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8/31/13

Syria: Brilliant move Obama by seeking congressional approval before military action against Syria - by C. Todd, K. Welker and D. Arkin

President Barack Obama will seek authorization from Congress before launching any military action against the Syrian regime for allegedly using chemical weapons in a mass killing that claimed the lives of 1,429 people.

The president came to the unexpected decision during a walk Friday evening with his chief of staff Denis McDonough, just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry made a forceful case for the U.S. to attack Syria, sources told NBC News. After Obama returned from the stroll around the South Lawn, he called senior aides, leading to meetings Friday night and Saturday morning, the sources said.

Obama stressed on Saturday that American warships in the Mediterranean Sea still stood poised to strike regime targets at any time, despite the move that would place a hold on any imminent military action.

Note EU-Digest: Brilliant move by Obama.

Read more: Obama will seek congressional approval before any military action against Syria - World News

Russia's Vladimir Putin challenges US on Syria claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin has challenged the US to present to the UN evidence that Syria attacked rebels with chemical weapons near Damascus.

Mr Putin said it would be "utter nonsense" for Syria's government to provoke opponents with such attacks.
US President Barack Obama says he is considering military action against Syria after intelligence reports that 1,429 people were killed on 21 August.

UN weapons inspectors have left Syria after gathering evidence for four days.

They crossed into neighbouring Lebanon. They are due to go to the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons in the Netherlands.

Read more: BBC News - Russia's Vladimir Putin challenges US on Syria claims

European Employment: Number of Jobless People Declines Slightly in Europe

While unemployment remained at record levels in percentage terms, the actual number of jobless people in the euro zone fell slightly in July, according to data published on Friday, offering fresh evidence that Europe’s struggling economy was taking tentative steps toward a recovery.

The tiny improvement in employment — which came alongside declining inflation and a survey showing improved confidence among European consumers and business managers — was welcomed as additional evidence that the worst of the region’s downturn was probably over. Still, officials and economists cautioned that the economic health of Europe remained fragile and the pace of recovery highly uneven within the region, underscoring the challenge for policy makers and central bankers. 

“The recent improvements are minimal,” said Laszlo Andor, the European Union’s commissioner for employment. “This is no time for celebration or complacency.” 

The jobless rate in the 17 countries that share the euro was 12.1 percent in July, adjusting for seasonal effects, according to a report from Eurostat, the European Union statistics agency. That figure has remained unchanged for several months. A year earlier, it was 11.5 percent. 

Eurostat estimated that 19.2 million people in the euro area were jobless in July, 15,000 fewer than in from June.

Read more: Number of Jobless People Declines Slightly in Europe - NYTimes.com

8/30/13

Syria: Attacking Syria will only deepen the mess

Syria is in such a mess that it is tough to think of solutions. Sectarian and regional interests are in such conflict that external meddling can only make the mess worse. With the Russians, Iran and Lebanon-based powerful militia, Hezbollah, on one side, allied to the Assad regime, there is ample ground to expect a wider conflagration if the US mounts an attack.

The global community, including India, must do its best to try and dissuade the Americans from pursuing such a course. With crude oil prices estimated to hit $125-per-barrel levels in case of such an attack, it also makes economic sense to prevent it.

The utopian option out in Syria would be de-escalation and national dialogue. Pending that, it is also clear the world cannot sit back and watch as images of children apparently gassed to death emerge from Syria.

Punitive measures, shorn of hurling bombs and missiles, should be applied to groups and entities indulging in mass crimes against humanity.

Attacking Syria will only deepen the mess - Economic Times

Suriname: US Embassy Says Son of Suriname President Bouterse ArrestedIn Panama - by Danica Coto

The son of the president of the South American country of Suriname( formerly a Dutch Colony)  has been arrested on U.S. drug charges, U.S. and other officials said Friday.

Spokeswoman Virginia Elliott at the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo confirmed the arrest of Dino Bouterse, but said she could give no details.

A Panamanian and another U.S. official confirmed Thursday's arrest, which apparently occurred in Panama.
Bouterse faces a U.S. federal indictment in the Southern District of New York alleging he worked with a man identified as Edmund Quincy Muntslag to smuggle cocaine into the United States starting in or about December 2011. It also charges him with violating firearms laws by brandishing a light anti-tank weapon during the narcotics offense.

The indictment says Bouterse was involved in smuggling a suitcase filled with 10 kilograms (22 pounds)of cocaine aboard a commercial flight from Suriname to the Caribbean in late July.

A Panamanian government security source said that Bouterse was arrested by international police in Panama and was turned over to U.S. anti-drug authorities. The source, who asked anonymity for lack of authorization to speak on the issue, declined to give more details.

Melvin Linscheer, Suriname's head of national security, said the government would soon issue a statement. He declined further comment.

Bouterse is the son of Desi Bouterse, a former coup leader and also a convicted drug trafficker who was elected president of in July 2010. Shortly after his presidential inauguration, Bouterse appointed his son as director of Suriname's Counter Terrorist Unit, drawing heavy criticism from opposition legislators who expressed concern that no legal framework was created for the unit to operate.

Read more: US Embassy Says Son of Suriname President Arrested - ABC News

Europe's new climate policies creating a wood pellet business boom in the US and Canada

US wood pellets reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions
The wood pellet industry is enjoying a speedy, zero-to-80 growth surge across the United States and Canada.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in factories – some of them converted from old lumber mills – in coastal plain forests from Virginia to Louisiana and Maine.

They are serving a market created, almost overnight, by new environmental policies that are driving European electric utilities to burn imported wood in their boilers instead of coal.

This came about as the European Union adopted aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. They created incentives for electric utilities to cut back on their use of coal and will require renewable sources to provide 20 percent of all energy by 2020. Wind and solar power are also a part of this equation. 

European power companies are looking to close the gap with biomass – primarily with imported wood pellets. Biomass use in Great Britain, 3 million tons last year, is expected to grow tenfold over the next five years.

Britain’s biggest carbon emitter is the Drax Group, a Yorkshire utility that operates the largest power plant in western Europe. Drax is converting half its plant from coal to wood pellets. Coal is one-third the price of pellets, but Drax CEO Dorothy Thompson said her company is responding to renewable-energy credits and a British carbon tax, introduced this year at $7 a ton, that will grow by 2020 to more than $60 a ton.

In Europe, the United Kingdom is the No. 1, importer bringing in 855,000 metric tons (mt) from Canada last year and another 475,000 mt from the U.S. While Canadian pellets dominate the U.K. market, the U.S. is the biggest supplier to the Netherlands and Belgium. Denmark and Sweden receive the most pellets from Russia.

While the EU power market has gotten much attention, the heating market comprises 40 percent of the EU pellet market, with no subsidy required, because Pellets are 30 percent cheaper than heating oil. Currently, 90 percent of Canadian exports are being shipped from western ports and going through the Panama Canal, but an effort is underway to organize the smaller pellet producers in eastern Canada to pool resources and product to develop export facilities in the east.

The bottom-line is that the consumer marketfor pellets  in the EU has grown into a very stable market, It is no longer seasonal and some people even prefer to buy pellets in the summer months.

The annual increase each year in the EU has hovered around 700,000 tons of pellets for the past few years, but is projected to exceed 1 million tons in 2013, based on the sales of boilers and stoves. Italy is showing the most rapid growth currently, having added over 1 million pellet stoves in recent years. Consumption is expected to exceed production in both Austria and Germany this year, which will add to import demand.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/08/17/4244134/european-climate-policy-drives.html#storylink=cpy

In the foreseeable future the US and Canada seem to be well poised to meet these European demands.

Maryland-based Enviva LP the US’s biggest pellet maker, opened its Ahoskie mill in 2011 and a second one in Northampton County this year. Together, they produce 865,000 tons of pellets annually to be shipped out of the port at Chesapeake, Va.

In 2015, Enviva expects to start exporting an additional million tons from a planned $40 million terminal at the Wilmington port. The company is scouting sites for two new pellet mills in southeastern North Carolina, one of them in Sampson County.

At the same time, California-based International Woodfuels has said it will produce 285,000 tons a year from a planned pellet mill in Wilson County and a new export terminal at the Morehead City port.

Eastport in Washington County, Maine, near the Canadian border, which is planning a $120m wood-pellet factory, is one of the areas which seems especially well positioned to benefit from this European "craving" for wood pellets.

Chris Gardner, the director of the Eastport Port Authority says, "Eastport is the closest port on the US East-Coast to the European heartland. We can get European consumers their wood pellets before anyone else in the US".

The pellet industry is a "green industry" and not harmful to the environment as it is founded on a climate-friendly, carbon-neutral rationale.

All forests use photosynthesis to soak up carbon dioxide. This stored-up carbon is released into the air when wood pellets are burned, but wood is called a renewable fuel because that carbon eventually is recaptured by new trees that grow in place of the old ones.

The wood pellet industry can certainly become a win-win proposition for everyone.

EU-Digest


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/08/17/4244134/european-climate-policy-drives.html#storylink=cpy



The US's Eastern Frontier: Can Maine’s abrasive governor "Front page LePage" revitalize business?

Some Mainers worry that their state—long a stamping-ground of moderate Republicans and conciliatory independents—is getting attention for the wrong reasons. Mr LePage does not seem to care. He attributes his brashness to a tough childhood. One of 18 children, he left home after being beaten by his father and supported himself on the streets shining shoes and cleaning stables. He was adopted, went to college, managed a discount store and was a small-town mayor before winning the governorship.

His forceful personality and peppery tongue have served him well. He rode an anti-government wave into office. With a Republican-controlled state legislature, the first in 35 years, he pushed through tax cuts for two-thirds of Mainers (adding up to roughly $400m) in his first two years, and tough restrictions on Maine’s generous welfare benefits. He also eliminated a hefty chunk of the state’s pension shortfall.

Mr LePage hopes his doggedness can entice more private investors into a state that still does poorly in rankings of business climate. Energy and transport costs are uncomfortably high, leading many to dismiss as daft his decisions to delay state construction spending and stall a $200m wind-farm project. Jobs growth since Mr LePage took over has been disappointing: Maine has added a net 8,000 jobs out of a total non-farm workforce of 600,000. That breaks down as 12,000 net new private-sector jobs and minus 4,000 in the public sector. Naturally, Mr LePage presents the trimming of the public payroll as a splendid achievement.

In Washington County, along Maine’s hardscrabble northern fringes, one resident in five is poor and one in three is on welfare. Many locals say that, by rejecting federal funds for Medicaid expansion, Mr LePage missed giving the state an easy economic lift. Instead, the governor is endorsing the “Free Maine Initiative”, a plan cooked up by Maine Heritage Policy Centre, a right-leaning think-tank, which would eliminate sales tax and income taxes in the county. In Eastport, near the Canadian border, residents reckon any plan is worth a try. “This would give us one more tool in the box, and Washington County is a unique place to try it,” says Chris Gardner, the director of the Eastport Port Authority. A revitalised deepwater port and a planned $120m wood-pellet factory suggest that industry could well return.

But time may be running out for the governor to see schemes such as this get off the ground. Mike Michaud, a seasoned Democratic congressman representing Maine’s northern half, is running for governor in 2014. Mr LePage’s best chance of re-election would be if the opposition vote is once again split. Eliot Cutler, a popular independent who ran in 2010, may do so again. Mr LePage must hope that his plain speaking enthuses more conservatives than it repels swing voters. Either way, few expect him to dab his tongue with Maine honey any time soon.

Read more: Maine’s abrasive governor: Front page LePage | The Economist

EU Economy: New approach to European growth: Rehn summarises changes

Olli Rehn Commissioner Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro,
Reviewing the EU monetary union’s conditions and the general economic situation, Commissioner Olli Rehn described the existing challenges at the European Forum in Alpbach, Austria

Facing the crisis, there are numerous challenges for the EU and the member states: in the short term, the EU member states have to stabilise financial markets so as to avoid the free fall of their economy. In the medium term, the states need economic reforms for sustainable growth and job creation. And in the long term, both the states and the Commission have to redesign the architecture of EMU.

Creating the conditions for new growth has required consistency and determination – not least as it involves the unwinding of macroeconomic imbalances that had built up over many years.

Contrary to the doom-mongers' prophecies, the euro has not broken up. The latest economic indicators show that the EU economic strategy is starting to deliver.

But the road to new growth will continue to require difficult choices and persistence. The EU and the member states must continue reforming the European economic and social model. This model shall not be dismantled as it is based on the combination of stability culture, entrepreneurial drive and social justice.

The EU needs genuinely reformed and modernised social market economy, for the sake of sustainable growth and job creation.

“Taking Europe or the eurozone in isolation cannot work”, said the Commissioner. And added: “Our economic reality is global. Europe must develop a common perspective, in a global context. But this cannot be an excuse for any one stakeholder to not assume his or her individual responsibility”.

Read more: the Olli Rehn Speech

Germany - Poll: Most Germans and Americans against military strike on Syria

According to Forschungsgruppe Wahlen polling group, which conducted the poll for Germany’s ZDF television, 58 percent of the respondents voiced opposition to a military strike on Syria.

The poll also indicated that 55 percent of the interviewees believed that Germany should not lend financial or material support to such a move.

The survey whose results were released on August 29 was carried out from August 26 through August 28 on 1,348 people in Germany.

On August 21, the militants operating inside Syria and the foreign-backed Syrian opposition claimed that hundreds had been killed in a government chemical attack on militant strongholds in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar. 


A recent poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos in the US found that about 60 percent of Americans believe that the United States should not get militarily involved in the Syrian conflict.  

Read more: PressTV - Poll: Most Germans against military strike on Syria

Netherlands to wait for a UN decision over Syria - Patriot missiles in Turkey not to be used for Syria Attack

The Members of the Netherlands Foreign Affairs Commission of the House of Representatives discussed Syria Thursday and they took a dim view of a possible military intervention in Syria without getting the support of a UN resolution.

Netherlands will wait for a UN decision over the matter, said Foreign Minister Franciscus Timmermans.

Members of the commission also voiced that the Dutch Patriot missiles in Turkey should not be used for attack purposes stating they were sent to Turkey for defense purposes.

Last night the British parliament voted against British troops getting involved in Syria and in fact handed Mr. Cameron, who was in favor of the intervention, a resounding defeat.

Almere-Digest

8/29/13

Syria: British Parliament Votes Against Syria Resolution as U.S. Ponders Going Solo - by Abby Ohlheiser

The U.K. House of Commons voted against military action in Syria on Thursday, after a difficult political fight by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who struggled to convince many members of Parliament in recent days that there was enough evidence on the table to justify a strike against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The government's motion on military action in Syria failed by 13 votes. Earlier today, the government there released the first intelligence reports outlining the case for Assad's culpability in a deadly chemical strike last week.

In an emergency session Thursday evening, a first motion, an amendment by the opposition Labour party, would have demanded compelling evidence from the U.N. before approval of British military action. It failed to pass by 112 votes in the House of Commons. While the U.S. has made their intention to move forward with limited military retaliation against the regime without U.N. support, the issue was more divisive in the U.K.. Cameron's motion on military action lost by a slim margin, 285 to 272, so it's possible that he could try again to pass something supporting U.S. military retaliation against Syria, but it's not clear what, exactly, that would be. The bottom line, here, is that a direct British response towards Syria is off the table.

Read more: U.K. Parliament Votes Against Syria Resolution as U.S. Ponders Going Solo - Abby Ohlheiser - The Atlantic Wire

Turkey: Economy faltering - Erdogan’s Top Economic Adviser Takes Heat from Business - by Erdal Sağlam

The Turkish economy was long expected to enter a difficult period, like all developing economies, due to global factors. The troubles, however, are growing as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps hardening his attitude against the private sector over the Gezi Park protests.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who oversees the economy, has a proven record of sound economic management, illustrated by the hitherto positive results. But now he is up for a far harder task.

Erdogan had already demoralized the business community and complicated economic management when he blamed the Gezi Park protests on an “interest rate lobby” and accused certain companies, business people and foreigners. And now tax inspectors, escorted by police, have launched an inspection targeting Turkey’s largest business group Koc. The move is seen as a “punishment” for the refuge that Koc’s Divan Hotel offered to protesters fleeing the heavy-handed police, which Erdogan had publicly condemned.

The incident sparked heavy criticism both in the public opinion and the business community, raising concern over market economy processes and fears of further political escalation.

Babacan has watched the developments in silence. It’s obvious, though, that the existing climate is hampering his ability to steer the economy.

According to the prevailing opinion among business people and local and foreign market players, Erdogan’s interventions in the economy are taking place against the backdrop of Babacan’s discontent.

During recent contacts in Ankara, well-known businessmen, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned whether Erdogan was genuinely looking for a domestic and foreign conspiracy behind the protests. I saw first-hand how they struggled to understand whether Erdogan’s attitude was a political tactic or an impulsive reaction to something he truly believes in. The businessmen were curious about how Babacan views the prime minister’s attitudes and asked questions to understand where he stands.


As the wrangling goes on, financial data show that Turkey’s foreign debt stock, especially its short-term portion, continues to grow and that the already troubling current account deficit is further expanding.
There is no doubt left that the course of the global economy will be no longer that favorable to emerging economies such as Turkey. The latest financial data, too, signals economic volatility. And with Erdogan’s mounting pressure on the business community, things are becoming even harder for the managers of the economy.
 
Read more: Erdogan’s Top Economic Adviser Takes Heat from Business - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

Syria: UN Experts to Bring Syria Samples to European Labs

The United Nations says some of its chemical weapons experts in Syria will personally take samples to laboratories around Europe after leaving Damascus on Saturday morning.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq says the team's final report will depend on the lab results and that it could take "more than days."

However, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expects to receive an initial report on the investigation soon after the experts leave Damascus. Haq said Ban is flying back to New York on Thursday, cutting short a visit to Austria to be ready to receive the report.

The team's mandate is only to determine whether chemical weapons were used in an attack that reportedly killed hundreds of people last week. But Haq suggested that the findings might indicate who was behind the attack.

Read more: UN Experts to Bring Syria Samples to European Labs - ABC News

Spain: Demonstration in Barcelona to support people of Egypt and Syria - by Claudio Perrone

Large numbers of people from different ethnic groups have concentrated in Barceloto demonstrate  in support and solidarity with the people of Egypt and Syria

Read more: Demonstration in Barcelona to support people of Egypt and Syria | Demotix.com

Israel, the convenient puppet master - by Khaled Diab

When news emerged that Hosni Mubarak was to be released from prison, I joked that Egypt was actually in the throes of a grand plot to punish the Egyptian people for having dared to topple their dictator. Part of this 'conspiracy' was the planting of provocateurs –Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Mohammed Morsi and Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi – to lead the country off a cliff.

One of the most outlandish was the assertion by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, perhaps trying to fill a little of the void left by former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Israel was behind the ouster of Mohammed Morsi.

His evidence? A Jewish-French intellectual, unnamed by Erdogan, who said, in 2011, that the Muslim Brotherhood would not take power, even if elected, because “democracy is not the ballot box.” The intellectual in question, an aide later revealed to AP, was none other than Bernard-Henri Levy.

Unfortunately, Erdogan did not elaborate on how BHL, as he is often called in France, came to work for the Israelis. Nor did he explain how Levy managed to brainwash millions of Egyptians into coming out to the streets to demand Morsi's departure, providing the army with the necessary cover and support to mount its coup, or what inside track the French philosopher enjoys with General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Although this conspiracy theory may actually appeal to Levy's overinflated sense of himself – whose shallow philosophy has been described as “God is dead but my hair is perfect” – he is not a one-man intelligence agency. In fact, he is little more than the French equivalent of the “liberator of Kabul” John Simpson and “gut feeling,” “cab driver told me,” world-shaper Thomas Friedman.

In fact, anyone who actually watches the YouTube video can see that Levy is taking part in a panel discussion and is expressing his view that even if the Brotherhood won at the ballot box, he would not personally regard this as democratic. “Democracy is not only elections, it is values,” he asserted.

But, sadly, Erdogan is not alone in spreading absurd rumours of this kind. In Egypt itself, there are some people in most camps who allege that Israel, usually in collaboration with the United States, is the master puppeteer behind the crisis there. For instance, one poster at the Rabaa protest shows U.S. President Barack Obama dressed as pharaoh leading al-Sisi like a dog wearing a Star of David collar, while another - which has stirred controversy in Egypt - shows a Star of David stamped on the neck of a soldier. On the other side of the political spectrum, a caricature that appeared in a leading newspaper shows pro-Morsi protesters asking how to say "Occupy Egypt and save us" - in Hebrew.

Note EU-Digest: unfortunately as the saying goes, "where there is smoke there could be a fire", and who knows, eventually Recep Tayip Erdogan could turn out to be the master puppeteer?

Read more: Israel, the convenient puppet master - Opinion Israel News Broadcast | Haaretz

Britain: Anti-war student protest in Cambridge joined by MP ahead of Syria vote - by Chris Havergal

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert held aloft a banner reading ‘Bombing Syria is not the answer’ at a peace protest in the city last night.

He joined members of Stop the War Cambridge outside the Guildhall to oppose the expected intervention in the Middle East conflict.

Dr Huppert, with all the region’s parliamentarians, will take part in a debate in the House of Commons on how to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
One of the protesters, James Youd, said only the Syrians could decide on their future.

He said: “I think this is a very dangerous road to go down, because where do we stop?
“We are told the objective is to stop the use of chemical weapons but I think the objective is to get rid of Assad and then we are intervening in a civil war. That is something for the people of Syria, however bloody and horrible it is, to decide.

Redad more: Anti-war protest in Cambridge joined by MP ahead of Syria vote | Cambridge News | Latest News Headlines From Cambridge City & Cambridgeshire | National News By Cambridge News

8/28/13

The Netherlands - Built to thrill: 12 crazy man-made adventures including Worlds Best Safari in Flevoland

Especially now that summer is coming to a close, there's nothing quite like catching the wind in your hair, reaching out for the next rock hold high above the valley floor, or whizzing down some woodsy trail on your finely tuned mountain bike… well, almost nothing.

USA Today has listed 12 of the greatest man-made adventures on the planet, including awe-inspiring (and safe) wildlife encounters, outdoor thrills brought indoors and amazing "natural" features that were deftly built with human hands.

From a transplanted marshland safari in the heart of the Netherlands, to a cool indoor ski center under the steaming Dubai sun, all the way to a barnacled sunken warship teeming with marine life.

Here is the best safari—Oostvaardersplassen, Netherlands: This 22-square-mile nature preserve is an artificial marshland reclaimed from the sea by clever Dutch engineers. A series of dikes protects the area, and grazing species such as red deer, ponies and graylag geese stem overgrowth, keeping the space open for endangered bird species. Safari seats are limited, however, as only 400 excursions—including photo safaris, cycling trips and ranger-led animal-spotting walks—are organized annually, so as not to disturb the fragile ecosystem. The assembled bird population includes egrets, cormorants and herons, as well as ravens and white-tailed eagles—creatures that otherwise wouldn't breed locally.

Read more: Almere-Digest

USA: Fifty years ago today in Washington, DC, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. electrified the nation - by G. Roberts, R. Fenton and B. Golding

Fifty years ago today, tens of thousands of New Yorkers swelled the ranks of the estimated 250,000 civil-rights marchers who thronged the National Mall in Washington DC and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famed “I Have a Dream” speech -- and it forever changed their lives.

“When I listened to him, I felt trembles going down my spine,” recalled retired sanitation worker Robert Walton, 88, of Far Rockaway.

“It touched me. I felt empowered. It made me feel like I was an American citizen.”
“As long as I live I will never forget that day,” he added.


Read more: Fifty years ago today in Washington, DC, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. electrified the nation - NYPOST.com

German confidence up as powerhouse of EU economy continues to expand - by Ben Chu

German firms are feeling more confident than at any time in the past 16 months, according to the latest survey of the sector.

The Ifo think tank’s business survey index for August outstripped market expectations by rising to 107.5, up from 106.2 in July.

That is Ifo’s highest since April 2012 and signals that the powerhouse of the European economy, led by Angela Merkel, is continuing to expand. GDP is estimated to have grown by 0.7% between April and June, having flatlined in the first quarter.

“The German economy continues surfing on the waves of optimism,” said Carsten Brzeski of ING.

Read more: German confidence up as powerhouse of EU economy continues to expand - Business News - Business - The Independent

Syria: Rushing to war with Syria would be a monumental mistake - Europe should have no part of it - by RM

Regardless of all the sabre rattling and eagerness of the US, Britain, France,Israel and Turkey to rush to war with Syria - it would be a monumental mistake to do so and the EU should have no part in it.

America's rush to war against Syria is not only dangerous, unnecessary, but also unwanted and unconstitutional.

U.S. voters continue to show little interest in getting involved in the civil war in Syria despite new allegations that the Syrian government may have used chemical weapons against civilians. Only 31% of Likely U.S. Voters polled by Rasmussen polls think the United States should provide increased military assistance to protect the citizens of Syria if it is confirmed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

The fact that the public is now being flooded by videos of dead people, including babies, supposedly taken of victims from chemical weapons use with the caption: " viewers are being cautioned that these are gruesome pictures and should apply discretion when watching them "  is not only pure "Gobels Style" propaganda, misleading the public, and  adding oil to the fire.

If the people orchestrating the release of these horror videos are the same as the ones who have been spying on EU-Citizens and more than 80 countries around the world, the world better wake-up to and smell the coffee.

Commentator Patrick J. Buchanan recently asked in a US TV show: "Who made the US President the Wyatt Earp of the Global Village?" The entire world needs to ask that same question?  Enough is enough.

Instead of starting another war in the Middle East and risk a global conflict, why can't the two major opponents in the Syrian conflict, Russia and the US, call their "lackeys" in the conflict (Assad, the rebels,Israel and Turkey) to order and hammer out a solution. It would certainly earn them a lot of respect from the world.

EU-Digest



8/27/13

Turkey-Syria: The Syria conflict leaves Turkey no alternative: It’s either Kurds or Kurds - Fulya Ozerkan

After embarking on a peace process with Kurdish rebels in Turkey, Ankara is now softening its position on the increasingly autonomous Kurdish minority in war-torn neighbouring Syria, analysts say.

The Turkish government has long kept a wary eye on Kurdish ambitions in Syria, fearing the creation of a Kurdish state there could serve as a magnet for Turkey's own Kurdish population.

Ankara's unease only increased after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces last year withdrew from majority Kurdish areas in the north of the embattled country and entrusted the security there to Kurdish militia.

At the time, Turkish newspapers published alarming pictures of Kurdish flags fluttering from buildings and reported that parts of the area had fallen into the hands of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

But since then the Turkish government has signalled a willingness for dialogue with the PYD instead of viewing the group as a threat, observers say.

:Read more: Middle East Online::Syria conflict leaves Turkey no alternative: It’s either Kurds or Kurds:.

Germany weighs options on Syria

Germany is mulling its options on how to respond to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. The government says it will wait for a report from UN weapons inspectors before deciding its next move.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Monday that if suspicions of chemical weapons use in Syria are confirmed, "then Germany will be among those [countries], that consider it right for there to be consequences."

Ever since the alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last Wednesday killed more than 350 people, Western powers have urged a swift response, possibly including military action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Syrian ally Russia has warned of "catastrophic consequences" for the region if a military intervention is carried out.

Read more: Deutsche Welle

Syria crisis: warplanes spotted in Cyprus as tensions rise in Damascus

Warplanes and military transporters have begun arriving at Britain's Akrotiri airbase on Cyprus, less than 100 miles from the Syrian coast, in a sign of increasing preparations for a military strike against the Assad regime in Syria.

Two commercial pilots who regularly fly from Larnaca on Monday told the Guardian that they had seen C-130 transport planes from their cockpit windows as well as small formations of fighter jets on their radar screens, which they believe had flown from Europe.

Residents near the British airfield, a sovereign base since 1960, also say activity there has been much higher than normal over the past 48 hours.

Read more: Syria crisis: warplanes spotted in Cyprus as tensions rise in Damascus | World news | The Guardian

Restaurants: Europe's best hidden eats - by Anne Banas

From local holes-in-the-wall to trendy clandestine establishments, travelers to Europe have plenty of ways to veer off the tired tourist track when they dine. At these hidden spots, whether a secret late-night bakery in Lisbon or a dynamic pop-up in London, diners can immerse themselves in the local culture and be in the know despite being far from home.

On a recent stopover in Lisbon, I met up with Frederico Duarte, Lisboeta and co-author of Fabrico Proprio, a book (and ongoing project) on the design of Portuguese pastry. He led me on a late-night trek in search of the city's underground bakeries, an adventure that became the inspiration for this story on hidden eats in Europe.

Read on to discover these pastry havens, plus lesser-known dining spots in other great European cities.

Read more: Europe's best hidden eats

Emerging Europe Is a Haven in Selloff - by C. Connaghan and L. Davidson

Propelled by the euro zone's recovery, Europe's emerging markets are rising above the storm that has hit other developing economies.

Stock markets in Central and Eastern Europe are up 1.2% in the past three months, compared with a 7.5% drop in emerging markets overall, according to index provider MSCI. These markets have risen 2.3% when Russian companies, which have been hard hit by falling commodity prices, are excluded.

Currencies such as Poland's zloty and the Bulgarian lev also are up against the dollar since May, while India's rupee and Turkey's lira have slid to record lows.

Read more: Emerging Europe Is a Haven in Selloff - WSJ.com

8/26/13

The Netherlands: Dutch Government says no to special asylum arrangements for Egyptian Christians

The Dutch cabinet headed by PM Mark Rutte sees no reason in the present situation for a special asylum scheme for Coptic Christians from Egypt. “There is no question of an organized religious cleansing”, says the Dutch Government

Dozens of churches and other properties of Christians in Egypt have been set on fire in the past week. Small Christian party ChristenUnie wants the cabinet to make more specific efforts on behalf of the Coptic religious minority, for example by designating them a ‘risk group’ as part of asylum policy. They would then be able to obtain temporary asylum in the Netherlands more easily.

But the cabinet is not in favour of this for now, and is also not prepared to relax its visa policy. Every visa application will be considered on its merits, but the visa procedure is not intended for people who want to stay in the Netherlands for longer than 90 days, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans says in a letter to parliament.

ChristenUnie political party is disappointed. “Coptic Christians appear to be outlawed,” according to MP Joël Voordewind.

Timmermans says in his letter that ''individual Egyptians” have used the unrest to commit violent acts against Christians, but that it cannot be established with any certainty that there is organised viiolence by political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The attacks against this Christian minority are “unacceptable,” but “there is no question of an organised religious cleansing.”

Note EU-Digest:An opposition parliamentarian noted: "this is  a strange and obviously politically motivated decision by the Government who in the past have always opened their arms towards repressed people  from around the world, regardless of their political or religious belief.

Read more: dutch news aft - Netherlands News

Beer nIndustry: Denmark - Carlsberg strike called off

A strike at Carlsberg was called off this morning after the brewer was given the right yesterday to fire the 130 striking employees unless they returned to work.

The employees stopped working last week on Wednesday after a new employee refused to join their union, 3F.
But the labour courts found that the nine-day strike broke their union’s collective bargaining agreement and this morning the employees decided to return to work.

The strike has had a serious impact on production of soda and keg beer with Carlsberg reporting that it had sold out its reserve stock this Wednesday.

“Now we have to start planning our production so that we can recover many of the products that were sold out,” Carlsberg's communications director, Jens Bekke, told Ritzau.
Following the labour court’s ruling, the employees have been fined 65 kroner an hour for each day they went on strike.

Read more: Carlsberg strike called off | The Copenhagen Post | The Danish News in Englis

Cyprus: Government has specific strategy on Cyprus solution

The Cyprus Government has not received any information that the United Nations is pushing for an interim solution on the Cyprus problem, based on the Ghali Set of Ideas, introduced in 1992 by the then UNSG Boutros Ghali.

Speaking to the press after a three-hour meeting in the presidential retreat in the Troodos Mountains, the Spokesman pointed out that the Government has a specific strategy on the resumption of the talks, adding that no information or discussion has taken place at any level related to an interim solution based on the Ghali Set of Ideas.

Stylianides noted that the Government insists that the talks must be well prepared so that they have successful results, pointing out that no preconditions have been put forward before the President of the Republic for the resumption of the talks.

He also revealed that the President will be sending letters to the international community, underlining our insistence on a thorough preparation for the talks.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.
Repeated UN-led rounds of peace talks have so far failed to bring about a negotiated settlement that would reunite the island.

Read more: Government has specific strategy on Cyprus solution | Cyprus Mail

Belarus Asks IMF for Credit Line as Economy Falters

In spite of Russia’s promise of a $2-billion credit, the Belarusian National Bank has asked the International Monetary Fund for a loan in the same amount. 

An International Monetary Fund mission is to visit Belarus from October 27 to November 6 to examine the country's request for a credit, the Fund's office in Minsk said on Thursday. The office gave no further details of the mission, announced within hours of Belarus's acknowledgement on Wednesday that it was seeking the loan. IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had announced the imminent dispatch of the mission in a statement issued in Washington on Wednesday.


“The Belarusian economy and its access to external finance,'' have been hurt by the credit squeeze, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in the statement. ``At the same time, changing conditions in trade have negatively affected the country's balance of payments. A Fund mission will begin discussions with the authorities in the next few days.'' 


President Alexander Lukashenko is more willing to balance ties to Russia and closer relations with the European Union and the U.S.


Read more: News < Economics < News < BelarusToday

Inflation in Russia 15 times higher than in Europe —

Russian inflation in the first seven months of 2013 is fifteen times higher than the European average, speeding up to 4.4% compared to 0.3% in the near deflationary EU.

Consumer prices in Russia increased by 0.8 percent in July, according to Russia’s Federal Statistics Service.
Inflation may be pushed further by the damage caused by massive flooding in the Russian Far East.

The region has lost almost half of the crop from 0.5 million hectares, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is reported as saying. This may amount to a $300mln loss, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The crop damage has been one of the reasons that Russia missed it inflation target last year as prices rose 6.6% instead of the projected 6%.

Trying to curb inflation, Russia’s Central Bank is keeping the benchmark interest rate unchanged at 8.25% for eleven consecutive months.

In Europe on the contrary, prices are continuing to fall contracting by 0.4 percent in July alone. Italy has the deepest deflation at 1.8%, followed by Greece (1.6%), Belgium, Spain and Cyprus, Luxembourg (at 1-1.3%). Malta and Turkey have seen inflation flirting at 4.5%.

Read more: Inflation in Russia 15 times higher than in Europe — RT Business

Berlusconi supporters threaten 'civil war'

Could Silvio Berlusconi's sentence at Italy's highest court on Thursday bring the Italian government to its knees? His supporters talk of "civil war" if Berlusconi is not allowed to continue practicing politics. 

You have to admit, Silvio Berlusconi is a publicity maestro, proving the old adage that even bad news is good publicity. A conviction for tax evasion - the first time the media mogul and former prime minister has been definitively convicted of a crime - brought him center stage once again. Most summers, his publishing and broadcast empire contributes to the seasonal diet of celebrities in bikinis and gossip about who's sleeping with whom.

But this August, the former Italian prime minister has not only managed to hog the headlines, but potentially caused another crack in the country's fragile governing coalition.

Read more: Berlusconi supporters threaten 'civil war' | Europe | DW.DE | 05.08.2013

8/25/13

Russia: Don't turn Syria into another Iraq

The Russian Foreign Ministry today drew a parallel between reports that Syrian government forces has used chemical weapons and claims by the administration of President George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction - claims which lead to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

In a statement reported by Reuters, Moscow warned against assigning blame without a full investigation by U.N. inspectors of Wednesday's alleged toxic gas attack on the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital. Moscow's warning came after a U.S. officials said the Obama administration has "very little doubt" the Assad regime in Syria is guilty of deadly chemical weapon use.

Russia also warned the U.S. against taking unilateral military actions toward the Assad regime.
"We once again decisively urge (the United States) not to repeat the mistakes of the past and not to allow actions that go against international law," the foreign ministry said.

"Any unilateral military action bypassing the United Nations," the statement continued, would lead to further escalation, "and will affect the already explosive situation in the Middle East in the most devastating way."
Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in the attack on August 21.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported Friday that the Pentagon is making initial preparations for a cruise-missile attack on Syrian government forces, but to date the United States has had measured involvement in the conflict which has claimed an estimated 100,000 Syrian lives.
Read now: Russia: Don't turn Syria into another Iraq - CBS News

U.S. spy agency bugged UN headquarters and imore than 80 embassies and consulates worldwide says Der Spiegel

The U.S. National Security Agency has bugged the United Nations’ New York headquarters, Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly said on Sunday in a report on U.S. spying that could further strain relations between Washington and its allies.

Citing secret U.S. documents obtained by fugitive former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Der Spiegel said the files showed how the United States systematically spied on other states and institutions.

Der Spiegel said the European Union and the UN’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were among those targeted by U.S. intelligence agents.

In the summer of 2012, NSA experts succeeded in getting into the UN video conferencing system and cracking its coding system, according one of the documents cited by Der Spiegel.
“The data traffic gives us internal video teleconferences of the United Nations (yay!),” Der Spiegel quoted one document as saying, adding that within three weeks the number of decoded communications rose to 458 from 12.

Internal files also show the NSA spied on the EU legation in New York after it moved to new rooms in autumn 2012. Among the documents copied by Snowden from NSA computers are plans of the EU mission, its IT infrastructure and servers.

According to the documents, the NSA runs a bugging program in more than 80 embassies and consulates worldwide called “Special Collection Service”. “The surveillance is intensive and well organized and has little or nothing to do with warding off terrorists,” wrote Der Spiegel.

Reaqd more: U.S. spy agency bugged UN headquarters: Germany’s Der Spiegel - The Globe and Mail

Three questions on Syria for the US and its allies - by James Blitz

For the past 2½ years, the US and its allies have been deeply reluctant to become engaged in the Syrian civil war. Over the past few days, however, the mood in the Obama administration has clearly shifted. In the aftermath of an apparent chemical weapons attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the US is clearly contemplating military action. Nothing, as yet is guaranteed. Instead, as Mr Obama and his allies contemplate the next steps, there are three broad questions they will be considering.

Before moving to military action, how much more time should the US and its allies allow for hard evidence to emerge of what happened in last week’s attacks?

In the next few days, the US is likely to find itself in a new war of words with the Assad regime over what happened last week. After days of stalling, the regime looks likely to give

"Syria agrees to allow UN access to sites of alleged chemical attack to the site in eastern Damascus. On the other hand, the US will argue that this is too late because evidence of a chemical attack on the ground has degraded.

The US will say that, at the very least, Assad’s prevarication makes him culpable. That said, some western officials are bound to be mindful of the mistake made in March 2003 when the UK and US rushed to invade Iraq while UN inspectors were demanding more time to examine the allegations that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The Obama administration will want to be sure that all reasonable possibilities for evidence gathering have been exhausted before moving to military action. Could the US and its allies mount an attack on Syria that is not formally backed by a UN resolution? Again, recollections of the Iraq war will be high on many minds.

The UK and US invaded without attaining the second UN resolution that many believed was legally required for invasion. In Syria’s case, Russia’s staunch backing for the Assad regime suggests the US will gain no Security Council authorisation.</div> Still, there are precedents for legal action without UN backing.

The US and its allies conducted the 78-day bombardment of Serbia in 1998 to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. This had no UN authorisation. Instead, then president Bill Clinton invoked the argument that it was right to protect people in danger. Few, if any, people today suggest that this was not a just war. The US, in the meantime, could argue that Syria is in breach of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which outlaws the use in war of poison gas.

Since the end of the first world war, global powers have placed a ban on the use of chemical weapons, especially nerve agents. The US could now make the argument that a military response is justified to prevent the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons becoming a new norm of warfare. The hardest question: What military action would the US undertake – and what would its aims be?</b></div> Until now, US and British military chiefs have been deeply opposed to any sustained engagement on the side of the rebels in Syria.

They believe that there are no moderate rebel groups who would be able to fill the power vacuum if the Assad regime collapsed. However, many military experts believe that what should be contemplated now is a one off intervention by the US and its allies which, at the very least, signals that they will not tolerate the continued use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in this conflict.</div> Brigadier Mike Herzog, a former senior figure in Israel’s Ministry of Defence, says the US should conduct what he calls a “stand-off air strike” on a Syrian military establishment. “You could target airfields, air assets, helicopters,” he says.

“Hitting any of these in a single strike would do a lot of damage. If it is big enough Assad will take notice. It could deter Assad from allowing chemical weapons to be used in this way again.”</div> A series of air and missile strikes that amount to a severe warning shot to the regime is the most likely military action the US and its allies will now undertake. But it carries many risks.

It might see the deaths of Russian and Iranian allies of the Assad regime on the ground, a development that would exacerbate international tensions. It might also bring about civilian casualties, allowing the Assad regime to turn the blame for events back on to the west. The risk for Mr Obama, however, is that failure to take any meaningful action at all would give the Assad regime the green light to use chemical weapons attacks on civilian population with even greater impunity. That is a risk that Mr Obama and his allies will not want to run.

Read more: Financial Times

The Netherlands: First iPad-Only 'Steve Jobs Schools To Open In Almere and seven other Dutch cities- by James Cull

The first seven exclusive "Steve Jobs schools" have opened their doors across a number of cities in the Netherlands. Starting  today, schools in the Dutch cities of Sneek, Breda, Almere, Emmen, Heenvliet and Amsterdam will start teaching students according to the principles of the O4NT, or Onderwijs voor een nieuwe tijd (Education for a new era), which emphasizes the role of the iPad in an elementary school environment.

The program, which was first proposed by Dutch officials back in March 2012, gives every child access to a "virtual school" through an iPad and helps them develop information and communication technology (ICT) and information processing skills, collaboration techniques and a critical, problem-solving and creative mind.

The O4NT foundation is currently in talks with a number of school boards across the Netherlands and they hope that more schools will sign up the model next year. The program has a number of benefits: apart from teaching children useful skills, school hours and vacations are a lot more flexible under the new model — as the "virtual school" is accessible round the clock, 365 days a year (although the Dutch Ministry of Education is currently preventing this scenario due to legislative restrictions) — and the ICT-based approach also has a major impact on the role of the teacher. 

Almere-Digest

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra heads to Europe - by Elizabeth Bloom

Getting to tour Europe's summer music festivals is like being invited to walk down the red carpet at an awards show.

Not just any orchestra can show up, but if you do receive an invitation, people know you're pretty good. And you can be sure the onlookers appreciate what they're seeing.

"By and large, our concerts are always sold out, and they are a very knowledgeable audience," said James A. Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The PSO is kicking off its 2013 European Festivals tour Monday, an 11-concert marathon that ends Sept. 15. The musicians will play concerts in major festivals and concert halls in Austria, France, Germany, Romania and Switzerland.

Read more: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra heads to Europe - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

8/24/13

Middle East Crises: Syria - Sabre-rattling - US weighs military options

The Pentagon is moving forces closer to Syria as the US weighs its options in the conflict there, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has suggested.

He gave no details, but media reports say the US Navy is strengthening its presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

On Friday, President Barack Obama said fresh allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government this week was of "grave concern".

Syria's main ally Russia said there was evidence rebels were behind the attack.

The Syrian opposition, however, has said hundreds died in a government assault on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday.

Despite calls from many different countries, there is no sign yet that the Syrian authorities will allow a UN inspection team to visit to investigate the claims.

Read more: BBC News - Syria crisis: US weighs military options

The Netherlands: Electric automobiles: Tesla Opens First European Plant in the Netherlands

Tesla Motors which recently won the car of the year award opened an assembly plant in Tilburg, Netherlands, and delivered the first Tesla Model S vehicles to customers in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.

The 18,900 square meter facility will not produce the Model S from scratch; instead, it will receive the vehicles for final assembly and send them on their way across the continent.

To mark the occasion, first buyers from the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany showed up at the opening to receive their cars.

The car company chose Tilburg because of is proximity to the port of Rotterdam, as well as the high quality and availability of transportation options there.

"This location is pivotal to Tesla's European operations, which are expanding rapidly over the coming months with openings of around 15 new stores and service centres," Bryan Batista, Tesla's EU sales director, said in a statement.

Read more: Tesla Opens First Plant in the Netherlands

Global Economy: Economic storm clouds shift from Europe to Asia - by Glenda Kwek, Clancy Yeates, Eric Johnston

The fissures that have been quietly spreading through some of Asia's economies over recent months are now shaping up as yawning cracks. Emerging markets from Thailand to India plunged into the red amid a heavy sell-off, as investors reassessed the implications of another shift in the global economy.

India's currency, the rupee, has fallen to record lows against the US dollar. Currencies from Brazil and South Africa were also pummelled as investors fled back into US and European markets.

As the US Federal Reserve mulls winding back its super loose monetary policy, Asia is now faced with the prospect that the tap of cheap debt will be turned off.

The realization of an end to the lavish spending that has been driving growth through the region has started to upend markets. In doing so, it has stoked memories of the bushfire that was the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

More worrying, some argue that if growth through Asia stalls, this could have serious implications for Australia, particularly as banks and miners have pushed deeper into the region over the past decade.

The Fed is tipped to begin winding back its $US85 billion-a-month stimulus program as early as next month, and currency flows are being turned upside down, moving out of emerging markets such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa and back to old world economies of the northern hemisphere.

n contrast to the events of Asia, the severe slowdown in Europe has improved external balances and led to a large current account surplus for the euro.

Flows into European stocks hit a two-month high of $US755 million last week, figures from funds tracker Lipper show.

It was the largest inflow since mid-June, when a record $US1.17 billion was reached.
In the year to date, France's CAC 40 has risen 11.5 per cent, Germany's DAX 10 per cent, and Britain's FTSE 100 9.3 per cent.

In comparison, Hong Kong's Hang Seng has fallen 2.7 per cent, India's Sensex 5.7 per cent and Jakarta's index 2.2 per cent. Australia's S&P/ASX200 is up 10.4 per cent.

Read more: Economic storm clouds shift from Europe to Asia

8/23/13

Germany: America's “soft totalitarianism”. - Why NSA Snooping Is A Bigger Deal In Germany - by Jannis Brühl

Germans like posting baby pictures, party snapshots and witty comments on Facebook just like anyone else. They just do not want to get caught doing it. Many of us use fake names for their profiles – silly puns, movie characters or anagrams and “remixes” of their real names.

What makes Germans so sensitive about their data? Many have pointed to Germany’s history: Both the Nazi secret police Gestapo and the East German Stasi spied extensively on citizens, encouraging snitching among neighbors and acquiring private communication.

But that’s not the whole story. Politics and the media in Germany today are dominated by (male) citizens raised in the democratic West who have no personal recollection of either of the Stasi or Gestapo.
Germany lacks the long tradition of strong individual freedoms the state has guaranteed in the U.S. for more than 200 years. Precisely because of that, these values, imported from the Western allies after 1945, are not taken for granted.

Indeed, there have been battles about privacy – and against a perceived “surveillance state” – in Germany for decades.

While the student rebellion of the late Sixties was partly driven by anger over the Vietnam war, it was also fueled by the parliament considering emergency laws that would have limited personal freedoms. And in the seventies, as left-wing terrorist groups were attacking the state ruthlessly, government answered with then-new “dragnet tracing”, identifying suspects by matching personal traits through extensive computer-based searches in databases.

Many considered this to be unfair profiling. In 1987, authorities wanted to ask Germans about their life – but the census faced protests and a widespread boycott because people saw the collection of data as an infringement of their rights. Citizens transformed into transparent “glass humans” (“gläserner Mensch”) were a horror scenario in the late and nineties in Germany summoned up on magazine covers and in T.V. shows.

Then, there is also the disappointment of the buddy who realizes he is not, as he thought, one of the strongest guys’ best friend.

The oft-celebrated partnership with the U.S. served as a pillar of Germanys’ comeback in international politics after the war and the Holocaust. Now it turns out Germany is not only ally, but also target. According to documents Edward Snowden disclosed, 500 million pieces of phone and email metadata from Germany are collected each month by the NSA – more than in any other EU country.

The outrage at the U.S.’s snooping has continued despite a follow-on revelation that it was actually the German secret service, the BND, that handed over the data to the NSA.

The German debate also has to be understood as being fueled by a widespread but low-level Anti-Americanism, an ugly staple of the German left as well as the right. The short-lived love for Obama (200,000 people celebrated him during his Berlin speech in 2008) was an exception to the widespread perception of American hubris and imperialism. Germans have managed to live with the cognitive dissonance of protesting U.S. interventions while embracing Californian culture, rap music and even Tom Cruise.

Jakob Augstein, columnist for the countries’ biggest news site Spiegel Online, considers Prism an addition to the body of evidence that already includes Abu Ghraib and the drone war: The U.S., Augstein writes, is becoming a country of “soft totalitarianism”. The only thing not to be disputable about this statement is the Germans’ expertise when it comes to totalitarianism.

While the U.S. has few laws concerning data privacy, Germany has something unknown to Americans: 17 state data protection supervisors (one national and one for each state), who watch over the compliance of authorities and companies with data privacy laws. Since the German state Hesse introduced the first of these laws in 1970, strict oversight like this has become common in Europe.

Some of the German data supervisors have been regular talking heads in the media for years, bashing U.S. companies like Facebook for their alleged violations of privacy of their customers. When Google photographed German streets for its Street View service, they were pushing the company to give citizens the possibility of opting out. That is why today, tens of thousands of buildings in Germany are blurred on Street View.

Now the data protection supervisors have an even bigger target: the National Security Agency. After the Snowden revelations, they have discontinued giving out new licenses to companies under the so-called Safe Harbor principles, which are meant to guarantee that personal data is only transferred to countries with sufficient data protection, for example when Germans use American companies’ cloud storage space.

After the revelations about the Prism program, the supervisors consider user data in the hands of U.S. companies not safe anymore.

Opposition parties have picked the “NSA scandal” – as German media call it – as the big (and, since Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading all polls, only) chance for the opposition to turn around the election. Merkel has been accused of having known more about the extent of the spying before the story broke than she admitted. Since German services are coordinated from the Chancellery, her opponents don’t believe her that she did not know about the American spy efforts.

Yet it is unlikely that the revelations will seriously influence the outcome of the election. This is not only because Merkel has an economy surprisingly immune to the European crisis. It is also because the biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, has been tainted by its proximity to power. While smaller left-wing parties such as the former communists or the Greens make bold statements, including offering Snowden asylum, Social Democrats have a hard time doing so. One of their heads, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, used to be coordinator for Merkels predecessor Gerhard Schröder. In that position, Steinmeier was responsible for the services and intensified U.S.-German intelligence cooperation in the years after 9/11. He later became Secretary of State under Merkel. Even though that was before Prism started, socialists and conservatives bash him in rare unanimity “as if he’d personally founded the NSA and tapped transatlantic internet cables”, as my colleague Michael König put it for Sueddeutsche.de.

The government’s response to concerns about the spying reads like it was written in the Pentagon: The U.S. said it was only spying on individuals suspected of organized crime or terrorism. And the NSA said it was acting according to U.S. and German law. There is no blanket surveillance of European citizens.

But Germans don’t trust Merkel. A poll found two-thirds of questioned people voicing discontent with her dealing with the affair. Germans hoped for a more forceful reaction, like that from Brazil, another democratic country targeted by the NSA: Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota publicly found strong words standing next to Secretary of State John Kerry last week: "In case these challenges are not solved in a satisfactory way, we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work.”

In Germany, the government sounds more apologetic than angry.

The U.S. is at least throwing Germany a bone. According to the government in Berlin, the NSA has offered a treaty: No more spying on each other. Georg Mascolo, former editor-in-chief of news Magazine Der Spiegel and now writing for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, considers this an “historical chance for Angela Merkel”: A treaty, if formulated without loopholes for American spying, would give new value to the German-American alliance.

In any case, we’ll keep on making up fake names on Facebook. Just in case spies are going to keep on doing what spies are supposed to do.

Read more: Why NSA Snooping Is Bigger Deal in Germany - ProPublica

The Netherlands: You are welcome at the Afrikadag Almere 2013

On Sunday September 15, the city of Almere will show her African colors again, when the Afrikadag Almere takes place at the scenic open air venue Stadslandgoed De Kemphaan.

Some highlights in this year’s line-up are Mami Wata, an interactive theatre show for children, and a pre-fashion show of the annual Kente Festival. Closing act of the festival will be Nusodia, a dynamic blend of West-African and European musicians and dancers.

Apart from the artists on stage, visitors can sample many different aspects of African culture, from Moroccan drums and Gambian batik to modern African dance and a Somali coffee ceremony.

There are plenty activities for children and on the market you will, by all means, find your favourite African and Suriname food and drinks.

More information about the programme can be found at www.afrikadag-almere.nl or call Kwame P at 036-5399643.

Almere-Digest

France: French minister predicts ‘full employment’ by 2025 - byTonyTodd

Ahead of the new parliamentary term, French Ministers made predictions on how France will have evolved by 2025. The country will have no unemployment, little debt, housing for everyone and an industry that will be the envy of the world, they hope.

France’s ministers were set a summer holiday homework assignment by President François Hollande: “What is your vision of France in 2025?”

Ministers will hand in their homework on Monday when the government reconvenes in Paris to prepare for the new term with a seminar on France’s future.

Weekly French magazine Le Point has seen five of these broadly optimistic ministerial essays, handed in early by Hollande’s keenest pupils.

Read more: French minister predicts ‘full employment’ by 2025 - FRANCE - FRANCE

Middle East: Egypt’s anti-coup alliance plans protests

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and other anti-coup groups have called for mass demonstrations against the military-backed interim government, as crackdown against Brotherhoood leaders continue.

Authorities detained Ahmed Aref, a spokesman for the group, and Hassan al-Brins, a member of parliament representing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday, reported Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith in Cairo.

Supporters of the anti-coup alliance have dubbed the latest protest a "Friday of martyrs", with 28 mosques in the Cairo area named as points of departure for the demonstrations.

In recent days, Brotherhood protests that once attracted tens of thousands of people at locations across the country have ebbed, suggesting the group's famed organisational strength may have been damaged by the arrest of its leaders.

They have also been subject to a violent crackdown on the part of authorities, with at least 900 people reported killed in the last eight days, as security forces have moved to end anti-coup demonstration.

Read more: Egypt’s anti-coup alliance plans protests - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

Syria: Total Failure Of Industrialized World Political System - by RM

It is a tragedy to see how self-centered and seemingly disorganized the powers of the world are - and we all know who these powers are.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. UN agencies say the number of children forced to flee Syria has reached one million, describing the figure as "a shameful milestone".

The use of chemical weapons  is brought up by both parties, but left up to outsiders instead of the UN to determine which side you want to believe, to  find out who the culprit is.

In the meantime some countries are now calling for direct involvement, while being nebulous about what they consider under direct action,  or worse,  what the consequences will be.

It's high time this charade stops and that the two major players in the conflict - Russia and the US, lay aside their ideological differences, call their "lackeys", and hammer out a deal. .

At least than can we start having some confidence in our political leaders again. 

EU-Digest






8/22/13

Poland on collision course with Brussels over ‘illegal’ coal plant

The Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, has said that he will build the €2.7 billion units in Opole, even though they have not been assessed for CCS-readiness, as required by an EU directive that Warsaw currently faces infringement proceedings for defying.

Any Polish success in facing down Brussels on the issue could affect the fate of other European climate laws which the country has not ratified, such as the renewable energy and emissions trading directives.
Jo Leinen, a Socialist (S&D) MEP, told EurActiv that the proposed build at Opole was “illegal” and should not take place without adequate modern standards for climate protection.

“It is very urgent that the Commission gets active and puts some pressure on the Polish authorities to follow EU rules,” he said. “Opole is a test case for whether our policies are valid or existing only on paper.”
Leinen and five other MEPs from five political groups last month tabled parliamentary questions on the issue to the EU's climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard.

Emissions from Opole are expected to top 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 55 years and could prevent Poland from meeting its target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to a study by the Polish Climate Coalition (PCC).

Read more: Poland on collision course with Brussels over ‘illegal’ coal plant | EurActiv

France warns Syria of forceful response if chemical weapons were used by Government troops

France has said that the international community would need to respond forcefully if allegations that the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical attack on civilians proved true.

"There would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community, but there is no question of sending troops on the ground," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French television network BFM on Thursday.

If the UN Security Council could not make a decision, one would have to be taken "in other ways", he said, without elaborating.

Al Jazeera has sought comment from the French foreign ministry on what exactly Fabius meant by a "forceful reaction".

"As we saw during international intervention in Libya [the military option] would not rule out other possible courses of action, for example no-fly zones or air strikes," Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland in Paris reported.
Opposition activists accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces of gassing hundreds of people, including women and children, in Wednesday's attack near Damascus.

The Syrian National Coalition said more than 1,300 people had died, while videos and photographs showed scenes of dozens of people foaming at the mouth and of bodies stacked up in morgues.

Read more: France warns Syria of forceful response - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

Turkey's Erdogan: A Smart Man With Jews on the Brain - by Jeffrey Goldberg

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan
It's time to call Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan what he is: a semi-unhinged bigot.

Optimists have argued, these past few years, that Erdogan's anger at Israel was motivated by a genuine sense of grievance over the notorious 2010 flotilla incident. The flotilla, you'll recall, was a project of pro-Hamas Turkish activists that was meant to break what they termed an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel's attempt to stop the flotilla ended in the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American.

The Turks demanded, among other things, that Israel apologize for its handling of the affair. Israel resisted for three years, saying that its soldiers were attacked by the Turkish activists when they boarded the ship, and that Israel had the legal right to stop the flotilla from approaching its waters. Nevertheless, the Israeli response was horribly botched, and this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, coaxed and cajoled by President Barack Obama, picked up the phone (with Obama sitting right there with him) and apologized to Erdogan for the unnecessary deaths. This apology was supposed to usher in a newer, quieter era in Turkish-Israeli relations.

Except that Erdogan has Jews on the brain, and once you get Jews on the brain it's hard to get them off. So the other day, in talking about the strife in Egypt, he said: "What is said about Egypt? That democracy is not the ballot box. Who is behind this? Israel is. We have the evidence in our hands."

The evidence for the assertion that Israel was behind the violent suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood? Erdogan himself offered none, but an aide later said that the prime minister was referring to an Internet video Erdogan saw in which the current Israeli justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and the famous French-Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, were speaking at a news conference in 2011. In the video, BHL, as he is known, expressed opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood's ruling Egypt.

Although not very good at making friends, either in Europe or in the Middle East, Erdogan is known as a very smart man. Yet anti-Semitism is making him stupid. As Walter Russell Mead of the American Interest magazine says, those who are burdened with anti-Semitism are unable to discern cause and effect relations in complex social settings. If I were an investor in Turkey, I'd keep this mind.

Read more: Bloomberg

The Netherlands - Almere: Poprondo Musical Caravan Visits City October 5

Almere will be shaking on its foundations once again on Saturday October 5, when the  Musical Caravan stops in the City for the fourth year in a row. The caravan also visits 31 other Dutch cities including, Nijmegen, Zwolle, Oss and Haarlem.

In Almere the artists will perform at sixteen different locations downtown, among those locations De Meester, Kinki Kappers, Bagel and Beans, and even at the Editorial Office of the Almere Vandaag newspaper.

There will be something for every music lover. A total of 26 groups will be performing throughout the day. From pop to rock, soul to folk. Among the performing bands: When We Are Wild, Wolf in Loveland, Herrek, Adam and the Relevants and Hompfdinga.

So mark your calender for October 5 and come to Almere Europe's most modern and swinging city.

Almere-Digest








European Economy On The Rise

European shares were broadly higher on Thursday, rebounding after several days of losses, as upbeat data from Europe and China offset negative sentiment in global markets on Fed "tapering" fears.

The FTSEurofirst 300 Index rose as Germany and the euro zone bloc posted better-than-expected flash estimates for business sector activity in August.

The composite figure for Germany climbed to 53.4 in August from 52.1 in July. The DAX surged higher on the news, trading over 1 percent higher, with the euro also climbing against the dollar.The figures for the euro zone also beat expectations with the composite number rising to 51.7 in August against 50.5 for July.

"They're certainly good numbers and we've been seeing this for the last four or five months in Europe," Richard Jerram, chief economist at the Bank of Singapore, told CNBC. "It does seem that as the headwinds from fiscal tightening fade then the economies are starting to lift."

Read more: Europe holds onto strong gains as data beats

8/21/13

Russia: Boycotting Vodka Won’t Help Russia’s Gays - by Mark Lawrence Schrad

America's favorite sex-and-relationships columnist, Dan Savage, has called for a boycott of Russian vodka to protest violent attacks on gays by nationalist thugs and antigay legislation backed by President Vladimir V. Putin. It’s an understandable response, but the prospects for the boycott’s succeeding are slim, and the potential for it to backfire on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Russians is high.

Polls estimate that two-thirds of Russians consider homosexuality unacceptable under any circumstance, similar to where American attitudes were three decades ago. In that conservative context, a perceived threat, even symbolic, from the liberal West would be a blessing for Mr. Putin, who can portray himself as the defender of the traditional Russian family, Orthodox Christian values and national pride all at once. And to the extent that Russia becomes more xenophobic and reactionary, its gay community will be seen as only more alien — the opposite of tolerance and integration.

As a scholar of Russian politics, I arrive at this conclusion with ambivalence. Vodka and the Kremlin have indeed had a long history of codependency.

For more: go to NY-Times