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Syria: Damascus under siege is a changed capital city - by Zeina Karam

Shops and restaurants close early in Damascus these days, their owners eager to get home before dark, which sometimes brings shootings and other crime. Blast walls and checkpoints ring government buildings to guard against car bombs. Residents struggle with spiraling prices and power outages.

In my first visit in nearly a year, I found Damascus transformed by Syria’s deadly and divisive uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime. A capital once considered one of the safest in the world has become tense with worries over violence. A city that had grown boisterous and optimistic with an economic blossoming in recent years is now grim with fears for the future.

Electricity outages lasting up to 12 hours a day have forced residents to buy private generators, and the din from their engines echoes along the commercial Hamra Street. Much of what I saw reminded me of Iraq and my hometown of Beirut, where 22 years after the Civil War ended, electricity cuts are still frequent due to the dilapidated infrastructure. At one point when I got stuck in a hotel elevator, I thought for a split second that I was back in Beirut.

ECB hands out €529-billion billion in loans to banks - by Eric Reguly

European banks gorged themselves on a second helping of cheap European Central Bank loans as the ECB moved with alacrity once again to avert a banking liquidity squeeze and take the edge off the sovereign debt crisis.

On Wednesday morning, the ECB lent €529-billion ($712-billion U.S.) of 1-per-cent money to 800 banks, which was slightly above the consensus figure but well below one or two predictions that as much as €1-trillion would be soaked up. In the last auction, in December, the ECB loaned €489-billion to 523 banks.

The loans, known as the long-term refinancing operation (LTRO), were introduced by then-new ECB president Mario Draghi late last year as the bank’s prime effort to prevent a Lehman Bros.-style banking collapse on home ground. While the ECB had hosed out cheap loans in the past, under Mr. Draghi’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Trichet, they were short-term loans. The new loans have been for an unprecedented three years

For more: ECB hands out $712-billion in loans to banks - The Globe and Mail

Denmark’s navy frees ship hijacked by pirates; 2 hostages killed and 16 liberated

Two hostages were killed and 16 others freed when a Danish warship intercepted a cargo vessel that had been hijacked by pirates off Somalia’s coast.

Navy spokesman Kenneth Nielsen said Tuesday that 17 pirates were detained in Monday’s anti-piracy operation. He declined to give the nationalities of the hostages.

Danish ship HDMS Absalon had been following the hijacked vessel for several days, Nielsen said. The cargo ship had been used as a mothership from which pirates sailed out in smaller boats to attack other vessels.

For more: World News: Denmark’s navy frees ship hijacked by pirates; 2 hostages killed -

European Soccer: Netherlands beats England 3-2 - and hands them their first loss since 2010 - by Wayne Veysey

Two brilliant goals by Arjen Robben and a brave header by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar helped runner up world champion comeback to win 3-2 at world's soccer shrine Wembley.

Despite playing well within themselves for nearly an hour, outstanding attacking play by the Dutch in the second period exposed the fragility in the team under the caretaker charge of Stuart Pearce for what is likely to be the first and last time.

Two goals in two minutes early in the second half by Robben and Huntelaar demonstrated the gulf in class between the two teams. The game’s true moment of class had come just a minute earlier when flying Dutchman Robben picked up a loose ball 10 yards inside his own half, hared straight towards goal and jinked away from Cahill on the edge of the box before driving a thumping low shot back across Hart and into the corner. The Bayern Munich winger only beat one player, but it was still a brilliant and brutally decisive solo strike.

This was England first match losing match since 2010.

For more: Match Report: England 2-3 Netherlands -

Europe’s debt crisis easing, Lagarde tells CBC

Europe's debt crisis is easing, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, tells the CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange in an exclusive Canadian interview.

In the first of a two-part interview in Mexico City with Amanda Lang during the recent G20 finance ministers’ meeting, Lagarde says the prospect of resolving the problems of high debt burdens is “a little bit more comfortable than it was three months ago and we have not had a derailment that we were fearing at the time.”

Lagarde credits policies adopted by eurozone governments, moves by the European Central Bank to avoid tight credit conditions and economic reforms adopted by Italy and Spain.

For more: Europe’s debt crisis easing, Lagarde tells CBC - Business - CBC News

Europe to investigate Google's new privacy policy

The tussle between Google and European privacy regulators comes at a delicate time for the search giant, whose business model is based on giving away free search, email, and other services while making money by selling user-targeted advertising.

It is already the subject of an inquiry by both the EU's competition authority and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission into how the company ranks its search results and whether it favors its own products over rivals. The inquiries are based in part on complaints from French rivals.

The FTC expanded its probe on January 13 to include Google's social networking site Google+.

For more: Europe to investigate Google's new privacy policy

Internet Censorship: Google's privacy changes fall short, France says

Google's changes to its privacy policy don't meet European data-protection standards, France's National Commission for Computing and Civil Liberties said after a preliminary analysis.

The agency, known as CNIL, this week asked Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page to delay implementation of the policy pending a full review. Google has refused, according to a reply posted on its European policy website. 

European data-protection authorities "are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services," Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, CNIL's chairwoman, said in a letter to Google posted on the agency's website. "They have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing, and about its compliance with" regional rules.


UN estimates Syria’s civilian death toll to be ‘well over 7,500' - by Khaled YacouB Oweis

Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began, a UN official said on Tuesday, and Hilary Clinton, the top U.S. diplomat, suggested the Syrian leader may be a war criminal.

The military again bombarded opposition strongholds, killing at least 25 people, Syrian activists said, though a wounded British news photographer managed to escape from the besieged city of Homs.

Opposition groups say hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded in the siege of Baba Amro and other rebellious districts in Homs, where terrified residents are enduring dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine.

The Syrian military’s latest bombardment of Baba Amro was the heaviest in a 24-day-old assault, activists said, adding that tanks from an elite armoured division, which is led by Mr. al-Assad’s brother Maher, had moved into Homs overnight.

For more: UN estimates Syria’s civilian death toll to be ‘well over 7,500' - The Globe and Mail

Aircraft Industry: 55 Boeing 787 Dreamliners 'have potential' problem

Boeing said Wednesday around 55 of its flagship 787 Dreamliners "have the potential" to develop a fuselage shimming problem, but reiterated that the fault was being fixed.

Shims are used to fill in space between parts and industry publication Flightglobal has reported that improperly joined pieces had caused "parts of the aircraft's carbon fibre structure to delaminate".

For more: 55 Boeing 787 Dreamliners 'have potential' problem - Economic Times

Europe Delays Debt Talks After Signs of Uncertain Support - by Jack Ewing, Stephen Castle and Melissa Eddy.

Domestic politics in euro zone countries emerged again on Tuesday as a serious obstacle to resolving the European debt crisis, contributing to a decision by officials to postpone a crucial meeting they had planned for Friday. The setbacks illustrated again how hard it has been to reconcile impatient financial markets with democratic processes.

Ireland said it would hold a referendum on an agreement to impose fiscal discipline on members of the euro zone. The prospect of more political turmoil seemed to unsettle investors, even though the country’s approval is not needed for the accord to take effect. Irish voters have a history of rejecting European Union measures at the polls; the euro dropped after the news before recovering. 

In Germany, the constitutional court issued a ruling on Tuesday that was likely to slow parliamentary approval of emergency measures in response to the debt crisis. The ruling came a day after members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party rebelled against helping to pay for the latest plan to rescue Greece. 

For more: Europe Delays Debt Talks After Signs of Uncertain Support -

The Netherlands: Turk to stand for Dutch Labor party leadership in Netherlands

Nebahat Albayrak, an ethnic Turk, will stand for the election of chairman of the Netherlands’ main opposition, the Social Democratic Labor Party, after the resignation of Job Cohen, daily Hürriyet has reported.

Speaking to news web site, Albayrak, 43, said the minority government had been unable to produce solutions to the country’s problems.

Already the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Albayrak said the country could be saved by a coalition government composed of progressive parties. “I want to build a bridge between all parties that will make the Netherlands a more powerful and social country,” Albayrak said.

Note EU-Digest: maybe we should refrain from identifying people by their ethnic origin. This has been the cause of many nationalistic problems in the past.  Mrs. Nebahat Albayrak is a Dutch citizen, born in Turkey, who has worked her way up in becoming a respected Dutch politician, and that is what is most important.

For more: POLITICS - Turk to stand for Dutch Labor party leadership in Netherlands

EU Interim forecast: euro area in mild recession with signs of stabilisation

The unexpected stalling of the recovery in late 2011 is set to extend into the first two quarters of 2012. However, modest growth is predicted to return in the second half of the year.
On an annual basis, real GDP in 2012 is now forecast to remain unchanged in the EU (0.0%) and to contract by 0.3% in the euro area. Uncertainty remains high and developments across countries are uneven.

The inflation forecast for 2012 has been revised slightly upwards compared with the autumn, due to persistently high energy prices and increases in indirect taxes. It now stands at 2.3% in the EU and 2.1% in the euro area.

Commission Vice-President for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn said: "Although growth has stalled, we are seeing signs of stabilisation in the European economy. Economic sentiment is still at low levels, but stress in financial markets is easing. Many of the steps that were essential to deliver financial stability and to establish the conditions for more sustainable growth and job creation have now been taken. With decisive action, we can turn the corner and move from stabilisation to boosting growth and jobs."

For more: EU Interim forecast: euro area in mild recession with signs of stabilisation :: EMG :: SEE news

World Bank Cautions China About Looming Crisis- by Frank Langfitt

No country has grown so fast for so long as China. But a report out Monday from the World Bank and a Chinese government think tank says China must change the way it runs its economy — or risk a financial crisis in the future. China built itself into the world's second-largest economy by allowing market competition, but still funding and favoring its state-owned companies.

The World Bank says if China wants to stay on track, this has to end. That might be easy to say but there's huge amounts of vested interests in China. It's pretty safe to say that anyone that benefits from how things are today will be pushing back against reforms and that large very powerful state-owned enterprises and that's various ministries which derive their power-bases from managing this economy.

For more: World Bank Cautions China About Looming Crisis : NPR

The Netherlands And Turkey: 400 Years Of Diplomatic Relations

The Netherlands and Turkey are commemorating the 400th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. The first major event in this connection is the exhibition ‘Rembrandt and his contemporaries – The Golden Age of Dutch Art’ in Istanbul’s Sakip Sabancı Museum. The exhibition was opened last Tuesday by President Gül of Turkey and the Dutch foreign minister, Uri Rosenthal.

In 1612, the Dutch envoy Cornelis Haga presented his letters of credence on behalf of the Republic of the United Provinces to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, marking the start of a relationship focused on trade. Bilateral economic cooperation remains important to this day. The anniversary aims to boost the cultural and social as well as the economic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands.

Turkey is enjoying strong economic growth and, due to its strategic location, is a potential springboard to regional markets. The volume of trade between Turkey and the Netherlands has tripled in the past ten years. The Netherlands is one of the largest foreign investors in Turkey, which offers economic opportunities for, in particular, small and medium-sized companies, including those owned by successful Turkish-Dutch businesspeople. The anniversary celebrations will give special attention to these economic opportunities, for instance by way of trade missions. The focus will be on the sectors of water, the environment and waste management, energy-saving technology, agri-food, health care and the creative industry.

Apart from economic relations, there are a growing number of cultural and social ties. The Netherlands is home to 380,000 people of Turkish origin, and more and more Dutch tourists are taking holidays in Turkey. The anniversary also includes several performances and exhibitions by Dutch artists in Turkey – from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to the fine arts, from dance to musical theatre, and from the Nederlands Dans Theater to Dutch design. In turn, Turkish art and culture will be showcased at several locations around the Netherlands. There will also be educational and sporting exchanges between Amsterdam and Ankara, Deventer and Izmir, and Rotterdam and Istanbul, to name a few.


Russia: 'NATO hijacking UN powers' says Putin

In the latest installment of his pre-election manifesto, Vladimir Putin issues a blunt assessment of US and NATO behavior, while stressing the need for Russia’s active participation in the international security architecture.

With global leaders attempting a precarious balancing act along dangerous fault lines, Putin offered wisdom that has been proven correct many times in the past: “The only way to ensure global security is by doing it together with Russia, not by trying to ‘demote’ it, weaken it geopolitically or undermine its defensive potential.”

Admitting to the emergence of a “new world order” based upon the “new geopolitical reality,” the leading contender in next month’s presidential election quickly criticized the US and NATO for following what he called a “bloc mentality” that threatens to destabilize the global situation.

For more: 'NATO hijacking UN powers' - Putin — RT

Germany finds itself back in power in Europe - by Henry Chu

After losing two world wars and carrying out a horrific genocide, the country set to working its way back into the European fold, content to focus on rebuilding its shattered economy while dutifully leaving continental leadership to the likes of France.

The plan has been a roaring success — so much so that, in one of history's great ironies, Germany today finds itself right back where it wasn't supposed to be: dominating Europe.

For more: Germany finds itself back in power in Europe -

EU heaps new sanctions on Syria - by Dan Murphy

The European Union announced stepped-up sanctions against the Syrian regime today that, to my eyes, looks like a preliminary step to more serious sanctions on Bashar al-Assad and those around him.

In a statement, Catherine Ashton, the EU's representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said "Today's decisions will put further pressure on those who are responsible for the ruthless campaign of repression in Syria. The measures target the regime and its ability to conduct the appalling violence against civilians. As long as the repression continues, the EU will keep imposing sanctions."

The EU also explained that the "Syrian regime's continued use of violence against civilians" prompted the new measures. One wonders if war crimes indictments are not far off. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and members of his circle were hit with International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments far sooner during that country's uprising, and if only half of the reports coming out of Syria are to be believed, Mr. Assad long ago passed Qaddafi's triggering threshold.

For more: EU heaps new sanctions on Syria -

Soccer: UEFA Congress agenda announced for Istanbul

The annual UEFA Congress meeting – the official gathering of UEFA's 53 member associations – will take place this year in Istanbul on Thursday 22 March, with a busy agenda in prospect.

The XXXVI Ordinary UEFA Congress is to take place on Thursday 22 March in the Istanbul Congress Centre, Taşkışla Caddesi Harbiye 34367, Istanbul, Turkey.

The annual UEFA Congress meeting, which is the official gathering of UEFA's 53 member national associations, will open on the morning of Thursday 22 March at 09.30 local time (08.30CET). A media conference, attended by the UEFA President Michel Platini, will be held at the end of the Congress meeting on the same day, at approximately 14.30.

For more: UEFA Congress agenda announced for Istanbul –


Mobile Phones: Nokia unveils 41 MP camera phone

Struggling cellphone maker Nokia Corp. has unveiled two new handsets that it hopes will revive its fortunes at the start of world's largest mobile phone trade show on Monday.

Chief executive Stephen Elop told reporters at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that the new phones — a low-price $254 smartphone that runs on Windows software and a handset with a high-resolution 41 megapixel camera — demonstrate "the actions necessary to improve the fortunes of Nokia."

"With great products for consumers, I think the rest will fall into place," Elop said.

For more: Nokia unveils 41 MP camera phone, $254 handset - Business - CBC News

Middle East: Egypt’s charges against democracy activists set stage for U.S. showdown as the trial is adjourned to April 26 - by Patrick Martin

“This case is important for all Egyptians,” one of the investigating judges bellowed over the din in the courtroom jammed with family and supporters of the accused and dozens of journalists.

The U.S. government has repeatedly told Egypt that the charges are outrageous, and that the NGOs, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, were operating to assist Egyptians in their transition to democracy.

Members of the U.S. Congress, including Senator John McCain who flew to Cairo earlier this month, have threatened that if the American citizens are not acquitted it is highly unlikely that Congress will approve next year’s U.S. aid package to Egypt of $1.55-billion.

Judge Mahmud Mohamed Shukry adjourned the trial until April 26 at the end of the session in the rowdy chamber, where television reporters crowded around him and an interior ministry official threatened to expel journalists.

His decision could give more time for a diplomatic solution to the case, lawyers said.

For more: Egypt’s charges against democracy activists set stage for U.S. showdown - The Globe and Mail

Germany approves Greek bailout, showing willingness to help Europe - by Michael Birnbaum

Germany’s parliament overwhelmingly approved its country’s contribution to the Greek bailout on Monday, serving as a reminder that, for all of Germany’s caution about funding its poorer neighbors, Europe’s largest economy is still willing to muster billions to aid others.

The rescue package was approved despite weeks of threats to let Greece default on its debt, with just 90 votes of dissent and five abstentions out of 591 members of parliament present for the vote.

Coupled with France’s presidential election, where pro-bailout Socialist Francois Hollande is leading polls over the more fiscally cautious Nicolas Sarkozy, the political dynamic suggests that both countries have more flexibility to help struggling European countries than they have acknowledged at the bargaining table.

For more: Germany approves Greek bailout, showing willingness to help Europe - The Washington Post

George Osborne says "UK has run out of money" - by Rowena Mason

In a stark warning ahead of next month’s Budget, the Chancellor said there was little the Coalition could do to stimulate the economy.

Mr Osborne made it clear that due to the parlous state of the public finances the best hope for economic growth was to encourage businesses to flourish and hire more workers.
“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” the Chancellor said. “The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector.”

For more: George Osborne: UK has run out of money - Telegraph

EU ACTA Approval Postponed For Now

Last week, the European Union suspended attempts to ratify the international anti-counterfeiting treaty ACTA and asked Europe’s high court to see if the controversial proposal violates any fundamental EU rights. Those who drafted ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, say that it is necessary to “harmonize international standards to protect the rights” of those who create not only music and movies, but also a number of other protects that are frequent victims of piracy and intellectual property theft, such as pharmaceuticals and fashion goods. But opponents fear that ACTA could lead to censorship and a loss of privacy rights, which were similar fears of many in the US who rallied against two anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, that have been stopped earlier this year.

Under ACTA, internet providers would have to cooperate with governments to crack down on online piracy, via measures such as cutting off internet access for those who have illegally downloaded music or other files.

The European council had unanimously approved ACTA last December and EU and the 22 EU member states signed the treaty on January 26 in Tokyo, but all 27 member countries of the EU must sign the treaty if the EU is to be a formal member of it. Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are now opposed to ACTA. Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US have signed ACTA; Mexico and Switzerland have not yet signed but have participated in negotiations about the treaty.

Note EU-Digest: ACTA in either its present or possibly modified form must not be accepted by members of the European Union because it is in violation of European and national laws.

Read more:

For more: ACTA Approval Postponed For Now | Care2 Causes

Internet: Innovate or Legislate ? - by Reihan Salam & Patrick Ruffini

"A McKinsey Global Institute study published last spring found that, worldwide, 2 billion people were connected to the Internet and almost $8 trillion exchanged hands via e-commerce. The United States captures 30 percent of all the revenues generated by the global Internet economy, and 40 percent of the net income. Moreover, the Internet has been a powerful driver of economic growth and job creation. In a survey of small and medium-sized enterprises, McKinsey found that for every job destroyed by the Internet, 2.6 were created. In the advanced countries that were included in the survey, the United States among them, Internet consumption and expenditure accounted for 21 percent of economic growth over the past few years.

For now, the Internet represents the great exception to the rising tide of state-guided capitalism, in which government favors politically connected firms and industries. As Ian Bremmer observes in his ominous book The End of the Free Market, the governments of the world’s rising economies seek to dominate key economic sectors. The global markets for energy, aviation, shipping, power generation, arms production, telecommunications, metals, minerals, petrochemicals, and much else are increasingly being manipulated by state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds."

Note EU-Digest: It is quite obvious that many Governments supported by their corporate "friends" will do everything in their power to legislate controls over the Internet. They are doing this for a variety of reasons, mainly based on their self interest and perpetual survival. No difference in this respect between Capitalist, Communist or Dictatorial Governments. All one has to do is to look at some of the most recent developments on this issue. These included;  the Google, Facebook censorship actions, the US Federal Government Internet Piracy proposal, and the EU ACTA  proposal. These are all infringements on human rights and specifically the freedom of expression and must not be tolerated.

For more: Innovate or Legislate - Reihan Salam & Patrick Ruffini - National Review Online

Spain's UK comments on Scotland hailed by SNP

The SNP has welcomed comments by Spain's Foreign Minister that his government would "have nothing to say" on independence as further evidence that Scotland will remain a member of the EU.

Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo has been widely reported in Spanish and English language newspapers insisting that the constitutional arrangements of UK nations "is their own business".
Independence critics have raised fears that Spain may veto Scotland's EU membership on the grounds that it would encourage separatism in its own country.

Speaking in London after the international conference on Somalia on Friday, he said: "If the two parts of the United Kingdom are in agreement that it is in accord with their constitutional arrangement, written or unwritten, Spain would have nothing to say. We would simply maintain that it does not affect us."

For more: The Press Association: Spain's UK comments hailed by SNP

France - Movie Industry: 'The Artist' triumphs at Oscars - by Charlie McCollum

The first time a silent, black and white film won the Oscar for best picture, it was 1929 and the movie was a World War I saga called "Wings."

The second time came Sunday night as "The Artist," a joyous low-budget movie about the silent era of Hollywood, won the top prize. It also took home three other Oscars including best director (Michel Hazanavicious) and best actor (Jean Dujardin).

Dujardin, the star of "The Artist," won for his role as silent film actor George Valentin, whose career is threatened by the coming of sound. "I love your country," he said in accepting the award he won over such actors as George Clooney and Brad Pitt. He is the first French actor to win the award.

Hazanavicius beat out a field that included Hollywood heavyweights Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne and Terrence Malick. Before "The Artist's" unexpected success, Hazanavicius was largely unknown outside of his home country where his claim to fame was the series of highly successful "OSS 117" spy parodies.

For more: 'The Artist' triumphs at Oscars - San Jose Mercury News

US Presidential Elections: Santorum's Incredible Display of Ignorance On Euthanasia In the Netherlands - by Dorian de Wind

In an interview with Social Conservative leader James Dobson in early February, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum ignorantly -- and falsely -- claimed that in the Netherlands euthanasia makes up ten percent of all deaths, and that forced euthanasia accounts for five percent of all deaths there. Santorum also said that people are euthanized involuntarily because they are old or sick and further claimed that elderly people in the Netherlands don't go into hospitals out of fear that they will not come out if they go in there sick -- because of "budget" reasons -- and rather go to other countries.

Having been educated and lived in the Netherlands for several years, I know that the Dutch are calm, proud, pragmatic people who like to deal in facts and reason and do not get easily excited or offended. However, Santorum's outlandish claims have provoked a storm of criticism and indignation in the Netherlands.

They have been extensively reported, fact-checked and mocked by the Dutch media. The headline in Saturday's Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad: "Rick Santorum Thinks He Knows the Netherlands: Murder of the Elderly on a Grand Scale."

The Dutch are genuinely offended that a foreign politician would misrepresent Dutch culture and morality merely to make a political point back home.

Note EU-Digest: Both Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have made derogatory statements about Europe during the primaries. This might sound pleasing to Republican crowds at home, but it's not very clever when you seek the highest Public Office in the US, or when you want to get votes from the more than one million Europeans who have migrated to the US during the past 10 years.

For more: Dorian de Wind: Santorum's Incredible Display of Ignorance On Euthanasia In the Netherlands

EU-DIGEST: Belgium Plans Extra 2 Billion Euros in 2012 Savings, Belga Says - by Jonathan Stearns

Belgium Plans Extra 2 Billion Euros in 2012 Savings, Belga Says - by Jonathan Stearns

Belgium Plans Extra 2 Billion Euros in 2012 Savings, Belga Says - by Jonathan Stearns

The Belgian government will seek extra budget savings of around 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) this year in a bid to bring the deficit within the European Union limit amid a weaker economy, Belga reported.

Leading members of Premier Elio Di Rupo’s administration endorsed in Brussels yesterday a budget-monitoring panel’s projection that the additional amount of austerity is needed to reach a deficit goal of 2.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, the newswire said.

The monitoring committee recommended savings of 1.5 billion euros and a buffer of 500 million euros, according to Belga, which said the government aims for a decision in a week following further ministerial consultations.

For more: Belgium Plans Extra 2 Billion Euros in 2012 Savings, Belga Says - Bloomberg


Oscar trivia: Here are fun facts about the Academy Awards

When the 84th annual Academy Awards are given out Sunday night, the winners could receive Oscars for speaking in American or French or British accents, or for not speaking at all.

It’s an all-over-the-map year as the Oscars recognize movies set in places like wartime Europe, 1960s Mississippi and modern-day Hawaii. Performances are all over the map too, from the broad comedy of Melissa McCarthy’s brash turn as sister of the groom in "Bridesmaids” to the quiet heartbreak of Glenn Close’s role as a woman with a secret in "Albert Nobbs.

”With nine films nominated for Best Picture, big stars on the red carpet and venerable comic Billy Crystal returning as host, it’s bound to be a long night filled with oohs and oh-nos. But whether or not you’ve seen the big contenders, you will want to be prepared before you watch the show.

For more: Oscar trivia: Here are fun facts about the Academy Awards | Fond du Lac Reporter |

Greece cannot imagine leaving eurozone

Greece would face steep inflation, massive wage cuts and the destruction of currently healthy businesses if it quits the euro, a senior Greek economic advisor said in an interview published Sunday. "We want to rebuild the country and not let it be plundered," Ghikas Hardouvelis, the economic advisor to Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, told daily newspaper To Vima.

Hardouvelis comments came after German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Saturday that debt-stricken Greece should be given incentives to leave the eurozone, arguing such a move would improve its chances of becoming competitive again. "Outside European monetary union, Greece's chances of regenerating itself and become competitive are definitely bigger than if it remained inside the eurozone," Friedrich said in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel.

Friedrich was speaking ahead of a vote by German lawmakers Monday on a further 130 billion euros ($175 billion) in loans for Greece that would bring tough new austerity measures and tighter European Union and International Monetary Fund oversight of its economy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is opposed to Greece leaving the eurozone despite its huge debt burden and expects parliament to give the green light to the latest rescue package.

For more: AFP: Greece cannot imagine leaving eurozone: advisor

Low in polls, Sarkozy stakes all on campaign verve

Delivering thundering speeches in three cities that left him worked into a sweat aides had not seen in years, French President Nicolas Sarkozy showed in the first week of his re-election campaign that he has lost none of his oratorical power.

Yet mingling with the public in Lille, a northern city whose bleak backstreets betray its struggle to adapt to the decline of local heavy industry, Sarkozy's eyes flicker restlessly and he looks ill-at-ease, as if he can sense the hostile mood.

The conservative leader is betting on his legendary verve on the campaign trail as he goes into battle with the double handicap of poor poll ratings and the same anger over the sickly economy that has felled leaders across Europe.

For more: Low in polls, Sarkozy stakes all on campaign verve | Reuters

Air Travel - studies show airplane passengers more at risk of catching an illness than others - by Ken Kaye

For warm climates the tourist season is also cold and flu season, meaning thousands of travelers coming from colder areas will find themselves nursing runny noses – or worse – within a week or two of stepping off their planes. Many will get sick from sitting too close to someone who already is ill or from touching germ-laden surfaces, such as tray tables, overhead bins and lavatory handles. With so many travelers from so many places, some passengers will be exposed to bacteria, viruses, parasites and other organisms they have no immunity to.

While ventilation systems in planes filter out many contagions, they can't stop the burst of a sneeze – and a common cold – from traveling a few feet every direction. And all passengers become vulnerable if those circulation systems are shut down because tarmac delays. "You cannot be germ-phobic if you fly," said Steve Landes of Boynton Beach, director of the South Florida Airline Commuters Association. "If the guy next to you is coughing, you're out of luck."

Overall, air passengers are 20 percent more at risk of catching an illness than the general population, according to studies.

Most flu and cold viruses are spread by hand, and passengers leave their prints all around their seat areas, said Dr. Larry Bush, an infectious disease specialist at the JFK Medical Center in West Palm Beach. "That's why hand-washing is so important," he said. He also noted too many people fail to practice "cough etiquette," where you bury your face in your underarm. Because of that, he said, "When you're sitting next to someone, and they're sneezing or coughing, you're likely going to inhale those organisms."

To protect yourself, Bush recommends getting a flu shot about two weeks before you fly, as it takes that period of time for the shot to immunize the body. Other experts suggest bringing disinfecting wipes to clean off tray tables and other surfaces.

Germs on a plane - South Florida

Germany Pulls Advisers out of Afghan Ministries

Following the ordes of the top US military commander of NATO on Saturday, that all Western advisers be withdrawn from from Afghan Government Ministries, in response to recent  anti-U.S. unrest overthe burning of Koran's by some US military personnel which resulted in killing of two US advisers, the German  government said Sunday that it has ordered some 50 German and international experts working in  Afghan ministries to be withdrawn from Kabul.

The decision of withdrawal was made by the Risk Management Office and was a "reasonable precautionary measure," German Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Dirk Niebel said in a statement. Niebel said once the situation calmed down, these experts and staff, who worked with Afghan authorities and provided advice about the country's reconstruction and
development, could come back to work.

Germany has some 4,600 troops stationed in Afghanistan, the third largest contingent of NATO's International Security Assistance Force behind the United States and Britain.


Euro-zone deal on firewall awaits Germany - by Jan Strupczewski and Daniel Flynn

Germany may not be ready to back an increase in the euro zone’s bailout fund at a summit next week, delaying progress towards building up nearly $2 trillion in firepower to tackle fallout from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Finance leaders from leading economies, meeting in Mexico City this weekend, are trying to secure a massive international fund to prevent the crisis from spreading throughout financial markets and threatening a fragile world recovery.

They are demanding that Europe increase its own firewall before the Group of 20 economies agree to contribute more resources to the International Monetary Fund. As Europe’s paymaster, Germany’s support for a larger European fund is critical, and G20 members are piling on the pressure.


Car Industry: 2012 Mitsubishi i: An electric car on a budget - by Tom Voelk

When it comes to electric cars, most people think Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. Wealthy folks might shop Tesla and Fisker. Now there’s a plug-in car for budget buyers- the Mitsubishi i. Not a lot of people are plugged into the i just yet. It’s been available in Japan and Europe but the US version is only now arriving in Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington. The Northeast will see them in April. It goes nationwide next year.

The i is the most inexpensive electric car you can buy in America, starting at 29,125*. My friend the asterisk (which you’ll see a lot more of in the video) signals that the price is actually $21,625 because of a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The EPA rates city MPGe at 126, highway is 99. This is more efficient than both Leaf (106/92) and Volt (95/93). Range is a different story. Volt is much less limited because of its onboard gas generator, Leaf is EPA rated at 73 miles. The EPA rates i’s range at 62 miles on a full charge. That’s under ideal conditions.

For more: 2012 Mitsubishi i: An electric car on a budget | Seattle

Movie Industry: Oscars mean big business

This year's Academy Awards are expected to bring in big money for Hollywood, and not just for the winning pictures, but for nominees and advertisers as well.

Even though viewership of the annual Oscar broadcast has fallen 23 per cent in the past 10 years, the audience of 37.9 million people that watched the telecast last year was above the low of 32 million that tuned in back in 2008.

Advertisers hoping to appeal to the desirable demographic the Oscars attract — largely female and higher-income — are sending the cost of advertising on the telecast higher.

A 30-second commercial spot for the Academy Awards broadcast on ABC costs an average of Euro 1.3 million ($1.7 million) this year. A commercial of the same length on this year's Super Bowl cost advertisers more than twice that — Euro 2.59 million ($3.5 million).

For more: Oscars mean big business - Business - CBC News

Middle East: Syrian violence leaves scores more dead as referendum draws near

Syria defied international calls to halt attacks on rebel enclaves as at least 89 people were killed nationwide Saturday on the eve of a constitutional referendum that the opposition sees as a ploy by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Mr. al-Assad presented the revised charter – which allows for at least a theoretical opening of the country's political system – as an effort to placate critics and quell the 11-month uprising against his rule. But the vote is unlikely to overshadow a new round of international condemnation and calls that Mr. al-Assad leave power.

The new charter would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the same family dynasty since Mr. al-Assad's father, Hafez, seized power in a coup in 1963. Such change as unthinkable a year ago.

EU-Digest: unfortunately this could be a question of too little too late?

For more: Syrian violence leaves scores more dead as referendum draws near - The Globe and Mail

France: Madame, Mademoiselle: in France these are about sex, not respect - by Marie Darrieussecq

In France men are addressed as Monsieur and women as Madame or Mademoiselle. While a Monsieur is a monsieur no matter what, a Madame is a married woman and a Mademoiselle an unmarried woman. Until now all official forms have been printed with these three tick boxes, relating to what the French call civilité (a word that covers marital and civil status).

This week a circular from the prime minister instructed government offices "to avoid using any distinction of this nature … 'Madame' is to replace 'Mademoiselle' as the equivalent of 'Monsieur' for men, which gives no indication of their marital status". But I fear that yet another circular is not going to change this tenacious practice. Back in 1967 and again in 1974 a circular from the ministry of the interior stated that "Madame" should be the equivalent of "Monsieur". But things have only got worse with the internet. If you don't fill in the marital status box, you cannot submit forms, because these are "required fields". It happens with my taxes, social security and all kinds of bookings, especially for the Eurostar ... on the French form. On the English form I can tick "Ms" and no one pesters me about my private life.

A "Madame" is also of course a brothel keeper: leaving us in no doubt that "Mademoiselle" refers first of all to a sexual state: being a virgin. When I am asked to tick my civilité I am in fact being asked to give information about my sex life — single or married, available or not. It is this aspect that the two feminist groups who campaigned for the change have been protesting about.

A French law of 1986 makes it clear that a person is entirely at liberty to choose the name by which they are known. But a married woman is constantly reduced to her husband's name, and even to her husband's first name. So we read of the death of "Madame Robert Dupont": even in death, the woman has been eliminated entirely.

For more: Madame, Mademoiselle: in France these are about sex, not respect | Marie Darrieussecq | Comment is free | The Guardian

Facebook is security agencies' dream - by Nicky Phillips

Stored inside a series of ordinary brick buildings beside a sprawling wasteland on the edge of San Francisco Bay are intimate details of your life, relationships and opinions. This information repository is not the headquarters of the FBI or CIA, but Facebook Inc, Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar social networking behemoth with access to more than 840 million people, and their data. While full-body scanners and CCTV cameras often evoke Big Brother fears, the growing trend in surveillance is much closer to home.

Social media has become the latest way governments, police and corporations spy on their citizens, most of whom have no idea they are being watched. 'To people who think there are only innocent uses of social media, think again,'' says David Lyon, a Canadian sociology professor who has studied surveillance for 30 years.

But it is not just governments and security agencies spying on cyber space. The very nature of social media turns users into complicit, albeit low level, spies (yes, that's you, Facebook stalkers). State surveillance networks have also found rich pickings online.

Oppressive regimes, such as those in Syria and Egypt, have used social media sites to oust disenfranchised citizens. And the intelligence agencies of democratic nations, including the United States Defense Department and Britain's SIS, also analyze social graphs, compiled by phone and web connections, to understand terrorist movements, Pesce, an honorary associate at the University of Sydney says.

For more: Facebook is security agencies' dream |

US Economy: Many Americans too stretched to save

In a survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America and the American Savings Education Council, it was shown that only two of three Americans "have sufficient emergency saving to pay for unexpected expenses like car repairs or a doctor's visit." The two groups also reported that Americans are saving less than they did three years ago.

Another survey by in Palm Beach Florida showed that just barely half of Americans have more emergency savings than what they owe on their credit cards.


A Q&A with present holder of EU Presidency Denmark’s prime minister - by Ezra Klein

For the first six months of this year, Denmark holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, giving Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt an unusually clear vantage point on the E.U.’s struggles to overcome its fiscal and economic challenges.

Thorning-Schmidt sat for an interview Friday at the Center for American Progress, where she gave a speech on the U.S.-E.U. relationship.


Greece posts debt offer to investors on Web site - by Howard Schneider

Greece kicked off plans Friday to slash its outstanding debts by more than 50 percent, even as a top credit-rating company warn­ed that aspects of the deal could further destabilize Europe’s government bond markets.

In what the International Monetary Fund has billed the largest debt restructuring ever, the Greek Finance Ministry posted its offer to investors on a Web site set up to manage the massive bond exchange. Under the terms of the deal, existing Greek bonds can be swapped for a new 30-year note worth 31.5 percent of the face value, plus a second short-term security worth another 15 percent that is backed by the entire euro zone and meant to be as good as cash.

Greek officials hope private investors will voluntarily accept a steep write-down in the value of their bond holdings in order to avoid even worse losses if the country were to default.

For more: Greece posts debt offer to investors on Web site - The Washington Post

A Conservative Explains Why Right-Wingers Have No Compassion - by Mike Lofgren

"Who are these people and what motivates them? To answer, one must leave the field of conventional political theory and enter the realm of psychopathology. Three books may serve as field guides to the farther shores of American politics and the netherworld of the true believer.

Most estimates calculate the percentage of Republican voters who are religious fundamentalists at around 40 percent; in some key political contests, such as the Iowa caucuses, the percentage is closer to 60. Because of their social cohesion, ease of political mobilization and high election turnout, fundamentalists have political weight even beyond their raw numbers. An understanding of their leaders, infrastructure and political goals is warranted. Max Blumenthal has done the work in his book "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party." Blumenthal investigates politicized fundamentalism and provides capsule bios of such movement luminaries as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, John Hagee and Ted Haggard. 

The reader will conclude that these authority figures and the flocks they command are driven by a binary, Manichean vision of life and a hunger for conflict. Their minds appear to have no more give and take than that of a terrier staring down a rat hole.

Blumenthal examines the childhoods of these religious-right celebrities and reveals a significant quotient of physical and mental abuse suffered at the hands of parents. His analysis of the obvious sadomasochistic element in Mel Gibson's films - so lionized by the right wing - is enough to give one the creeps. But the book is by no means a uniformly depressing slog: the chapter titled "Satan in a Porsche," about fundamentalist attempts to ban pornography, approaches slapstick".

For more: A Conservative Explains Why Right-Wingers Have No Compassion | Visions | AlterNet

Syrian Army Deserters Battle Assad from Turkey - by Oliver Trenkamp

At first they served the regime, but now they are fighting against it. Operating out of southern Turkey, units of the Free Syrian Army, driven by hatred toward Assad, are infiltrating their home country and fighting soldiers loyal to the dictator.

Schafik, a 20-year-old who prefers not to provide his real name, is last in the rebel chain of command. Until about four weeks ago, he served in Syrian dictator Bashir Assad's army. As a soldier, he had been ordered to fire on men, women and children demonstrating against the regime. Now, he's waiting for orders to fight against his former comrades-in-arms.

Before the Arab Spring arrived in Syria a little over a year ago, Schafik was a simple electrician. Then, one Thursday in April 2011, he entered the army to complete the military service required of all Syrian men. "Don't kill anyone," his father said before he left, and Schafik was determined not to. Back then, he was just thinking about making it through and going back to his girlfriend of three years. He was confident she would wait for him.

Not much changed when Schafik went from being a civilian to a soldier. While serving under Assad, he was still repairing cables, laying power lines and installing sockets. What was different now was that he was wearing a uniform, sleeping in a barrack, waking up at 6 a.m. and practicing marksmanship.

For more: The Free Syrian Army Front: Deserters Battle Assad from Turkey - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

CINEMA: Oscars celebrate Europe - from the glorious to the gothic

He may be good at playing the strong silent type but Jean Dujardin, the French actor tipped to win the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday for his portrayal of a silent movie star in The Artist, is rarely lost for words. Unless he's discussing what it feels like to be the toast of Tinseltown.

'I'm very proud, I'm shocked, I'm ... doubted!,' a slightly abashed Dujardin said on hearing he had been nominated for an Oscar.

With 10 nominations under its belt, including a nomination for Best Picture, French director Michel Hazanavicius's ode to 1920's Hollywood looks set to be covered in glory at this year's Academy Awards.

For more: Oscars celebrate Europe - from the glorious to the gothic - Monsters and Critics

Britain: Lloyds turnaround stalls after huge loss - by Sudip Kar-Gupta

Part state-owned British bank Lloyds pushed back key targets of its turnaround plan and warned a tough economic outlook would hit revenues this year after it plunged to a euro 4.12 billion ($5.5-billion U.S.) loss in 2011.

Lloyds, 40 per cent owned by the government after a state bailout during the 2008 financial crisis, said on Friday it no longer expected to meet goals to boost income and achieve a return on equity of over 12.5 per cent by 2014, although it added its “medium-term” recovery plan remained on track.

Banks across Europe have been posting billions of dollars in losses as the euro zone sovereign debt crisis has eroded the value of their government bond holdings and hit their bond trading businesses, and as they strive to meet tough new rules aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2007-9 banking crisis.

Rival Royal Bank of Scotland, 82-per-cent owed by the British government after a similar bailout in 2008, on Thursday reported a 2011 loss of about euro 2.35 billion ( US$ 3.16 billion).

For more: Lloyds turnaround stalls after huge loss - The Globe and Mail

The Netherlands - Alternative energy: Almere Sun Island

For the first time in the Netherlands, homes are heated collectively with locally-generated solar energy. Nuon built Almere Sun Island and connected it to its district heating network.

Since May 2010 Almere Sun Island has supplied heating and hot tap water to the new Almere residential district Noorderplassen-West. The solar island is in keeping with the urban planning for the residential area and is an icon in the Almere landscape. The 520 solar collectors have a surface area of 7,000 m2, about one and a half football fields. It is one of the largest solar collector fields in the world.

The project by Dutch energy company Nuon is part of its long range plans to make its energy supply innovative and sustainable. The solar island supplies 9.750 Gigajoules of sustainable energy annually. That is 10% of the annual heating needs of the 2,700 houses in the district, or the energy used by taking a million showers a year. Nuon provides the remaining heat using environmentally friendly residual heat from their nearby bio-fed power plant in Almere.

In addition the solar collectors and district heating together reduce CO2 emissions by more than 50% compared to gas-fired heating. That is equivalent to driving 30 million fewer kilometres a year.


Alternative Energy: Obama Talks Alternative Energy At University Of Miami - "more drilling won't solve gas price hikes"

President Barack Obama spoke to a packed crowd Thursday inside the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami, reinforcing the need for more alternative energy sources and saying drilling isn't a real plan for bringing down rising gas prices."I still don't know how you all make it to class every day down here," Obama began, saying how great it was to be in sunny Florida. "In another life, I'd stay in Orlando for the NBA All-Star weekend, but these days I have a few other things on my plate."

Seeking to draw a contrast with Republican presidential hopefuls, Obama said the focus on drilling is just a strategy to get politicians through an election."Only in politics do people greet bad news so enthusiastically," Obama said. "You pay more, and they're licking their chops. And you can bet that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I'll save you the suspense. Step one is drill, step two is drill and step three is keep drilling. We heard the same thing in 2007, when I was running for president. We hear the same thing every year. We've heard the same thing for 30 years."

Obama said his administration's strategy, which includes oil, gas, wind and solar power, is the only real solution to the nation's energy challenges."So what does this mean for America? It means that anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about or isn't telling you the truth," Obama said.

Sombre outlook for Dutch Prince Friso

Doctors who have been treating Dutch Prince Johan Friso at a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, said on Friday that the prognosis for his recovery is bleak. The prince has suffered severe brain damage after he was trapped under an avalanche while skiing one week ago.

He may never emerge from his coma. Even if he does regain consciousness, the doctors say any rehabilitation will take months if not years. The bad news about the Prince has shocked the country. During the week since the accident occurred, there has been hope that Friso could recover. That hope has now all but vanished.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Queen Beatrix by telephone that the Netherlands sympathizes deeply with the royal family. The Queen, for her part, said the family has been moved by all the reactions and comfort they have received from the Dutch public.

Sombre outlook for Dutch Prince Friso | Radio Netherlands Worldwide

EU Predicts Polish Economy Will Expand at Bloc’s Fastest Pace This Year - by Agnes Lovasz and Ott Ummelas

Poland, the European Union’s largest eastern member, will post the 27-nation bloc’s fastest economic growth this year, driven by corporate investment,the European Commission forecast.

Gross domestic product will grow 2.5 percent, with quarterly expansion of about 0.5 percent during the year, the EU’s executive arm said in a statement today. Spending on road and rail upgrades for the Euro 2012 soccer championship will help boost the pace of growth, it said.

“Investment spending growth is expected to remain robust, supported by accelerating private investment,” the commission said. “The corporate sector is likely to continue to increase capacity, financed by intensifying inflows of foreign capital, retained earnings and growing corporate credit.”

For more: EU Predicts Polish Economy Will Expand at Bloc’s Fastest Pace This Year - Bloomberg

US Politics: Republicans should stop the saber-rattling on Iran

Obviously, the Republican presidential candidates have the right to speak out on any issue they choose, and just as obviously, the escalation of hostility between Israel and Iran is a terribly important subject that should concern every American. But so far we haven't gleaned much wisdom from the GOP contenders, who, except for Ron Paul, are encouraging a reckless rush to war while unfairly portraying President Obama as an appeaser.

At Wednesday's debate in Mesa, Ariz., Mitt Romney assailed the administration for cautioning Israel against launching a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Newt Gingrich made it clear that he would react positively if Israel's prime minister informed him that the country planned to attack Iran. And Rick Santorum accused Obama of doing "nothing" to counter "a dangerous theocratic regime that wants to wipe out the state of Israel ... and take on the Great Satan, the United States." Not surprisingly, none of the three gave the administration any credit for ratcheting up the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nor did any address the potentially catastrophic consequences of an attack on Iran.

An Iranian nuclear weapon would be a dangerous and destabilizing development, even if Iran never launched the suicidal attack on Israel that Republicans treat as a foregone conclusion. The United States, its allies and the International Atomic Energy Agency rightly refuse to take at face value Iran's assurance that it is interested only in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. All available diplomatic steps should be taken to prevent the creation of an Iranian bomb, which, as well as posing a terrifying threat to the state of Israel, would immediately recalibrate the balance of power in the Middle East and very likely set off a new arms race among the other powers in the region.

But for an American president to give carte blanche to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be irresponsible. By most accounts, an Israeli attack would be enormously difficult to carry off and would do little more than delay the Iranian program by several years. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said an Israeli attack would be "destabilizing," and former CIA DirectorMichael V. Hayden called it "beyond the capacity" of Israel to launch an attack that would seriously set Iran back.

For more: Republicans should stop the saber-rattling on Iran -


Italy's Economic Overhaul Marked by Women Wrestling Over Labor - by Alessandra Migliaccio and Chiara Vasarri

In a country that for almost a decade was led by a man who publicly referred to his passion for female conquests, Italy is now relying on three women to help overcome the European debt crisis.

Less than four months after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister known for his "Bunga Bunga" parties, new Italian Labor Minister Elsa Fornero is mediating between Emma Marcegaglia, head of the employers' lobby, and Susanna Camusso, leader of the biggest union.

At stake are changes to labor laws to make it easier to hire and fire, a highly-charged issue in Italy, where previous attempts at an overhaul have been marred by protests, violence and even murder. The reforms aim to bring down a decade-high jobless rate of 8.9 percent and are central to Prime Minister Mario Monti efforts to convince investors he can revive Italy's economy and trim its 1.9 trillion-euro ($2.5 trillion) debt.

 For more: Italy's Economic Overhaul Marked by Women Wrestling Over Labor

EU at stalemate on Canada's oilsands ranking

European Union officials are at a stalemate after voting on whether to classify Canada's oilsands crude as more harmful to the environment than other fuels — a proposal that Canada would fight.

The ballot by experts from the EU's 27 member countries, which are weighted by population, failed to produce the required 255 votes needed to approve the classification.

As a result, the proposal moves up to the European Council, which will vote on it in late spring or early summer. If the council votes for the measure to declare Canada's oilsands oil dirty, Canada would likely appeal to world trade bodies.

For more: EU at stalemate on Canada's oilsands ranking - Business - CBC News

Canada revs up for fight over second tar sands pipeline - by Kim Murphy

The prime minister is talking about being "held hostage" by U.S. interests. Radio ads blare, "Stand up to this foreign bully." A Twitter account tells of a "secret plan to target Canada: exposed!"

Could this be Canada? The cheerful northern neighbor, supplier of troops to unpleasant U.S.-led foreign conflicts, reliable trade partner, ally in holding terrorism back from North America's shores -- not to mention the No. 1 supplier of America's oil?

Canada's recent push for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the nation's West Coast, where it would be sent to China, has been marked by uncharacteristic defiance. And it first flared in the brouhaha over the bananas.

Responding to urgings from U.S. environmentalists, Ohio-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. announced in November that it would join a growing number of companies trying to avoid fuel derived from Canada's tar sands, whose production is blamed for accelerating climate change and leveling boreal forests.

For more: Canada revs up for fight over second tar sands pipeline: Money | Alaska news at

Europe will vote to keep Canadian tar sands out

Its a bad year for Canada's tar sands. The US rejected the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried fuel south, and now the European Union is poised to label tar bitumen more polluting than other forms of oil. That would rule out selling it to Europe.

The EU's Fuel Quality Directive will cut the greenhouse gas emissions generated by transport fuel - from production to use - by 6 per cent by the end of 2020. Suppliers will have to label fuels according to their total greenhouse-gas footprint, and current footprints will have to shrink.

The emissions from extracting and processing tar sands are larger than for regular oil (Environmental Research Letters, DOI: 10.1088/ 1748-9326/4/1/ 014005). The EU proposes labeling them as producing 22 per cent more emissions overall than conventional oil. Its fuel quality commission will vote on that proposal on 23 February, before the European Parliament makes the final decision.

For more: Europe will vote to keep Canadian tar sands out - environment - 22 February 2012 - New Scientist

Britain: London no safer for all its CCTV cameras - by Ian Evans

London is considered the most spied-on city in the world, courtesy of its ubiquitous CCTV cameras, purportedly there to reduce crime. But according to a recent report, there's been little or no change in London's crime rates since they were more widely installed in the mid 1980s.

Privacy activists are worried that Britain will become the bleak totalitarian society George Orwell painted in his classic novel “1984,” where citizens were spied on and personal freedom sacrificed for the benefit of an all-powerful state.

“We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society where we’re watched from control rooms by anonymous people, says Emma Carr of the BBW. “The worrying thing is that we don’t actually know how many CCTV cameras there are out there."

For more: Report: London no safer for all its CCTV cameras -

US Presidential elections: When Obama attacks, which Republican can answer him - by Kyle Wingfield

The Obama strategy appears two-fold: Spend tax money to convince Americans he can be considered one of them, and brand his Republican opponents as people who can’t.

To the latter end, Obama supporters paint Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch 1-percenter and Rick Santorum as a zealot bent on imposing his beliefs on the country.

I’ve written before about Romney’s challenge of talking about his private-sector experience and wealth in a way that resonates with Americans (at least those not residing in an Occupy tent). Santorum, the latest frontrunner, now faces a challenge of his own. He can’t run away from his beliefs, as the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn explains, in part because he’s made his career as a conviction politician, but also because “the media won’t let him”:

For more: 2012 Tuesday: When Obama attacks, which Republican can answer him? | Kyle Wingfield


Nordic Currencies Stung in Crisis - by Lucy Meakin

Sweden and Norway are losing their appeal as havens from Europe’s debt crisis at a time when the krona and krone are more overvalued than at almost any point in the past 40 years.

Sweden’s central bank cut interest rates for a second- straight meeting on Feb. 16 after exports, accounting for about half of the nation’s output, fell 6 percent in December. Norway’s foreign trade slid 4.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The Swedish krona is about 25 percent too expensive, and the Norwegian krone more than 40 percent based on an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development measure of the relative costs of goods and services.

Concern the krona’s appreciation is weighing on growth amid the euro-region’s turmoil marks a reversal from late 2010, when Riksbank Governor Stefan Ingves dismissed calls to manage the currency. His Norwegian counterpart, Oeystein Olsen, said last week he’s ready to act on krone strength even as European leaders crafted a second Greek bailout and the U.S. economy showed signs of gathering strength.

For more: Nordic Currencies Stung in Crisis - Bloomberg

Iran: Debunking the Rafsanjani myth

Iran's parliamentary election is to be held on March 2, but the political future of the country will be determined before the election. At the end of this month, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will decide whether to remove Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - one of the most powerful figures during the first two decades of the Islamic Republic, who served as parliament speaker and then as president - from the last official position he holds, and to banish him from the ruling elite of Iran.

Rafsanjani has been the chairman of the Expediency Council - the advisory arm of Iran's leadership tasked with resolving the regime's problems and the disputes between legislative branches - for three consecutive five-year terms. His term is nearing its end and media outlets close to Khamenei have predicted that he will have no chance to hold this position again.

The regular meetings between Rafsanjani and Khamenei which for many years used to take place every Tuesday evening are no longer in the schedule. The 77-year-old Rafsanjani - five years older than Khamenei - has repeatedly made it known that he is in disagreement with the leader over how the country is run. He has also held the Supreme Leader accountable for the political situation that has been ongoing in the country since the disputed 2009 presidential election and has repeatedly said the leader is the is only person who "can solve the problems that ensued [after the election".

For more: Debunking the Rafsanjani myth - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Are Germany, the Netherlands and Finland Pushing for a “Grexit?”

It’s been a harrowing couple of weeks for Greece and fellow euro zone members, but they have finally found a 130 billion euro bailout formula that looks set to allow the European sovereign debt crisis to muddle through for the moment.

But the deal comes at high costs, not least of which are relations between Greece and the most hardcore northern members of the euro zone – Germany, the Netherlands and Finland — which have been pushing harsh terms on Greece while arguing the strict measures will bring the best long-term outcome.

In response, Evangelos Venizelos, Greece’s finance minister, complained last week that some euro zone forces want to push Greece out of the group, and accused them of “playing with fire.” With the latest agreement, he now says the euro zone has avoided a “nightmare scenario.” But many critics of the process maintain, as they have at earlier stages, that no permanent solution has been reached and that this agreement, too, will fall apart soon — that is, if Greece does not leave, or does not get pushed out of, the euro zone first.

For more: Are Germany, the Netherlands and Finland Pushing for a “Grexit?” | Knowledge@Wharton Today

Guest column: Israeli attack on Iran could spark new Middle East conflict - by Ron Estes

Israel is beating the war drums to attack Iran.

On Feb. 2, Israel delivered its most blunt warning yet regarding possible air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites, adding to the anxiety in Western capitals that an Israeli surprise attack could spark a new military conflict in the Middle East. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared that time was running out for stopping Iran’s nuclear advance. “Whoever says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” Barak said. The announcement reflected a deepening rift between Israeli and U.S. officials over Iran’s nuclear program.

“The Obama administration is concerned that Israel could attack Iranian nuclear facilities this year, having given Washington little or no warning,” said a former State Department official who specialized in Iran in the Clinton administration and who recently met with Israeli officials. He said Israel “has refused to assure Washington that prior notice would be provided.”

For more: Guest column: Israeli attack on Iran could spark new Middle East conflict |