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12/31/13

EU Economy: Gains Up to 15% Predicted for European Stocks in 2014 - by Jonathan Buck

 Global Stock Markets Improving corporate earnings could fuel European stocks in 2014, which should be another good year for bank shares and German equities. The expansion of price/earnings multiples has propelled European markets higher in 2013 and will continue to do so in 2014.

Read more: Gains Up to 15% Predicted for European Stocks in 2014 - Barrons.com

Turkey facing 'mini-coup bid', says deputy PM Ali Babacan

PM Recep Tayip Erdogan leacder of a corrupt government
Turkey's government has said it is fending off a "mini-coup attempt" by elements in the police and judiciary who serve the interests of foreign and domestic forces bent on humbling the country.

Ali Babacan, deputy prime minister with charge of the economy, says the ruling AK Party (AKP) had in the past survived military coup plots and attempts in the courts to outlaw it.

It would not now yield to a corruption investigation that he said targeted the government and was already damaging the national economy.

"These latest formations in the judiciary and the police, we can't call it a coup, but a mini-coup attempt. This is what interests foreign investors," Babacan told CNBC-e in an interview aired by the broadcaster on Tuesday, echoing suggestions by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, of a foreign interest in the crisis.

"Maybe the clearest indicator of this was the fall in share prices."

The market value of Turkish listed companies had fallen $49bn by Monday's market close, he said.

"We will not easily allow someone to come and take it away. However many efforts there were until now trying to shake political stability, we overcame them all."

As Babacan was speaking, news emerged of a further resignation from the AKP. A total of seven MPs have resigned from the AKP since the end of November, five since the December 17 police raids.

Read more: Turkey facing 'mini-coup bid', says deputy PM - Europe - Al Jazeera English

European Youth Parliament Poll: "Fight against Terrorism Does not Justify Mass Surveillance" - says youth

The recently disclosed mass surveillance programmes of the NSA and other intelligence services step over the line. That is at least the opinion of 62.3% of participants in the recent European Youth Poll.

Still, differences in attitude exist between countres: In Sweden and Germany, less than a fourth of all participants think surveillance is justified by the fight against terrorism, while in Russia and Ukraine, more than half of all participants speak out in favour of surveillance.

59% of all participants also think they have to restrain their communication over the Internet, because it is being watched.

For the complete survey report click here.

Read more: European Youth Parliament - Parlement Européen des Jeunes

Britain: No winners in poll of polls as Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats fail to seize initiative - by Nigel Morris

The Conservatives have halved Labour’s opinion poll lead over the last year, while support for the UK Independence Party has slowly ebbed away from a dramatic peak in the spring, The Independent’s latest poll of polls discloses on Tuesday.

As the political parties enter 2014, the findings will provide David Cameron with grounds for cautious optimism that the Tories can claw back the narrowing Labour advantage by the time of next year’s general election.

A weighted average of last month’s polls puts the Conservatives on 33 per cent (up one point since December 2012), Labour on 38 per cent (down three), the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent (down one) and Ukip also on 10 per cent (up two).

Labour’s lead under Ed Miliband was nine points at the turn of last year and grew to 13 points by February, but stands on Tuesday at just five points.

That would still be enough to propel the Labour leader into Downing Street with an overall majority of more than 50 seats, but the gradual softening of the party’s vote over the last 12 months will alarm Labour strategists.

Ukip ends 2013 level-pegging with the Liberal Democrats, underlining its argument that Britain now has a four-party system.

However, its support peaked at 15 points in May and has fallen back by one-third since then, suggesting it could have been affected by rows over the views of prominent members.

Nigel Farage’s party is hoping for a renewed boost by topping the poll in May’s elections for the European Parliament, a result that would intensify Tory nerves if the Conservatives are relegated to third place.
Ukip said on Tuesday that its membership had risen by two-thirds to 32,500 over the last year.

Read more: No winners in poll of polls as Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats fail to seize initiative - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Popularity: Obama, Clinton Continue Reign as Most Admired

President Barack Obama
For the sixth consecutive year, Barack Obama ranks as the Most Admired Man among Americans, and Hillary Clinton is again the Most Admired Woman.

Both won by comfortable margins. Sixteen percent named Obama, compared with 4% each for former President George W. Bush and Pope Francis;

Clinton (15%) finished ahead of television personality Oprah Winfrey (6%), first lady Michelle Obama (5%), and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (5%).

Read  more: Obama, Clinton Continue Reign as Most Admired

And The Country Posing The Greatest Threat to Peace as 2013 Ends is …

The past year witnessed bloodshed in Syria and Iraq, turmoil in Egypt, anarchy in Central Africa, threats by a nuclear-armed North Korea and Chinese military posturing, but as 2013 ends a global poll finds that the country seen as representing the greatest threat to peace today is ... the United States.

Not only did the U.S. top the list with an aggregate of 24 percent, but the runner-up threat country, Pakistan, was way behind at eight percent. China was third at six percent, followed by North Korea, Iran and Israel at five percent each.
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The survey of opinions across 65 countries by pollster Win/Gallup International recorded some of the strongest anti-American sentiment, predictably, in countries widely regarded as rivals, led by Russia (where 54 percent of respondents said the U.S. was the greatest threat to peace) and China (49 percent).

But the view that the U.S. poses the greatest threat to peace was also strongly held in some purported U.S. allies – such as NATO partners Greece and Turkey (45 percent each), and Pakistan (44 percent), which is also a top recipient of U.S. aid.

Two other countries where strongly negative opinion of the U.S. was found were Bosnia, a candidate for European Union membership (49 percent), and, closer to home, Argentina (46 percent).

Elsewhere in Latin America the U.S. topped the list of threats to peace for a significant number of respondents in Mexico (37 percent), Brazil (26 percent) and Peru (24 percent).

Paradoxically, just because people view the U.S. as the biggest threat doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t like to move there if they could.

The pollsters also asked, “If there were no barriers to living in any country of the world, which country would you like to live in?” Some countries where the U.S.-as-greatest-threat view holds strong are also those where America would be a prized destination as a new home country.

That pattern was especially evident for Greece, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico, where the U.S. topped the list of places where people would like to live if they could.

Read more: And The Country Posing The Greatest Threat to Peace as 2013 Ends is … | CNS News

Half the world not feeling too good about 2014

As 2013 draws to a close, pollsters have been finding out how people across the world feel about the state of their lives and the coming 12 months. 

Is the world getting better? Since 1977, opinion pollster Win/Gallup International has been asking this question of people around the world. Do responses for 2013 paint an optimistic picture? 

There has been no big change this year, and the global figure is down from highs in 2004 to 2005, but the upward trend since polling began in 1977 is pretty clear.

Slightly more 50 per cent polled this year say 2014 will be worse than 2013. 

You have to go back to 1990 for the last time more people predicted a worse year than a better one. 



NSA turns "Get Smart" TV comedy into a reality show - Catalog Reveals NSA Has Back Doors for Numerous Devices - by Jacob Appelbaum, Judith Horchert and Christian Stöcker

Get Smart Comedy Show
When it comes to modern firewalls for corporate computer networks, the world's second largest network equipment manufacturer doesn't skimp on praising its own work. According to Juniper Networks' online PR copy, the company's products are "ideal" for protecting large companies and computing centers from unwanted access from outside. They claim the performance of the company's special computers is "unmatched" and their firewalls are the "best-in-class." Despite these assurances, though, there is one attacker none of these products can fend off -- the United States' National Security Agency.

Specialists at the intelligence organization succeeded years ago in penetrating the company's digital firewalls.

A document viewed by SPIEGEL resembling a product catalog reveals that an NSA division called ANT has burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry -- including American global market leader Cisco and its Chinese competitor Huawei, but also producers of mass-market goods, such as US computer-maker Dell.

These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives -- from computing centers to individual computers, and from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA's specialists seem already to have gotten past them.

This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets' data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000.

In the case of Juniper, the name of this particular digital lock pick is "FEEDTROUGH." This malware burrows into Juniper firewalls and makes it possible to smuggle other NSA programs into mainframe computers. Thanks to FEEDTROUGH, these implants can, by design, even survive "across reboots and software upgrades." In this way, US government spies can secure themselves a permanent presence in computer networks. The catalog states that FEEDTROUGH "has been deployed on many target platforms."

The ANT division doesn't just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer's motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on.

Another program attacks the firmware in hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung, all of which, with the exception of the latter, are American companies. Here, too, it appears the US intelligence agency is compromising the technology and products of American companies.

Other ANT programs target Internet routers meant for professional use or hardware firewalls intended to protect company networks from online attacks. Many digital attack weapons are "remotely installable" -- in other words, over the Internet. Others require a direct attack on an end-user device -- an "interdiction," as it is known in NSA jargon -- in order to install malware or bugging equipment.

Note EU-Digest : NSA turns "Get Smart" TV comedy into a reality show. Get Smart is an American comedy television series that satirizes the secret agent genre. Created by Mel Brooks with Buck Henry,[1] the show stars Don Adams (as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86), Barbara Feldon (as Agent 99), and Edward Platt (as Chief). Henry said they created the show by request of Daniel Melnick, who was a partner, along with Leonard Stern and David Susskind, of the show's production company, Talent Associates, to capitalize on "the two biggest things in the entertainment world today"—James Bond and Inspector Clouseau.[2] Brooks said: "It's an insane combination of James Bond and Mel Brooks comedy."

Read more: Catalog Reveals NSA Has Back Doors for Numerous Devices - SPIEGEL ONLINE

The Netherlands: Dutch prostitutes seek same tax deal as footballers - Peter Cluskey

Prostitutes in the Netherlands have begun lobbying for the same special pension rights as big-name Dutch footballers – stars such as Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart and Ruud van Nistelrooy – arguing they too do “difficult physical work” during well-paid but short careers.

Their case has been put to the tax authorities by lawyer Wilhelmina Post, who says the similarities between the two jobs are striking: prostitution, like football, is best-suited to healthy youngsters, “and although the earning potential is high, by 40 you’d certainly aim to be doing something else”.

Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since October 2000, providing there is no coercion involved. And while the prostitutes’ case may seem unorthodox, the unique tax treatment of professional footballers does appear to set a legal precedent.

Because of high earnings, short careers at the top and the impossibility of staying in the job beyond a certain age, footballers enjoy a special pension scheme under which they are allowed to save up to €5,000 tax-free per month.

Prostitutes, on the other hand – while treated for tax purposes as independent entrepreneurs who submit annual returns (even lap-dancers and strippers pay VAT) – often find it hard to fund a change of career as they get older.

“It’s a simple statistical fact in the sex industry that the majority of men prefer younger women, and so there comes an age where even women who were doing very well financially start to see their incomes fall away rapidly,” says Post.

Read more: Dutch prostitutes seek same tax deal as footballers - European News | Latest News from Across Europe | The Irish Times - Tue, Dec 31, 2013

The Netherlands: Taking A Close look At Tax Havens

The 2013/2014 Winter edition of Sure! takes a close look at the intense debate in the EU and it's member states on local  tax havens and tax structures, providing major tax benefits to multinationals corporations' .

Sure! is a digital newsletter published by KOSTER INSURANCES, an independent insurance advisory company in the city of Alphen aan den Rijn in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is considered by both the EU and the USA as one of the most important global tax havens for multinational tax evaders.

EU-Digest

12/30/13

NSA will continue spying : Judge Pauley got it right: The NSA’s metadata program is perfectly constitutional - by Eric Posner.

This month two judges issued two different opinions about the NSA’s controversial bulk metadata collection program. Judge Richard Leon ruled in Washington, D.C., that the program likely violated the law. Judge William Pauley ruled in New York that the program did not violate the law. Judge Pauley’s opinion is both correct legally and more sensible than Judge Leon’s, but it’s not hard to imagine that even our conservative Supreme Court could go the other way.

Under the metadata program, the NSA vacuums up certain data associated with telephone calls—including the number called from, the number called to, and the time of the call—and stores them on its servers. Under the loose supervision of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the NSA can search the data for evidence of terrorist connections. For example, if the NSA learns the cellphone number of a suspected terrorist, it can query the metadata for the phone numbers dialed on the terrorist’s phone, the phone numbers of the phones that called that phone, and other phone numbers associated with those phone numbers. The NSA turns over suspicious phone numbers to the FBI for further investigation.

Judge Pauley argued that under the Supreme Court case of Smith v. Maryland, which was decided in 1979, the metadata program does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the NSA collects the metadata from the telephone companies of the targets; the NSA does not monitor the phone itself. In Smith, the court held that the defendant did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” (the standard for a Fourth Amendment claim) in the phone numbers he had dialed, because by dialing them he communicated them to the phone company. So the police could install a device called a pen register at the telephone company’s premises to record those phone numbers.

The court reasoned that when people voluntarily divulge personal information to third parties, they “assume the risk” that those third parties will turn over the information to the police, and thus can’t complain when that happens, even if at the government’s request. Many commentators object that people do expect phone companies, banks, hospitals, and other trusted institutions to keep personal information secret.

But the reason for the rule is that we do not expect many of our communications with other people to be kept secret, a simple rule is better than a case-by-case inquiry into how strong your privacy interest is every time you speak to a colleague or stranger, and law enforcement would be too difficult if police could not gather such information before obtaining a warrant. After all, police can’t obtain a warrant unless they already have reason to believe that someone has committed a crime, and that reason to believe has to come from somewhere.


Read  more: Judge Pauley got it right: The NSA’s metadata program is perfectly constitutional.

Reverse Nazi salute, all the rage in Europe, is now coming to America

A “reverse Nazi” fascist salute that’s become all the rage in Europe, has now come to America.

The salute was created by French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who has been fined for inciting
 racial hatred and hate speech on several occasions.

Dieudonne, who has run for office on an “anti-Zionist” platform, claims the salute is simply “anti the system.”  The claim is suspect at best, but when you look at Dieudonne’s history, it’s even less credible.

Among other things, Dieudonne has invited Holocaust deniers on stage during his shows (and asked the audience to applaud them), is close to France’s far-right quasi-fascist National Front party, and has described the Holocaust as “memorial pornography.”

It’s become a “thing” among some circles in Europe to take a selfie doing Dieudonne’s gesture. The selfie is especially popular at locations deemed “Jewish,” such as Auschwitz or memorials in Paris to French Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

Yeah, nothing anti-Semitic about that.  Keep in mind that France has a long history of anti-Semitism, and a resurgence of violence against Jews in the past few years.  So this isn’t happening in a vacuum.  Not to mention, every European is familiar with what this kind of salute signifies.  It’s fascist, period.

Read more: Reverse Nazi salute, all the rage in Europe, is now coming to America

Europe unity tested on WWI centenary

 A Europe badly shaken by a faltering economy and rising populism is set to commemorate the centenary of World War I, the conflict still known as the “Great War” that scarred the continent and shaped the 20th century.

Commemorations for the 1914-18 Great War are planned through the summer on either side of the Western Front, but with no single event bringing all of the former foes together.

Plans for a major gathering in Sarajevo — where the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist is seen as sparking the conflict on June 28, 1914 — had to be dropped due to a lack of international consensus.

Europe was left ruined by four years of all-consuming warfare, but while European nations shared in the trauma of what some historians called a collective “suicide”, how they remember the Great War varies greatly.
Europeans “continue to approach this transnational event through the narrow framework of national memory”, explained the Australian historian John Horne, of Dublin University.

For the British and French, World War I is vividly etched in the collective imagination as a just and necessary victory, secured at a terrible human cost.

Remembering the war is a big deal in France and Britain, as well as in Australia and New Zealand whose very sense of identity is tied to the conflict, with hundreds of official projects and wall-to-wall media coverage.
In Germany and Russia, by contrast, the Great War’s memory was all but supplanted by the cataclysm of World War II, two decades later.

The centenary also comes as the very idea of a shared European future is under attack, with eurosceptics, nationalists and the far-right gaining ground across the continent as the eurozone heads into a fourth year of economic crisis.

Delegations from the warring parties in World War I have been invited to France for a “peace demonstration” on Bastille Day, July 14. The presidents of Germany and France, Joachim Gauck and Francois Hollande, will also stand side by side in France on August 3 to mark the start of the war “with gravity and reverence”.
And a German-British ceremony is planned the following day in Belgium, invaded by German troops on the first day of the war, August 3, 1914.

But in Germany itself, as in Italy and central Europe, the centenary has so far gone largely unnoticed.
The diversity of national memories makes it difficult — if not impossible — for all the former foes to commemorate the war together, historians explain.

“It is a different experience for each country,” argued the German historian Gerd Krumeich, proof that “there is no such thing as a common European mindset or sensitivity, Europe very much remains a rational idea.”
The Bosnian capital will be hosting a string of cultural events, organised by France and Germany.

Read moe: Europe unity tested on WWI centenary | Inquirer News

Turkey: Erdogan vows his graft scandal in Turkey won’t topple him - Seda Sezer and Dan Williams,

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Sunday that he would survive a corruption crisis surrounding his cabinet, saying those seeking his overthrow would fail just as mass anti-government protests did last summer.

Erdogan accused his opponents of trying to sap the country’s power and of being in the service of an international plot cloaked as criminal proceedings.

This past Friday, thousands of Turks demanding that Erdogan step down clashed with riot police in central Istanbul. The trouble recalled protests this year that began over development plans for the city’s Gezi Park but that broadened into complaints of authoritarianism under Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, also known as the AK Party.

“They said ‘Gezi’ and smashed windows. Now they say ‘corruption’ and smash windows. These conspiracies will not succeed,” Erdogan told a cheering crowd in western Manisa province. “Their concern is not corruption, law or justice. Their only concern is damaging this nation’s power.”

Erdogan’s allegations of a foreign hand in the affair have put the focus on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who preaches from self-imposed exile in the United States and whose Gulen movement claims at least 1 million followers in Turkey, including senior police officials and judges.
Erdogan has hinted strongly that Gulen deserves blame in the scandal.

Read more: Erdogan vows graft scandal in Turkey won’t topple him - The Washington Post

12/29/13

EU-US trade talks still have some distance to travel - by Steven Carroll

Negotiators from the European Union and the United States are meeting in Washington this week for the latest round of negotiations on an economic pact known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Scores of officials from both sides of the Atlantic are coming together for the third time since July to try to identify further ways of harmonising trade policy between the world’s largest economies, with a view to making it easier to do business with each other.

 Both parties appear keen on reducing trade barriers such as tariffs; aligning product standards and regulations; and opening up both markets to greater levels of interaction in the areas of services, investment and public procurement.

Leaders are conscious, however, that previous efforts to forge such policies have failed to deliver. Should a comprehensive deal be reached, which is far from certain and likely to take years, it would be expected to provide a shot in the arm for the EU and US economies without further straining tight public purses.

The progress of the talks to date has read more like the script of a convoluted espionage film than that of a trade negotiation. There have been allegations of spying against the US, external fears over the inclusion of a behind closed doors dispute settlement mechanism, concern that GMO and hormone laden foods may be unleashed in Europe, and, of course, the promise of significant riches at the end.

Read more: EU-US trade talks still have some distance to travel - Economic News | Ireland & World Economy Headlines |The Irish Times - Wed, Dec 18, 2013

Taxation France:: French ‘millionaire’s tax’ given constitutional green light

France’s Constitutional Council gave the green light on Sunday to a ‘millionaire’s tax’, to be levied on companies that pay salaries of more than 1-million euros (US$1.38-million) a year.

The measure, introduced in line with a pledge by President Francois Hollande to make the rich do more to pull France out of crisis, has infuriated business leaders and soccer clubs, which at one point threatened to go on strike.

It was originally designed as a 75 percent tax to be paid by high earners on the part of their incomes exceeding 1 million euros, but the council rejected this, saying 66 percent was the legal maximum for individuals.

The Socialist government has since reworked the tax to levy it on companies instead, raising the ire of entrepreneurs.

Under its new design, which the Council found constitutional, the tax will be an exceptional 50 percent levy on the portion of wages exceeding 1 million euros paid in 2013 and 2014.

Including social contributions, its rate will effectively remain roughly 75 percent. The tax will, however, be capped at 5 percent of the company’s turnover.

Read more: French ‘millionaire’s tax’ given constitutional green light - The Globe and Mail

Terrorism: Russia train station bombing kills at least 16 as Olympics near

A suicide bomber struck a busy railway station in southern Russia on Sunday, killing herself and at least 15 others and wounding scores more, officials said, in a stark reminder of the threat Russia is facing as it prepares to host February's Olympics in Sochi.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in Volgograd, but it came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov called for new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Sochi Games.

Suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but many have been contained to the Caucasus, the centre of an insurgency seeking an Islamist state in the region. Until recently Volgograd was not a typical target, but the city formerly known as Stalingrad has now been struck twice in two months — suggesting militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region.

Volgograd, which borders the Caucasus, is 900 kilometres south of Moscow and about 650 kilometres northeast of Sochi, a Black Sea resort flanked by the North Caucasus Mountains.

Read more: Russia train station bombing kills at least 16 as Olympics near - World - CBC News

NSA 'spying on Europe-Asia undersea telecom cables'

The US National Security Agency has collected sensitive data on key telecommunications cables between Europe, north Africa and Asia, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday citing classified documents.

Spiegel quoted NSA papers dating from February and labelled "top secret" and "not for foreigners" describing the agency's success in spying on the so-called Sea-Me-We 4 undersea cable system.

The massive bundle of fibre optic cables originates near the southern French city of Marseille and links Europe with north Africa and the Gulf states, continuing through Pakistan and India to Malaysia and Thailand.

"Among the companies that hold ownership stakes in it are France Telecom, now known as Orange and still partly government-owned, and Telecom Italia Sparkle," Spiegel said.

It said NSA specialists had hacked an internal website belonging to the operator consortium to mine documents about technical infrastructure including circuit mapping and network management information.
"More operations are planned in the future to collect more information about this and other cable systems," Spiegel quoted the NSA documents as saying.

Der Spiegel has over the last several months reported on mass NSA spying on targets in the United States and abroad using documents provided by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

A White House-picked panel this month recommended curbing the secretive powers of the NSA, warning that its spying sweeps in the "war on terror" had gone too far.
US President Barack Obama plans to address the report in January.

Read more: NSA 'spying on Europe-Asia undersea telecom cables' | Bangkok Post: news

12/28/13

Netherlands to rule on banning tourists in pot cafes

 A top lawyer, ahead of a top court case in the Netherlands, said banning tourists from the country's cannabis cafes does not violate any laws.

Leen Keus, advocate general for the nation's top court, the Council of State, said the ban does not violate any Dutch, European or international laws. The ban only applies to tourists and is an effort to cut down on drug tourism and public nuisance problems, DutchNews.nl reported.

Two cafes in Maastricht sued after local officials shut them down for refusing to abide by the law. Pot cafes in Amsterdam have yet to begin enforcing the ban.

The high court is scheduled to rule on the case early next year.

Read more: Netherlands to rule on banning tourists in pot cafes - UPI.com

Eurosceptics: Beware this populism sweeping across Europe

This week, Nick Clegg will use his new year's message to launch an "aggressive" defence of the EU, in a direct challenge to the rise of Ukip. Clegg will pitch the Liberal Democrats as the only party "fully committed" to Britain remaining in Europe. Some critics believe his strategy may see the Lib Dems fall into fifth place behind the Greens and Ukip at May's European parliament elections.

Across the continent, a pro-Europe stance is becoming increasingly unpopular. In October, the Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, warned that while the agendas of populist movements may differ – some left, some right, a few fascist – they have common elements: "They are all anti-euro and all anti-Europe." In the last Italian elections, more than eight million people supported the populist Five Star Movement.'

In France, unemployment, austerity and euro crisis bailout fatigue means Marine Le Pen, head of the rightwing National Front, is predicted, like Ukip, to win the most in the May election. A 2011 New York Times profile of Le Pen called her a "kinder, gentler extremist". The woman who likened the French having to "endure" Muslims praying in French streets to life under the Nazi occupation has repositioned her party as a defender of gays, Jews and women, and economically to the left. Le Pen plans to work with the Sweden Democrats, Geert Wilders's Freedom party in the Netherlands and Flemish independence party Vlaams Belang in Belgium to create an anti-EU bloc in the parliament "to liberate Europe from the monster of Brussels". It's a proposal that Nigel Farage has rejected.

The pan-European political establishment in May is likely to receive a well-deserved kick up the backside for what is rightly perceived as EU elitism, arrogance and a dismissiveness towards ordinary voters. Populist politics, personified in Farage's approach, coheres around "us" – the people – v "them" – an unrepresentative coterie of politicians, technocrats and bureaucrats. Populism is imbued with memories of a mythical golden past – often a more mono-cultural, mono-racial one – and so this populism is fuelled by a belief in an enemy who is "the other". This is often directed at Muslims, though more recently at Roma and eastern Europeans.

As Professor Paul Taggart, of the University of Sussex, has pointed out, populism has proved enormously successful in reshaping the mainstream political discourse, influencing policies and closing down a debate informed by empirical evidence rather than emotional heat. "The 'danger' of populism," he writes, "is that … it works within existing politics while having the effect of changing the behaviour of other actors … it further feeds distrust in the complexity of politics."

This is dangerous territory for democracy. In this case, the phrase "other actors" includes David Cameron. His political pivot in the past year is designed to see off the electoral threat of Ukip. A more courageous approach would be to demolish Ukip's wafer-thin policies and prejudices.

 Read more: Beware this populism sweeping across Europe | Observer editorial | Comment is free | The Observer

Bundesbank Chief Presses Europe to Pursue Reforms

Germany's central bank president is pressing struggling European countries to keep pursuing economic reforms and voicing concern that ultra-low interest rates could in the long term lighten pressure on politicians to stay the course.

Bundesbank chief and European Central Bank governing council member Jens Weidmann was quoted as telling Saturday's edition of German daily Bild that financial markets have calmed but "the crisis can flare up again." He said Europe needs "endurance and strong will" to see through its reform course.

The ECB has cut its main interest rate to a record-low 0.25 percent and may take further action amid economic weakness and low inflation. Weidmann, an anti-inflation hawk, said low rates are justified but cautioned that "low price pressure cannot be a warrant for loosening monetary policy at will."

Read nmore: Bundesbank Chief Presses Europe to Pursue Reforms - ABC News

EU Lobby Register: Transparency about lobby register deal urgently needed

Huge unclarity remains about what was actually decided recently about the future of the EU's lobby transparency register at the final meeting of the group of MEPs and Commission officials tasked with reviewing the register.

As reported on Friday, press releases by the European Parliament and the Commission contradicted each other on key points and as a result, media reports also diverged on whether there was agreement on a transition to a mandatory register and how this transition would look. On Friday a document with 30 recommendations was published on the Transparency Register website, but this is a vaguely-worded summary of discussions at previous meetings and it is not the actual Inter-Institutional Agreement. Clarity will only come when the text of the draft Inter-Institutional Agreement is released. MEP Rainer Wieland, who chaired the working group, should as soon as possible release the text in order to allow for democratic debate about the outcome of the register review.

However, a European Parliament press spokesperson has indicated to CEO that the document with 30 recommendations is an accurate view of what was agreed. While we are waiting for Wieland to release the draft Inter-Institutional Agreement, let us have a closer look at these 30 points.

If this is indeed the final outcome, the review will have been a lost opportunity. Around one third of the recommendations are steps in the right direction, but the remaining recommendations are either minor technical adjustments, disappointing weak measures or even steps backwards. And with a another lobby register review not due until 2017, it seems that greater lobby transparency in Brussels has been kicked into the long grass.

Firstly on the mandatory register, the text argues that this is only possible on the basis of Article 352 and that it would be “technically difficult to achieve”. The recommendation is that “this question could be assigned to AFCO” (the Parliament's Constitutional Affairs committee) waiting the next foreseen review in 2017. This is completely unclear, except that the working group shifts the responsibility to the Parliament's AFCO committee. The Parliament's press release additionally states that “the working group called for a proposal by the Commission to adapt the EU Treaty”, although as this is not mentioned in the 30 points, it presumably lacks the support of the Commission and would be exceptionally difficult to achieve anyhow. All in all, judging from the text, the review group has not committed to a transition to a mandatory register.

On the crucial issue of how to make registration de facto mandatory through additional measures ('incentives'), the text only encourages that “the institutions give further consideration to incentives available to regulate the institutions' relations with interest groups”. If this is the outcome of the review, then it would be very disappointing because it would mean that the Commission has not explicitly agreed to any specific steps. The Commission was under pressure to commit to restrict meetings with unregistered lobbyists and curb their role in Commission expert / advisory groups, but none of this is in the text.

To conclude, if the 30 recommendations are the final outcome of the review, MEPs should insist on further improvements when it is time for voting in the AFCO committee and in the parliament's plenary in the coming months. At this stage, however, we have reason to believe that the text is not a complete picture of all that was agreed. It is high time for Wieland, Parliament's Vice-President responsible for transparency, to publish the text of the draft Inter-Institutional Agreement.

Read more

EU-US Trade Negotiations: The lies behind this transatlantic trade deal-by George Monbiot

Panic spreads through the European commission like ferrets in a rabbit warren. Its plans to create a single market incorporating Europe and the United States, progressing so nicely when hardly anyone knew, have been blown wide open. All over Europe people are asking why this is happening; why we were not consulted; for whom it is being done.

They have good reason to ask. The commission insists that its Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership should include a toxic mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement. Where this has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big corporations to sue governments before secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass domestic courts and override the will of parliaments.

This mechanism could threaten almost any means by which governments might seek to defend their citi
zens or protect the natural world. Already it is being used by mining companies to sue governments trying to keep them out of protected areas; by banks fighting financial regulation; by a nuclear company contesting Germany's decision to switch off atomic power. After a big political fight we've now been promised plain packaging for cigarettes. But it could be nixed by an offshore arbitration panel. The tobacco company Philip Morris is currently suing Australia through the same mechanism in another treaty.

No longer able to keep this process quiet, the European commission has instead devised a strategy for lying to us. A few days ago an internal document was leaked. This reveals that a "dedicated communications operation" is being "co-ordinated across the commission". It involves, to use the commission's chilling phrase, the "management of stakeholders, social media and transparency". Managing transparency should be adopted as its motto.

The message is that the trade deal is about "delivering growth and jobs" and will not "undermine regulation and existing levels of protection in areas like health, safety and the environment". Just one problem: it's not true.

From the outset, the transatlantic partnership has been driven by corporations and their lobby groups, who boast of being able to "co-write" it. Persistent digging by the Corporate Europe Observatory reveals that the commission has held eight meetings on the issue with civil society groups, and 119 with corporations and their lobbyists. Unlike the civil society meetings, these have taken place behind closed doors and have not been disclosed online.

Though the commission now tells the public that it will protect "the state's right to regulate", this isn't the message the corporations have been hearing. In an interview last week, Stuart Eizenstat, co-chair of the Transatlantic Business Council – instrumental in driving the process – was asked if companies whose products had been banned by regulators would be able to sue.

Yes. "If a suit like that was brought and was successful, it would mean that the country banning the product would have to pay compensation to the industry involved or let the product in." Would that apply to the European ban on chicken carcasses washed with chlorine, a controversial practice permitted in the US? "That's one example where it might."

What the commission and its member governments fail to explain is why we need offshore arbitration at all. It insists that domestic courts "might be biased or lack independence", but which courts is it talking about? It won't say. Last month, while trying to defend the treaty, the British minister Kenneth Clarke said something revealing: "Investor protection is a standard part of free-trade agreements – it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least." So what is it doing in an EU-US deal?

Why are we using measures designed to protect corporate interests in failed states in countries with a functioning judicial system? Perhaps it's because functioning courts are less useful to corporations than opaque and unjust arbitration by corporate lawyers.

As for the commission's claim that the trade deal will produce growth and jobs, this is also likely to be false. Barack Obama promised that the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement would increase US exports by $10bn. They immediately fell by $3.5bn. The 70,000 jobs it would deliver? Er, 40,000 were lost. Bill Clinton promised that the North American Free Trade Agreement would create 200,000 new jobs for the US; 680,000 went down the pan. As the commentator Glyn Moody says: "The benefits are slight and illusory, while the risks are very real."

So where are our elected representatives? Fast asleep. Labour MEPs, now frantically trying to keep investor-state dispute mechanisms out of the agreement, are the exception; the rest are in Neverland. The Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson wrote in his newsletter, before dismissing the idea: "I am told that columnists on the Guardian and the Independent claim it will hugely advantage US multinational companies to the detriment of Europe." We said no such thing, as he would know had he read the articles, rather than idiotically relying on hearsay. The treaty is likely to advantage the corporations of both the US and the EU, while disadvantaging their people. It presents a danger to democracy and public protection throughout the trading area.
 
Caroline Lucas, one of the few MPs interested in the sovereignty of parliament, has published an early-day motion on the issue. It has so far been signed by seven MPs. For the government, Clarke argues that to ignore the potential economic gains "in favour of blowing up a controversy around one small part of the negotiations, known as investor protection, seems to me positively Scrooge-like".

Quite right too. Overriding our laws, stripping away our rights, making parliament redundant: these are trivial and irrelevant beside the issue of how much money could be made. Don't worry your little heads about it.

Read more: The lies behind this transatlantic trade deal | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

NSA Scandal requires EU Cyber-Barriers and "foreign Telecoms need to meet EU standards -- by Susan Crawford

The smooth flow of online communication and commerce between Europe and the U.S. is at risk of interruption, thanks in part to naked opportunism on the part of European telecommunications giants. If the governments involved fail to keep online barriers between the continents low, the Internet’s potential to be an engine of global economic growth will be constrained.

Take Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE) (DTE), the largest provider of high-speed Internet access and wireless services in Germany and the largest telecommunications organization in the European Union. To expand, the company will have to acquire additional communications companies; in order to do so, it hopes to free itself from the German government’s 32 percent ownership in the company. It has also expressed a desire to diversify into non-telecommunications lines of business, such as technical-services delivery.

The snooping scandal at the U.S. National Security Agency may help Deutsche Telekom achieve both these goals. T-Systems International GmbH, the company’s 29,000-employee-strong distribution arm for information-technology solutions, has been losing money selling systems-integration and data-processing services. Now, in response to customers’ loss of trust in American services, Reinhard Clemens, T-Systems’ chief executive officer, says he wants to refocus the company on providing cloud services.

Deutsche Telekom has also proposed to help Europe avoid NSA surveillance by creating “Schengen area routing,” a network for the 26 European countries that have agreed to remove passport controls at their borders. This network would supposedly allow these nations to securely exchange data among themselves. Conveniently, the Schengen area does not include the U.K., which is now known to be closely cooperating with the NSA.

Deutsche Telekom undoubtedly thinks that it will be able to collect fees from network operators in other countries that want their customers’ data to reach Deutsche Telekom’s customers -- and that the company has the market power to raise those tolls ever higher. As things stand, networks already try to avoid Deutsche Telekom’s wires when routing Internet traffic to German customers because the company refuses to swap traffic on a no-payment basis -- the common practice of competitive carriers around the world.

With hundreds of lobbyists in Berlin, Deutsche Telekom can see to it that if any German legislator is asked what to do about the NSA problem, he or she will respond with “Secure routing of traffic.” Surely this secure Schengen area routing would be even smoother if Deutsche Telekom owned more of the telecommunications operators involved.

Meanwhile, European telecom regulators, anxious to help European companies avoid the risk of being bought up by Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. or Carlos Slim, the Mexican wireless monopolist, are encouraging consolidation -- with Deutsche Telekom’s full support. “Now is the right time” for consolidation, Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Officer Rene Obermann said in November.

Read more: NSA Scandal May Help Build Cyber-Barriers - Bloomberg

12/27/13

Iran: World powers and Iran to resume expert nuclear talks on December 30

Nuclear experts from Iran and six world powers will resume talks on how to roll out last month's landmark deal on Monday in Geneva, hoping to resolve numerous technical issues before the accord can be put into place.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, said talks were scheduled to last one day for now.

Two rounds of negotiations have been held so far since Iran agreed on November 24 to curb its most sensitive nuclear work in return for relief from some economic sanctions that are damaging its oil-dependent economy.

The experts have to work out when the deal will be implemented, triggering the loosening of economic restrictions by the European Union and United States.

Read more: World powers and Iran to resume expert nuclear talks on December 30 | Reuters

Europe's moments of 2013

One early morning in Lisbon I went to the Angolan Embassy. It was not yet 0800 and there was already a line of 400 people. One of the ironies of Europe's crisis was that thousands of Portuguese workers were heading to their former colonies in search of work.

Many of Europe's best and brightest were on the move. Since the crisis began over 300,000 Greeks have emigrated. 200,000 have left Ireland.

In the Italian city of Pisa the Swedish home furnishings chain Ikea planned to open a new store and advertised for 250 staff. It received 28,816 applications.

The EU's official statistics pointed to a jobless recovery, offering little hope to the 26 million out of work.

Europe since 2009 has had a foreign affairs chief, but few knew it. Baroness Ashton had been given the grand title of High Representative for Foreign Affairs. The job was ill defined and Cathy Ashton was wary of the press.

Behind the scenes, however, she worked tirelessly and in November held centre stage when the Iranians agreed to limit their nuclear programme. It was a diplomatic breakthrough. Others had been involved -mainly the Americans- but Cathy Ashton chaired the talks and made the case for dogged, persistent quiet diplomacy.

Read more: BBC News - Europe's moments of 2013

EU-Frustration, anger and populism in Europe

Slowly but surely, Europe is dragging itself out of its economic crisis. According to latest forecasts, the overall eurozone economy will grow by around 1 percent in the coming year. Even in the states that have been plagued by crisis, economic growth has returned, albeit far too weak to make any real improvements to the labor market.

Unemployment, in particular among young people, will continue to be a very serious problem in this sixth year of economic crisis. In October 2013, there were more than 3.5 million unemployed Europeans under the age of 25; in Greece and Spain, youth unemployment is well over 50 percent.

But when it comes to job perspectives, the odds have been stacked against younger generations in southern Europe since before the current crisis began. Karl Brenke of the German Institute for Economic Research said there are structural reasons behind the unemployment crisis: the majority of young people in southern and eastern Europe simply don't have proper qualifications.

Read nmore: Frustration, anger and populism in Europe | Europe | DW.DE | 27.12.2013

12/26/13

Global Economy: 5 Expert Predictions for the Global Economy in 2014 - by Mohammed Aly Sergie

The International Monetary Fund expects the growth of the global economy will accelerate to 3.6 percent in 2014 from 2.9 percent in 2013. Five top economic experts offer insights on how to read trends in different regions.

Developing economies will likely enjoy relatively high growth in 2014, while the United States will continue with real growth and Europe's economy will expand very slowly, says the Council on Foreign Relations' A. Michael Spence.

Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi expects the United States to experience its fastest growth in a decade, driven by a reduction in fiscal austerity, a resurgent housing market, and the "superb condition of American corporate, bank, and household balance sheets."

Europe is growing, and capital is beginning to return, which has made policymakers "buoyant," says CFR's Robert Kahn, but officials face the challenge of bolstering the growth rate "before markets again lose confidence in the reform process."

Well-managed Latin American countries that depended on abundant inflows of foreign capital will have to adjust their growth rates of consumption, investment, and public spending, says Ernesto Talvi of Brookings. Carnegie's Yukon Huang says China can reach a more sustainable growth path if it deals with its debt problem and boosts productivity.

Read more: 5 Expert Predictions for the Global Economy in 2014 - Mohammed Aly Sergie - The Atlantic

US Economy: Doomsday poll: still a 98% risk of 2014 stock crash - by Paul B. Farrell

Remember the dark warnings from last January through the fall? Fed even saw an “unsustainable bubble” ... Bill Gross: “Credit Supernova” ... Jeffrey Gundlach: “Kaboom Ahead” ... Charlie Ellis: “Don’t own bonds” ... Gary Shilling: “Shocker” ... Nouriel Roubini: “Prepare for perfect storm” ... Peter Schiff “doubling down” on his “doomsday” prediction ... InvestmentNews’s warning to 90,000 advisers: “Tick, tick ... boom!” 

Then a sudden, dramatic psychological twist: The investors’ collective brain tired of the negativity in mid-October after the last bearish headline: “America’s economic guillotine dead ahead.” A week later the reversal: “2014 ‘Year of the Boom’ bet on the bulls,” quoting Bank of America’s chief strategist: “Bulls roaring. Hot race to the New Year. Then beyond into a booming, bullish 2014 rally ... Great Gatsby’s spirit is back in America. Top billing. Let the good times roll. Come join the party.” 

By November irrational exuberance was accelerating, in full holiday mode: Headline, “Shiller’s hot P/Es powering a ‘Roaring Bull’ till 2017,” dubbed the 2014 “Katy Perry market.” A week later, another headline added: “10 reasons to be a bull in 2014.”

Is all this “Great Gatsby” and “Katy Perry Roaring Bull” just hype? Distractions? An emotional “Christmas Rally?” ... a brief dose of “irrational exuberance?” ... and after New Year’s parties, when Wall Street cashes bonuses ... when the next debt-limit fight triggers ... when Yellen’s Fed stops printing cheap money ... when the 2014 political battles really heat up ... when we wake up with New Year’s hangovers, remember all the earlier warnings from Gross and the bears ... will a bear recession take down the markets? After all, this bull market is in the fifth year of an average four-year bull.  

the Fed’s “Ponzi Finance” must run its printing presses full blast to pump more and more credit into the economy “just to cover increasingly burdensome interest payments, with accelerating inflation the end result.”

The problem is huge: Bernanke’s Ponzi Finance is self-sabotaging. Endless cheap money upsets the balance between credit expansion and real economic growth, resulting in diminishing returns: “Each additional dollar of credit seems to create less and less heat. In the 1980s, it took four dollars of new credit to generate $1 of real GDP. Over the last decade, it has taken $10, and since 2006, $20 to produce the same result.” Bad news. 

Yes, Wall Street and central banks worldwide are the engine driving Bernanke’s Ponzi scheme straight into a Credit Supernova bubble. Why? Because in the past generation more and more of the Fed’s new credit was channeled into market speculation, distorting the balance between markets and the real economy. 

“Investment banking, which only a decade ago promoted small-business development and transition to public markets, now is dominated by leveraged speculation and the Ponzi Finance.” 

Gross warns: As a result, “our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic — it is running out of energy and time. When does money run out of time? 

The countdown begins when investable assets pose too much risk for too little return; when lenders desert credit markets for other alternatives such as cash or real assets,” a trend that’s already accelerating as more and more investors wise up to Wall Street’s dangerous Ponzi Finance, anticipating that a Credit Supernova will soon bring down Bernanke’s totally mismanaged monetary system, probably in 2013, months before his scheduled retirement.

Read More: Doomsday poll: still a 98% risk of 2014 stock crash - Paul B. Farrell - MarketWatch

Solar Poweer: Spain meets large proportion of electricity demand with solar PV, CSP in 2013 

When wind, hydro and other renewable energy sources are added, Spain met over 42% of its electricity demand with renewables in 2013.

Spain has the highest portion of electricity generation from CSP of any nation in the world, and one of the highest portions of solar electric generation, following Germany and Italy.

Spain hits 26% wind, solar generation

The nation has also met a record 21% of demand with wind power, roughly tied with nuclear power as the largest source of the nation's electricity. This means that wind, PV and CSP met 26% of demand during the year, one of the highest portions of electricity demand met with variable and intermittent renewable energy technologies globally.

Due to this variability, the actual contribution of wind and solar was higher during certain months. For example, PV and CSP met 8.0% of demand in June 2013, and wind and solar together met over 30% of demand during multiple months.

Spanish electricity demand was down 2.1% in 2013, the second year of declines. Additionally, the nation exported a net 6.96 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity in 2013, or 2.8% of generation, with Morocco as the largest destination. 

Read more: KW52 | Spain meets 4.9% of electricity demand with solar PV, CSP in 2013 - SolarServer

European Space Research: Mars Express Spacecraft To Make Closest Flyby Yet Of Red Planet's Moon Phobos

the European (ESA) Mars Express
A European spacecraft orbiting Mars is set to make its closest flyby yet of the largest Martian moon, Phobos, on Sunday (Dec. 29, 2013).

Passing just 28 miles (45 kilometers) above the surface of Phobos, the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft will be traveling too close and too fast to take any images of the lumpy, potato-shaped moon. But the probe's flyby will help scientists understand its weak gravitational field, ESA officials say.

Phobos is small, measuring only about 16 by 14 by 11 miles (27 by 22 by 18 km), which means a 150-pound (68 kilograms) person standing on its surface would weigh just two ounces (56 grams). [Photos: Mars' Biggest Moon Phobos Up Close]

Nonetheless, Phobos' gravitational pull will tug Mars Express slightly off course during Sunday's flyby. Ground stations around the world will track the precise location of the spacecraft for 35 hours around its big moment, looking for small deviations in the orbiter's path.

These slight movements can then be translated into measurements of the mass and density structure inside the moon. New data could build on past observations from the European orbiter that indicated the Martian moon could be quite hollow inside (between a quarter and a third empty space).

"By making close flybys of Phobos with Mars Express in this way, we can help to put constraints on the origin of these mysterious moons," Olivier Witasse, ESA's Mars Express project scientist said in a statement.

Read more: Mars Express Spacecraft To Make Closest Flyby Yet Of Red Planet's Moon Phobos (VIDEO)

Outer Space Exploration: 'Big plans': Russia looks to revive ailing space program - by Alissa de Carbonnel

A Russian Space Probe Launch
From rocket-shaped playground equipment to faded murals of cosmonauts, mementos of the heyday of Soviet space exploration are scattered around this sandswept town that launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961.

When President Vladimir Putin described the space port on the remote Kazakh steppe as "physically aged" in April, he could have been speaking about Russia's space industry itself.

In Baikonur as elsewhere, the once-pioneering sector is struggling to live up to its legacy, end an embarrassing series of botched launches, modernize decaying infrastructure and bring in new blood and new ideas.

Putin hopes a sweeping reform he signed off on this month will not come too late to turn the industry around -— part of a push to make Russia a high-technology superpower by salvaging leading Cold War-era industries and research centers.

Built far from prying eyes in a desert-like flatland in central Asia, the once-secret launch site of Sputnik and the first man in space lives on in a strange limbo, marooned in western Kazakhstan by the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today it is the only gateway for manned flights to the International Space Station, hosting astronauts from the world, and the site of about one-third of all satellite launches.
\
But Baikonur has no movie theatre — let alone many of the trappings of the 21st century. Camels graze the barren steppes near rocket launch sites, and what little seems to have changed since Soviet times often looks the worse for it.

By separating space agency Roskosmos from its contractors, the Kremlin hopes the reform will boost quality control and end a calamitous series of blunders like July's crash of a Proton rocket carrying a $200-million payload.

"We have big plans," the new Roskosmos chief, Oleg Ostapenko, told Reuters last month. "We will do everything possible to get rid of the black marks on our reputation."

The reform also aims to streamline production by uniting suppliers into a new state-run firm.
Roskosmos will be left in charge only of policy, research and ground infrastructure such as the Baikonur cosmodrome.

"It will be very difficult, but the Kremlin realizes it can't keep living the old way," said Sergey Pekhterev, head of Russian sat-com firm SetTelecom. "The latest Proton accident showed the inexplicable degree of degradation in the sector."

The United Rocket and Space Corporation is to be created by mid-April on the grounds of a space research institute, and officials say the restructuring will cost nothing extra. An experienced plant manager, the former head of car-maker Avtovaz, Igor Komarov, 49, has been tapped to lead it.

Read more: 'Big plans': Russia looks to revive ailing space program - NBC News.com

Outer Space Research: China's Moon Lander Takes a Space Selfie

China made history this weekend by becoming only the third nation to soft land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Soon after, the spacecraft’s Yutu (Jade Rabbit) rover was deployed and it took the opportunity to shoot what amounts to a “space selfie,” sending back an image of the Chang’e-3 to its handlers on Earth.

Earlier this weekend, China state television also broadcast video (see above) of the rover making its first trek onto the surface of the moon. Chang'e-3's successful landing marks the first such unmanned touchdown on the moon in nearly 40 years, the last one being Russia’s Luna 24 in 1976.

Read more: China's Moon Lander Takes a Space Selfie

European Aircraft Industry: First look at: American's new Airbus A321 Transcontinental - by Ben Mutzabaugh

AA Airbus 321
In case you missed this, American Airlines' fleet renewal effort took its latest step last Tuesday. That's when the airline showed off its first Airbus A321 Transcontinental aircraft in New York.

"This airplane represents yet another chapter of the modernization of American Airlines and putting the customer at the center of everything we do," Jim Carter, VP – Eastern Sales Division at American.. "This airplane will be flying on one of the most important routes."..

American Airlines calls the arrival of the new A321s part of a "massive undertaking to rejuvenate (AA's) fleet," an effort that got rolling earlier this year with the arrival of American's new 777-300ER aircraft. "American has since taken delivery of the Embraer E175 and Airbus A319, both set to replace older aircraft,

The A321 is American's answer to that. It will feature three classes of service: First, business and coach, making it the only airline to fly three-cabin on the transcontinental routes. Both the first and business cabins will feature lie-flat seats.

AA will use its A321s to gradually replace the "ancient 767-200s" it currently uses for many of its trans-continental routes out of New York. Those jets, Airchive.com notes, "lack modern amenities like personal in-flight entertainment and lie-flat beds."


Read more: First look: American's new Airbus A321 Transcontinental

Turkey: pro-Islamist Erdogan government rattled by corruption charges and arrests

Turkey's Erdogan's pro-Islamist Government is being rattled by corruption involving even the son of the PM.

In a late-night news conference after an unscheduled meeting with President Abdullah Gul, Mr. Erdogan fired a fourth minister and announced a broad new cabinet lineup. He ignored the earlier parting shot from Mr. Bayraktar: "To soothe the nation, I believe that the prime minister should resign, too."

The unusual upheaval in the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, underscores mounting challenges facing Mr. Erdogan ahead of a lengthy election cycle that starts in March.

Though Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist-leaning party often have clashed with traditionally secular institutions such as the military, the latest trouble appears to reflect a power struggle inside the AKP itself, rather than a fight over the country's orientation.

But Mr. Erdogan has been on the defensive since Dec. 17, when prosecutors unveiled a wide-ranging corruption investigation targeting dozens of his allies in politics and business. Prosecutors have said they plan to charge at least 24 suspects still being detained on accusations of bribery, money laundering, gold smuggling and other alleged misdeeds.

The AKP dominates Turkish politics, with public support holding steady at 50% as of October. But the prime minister's supporters seem to have fallen out with a faction loyal to a former ally, Fethullah Gulen, whose millions of followers helped elect Mr. Erdogan three times.

The Turkish cleric who has a "protected status by the US" lives in Pennsylvania, but his influence is widely believed to extend into the rank-and-file in Turkey's police and judiciary.

The government's response to the corruption probe has escalated tensions.

Before quitting as interior minister, Mr. Guler had purged about 100 security chiefs from top posts in the police department, accusing them of having failed to notify superiors about the probe. Mr. Erdogan also pushed through a measure that bars prosecutors from conducting investigations without informing their superiors.

The moves drew a rebuke from Mr. Gulen, the cleric in Pennsylvania, who lashed out in his speech posted online at "those who don't see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief."

On the corruption scale Turkey scores very poorly. Perhaps the most widely used measure of comparative levels of corruption across different countries- Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 version of the index, Turkey ranked the 55th out of 177 and is almost halfway between Sweden (tied for 3rd) and Moldova (tied for 102nd).

With Turkey’s economic growth having in the past few years (although perhaps ticking up in 2013), this suggests that Erdogan’s position could turn out to be quite precarious compared to a PM in a low corruption Nordic country, and he probably should have good reasons to be concerned.

EU-Digest



Development cooperation in 2013: A year in review - Development Buzz - by Rolf Rosenkranz

For the international development community, 2013 was a year to restructure, diversify funding streams, “go local.” Everyone seemed to pursue local solutions, strengthen country systems and improve governance.

There was promising news on a variety of global health indicators — on malaria-related deaths among children or the availability of antiretrovirals. But maternal health gains remain slow, polio is making a resurgence and the nexus of animal and human health remains underfunded, despite a few promising pilot projects.

The global response to climate change has been a mixed bag: A high-level panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended inclusive, sustainable development goals to succeed the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals, which expire in two years. The U.N. Environmental Program is consolidating power, but the outcome is uncertain. Climate negotiations fizzled.

The aid community is rushing to engage the private sector now — a trend that would have seemed unthinkable ten, perhaps even five years ago. The U.S. Agency for International Development — which survived bruising budget battles and a government shutdown largely unscathed — led the way, and Administrator Rajiv Shah is getting ready to enshrine the agency’s renewed spirit in a merged “institute” for science, technology and innovation.

Throughout the year, Devex has covered these developments and many others — from marbled board rooms to dusty African villages. We’ve reported from Tacloban, in the Philippine province of Leyte, where relief efforts continue after typhoon Haiyan. We chatted with movers and shakers at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York and the European Development Days in Brussels, where Devex served as the official media partner. We traveled to Panama City for the annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank, and convened our own first-ever Devex International Development Partnerships Forum & Career Fair in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Read more: Development cooperation in 2013: A year in review - Development Buzz | Devex

Britain 'will be Europe's top economy by 2030' predicts CEBR

A rising population, a low-tax regime and insulation from the worst of the eurozone's problems leave Britain on course to overtake Germany as Europe's biggest economy within the next two decades, according to a study released on Thursday.

The annual world economic league tables from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) predicts that Germany – for decades Europe's powerhouse economy – will have a smaller economy than the UK by about 2030.

Although strong growth by emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Russia mean that the UK will slip down the global rankings over the next two decades, the CEBR said it would be the second most successful western economy after the US.

"Positive demographics with continuing immigration [and] rather less exposure to the problems of the eurozone than other European economies combine with relatively low taxes by European standards to encourage faster growth than in most western economies," the report said. "Issues for the UK include the need to further reorient its exports to the faster growing markets, an unresolved relationship with the rest of the EU and the possibility of breakup – highlighted by the referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014."

The CEBR said it used forecasts for growth, inflation and currency values to compile league tables of the size of economies measured in US dollars in 2013, 2018, 2023 and 2028. It said the predictions needed to be treated with caution, especially in light of the unpredictable fluctuations in currencies.

But the CEBR said its model showed China overtaking the US to become the world's biggest economy by 2028, by which time both will be five times as big as India, in third place.

Note EU-Digest: Obviously this prediction will not materialize if Scotland votes in September 2014 to become Independent and if Britain leaves the EU.

Read more: Britain 'will be Europe's top economy by 2030' | Business | The Guardian

12/25/13

Germany;Former Chancellor of Germany Helmut Schmidt Retains Wit and Smoking Habit at 95 - by Alison Smale

When he was born, World War I had just ended. He was German chancellor for eight years, roughly as long as he served in Hitler’s Wehrmacht. And now, in a country where old men are much revered, Helmut Schmidt is turning 95, and his nation is reflecting on a politician once renowned if feared for his sharp tongue but now elevated to the status of icon.

Not that the gruffness or laserlike judgment have disappeared. Mr. Schmidt may not have been chancellor for over 30 years — he was forced from power in fall 1982 when some in his Social Democratic Party and others withdrew support — but he still commands attention, is still co-publisher of the respected weekly Die Zeit and just was named Germany’s most significant chancellor in a poll by Stern magazine. 

In the two weeks before his 95th birthday on Monday, he was in Moscow seeing old Soviet friends and was invited to a chat at the Kremlin with President Vladimir V. Putin. He used his pulpit at Die Zeit to pen an appeal for curbing German exports of small arms. An hourlong conversation in his sixth-floor office proved as bracing as the sea winds that buffet his hometown, this ancient Hanseatic port of Hamburg. 

In his supposed dotage in this country of rules, Mr. Schmidt enjoys a rare impunity. A heavy smoker, he does as no other mortal may: puff away anywhere, on television, at meetings, even, according to German journalists who have witnessed it, in Washington. When the European Union threatened earlier this year to ban menthol cigarettes, Mr. Schmidt’s friend Peer Steinbrück reported that the old chancellor had stockpiled 200 cartons of his favored Reynos — enough to feed his two-to three-pack-a-day habit for two or three years.

Aside from a low wheeze that growls at times through his throat, Mr. Schmidt seems to have thrived on his nicotine intake (augmented, always, by snuff). A greater impediment, he explains with something of a glint in his gray-blue eyes, is deafness: he wears a hearing aid and conversation must be seated at his desk so his brain and eyes can knit together the audiovisual strands, he says.

Read more: Former Chancellor of Germany Retains Wit and Smoking Habit at 95 - NYTimes.com

Christmas 2013

12/24/13

Winter storm blasts Europe, wreaks travel chaos

A severe winter storm caused major travel problems in parts of western Europe Tuesday, stranding passengers travelling for Christmas at Paris and London airports and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power.

The storm caused four deaths in Britain, including a man who jumped into a fast-flowing river to try and rescue his dog. The severe weather also left a 12-year-old boy crushed to death beneath construction materials in Normandy, France.

In Britain, thousands of people trying to get away for the holidays were affected by reduced or cancelled train services due to landslides and fallen trees and flooded roads. Power outages at London Gatwick Airport's North Terminal caused 26 cancellations and many more delays.

 Read more: Winter storm blasts Europe, wreaks travel chaos

12/23/13

Italy PM Letta pledges reform pact in January

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta promised on Monday to present a formal coalition pact in January with reforms ranging from an overhaul of the electoral law to cuts to bureaucracy and taxes.\

Letta, appointed to head a grand coalition of left and right after last February's deadlocked elections, said 2014 would be the year in which a new generation of leaders could launch reforms to pull Italy out of two decades of stagnation.

"I have been part of this change and I feel the full weight of responsibility. This generation will have the opportunity of changing Italy and I am convinced it can do it," 47-year-old Letta told the traditional end-of-year news conference.

"We have the most complex part of this crisis behind us and we have to be in a position to take advantage of some important opportunities," he said.

Read more: Italy PM Letta pledges reform pact in January | Reuters

The Netherlands:Apple plans data centre in north Netherlands

Apple plans to build a data centre in the Dutch town of Eemshaven, reports Dagblad van het Noorden. Google already operates a data centre in the northern town since 2008. The site offers access to a trans-Atlantic cable and a local energy supply, while also being above sea level, protecting it from eventual flooding in the country.

Read more: Apple plans data centre in north Netherlands - Telecompaper