travel plans, shopping

Eurostar has suspended its train services indefinitely, stranding upto 31,000 passengers while a blizzard has blanketed the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US states in snow, crippling travel and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.

Snowstorms and subfreezing temperatures have battered Europe, killing 29 people in Poland alone and wreaking havoc on air, train and car travelers from the Nordics to Italy on the last weekend before Christmas. France's civil aviation authority ordered the cancellation of 40 percent of flights out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports Sunday through mid-afternoon. So far the cold snap has been deadliest in Poland, where 29 people froze to death on Saturday and Sunday as temperatures fell as low as -20 C (-4 F) overnight in some places. In Austria, authorities reported three people froze to death as they tried to make their way home after evenings out. Two were found in the southern province of Styria, where temperatures fell below -20 C and a third near the city of Salzburg.

An Associated Press report from Washington says a blizzard has blanketed the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US states in snow, crippling travel and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power. Five deaths appeared to have been caused by the storm which stretched from the Carolinas north to New England and also spread into some Midwestern states. The 16 inches (40 centimetres) of snow that fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever recorded for a single December day, and 16 inches (40 centimetres) had also fallen in Philadelphia.

gulfnews : Europe, US hit by cold wave as snow derails travel plans, shopping


EU Lets Debt Problems of Corruption Riddled Greece Slip By

EU Lets Debt Problems Slip By - Stephen Fidler

After months of complaints from governments and industry about the overvalued euro and the damage it is causing to economic growth in the euro zone, someone at last has done something about it. The euro fell to the lowest level against the dollar for three months Thursday thanks to Greece and its debt downgrades by two rating firms.

But if anyone was grateful to Greece, whose profound fiscal problems are being blamed for this hoped-for currency reversal, they weren't announcing it.

Indeed, it is probably not praise that is ringing in the ears of the Greek finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, as he travels Europe this week to drum up support for his government's tepidly received plan to bring its budget deficit under control.

Georges Ugeux, chairman and chief executive of Galileo Global Advisors, a New York boutique financial advisory firm, says repeated failure of European efforts to force Athens to put its house in order and deal with corruption, a big parallel economy, and fiscal fraud is starting to have important consequences.

Bad weather forces 1300 Eurostar high speed train passengers evacuation from France to England tunnel

Passengers evacuated from channel tunnel as cold snap hits Europe | Europe | Deutsche Welle | 19.12.2009
Four Eurostar trains carrying more than 2,000 people were stranded between England and France as services ground to a halt in freezing conditions.

Up to 1,300 passengers from two of the trains had to be evacuated on a vehicle shuttle as winter brought transport chaos to Europe. The remaining passengers waited for carriages to be pushed out of the tunnel by a rescue train.

Venezuela accuses the Netherlands of plotting with US to invade Venezuela

World Briefing - The Americas - Venezuela - Chávez Accuses Netherlands of Plotting Aggression With the U.S. -
President Hugo Chávez is zeroing in on a nation he claims is a new enemy of his government: the Netherlands. Mr. Chávez, left, speaking from Copenhagen on Thursday, accused the Netherlands of plotting “military aggression” against Venezuela with the United States from Aruba and Curaçao in the Dutch Antilles, islands from which American military personnel operate antidrug flights in the Caribbean. A spokesman from the Dutch Embassy in Caracas did not respond to a request for comment.

Copenhagen Conference: disaster for environment and a further sign of China's rising power against Europe's weakness.

Sunday papers blast climate accord a failure
Leading Sunday newspapers labelled the Copenhagen climate conference a disaster for the environment, for global government, and a sign of China's rising power against Europe's weakness.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph described the meeting aas "A historic climate summit ... for the extent of its failure."

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown "did their best to put a positive spin on it but Copenhagen was a disaster," the paper said.

China to put dissident Liu on trial

China to try prominent dissident on Wednesday: lawyer | Reuters
Despite Liu's trial coming shortly before Christmas, it is sure to receive widespread international attention. Political leaders in Europe and Washington have expressed concern about the case.

Liu has been among his country's best known critics of restrictions on citizens' rights, and was detained late last year while helping oversee the launch of the "Charter 08" petition for political change.

Chinese authorities said last week they had decided to try Liu on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" for publishing essays critical of the ruling Communist Party and for his role in organizing the "Charter 08" petition.