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Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year's address

Angela Merkel
In her address to the nation ahead of the New Year's celebrations, Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for courage and togetherness. Click on the link below for the full text of her address translated into English.

Read more: Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year's address | Germany | DW.DE | 31.12.2012

The Most Depressing Economic Idea of 2012: The (Near) End of Growth - by Jordan Weissmann

Even by the standards of a field known as the dismal science, Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon is a remarkably gloomy thinker. This summer, while most of us were busy fretting about the tepid U.S. recovery, he managed to up the ante with a paper that looked 90 years down the line and asked, "Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?" As in, over for good.

His answer wasn't quite a straightforward, "yes," but it was nearly as bleak. Gordon predicted that a mix of technological stagnation and economic headwinds could feasibly slow the economy down to a crawling, pre-industrial growth rate, as mapped out in the green line on his graph below. With the new year just hours away here in the U.S., I thought it would be a good time to revisit my nominee for the most depressing economic idea of 2012, along with excerpts from a conversation I had with Gordon about his work a few months back.

Read more: The Most Depressing Economic Idea of 2012: The (Near) End of Growth - Jordan Weissmann - The Atlantic

Major events in 2012

Major World Events in 2012

Gunman assaults Conn. elementary school, 27 dead. (12-13-2012, 197 Records)
N Korea Launched Long Range Rocket. (12-11-2012, 14 Records)
Conflict between Israel and Gaza reignited. (11-11-2012, 208 Records)
Obama Reelected Second Term as US President. (11-05-2012, 47 Records)
US Ambassador Killed in Libya. (09-11-2012, 112 Records)
Rover Curiosity lands on Mars successfully. (08-01-2012, 236 Records)
Lodon Olympic Games 2012. (07-27-2012, 247 Records)
Gunman kills 14 at Batman Premiere in Denver. (07-19-2012, 9 Records)
Syria shot down Turkey Warplane. (06-23-2012, 3 Records)
Spain Accepts 100 Billion Euro Bailout Deal. (06-08-2012, 40 Records)
Vladimir Putin Elected as Russia President. (03-02-2012, 39 Records)
Quran burning incites deadly riots in Afghanistan. (02-20-2012, 33 Records)
Honduras prison fire kills over 300 inmates. (02-15-2012, 11 Records)
Whitney Houston passed away at 48. (02-11-2012, 33 Records)
Facebook IPO. (02-03-2012, 39 Records)
Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang resigns. (01-17-2012, 15 Records)
Luxury cruise ship runs aground in Italy, many dead. (01-13-2012, 56 Records)
Iran under International Oil Embargo. (01-10-2012, 49 Records)


USA Economy:Finally, a "fiscal cliff" breakthrough ?

Most of the world is counting down to a midnight New Year's celebration while Congress continues to watch the clock and count down to another deadline, despite the efforts of lawmakers to avert the "fiscal cliff."

Those efforts are inching closer to the midnight deadline, but leaders from both parties indicate that a deal is within reach.

President Obama took to the stage with middle-class taxpayers standing behind him this afternoon to announce that Congress is making "progress" and that "it appears an in sight."

Read more: Finally, a "fiscal cliff" breakthrough - CBS News

New Years Eve: what will people be doing?

What are you doing tonight? If you're staying home you won't be alone.

So says the folks at CivicScience, a polling and data gathering firm in Pittsburgh which polled a large sample of people over the weekend.

- Some 33% of us have no plans, with 38% of us staying home tonight. Only 3% are hosting a party. Fourteen percent of us will be attending a party.

- Will we be watching TV? Some 37% say they won't be, with 35% watching a variety of New Year's Eve shows.
- And the party pooping continues. Some 64% of those polled say they have no family gathering on New Year's Day.

Read more: What are we doing New Year's Eve? Not much


'Gangnam Style' to Obamamania: 12 reasons to be cheerful about 2012 - by John Walsh

Essentially, it's a comic dance in which the participants ride an invisible horse and twirl an invisible lasso. The music is the worst kind of electro-synth pop. The singer is a chubby little geezer in 1950s sunglasses. The hook-line is meaningless to anyone outside Korea. The collective dancing it encourages is a naff mixture of "The Birdie Song" and "The Macarena".

But none of these potential drawbacks stopped the South Korean rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" from becoming the global music, dance and video phenomenon of the year.Everyone watched it – at the time of writing, the video had been viewed 940 million times on YouTube – and everyone wanted to dance it.
Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the UN, not a man given to busting moves on the dance floor, had a go, as did Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google; a bunch of Etonians did a parody called "Eton Style" through the school quadrangles, after which Boris Johnson told the Tory Party conference that he and David Cameron had danced it together at Chequers.

The song is, in fact, a social satire: "Gangnam" means "south of the river" and the style under attack is that of nouveau-riche burghers living south of Seoul's Han river. They're the cool, wealthy set with their gym-bunny looks, designer threads and love of hanging out in exclusive bars and clubs (three of which are owned by Psy's mother). Psy's persona is the wannabe from the wrong end of town who longs to be part of the hip wor

Read more: 'Gangnam Style' to Obamamania: 12 reasons to be cheerful about 2012 - Features - Music - The Independent

Spain's year: Football glory, economic gloom

2012 has been a terrible year for Spain, a country so deeply beset by economic problems that it is barely possible to switch on the television or strike up a conversation without hearing the dreaded word "crisis".

Unemployment has hit record levels, banks are failing, increasingly angry protest marches have become commonplace, devastating cuts to public services are being universally imposed and a full-blown bail-out from the European Union remains a distinct possibility.

In the midst of all the doom and gloom, though, there has been one significant consolation for many people in this sports-mad nation: football.

Read more: BBC News - Spain's year: Football glory, economic gloom

Silent sub: Russian noiseless Borei class nuclear submarine immersed

Super-modern, powerful and almost noiseless Russian nuclear submarine Vladimir Monomakh has been put in water to become the third ship of the Borei project. The cruiser is about to begin sea trials and mooring to become fully operational in 2013.

­Vladimir Monomakh was laid down at Russia’s largest shipbuilding complex Sevmash, located on the shores of the White Sea in the town of Severodvinsk in northern Russia on March 19, 2006 – the 100th anniversary of the Russian submarine fleet.

It belongs to a class of missile strategic submarine cruisers with a new generation of nuclear reactor, which allows the submarine to dive to a depth of 480 meters. It can spend up to three months in autonomous navigation and, thanks to the latest achievements in the reduction of noise, it is almost silent compared to previous generations of submarines.

The submarine is armed with the new missile system, which has from 16 to 20 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles Bulava (SS-NX-30 by NATO classification). The rocket is able to overcome any prospective missile defense system.

Read more: Silent sub: Russian noiseless Borei class nuclear submarine immersed — RT

Food Prices: Is speculation behind the rise in food prices?

The debate about food commodity speculation began when prices for staple foods rocketed in 2007. Maize prices in Ethiopia rose by almost 200 percent between June 2007 and June 2008, while the price of wheat shot up by almost 300 percent in Somalia and 90 percent in Sudan. This hyperinflation of the prices of basic foodstuffs prompted demonstrations in countries around the world.

Any attempt to get to the bottom of the problem inevitably leads to discussion about food speculation.

Non-governmental organizations like Foodwatch, Oxfam, or Weed (World Economy, Ecology and Development) say financial players bear a large part of the blame for the food crisis, and that banks and hedge funds are investing large sums of money in foodstuffs with the intention of making big profits.
"Investment funds are constantly influencing prices on the international market. In recent years, they've increased in volume by around 100 billion US dollars," explains David Hachfeld, a special advisor on trade policy with Oxfam in Germany. In this way, he says, they influence the price of foodstuffs and are able to drive them up.

Some organizations do not agree ith the NGO's. Financial speculation on the futures market alone cannot be held responsible for the rise in prices in agricultural commodities. There were, they say, other key contributing factors.

"People nowadays eat better than they used to. In particular, they can also afford to eat meat. That results in a big increase in the demand for agricultural goods," explains Ingo Pies. This, he says, is a structural factor which has been clearly observable over the past ten years and will continue to affect the markets in future.

Other institutions, such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) support this thesis, at least in part. On one hand, they acknowledge that there has been a sharp increase in speculation with arable land since the financial crisis of 2008. However, they do not believe that financial speculation is the cause of the rise in prices.

"This kind of financial speculation, the kind we are seeing now, may to some extent have an effect on price fluctuations, but it doesn't explain the long-term rise in prices," says Carmel Cahill, senior counselor in the OECD's Trade and Agriculture Directorate.

The debate is growing more heated, while food prices continue to rise around the world. According to the OECD, the price of basic foodstuffs such as corn, rice and wheat will keep on going up because populations are growing. In many West African countries, wheat is the product that is most affected.

One thing is clear: a solution must be found. The big question is where to start. The NGOs want to get banks and other financial players to stop speculating on food commodities. Other institutions believe the solution is to be found in combating urgent problems like climate change and land grabbing.

Early next year, the EU intends to implement new rules for the agricultural markets. On December 18, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development discussed recommendations for the Commission. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Paolo de Castro, the chair of the committee, said: "We certainly need to combat the speculation. But we should not forget that the real cause of instability on the agricultural market is strongly linked to the discrepancy between supply and demand."

Note EU-Digest: given the reputation of the financial markets speculation seems to be the first item on that has to be placed on the agenda to tackle this problem.
Read more: Is speculation behind the rise in food prices? | Globalization | DW.DE | 30.12.2012

Media: Newspapers around the world clamping down on free digital content - by Simon Houpt

Maybe the Mayans were actually big fans of reading online newspapers for free: While 2012 didn’t usher in the end of the world, the world of free online reading began to shrink sharply, as dozens of North American newspapers erected or announced plans to erect paywalls around their content.

Which means 2013 could be a make-or-break year for many in the industry, as they scramble for alternative streams of revenue to make up for lost print advertising.

Note EU-Digest: This trend is expected to continue around the world in 2013.

Read more: Newspapers clamping down on free digital content - The Globe and Mail

France - Cinema: 'The Intouchables' star Omar Sy voted France's favourite

French actor and comedian Omar Sy, who shot to international fame in the hit film "The Intouchables" was declared the darling of France on Sunday in a poll rating the country’s most popular people.

'Read more: The Intouchables' star Omar Sy voted France's favourite - FRANCE - FRANCE 24


European Unity ? - EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent


A review of the most recent EU-Summits by the German Magazine Der Spiegel  shows some disturbing developments whereby national interests seem to prevail over the common good.

"The haggling is in full swing at this hour -- North against South, rich countries against poor ones, German Chancellor Angela Merkel against French President François Hollande. They're stuck on a word, one that would normally have a beautiful, positive sound: common. The word "common" is dividing Europe. This is what it has come to in this night of hard-fought negotiations.

For more than six hours now, the leaders of the European Union have been meeting in Brussels to discuss the future. They are here to agree on a document, and according to item 12 of that paper, there is to be a "common backstop" for the new banking union, a sort of shared resolution fund for worst-case scenarios. Germany wants the word "common" deleted. So do Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

France wants to keep the word in the document, as do Italy, Spain and Portugal. The northern countries are afraid that they'll be asked to pay even more than they already do, while the south is hoping for more shared responsibility in the crisis. The dispute continues for three-quarters of an hour. The northern countries win the fight and the word "common" is stricken from the closing statement of the most recent EU summit."

This happened on Dec. 13 and 14, during a meeting of the European Council, the powerful EU body consisting of all 27 heads of state and government. They meet behind closed doors, and not even their closest staff members are allowed to attend. During these discussions, secrecy is normally paramount. But as of the last one, that no longer applies.

As to the Van Rompuy's proposal for deeper political integration - "Most of it is science fiction," German State Secretary Link says dismissively at the luncheon in Brussels, referring to the first Van Rompuy document.

At a December 17 meeting in the headquarters of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party Mrs Merkel  reports that she under the impression that Hollande is trying to obstruct everything she proposes between now and the German parliamentary election. Hollande currently has more allies than she does, she says, which is why cooperation isn't quite working yet. But she's doing her best to gather more allies for Germany, she adds.

Der Spiegel concludes: "It sounds a little like the days when there were still wars in Europe."

Read more: EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Terrorism - "Made in Poland Terrorism" - Poland’s Wannabe Guy Fawkes

The spectre of violent political extremism intruded into Krakow’s quiet, academic world in November when Polish security services announced they had arrested a chemistry lecturer who had been planning to detonate a massive bomb outside the country’s parliament building, intended to kill as many senior government figures as possible.

Brunon K., a 45-year-old researcher at the Agricultural University of Krakow (Uniwersytet Rolniczy w Krakowie), was arrested on November 11, although news of his detention was not announced until November 20.

As a member of staff at the university, Brunon K. had ready access to chemicals and other materials used in bomb making. He had studied explosives extensively during his academic career.

At a press conference in Warsaw, the Polish public prosecutor Mariusz Krasoń said that the suspect, who resides on the Albertyńskie estate in Nowa Huta, had been under surveillance for several months. During this time, Brunon K. had been observed studying the parliament buildings in Warsaw.

The prosecutor added that the suspect’s access to university laboratories had allowed him to acquire explosive materials, including fuses and detonators, sufficient for the construction of a four tonne bomb. When Police raided the suspect’s apartment, they found bomb-making materials, handguns, ammunition, body armour and a video of explosives tests apparently carried out by Brunon K.

Polish News channel TVN 24 reported that Brunon K. had openly admitted to being an admirer of Anders Breivik, but that he thought the Norwegian killer had “made some mistakes” in his car-bomb attack that killed eight people in 2011. The prosecutor described Brunon K. as a nationalist whose actions had been motivated by xenophobia and anti-Semitism

Read more: Poland’s Wannabe Guy Fawkes » Krakow Post

Pakistan: 5.8-quake hits Pakistan

A 5.8-magnitude quake struck Pakistan Saturday night but there was no immediate report of damage or casualty, the Met officials said.

The quake occurred around 11 p.m. The tremor was felt in Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore and other cities, Xinhua reported. The epicentre was located in the Hindu Kush region.

Read more: 5.8-quake hits Pakistan

US Economy: Lawmakers Meet With President in Last-Ditch Effort to Avert the 'Fiscal Cliff'

The final weekend has now arrived before the fiscal cliff hits on New Year's Day, and, with it, more than $600 million in tax hikes and spending cuts.

In a last bid for a deal, President Obama stated his terms face to face to top Republicans and Democrats.

Congressional leaders arrived at the White House this afternoon for their first group meeting with the president since Nov. 16. Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also attended. But there was little to suggest the makings of an 11th-hour bargain.

Instead, a source familiar with the meeting told the NewsHour the president is sticking with his offer from last Friday. It included keeping the Bush era tax break for the middle class, but raising tax rates on incomes over $250,000 a year. The president also wants to extend unemployment benefits for some two million Americans who will lose them in the new year.

And the proposal would delay any spending cuts. The president asked for an up-or-down vote on his plan unless there is a counterproposal that will pass both the House and Senate. A little more than an hour after the meeting began, several participants were seen leaving.

And back at the Capitol, the Senate's Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered their takes on the meeting.

Read more: Lawmakers Meet With President in Last-Ditch Effort to Avert the 'Fiscal Cliff' | PBS NewsHour | Dec. 28, 2012 | PBS

France: French court overturns ultra-rich tax

France's constitutional council has overturned a 75 percent upper tax rate on income above $1.32m, which was due to be introduced in 2013 by the socialist government.

The council's decision on Saturday, made in response to a motion by opposition conservatives, is a huge blow to President Francois Hollande who had made the rate his flagship tax measure as he sought to have the rich contribute more towards reducing the budget deficit.

While the planned upper tax band was mainly symbolic and would only have affected a few thousand people, it shocked foreign investors and infuriated high earners in France, prompting some such as actor Gerard Depardieu to flee abroad.

The government had estimated the 75 percent tax rate could raise around $400m a year as it battles to bring down the public deficit to below a European Union ceiling of three percent next year in the face of stalled growth.

The Constitutional Council, which rules on whether laws are constitutional, said in a statement that the way the upper rate was set to be imposed was unfair in the way it would affect different households.

The French prime minister's office responded that the government would push ahead with plans to impose a 75 percent upper income tax and would propose a new measure after the rate was ruled unconstitutional.

Read more: French court overturns ultra-rich tax - Europe - Al Jazeera English

European R and D: A long, cold year ahead for EU R and D funding - by Richard L. Hudson

One of the quaint rituals of this company town – where the ‘company’ is the European Commission – is making your way around the holiday party circuit. It is at these parties, most hosted by companies and trade associations, that the real business of government happens: Exchanging gossip about who’s in, who’s out, and what the year ahead promises.

Alas, the gossip isn’t cheery for a major issue we have been following, the Commission’s €80 billion, Horizon 2020 proposal to expand its RandD budget for the rest of the decade. For the past year, the Commission, Council and Parliament have been tied together in a slow-motion, three-legged dance to decide the fate of this plan. If the party gossip is right, the dance is a long way from over – and that’s bad news for anyone counting on some EU money to keep their labs running from 2014.

To put it in perspective: EU funding in research and innovation comprises 5 to 7 per cent (depending on who’s counting) of total European government support for this activity. It will amount to roughly 8 per cent of the total EU budget through the rest of this decade – a distant third in programmatic spending, after the rich pork-barrel budgets of agriculture and regional development. This is, in short, a relatively modest line item. Yet you’d never guess that from all the noise here.

The biggest noise at present is over the total EU budget, with budget hawks in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and a few other countries demanding an austerity-era cut. But there’s more than a little hypocrisy involved. The UK, for instance, is one of the three biggest recipients of EU RandD funding (with Germany and France.) So – surprise – it wants the EU cuts to come in farm, regional and administrative spending, not in R and D. Equally no surprise: Those countries in eastern and southern Europe that get relatively little RandD money put it lower down on their budget priorities, and dig in for support of regional development funds. This top-line budget fight is, according to the party chatter, going to take until at least February – and more likely May – to be One of the quaint rituals of this company town – where the ‘company’ is the European Commission – is making your way around the holiday party circuit. It is at these parties, most hosted by companies and trade associations, that the real business of government happens: Exchanging gossip about who’s in, who’s out, and what the year ahead promises.

Alas, the gossip isn’t cheery for a major issue we have been following, the Commission’s €80 billion, Horizon 2020 proposal to expand its RandD budget for the rest of the decade. For the past year, the Commission, Council and Parliament have been tied together in a slow-motion, three-legged dance to decide the fate of this plan. If the party gossip is right, the dance is a long way from over – and that’s bad news for anyone counting on some EU money to keep their labs running from 2014.

To put it in perspective: EU funding in research and innovation comprises 5 to 7 per cent (depending on who’s counting) of total European government support for this activity. It will amount to roughly 8 per cent of the total EU budget through the rest of this decade – a distant third in programmatic spending, after the rich pork-barrel budgets of agriculture and regional development. This is, in short, a relatively modest line item. Yet you’d never guess that from all the noise here.

The biggest noise at present is over the total EU budget, with budget hawks in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and a few other countries demanding an austerity-era cut. But there’s more than a little hypocrisy involved. The UK, for instance, is one of the three biggest recipients of EU RandD funding (with Germany and France.) So – surprise – it wants the EU cuts to come in farm, regional and administrative spending, not in R and D. Equally no surprise: Those countries in eastern and southern Europe that get relatively little RandD money put it lower down on their budget priorities, and dig in for support of regional development funds. This top-line budget fight is, according to the party chatter, going to take until at least February – and more likely May – to be 
Read more: The party chatter: A long, cold year ahead for EU RandD  funding - Science|Business

Britain: Broken-up Britain? UK epidemic of separated families - by Peter Macdiarmid

Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the western world and that only 69% of children live with their mother and father.

The UK came only behind Belgium, Estonia and Latvia for broken homes and well below the average for OECD countries of 84%. The analysis looked at the living arrangements of children between the ages of 0-14 in 30 OECD member countries, it was reported in the UK media.

The worst country for broken families was Latvia with just 64.9% of children living with both parents. Finland had the most children living with both their mother and father at 95.2%. Italy stood at 92%, with Germany at 82%, and the US ahead of Britain on 70.7%.

The statistics also showed that the number of kids in the UK living with just their mother was 27.6%, while children living with their father was just 2.4%.

Christian Guy from the Centre for Social Justice explained that the figures were a depressing wake up call for UK politicians. “Timid politicians are becoming numb to Britain’s sky-high family breakdown rates. Behind too many front doors, instability damages adults and children. Yet, as these OECD figures show, broken families are not some inevitable feature of modern society or social progress.”

Read more: Broken-up Britain? UK epidemic of separated families — RT

Special Report: Inside the West’s economic war with Iran

In his first week as U.S. president, Barack Obama told Iran’s leaders he would extend a hand if they would “unclench their fist” and persuade the West they weren’t trying to build a nuclear bomb.

So far, they have not. In response, the United States and the European Union this year took a step they had long resisted, imposing trade sanctions to choke off Iran’s lifeblood: oil revenue.

It was financial warfare, and it carried grave risks. Until recently, Iran was the world’s fourth largest exporter of oil, providing just under three percent of internationally traded supply. The campaign to take that oil off the market risked driving up world oil prices, disrupting the international payments system and stifling a fragile global economic recovery.

In interviews, senior U.S. and European officials described the intense diplomatic maneuvering they undertook to enact the sanctions without causing an oil shock.

Obama warned allies that oil sanctions were the only way to avert a new war between Israel and Iran. U.S. envoys pressed Iraqi, Libyan and, above all, Saudi officials to pump up their own crude supplies.

Washington and its allies massaged skittish oil markets with carefully calibrated messages. U.S. diplomats journeyed to southern Iraq to inspect plans for new oil terminals that could help blunt the loss of Iranian shipments.

The challenge, American officials said, was to clamp down on Iran’s oil exports while mitigating the risks of an oil crisis.

“That is the needle we were trying to thread,” said a senior Obama administration official. “It was always a roll of the dice because we didn’t know what the reaction was going to be.”

In one sense, the calculated gamble paid off. Iran is losing billions of dollars in revenue every month and its currency has been crippled by both the sanctions and its own mismanagement. Its oil exports have fallen by 55 percent this year, according to the U.S. Treasury. Other producers have offset losses and the global oil price has actually fallen.

But there’s no evidence yet the pressure has had its desired effect: to convince Iran to stop spinning the centrifuges to enrich uranium that could be used in a nuclear bomb.

Read more: Special Report: Inside the West’s economic war with Iran

Haiti: US State Department Issues Travel Warning for Haiti

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for Americans living in or traveling to Haiti, citing numerous hazards, including murder, robbery and infectious disease, mainly in  the Port-au-Prince area.

The advisory issued Friday said “no one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age.”

The warning said recent travelers have been attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince airport.

At least two U.S. citizens were shot and killed in robbery and kidnapping incidents this year.
The warning said Haitian authorities have “limited capacity” to deter or investigate violent acts, or prosecute assailants.

Read more: US State Department Issues Travel Warning for Haiti | Pakistan News

Middle East: Lebanese Christian Leader Lauds Iran's 6-Point Plan on Syria

"The plan ensures the interests of all sides and is completely balanced," Aoun said in a meeting with Tehran's Ambassador to Beirut Qazanfar Roknabadi on Saturday.

He said a similar plan in Lebanon in 1980s had successful outcomes and ended civil war in the country. 

Aoun also underlined the necessity for the cessation of hostilities and clashes in Syria to pave the ground for the start of dialogue among Syrian groups. 

During the meeting, Roknabadi briefed Aoun on Iran's 6-point plan, and said Iran believes that the Syrian nation should decide their country's fate and no foreign country should interfere in the Syrians' affairs. 

On December 16, the Iranian foreign ministry explained about the contents of Tehran's six-point plan for solving the problems in Syria, saying stop of violence and preventing foreign military intervention stand atop the proposal. 

According to the foreign ministry, the first step is stopping violence and preventing military intervention of other countries in the Syrian issue.

Read more: Lebanese Christian Leader Lauds Iran's 6-Point Plan on Syria

Alternative Energy: Small-scale solar's big potential goes untapped - by Julie Cart

Gerald Freeman unlocks the gate to the small power plant and goes inside. Three rows of solar collectors, elevated on troughs that track the sun's arc like sunflowers, afford a glimpse of California's possible energy future.

This facility and a smaller version across the road produce some 70 kilowatts of electricity, about 80% of the power required by Nipton's 60 residents, its general store and motel.

Freeman, a Caltech-trained geologist and one-time gold mine owner, understood when he bought this former ghost town near the Nevada border that being off the grid didn't have to mean going without power.

The Obama administration's solar-power initiative has fast-tracked large-scale plants, fueled by low-interest, government-guaranteed loans that cover up to 80% of construction costs. In all, the federal government has paid out more than $16 billion for renewable-energy projects.

Those large-scale projects are financially efficient for developers, but their size creates transmission inefficiencies and higher costs for ratepayers.

Smaller alternatives, from rooftop solar to small- and medium-sized plants, can do the opposite.
Collectively, modest-sized projects could provide an enormous electricity boost — and do so for less cost to consumers and less environmental damage to the desert areas where most are located, say advocates of small-scale solar power.

Read more: Small-scale solar's big potential goes untapped -


More than 20 thousand laws support gun ownership in the U.S.

Over 20 thousand laws are now in effect in the United States on the purchase, possession, transportation and use of firearms, in a nation where almost 300 million of these lethal means belong to private inventories.

Different media reports allude to these figures when the national debate for gun control has reached its highest point, after the massacre that occurred on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where 26 people were killed, 20 of them children . Each year some 100 thousand people are injured or shot dead in this country, according to the Brady Center for Gun Control.

According to this institution, from 23 countries worldwide with more population and higher incomes, 80 percent of the homicides by firearms occurred in the United States.

Other statistics indicate that by the end of November, the FBI had recorded more than 16,808,000 legal procedures for selling weapons, which exceeds by about 350,000 sales throughout the year 2011.

Read full report: More than 20 thousand laws support gun ownership in the U.S. - English

Germany: Insurance Company Allianz warns against D-Mark return - by Christine Wandolo

According to the insurer Allianz, a return of the D-Mark would cost Germany wealth and jobs. The result would be "a much greater shock than the Lehman crisis" warned Allianz Chief Economist Michael Heise in the daily newspaper "Die Welt" on Monday. The appreciation of up to 20 percent would increase the price of German products abroad and would reduce exports by up to 20 percent.

Companies would have to reconsider their location, and the closure of production facilities could jeopardize the German economy significantly. Europe's largest insurance company warned that if this were to happen, four to five years after the end of the monetary union, there would most likely be production losses of up to 25 percent compared to a normal economic development.

Read more: Allianz warns against D-Mark return

France: Outlook bleak as Hollande hails 2013 'battle for jobs' - by Ben McPartland

French President François Hollande has hailed 2013 as the year of the "great battle for jobs". But figures released Thursday show a rise in the jobless rate for the nineteenth consecutive month – and the forecast is for worse to come.

France's faltering economy shed a further 30,000 jobs in November, according to new figures released Thursday, pushing the unemployment rate to its highest level in almost 15 years.

The alarming data, although expected, is another blow to the country’s Socialist government and its president, who called earlier in the day for a collective “mobilisation” to deal with the ongoing employment crisis.

With France’s unemployment rate crashing through the symbolic 10% mark this year, the president could offer no seasonal cheer when he made a surprise visit to Europe's largest wholesale market in Rungis, south of Paris.

“During this festive season I have to tell the French that it must be all hands on deck in the battle against unemployment,” said the president, who decided not to take any Christmas holidays following criticism in the French media when he took time off in August . “My goal is that unemployment, which has been rising for nearly two years now, begins to decline,” Hollande said, though admitting this may not happen until the end of 2013.

Read more: Outlook bleak as Hollande hails 2013 'battle for jobs' - FRANCE - FRANCE 24

" Europe is an economic giant, a political dwarf, and a military worm" - Mark Eyskens: by Craig Willy

The above words were pronounced by Belgium’s then-Foreign Minister on the eve of 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. The often-cited bon mot, two decades on, still rings true. But while militarily the European Union is likely remain marginal in the years to come, there are indications it will become something like a “political giant”.

The trouble with the EU (and before that the Communities) – the idea that it could have a coherent policy or even be a world power – has always been that it is effectively a “vetocracy”. A system where decisions of any significance must be taken unanimously means reform and good government are almost impossible. If the status quo suits just one representative’s constituents enough, then no change is possible. This is the single most important reason for the EU’s impotence in world affairs.But the EU, as we’ve seen, will in many areas likely become as “federal-majoritarian” as the United States of America, minus (very significantly) the budget.

The European Superstate may even, in fact, function better than the very minoritarian and viciously partisan American political system of today.

National vetoes and the impulse to collaborate with American schemes will mean that official so-called “European foreign policy” and defense will likely remain marginal (notwithstanding the large number of, mostly relatively small, EU civil and military operations abroad). However, these days, foreign policy and world power are less and less the stuff of diplomatic chancelleries and hard military action. (Can it be said that the U.S. “benefited” from the untold trillions spent and other non-financial costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two greatest manifestations of American military power?)

Instead today, as economic, environmental and security interdependence between countries steadily increases, foreign policy is increasingly an extension of domestic policy, what in German is called Weltinnenpolitik. In English, we talk less elegantly of “intermestic” issues and there is overlap with the concept of “global governance”. As examples, here are some of the questions the world powers of today are fighting over: What kind of world will we live in? A world of massive energy waste? Of environmental unsustainability? Of banksterism run amok? Of international lawlessness? Of war? Or will we live in a world Europeans (and likely others too) would want to live in? These questions will not be determined primarily by hard military power and conquest.

Instead, here, the EU may well actually be able to become a genuine actor. Within Europe, the rules for financial regulation and climate, for example, will be based on qualified majority voting. Outside Europe, trade and aid policy, the prime methods for incentivizing and fighting for one’s vision of the world, will also be subject to the new majoritarian rules. The EU may then, for the first time, be able to actually fulfill the call that French and German philosophers Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida made in May 2003:

Read more: Europa 2024 (ii): Will the new Europe become a world power? | Craig Willy | EU affairs writer

E-book reading jumps as print declines - by Dawn C. Chmielewski

Surging sales of tablet computers are driving a fundamental change in how Americans read books.

Twenty-three percent of Americans age 16 and older say they have read an e-book in the last year, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. That's up from 16% a year ago.

At the same time, the number of those who read a printed book in the last 12 months fell to 67% -- a decline of five percentage points.

The rise in electronic book reading coincides with an increase in the number of people who own tablet computers or dedicated e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook.

A quarter of all Americans age 16 and up own an Apple Inc. iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab or other tablet computer, Pew reports, an increase from 10% in 2011. The number of people who own an e-book reader rose to 19% from 10%.

"We are still in the early stages of the transition," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. "It's a big deal for the publishing industry, in the same way that the transition to digital news was a big deal for the newspaper business in the late '90, and the same way Napster was a big deal to the music industry in the early 2000s."

Researcher NPD Group estimates that 33 million tablet computers have been sold through November of 2012. Devices with screens smaller than 8 inches -- including the Apple iPad Mini and smaller versions of the Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus tablet -- seem well suited to reading, says NPD analyst Stephen Baker. With vigorous sales of tablets this holiday season, Baker predicts "the beginning of the end" for traditional e-readers.

Read more: E-book reading jumps as print declines -

Netherlands - Ports - Shipment of goods via Rotterdam port up by 1.7 pct

The amount of goods shipped through Rotterdam port in the Netherlands in 2012 grew by 1.7% to reach 442 million tonnes, the Rotterdam port authority announced on Friday.

The growth was mainly due to an increase in shipment of crude oil and oil products, President of the port of Rotterdam, Hans Smits, said in a statement.The amount of goods shipped through Rotterdam port in the Netherlands in 2012 grew by 1.7% to reach 442 million tonnes, the Rotterdam port authority announced on Friday.

The growth was mainly due to an increase in shipment of crude oil and oil products, President of the port of Rotterdam, Hans Smits, said in a statement.

Shipment of of crude oil increased by 6%, and mineral oil product by 12% this year. Shipment of naphtha, gas oil, diesel, kerosene and petrol also increased. A total of 214 million tonnes of liquid bulk was handled. This cargo segment thus represents half of the cargo throughput in the port of Rotterdam, said the statement.
LNG imports remained at a low level, because the prices in Asia are much higher, resulting in the product being transported to the Far East rather than to Europe.

Read more: KUNA : Shipment of goods via Rotterdam port up by 1.7 pct - Economics - 28/12/2012

Internet - China closing Web loophole - by David Pierson

For years, China's net censors turned a blind eye to a major loophole.

Anyone who wanted access to blocked overseas websites like Twitter, Facebook, and more recently, the New York Times, only needed to download foreign software called a virtual private network (VPN) to circumvent the Great Firewall.

But in recent weeks, even these tools have begun to falter, frustrating tech-savvy Chinese and foreign businesspeople who now struggle to access Internet sites as innocuous as and

The tightening appears to be part of a broader and continuing campaign by China to rein in the country's Internet, which has nearly 600 million users and challenges the government's monopoly on information.
State media have been running editorials regularly about the dangers of an unregulated Internet, citing an uptick in rumormongering and misinformation.

Read more: China closing Web loophole -


European Airline Industry: Ryanair opens first base in Croatia

One of the world’s most popular budget airlines, Ryanair, will open a base in Croatia next year. In an official announcement from the airline the company stated that it would be opening a base at Zadar Airport from April 2013.

The new base will cover seven different routes including Dublin, East Midlands, Gothernburg, Liverpool, Paris Wroclaw and Haugesund. For the time being only one plane will be based at Zadar Airport, although this is the first time that Ryanair have had a base in the Republic of Croatia.

To mark the event Ryanair have launched a 100,000 seat sale with fares starting as low as £8 for travel across Europe. Although if you thinking of grabbing a seat you’ll have to be quick as the offer ends tonight, 20th December, at midnight. Flights on one of Ryanair’s new seven lines from Zadar can be purchased online.

Read more: Ryanair opens first base in Croatia – The Dubrovnik Times — Dubrovački vjesnik

US Economy: Fiscal Cliff: 4 Misconceptions About Taxes and the Deficit - by Michael Sivy

In all the negotiations to prevent the fiscal cliff from hurting the economy, potential compromises keep coming apart over the issue of raising income tax rates, especially on high earners. Income taxes stir up strong feelings among voters because of concerns about fairness — and politicians exploit those emotions, whichever party they belong to. As a result, the broader budget discussion keeps getting diverted to focus on tax rates, which actually play only a small role among the causes of current U.S. financial troubles.

In fact, there are really two different budget problems that often get mixed together. One is the current deficit, which totaled more than $1.1 trillion last year, almost double the amount that the U.S. economy can comfortably carry. The other is the long-term accumulation of debt. Even after the U.S. economy fully recovers from the effects of the recessionthe federal deficit is projected to remain too high. As a result, the national debt is on course to keep rising as a percentage of GDP until it reaches dangerous levels.

It’s true that the top tax bracket has come down substantially over the past half-century — from 91% when President Kennedy took office, 70% when President Reagan took office and 39.6% when President George W. Bush took office to 35% today. But rates are only one element of income tax policy — the rules for what counts as income and what deductions are allowed are just as important. Mitt Romney enjoyed a low effective tax rate, for instance, because he received much of his income in the form of capital gains.

In the end what really matters is how much revenue the tax system raises. That amount, measured as a percentage of GDP, normally drops during recessions, as it did recently. But once the economy fully recovers, federal revenues are projected to be about the same as they have been for the past half-century.

Read more: Fiscal Cliff: 4 Misconceptions About Taxes and the Deficit |

The Environment - Global warming: Rate of warming in Antarctica is twice as imagined, says study

Researchers believe the plate temperature in the western region rose 2.4 degrees on average between 1958 and 2010... A new historical analysis of temperatures in West Antarctica revealed that the region suffers from heating at a rate twice faster than imagined.

U.S. researchers say they have found signs of warming during the summer in the western Antarctica ice sheet (WAIS, in English). They fear that the melting of ice, caused by higher temperatures, may contribute to an increase in sea level.

The study by the  scientists was published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Scientists compiled data collected by the Byrd station, which was established by the U.S. government in West Antarctica in the 1950s.

Read more: Rate of warming in Antarctica is twice as imagined, says study - English

China: Unmanned drone ready for testing

Chinese drones can be used against aircraft carriers
An unmanned drone developed by a research team of the Chinese People's Liberation Army will soon undergo its first test.

The drone's functions include automatic tracing and surveillance, and key attack technologies will be tested, according to a report by Science and Technology Daily on Dec 27.

China's Air Force displayed eight types of unmanned drones at the ninth China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition held in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, in November. Although progress has been made in recent years, China still lags behind in drone technology compared to some other countries, according to reports.

Read vmore: Unmanned drone ready for testing|Politics|

Rules, oversight 'key' to eurozone survival

European countries are not ready for proposals for a political union. Economist Wim Kösters argues in an interview with DW that the decisive question at present is whether shared rules for the currency union can be held to.

DW: Many have criticized the lack of a political union to back up the euro. For months, people have worked on a concept that would fix this problem retroactively. Ideas have ranged from a joint finance minister for the whole currency union all the way to a shared eurozone budget. None of that came up at the EU summit in mid-December. Has the concept of a political union failed?

Wim Kösters: "It's very hard to agree to a political union when important rules have been broken in the past. Those rules, like the no-bailout clause or the stability and growth pact, formed the basis of a rudimentary political union. That showed that people didn't want a constitution at all for the EU. As such, it's hard to agree to a political union in Europe now. It doesn't have the majority's support. So for now, you have to see it as a failed idea."

And a European finance minister - is that a solution to the crisis? I don't think so. The first question is what this minister is supposed to be doing. Is he supposed to operate according to strict regulations, or should he decide from case to case, as France would like to see. Until we've reached agreement on these issues, it's of no use to introduce such an institution.  However, EU finance ministers had agreed to oversight for Europe's banks ahead of the summit. Will that help the euro zone avoid future crises?

"Basically, I think so. If we get a European banking union that entails first and foremost shared oversight over banks, then we avoid the errors that result when some countries are too lax in supervising banks."

Read more: Rules, oversight 'key' to eurozone survival | Europe | DW.DE | 27.12.2012

As Relations Between Israel and Europe Shift, Consider Germany - by Catherine Cheney

The relationship between Israel and Europe has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, beginning with the Nov. 29 United Nations vote for Palestinian statehood, in which the Czech Republic was the only European country to join Israel and the United States in rejecting the bid.

What followed the next week was the summoning of Israeli ambassadors to several European capitals after the decision by Israel to approve the construction of new settlements.

So when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Berlin, Germany earlier this month to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli anger over the German decision to abstain from the UN vote, and European anger over Israeli settlements, made for a visit marred by tensions.

"Support of Israel remains a critical part of German and European foreign policy toward the Middle East," Joel Peters, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, explained in an interview.

Discussing the shift in European policy toward Israel, Peters, who was also the founding director of the Ben Gurion University Center for the Study of European Politics and Society, said that while these latest developments will not have an immediate impact on relations, they are an important part of a broader transition in the way that Europe deals with Israel in the future.

Europe has always spoken with a common voice on what the peace process should look like, he said. But as its disappointment over perceived Israeli intransigence deepens, there is a greater sense of urgency in its push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "There is a need to get back to the negotiation table," he said. "There is a need to move forward because time is slipping by."

Peters said that while Europe will continue to work with Israel in the hope of bringing it back to the negotiating table, it also sees the need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority. The European countries that abstained from the UN vote did so in part because voting no would have further alienated and weakened Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he explained.

Read more: Catherine Cheney: As Relations Between Israel and Europe Shift, Consider Germany


US Economy: Obama returns to 'fiscal cliff' uncertainty "as Republicans continue to block progress"

John Boehner says Senate must act first
President Obama is scheduled to return to the White House on Thursday, but his plans for the rest of the week are very much in fiscal cliff flux.

The Republican-run House did not have a scheduled return date as of Wednesday afternoon, less than a week before the start of a year that includes the set of automatic tax hikes and budget cuts known as the "fiscal cliff."

House members will receive a 48-hour get-back-to-work-notice, presumably meaning the chamber couldn't convene before Friday afternoon.

"Scheduling decisions are still being discussed," said a statement from the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose talks with Obama on a debt reduction deal to avoid the fiscal cliff stalled last week.
The Democratic-run Senate is scheduled to meet.

"The Senate first must act," said a joint statement Wednesday by Boehner and other House GOP leaders. "The lines of communication remain open, and we will continue to work with our colleagues to avert the largest tax hike in American history and to address the underlying problem, which is spending."

In a reply, Reid noted that the Senate has passed a plan to prevent tax hikes on the middle class Jan. 1, but the House hasn't taken it up.

"The Senate has already rejected House Republicans' Tea Party bills, and no further legislation can move through the Senate until Republicans drop their knee-jerk obstruction," Reid said. "Right now, the Senate bill is the only bill that can become law, and House Republicans owe it to middle class families to let it pass with Democratic and Republican votes."

Read more: Obama returns to 'fiscal cliff' uncertainty

EU happily closes the books on tumultuous 2012

At the beginning of December, it still looked as if the EU would enter the new year more divided than ever before. Yet at the last EU summit a sense of momentum was palpable.

The union of European countries is no longer as fragile as it was at the beginning of the year, even if many problems do have yet to be solved. The debt crisis was 2012's dominant force, relegating everything else to a sideshow: the civil war in Syria, the sharpening of the Middle East conflict, the upheavals in Egypt.

Even for issues closer to home, such as the European integration of Serbia and other states of the former Yugoslavia, the EU had neither the attention nor the energy. Sometime soon, Croatia will become an EU member. Yet at the latest EU summit, Chancellor Merkel stated explicitly that it's the wrong time, due to the fact that "we'll be looking more closely at [Croatia's] economy and competitiveness."

Yet over the last few weeks, a sense of recognition seems to have dawned on all parties involved that they are, in fact, sitting in the same boat. The end of the year has brought wide-ranging consensus - a striking difference from the year's beginning.

The eurozone will not break apart; no country will exit; and even the long-term 'cost' of transfers from resilient countries to the not-so-resilient countries appears to have been agreed upon.

In exchange, receivers of such aid are obliged to structural reform. Without such joint measures of force, not only is the euro in danger, said Chancellor Merkel in a statement in Brussels in autumn, but Europe will become dependent on other regions of the world. "If we simply close our eyes, then together we can't guarantee prosperity for future generations," she said.

Read more: EU happily closes the books on tumultuous 2012 | Europe | DW.DE | 26.12.2012

'Monsieur' John Kerry and the French connection

Reacting to President Barack Obama’s recent nomination of John Kerry as the next US secretary of state, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius praised his future counterpart’s “personal commitment to Franco-American friendship”.

The comment was a reference to a poorly-kept “secret” that dogged the former Democratic presidential candidate during his bid to unseat then-incumbent George W. Bush in 2004: Kerry has a French connection.

The Massachusetts senator attended a Swiss boarding school as a child, learning to speak fluent French –which  reportedly worked wonders in courting his wife, Teresa Heinz, whose parents were Portuguese.
He spent summers at his maternal grandparents’ luxurious home in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, a village in the north-western coastal region of Brittany. And he counts Brice Lalonde, a former French green party leader and an environment minister in the early 1990s, as one of his first cousins.

Read more:: 'Monsieur' John Kerry and the French connection - USA - FRANCE - FRANCE 24

Renewable-Energy Projects Get 1.2 Billion Euros in EU Aid - by Ewa Krukowska

The European Union granted 1.2 billion euros ($1.58 billion) in subsidies to 23 renewable- energy projects under a program to promote low-carbon technology as a part of the fight against global warming.

The aid for the projects located in 16 EU countries including France, Germany, Greece, Poland and the U.K. comes from the sale of allowances to emit carbon dioxide set aside in a special reserve under Europe’s cap-and-trade program, known as NER300. Today’s announcement covers proceeds from the first tranche of 200 million allowances sold this year and last year.

The projects, ranging from biofuels to solar and wind power, will boost annual renewable energy output in Europe by about 10 terrawatt-hours, an amount equivalent to the yearly fuel consumption of more than a million passenger cars, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, said in a statement. The aim is to demonstrate technologies that will help scale up clean energy production in the region.

“The NER300 program is in effect a ’Robin Hood’ mechanism that makes polluters pay for large-scale demonstration of new low-carbon technologies,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in a statement. “The 1.2 billion euros of grants - paid by the polluters - will leverage a further 2 billion euros of private investment.”

Read more: Renewable-Energy Projects Get 1.2 Billion Euros in EU Aid - Bloomberg

High Energy Costs Plaguing Europe - by Stanley Reed

Voestalpine, an Austrian maker of high-quality steel for the auto industry, announced that it would build a plant in North America that would employ natural gas to reduce iron ore to a kind of raw iron that would then be used in the company's European blast furnaces.

Asked whether he had considered building the plant in Europe, Voestalpine’s chief executive, Wolfgang Eder, said that that “calculation does not make sense from the very beginning.” Gas in Europe is much more expensive, he said. 

High energy costs are emerging as an issue in Europe that is prompting debate, including questioning of the Continent’s clean energy initiatives. Over the past few years, Europe has spent tens of billions of euros in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The bulk of the spending has gone into low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar power that have needed special tariffs or other subsidies to be commercially viable. 

Read more: High Energy Costs Plaguing Europe -


Religion: Christmas And The Big Bang - by RM

After a great Christmas Eve party at the family of friends we are staying with in California during this Christmas holiday, we came back to their home that evening, sat around the living room talking about the pleasant evening we spend together.

At one point the conversation also turned to spirituality and religion in connection with the celebration of Christmas, and how powerful the commercial effect has been in overshadowing the true meaning of Christmas.

Everyone seemed to agree that throughout the ages organized religion, in one way or the other had been a curse to civilization, causing war, put up brother against brother, and in fact has been  a constant cause of strive between people.

Where the conversation became interesting was when we discussed how organized religion was perceived as opposed to spirituality. Most of those present seemed to associate spirituality with organized religion and consequently also criticized the different and opposing dogma's of religions around the world.

Heaven and hell, the immaculate conception, Christ being the son of God, all were called into question, and in one way or the other associated with organized religion.

Can you blame someone for bringing up those arguments? Of course not, given so many people have never read the Bible and most of the things they profess as the "gospel truth" they have heard, read or seen on TV.

It is unfortunate, but news about scandals surrounding organized religion far outnumber anything positive coming from people with in-depth theological and historical knowledge. 

For a Christian who does not believe in organized religion,  I have found that in the secular world we live in most people are unable to accept the fact that there are certain things that can not be proven by reason or scientific research.

The concept of "its certain because its impossible" seems to be something that classify those who profess it as having gone off the bent. But in fact this is what I would call spiritual faith.

The Bible says about faith: "It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see".

In the material world we live in "seeing is believing". The Darwin Theory, the Big Bang theory, etc. etc.,  are all based on human definitions and perceptions. Unfortunately when it comes to the last decimal point in all this research and theories, one eventually reaches a blank which can not be defined or explained.

It is that blank that only spirituality can fill in. No one else, but a higher power, many of us don't want to recognize, could have lit the fuse that caused the big bang,  making something out of nothing.

We celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ, to recognize the existence of this higher power who gave grace, hope and the promise of eternal life to everyone..

Merry Christmas !.


Under EU, independence feels viable to Europe's secessionists - by Henry Chu

During most of the last 1,200 years, this watery Italian city was a nation unto itself — powerful, prosperous and proud.

Now, many of its residents are convinced that their best shot at the future lies in turning back the clock.
Venice and the surrounding region, known as the Veneto, would be much better off as an independent state again, uncoupled from Italy, a growing number of people say. They're tired of paying billions of dollars in taxes to Rome, only to see the money frittered away on other, less productive parts of the country.

So this year, thousands of Venetians signed a petition demanding a divorce from their fellow Italians. A declaration of independence was delivered — by gondola, of course — to regional officials, who are mulling over a possible referendum on breaking away.

"We say we don't need Rome," said Lodovico Pizzati, an economics professor who is leading the campaign. "We have our right of self-determination."

Read more: Under EU, independence feels viable to Europe's secessionists -


Russia - India: Kremlin, India Strike $2.9 billion Weapons Deal

India today agreed to buy $2.9 billion worth of Russian weapons, as President Vladimir Putin visited the longtime ally.

Under the larger deal, India will purchase kits to assemble 42 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets for $1.6 billion. The other contract is for 71 Mi-17 helicopters worth $1.3 billion. "We agreed to strengthen the partnership of Russia and India in the area of military equipment cooperation further and advance new projects, including by creating joint ventures and transferring technology," Putin said after his talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The fighter jet deal brought the total number of Sukhoi-30 warplanes sold to India to 230, with a total value of $8.5 billion, Interfax reported. India's HAL Corp. plans to build 140 of these jets by the end of 2015.
"Russia is a key partner in our efforts to modernize our armed forces," Singh said in a statement.
As far as helicopters go, India has already been taking delivery of Mi-17s under a previous contract. Signed in 2008, it stipulates that Russia will supply 80 helicopters worth $1.3 billion.

India has been Russia's largest customer for military hardware, despite missed deadlines that sent New Delhi shopping for Western weapons more often.

Read more: Kremlin, India Strike Weapons Deals | News | The Moscow Times

Germany: President Gauck: "Christmas heals world's ills and worries"

Germany's former Protestant pastor, turned head of state, said many people yearned for the Nativity message of peace as symbolized by the Christ child in the crib because worldwide "in reality so much discord, so much warfare, prevails."

President Gauck's televised address, his first since assuming office in March and released on Monday initially as text, is to be broadcast nationwide on the evening of Christmas Day, Tuesday.

Christmas, he said, was equally important for Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths as well as atheists because for them too it was a festival of contemplation and charity.

Germany, said Gauck, offered asylum to persecuted foreigners with an "open heart," although it would never be able to take in all those who wanted to come.

Read more: Gauck: Christmas heals world's ills and worries | News | DW.DE | 24.12.2012

Italy's Monti wants to block Berlusconi comeback: say analysts

Mario Monti's offer to stay on as prime minister is motivated by a wish to prevent the scandal-tainted Silvio Berlusconi from returning to power and undoing key reforms, analysts said Monday.

"Berlusconi is the number one adversary. Monti's objective is in part a clear attempt to destroy him politically," Stefano Folli, political commentator for Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, told AFP.

The outgoing premier, who resigned Friday after 13 months at the head of an unelected team of technocrats to take the helm of a caretaker government, said Sunday that he would consider leading a pro-reform coalition in elections set for February 24-25 -- though not as a formal candidate.

Read more: Italy's Monti wants to block Berlusconi comeback: analysts - FRANCE 24

France: Bubbly Sales Tank In 'Gloomy' France

Even the pop of a champagne cork can't pull France out of a national funk.

According to The Financial Times, champagne sales in France were down 5 percent in the first 10 months of the year, and the "gloomy" national mood is to blame.

"There is a moroseness, a sadness among the French population at the moment which has led to our compatriots drinking a little less champagne this year," Paul-Franois Vranken, chairman of champagne house Vranken Pommery Monopole, told The FT's Scheherazade Daneshkhu.  "Champagne consumption follows the mood of the country. Today, there isn't a mood conducive to celebration," he added.

Read more: Champagne Sales Tank In 'Gloomy' France - Business Insider

Europe stocks slip on US fiscal-cliff fears

U.S. lawmakers over the weekend said it remained possible to reach a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, but they noted that time was running short. The fiscal cliff refers to a combination of around $600 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes set to begin taking effect on Jan. 1 unless the White House and congressional Republicans reach a budget deal.

“The only real story appears to be the fiscal situation in the U.S. and the diminishing prospect of a deal before year-end,” wrote strategists at FxPro in London. 

Read more: Europe stocks slip on fiscal-cliff fears - Europe Markets - MarketWatch


German weapon registry to take effect in 2013

The Federal Ministry of the Interior in Germany estimates that around six million weapons in Germany are in circulation legally. But beginning next year, security officials will be less dependent on conjecture. The National Weapon Registry (NWR), housed in Cologne, will be ready for use on January 1, 2013. A test phase including the participation of 10 weapons offices has been completed successfully.

The databank will collect and summarize information from the nearly 600 weapon permit offices in Germany. Collecting this data fulfils an EU requirement, which specifies that all member states must implement a digital and up-to-date register of weapons by 2014.

The shootings in Erfurt and Winnenden have prompted numerous changes in Germany's weapons laws. Those who own guns for sporting purposes are now eligible to possess them from the age of 21 rather than 18, as was earlier the case. For hunters, the age limit was raised from 16 to 18. Those who are under 25 and wish to acquire sporting guns must also pass a psychological examination.

Regulations on the storage of guns have also become stricter. For example, German authorities may now come unannounced to gun owners' homes and require the residents to prove that their weapons are properly stored.
Read more: German weapon registry to take effect in 2013 | Germany | DW.DE | 18.12.

Energy: Caspian Basin: "As Energy Prices Head North, Democratization Goes South " - by Steve LeVine

Quiz: Over the next three months, three former Soviet republics will hold elections – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia. Whose official outcome will most closely resemble the truth?

If you replied Russia's upcoming presidential election, you are correct, which, given the apparent scale of fraud in its December 4 Duma vote, says much about politics on the Caspian Sea oil patch: While Vladimir Putin reluctantly permitted a large election protest in Moscow – and may face more in the coming weeks – the popular will is likely to play almost no role in the voting along Russia’s southern rim. Instead, the rulers of these self-styled sultanates, courted by the West since the 1990s for their hydrocarbons and geostrategic location, will declare outsized victories for their chosen candidates, unruffled by the turbulence that has terrified petrocrats elsewhere.  

The rulers of this stretch of land seem to think they will simply hang on. One is led to conclude that they may be right, given the region’s history. Yet, their gamble is considerable – that the influences of the outside world, held at bay for so many centuries, will remain far, far away. 

Two decades after the Soviet breakup, the Caspian is reaping the profits of more than 1.5 million barrels a day of oil exports. It is one of China’s choice suppliers of natural gas. And it is an increasingly crucial military staging ground for the United States, which originally embraced the republics in order to direct their oil and gas through new pipelines to the West, and now to facilitate the shipment of war supplies to Afghanistan. 
Judging by the rulers’ behavior, this trifecta of factors has helped to make them feel insulated from the political and economic trends pushing and pulling the rest of the world. While the Arab Spring has persuaded even Saudi Arabia to shower $130 billion in added payouts on its population as insurance against unrest, the rulers of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, along with Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, have more or less gone about their usual business.

Read more Caspian Basin: As Energy Prices Head North, Democratization Goes South |

US firms fall out of love with France, survey says

The return to power of France’s Socialist Party in the spring of 2012 after a 17-year absence has not gone down well, it seems, with American businesses with operations in the country.

According to a recent poll of the heads of French branches of US companies, France's attractiveness as a place to do business has plummeted in the last year.

The survey, carried out by the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris along with consulting firm Bain and Company, revealed only 22 percent of the heads of the US companies in France see the country as an attractive place to do business, down from 56 percent when the same poll was carried out in 2011.

The chief reason for the steep drop it seems, can be explained by May’s presidential election when Socialist François Hollande ousted conservative Nicolas Sarkozy from the Elysée Palace.

Of the 52 leaders of French operations of US companies, 65 percent of respondents cited the election of a Socialist government as having a negative impact on attractiveness.

The US business leaders were also critical of the Socialist government’s economic policies, which include its controversial 75 percent tax rate on earnings above one million euros, According to 85 percent of respondents the policies have also had a negative or very negative impact on the attractiveness of France for foreign investors.

The poll has seemingly largely been ignored by France’s leftwing press but it has been used as ammunition by the country’s centre-right newspapers with Le Figaro acidly remarking that US investors had sent a “clear message” to Hollande.

Note EU-Digest: France and Europe need not to worry too much about the comments from the business sector. They always react to any force trying to curb their totally unrealistic tax benefits and ability to exploit corporate loopholes to the fullest. 

Read More: US firms fall out of love with France, survey says - FRANCE / BUSINESS - FRANCE 24

Democracy around the world: 'Most democratic' European Nordic Nations " - by Jennifer Harper

A new rating of the most "democratic" nations on the planet places the U.S. in 15th place in a list of 104 countries. Who made the assessment? The Vienna, Austria-based Democracy Ranking annually rates the democracy among world populations based on "quality," taking into account such factors as political rights, civil liberty, press freedom, corruption, political stability, "gender gap" issues and myriad socioeconomic indicators.

Nordic nations — where governments tend to flirt with socialism — dominate the lead. The top 10 nations on the list are Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and Austria.

"The United States dropped from ranking position 14 to 15, but improved in scores from 78.3 to 78.5, with gains in politics, environment, health, and knowledge, but losses in economy and gender," the report said.

Canada, Belgium, Britain and Australia outrank the U.S. Among many others, the Russian Federation was 88th, India 72nd and Mexico 54th. The nations with the lowest rankings are Haiti, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, China, Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Libya, Syria and — in last place — Yemen.

Read more: 'Most democratic': U.S. is 15th on the list - Washington Times

Israel Elections: Ahead of Israel election, Netanyahu stuck between a right-wing rock and a hard place - by Anshel Pfeffer

By urgently summoning the anchors of Israel’s three main television channels on Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu gave the first clear and open signal that he is beginning to feel worried. Not worried that he may actually lose the upcoming election – there is no sign of that in the polls four weeks before election day – but worried that this victory may not be worth winning.

Read more: Ahead of Israel election, Netanyahu stuck between a right-wing rock and a hard place - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper

Protecting the less fortunate: French Premier Runs Europe’s Most Left-Wing Policy - by Helene Fouque

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said President Francois Hollande’s socialist government is implementing Europe’s most leftist agenda, Journal du Dimanche quoted him as saying today. ’’We run Europe’s most left-wing policies,’’ JDD cited Ayrault as saying. “It’s true. We must accept it. I am not a social-liberal.”

The newspaper did not say which policies Ayrault was referring to.

The Prime Minister, one of the least popular in France’s modern history, told JDD he will revamp his communications strategy next year to explain how he wants to create a “new French model.”

The government, composed of Socialist and Green party members, has increased school staff to bolster education and implemented a 75 percent tax on millionaires as well as pledged to protect France’s welfare system. In his 2013 budget law, Ayrault plans to add 10 billion euros ($13.2 billions) worth of taxes on private people and as much for companies.

Read more: French Premier Says He Runs Europe’s Most Left-Wing Policy: JDD - Bloomberg


China wants USA to disarm

 The Communist Party of China demands the U.S. should disarm. According to Chinese officials, the recent school massacre gave all to understand that one should not wait any longer. The country's leaders believe that the brutality of the Connecticut shooter will ensure the widest public support for arms reduction.

"The Chinese government calls Obama "to use the tragedy as a reason to promote the law on the control of weapons." According to Chinese officials, now is the best time to act so, since the president has just been elected for a second term".

They also note that although previous similar shootings did not to any serious actions, the most recent tragedy may serve an important impetus to revise the system of arms control."

According to US-based activist and FBI informant Brandon Darby, "the current Chinese government killed from 40 to 70 million people during Mao Zedong's Revolution. Mao himself said that "political power starts in the barrel of a gun."

Read more: China wants USA to disarm - English

Barron's Recap: Betting on Europe in 2013

Europe's sovereign-debt crisis is far from over, and protesters continue to rail against government-imposed austerity in Greece and Spain. However, doubts about the eurozone's sustainability have been all but put to rest.

Some investors think that European stocks could rally up to 20% in 2013, due to global growth and their cheap valuations. Barron's offers suggestions for where to shop and what to buy. Many European companies took advantage of the recession to clean up their balance sheets, cut costs, trim capital expenditures and amass cash.

The weaker euro is expected to help boost corporate earnings between five percent and 10 percent in 2013. Undervalued companies with minimal downside risk include Volkswagen; European Aeronautic Defence & Space (EADS), parent of Airbus; miner Rio Tinto.
Read more: Barron's Recap (12/22/12): Betting on Europe in 2013 | Benzinga