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Healthcare: The Netherlands has the best healthcare in the EU: Survey

The Netherlands has retained its position at the top of the annual Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) which compares healthcare systems in Europe.

On 48 indicators such as patient rights and information, accessibility, prevention and outcomes, the Netherlands secured its top position among 35 European countries for the fourth year in a row, scoring 870 of a maximum 1,000 points.

In the EU, the Netherlands was followed by Denmark, Belgium and Germany as the countries with the best healthcare, while Romania, Portugal and Latvia scored the lowest.

The EHCI is compiled using a combination of public statistics, patient polls and independent research conducted by Swedish NGO Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP).

Speaking at the launch of the EHCI 2013 in Brussels on Thursday (28 November), Arne Björnberg of the HCP said the EU could learn a lot from the Dutch on healthcare.

"The Netherlands has what we call 'a chaos system', meaning patients have a great degree of freedom from where to buy their health insurance to where they get their healthcare service. The difference between

The Netherlands and other countries is that the chaos is managed. Healthcare decisions are being made in a dialogue between the patients and the healthcare professionals," Björnberg said.
He added that regardless of all the talk about the financial crisis, actual treatment results in European healthcare continued to improve.

Read more: The Netherlands has the best healthcare in the EU: Survey | EurActiv

EU Commission moves to close corporate tax loophole used by Google, Amazon and Starbucks - Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

The European Commission has announced plans to close a loophole which has allowed large corporations to pay tax in countries with lower rates, even if they only own one letterbox there.

As part of efforts to get companies to pay a fair share of tax in the countries where they make most of their profits, Algirdas Semeta, the EU’s Taxation Commissioner, proposed amending the bloc’s corporate tax legislation to introduce an anti-abuse clause for countries trying to shift money to a subsidiary abroad to cut their tax bills. While tax evasion is illegal, what is known as “ aggressive tax planning” is widely used by firms including Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Apple.

This can include multinationals parking profits in a country with a more favourable tax climate such as Luxembourg or The Netherlands, which can be done if there is merely one employee or a letterbox.

Read more: EU Commission moves to close corporate tax loophole used by Google, Amazon and Starbucks - Europe - World - The Independent

Ukraine police crack down on anti-government, pro-Europe protests in Kyiv

Witnesses said riot police used truncheons, stun grenades and tear gas early on Saturday morning to disperse a crowd of some 400 protesters demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Police reportedly arrested dozens of people, whom they said they later released. Government opponents also said that a number of protesters were injured in the police action.

Later in the morning, some anti-government demonstrators returned to the square outside Kyiv's St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, shouting "shame" and "resign."

On Friday night, about 500 meters away from the monastery, 10,000 protesters had gathered in the capital's Independence Square, calling for Yanukovych to resign after he shelved an association agreement with the EU.

Wearing and carrying blue and gold, the colors of both the EU and Ukraine, protesters chanted "Ukraine is Europe."

Read more: Ukraine police crack down on anti-government, pro-Europe protests in Kyiv | News | DW.DE | 30.11.2013

The Netherlands is now less creditworthy than Microsoft - by Jason Karaian

Standard and Poor’s stripped the Netherlands of its AAA credit rating today. This ignominy means that the Dutch, now rated merely AA+, are considered less creditworthy than the Germans, on a par instead with the Americans.Although considered part of the euro zone’s sturdy northern “core,” the Dutch economy has performed more like the wobbly southern “periphery” recently, with GDP set to shrink by 1.2% this year, according to S&P. The size of the Dutch economy won’t surpass its 2008 peak until 2017, reckons the ratings agency. Future growth will be weighed down by aggressive government austerity and falling house prices.

S&P also cut France’s rating earlier this month, to a notch below the Netherlands. Economist Holger Sandte of Nordea bank expects a gradual convergence of ratings among euro members, driven by French and Dutch-style downgrades rather than upgrades of lower-rated countries; Germany, Luxembourg and Finland are now the only members of the 17-nation euro zone with the top rating from all three leading credit agencies. S&P upgraded its outlook for Spain today, to “stable” from “negative,” but left its BBB- rating in place.

Not that any of this really matters. For widely held, extensively scrutinized bonds like those issued by the Dutch government, the opinion of one ratings agency doesn’t move markets much; Fitch and Moody’s, the other two big agencies, still give the Netherlands the top grade. Dutch bond spreads barely budged on the downgrade news, and continue to fetch lower yields than fellow AA+ rated America (as does AA rated France, for that matter). 

Read more in Akmere-Digest

Italy: Berlusconi vows to fight after being thrown out of the Senate

Berlusoni lost his seat in the Senate because he was convicted of tax fraud. His supporters call it "the end of democracy" and Berlusconi himself wants to appeal the court ruling.

On Wednesday (27.11.2013) 192 senators ousted Berlusconi in a public vote. But he shows no signs of resignation or capitulation. On the contrary, with his lips defiantly pressed together and bigger shoulder pads than ever Berlusconi meets the press to lament the outrageousness of the procedure. Although in a democratic system it is not uncommon that a convicted criminal has to leave office.

But Italian democracy is different, especially in the case of Berlusconi. He knew that he is not invincible but he did not want to believe it. And still his sense of reality is clouded. There has to be a revision of his process because there is "new evidence" for his innocence, he said. He called the demonstrations of his supporters in Rome just the beginning of his fight to return to politics.

He even wants to become prime minister again. His party "Forza Italia" demands new elections and wants Berlusconi as its frontrunner.

But the 77-year-old is not allowed to run for parliament in the next six years, according to a law from December 31, 2012, which the representatives of his party also voted for. Berlusconi wants to follow Pepe Grillo's example. The former comedian leads his Five-Star-Movement without haveing a seat in parliament.

Note EU-Digest: Italy probably has better things to do then to waste its time any further with Berlusconi.

Read more: Berlusconi vows to fight after being thrown out of the Senate | Europe | DW.DE | 28.11.2013

Google in the Netherlands: Privacy changes BREAK data law, says Netherlands - by Kelly Fiveash

broke data protection law in the Netherlands when the ad giant tweaked its privacy policy in March 2012, says the country's privacy watchdog.
The Dutch Data Protection Authority said on Thursday that Google had breached the country's rules because it had failed to adequately inform all its users in advance about the changes it was making to its service.

"Google spins an invisible web of our personal data, without our consent. And that is forbidden by law", said Dutch DPA chairman Jacob Kohnstamm.

The regulator said it had invited the company to a hearing. It will only decide on any enforcement action after discussions have taken place with Google.

The DPA said that, during its seven-month probe, the watchdog determined that Google burrowed deeply into the personal data of Dutch netizens by knitting together services across the web for the purposes of targeted advertising.

"Some of these data are of a sensitive nature, such as payment information, location data and information on surfing behaviour across multiple websites. Data about search queries, location data and videos watched can be combined, while the different services serve entirely different purposes from the point of view of users," it said.

The watchdog concluded that Google had not sought the consent of users before cutting and shutting its privacy policies together in order to combine personal data across its massive online empire.

Read more: Google in Dutch: Privacy changes BREAK data law, says Netherlands • The Register


The European Dream Is Based On A ‘Equals Around A Table’ Metaphor - by Rune Kier Nielse

European Commission President José M. Barroso is searching for a new European Union narrative.

As I have argued elsewhere, the EU needs a dream of the Martin Luther King Jr.-type if it wants to stay relevant for the European population. I agree with Barroso in seeing the EU’s lack of a positive vision as a threat to its democratic legitimacy by low public anticipation and appreciation. Eurosceptics stand strong because the union has failed to arm its allies. At the moment the European Union is without a clear vision to mobilise and engage the public leaving its allies vulnerable to strategies of ‘divide and conquer’.

The lack of vision gives rise to xenophobia, ethnic tension and conflicts between rich and poor. Yet the European dream has strong potential for a social Europe. I believe a successful European story would have three characteristics to fulfill its function as described above:

a) It should be derived from the recognised history of the Union to be credible and it should draw on known mythology to be forcefull. That is, it should build a bridge between the Union’s known history and the mythology of the continent – Union and European.

b) It should be sufficiently concrete to convey a sense of shared familiarity and vivid enough to stir emotions enough to create belonging, community and engagement. That is, it should build on local lives and let the means fit the message.

c) It should shield the Union from its most obvious weaknesses and it should give direction to future actions. That is, it should help determine what the ‘small things’ and what the ‘big things’are.

 Read more: The European Dream Is Based On A 'Equals Around A Table' Metaphor


Poland: How Poland Became Europe's Most Dynamic Economy - Stephan Faris

The oldest coffee shop in Warsaw has been in operation nearly without interruption since the end of the 18th century. In the upstairs room, a young Frédéric Chopin played one of his last concerts before emigrating to Paris. During the Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945, the cafe was strictly for Germans. 

When the city rose up at the end of the war, the building, like much of the old city around it, was completely destroyed—then reconstructed from photographs in the years following. The cafe was state-owned under communism and privatized in 1989 after the fall of the Iron Curtain, sold to a journalist and a jazz musician. “And now,” says Polish businessman Adam Ringer, sitting in the cafe in early October, “it’s been bought by an international company.” 

Ringer, 64, reopened the cafe earlier this year under the name Green Caffè Nero, a coffee chain co-owned by Ringer, another Polish partner, and the U.K.-based chain Caffe Nero. “Here you have the whole history of Poland,” he says. “Look at that wall. Each brick is different. They were gathered from the ruins of prewar Warsaw.” Although they’re always aware of the past,

Ringer and his countrymen are charging ahead. Revenue at most of his chain’s locations is up 10 percent from the year before, and the company is in the midst of a rapid expansion. “People are much richer than they were, and you can easily feel it,” he says.

Read more: How Poland Became Europe's Most Dynamic Economy - Businessweek

Germany: Top ten reasons you should move to Germany

As if the sausages and the beer were not enough, this week's Local List has come up with ten (other) good reasons to move to and live in Germany. 

Read more: Top ten reasons you should move to Germany - The Local

US Economy: Eyeing holiday sales, more U.S. retailers to open on Thanksgiving - by Lisa Baertlein

Macy's Inc and a slew of other U.S. retailers are opening on Thanksgiving for the first time ever in a bare-knuckled brawl for a bigger slice of overall holiday sales.

But it might not be so easy to lure most Americans from their turkey and football - particularly if the weather is foul.

Department store rivals Kohl's Corp and J.C. Penney Co Inc led a string of Thanksgiving opening announcements after Macy's said it would open its U.S. stores on the popular holiday, ending a 155-year tradition.

Sales trends, survey results and an online "Save Thanksgiving" backlash suggest that shoppers may resist the urge to splurge on the popular holiday.

But with six fewer shopping days this year than in 2012, retailers who get nearly half of annual profits during winter holiday season are nibbling away at Thanksgiving.

Read more: Eyeing holiday sales, more U.S. retailers to open on Thanksgiving | Reuters


UK Extends Employment Restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian Nationals

According to an announcement released by UK Immigration Minister Damian Green on November 23, 2011, Romanian and Bulgarian nationals seeking to work in the UK will continue to be required to obtain permission from the UK Border Agency until the end of 2013.

Minister Damian Green indicated that the extension of employment restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals aims to make sure "migration benefits the UK and does not adversely impact on the labour market".

"The government is radically reforming the immigration system, and has already announced an annual limit on work visas and tough new rules for students to ensure net migration is reduced from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands." he said.

Read more: UK Extends Employment Restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian Nationals

NSA surveillance: Europe threatens to freeze US data-sharing arrangements - by Ian Traynor

The EU executive is threatening to freeze crucial data-sharing arrangements with the US because of the Edward Snowden revelations about the mass surveillance of the National Security Agency.

The US will have to adjust their surveillance activities to comply with EU law and enable legal redress in the US courts for Europeans whose rights may have been infringed, said Viviane Reding, the EU's justice and rights commissioner who is negotiating with the US on the fallout from the NSA scandal.

European businesses need to compete on a level playing field with US rivals, Reding told the Guardian.

The EU commissioner said there was little she or Brussels could do about the activities of the NSA's main partner in mass surveillance, Britain's Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, since secret services in the EU were the strict remit of national governments.

The commission has demanded but failed to obtain detailed information from the British government on how UK surveillance practices are affecting other EU citizens.

"I have direct competence in law enforcement but not in secret services. That remains with the member states. In general, secret services are national," said the commissioner, from Luxembourg.

As a result of the Snowden disclosures, the EU has reviewed existing data-sharing agreements with the Americans concerning commercial swaps between US and European companies, information traded aimed at suppressing international terrorist funding, and the supply of information on transatlantic air passengers.

It is also rethinking ongoing negotiations over exchanging data with the Americans on judicial and police co-operation. And it is drafting new Europe-wide data protection rules requiring US internet companies operating in the EU to obtain permission to transfer data to the US and to restrict US intelligence access to it.

Read more: NSA surveillance: Europe threatens to freeze US data-sharing arrangements | World news | The Guardian


Weather: Thanksgiving travel in the US threatened by deadly storm in eastern US

Millions of Americans in the northeast who are planning to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday may not only encounter busy airports and congested highways, but also a deadly storm system bringing heavy winds, rain, snow and sleet to some of the most populous metro areas in the US.

With the storm gathering pace, the 43 million people who are expected to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving were warned to avoid driving during the worst conditions slated for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those days fall ahead of the Thursday Thanksgiving holiday and are among the busiest days of the year for air travel.

A powerful storm that left at least 21 people dead over the weekend and has already created a mess for air travelers in the western US, especially in Texas, is now threatening to do the same at some of the busiest – and most delay-prone – US airports along the eastern seaboard, meteorologists said Monday.

It forced American Airlines to cancel nearly 1,000 flights at its Dallas/Fort Worth hub Sunday and Monday. AA hopes to resume normal operations there by Monday afternoon, but that could be just in time for new problems to sprout in the East.

The storm will bring heavy snow to interior sections of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, but the biggest problems for Thanksgiving fliers will likely be the windy, cloudy and rainy conditions at some the busiest US airports: Logan in Boston, JFK and La Guardia in New York, Newark International, Philadelphia International, Thurgood Marshall in Baltimore and Dulles and Reagan National in Washington.

Read more: Thanksgiving travel threatened by deadly storm in eastern US | euronews,

Scotland Unveils ‘Landmark Document’ on Independence from Britain - by Stephen Castle and Allan Cowell

Behind in the opinion polls, Scottish Nationalists who are seeking independence from Britain in a referendum next year set out their wish list for a new nation on Tuesday, but made several assertions about their future relations with Britain and international partners that are sharply disputed.

A newly independent Scotland would issue passports, create its own defense force and expel British nuclear submarines from their Scottish bases, according to the 670-page document published by the Scottish government, which is led by the Scottish National Party of Alex Salmond. But the country would stay in NATO and transition smoothly to its own membership in the European Union, the document asserts

And while Scots would claim 90 percent of the revenue from North Sea oil and gas and adopt a written Constitution, they would keep Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and retain the pound sterling as their currency, the document adds. 

Some of these assumptions, including an independent Scotland’s right to use the pound, are disputed by the government in London. But the publication of the document, meant as a blueprint for independence, is a milestone on the road to the referendum, scheduled for Sept 18, 2014, the year of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, in which Scottish forces routed the English. 

“If we vote no, Scotland stands still,” the document said. “A once-in-a-generation opportunity to follow a different path, and choose a new and better direction for our nation, is lost. Decisions about Scotland would remain in the hands of others.”

Read more: Scotland Unveils ‘Landmark Document’ on Independence from Britain -

US warplanes defy Chinese air defence rules with B-52 flyover of disputed area - by Spencer Ackerman

Two US B-52 bombers flew over a disputed area of the East China sea without notifying Beijing.

US warplanes have directly challenged China’s claims of an expanding territorial air defense zone, flying dramatically and without incident on Monday over a disputed island chain.

The incursion comes on the heels of a scathing statement over the weekend by defense secretary Chuck Hagel rejecting the expansion of the Chinese air defense zone into the East China sea as a provocative threat to regional stability.

But the Pentagon insisted Tuesday that the overflight was not a reaction to the Chinese declaration.

Lieutenant colonel Tom Crosson, a Defense Department spokesman, said the planes were not armed and flew “as part of a long-planned training sortie”. The Chinese did not in any way attempt to challenge the planes’ flight, Crosson said, nor did the pilots announce themselves to any Chinese authorities.

Read More: US warplanes defy Chinese air defence rules with B-52 flyover of disputed area | World news |

Iran: Historic deal reached by the EU, US, Iran, Russia, China - a master stroke by President Obama

Obama: New Deal For Middle East
A huge range of reaction came from all around the world to the important new interim deal with Iran on sanctions and its nuclear program.  From Israel, condemnation of a “historic mistake” as Benjamin Netanyahu put it.

At the other end of the spectrum, talk of a “Nixon goes to China” historic breakthrough for the region by the Obama administration.  A reordering that could break decades of US-Iran hostility and reshape the Middle East.

In between, obviously many other questions on the final  strategy of this breakthrough, sincerity, nuclear verifiability, and reactions from US domestic political circles.

Whatever way you look at this agreement or whatever the end outcome will be it will certainly go into history as a master stroke by President Obama re Middle East policy, which for years has been dominated by the wishes of Israel and Saudi Arabia and their very influential US lobby and hardline US conservative policy makers.   


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Ukraine: Pro-Europe Ukrainians march as Kiev balances Moscow and Brussels - by Fred Weir and Sergei Chuzavkov

Large numbers of pro-European Union demonstrators rallied in downtown Kiev for a second day Monday.

They clashed violently with police and vowed to remain on the streets at least until Nov 29, the last possible date for Ukraine to sign a now-aborted Association Agreement with the EU.

The protesters, who've been bused in from many other Ukrainian cities as well as Kiev, have been joined by several major opposition figures, including world championship boxer Vitaly Klitschko and the head of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko's movement, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Note EU-Diget: Its is good to note for aqll those Eurosceptics out there how many people are still willing to die to have their country become a member of the EU

Read more: Pro-Europe Ukrainians march as Kiev balances Moscow and Brussels (+video) -


Belgium - Netherlands: Report: NSA Infected More Than 50,000 Networks by Mid-2012 - by David Murphy

Time to break out the virus scanner – or, perhaps, nuke your computer from orbit. (It's the only way to be sure.)

According to new documents provided by the National Security Agency's favorite foe, former employee-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad is reporting that the NSA has infected more than 50,000 computer networks with malware in a process known as "Computer Network Exploitation."

The process itself is nothing new; The Washington Post reported on these exploits in August. These "implants," as they're known in NSA terms, are deployed by a department within the agency known as TAO, or "Tailored Access Operations." Software engineers within TAO allegedly break into various routers, switches, and firewalls – to name a few devices – in an effort to compromise networks and, thus, gain access to the data being transmitted by the devices connecting to them.

As of 2008, TAO was allegedly able to deploy approximately 21,252 of these implants, and it was estimated that as many as 85,000 or so could be deployed by the end of 2013. Since the numbers NRC Handelsblad is reporting are based on a mid-2012 count, it's certainly possible that the NSA has been able to achieve its goal.

"The malware can be controlled remotely and be turned on and off at will. The 'implants' act as digital 'sleeper cells' that can be activated with a single push of a button," described reporters Floor Boon, Steven Derix, and Huib Modderkolk.

However, if you're thinking of some kind of Mission Impossible-like setup whereby a team of hackers in a room somewhere are launching pretty, graphical attacks at enemy networks — something that could be straight out of the Uplink game, you'd be mistaken.

As described by NRC Handelsblad, the British intelligence agency "Government Communications Headquarters," or GCHQ, performed a similar bit of network infiltration within Belgacom, a telecommunications provider in Belgium. To hack its way into the network, however, the agency employed fake LinkedIn pages and Slashdot websites to ensnare employees within the company's security and maintenance divisions and dump malware on their systems.

"In the case of Belgacom, the GCHQ used a sophisticated variant of the man-in-the-middle attack, known as a 'quantum insert', which Der Spiegel says could only be performed by a spy agency that's able to insert its own boxes into the Web. This way, when the target tries to access LinkedIn, GCHQ can serve them a spoofed version of the website instead of the real LinkedIn page," described SiliconAngle.
  Time to break out the virus scanner – or, perhaps, nuke your computer from orbit. (It's the only way to be sure.)

According to new documents provided by the National Security Agency's favorite foe, former employee-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad is reporting that the NSA has infected more than 50,000 computer networks with malware in a process known as "Computer Network Exploitation."

The process itself is nothing new; The Washington Post reported on these exploits in August. These "implants," as they're known in NSA terms, are deployed by a department within the agency known as TAO, or "Tailored Access Operations." Software engineers within TAO allegedly break into various routers, switches, and firewalls – to name a few devices – in an effort to compromise networks and, thus, gain access to the data being transmitted by the devices connecting to them.

As of 2008, TAO was allegedly able to deploy approximately 21,252 of these implants, and it was estimated that as many as 85,000 or so could be deployed by the end of 2013. Since the numbers NRC Handelsblad is reporting are based on a mid-2012 count, it's certainly possible that the NSA has been able to achieve its goal.

"The malware can be controlled remotely and be turned on and off at will. The 'implants' act as digital 'sleeper cells' that can be activated with a single push of a button," described reporters Floor Boon, Steven Derix, and Huib Modderkolk.

However, if you're thinking of some kind of Mission Impossible-like setup whereby a team of hackers in a room somewhere are launching pretty, graphical attacks at enemy networks — something that could be straight out of the Uplink game, you'd be mistaken.

As described by NRC Handelsblad, the British intelligence agency "Government Communications Headquarters," or GCHQ, performed a similar bit of network infiltration within Belgacom, a telecommunications provider in Belgium. To hack its way into the network, however, the agency employed fake LinkedIn pages and Slashdot websites to ensnare employees within the company's security and maintenance divisions and dump malware on their systems.

"In the case of Belgacom, the GCHQ used a sophisticated variant of the man-in-the-middle attack, known as a 'quantum insert', which Der Spiegel says could only be performed by a spy agency that's able to insert its own boxes into the Web. This way, when the target tries to access LinkedIn, GCHQ can serve them a spoofed version of the website instead of the real LinkedIn page," described SiliconAngle.

Read more: Report: NSA Infected More Than 50,000 Networks by Mid-2012 | News & Opinion |

Iran: Western powers reach deal with Iran over its nuclear program - by Ann Curry

Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders from five other world powers early Sunday reached a nuclear deal with Iran, following intense negotiations that took place over several days in Geneva.

The deal represents a historic breakthrough in the world's decade-long nuclear standoff with Iran, and in the 35-year-long diplomatic freeze between Iran and the United States.

Read more: Western powers reach deal with Iran over its nuclear program - World News


Alternative Energy: Germany: New German coalition would extend offshore wind support-negotiators - by by Markus Wacket

A new German coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD) would aim to improve support for offshore wind parks, Peter Altmaier, a senior conservative politician who is in talks on environment and energy policies said on Thursday.

He said a degression model, under which wind farm operators can obtain financial help faster in the early years of a park's development, would be extended until 2019.

Such a move would give much-needed momentum to the process of getting wind parks up and running.

Read more: New German coalition would extend offshore wind support-negotiators | Reuters

Alternative Energy - Windpower: Pennsylvania New State Report: Wind power saves water and protects air

 A new report says wind energy in Pennsylvania is yielding environmental benefits by saving water and avoiding pollution that contributes to climate change.

The report released Wednesday by the environmentalist group PennEnvironment says Pennsylvania’s two dozen wind farms annually save nearly 600 million gallons of water that otherwise would be needed to cool power plants.

The report says the use of wind energy in Pennsylvania last year avoided emissions of more than 1,200 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxides and more than 1,500 tons of sulfur dioxide that causes acid rain and soot.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat who’s running for Congress next year, says development of wind energy should be encouraged because it creates jobs while preserving natural resources.

Read more: New State Report: Wind power saves water and protects air » News » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Offshore Wind Parks: ExxonMobil oils North Sea gears

A synthetic gear oil by ExxonMobil designed to perform in “demanding environments and temperatures” is now protecting more than 300 turbines at four offshore wind farms in the North Sea.

The Alpha Ventus, Bard Offshore 1, Trianel Windpark Borkum and Thornton Bank (pictured) projects use Mobilgear SHC XMP 320, which is claimed to have a significant edge over traditional mineral oils.

ExxonMobil said the product can extend the interval between oil changes from 18 months to five years, meaning operators minimise maintenance and unscheduled downtime.

Beyond the North Sea sites, it is used on 40,000 wind turbines worldwide.

“In an industry that relies on the performance of turbines, which may stand up to 400 feet high in the air, often in remote environments, there is no such thing as a simple oil change or routine maintenance,” said ExxonMobil brand advisor Rainer Lange.

Read more: ExxonMobil oils North Sea gears - Offshore Wind | ReNews - Renewable Energy News

All eyes on Brussels, as world leaders gather for EDD - 2013 European Development Days - by Rolf Rosenkranz

What’s the future of international development — and how will it affect you? As official media partner of the 2013 European Development Days, Devex will sit down with world leaders and innovators next week to find out.

Devex members will have a front-row seat to our coverage and to Europe’s top gathering of development movers and shakers. You’ll hear from presidents, tech innovators, NGO leaders and top EU officials about the latestest solutions to pressing development challenges, and how they may affect your business or career.

Luminaries that are scheduled to visit our video pavilion on Tuesday and Wednesday include Liberian President Ellen John Sirleaf as well as Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is battling poverty and instability at home and abroad. We’ll speak with Winnie Byanyima, a Ugandan aeronautical engineer who earlier this year was named executive director of Oxfam International, one of the leading international development NGOs and advocacy groups.

You’ll hear from Joanna Maycock, president of Concord, the alliance of European aid NGOs, as well as Gib Bulloch, executive director of Accenture. Among the many other people we look forward to speaking with are Paul Garnett, Microsoft Corp.’s director for technology policy; Helen Hai, CEO of China Africa Consulting; and Ralf Dürrwang, vice president of corporate citizenship at Deutsche Post DHL.

Read more: All eyes on Brussels, as world leaders gather for EDD - 2013 European Development Days | Devex


Chinese Premier: We want bigger ties with the EU

China “firmly supports” European integration and wants to grow its economic ties with the region, including the UK, according to Premier Li Keqiang.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Li, who succeeded Wen Jiabao this year as the main political figure in charge of China’s economy and domestic governance, says Beijing is targeting $1 trillion (£620bn) of trade with the European Union by 2020.

 “This is no 'low-hanging fruit’ and we need to jump to reach it but I am confident we can attain that goal,” he writes, following an agreement in Beijing to boost trade between the world’s second-largest economy and the EU.

 “The agenda will definitely provide more opportunities for economic and trade collaboration between China and the EU.

On the subject of EU unity, Mr Li adds that “China will, as always, firmly support Europe’s integration process.

A united, stable and prosperous Europe is in the interest of the world and of China.

 Read more: Chinese Premier: We want bigger ties with Europe - Telegraph



Catastrophic for Syria and disastrous for Turkey — the consequences of Turkey’s intervention in Syria over the past two years can be summed up in this way. While not admitting that they were wrong, the architects of this policy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, now appear to be backing off, at least to the extent of tightening border security and seeking to repair the damage they have caused to relations with neighbouring states.

In early August Davutoglu visited Tehran, and now President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has been invited to Ankara. So has Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, with Davutoglu due to visit Baghdad in a few days’ time.
 Both Davutoglu and Erdogan have also shut down the vociferous support they have been expressing for the deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. Now they seem to agree that what happens in Egypt is the business of the Egyptian people.

By throwing its weight behind an armed movement seeking the overthrow of the Syrian government, the Turkish Justice and Development Party (the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AKP) took Turkey where no other government had gone since the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. It provided space for the mobilisation of armed men crossing the border to kill Syrian soldiers and civilians (described as loyalists to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad). It backed the establishment of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the so-called Syrian National Council, a group of exiles which has been absolutely dysfunctional from the start despite the millions of dollars shovelled its way by Turkey and other “friends” of Syria.

There has been no argument that Syria’s oppressive political system needed changing. The starting point of the debate was how and at what cost. With the single exception of open armed intervention, the policy pursued by these so-called “friends” of the Syrian people has been the worst possible option even from the point of view of Syrians who do not like the ruling Syrian Baath Party. There have been no benefits, save for the solidarity engendered amongst the people by this attack on their country. Instead, it has been massive death and destruction all the way.

Turkey’s role has been pivotal in the campaign launched by the “Friends of the Syrian People” to bring down the Syrian regime. In the allocation of responsibilities, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya have supplied arms and/or money for bribes and the purchase of weapons. The US has provided intelligence, training and coordination, and perhaps arms, as well as the officially declared “humanitarian” support and provision of non-lethal military equipment. But the opening up of territorial space as a rear base for the armed groups by Jordan and Turkey has been no less of a critical element in the campaign to destroy the government in Damascus.

Read more: The-collapse-of-Turkey’s-Syria-policy - Al-Ahram Weekly

Is Europe headed for divorce? - by Timothy Garton Ash

Now that the German elections are over, Germany and France will launch a great initiative to save the European project. Marking the centennial of 1914 and World War I, this will contrast favorably with the weak and confused leadership under which Europe stumbled 100 years ago. Before the May elections to the European Union Parliament, the Franco-German duo's decisive action and inspiring oratory will drive back the anti-EU parties that are gaining ground in so many European countries.

In your dreams, Mr. and Ms. Pro-European Union. A new German government won't be formed until just before Christmas. In the German coalition negotiations, European affairs are being handled by — wait for it — a subgroup of the working group on finance. For the three participating parties — Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, the Bavarian Christian Social Union and the opposition Social Democrats — the hot-button issues are all domestic: the minimum wage, energy policy, dual citizenship, a proposed road toll; these things count for more than the future of the continent.

The trouble with grand coalitions is that because mainstream, centrist parties are burdened with the responsibility of government, the field of opposition is left wide open for the protest parties. On the other hand, if the anti-parties succeed at the polls, it could at last mobilize a younger generation of Europeans to defend achievements they take for granted.

It won't be 1914, but 100 years on, Europe will again be living in interesting times.

Note EU-Digest: always great pessimism about Europe from our "Anglo-Saxon Partners" .

Read more: Is Europe headed for divorce? -


US Economy: data disappointing with jobless setback and widening trade imbalance

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but an upward revision to the prior week's figure suggested the labor market recovery remained gradual.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 5,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 330,000 last week.

The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, dropped 5,750 to 344,000. Lackluster domestic demand is preventing the labor market from generating stronger jobs growth that would decisively lower the unemployment rate.

Exports of goods and services slipped 0.2 percent to $188.9 billion in September. That was the third straight month of declines. Imports rose 1.2 percent to $230.7 billion, the highest level since November last year. Imports of automobiles and parts were the highest on record.

Additionally, U.S. nonfarm productivity rose less than expected in the third quarter and a drop in unit labor costs pointed to subdued wage inflation that should allow the Federal Reserve to maintain its massive monetary stimulus to the economy for a while.

Read more: US data disappointing

Middle East: Iranian Nuclear Talks Put Israel at Odds With U.S.

Last March, when President Obama swept into Israel determined to patch up the fraught relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the labored effort on both sides was so obvious as to be a bit painful. Israeli television carried every public moment of the visit live, including a midday tour Netanyahu gave Obama of new Israeli inventions.

The highlight was the Rewalk technology, a kind of exoskeleton that allows a person who would otherwise be confined to a wheelchair to stand up and walk around. “Now I can talk eye to eye,” Radi Kaiuf, a paraplegic Israeli veteran, told Obama.

“Well, we gotta get a picture of this,” the visiting American said, and snugged in with Netanyahu beside a gadget that, on top of everything else, captured the essence of their new relationship: awkward and far from natural, yes, but, hey, whatever works.

But eight months later, as talks resume Wednesday in Geneva on the fate of the Iranian nuclear program, Obama and Netanyahu once again are no longer talking eye to eye. Both leaders obviously want to prevent Iran from developing the atomic weapons that Tehran insists it does not even want.

But a public rift has opened over the most effective route to blocking the perceived threat. And while Israel has no seat at the Geneva talks, the Jewish state plays a significant role in how they are perceived — especially on Capitol Hill, where already Obama faces so much hawkish skepticism he had to ask lawmakers to hold off on adding additional sanctions to let the talks run their course.

The rift with Israel could come to a head this week, if negotiators complete an agreement that Washington says will only be temporary and Netanyahu warns will become permanent.

Read more: Iranian Nuclear Talks Put Israel at Odds With U.S. |

Middle East: Israel nuclear program remains unsupervised

Israel persistently refuses to sign the NPT while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations require all countries with nuclear energy to be committed to the NPT. The question here is to know why the Zionist regime is reluctant to accept IAEA monitoring of its nuclear activities.

Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons; however, Israeli officials have yet to acknowledge Tel Aviv’s nuclear arsenal.

The Israeli nuclear program started in 1956 following a pact signed between Paris and Tel Aviv. The pact required France to establish nuclear arsenal without any restrictions for the Zionist regime. France was also committed to erecting a plutonium separation factory which set the stage for the military aspects of Israel’s nuclear program.

In 1958, Israel built the Dimona reactor. In a bid to shift public attention away from this arsenal, Israeli officials first claimed they were building a textile factory. But not long after, The New York Times disclosed the identity of this nuclear reactor in December 1960. Israel’s then prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, admitted before Knesset that the Zionist regime was building a nuclear arsenal.  

In 1967, then US President Richard Nixon and then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir agreed on a secret pact which required Israel to never unveil its nuclear strength in return for the US’s ignorance of the Zionist regime’s atomic power.

Having adopted this policy of nuclear ambiguity, Israel refuses to sign any treaty and continues proliferation of its nuclear weapons without any international control. In 1998, then Israeli prime minister, Shimon Peres, acknowledged that Israel is a nuclear power, Peres meant Israel owned nuclear weapons and reactor.

Israeli nuclear activities were mainly leaked by the whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, who was a former Israeli nuclear technician in the Negev research center.

Also known as John Crossman, Vanunu revealed in 1986 details of Israel's nuclear weapons program to the British press. He was handed down spent 18 years in prison and served more than 11 years in solitary confinement. He was released from prison in 2004, but was subject to a broad array of restrictions.

In 2006, Israel’s then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s interview on Germany’s N24 television channel dispelled any doubt about the nuclear activities of Israel. Olmert said in the interview that Israel aligned itself with China, Russia and the US in terms of nuclear strength.

Read more: PressTV - Israel nuclear program remains unsupervised

EU Economy: If the European economy is so shaky, why is the euro so strong?

The euro zone is looking healthier than it has in some time, but that is not saying much. The long-suffering economy pulled out of recession earlier this year, unemployment is levelling off, and crisis worries continue to ebb along with government borrowing costs.

Yet growth may struggle to top 1% next year, which in turn is generating fear of deflation. European firms and households remain stuck under piles of debt. Earlier this month, amid signs of new economic weakness, the European Central Bank (ECB) cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.25%.

From late 2009 to mid-2012 the euro weakened as Europe’s debt crisis deepened. But since July of last year the euro has been on a tear, and it is now back to 2007 levels. After half a decade of financial gyrations, investors seem as eager to hold euros as ever. If the European economy is still shaky, why is the euro so strong?

An appreciating currency can cause serious problems. Exchange rates are an important determinant of the price of a country’s goods on world markets. If American car prices hold steady while the dollar strengthens, then the cost of American cars in yen or euros rises and America will sell fewer of them abroad. Europe has more reason than most to fear a strong currency. With firms, households and governments all cutting back, Europe is reliant on exports to drive growth and hiring. Some European leaders, such as France's president, François Hollande, worry that a strong euro is hurting European exporters.

Explaining exchange-rate moves is a near-impossible task. A currency might rise as improving economic prospects attract foreign capital—or because domestic banks are liquidating foreign investments and bringing money home to cover expected losses. Yet two factors look especially culpable for the euro's recent strength.

One is falling odds of a nasty euro-zone break-up. The flip from weakening to strengthening came in July 2012, when the president of the ECB, Mario Draghi, promised to do "whatever it takes" to preserve the single currency. Markets breathed a sigh of relief and seemed to worry less about keeping money in euros.

Relatively tight monetary policy could also be a factor. European interest rates are often higher than those elsewhere, while inflation is lower. Those small differences can add up to big gains for investors who borrow dollars (for example), and use them to buy euros to park in European banks. This "carry trade" raises the value of the euro relative to other currencies.

A soaring euro is not all bad news. It could signal increased foreign interest in lending to periphery governments. And Europeans benefit from lower import prices. But the costs—to struggling exporters and from deflation—are probably larger. Luckily Europe is not powerless in the face of a buoyant euro.

The ECB could discourage the carry trade by paying negative interest rates on deposits and could follow other rich-world central banks in deploying "quantitative easing" (QE) to boost the economy. QE entails printing euros to buy government bonds. In the end, an exchange rate is just a price: the price of euros, as expressed in other currencies. The surest way to bring it down is to make more euros.

Read more: The Economist explains: If the European economy is so shaky, why is the euro so strong? | The Economist

Italy: Sardinia assesses the damage after Cyclone Cleopatra

Sardinia has started the long process of recovery after being hit by Cyclone Cleopatra.

The storm brought 45 centimetres of rainfall in just 90 minutes in the early hours of Tuesday, November 19.
At least 16 people were killed and the flooding destroyed the homes of thousands more.

Geologist Paolo Messina at Rome’s Centre for National Research told euronews why he thought the level of destruction was so high:

“Sardinia is one of the regions that has been seriously neglected. The main problem is how the territory has been maintained. Riverbeds should be kept clean, for example. Also, building on high-risk areas should be forbidden.

The fact that all this hasn’t been done properly has led us to this situation,” Messina explained.

Read more: Sardinia assesses the damage after Cyclone Cleopatra | euronews, world news


Eurozone posts 13.1-billion September trade surplus: EU

The eurozone posted another big 12-month increase in its trade surplus on Monday, the latest monthly data from the EU's Eurostat agency showed.

The first estimate for September gave a 13.1-billion-euro surplus (US$17.7 billion) for the trade in goods with the rest of the world, compared with 8.6 billion euros in September 2012.

A trade surplus is one of the factors of growth in an economy, whereas a deficit tends to sap growth, and so achieving a trade surplus is of critical importance to economies in crisis.

Read more: Eurozone posts 13.1-billion September trade surplus: EU

France: French PM announces plan to simplify tax system

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Monday he wanted to simplify the tax system, announcing a consultation process with the aim of proposing a broad tax reform to parliament by 2015.

The Socialist government has suffered criticism over tax increases introduced to shore up public finances, with business leaders saying an excessively complex and costly system is driving away investors.

"I think the time has come for a transparent overhaul of our tax system," Mr Ayrault told Les Echos business daily. "The objective is to come up with rules that are fairer, more efficient and easier to understand." "This overhaul will obviously require in-depth dialogue. I will meet all social partners in the coming days," he said, referring to business groups and labour unions.

Frustration over tax and unemployment stuck at 11 per cent, have dragged President Francois Hollande's approval rating to 20 percent, the lowest score for a postwar president, an Ifop poll showed.

A planned tax on heavy road transport provoked violent protests in western France where demonstrators torched toll gates, leading Mr Hollande to suspend the policy.

Read  more: French PM announces plan to simplify tax system

France: IKEA bosses in France questioned over illegal spying claims

Two executives at IKEA France are being questioned by police as part of an investigation into allegations the company purchased police records to snoop on staff and customers, a legal source said.
Ten individuals, including four police officers, have been placed under investigation.

IKEA France CEO Stefan Vanoverbeke, his predecessor Jean-Louis Baillot and chief financial officer Darius Rychert were formally detained for questioning after more than a year and a half of investigation, AFP reported, quoting an anonymous legal source.

French prosecutors opened a criminal investigation in April 2012 following allegations that IKEA paid to illegally acquire secret police files in an effort to gain information about staff and customers, including one who was attempting to sue the world’s largest retailer.

The reports alleged IKEA France attempted to gain information on its own workers, including union members, the owners of particular car registration numbers and names connected with a list of mobile phone numbers.

Police conducted a search of the company's headquarters on the outskirts of Paris 11 days ago. 

Read more: IKEA bosses in France questioned over illegal spying claims — RT News

Banking Fees: How to Avoid Bank Fees While Traveling - by Nomadic Matt

There are a number of things you can do to reduce your ATM fees overseas.

The first thing you should do is set up a checking account at a major bank. ALWAYS PICK A MAJOR BANK! Why? Most major banks have partnership agreements with counterparts overseas that allow for free ATM withdrawals. While they have the highest fees  euro 2 ($5 USD per withdrawal), by using partner ATMs, you can avoid ATM charges.

Below is a list of major banks that have ATM partnerships with other global banks where you can avoid fees:
Moreover, you can also pick a global bank that has branches around the world. I use HSBC for most of my international banking. HSBC has ATMs all over the world. Using those ATMs means I don’t have to pay those fees. As of September 2011, HSBC has raised their fee to $2.50 USD per ATM transaction when you use a non-HSBC ATM.
Read more: How to Avoid Bank Fees While Traveling | Nomadic Matt's Travel Site

NSA Spying: 78% In US Think U.S. Spies On Others As Much or More Than They Spy On Them - Rasmussen Reports™

Most voters US consider foreign spying a serious threat to the United States, but three-out-of-four think America spies on other countries as much or more than they spy on them.

Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Likely U.S. Voters believe spying on the United States by other countries is at least a somewhat serious threat, with 26% who say it’s Very Serious.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 25% think foreign spying is not a serious threat, but that includes only three percent (3%) who feel it’s Not At All Serious. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Only thirty-four percent (34%) of Likely U.S. Voters favor the NSA’s tracking of the telephone calls and e-mails of millions of Americans as part of the effort to fight terrorism, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Read more: 78% Think U.S. Spies On Others As Much or More Than They Spy on Us - Rasmussen Reports™

European Development: Connecting Europe: Trans-European Networks

Connecting Europe Facility" (CEF) is the EU's new funding mechanism for infrastructure projects of common interest for trans-European transport, energy and telecoms networks with an overall budget of about € 29.3 billion for 2014-2020 (at constant 2011 prices). The CEF should accelerate the completion of trans-European networks and help to leverage funding from both the public and the private sector

The CEF regulation informally agreed by EP and Council on 27 June lays down the conditions, methods and procedures for providing Union financial assistance to trans-European networks in order to support projects of common interest in the sectors of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures and to exploit potential synergies between those sectors.

Out of €23.17 billion earmarked for transport projects, €10 billion would be transferred from the Cohesion Fund to be used exclusively in member states eligible for Cohesion Fund money. The total budget for funding energy projects will be € 5.12 billion and MEPs insisted that these projects should be funded primarily by financial instruments. The total budget for the funding of telecommunication projects will amount to € 1 billion.

Parliament defended elements of the proposal, among other things regarding a broad and flexible use of financial instruments, and achieved the following improvements:

Read more: Connecting Europe: Trans-European Networks


NSA Spy Ring: Indonesia recalls ambassador to Australia over spying allegations - Helen Davidson and Matthew Weaver

Australia's spy agencies have attempted to listen in on the personal phone calls of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and have targeted the mobile phones of his wife, senior ministers and confidants, a top-secret document from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

The document, dated November 2009, names the president and nine of his inner circle as targets of the surveillance, including the vice-president, Boediono, who last week visited Australia. Other named targets include ministers from the time who are now possible candidates in next year's Indonesian presidential election, and the first lady, Kristiani Herawati, better known as Ani Yudhoyono.

When a separate document from Snowden, a former contractor to the US's National Security Agency (NSA), showed Australia had spied on Indonesia and other countries from its embassies, the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, reacted angrily and threatened to review co-operation on issues crucial to Australia such as people smuggling and terrorism.

Read more: Indonesia recalls ambassador to Australia over spying allegations - live updates | World news |

Food: 11 Foods That Are Changing the World - by Eliana Dockterman

As far as food sources go, there are few better than insects: the average grasshopper, for example, is low-cost, low-calorie, exists in abundance, and contains 29% of your daily protein value.

That’s a main reason why they’re such a diet staple for some 2 billion people in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Yet in the Western world, insects are considered gross—meaning that in countries like America, livestock still reigns supreme (even though its production can do more damage to the environment than automobiles, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization).

But that’s starting to change, thanks food innovations like insect tacos—available at Antojeria La Popular, a popular restaurant in New York City, among others—which are making nontraditional protein seem more palatable. Meanwhile, Sushi Mazi in Portland has started serving grasshopper sushi. And Berlin’s Never Never Land restaurant serves gourmet insects on salads and even in chocolate sauce.

Read more: The Grasshopper Taco | 11 Foods That Are Changing the World |

Money: The Rise of Bitcoin - QuickTake - Is It Real Money If It Doesn't Come From the Mint? By Max Raskin

They’re called Bitcoins, but you can’t put one into your pocket. Don’t try to use it to tip the waiter. So what makes Bitcoin money? The same thing that makes all money money — trust, in this case backed up by a lot of code-breaking computers.

Created in 2009, Bitcoin has grown into the world’s largest virtual currency, traded on exchanges around the world. It’s the product of open-source software and a decentralized network of electronic “miners,” making it a multibillion-dollar experiment in monetary privatization and perhaps the first step toward an age when the digital economy outgrows the restraints of nation states and wallets full of paper.

he value of Bitcoin soared in early 2013 amid a torrent of media coverage, hitting an intraday record high of $266 in April. Some buyers were drawn by a mistrust of central banks they saw as fueling inflation; for them, Bitcoin, which has rigid limits on money supply written into its software, was a safer alternative.

Others liked its anonymity for online transactions, legal or not. But much of the surge was driven by newer investors with more traditional motivation — getting in on the ground floor of a product in demand. In July 2013, the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame announced that they had bought 1 percent of the Bitcoin in existence and later filed to offer a Bitcoin ETF.

Prominence also brought new problems, however. The largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, located in Japan, was  the target of hacking attacks that drove the price down. In the summer of 2013, regulators began to take notice, raising thorny questions of oversight.

Then on Oct. 2, Bitcoin prices plunged by a third after U.S. prosecutors announced the indictment of the operator of Silk Road, an anything-goes online market where drugs and other illicit goods were peddled for Bitcoin. But it soon rebounded to set new highs, and the Justice Department declared in November that Bitcoins can be “legal means of exchange.”

For more: Bloomberg

The Netherlands: Health Insurers have also become too big to fail

Health insurers like banks have also become too big to fail '. That says Chris Oomen, CEO of health care provider ' Achmea.  In 2008 it received state bailout funds and today controls one third of that tmarket ',

"Assume Achmea goes down -  there will be no health care provider which is able to accept our insured in the Netherlands, because no one has enough equity to take on our 5 million customers. That requires so much capital, that you will become bankrupt immediately. We have therefore also become  'too big to fail.' says Oomen.

According to Oomen hospitals now also fall in this too big to fail category in the Netherlands.


Turkey: Erdoğan adds Barzani to Turkey’s Kurdish bid - by Murat Yetkin

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was aiming at hitting a few birds with one stone when he planned his Diyarbakır visit over the weekend.

One of them was to bring a new impetus to his initiative, started a year ago, to open dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in pursuit of a political solution for Turkey’s Kurdish problem.

There were criticisms from the PKK and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Parliament, which share the same grassroots that the government was dragging its feet and was not coming up with a new step to reanimate the process.

Erdoğan pulled a new rabbit from his hat and said he hoped “those up in the mountains will be down and the jailhouses will be emptied” soon. That was a message to win the hearts and minds of perhaps not the PKK leadership in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq, but the Kurds whose kids are recruited by the PKK for its armed campaign, lasting over the past 30 years, with an average life expectancy of 2.5 years there. Even the “Özgür Gündem” daily, which is close to the BDP, yesterday admitted that it was something new with its “Only promises are not enough” headline.

Read more: MURAT YETKİN - Erdoğan adds Barzani to Turkey’s Kurdish bid

European Communications: A cloud safe from the NSA's prying eyes: Europe begins work on its EU - by Michael Filtz

At last week's Berlin launch of a new EU-funded research project which aims to lay the groundwork for a European-wide cloud, spying by foreign governments hung darkly over the proceedings.

"Recent spy allegations have shocked some of us," according to Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, but "they should not derail the cloud opportunity".

According to Estonia's president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, these allegations have brought greater public awareness of cloud security. "Before 6 June, this was a process that was going on without much public opinion," he said, referring to the date when the Snowden NSA leaks first hit the press, "that it seemed to be kind of a thing for geeks. "After 6 June, this has become a pan-European issue for good and bad."

'Cloud for Europe' seeks to establish a common regulatory framework for a continent-wide cloud, intended to be more secure from the eyes of foreign intelligence services than the currently available equivalents.

The main idea behind the project seems to be that if regulators could create a more secure space for data storage, European governments and consumers would be more likely to trust it. Plus, regulatory oversight could make data privacy rules more consistent across borders, and be more reflective of European legal values.

"95 percent of cloud services that are used in Europe come from a different legal space, without any European participation," Ilves said, "in which there is the kind of security that some other countries have demanded but not the kind of security that satisfies European need."

Read more: A cloud safe from the NSA's prying eyes: Europe begins work on its EU-wide system | ZDNet


Populism out of control: Looting in Venezuela: 'This is where Maduro’s populism gets us!' - by Yolimar Rosales

Last week, the Venezuelan government resorted to drastic measures to cap the rocketing prices of electronic goods: the army was ordered to occupy ‘expensive’ department stores to force them to lower their prices. In the city of Valencia, some residents took that as a green light to go on a looting spree.
President Nicolas Maduro, elected in April following Hugo Chavez’s death, launched his initiative on November 8 to fight back against what he called “bourgeois parasites”. National guard forces took over a number of department stores across Venezuela and arrested several managers accused of price speculation. The prices of electronic appliances had increased by 1,000% over the course of the year. Company executives blamed this increase on the high inflation rate, which is currently  at an annual rate of 54%.
Several factors explain Venezuela's high rate of inflation. Firstly, the country’s national currency – the Bolivar - was devalued by a third in February 2013 to cover the budget deficit created by the electoral campaign. 
What's more, even though the official exchange rate with the dollar is now at 6.30 Bolivars, the black market rate is ten times higher. That has a direct impact on companies that have to import products. Unlike local products, the government does not control the prices of imported products, which can reach extremely high levels.

Read more: Looting in Venezuela: 'This is where Maduro’s populism gets us!' | The FRANCE 24 Observers

Tech Sector Europe: Investors flock to Europe in search of next Supercell - by Mia Shanley and Jussi Rosendahl

Investments in the tech sector in Europe are at $3.22 billion so far in 2013, compared with $3.58 billion last year, according to Thomson Reuters data. Europe makes up 11 percent of global investments so far this year compared with 10 percent in 2012.

Riding a wave of euphoria surrounding the success of Finnish mobile game maker Supercell, venture capital firms are chasing after European tech start-ups in search of the next big thing.

Japanese tech and telecoms group SoftBank's 51 percent stake purchase in 3-year-old Supercell, announced last month, valued the maker of hit games "Clash of Clans" and "Hay Day" at $3 billion.

"Everybody wants to be the new Supercell," Torleif Ahlsand, General Partner at Nordic technology investor Northzone, said at the annual "Slush" tech start-up conference in the Finnish capital.

With low economic growth prospects in Europe and the United States, venture capital investors hungry for yield are looking to new tech start-ups to provide the high level of returns they seek. And the amount of cash chasing the next potential winner could drive up valuations.

A strong market debut by Twitter Inc. in the United States and a comeback by Facebook following a shaky market debut last year has also lifted the mood.

Finnish gaming veteran Lasse Seppanen, CEO of PlayRaven, said in the past he had had to chase the venture capitalists.

"These days, VCs are calling me," he said.

And while investors say there is a risk of bubbles forming, the industry appeared to be growing at a more sustainable pace than in previous tech booms.

"We think there is going to be a steady flow of billion dollar companies in Europe," Kevin Comolli, General Partner at Accel, an early Supercell investor, told Reuters.

Read more: Investors flock to Europe in search of next Supercell | Reuters

Experience: Things I Learned Wandering Around Europe for 7 Months - by Matthew Trinetti

I realize that everyone is in different life and financial situations, and those can be reasons for postponing travel.

But I do believe we each have a duty to humanity to move our ass out into the world and experience some perspective. Television and the Internet are nothing like the real thing. We need firsthand experience.

The world would be a much better place for it.

Read more: Things I Learned Wandering Around Europe for 7 Months | Matthew Trinetti

Cellular Phones: LTE-Advanced tests in Europe push wireless speeds - by Mikael Ricknäs

European operators Vodafone, Telefónica, and EE have all started testing LTE-Advanced, and are aiming to offer wireless connectivity speeds exceeding 200Mbps. But the hardware isn't as speedy: A lack of devices means commercial services will have to wait.

While LTE is still in its infancy in many parts of the world, operators have started to test LTE-Advanced, which uses a handful of technologies to increase speeds even more. Last week, Vodafone and Telefónica in Germany announced small-scale trials of the speedy technology in Dresden and Munich, respectively. The two join British operator EE, which announced a test in London's startup cluster Tech City earlier this month.

All three are taking advantage of a feature called carrier aggregation to improve speeds. It allows networks to devote more resources to some users by treating two channels in the same or different frequency bands as if they were one. The amount of frequencies used decides the maximum bandwidth. EE is using two times 20MHz to reach 300Mbps, while Vodafone and Telefónica are using one 10MHz channel plus one 20MHz channel for up to 225Mbps. 

Read more: LTE-Advanced tests in Europe push wireless speeds | TechHive

Russia: Boeing plane crashes in Russia, 50 on board killed - by Jim Heintz

A Boeing 737 jetliner crashed and burst into flames Sunday night while trying to land at the airport in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people aboard in the latest in a string of deadly crashes across the country.

The Tatarstan Airlines plane was trying to make a second landing attempt when it touched the surface of the runway near the control tower, and was ‘‘destroyed and caught fire,’’ said Sergei Izvolky, the spokesman for the Russian aviation agency.

The Emergencies Ministry said there were 44 passengers and six crew members aboard the evening flight from Moscow and all had been killed. Kazan, a city of about 1.1 million and the capital of the Tatarstan republic, is about 720 kilometers (450 miles) east of the capital.

The ministry released a list of the dead, which included Irek Minnikhanov, the son of Tatarstan’s governor, and Alexander Antonov, who headed the Tatarstan branch of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.

Some Russian air crashes have been blamed on the use of aging aircraft, but industry experts point to a number of other problems, including poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.

The Emergencies Ministry released photographs from the nighttime scene showing parts of the aircraft and debris scattered across the ground. Ambulances lined up in front of the airport building.

Read more: Boeing plane crashes in Russia, 50 on board killed - Europe news -


Who are the richest people in the Netherlands? - by Alexandra Gowling

Dutch magazine Quote has released its 2013 edition of the richest 500 people in the Netherlands, which shows that their total wealth has gone up by 7 billion euros since last year. That is a 6,14 per cent increase, to a total of 113,1 billion euros.

There are now 20 billionaires on the list, with last place held by DJ Tiësto with 54 million euros. Last year, the 500th spot was acquired for 50 million euros.

Read more: Who are the richest people in the Netherlands? | Dutch News

EU still wrangling over banking union

The European Union is still treading water on the thorny issue of a community-wide banking union. EU finance ministers, gathered once again in Brussels, aren't making any decisions; instead, they're just repeating well-worn positions that haven't change in months.

According to EU diplomats, that is the fault of the German government, which is unwilling to shift its ground while coalition negotiations over the next new government are still going on in Berlin.

But Germany's incumbent Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, of Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, has another view: "The German government is fully capable of acting," he said, because all the parties in the country's future government agree on European policy.

EU still wrangling over banking union | Europe | DW.DE | 15.11.2013


Health Care USA: Best health care system? Really, John Boehner? - by Maggie Fox

House Speaker John Boehner trashed president Obama’s health care plan again Thursday, accusing him of wrecking the world’s best health care system.

“This is going to destroy the best health care delivery system in the world,” Boehner said Thursday morning before President Obama announced a plan to fix the fallout over canceled health insurance policies.
But is it really?

Two studies out this week — and studies going back 15 years or longer — show quite the opposite. Americans pay more per capita for health care than people in any other industrialized country. In return, we are sicker, die younger and are unhappier with the system.

The Commonwealth Fund, which does research on health care and health reform, has shown year after year in its regular surveys that Americans spend a lot more on health care than anyone else. Right now it’s $2.7 trillion a year — that’s $8,508 a head, compared to $5,669 per person in Norway and $5,643 in Switzerland, the next-highest-spending countries. New Zealanders spend just $3,182 per person.

And Americans aren't getting more or better care for that money. The U.S. has the eighth-lowest life expectancy in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which groups developed nations.

In the latest survey of more than 20,000 people from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the U.S., Commonwealth researchers found that 37 percent of Americans went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of costs, compared to as few as 4 percent to 6 percent in Britain and Sweden.

And 23 percent of U.S. adults either had serious problems paying medical bills or were unable to pay them, compared to fewer than 13 percent of adults in France and 6 percent or fewer in Britain, Sweden, and Norway, Commonwealth reported Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs.

More than 40 percent of U.S. adults said they spent $1,000 or more out-of-pocket for care in the past year, by far the highest rate of any country surveyed.

Most — 75 percent —of the 2,000 or so U.S. adults surveyed said the health system needs fundamental changes or to be rebuilt. Just half of Dutch and Swedish people did, while 63 percent of Britons said their system works well and only needs minor changes.

“The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country, but what we get for these significant resources falls short in terms of access to care, affordability, and quality,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund,

Americans also wait longer to see primary care doctors; 76 percent in Germany said they could get a same or next-day appointment, and 63 percent in the Netherlands, compared to 48 percent in the U.S. Only Canada scored worse, with 41 percent saying they could.

And the U.S. has more patients than anywhere else using the emergency room. A full 48 percent of Americans said they had used the ER in the past two years, compared to 31 percent in France and 22 percent in Germany and Australia.

Even the U.S. Institute of Medicine says U.S. health care is a mess, with tens of thousands of Americans dying from medical errors and drug overdoses, and with the system wasting $750 billion in 2009.

And on Tuesday, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at improvements in the U.S. health care system. The upshot? They’re not really keeping up with the rest of the world.

Best health care system? Really, John Boehner? - NBC