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Is Matteo Renzi the man to save Europe's soul? - by Lizzy Davies

Matteo Renzi breezes through the gilded wooden doors in jeans, D'Acquasparta trainers and rolled-up shirt sleeves. "Today, I am tie-less," he announces, disingenuously apologetic, perhaps, for a man with a much-photographed leather jacket.

Dress-down Friday? "Absolutely," he replies in English and grins. In a salon with a long history and a one-note colour scheme – gold – the contrast in style between Palazzo Chigi and its occupant has probably never been more striking. Yet, sitting back on a delicate, gleaming-legged sofa, Italy's cocksure young prime minister could not seem more at home.

Few mainstream politicians will look back at last week's European elections with anything other than gloom. From London to Paris to Copenhagen, leaders on the centre-left and centre-right were dealt a bloody nose by voters who chose instead to throw in their lot with populists, Eurosceptics, and the far right.

In Rome, however, a different story played out. In its first election with Renzi as leader, his centre-left Democratic party (PD) beat all expectations to come not only first, but first by an astonishing margin of almost 20 points.

With almost 41% of the vote, the PD had performed better than any Italian party since 1958. It had left its chief rival, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), in the dust. It had won more votes than any other party in the EU and had become the second-largest force in the European parliament.

After years of lectures, humiliations and knuckle-rappings, Italy was back on the European stage, credibility – so the government said – restored. And Renzi, a 39-year-old who not even six months ago was the ambitious mayor of a provincial city, finds himself not only prime minister but one of the most important advocates for Europe in a fearful and crisis-struck union.

Read more: Is Matteo Renzi the man to save Europe's soul? | World news | The Observer

Basketball: Miami Heat rout Indiana Pacers, 117-92, return to NBA Finals

The Miami Heat embarrassed the Indiana Pacers. But worse, the Pacers embarrassed themselves.

The Pacers came back to Miami for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and were outplayed and overmatched in a contest that was decided before the first half ended.

The Heat hammered the Pacers 117-92 and advanced to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive time, becoming just the third franchise in NBA history to do that and the first team to accomplish that feat since the 1984-87 Boston Celtics, teams for which Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird played.

Read more: Miami Heat rout Indiana Pacers, return to NBA Finals


Pharmaceutical Industry: .Pfizer calls it quits on AstraZeneca

US drugmaker Pfizer said Monday it is calling off its controversial bid to acquire British rival AstraZeneca. The announcement came after a 69.4 billion-pound ($116.8 billion) offer rejected by AstraZeneca last week.
“Following the AstraZeneca board's rejection of the proposal,

Pfizer announces that it does not intend to make an offer for AstraZeneca,” Pfizer said in a statement.
Pfizer CEO Ian Read said his company's last offer represented what he believed to be the full value of the company.

Leif Johansson, chairman of AstraZeneca, said he was pleased with the retreat.
“We welcome the opportunity to continue building on the momentum we have already demonstrated as an independent company,” Johansson said.

rEAD MORE; Pfizer calls it quits on AstraZeneca | Business | DW.DE | 26.05.2014

Inequality And Post-neoliberal Globalisation - by Frank Hoffer

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

These are actually not my words but a quote from Milton Freedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom, a book published in 1962 when he was a lonely Monetarist in a Keynesian World. Friedman, Hayek and their followers did not miss the crisis of Keynesianism in the 1970s, nor the crisis in Latin America in the 1980s nor the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in the 1990s. They provided the intellectual ammunition for regime change by promising a more efficient and more dynamic economy.
Today, despite its failures, the free market narrative was not buried by the crisis. Until 2007 we could have had the illusion that it was not the lack of ideas but the lack of crisis that stopped the left to turn the tide against the rule of neoliberalism. But when the crisis hit, it turned out that the left had very little to say and, instead of decapitating neoliberalism, the Hydra raised its head in Greece, Spain and Portugal to swallow up the European welfare state.

Beheading this Hydra is indeed a Heraclean task. It requires new ideas, new methods, new techniques, new policies and new alliances to win public support for creative and liberating alternatives. And these alternatives cannot start with words like re-building

g, re-gaining or even re-vitalizing. The future does not start with re-animation.

Times have changed and the new labour movement cannot be the reincarnation of the old one. A movement with a great history, but also with a narrow male and macho tradition. To build a unifying movement in a complex and diverse world with a multifaceted civil society requires a plurality of initiatives identifying themselves autonomously with a common vision. Or in simpler language we need a rainbow coalition for a post-neoliberal globalisation. And this alternative or common agenda needs to be more specific than ‘another world is possible’ or ‘yes we can.’

Read more: Inequality And Post-neoliberal Globalisation - Social Europe Journal

European Banking Industry: the Netherlands-Depositing cash into your account is not free at major Dutch banks

Paying cash into an ING bank account is to cost €5 a time - after six free deposits - the AD reports on Wednesday.
The bank, which has nine million current account holders, says it is introducing the charges because processing cash is expensive. Children and students will not have to pay a fee.
The Telegraaf says Rabobank has already introduced charges for cash deposits.
- See more at:
Paying cash into an ING bank account is to cost €5 a time - after six free deposits - the AD reports on Wednesday.
The bank, which has nine million current account holders, says it is introducing the charges because processing cash is expensive. Children and students will not have to pay a fee.
The Telegraaf says Rabobank has already introduced charges for cash deposits.
- See more at:
Paying cash into an ING bank account is to cost €5 a time - after six free deposits - the AD reports on Wednesday.
The bank, which has nine million current account holders, says it is introducing the charges because processing cash is expensive. Children and students will not have to pay a fee.
The Telegraaf says Rabobank has already introduced charges for cash deposits.
- See more at:
Depositing cash into their own  bank accounts is costing Dutch Citizens approximately €5 ($6.82) at a time - after they have done six free deposits -

Dutch banks says it had to introduce these charges and fees because "processing cash is expensive". Children and students, they say will not have to pay a fee.

As unbelievable as this may sound it is true and worse is that the Dutch center right coalition Government of Rutte and Samson has not taken any action against this disguised form of "robbery",

Cash still has a "dominant role" when it comes to small-value transactions. It also remains essential form of payment for lower-income consumers who may not have access to alternative payment options, and it is widely used for retail sector payments.

"Small folks" have made businesses, including banks, who they are, and many companies can collapse as a result of the same "little people" united strength. It's really sad that in 2014 - people still constantly need to fight for what is theirs instead of sharing what we have, so we all can gain.


Environment: EU should support local solutions to Sub-Saharan droughts - by Roland Bunch.

 As the EU continues work and investment in the conflict-stricken Mali, supporting locally-evolved and adapted solutions can help solve one of the sources of violence, food insecurity, writes Roland Bunch.

The road north from Segou, Mali, is a breathtaking experience: few other drives show how fertile farmland gradually turns into forbidding desert. The well-kept highway shoots through the Sahel, offering increasingly dry vistas. Segou’s maize fields are soon replaced by millet, which is more resistant to drought, then by thorny scrub. By the time you cross the Niger River at Timbuktu, you have officially entered the Sahara Desert. Nothing but sand and rock remains.

Today, Mali mostly evokes war. Al Qaeda’s push for southern Mali, stopped by French forces, had at least one effect which its commanders surely did not expect: the outside world has become acutely interested in the western Sahel. Large flows of fresh aid money, including 5 billion from the European Commission, have been pledged.

But as I was driving up that road in late 2011, militant Islamists were the last things on my mind. A drought had hit the country earlier that year – and that wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Sahel used to experience droughts roughly every ten years.  There had been one in the mid 1970s, and then a terrible one in 1984-85 (that one prompted Bob Geldof to organise Live Aid). Other droughts came in 1994 and in 2003 – par for the course. But then things speeded up. Drought came in 2005 and 2009.  Just two years later, we were experiencing yet another.

Over the centuries, the peoples of the Sahel have evolved complex customs to help them survive these occasional catastrophes. Tradition dictates that people must share their food with the least fortunate. Strict rules govern the use of water. Transgressions are harshly punished.

Read: EU should support local solutions to Sub-Saharan droughts | EurActiv


Suriname: President Bouterse wants Cocaine conviction retrial in Netherlands and goes on "redemption" campaign at home

Desi and Dino : "shame and scandal in the family"
President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse, wants his sentence to 11 years in prison due to cocaine trade be scrapped, and has asked the Supreme Court for a retrial, the NRC reports.

Bouterse’s lawyer Inez Weski presented the Court with a request for a review on Tuesday against the 2000 conviction by the court in The Hague.

According to the lawyer, the key witness in the court case, Belgian Patrick van L. said that he gave a falsely incriminating statement to the court because he was under pressure from the Public Prosecution Service (OM). The witness said that Bouterse was involved in the transport of 474 kilos of cocaine, which was intercepted in the Stellendam port in 1997.

Weski states that the witness made this statement because the OM promised him several favors that were never made public. Van L. has retracted his earlier statements with the notary public.

In the request for a retrial, Bouterse’s lawyer also asks for “a thorough investigation into the established violations of the probe and the judicial process, not only so that the client (Bouterse) be done right by, but at the same time it be prevented that an investigative team no longer be able to operate beyond every rule of law in this blinding manner.”

Bouterse stood trial for a number of drug transporting claims, but was only convicted for the Stellendam case, and got 11 years. Then-lawyer in that case, Bram Moszkowicz asked for a retrial in 2002. According to him, the statement given by key witness Van L. was untrustworthy.

But problems with drugs are not only isolated to the President, his son Dino Bouterse, who had been appointed by his father as director of Suriname's anti-terrorism unit, was arrested last year in Panama by local authorities and turned over to U.S. agents and is on trial in New York on terrorism and drug charges

His arrest came just when his father, President Desi Bouterse, a former coup leader and himself convicted of drug offenses, hosted the annual UNASUR summit for political leaders of South American countries.

In the meantime President Desi Bouterse in a "look how clean and good I am campaign" has promised the Suriname legislature that his government will go to war against all proven cases of corruption. He instructed vice president Robert Ameerali to order the Government Accounting Agency (CLAD) to start immediate investigation in all government departments and semi-government enterprises to unearth malpractices and corruption.

"This is hypocrisy in overdrive", said a member of the Suriname opposition in the  legislature.


U.S. economy shrinks for the first time in three years

The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years as it buckled under the weight of a severe winter, but there are signs activity has since rebounded.

The Commerce Department on Thursday slashed its estimate of gross domestic product to show the economy shrank at a 1.0 percent annual rate.

The worst performance since the first quarter of 2011 reflected a far slower pace of inventory accumulation and a bigger than previously estimated trade deficit. Both are temporary factors which should fade and unleash a surge in growth this quarter.

“The race isn't over yet for the economy. We are still expecting a strong finish to the year. Inventory levels will rebuild, pushing GDP to nearly 4 percent in the second quarter,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York.

GDP was initially estimated to have grown at a 0.1 percent rate. It is not unusual for the government to make sharp revisions to GDP numbers as it does not have complete data when it makes its initial estimates.

The decline also reflected a plunge in business spending on nonresidential structures. The economy grew at a 2.6 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

Read more: U.S. economy shrinks in first quarter amid severe weather -

US Foreign Policy and Europe: What Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech Means for Europe - by Judy Dempsey

One of the most important aspects of Obama’s speech was the retreat from hard power. As he told the class of 2014, “you are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.” No wonder the young men and women applauded. 

Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be underestimated. Besides lasting over thirteen years and costing many thousands of casualties, these wars showed how the use of such hard power failed to achieve the desired outcome.

Iraq is mired in sectarianism, corruption, and insecurity. Those struggling for human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan dread the day when the bulk of U.S. troops leave the country later this year. There are big question marks over the wisdom of the 2011 NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya given the turmoil in the country today. Above all—and this is very important for the Europeans—America’s war on terror clashed with America’s values.

Obama is now trying to repair the damage wreaked by the war on terror.

Since 9/11, successive U.S. administrations have run roughshod over human rights. Torture, targeted killings, and renditions were condoned. Detainees were not, and are still not, tried before the courts but instead are put before military tribunals—if their cases are processed at all. To this day, despite so many pleadings by human rights organizations and lawyers, those detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay are being force-fed.

Obama was right to say that he intended to close the Guantánamo detention camp. But he promised that when he was first elected president in 2008. In previous speeches, Obama has admitted that the war on terror, and especially Guantánamo, damaged America’s standing in the world. Indeed, the war on terror downgraded values, dignity, and basic decency to such a degree that many countries, particularly in the Middle East, came to despise the United States, which had so long espoused the values of freedom and tolerance.

European governments are not blameless either.

For far too long, most European leaders were relieved to have America do their dirty work. Yes, they condemned the existence of Guantánamo Bay, its appalling practices, and the disregard of the rule of law.

They also called for the camp to be closed. But how many European governments then helped Obama shut it down when he asked his allies to take some of the detainees? A mere handful.

Europeans were also relieved when, in 2011, U.S. special forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In short, for all the criticism of Obama’s policies, more often than not Europeans were prepared to support them.

Yet when Obama decided not to intervene in Syria, despite the many thousands of civilian deaths there, European governments went along with that too. They were neither politically nor militarily prepared to act without the United States. With few exceptions, European leaders have also been mute over how the values that defined the transatlantic relationship have become eroded.

Of course, the United States is not going to abandon hard power or its leadership in the world.

Yet behind these words is a retreat to a special kind of soft power. Obama wants to establish new counterterrorism partnership fund designed to train and “facilitate partner countries on the front lines.” He intends to work with European allies “to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and [support] French operations in Mali.” There was very little mention of the role of NATO.

Obama also justified Washington’s soft power policy toward Ukraine, saying U.S. sanctions on Russia proved that such kind of pressure was effective. But for all that, it is hard to see Russian President Vladimir Putin and authoritarian regimes in Central Asia and elsewhere shaking in their boots over Obama’s doctrine.
European leaders should not feel vindicated by Obama’s speech.

They have been wobbly over Russia and inconsistent over defending their values. If anything, they should realize that the United States is no longer going to do the running for the Europeans. Since that is the case, what about the Europeans replying to Obama with their own foreign and security policy doctrine?

Read more: What Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech Means for Europe - Carnegie Europe


Russia: Putin Builds New Union on Ashes of former Soviet Empire

Vladimir Putin
It will not exactly mean going back to the U.S.S.R., but Vladimir Putin is laying the foundations of a huge trading bloc which opponents see as an attempt to recreate at least part of the lost Soviet empire.

The Russian president and the leaders of two other former Soviet republics, Belarus and Kazakhstan, will sign a treaty on Thursday that brings to life his dream of uniting like-minded countries in a Eurasian Economic Union.

With a market of more than 170 million people, the customs and trading bloc is intended by Putin to challenge the economic might of the European Union, the U.S. and China.

That looks like a distant dream but, despite the former KGB spy's denials, critics see the signing ceremony in the Kazakh capital of Astana as a part of a much bigger plan.

"Mr. Putin has made no secret, and he said it publicly on more than one occasion over the years, that the demise of the Soviet Union was a terrific mistake," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told U.S. public broadcaster PBS. "Now, I think that is a premise that he truly believes and I think that is where he starts."

Opponents see Russia's reclaiming of Crimea from Ukraine in March — which deepened the worst standoff with the West since the end of the Cold War — as another part of an effort to reassert Russian control of former Soviet territory.

Putin dismisses such talk as a misconception and denies the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union has anything to with reviving the Soviet empire.

"Our ambition is to integrate within the post-Soviet space but not because we want to restore the Soviet Union or an empire, because we would like to use the competitive advantages of these states that are now independent," Putin told journalists in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

Read more: Putin Builds New Union on Ashes of Soviet Empire | News | The Moscow Times