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Ukraine: With Military Moves Seen in Ukraine, Obama Warns Russia - by D. M. Herzenhorn, M. Lander and A. Smale

Ukraine’s fragile new government accused Russia of trying to provoke a military conflict by invading the Crimea region on Friday, while in Washington President Obama issued a stern warning to the Kremlin about respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, in an effort to preclude a full-scale military escalation.

American officials did not directly confirm a series of public statements by senior Ukrainian officials, including the acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, that Russian troops were being deployed to Crimea, where Russia has a major naval base, in violation of the two countries’ agreements there.

Mr. Obama, however, cited “reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” and he said, “Any violation of Ukrainian sovereignty would be deeply destabilizing.”
“There will be costs,” Mr. Obama said in a hastily arranged statement from the White House.

The pointed warning came after a day in which military analysts struggled to understand a series of unusual events in Crimea, including a mobilization of armored personnel carriers with Russian markings on the roads of the region’s capital, Simferopol, and a deployment of well-armed masked gunmen at Crimea’s two main airports. 

Note EU-Digest: This situation should be a clear indication to all the member states of the European Union that they should be making haste in coming to an agreement on a European Energy Pact in order to strengthen the arsenal of potential economic sanctions they could muster against Russia in case they are needed.

Read more: With Military Moves Seen in Ukraine, Obama Warns Russia -

Alternative Energy: US data show wind energy works and is cost-effective -- by Robert H. Owen Jr.

Occasionally a misinformed reader asserts wind turbines produce insignificant electrical output. That's simply untrue.

MGE reports the energy produced by its wind turbines annually. According to reports, its Rosiere Wind Farm in Kewaunee County produced 19,513,000 kilowatt hours in 2011 and 20,279,000 in 2012, the former at an operating cost of 2.11 cents per kilowatt hour.

MGE reported that its Top-of-Iowa Wind Farm produced 80,592,300 kilowatt  hours in 2011 and 74,147,900 in 2012, the former at an operating cost of 1.48 cents per kilowatt  hour.

MGE also reports the energy it buys from two Iowa and one Wisconsin wind farms owned by others. It reported total wind energy purchases of 275,932,000 kilowatt hours in 2011 and 290,540,000 in 2012 at a net cost of about 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

By contrast, MGE's inefficient Blount Street Plant, which burns natural gas, produced only 47,689,100 kilowatt hours at an operating cost of about 14 cents per kilowatt hour in 2012.

Modern wind turbines are being widely adopted in other states in the Midwest because they are productive and cost-effective.

Finland: Alternative Energy: Google Buys More Swedish Wind Power For Its Finnish Data Center - by Jason Verge

will buy the entire electricity output of four new wind farms to support its data center operations in Hamina, Finland, the company said this week. The new power purchase from Eolus Vind AB in Sweden follows an earlier wind power deal in which Google purchased the entire 10-year electricity output of the new wind farm at Maevaara, in Övertorneå and Pajala municipality in northern Sweden.

“We’re always looking for ways to increase the amount of renewable energy we use,” said Francois Sterin, Director Global Infrastructure at Google. “Long term power purchase agreements enable wind farm developers to add new generation capacity to the grid – which is good for the environment – but they also make great financial sense for companies like Google.”

Eolus will commence construction of the four new wind farms in Alered, Mungseröd, Skalleberg and Ramsnäs, Sweden.  The 29-turbine project, with a total combined capacity of 59 megawatts, already has all its planning approvals and permits. The wind farms will become fully operational in early 2015.

“Our agreement with Google is a further endorsement of the potential of wind power in the Nordic countries,” said Hans-Christian Schulze, deputy CEO of Eolus. “We’re looking forward to building our new wind farms over the year and helping Google stay ahead of its commitment to carbon neutrality.”

All of this Swedish wind power will power Google’s Hamina, Finland facility. This cross-border arrangement is possible thanks to Europe’s increasingly integrated energy market.  Scandinavia’s Nord Pool market allows Google to buy renewable energy with Guarantee of Origin certification in Sweden, and consume an equivalent amount of power elsewhere in Europe.

The move helps the environment, but also protects Google from future increases in power prices through long term purchasing. The company is investing in new renewable energy projects that will deliver a return for its money. Over $1 billion has been committed to such projects in the U.S., Germany, and South Africa.

Read more: Google Buys More Swedish Wind Power For Its Finnish Data Center | Data Center Knowledge

The Great European Battle Between Necessity and Identity - by Jan Techau

Not less but more Unity
The EU has always attempted to square the circle between what’s needed and what’s possible. That has never been easy, but the bloc is now facing the most terrible—if not existential—dilemma of its six-decade history. If Europeans want to retain the great life they have, they will need a lot more European integration. At the same time, more integration would almost certainly destroy the EU.

In terms of necessities, most people agree that the EU needs to improve greatly. It is suffering from a lack of democratic participation. It must protect the economic and security interests of its member states in a globalized world. It must make its currency work, or abandon it. And it must do more to be a strong and credible partner for the United States in the global competition over who defines and enforces international norms and values.

Each of these agenda items will require more cooperation among EU countries. Taken together, these issues make a formidable case for “more Europe.” Of course, more cooperation does not automatically mean more integration. Often, cooperation can be done intergovernmentally, without integration.

But cooperation at the level required to tackle Europeans’ needs will demand significantly more integration, at least in some crucial fields. Cooperation is also a whole lot easier when member states share their sovereign rights through common, treaty-based organizations. Look at the EU today. The parts that work best are, by and large, those that are integrated, such as the single market and trade policy.

If the EU wants to tackle its democratic deficit, it needs two things. The first is subsidiarity, which means making decisions at the lowest level possible. If done right, subsidiarity is a powerful tool that can avoid the need for more integration. But there are some parts of the EU in which subsidiarity is not an option.

In those fields, the EU needs a second instrument: more democratic legitimacy. Shared markets, external policies, fighting crime, consumer rights, energy grids, and environmental standards all require top-level decisionmaking. In such cases, those making the decisions need a democratic mandate. Where law making exceeds the remit of member states, national constituencies are not sufficient to authorize such legislation.

Truly democratic decisionmaking on common European policies needs a common European electorate. In other words: making the EU more democratic will require a European body politic. And that means more integration.

On foreign policy, if the EU wants to protect its global interests, defend itself against external threats, and shape its neighborhood, it cannot do so with atomized external policies. Less and less national glory can be gained in the international market by comparatively small nations. If Europe wants to make its voice heard, it will have to become a more unified—and integrated—foreign policy player. The limits of intergovernmental cooperation have become all too obvious, especially in recent months.

The same goes for economic growth. Reform efforts are still primarily national issues, yet on closer inspection, reform agendas look strikingly similar across the EU. More open markets, smarter tax and spending policies, and better investment are among the priorities of many member states. In a system of closely integrated economies, business is about more than just free trade. Economic upswings and downswings are a shared fate. And that fate makes it desirable to adopt shared fiscal and social policies—and perhaps even shared taxation.

National reform plans have proven ineffectual. Germany violated the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact; Spain failed to regulate its banking system; Greece cheated its way into the euro; and Italy shunned labor market deregulation. The bottom line is that more prosperity in an aging continent will likely mean more economic integration.

The list goes on. No matter how one twists and turns the needs of Europeans in the twenty-first century, it is hard to avoid more integration—not across the board toward an ever closer union, but in select policy fields.

 Read more: The Great European Battle Between Necessity and Identity - Carnegie Euro

Turkey’s troubles contagious due to bad policies in West - by Paul Krugman

Okay, who ordered that? With everything else going on, the last thing we needed was a new economic crisis in a country already racked by political turmoil. True, the direct global spillovers from Turkey, with its Los Angeles-sized economy, won’t be large. But we’re hearing that dreaded word “contagion” – the kind of contagion that once caused a crisis in Thailand to spread across Asia, more recently caused a crisis in Greece to spread across Europe, and now, everyone worries, might cause Turkey’s troubles to spread across the world’s emerging markets.

It is, in many ways, a familiar story. But that’s part of what makes it so disturbing: why do we keep having these crises? And here’s the thing: the intervals between crises seem to be getting shorter, and the fallout from each crisis seems to be worse than the last. What’s going on?

Before I get to Turkey, a brief history of global financial crises.

For a generation after the second World War, the world financial system was, by modern standards, remarkably crisis-free – probably because most countries placed restrictions on cross-border capital flows, so that international borrowing and lending were limited. 

In the late 1970s, however, deregulation and rising banker aggressiveness led to a surge of funds into Latin America, followed by what’s known in the trade as a “sudden stop” in 1982 – and a crisis that led to a decade of economic stagnation.

Latin America eventually returned to growth (although Mexico had a nasty relapse in 1994), but, in the 1990s, a bigger version of the same story unfolded in Asia: huge money inflows followed by a sudden stop and economic implosion. Some of the Asian economies bounced back quickly, but investment never fully recovered, and neither did growth.

Most recently, yet another version of the story has played out within Europe, with a rush of money into Greece, Spain and Portugal, followed by a sudden stop and immense economic pain.

As I said, although the outline of the story remains the same, the effects keep getting worse. Real output fell 4 per cent during Mexico’s crisis of 1981-83; it fell 14 per cent in Indonesia from 1997 to 1998; it has fallen more than 23 per cent in Greece.

Read more: Turkey’s troubles contagious due to bad policies in West - Economic News | Ireland & World Economy Headlines |The Irish Times - Tue, Feb 04, 2014

Ukraine pleads for U.S., U.K. help after Russian 'invasion' - by Mark Mackinon

The new Ukrainian government says it has been invaded by Russia, and has appealed for the United States and United Kingdom to protect it, as they guaranteed under a 1994 agreement.

The move came after pro-Russian gunmen seized both main airports on the Crimean Peninsula early Friday, a day after other militiamen took control of the regional parliament building. With gunmen in the building and the Russian flag flying from the roof, deputies appointed a new government and passed a motion Thursday calling for a referendum on the future as part of Ukraine.

The armed takeovers sharply escalate what had already been an extremely volatile situation in Crimea, a Russian-speaking region that has rejected the overthrow of the Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych and the rise to power of pro-Western forces in Kiev.

Swiss accuse Yanukovych of “aggravated money laundering.”
Also on Friday, Swiss police raided the premises of a Geneva firm owned by Mr. Yanukovych and his son Oleksander in an investigation into “aggravated money laundering.”

In Kiev, Ukraine’s parliament adopted a resolution on Friday demanding that Russia halt steps it says are aimed against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called for a UN Security Council meeting on the crisis.

The parliament also called for guarantees of the memorandum signed by Ukraine, Britain, Russia and the United States in Budapest in 1994. That agreement guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty and current borders in exchange for surrendering the nuclear weapons that were left after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It wasn’t clear whether the gunmen who seized the airports were Russian soldiers or pro-Russian militiamen. They wore no insignia, but carried automatic weapons and Russian flags into the airport.

Read more: Ukraine pleads for U.S., U.K. help after Russian 'invasion' - The Globe and Mail

EU-Economy: George Soros says he's a euro believer, looks to invest in Europe banks

Billionaire investor George Soros, the man made famous for breaking the Bank of England by shorting the pound in 1992, reportedly told a German newspaper over the weekend that he’s a euro believer. The full article at Der Spiegel isn’t available without a subscription, so we turned to Reuters for a translation and breakdown.

“I believe in the euro. Therefore my investment team is looking forward to making [sic] a lot of money soon in Europe by, for example, pumping money in banks which urgently need capital,” Soros reportedly said in the interview, adding that the euro zone needs this type of private investment now.

He said his management team was even looking at Greece, given improving economic conditions, but before doing that they need to be assured that money can be earned on a sustainable basis.

Soros also reiterated his view that efforts by Germany to save the single currency have only made things worse. A sustainable recovery for the region still doesn’t exist, even if markets are far from the turmoil of a couple of years ago. “I fear that the euro zone could experience a long phase of economic stagnation similar to Japan’s in the past 25 years.”

Read more: George Soros says he's a euro believer, looks to invest in Europe banks - The Tell - MarketWatch


Britain: Merkel: We Need Strong UK in Strong Europe - by Jill Lawless

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wooed a welcoming but skeptical audience of British lawmakers Thursday with a call for a strong, unified Europe with Britain at its heart.

Merkel addressed Britain's Parliament during a visit full of ceremonial honor and political purpose. Prime Minister David Cameron sees Merkel as a potential ally in reshaping the European Union, and laid on lunch at the prime minister's Downing St. residence and tea with Queen Elizabeth II on top of the speech to lawmakers.
The pomp stands in contrast to a recent visit by France's socialist President Francois Hollande, who was treated to a press conference in an aircraft hangar and lunch in a pub.

Cameron, under pressure from Euroskeptics inside and outside his Conservative Party, has promised a referendum on leaving the EU if he wins the next election. He hopes to renegotiate Britain's membership to persuade voters to stick with the 28-nation bloc — but so far has few European allies for the project.

Merkel, who shares some of Cameron's center-right views, said the eurozone economic crisis had driven home the need for a tighter rein on the bloc's finances, and she backed the idea of closer economic coordination and less bureaucracy.

"We must always bear in mind that the world is not waiting for Europe — economic strength and competitiveness must constantly be strengthened and renewed," she said.

She also stressed the importance of freedom of trade and movement and "a Europe without borders."
Merkel said she was "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea" of Britain's Euroskeptic and pro-European forces, and predicted her speech would disappoint both sides.

She was an enthusiastic guest at Parliament, warmly praising Britain for its fight against Nazism during World War II and speaking for long stretches in English.

"We need a strong United Kingdom with a strong voice inside the European Union,"

Ukraine: Europe And New Leaders Are Ukraine's Only Salvation

The people of Ukraine have sacrificed loss of life, torture, and bodily injuries to give their country a second chance. If Ukraine returns to its normal state of dysfunctionality, corruption, and instability, these sacrifices will have been for nothing.

Yes, Ukraine must focus on its immediate financial crisis and counter Russian machinations and threats, but its fate hinges on, to use hackneyed phrases, the creation of a rule of law and a stable democracy. Ukraine’s political elite and bureaucrats, of all political persuasions, have shown themselves incapable of these tasks in the past. Ukraine must turn to new and young leaders – patriots not politicians —  willing to follow guidance and discipline from their neighbors to the West.

The now-quarter-century history of transition from one-party communist rule to democratic capitalism draws an unmistakable dividing line between success and failure. No former Soviet republic, with the exception of the three Baltic States, can claim success.  In contrast, the communist satellite nations of central and southeastern Europe either have made successful transitions to democracy and rule of law or are on course to do so. They share one common feature: They have become (or are scheduled to become) members of the EU. The requirement to follow Europe’s rules of the game has been their motor of success.

The Ukrainian people, even in the “Russian” East and South, clearly understand that the EU carries the promise of a “civilized” life in place of the corruption, illegality, and arbitrariness under which they lived since independence. All Ukraine prefers a European to a Russian life.

The Yanukovich regime did not invent dysfunctional rule, but rather carried it to its extreme. It rejected association status with the EU not because of Putin’s bribes but because Yanukovich understood that Europe would not tolerate the corrupt and anti-democratic nature of his regime. Joining the EU would have spelled the end of his political career.

Ukraine’s path is clear for those wishing it success. It must concentrate on joining the EU as quickly as the accession process allows. For its part, the EU must provide all possible assistance to expedite Ukraine’s accession. Mobilizing EU members to this task will not be easy given the consensus nature of decision making. The EU should not waste its time trying to draw in Russia as a cooperative partner. Putin clearly has another agenda.

Read more: Forbes: Europe And New Leaders Are Ukraine's Only Salvation

Tobacco Industry: European Parliament Approves Tough Rules on Electronic Cigarettes

The European Parliament on Wednesday approved rules for the region’s fast-growing market for electronic cigarettes, regulations that could help set a benchmark for standards around the world.

Beginning in mid-2016, advertising for e-cigarettes would be banned in the 28 nations of the European Union, as it already is for ordinary tobacco products. E-cigarettes would also be required to carry graphic health warnings and must be childproof. The amount of nicotine would be limited to 20 milligrams per milliliter, similar to ordinary cigarettes.

Governments across the globe are grappling with how to regulate e-cigarettes, which turn nicotine-infused propylene glycol into an inhalable vapor. As sales of e-cigarettes have ballooned, the debate over the public health implications has intensified.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States is soon expected to issue regulations for the devices; some American cities have already acted independently to ban e-cigarettes in public places.  

In Europe, the tobacco legislation just needs the final approval of member states — something that appears all but certain. It is expected by April.

Read more: European Parliament Approves Tough Rules on Electronic Cigarettes -

Most Efficient Health Care Systems: Countries - Best (and Worst)

Study by Bloomberg shows: Among advanced economies, the U.S. spends the most on health care on a relative cost basis with the worst outcome

Read more: Most Efficient Health Care: Countries - Bloomberg Best (and Worst)


Healthcare Systems: Malaysia's healthcare system hailed - by G.Surach

The country’s achievement at being rated third best in the world for healthcare services is something to be proud of, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

He also gave credit to the boom in the country’s medical tourism sector through strategic investments on good medical facilities and competitive rates compared to other parts of the world.

“Medical tourism has benefited the Government in terms of foreign direct investments and also spin-off effects in the hotel and shopping sectors,” he said yesterday.

The Star Online reported yesterday that a study by the American publication International Living rated Malaysia’s healthcare system as the third best out of 24 countries in its 2014 Global Retirement Index, beating Spain, Italy, Ireland and New Zealand, among other countries.

 Read more: Malaysia's healthcare system hailed - Nation | The Star Online

Schoolsystems; the Netherlands and the U.S. Both a big challenge being Gifted

There is no such thing as pre-K in the Netherlands, but there is 'peuterspeelzaal' where I child can go the day he turns 2. The child usually goes there one morning and one afternoon every week.There are also 'special peuterspeelzalen' where children go to, who need more attention.

They usually go 4 half days every week to the 'special peuterspeelzaal'. Parents have to pay a small amount of money, based on their salary. Who earns more, pays more.

In the Netherlands you go to the 'basisschool' the day you turn 4. Children stay at that same school untill they are about 12. Parents only pay parental contribution every year. This is a small amount that the schools usually spents on trips, special days, small presents, etc. The exact amount varies by school, but is mostly less then 50 euro's (about 70 dollars)
After the basisschool you go to the 'voortgezet onderwijs / middelbare school'. Depending on the level of education you go to, you will spent about 4-6 years at this school. The middelbare school has VMBO (4 different possibilities), HAVO and VWO. Parents have to pay school fees (for P.E. clothes, dictionaries etc.)   and parental contribution.

After the middelbare school you can go to the Middelbaar Beroeps Onderwijs (also known as MBO), to the Hoger Beroeps Onderwijs (also known as HBO) or to a University. 

 As a student in the Netherlands you can get study funding from the government. There is a based scholarship, a supplementary scholarship and a loan. The amount you will get depends on a lot of factors, such as: level of education, living at home or not, income of parents and siblings that already get a scholarship) Parents pay for MBO (from the day their child turns 18) about 1065 euro per year (1500 dollar), plus about 500-1000 euro for books etc. For HBO 1835 euro per year, plus 1000 euro for books.

And for university about 1835 euro per year statutory and institution tuition, which the university can determine. This depends on the university you go to and on the study you choose. (This variates from 6000-25.000 euro).

Read more: Schoolsystems; the Netherlands and the U.S. Both a big challenge being Gifted. | Dutch Alien Lands in the U.S.

Oscars - Denmark: Mads Mikkelsen lends steely star power to Denmark's hunt for Oscar - by Eric Kelsey

Danish drama "The Hunt" has at least one advantage over its rivals in its bid to win the best foreign-language picture Oscar: the familiar face of Mads Mikkelsen.

Mikkelsen, the 48-year-old star of NBC television thriller "Hannibal," is no unknown to Oscar voters. The Danish actor has starred in three Oscar-nominated films over the last decade from the nation of about 5.6 million people.

Mikkelsen's work in Hollywood and his association with the upper echelon of the Danish film industry underscore his ability to maintain a high profile in both the United States and his home country.
But any mention of his global recognition may be greeted with a shrug from the tall Dane known for his steely countenance.

"Denmark is a small country and if I can make two films a year (here), people start getting sick and tired of you," Mikkelsen said wryly. "So this is kind of nice. I can do more than one (film) per year."

Read more: Mads Mikkelsen lends steely star power to Denmark's hunt for Oscar | Reuters

Morocco freezes judicial accords with France over 'torture' row

Morocco announced Wednesday that it was suspending all judicial cooperation with France following a diplomatic row over lawsuits filed in Paris accusing the kingdom's intelligence chief of "complicity in torture."

"All agreements on judicial cooperation between the two countries have been suspended... to eliminate the distortions that have affected them," the justice ministry said in a statement.

It has also recalled the Moroccan judge responsible for liaising with France on the agreements.
Morocco has strong commercial and cultural ties with its former colonial ruler.

But the kingdom reacted furiously to the announcement last Thursday of two civil lawsuits filed by an NGO in Paris against Abdellatif Hammouchi, the head of its domestic intelligence agency, over his alleged role in the torture of a Sahrawi independence activist jailed for 30 years in 2013. 

Read more: Morocco freezes judicial accords with France over 'torture' row < French news | Expatica France

Ukraine rivals clash as Russia alerts troops - by Rory Challands

Pro and anti-Russian protesters have clashed in the Ukraine region of Crimea, as Russia ordered battle-readiness checks on armed forces near the nations' borders and said it was moving to ensure the security of its Black Sea fleet.
Scuffles broke out outside the Crimea regional parliament on Wednesday between thousands of pro-Russia separatists and supporters of Ukraine's new leaders as regional politicians prepared to debate the removal of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich from the presidency.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, issued battle tests for army, navy and airforce troops based in Russia's western military district, which borders Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, Finland and the Arctic.

Russia's defence ministry was later reported by Reuters to have said it was taking measures to ensure the security of its facilities and arsenals of its Ukraine-based Black Sea naval fleet.

"The commander-in-chief has set the task of checking the capability of the armed forces to deal with crisis situations posing a threat to the military security of the country," Sergei Shoigu, tthe defence minsiter, told the Interfax news agency.

Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said that similar inspections were made regularly in Russia to ensure readiness, and that no specific mention had been made of Ukraine.

Read more: Ukraine rivals clash as Russia alerts troops - Europe - Al Jazeera English


Aircraft Industry: Plan to build superfast jet - by Geoffrey Thomas

Plan to build superfast jet
Spike Aerospace
Boston-based Spike Aerospace is designing the world's first supersonic business jet, which will be capable of flying from Perth to Sydney in less than two hours.

Spike is working with a consortium including Boeing, Gulfstream, Airbus and NASA on the project.
Targeted at business users, the Spike S-512 will carry up to 18 passengers in luxury and will cost $80 million. It could fly from Perth to Sydney in one hour and 50 minutes.

The plane will have a range of 7400km and will be 40m long with an 18m wingspan. Spike hopes to make the first deliveries by 2018.

However, the company said there were many obstacles - the biggest being the plane's sonic boom.

Read more: Plan to build superfast jet - The West Australian

EU Economy: EU’s brighter economic picture dulled by Italy, France - by Eric Reguly

The European economies are slowly gaining traction but the recovery is both lopsided and so tepid that the unemployment rate will remain stuck at double-digit levels for a long time.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, on Tuesday forecast growth in the 28-county EU at 1.5 per cent this year and 2 per cent in 2015. But growth in the 18 euro zone countries, many of which are weighed down by high debt and lingering austerity, is forecast at only 1.2 per cent this year, up marginally from 1.1 per cent in the previous forecast, and 1.8 per cent next year.

The forecasts for the EU and the euro zone, which are updated three times a year, show that the recovery is still patchy. Among the larger EU economies, Britain and Germany are the stars.

Britain’s growth is now forecast at 2.5 per cent this year, up from November’s 2.2 per cent forecast, and 2.4 per cent in 2015. That should be strong enough to push down the British jobless rate to 6.8 per cent by the end of the year, a dream figure for most of the euro zone countries, where the overall jobless rate was 12.1 per cent last year. Germany is set to grow at 1.8 per cent this year and 2 per cent in 2015.

The standout laggard is Italy, whose barely perceptible recovery is actually going in reverse, putting huge pressure on new prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Mr. Renzi, 39, the youngest prime minister in the history of the republic, has called the Italian economy a “swamp.” But emerging from it will become all the more difficult as the wider European recovery leaves Italy behind.

Growth in the euro zone’s third-largest economy will be 0.6 per cent this year, down from the 0.7 per cent forecast made in November. Italy is technically out of recession – it grew by 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter – but growth is being hindered by lack of productivity gains, stalled economic reform, high public debt and endless political turmoil. Mr. Renzi is the third prime minister – none of them elected – in two years.

Read more: EU’s brighter economic picture dulled by Italy, France - The Globe and Mail

Fishing Industry: Fish farms seek new feed to fend off 'peak salmon' problem - by Khalil Akhtar,

With increasing demand and flatlining production, technological solutions are needed to meet the growing market for seafood.
More and more fish sold for human consumption is farmed, and the UN has said 2014 will be the first year the consumption of farmed fish overtakes that of wild fish.
That reality is shaping the salmon industry in unique ways. But with demand rising five to 10 per cent annually over the past few years, traditional salmon production is hitting its limit.

A main issue is the growing demand and limited availability of fish oil and fish meal, ingredients needed to manufacture the food pellets fed to farmed salmon.

Read more: Fish farms seek new feed to fend off 'peak salmon' problem - Canada - CBC News

South American Elections: Murder and Mayhem in Suriname - by Ed Oudenaarden

President Desi Bouterse and Son Dino in better days
Dino Bouterse thought he'd struck the deal of a lifetime. It was July 31, 2013, and the head of Suriname's counterterrorism force -- who also happened to be the president's son -- had been carefully cultivating what he hoped would become a lucrative relationship with a pair of Mexican drug smugglers. They had already piloted a "line" for shipping cocaine from Suriname, through Trinidad and Tobago, and on to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but the Mexicans had in mind a vastly more profitable side venture: building a Hezbollah base in Suriname and arming the Lebanese militant organization against the Americans.

At a meeting in Greece, the 40-year-old Surinamese scion hashed out the details with one of the Mexicans and two purported representatives from Hezbollah. For $2 million cash upfront, Bouterse would provide secure facilities in Suriname where the Shiite militant group could train 30 to 60 men. He would also supply rocket launchers, land mines, and other weapons that could be used to strike U.S. targets.

"You'll fuck the Dutch, and we will fuck the Americans," one of the Hezbollah envoys said at one point.
"I'm totally behind you," Bouterse responded. Later, he sent a text message to an associate back in Suriname: "we hit the jackpot."

That couldn't have been further from the truth. A little more than a month later, Panamanian police arrested Bouterse at the airport in Panama City and extradited him to New York, where he had been indicted on drug-trafficking charges. Then, in November, U.S. authorities unsealed a second indictment that charged Bouterse with providing material support to a terrorist organization. The Mexican narcotics smugglers, it turned out, were U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informants who had been wearing wires the whole time. Their conversations and text messages with Bouterse were later made public in the unsealed indictments.

The episode was more bizarre than sinister. But it serves as an unsettling reminder that Suriname's leading political family has long been involved in unsavory, seedy, and outright criminal activities. The Hezbollah threat may have been entirely concocted by the DEA -- a clever ploy to bring down the reckless younger Bouterse -- but the willingness of Surinamese officials to accommodate a terrorist group so close to the United States should serve as a wake-up call for Washington, which still maintains military ties with Paramaribo. That Suriname is also a thriving narcostate ought also to be cause for concern.

Located on South America's north Atlantic coast and bordering Brazil to the south, the Republic of Suriname is nestled between Guyana and French Guiana, a French overseas territory perhaps best known today for its European "spaceport" and as the former site of the Devil's Island penal colony. It is South America's smallest country and is suffocatingly isolated from the rest of the continent. As noted travel writer John Gimlette wrote in 2011, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana have "never felt part" of South America. "The [three] are the odd ones out; they've never been Spanish or Portuguese; they've never known machismo, or Bolívar, or liberation theology; and they're so isolated that there's only one road that links them to the rest of South America."

But barriers -- physical or cultural -- have not kept the former Dutch colony entirely cut off from the outside world. During the Cold War, the United States, on high alert for communist mischief-making in the Western Hemisphere, worried that Suriname would enter the Caribbean Marxist-Leninist firmament headquartered in Fidel Castro's Havana. More recently, the country has been a transshipment point for drugs bound for markets in Western Europe. Porous borders, a vast interior with little government presence, and significant corruption have helped secure Suriname's position as a criminal entrepôt. According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, it ranks among South America's top five transshipment points for European-bound cocaine.

If any single figure can be held responsible for the country's recent troubles, it is Dino Bouterse's father. Desiré Delano "Dési" Bouterse has ruled Suriname intermittently for more than three decades -- twice as a result of coups he led and now as the country's quasi-democratically elected leader. Dino's criminal escapades have been a reliable nuisance for the United States. But his transgressions pale in comparison with his father's long history of drug trafficking, political violence, and human rights abuses.

The elder Bouterse, a former army sergeant who peddled imported pornography on the side, first came to power in a coup on Feb. 25, 1980 -- an occasion commemorated today in Suriname with a national holiday, the "Day of Liberation and Innovation." Promoting himself to colonel, Bouterse set Suriname on a revolutionary course influenced by Marxist-Leninist notions then in circulation across the developing world.

As he consolidated his dictatorship, Bouterse carried out a series of extrajudicial killings, the most notorious of which were the "December murders" of 1982. Early on the morning of Dec. 8, army personnel rounded up 16 prominent critics of the regime and brought them to Fort Zeelandia, near the capital, Paramaribo. A hastily assembled tribunal led by Bouterse quickly found the prisoners guilty of "anti-revolutionary" activities. Drink-sodden soldiers then carried out the death sentences in the fort's courtyard. According to one account in the Dutch press, Bouterse joined the mayhem, using a bayonet to castrate one man and shooting another in the back.

Suriname in the 1980s had all the raw ingredients for a Frederick Forsyth thriller: a sweltering climate, corrupt despotism, guerrilla war, and Cold War geopolitical intrigues. An armed ethnic uprising in the hinterlands, led by Ronnie Brunswijk, a former bodyguard of Bouterse, was met with savage government repression -- including the killing of 19 women and children in the remote village of Mooi Wana, an atrocity that has been called the "My Lai of Suriname."

But it wasn't what Bouterse was doing in his own backyard that worried the United States. It was his links with the Castro government, Nicaragua's Sandinistas, and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada. As early as 1982, the top CIA analyst for Latin America, Constantine Menges (nicknamed "Constant Menace" by bureaucratic enemies who had tired of his noisy anti-communism), warned his superiors in Langley of "the growing danger" posed by Suriname's leftward drift into the "Cuban orbit."

U.S. President Ronald Reagan came to share this anxiety about Suriname's apparent descent into Castroism. In a letter to Brazil's president in 1983, he pointed to Bouterse's "longstanding predilections toward Cuba and Grenada" and his entrance into the "Cuban/Soviet sphere." At the same time, senior members of his administration were mulling various schemes to remove the bothersome Surinamese leader from power. One such plan, developed by the CIA and later dismissed as "harebrained" by Secretary of State George Shultz, would have used South Korean commandos to overthrow Bouterse. Another would have deployed U.S.-based Surinamese exiles and was reportedly described by Sen. Barry Goldwater, no slouch when it came to anti-communist intrigues, as "the dumbest fucking idea I ever heard."

The U.S. invasion of Grenada in October 1983, aimed at removing a purportedly pro-Cuban regime, had a powerful knock-on effect. Almost immediately afterward, Bouterse broke all ties with Havana. Washington's fears of a communist toehold on the South American mainland abated and relations improved, though Libyan meddling in Suriname continued to trouble Reagan officials.

Not everyone shared Washington's belief that Bouterse was more of a farce than a threat. Suriname's former colonial rulers, for one, still thought he was a menace -- both to the Dutch residents of Suriname and because of his growing role as a drug trafficker. In 1986, the Dutch government, led by Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, went as far as planning an invasion of Suriname. Eight hundred and fifty Dutch soldiers, with U.S. air and naval support, would arrest Bouterse on drug-related charges. But as with earlier plots, this one fizzled out.

Ultimately, Dutch leaders considered the risk of casualties to be too high. More importantly, the Americans, embroiled elsewhere in Latin America and skeptical about the mission's prospects, rejected the Dutch request to provide ships and aircraft.

In 2000, Bouterse was convicted in absentia by a Dutch court for his role in shipping a total of 474 kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands via diplomatic pouches. Although out of power at the time -- and therefore without official immunity -- Bouterse never served his 11-year sentence because the two countries have no extradition treaty. In 2010, Bouterse's "Mega Combination" bloc won the largest number of parliamentary seats, and the former army sergeant came to power for the third time, offering the electorate "sugary promises for easy jobs and cheap housing," according to one unsympathetic Guyanese editorial writer.

Following the 2010 election, the Dutch promptly cut off security assistance, and the Dutch foreign minister declared indignantly that the new leader was not welcome in the Netherlands "unless it is to serve his prison sentence." Technically, Bouterse remains a wanted man. But the lack of an extradition treaty -- and now, Bouterse's immunity as a head of state -- makes it unlikely the Netherlands will get its hands on him anytime soon.

Few others seem to share the Dutch loathing of the Surinamese premier. Interpol withdrew its arrest order after his election in 2010, and Bouterse has traveled to Brazil, Guyana, South Africa, and the United States (for the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York). With the exception of the recent Dino Bouterse rumpus, developments in sleepy Suriname only rarely attract the world's gaze.

No one seems to have paid any particular notice, for example, to the April 2013 announcement by Brunswijk, Dési's old nemesis, that he will run for president in 2015. Bizarrely, Brunswijk revealed his candidacy on stage during a concert featuring Rick Ross, the bald, heavily bearded, American hip-hop star. Brunswijk reportedly passed out $100 bills -- and less enthusiastically received Surinamese notes -- to the audience. An influential figure within the Mega Combination, Brunswijk has more than politics in common with the elder Bouterse. Like Dési, Brunswijk was convicted in a Dutch court in 1999 for cocaine trafficking.

Dino, meanwhile, has spent one Christmas behind bars in Lower Manhattan awaiting trial, and it doesn't seem likely that he will be a free man anytime soon. If ultimately convicted, the younger Bouterse could face a life sentence plus 15 years.  

But so far, neither Dino's exploits nor his father's unsavory past seem to have done any harm to Paramaribo's relationship with Washington. In 2012, the U.S. military supplied $400,000 in naval training, and last March, the Pentagon agreed to provide $500,000 to strengthen the Surinamese army -- support the United States shows no sign of withdrawing.

Read more: Report

South America: Suriname's president warns U.S. over interference

President Desi Bouterse :" a stained history"
Suriname's President Desi Bouterse warned on Tuesday that the U.S. ambassador may need to leave the country due to the alleged interference in the upcoming election.

The U.S. ambassador in Suriname will most likely get a warning letter from the government of Suriname on Feb. 26,in which he will be asked to defend himself, said Bouterse during a ceremony commemorating the Revolution Day.

"If the ambassador cannot properly defend himself,he may be asked to leave the country," he added.

According to Bouterse, the U.S. ambassador said and did things to avoid the coming election in Suriname because "the other president is not ready."

Bouterse said he is well aware of possible scenarios to influence the election results, but they do not worry him.

"No matter the election is held earlier or later,the opposition has no chance of winning. The president that the people of Suriname want will come to power," Bouterse noted.

He stressed that Suriname is not happy with interference from foreign countries in its national matters.

The general election for a new parliament and government in Suriname is scheduled to be held in May 2015, but the political battle has already broken out.

A member of the Suriname opposition party NPS commented: "the Americans will probably laugh at this - its like the movie called "the Mouse that roared"


Turkish PM Corruption Activities Exposed: Turkey PM Erdogan says 'tapped' phone call to son 'fabricated'

Turkish PM Erdogan: "everyone is lying except me"
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angrily condemned as fabricated an audio recording that appears to show him talking to his son about hiding large sums of money.

He said the recording, allegedly tapped and posted on social media, was a "treacherous attack".
It appears to reveal Mr Erdogan asking his son Bilal to dispose of millions of euros in cash from a house.

The opposition has called for the prime minister's resignation.

The recordings, which could not be independently verified, were said to be of four conversations dating back to 17 December, when the sons of three ministers and business allies of the prime minister were detained in a high-level corruption investigation.

Correspondents say that the inquiry has presented a major challenge to Mr Erdogan's 11 years in power ahead of key local elections in March.

Cagil Kasapoglu from BBC Turkish says that, interestingly, neither the prime minister nor his party's spokespeople have denied that the voices on the recording belong to Erdogan and his son.

Their statement so far is that their voices were "montaged" to implicate them, our correspondent says.

During the conversation, a voice can be heard discussing how to reduce the funds to "zero" by distributing them among several businessmen.

At one point, the second voice says some 30 million euros ($40m/£24m) remains to be disposed of.

Read more: BBC News - Turkey PM Erdogan says 'tapped' phone call to son 'fabricated'


Middle East: Iranian Economy: Iran has new energy contract system

Iran will work "shoulder-to-shoulder" with foreign energy companies in joint ventures set up under a new contract system, a government official said.

Mehdi Hosseini, director of an Oil Ministry committee tasked with revising Iran's oil contracts, said the government was scrapping buy-back contracts in favor of joint ventures with international energy companies.

"Under new contracts, Iranian experts will work shoulder-to-shoulder with foreign investment companies in order to become familiar with the latest technologies of the world," he was quoted as saying Sunday by Iran's state-funded broadcaster Press TV.

Under the former system, Iran paid contractors a pre-determined price for the hydrocarbons produced.
In the new system, the National Iranian Oil Co. forms joint ventures with international companies that will get a portion of resources produced.

Representatives from French energy company Total were among delegates who visited Tehran in early February as part of a French trade mission.

Iran says it's ready to start courting foreign investors now that it secured sanctions relief through an interim nuclear agreement reached in November with Western powers.

Read more: Iran has new energy contract system -

Turkey Political Chaos: 'Parallel state' phone-tapped thousands in Turkey says Government - by Orhan Coskun

The network of a U.S.-based cleric illegally tapped thousands of telephones in Turkey to blackmail and concoct criminal cases as part of a campaign of covert influence over government, a top adviser to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

A lawyer for preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused by Erdogan of building a parallel command structure in police and judiciary, described the accusations as unjust and contributing to an atmosphere of "hatred and enmity" in Turkish society.

The government accuses Gulen's Hizmet (Service) network of engineering corruption charges against figures including businessmen close to Erdogan that came to light with a series of raids on December 17. The scandal has posed the biggest challenge yet to Erdogan's 11-year-rule.

The government responded by reassigning thousands of police and hundreds of prosecutors and judges in a bid to purge the influence of Gulen, once an ally of Erdogan believed to have helped the prime minister rein in the power of the military.

Hizmet runs a large network of schools, businesses and media groups in Turkey and across the world. Tension with Erdogan came to light when the prime minister moved to close the schools, a primary source of Hizmet's income and influence.

One of the prosecutors named in newspaper reports as being involved in wire tapping denied the accusation.
"There was definitely no monitoring or phonetapping of thousands of politicians, writers, NGO representatives and businessmen in the framework of this dossier in the way that the newspaper stories say," prosecutor Adem Ozcan said in a statement carried by news websites.

According to Star newspaper, Erdogan adviser Yalcin Akdogan and others including the interior minister, the national intelligence agency head and politicians from various parties were among those whose phones were tapped over three years.

"For years they listened to 7,000 people and were going to open a court case against them for being a member of an imaginary criminal organization," Akdogan told Reuters.

"Completely imaginary crimes are created, a scenario is created based on phone-tapping...If you listen to somebody for five years you can construct a crime with imaginary scenarios."

"We are faced with a structure which listens to everybody illegally, follows everything concerning private life, using it when necessary as blackmail and fabricating crimes by people," Akdogan said.

Other senior Turkish officials also described widespread illegal eavesdropping, including of Erdogan himself.

Gulen's lawyer Nurullah Albayrak said in a statement there were "unjust" efforts to attribute the wiretapping to his client, calling for the matter to be investigated and saying such media reports were designed to be exploited politically.

Read more: 'Parallel state' phone-tapped thousands in Turkey: officials | Reuters

Russia threatens Ukraine; ousted president vanishes

Russia said Monday the turmoil in Ukraine was a threat to Russian citizens as Ukraine's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.

In a statement on his official Facebook page, Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov said Yanukovych arrived in the pro-Russia region of Crimea on Sunday and relinquished his official security detail then drove to an unknown location.

He said Yanukovych and several other officials are under investigation for mass killings of civilians during anti-government protests in the capital of Kiev. More than 80 people protesting for Yanukovych's resignation were killed last week by government forces.

On Sunday, lawmakers elected parliament's new speaker as caretaker president until new elections can be held in May. The lawmakers also fired officials loyal to the previous government and began repealing a series of deeply unpopular laws while creating new ones.

Yanukovych had struck a deal with opposition leaders Thursday in which he would remain in power until new elections in December, and that no charges would be brought against protesters. That was not good enough for the protesters, who refused to leave the streets despite the killings and said Yanukovych had to go.

The president disappeared Friday and was last reported to be in east Ukraine, which is where many of his supporters reside.

In spite of deep divisions between the Russian-speaking east and the western region of the country, many say unity is paramount.

"We are united," lawmaker Vyacheslav Kerilenko said in parliament. "There can be no split."

Read more: Russia threatens Ukraine; ousted president vanishes

Ukraine sets European course after ouster of Yanukovich - by Natalia Zinets and Alessandra Prentice

Ukraine's interim leadership pledged to put the country back on course for European integration now Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich had been ousted from the presidency.

As rival neighbors east and west of the former Soviet republic said a power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to the country breaking apart, acting president Oleksander Turchinov said late on Sunday that Ukraine's new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine's European choice".

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Ukraine on Monday, where she is expected to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy.

Russia said late on Sunday it had recalled to Moscow its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations on the "deteriorating situation" in Kiev.

Read more: Ukraine sets European course after ouster of Yanukovich | Reuters

Visa Policies: EU gives US six months to come clean on visa policy

Back in 2008, when the nationals of twelve EU countries were subject to the visa requirement to travel to the US, the Commission warned that it may force American diplomats to apply for visas to travel to the European Union.

At that time, nationals of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia were excluded from the US Visa Waiver Programme, which allows visa-free travel.

Washington has been refusing to grant visa-free access to US territory on a bloc-wide basis, saying it had to first ensure that each individual country fulfils its stringent security requirements.

At that time, EU officials have accused the US of attempting to undermine the Union's common visa policy and force individual countries to agree to additional security measures that are in violation with Union rules on aviation security and data protection.

The citizens of most EU countries travel without visas to a list of foreign countries, listed in annex II of Council Regulation No 539/2001.

But the nationals of some new EU member states still need a visa to travel to countries such as the United States, Canada or Australia.

Next Steps to be taken by EU
  • 9 Feb.: Deadline for the EU countries who are still under visa requirement to notify the Commission on their situation;
  • March: EU countries can ask the Commission that the EU suspends the visa exemption for certain categories of US nationals;
  • June: At the latest six months after publication of the regulation, the Commission may decide that the suspension of the visa obligation should take effect.
Read more: Statewatch News Online

Aircraft Industry: Russia, China Plan Joint Widebody Effort - by Maxim Pyadushkin and Bradley Perrett

In about three years, according to current plans, Russia and China will each begin delivering a national narrowbody airliner, the Irkut MS-21 and Comac C919, respectively. And 6-8 years later, they may have a jointly developed widebody ready for service.
These plans are maturing as Comac continues to struggle with the C919. Challenged in obtaining FAA endorsement of the C919's intended Chinese certification, the manufacturer is raising the possibility of alternative approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

A feasibility study for the widebody will be finished within a few months, after which the program will be ready for launch, Mikhail Pogosyan, president of Irkut owner United Aircraft Corp. (UAC), tells Aviation Week.

The target for entry into service is 2023-25. “The long-range widebody aircraft segment is quite interesting for us,” Pogosyan says. “But we should study the market very closely and define clearly the level of technology we need . . . to enter a very competitive market with a product that provides qualitatively new solutions.”

The widebody studies have focused on an aircraft rather like the Airbus A330, say industry executives in China. Comac thinks airlines will need a replacement for that Airbus type next decade. That implies competition with the 787, a seemingly daunting challenge, but the Russo-Chinese aircraft will have access to technology, especially for propulsion, more than a decade newer than that available to the Boeing type when the 787 was launched in 2004.

Pogosyan does not mention a specific Chinese partner for the widebody, but it must be Comac, with which the Russian state company signed an agreement in 2012 to study joint development of a widebody aircraft.

The program, targeting domestic and export markets, calls for Chinese involvement from design to after-sales support. The Russian government's Aircraft 2020 program can support technological development, says Pogosyan. UAC estimates airlines globally will need 8,000 airliners in the 20 years to 2033, including 1,000 in China.

Read more: Russia, China Plan Joint Widebody Effort

France risks long stay after misjudging Central African Republic - by John Irish and Daniel Flynn

When France sent troops to halt violence between Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic, commanders named the mission Sangaris after a local butterfly to reflect its short life. Three months later, it is clear they badly miscalculated.

Buoyed by a swift victory in last year's war against Islamists in Mali, France's military predicted six months would be enough to quell sectarian conflict in Central African Republic, which began in March when Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country.

Some defense ministry officials said in private that a show of French force would be enough to restore order and no shots need be fired. With its military budget stretched by Mali, Paris gambled on sending a small force of just 1,600 men.

Read more: France risks long stay after misjudging Central African Republic | Reuters


Russia: President Vladimir Putin deserves kudos for 2014 Sochi Olympics - a job well done

President Vladimir Putin
Even though most of us in the Western Press had initially used every possible occasion to be critical about a variety of issues surrounding  the Sochi Olympics project, the Olympics not only got off to a brilliant start, but also throughout the games showed to be a smooth and perfectly managed operation.

This was recognized by just about everyone afterwards.

Olympic Committee officials went to great lengths to praise these much-maligned Games in their closing news conference.

"They've done a phenomenal job," said USOC chairman Larry Probst, mentioning everything from smooth transportation to Vladimir Putin's presence throughout the previous 15 days. "Putin has really owned these Games," he said.

Like it or not, President Vladimir Putin deserves to receive Kudos, not only for these Olympic games, but also for doing everything in his power to turn Sochi into a household word and exposing a cultural, warm and friendly face of  Russia to the rest of world.

Indeed, Mr. Putin might not be everyone's friend - which great leader ever is- but he will certainly be viewed by historians later as the Russian leader who picked up Russia by the bootstraps, after it was down and nearly out when the Soviet Union fell apart, and turning it into the modern society it is today.   

According to Russian public opinion polls, Mr Putin not only remains popular - his popularity is even rising.  In the latest poll, taken in December 2013, by the independent research organization, the Levada Centre, 68 per cent of respondents said that if new presidential elections were held this they would vote for Putin. This was up by 10 per cent from December 2012.

Why is Mr. Putin so popular at home? The simple answer is that the Russian population of 144 million is much better off today than it has ever been. Real incomes have risen substantially over the past decade, and the share of the population living below the poverty line has fallen.

The range of available consumer goods is worlds apart from when the Soviet Union fell apart little more than two decades ago.  Many of the middle class Russian families are now taking vacations outside their country and in the summer you will now find Russians vacationers just about everywhere in the world with a large contingent  in Turkey and Thailand..

During his two terms as president, Putin signed into law a series of liberal economic reforms, such as the flat income tax of 13 percent, a reduced profits tax, a new Land Code and a new edition (2006) of the Civil Code. Within this period, poverty in Russia was cut by more than half and real GDP has grown rapidly.

Some of the main features of Putin's regime so far have been: development of a corporatist system by pursuing close ties with business organizations, social stability and co-optation of opposition parties.

In 2005, Putin launched National Priority Projects in the fields of health care, education, housing and agriculture. In his May 2006 annual speech, Putin proposed increasing maternity benefits and prenatal care for women. Putin was strident about the need to reform the judiciary considering the present federal judiciary "Sovietesque", wherein many of the judges hand down the same verdicts as they would under the old Soviet judiciary structure, and preferring instead a judiciary that interpreted and implemented the code to the current situation.

In 2005, responsibility for federal prisons was transferred from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Justice.

The most high-profile change within the national priority project frameworks was probably the 2006 across-the-board increase in wages in healthcare and education, as well as the decision to modernize equipment in both sectors in 2006 and 2007.

So far during Putin's government, poverty was cut more than half and real GDP has grown rapidly.

In a rare sign of emotion and patriotism, he once said in an interview with Time magazine: "Russia is an ancient country with historical, profound traditions and a very powerful moral foundation. And this foundation is a love for the Motherland and patriotism. Patriotism in the best sense of that word. Incidentally, I think that to a certain extent, to a significant extent, this is also attributable to the American people."

Kudos Mr. Putin, Sochi was a job well done.


Venezuela Thousands in South Florida demonstrate for peace in Venezuela

Thousands of South Floridians gathered at Doral's J.C. Bermudez Park on Saturday afternoon to show support for the peaceful protests in Venezuela. 

To view images of demonstration click on link below.

Read more: Thousands in South Florida to demonstrate for peace in Venezuela - Sun Sentinel

Mexico - NAFTA: The "Three Caballeros" meet In Mexico: "Poor Results, No Deals and Many Promisses"

NAFTA Showtime: Stephen Harper, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Barrack Obama
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation noted: "Jean Chretien famously pronounced his last G8 summit as prime minister a success. When asked why, he replied, "Because it could have been a disaster.'
That same logic could be applied to this past weeks meeting of the three North American leaders in Toluca, Mexico.

Even though the" three Caballeros" called NAFTA a great success - looking at the results - tells another story. .

The Financial Times wrote about NAFTA: "Treally wenty years into Nafta, Mexico has too many criminals and not enough policemen; too many workers earning low wages and not enough skilled jobs; too many false dawns and not enough economic growth.

NAFTA really is a big economic failure. From 1994 through 2003, the Mexican economy has grown by only 11 percent per person. This is less than one-fourth the rate of growth that Mexico experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. This is the relevant economic comparison for anyone who wants to evaluate Mexico's experience with NAFTA.

Of course, the reforms embodied in NAFTA did not begin in 1994 - they started in the early 1980s. But if we take the longer view, it looks even worse: From 1980 to the present, income per person in Mexico has grown by about 19 percent. This compares to 93 percent for the 1960-1979 (somewhat shorter) period. In other words, there is no economic evidence that the NAFTA model is a success at least not for the tax paying public.

U.S. economic winners and losers under NAFTA vary with company size, type of industry or sector, and geographical location. Sectors affected positively include planes, trains and automobiles, large agri-businesses, appliance makers and energy corporations. Clearly, large multi-national companies with investment capacities, world-market savvy and capital resources have benefited from protected investment and cheap labor. These companies enhanced management performance-based compensation while putting downward pressure on production-worker wages and benefits, collective bargaining clout and available jobs, especially in manufacturing. Many view their actions as a major contributor to compensation inequality.

According to one estimate, workers in Canada and Mexico have displaced 829,280 U.S. jobs, mostly high-wage positions in manufacturing. The heaviest U.S. manufacturing-job losses were in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, Indiana and Florida. 

Canada has so far experienced significant benefit from:
  • U.S. investment in automotive production,
  • Increases in oil exports to the U.S. and the rest of the world,
  • Increases in shipment of beef, agricultural, wood and paper products to the U.S.
  • Export of mineral and mining products, which have fared well in U.S. markets.
Canada has, however, also experienced some losses in narrow sectors such as specialty steel production and processed foods due to U.S. imports.

Overall the conclusion is that NAFTA has not lived up to the high expectations of its proponents. It has made many U.S. companies and investors rich - and their managements even richer. But it has also cost many U.S. manufacturing workers their livelihoods while failing to raise living standards for most Mexicans. Any major market changes not dictated by market forces usually lead to both opportunity and loss, and this has happened with NAFTA. 



Russia: Sochi concerns coming in overturned by praise going out from USA officials

After heading into the Sochi, with all the concerns about security, preparation and politics, U.S. Olympic Committee officials went to great lengths to praise these much-maligned Games in their closing news conference.

"They've done a phenomenal job," said USOC chairman Larry Probst, mentioning everything from smooth transportation to Vladimir Putin's presence throughout the previous 15 days. "(Putin) has really owned these Games," he said.

Amid #SochiProblems, big and small, the most expensive Games in history at $51 billion, the U.S. delegation will leave Russia with few complaints. "We are very, very impressed," CEO Scott Blackmun said.

Read more: Sochi concerns coming, praise going out from USA officials

Alternative energy: Wind Farms Blow Away Old Criticism -- Research Shows That Wind Turbines Remain Productive For Up To 25 Years

While wind energy has become an increasingly common development choice in recent years, there has been some criticism of the technology — of particular interest in that regard was a study released relatively recently that suggested that electricity output from wind turbines declines by a third after only ten years of operation.
It turns out, though, according to new research from the Imperial College Business School (utilizing local wind speed data from NASA), that that worry is unfounded — wind turbines can remain productive, with no need of upgrade, for up to 25 years. The previous work, which was based entirely on a (questionable) statistical model, simply didn’t reflect the reality in the field.

While wind energy has become an increasingly common development choice in recent years, there has been some criticism of the technology — of particular interest in that regard was a study released relatively recently that suggested that electricity output from wind turbines declines by a third after only ten years of operation.
It turns out, though, according to new research from the Imperial College Business School (utilizing local wind speed data from NASA), that that worry is unfounded — wind turbines can remain productive, with no need of upgrade, for up to 25 years. The previous work, which was based entirely on a (questionable) statistical model, simply didn’t reflect the reality in the field.

While wind energy has become an increasingly common development choice in recent years, there has been some criticism of the technology — of particular interest in that regard was a study released relatively recently that suggested that electricity output from wind turbines declines by a third after only ten years of operation.

It turns out, though, according to new research from the Imperial College Business School (utilizing local wind speed data from NASA), that that worry is unfounded — wind turbines can remain productive, with no need of upgrade, for up to 25 years. The previous work, which was based entirely on a (questionable) statistical model, simply didn’t reflect the reality in the field.

The new work was simply a “comprehensive nationwide analysis of the UK fleet of wind turbines, using local wind speed data from NASA” — an analysis that showed that the “UK’s earliest turbines, built in the 1990s, are still producing three-quarters of their original output after 19 years of operation, nearly twice the amount previously claimed, and will operate effectively up to 25 years.” So much for the doom-saying. :)

The new findings show that wind turbine longevity is directly comparable to that of the gas turbines used in power stations.

The new work was simply a “comprehensive nationwide analysis of the UK fleet of wind turbines, using local wind speed data from NASA” — an analysis that showed that the “UK’s earliest turbines, built in the 1990s, are still producing three-quarters of their original output after 19 years of operation, nearly twice the amount previously claimed, and will operate effectively up to 25 years.” So much for the doom-saying. :)
The new findings show that wind turbine longevity is directly comparable to that of the gas turbines used in power stations.

Read more: Wind Farms Blow Away Old Criticism -- Research Shows That Wind Turbines Remain Productive For Up To 25 Years | CleanTechnica

Capital Markets: In Praise of Fragmentation - by Adair Turner:

Emerging markets are back in the spotlight. Investors and banks are suddenly unwilling to finance current-account deficits with short-term debt. South Africa, for example, has had to increase interest rates, despite slow economic growth, to attract the funding it needs. Turkey’s rate increase has been dramatic. For these and other emerging countries, 2014 may prove to be a turbulent year.

If volatility becomes extreme, some countries may consider imposing constraints on capital outflows, which the International Monetary Fund now agrees might be useful in specific circumstances. But the fundamental question is how to manage the impact of short-term capital inflows.

Until recently, economic orthodoxy considered that question invalid. Financial liberalization was lauded because it enabled capital to flow to where it would be used most productively, increasing national and global growth.

But empirical support for the benefits of capital-account liberalization is weak. The most successful development stories in economic history – Japan and South Korea – featured significant domestic financial repression and capital controls, which accompanied several decades of rapid growth.

Likewise, most cross-country studies have found no evidence that capital-account liberalization is good for growth. As the economist Jagdish Bhagwati pointed out 16 years ago in his article “The Capital Myth,” there are fundamental differences between trade in widgets and trade in dollars. The case for liberalizing trade in goods and services is strong; the case for complete capital-account liberalization is not.

One reason is that many modern financial flows do not play the useful role in capital allocation that economic theory assumes. Before World War I, capital flowed in one direction: from rich countries with excess savings, such as the United Kingdom, to countries like Australia or Argentina, whose investment needs exceeded domestic savings.

But in today’s world, net capital flows are often from relatively poor countries to rich countries. Huge two-way gross capital flows are driven by transient changes in perception, with carry-trade opportunities (borrowing in low-yielding currencies to finance lending in high-yielding ones) replacing long-term capital investment. Moreover, capital inflows frequently finance consumption or unsustainable real-estate booms.

And yet, despite the growing evidence to the contrary, the assumption that all capital flows are beneficial has proved remarkably resilient. That reflects the power not only of vested interests but also of established ideas. Empirical falsification of a prevailing orthodoxy is disturbing. Even economists who find no evidence that capital-account liberalization boosts growth often feel obliged to stress that “further analysis” might at last reveal the benefits that free-market theory suggests must exist.

It is time to stop looking for these non-existent benefits, and to distinguish among different categories of capital flows. Some are valuable, but some are potentially harmful.

Foreign direct investment (FDI), for example, can aid growth, because it is long term, involves investment in the real economy, and is often accompanied by technology or skill transfers. Equity portfolio investment may involve price volatility as ownership positions change, but at least it implies a permanent commitment of capital to a business enterprise. Long-term debt finance of real capital investment can play a useful role as well.

By contrast, short-term capital flows, particularly if provided by banks that are themselves relying on short-term funding, can create instability risks, while bringing few benefits.

Read more: Adair Turner: In Praise of Fragmentation