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4/30/14

Wealth Distribution EU: Inequality in the EU: high, but declining - by M. Dauderstadt and C. Keltek

Europe’s high inequality, systematically underestimated by the EU, has been falling for many years thanks to catch-up growth in the poorer countries and despite often increasing inequality within member states. 
Crisis and austerity have curbed this development, however.
After inequality rose again during the great recession of 2009 and the subsequent brief recovery things are now going sideways in the context of generally weak growth

For the complete report click here: 10672.pdf

Automobile Industry: General Moters: U.S. government says it lost $11.2 billion on GM bailout

The U.S. government lost $11.2 billion on its bailout of General Motors Co, more than the $10.3 billion the Treasury Department estimated when it sold its remaining GM shares in December, according to a government report released on Wednesday 30 March.

The $11.2 billion loss includes a write-off in March of the government's remaining $826 million investment in "old" GM, the quarterly report by a Treasury watchdog said.
The U.S. government spent about $50 billion to bail out GM. As a result of the company's 2009 bankruptcy, the government's investment was converted to a 61 percent equity stake in the Detroit-based automaker, plus preferred shares and a loan.
Treasury whittled down its GM stake through a series of stock sales starting in November 2010, with the remaining shares sold on Dec. 9, 2013.
At the time of the December sale, Treasury put the total loss at $10.3 billion but said it did not expect any significant proceeds from its remaining $826 million investment in "old" GM, the report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said.

Read more: U.S. government says it lost $11.2 billion on GM bailout -Reuters

American justice is blind, but likes the sound of money - by Matt Taibbi

Reports that Credit Suisse (CS) and BNP Paribas  (BNPQY) may be hit with criminal charges stunned Wall Street Wednesday as it potentially marks a dramatic shift in how Federal prosecutors look at the financial services industry.

Since the 2008 crisis and up to and including JPMorgan's (JPM) settlement for enabling Bernie Madoff earlier this year, U.S. regulators have typically sought to settle cases of alleged misdeeds rather than pursue criminal charges. Typically, the big banks pay a fine without having to admit to any wrongdoing and no senior executives have suffered anything more than, perhaps, deferred bonuses.

In his latest book, The Divide, Matt Taibbi set out to examine why Wall Street has been largely immune from prosecution since the 2008 crisis; that's in contrast to the S&L crisis of the 1980s -- when over 800 bankers went to jail -- and the accounting scandals of the early 2000s, when high profile CEOs like Enron's Jeffrey Skilling, WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers, Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski and Adelphia's John Rigas went to jail for various crimes.

"After 2008 - certainly there were no less ethical misdeeds -- but we've seen nothing, not even symbolic prosecutions," Taibbi says. "It's qualitatively different."

Read more: American justice is blind, but likes the sound of money: Matt Taibbi | Daily Ticker - Yahoo Finance

Ukraine crisis: EU names 15 individuals targeted by latest sanctions - by Laura Smith-Spark and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

The European Union has imposed sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine on another 15 people, bringing the total number targeted to 48.

The EU said the people are collectively responsible for actions that "undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

The targets include Dmitry Kozak, Russia's deputy prime minister; Russian military chief Valery Gerasimov; and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, including Denis Pushilin, the self-declared leader of the "Donetsk People's Republic."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was alarmed by the worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine, and she called on Russia to take "concrete steps" in support of an international deal signed this month aimed at easing tensions.

Read more: Ukraine crisis: EU names 15 individuals targeted by latest sanctions - CNN.com

US Fossil Fuel Policy: Catastrophe, Reform or Revolution? - by Andrew Levine


Catastrophes loom on the horizon: an ecological catastrophe caused by our reliance on fossil fuels; a nuclear catastrophe, caused by our reliance on nuclear power; and another kind of nuclear catastrophe caused by our government’s failure to pursue nuclear disarmament.

It is unclear whether the first can still be stopped or even reversed; what is clear is that the danger gets worse as time goes by.  What has taken many decades to develop is not easily undone, and the longer the task is put off, the harder it becomes. Thresholds have been crossed; more lie ahead.  At this point, doing little or nothing only makes the problem worse — fast.

But taking bold action would require bold leadership, and there is little of that these days in Washington, DC.
The impending nuclear catastrophes can be blocked at any time.  But, here too, our leaders are hardly up to the task.

The good news is that none of these catastrophes are likely to do us in at one fell swoop; the bad news is that if our politics is ever to change enough to meet the challenges we face, it will be because ever more devastating foretastes of greater catastrophes to come increase in number and severity.

This will mean that the American government would have to take on the energy industry and the military-industrial complex.  This is impossible so long as it remains in the pockets of both.
Plutocrats are calling the shots; in their own (unenlightened) interests, not ours.

This is why the old slogan – “the only solution, revolution” – has become than ever apt.  But ours is not a revolutionary age.

It is not even an age in which far-reaching but non-revolutionary change — change for the better — is on the agenda.   In the Bush-Obama era, normal politics has become even more futile than it used to be.

Meanwhile, as catastrophes threaten, the body politic has grown chronically ill; basic rights and liberties are under assault, and the temptations of empire undo what is most estimable in our political culture.   For security’s sake, much that was worth retaining has been undone; and we are still more and more at risk.
And it could get worse.   Our military juggernaut and the institutions that comprise our national security state are capable of wreaking havoc throughout the world to an extent that is without precedent in human history.

The danger is that this is what will happen as American economic, political and moral dominance wanes.  Wounded tigers on the loose lash out.

Decline has been in the works for years, but the Bush-Obama wars have accelerated the pace.  It has gotten to the point that, in the current rift with Russia over Ukraine, even Israel, dependent as it is on American sufferance, feels free to act in its own interests, not America’s, in the United Nations.

Britain and France survived the loss of their empires.  We can too; a soft landing is possible.
Indeed, if Obama really wanted to be, as he says, “on the right side of history,” it would be his highest priority.  His highest priority instead is serving his corporate masters.

Inequality is on the rise too; this is a chronic malady that betokens yet another catastrophe.
What the harm is in increasing inequality is not as immediately obvious as it is in the other cases, and neither is it as clear how the situation could be rectified if there were the political will.   This impending catastrophe therefore stands apart from the others.

Nevertheless, there is a widespread feeling that something is wrong, and that the problem is becoming worse.   It was this sensibility that brought the Occupy movements into being.
By now, only a remnant is left; soft repression and the meretricious pull of the 2012 election did Occupy in.  Perhaps this was inevitable.  Being leaderless and non-ideological, there was no clear next step.  Occupy could only wither away.

But it served a purpose.  It caused the idea behind the slogan, “we are the ninety-nine percent,” to take root.
Even Barack Obama is trying to horn in.  Needless to say, his efforts are just words, and his proposals are insipid.  He is going through the motions only in order to advance Democrats’ prospects in the 2014 elections.   No doubt too, he would like to depoliticize egalitarian aspirations.

Would he also like to diminish inequality?   No doubt, he would; but only if it could be done in ways that the pillars of American capitalism would not find threatening.  Good luck with that!

The problem the Occupy movements brought to public awareness was not just that the poor are getting poorer or that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing.   It is that the one percent – actually, the very top stratum of the one percent – is enriching itself egregiously in ways that threaten what remains of our rights and liberties and of government of, by and for the people.

In other words, the danger was – and remains — oligarchy.  With a political class bought and paid for by the hyper-rich, the danger is acute.  Our would-be oligarchs have lots of “free speech” to spend, and they are not shy about spreading it around.

The Occupy movement gave expression to political aspirations and to a demand for justice that is implicitly revolutionary.  But, at this point in history, it is not clear what a genuinely revolutionary politics, adequate to the tasks at hand, would involve.  It is urgent, though, that we find out.

Read more at Counter Punch

Cellular Technology: The Word Exchange (or when smartphones attack)

The effects of smartphone use on everyday life - parenting, friendship, walking, driving, wayfinding - are both scientifically measurable and anecdotally visible. Many people will ruefully acknowledge that they've forgotten how to read a map, or how to wait in line without checking Twitter. The smartphone's sudden omnipresence makes it a great device for science fiction. What, writers have begun to ask, will our phones offer to do for us next? And how will we react?

Alena Graedon's dazzling but unsatisfying debut novel The Word Exchange sketches a smartphone hater's worst nightmare. It offers a snappy, noir-inflected vision of a future New York suffering from an epidemic of aphasia brought on by super-smartphones. Against the spreading sickness, an employee of one of the last surviving print dictionaries struggles to find her missing father and to uncover the shadowy evildoers whose profit-grabbing has resulted in this dangerous "word flu."

The Meme - the smartphone that seems to have annexed all of the market share in this version of New York - can dispense medicine, hail you a cab, pay your taxes, scan you through the turnstile in the subway, manage traffic, and call 911 when you're in trouble. In social situations, the device advises you what to say next and when to shut up, stays quiet if it senses somebody in a group is hostile to its presence, or saucily beams your contact information into an attractive stranger's Meme.

 If you're willing to implant a microchip in your head, the Meme can offer a new level of service. The next-generation Nautilus, a biotech device that partners with the user's DNA, promises even more.

Read more: The Word Exchange (or when smartphones attack) | Stuff.co.nz

4/29/14

Ukraine: Pro-Russian Militants Seize More Offices in Eastern Ukraine- by A, Smale, A. Roth, and M Macfaquhar

Pro-Russia militants seized more state offices in Ukraine’s troubled east on Tuesday, in apparent defiance of the latest Western sanctions announced against them and their presumed backers in the Kremlin, which also showed no sign of wilting in its worst confrontation with the West in decades.

Speaking to reporters in Belarus, President Vladimir V. Putin said he had vetoed suggestions within the Kremlin that Russia respond in kind to the latest sanctions. “The government has already proposed some steps in response, but I consider that there is no need for this,” Mr. Putin told reporters, according to the Interfax news agency. But if it continues, he said, Moscow will have to think about who works and how they work in key sectors of Russia’s economy, including energy.

Mr. Putin was in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to attend the summit of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council — the economic bloc of former Soviet republics he started in order to try to counterbalance the draw of the European Union. Its viability without Ukraine has been called into question.

rEAD MORE: Pro-Russian Militants Seize More Offices in Eastern Ukraine - NYTimes.com

4/28/14

Ukraine: US failing to push economic sanctions against Russia through EU allies

The new round of sanctions against Russia, which the EU and the US plan to unveil Monday, will not target the Russian economy. Washington said it won’t use economic sanctions without the EU also signing up to them.

G7 members agreed Friday to roll out a third round of anti-Russian sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis. But those would be an extension of the previous two rounds of sanctions, which targeted 33 individuals in Russia and Ukraine and a Russian bank, which the Western government deemed responsible for the crisis in Ukraine or close enough to President Vladimir Putin to have leverage on him.

"What we will hear about in the coming days, what we will agree ... is an expansion of existing sanctions, measures against individuals or entities in Russia," UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News on Sunday.

The new round will slap travel bans and asset freezes on 15 more people, according to numerous insider reports. But it’s unlikely that they would have any greater effect on Russian policies than the sanctions already in effect. If anything, so far sanctions against the officials have only resulted in mocking calls from Russian MPs, politicians and ordinary citizens to add their names on the blacklists.

Read more: US failing to push economic sanctions against Russia through EU allies — RT News

4/27/14

EU Stock Markets: Investor Activism in Europe Attracts U.S. Advisers - by Shayndi Raici

U.S. law firms, crisis-communication shops and Wall Street banks are betting that American-style investor activism is about to spread into Europe.

A variety of U.S. advisory firms are opening investor-activism practices in London to capitalize on what they expect will be the growth of public campaigns targeting European companies.

Many observers think Europe is ripe for U.S.-style activism, where investors often engage in public proxy battles to see their aims met. In Europe, by contrast, with its more shareholder-friendly laws, activists rarely take their gripes public, but rather try to work privately with management to achieve their goals. 

Like in the U.S., European companies have been hoarding cash, making them juicy targets for activists that often push cash-rich companies to pay dividends or buy back shares.

Read more: Investor Activism in Europe Attracts U.S. Advisers - WSJ.com

Norway Oil Fund Reassessing Risk on Significant Russian Holdings - by Mikael Holter and Saleha Mohsin

Norway’s $850 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, is reviewing risk in Russia, where it has “significant” holdings, Chief Executive Officer Yngve Slyngstad said.

“We observe that there’s a different risk profile,” Slyngstad told reporters in Oslo yesterday, after testifying to lawmakers on the fund’s investment strategy. “We are at any given time also considering conditions that have dimensions of geopolitics and geopolitical risk.”

Russia unexpectedly raised interest rates yesterday as policy makers in Moscow struggle to stop capital flowing out of the country amid western condemnation of a standoff with Ukraine. The rate rise followed a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s, which cut Russia’s credit rating one step to BBB-, one level above junk. S&P cited the tense situation between Russia and Ukraine, which it said could spur significant outflows and “undermine already weakening growth prospects.”

The benchmark Russian Micex index has slid 15 percent this year, while the Ruble is the worst performing currency among developing nations this year after the Argentinian peso.

Norway’s wealth fund held 22 billion kroner ($3.7 billion) in Russian stocks at the end of last year and 25 billion kroner in the country’s corporate and government bonds, according to its annual report.

Read more: Norway Oil Fund Reassessing Risk on Significant Russian Holdings - Bloomberg

Germany Condemns Parading of Military Observers

Germany's foreign minister has condemned as "revolting" the appearance under armed guard of eight European military observers being held prisoner by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier says the appearance of the observers in front of reporters in the eastern city of Slovyansk was "a breach of all the rules" and violated the men's dignity.

Steinmeier's statement Sunday came as the pro-Russia insurgents released one of the prisoners to representatives of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Steinmeier called on Russia to pressure the separatists into releasing all of the prisoners "as soon as possible."

Read more: Germany Condemns Parading of Military Observers - ABC News

Ukraine crisis: pro-Russian separatists free 1 observer

One of the eight European observers being detained by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine city of Slovyansk on Sunday was escorted to an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) vehicle and driven away.

A Reuters reporter outside the city administration building in Slaviansk said the man came out, escorted by three unarmed men, got into a white OSCE jeep and drove off. The group declined to answer reporters' questions.

Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists seized control of the offices of regional state television in Donetsk and said they would take it off air and broadcast a Kremlin-backed Russian channel instead.
Four separatists in masks, with truncheons and shields, stood at the entrance to the building controlling access, while more separatists in camouflage fatigues went inside.

More than a dozen police officers were standing a short distance away but were not trying to resist the separatists. One police lieutenant, who was sitting in a police vehicle nearby, said it would have been pointless to intervene.

Other media reports said the separatists are demanding that Russian state channels be put back on the air. The Kyiv government last month blocked the broadcasts of the Russian channels, labelling them as propaganda tools
for the Kremlin.

Read more: Ukraine crisis: pro-Russian separatists free 1 observer - World - CBC News

4/26/14

A British view of Europe: " Crumbling Europe is in dire need of change "

The EU is a malfunctioning construct for today’s world – and even more so for tomorrow’s. It needs either to undergo fundamental reform or to break up.

It was conceived in a world of large blocs, dominated by the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and before globalisation and the rise of the emerging markets. Its agenda of harmonisation and integration inevitably leads to excessive regulation and the smothering of competition.

This is largely why, in contrast to the prevailing view that the EU has been an economic success, its economic performance has in fact been relatively poor.

If nothing changes, the EU’s share of world GDP is set to fall sharply and, with it, Europe’s influence in the world. Meanwhile, the EU is becoming more unpopular; most people do not want to press on to a full political union; and increasing numbers of its citizens want to leave the EU altogether. European integration is the great issue of our day.

Note EU-Digest: Whatever the faults of Europe  -  the EU and the euro is the best we have to make any impact on the world stage.

Read more: Crumbling Europe is in dire need of change - Telegraph

Internet: U.S. Plan for Internet Fast Lanes Contrasts With European Rules - by Nark Scott

The battle over whether Internet content should be treated equally is heating up.

A proposal in the United States that would allow Internet providers to charge companies for more powerful transmission of web traffic stands in contrast with new rules in Europe.

Late on Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission said it would propose new rules that would allow American Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge companies like Google and Disney for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.

The proposals, which will be released for public comment on May 15, are unlike new rules in Europe that outlaw attempts by telecommunications or cellphone carriers to charge for improved access to their data and mobile networks.

The decisions put American and European policy makers on different sides of the debate about the future of so-called net neutrality — the idea that telecommunications companies and other Internet service providers cannot discriminate between different services that run on their data networks. Last month, European lawmakers approved new, tougher rules aimed at guaranteeing equal access to the Internet.

Read more: U.S. Plan for Internet Fast Lanes Contrasts With European Rules - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

4/25/14

Ukraine Conflict: : 'If Ukraine was Canada, US troops would be on North America border' - Tony Goslin

Press TV has conducted an interview with Tony Gosling, investigative journalist from London, to further discuss the possibility of war in Ukraine. 

To view the interview click here: PressTV - 'If Ukraine was Canada, US troops would be on North America border'

Ukraine: Most Germans Don't Want Merkel To Punish Russia Further - by Christopher Alessi and Monica Raymunt

Angela Merkel
In Berlin's immaculate Treptow Park, a towering statue of a Soviet soldier holding a German child on his arm and stamping on a Nazi swastika reminds Germans of the debt they owe Russians.

Willie Kern, a pensioner visiting the poignant memorial to the 80,000 Red Army soldiers killed in the battle of Berlin in 1945, looks at the well-tended gardens there and says he views Russian President Vladimir Putin as a dictator.

Yet Germany should hold back in punishing Russia too harshly for its annexation of Crimea and for the increasingly violent crisis in eastern Ukraine, he says.

"The aggression against Russia always comes from the West, Germany should exercise restraint," said Kern, adding Germany's place is between the United States and Russia.

"Why do we always have to establish democracy throughout the world? The citizens are supposed to decide," he said.

Despite tough rhetoric from Chancellor Angela Merkel and the threat of economic sanctions on Russia beyond the visa bans and asset freezes already in effect, Kern's cautious views are reflected in the wider population.

While almost half of Germans want Berlin to act as a bridge between the West and Russia, those in former Communist eastern parts are more skeptical about further sanctions, polls show.

With their misgivings articulated by left-wing politicians, including Gregor Gysi, a leading member of the Left party, who has accused Merkel of supporting "fascists" in Ukraine's government, some still harbor warmth towards Russia.

Add strong business ties and a growing disillusionment with the United States since the snooping scandal exposed by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, and the result is a deep ambivalence among voters over Berlin's response.

Some 49 percent of Germans want Berlin to be a mediator between NATO and the EU and Russia, a poll by Infratest dimap showed this month. Only 45 percent think Germany should position itself firmly in the western alliance.

Note EU-Digest: let us not forget Russia is part of Europe also and whatever the US's interests might be in this case, they can't be the only ones calling the shots. 


Read more: Most Germans Don't Want Merkel To Punish Russia Further - Business Insider

The Netherlands: Amsterdam: how to celebrate King's Day - by Rodney Bolt

King Willem Alexanderthe
King's Day celebrations make the end of April a fun and lively time to be in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. Our Amsterdam expert Rodney Bolt, has tips on where to go to enjoy the day.

Queen’s Day, on April 30, is the Dutch monarch's official birthday (it was the actual birthday of Queen Beatrix's mother, Queen Juliana, but when Bea ascended the date was kept the same).

However, Beatrix officially handed over the throne to her son Willem-Alexander last year, so the event is now known as King's Day. The king's birthday is April 27, but because celebrations do not traditionally take place on a Sunday, the festivities in the Netherlands will this year happen on Saturday April 26.

The day is celebrated with street parties all over the country, for example most cafes and many restaurants will set up on the pavement outside their doors. It is also celebrated with something quintessentially Dutch - a nationwide flea market.

People empty their attics and set up stalls on the street, selling anything you can imagine. Or they provide services (cakes and drinks, massage, make-up - anything they can turn their hand to). Children especially put on side-shows or have a go at busking.

Prices are low, and some people donate their earnings to a favourite charity. More recently, however, things have become increasingly commercial with real traders and fast-food vendors joining in.

Read more: Amsterdam: how to celebrate King's Day - Telegraph

Ukraine: France to send fighter planes for NATO Baltics patrols

France is sending four fighter jets to help NATO’s air patrols over the Baltics, General Pierre de Villiers, France’s chief of defense staff said on a visit to Washington.

The four jets, either the Mirage 2000 or the Rafale, will be sent to Malbrok in eastern Poland on April 28 on a double mission to train the Polish air force and to be on standby for air patrols over the Baltic States under NATO command.

“They will participate in the air policing mission over the Baltic states from Poland,” the general told reporters Wednesday.

But he added that French political leaders had not ordered further steps to support alliance members.
“For the moment, the guidance is very clear, we do not go beyond that,” he said.

The United States announced Tuesday it is deploying 600 airborne troops on exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as a show of solidarity with NATO members that border Russia and have been worried by the escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Read more: France to send fighter planes for NATO Baltics patrols — RT News

4/24/14

European Airline Industry: Brazil Azul Orders Airbus Jets To Start US Flights

Brazil's third-biggest airline Azul will add 11 wide-body aircraft from Airbus to start service to the United States.
Azul Linhas Aereas said it would receive six Airbus A330-200s in early 2015, when the airline will begin flying overseas, and five Airbus A350-900s starting in early 2017.

Together the planes are worth close to USD$2 billion at list prices, executives said at a news conference near Azul's hub in Campinas, outside Sao Paulo. The airline has secured leasing deals from industry financier ILFC for eight of the planes. It is still negotiating the lease or purchase of three A330s.

The selection of Airbus is another blow to Boeing in Latin America's biggest market. Boeing also lost out on a coveted Brazilian fighter jet contract in December.

The expansion will transform Azul, which is controlled by JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman, from a niche regional carrier into an international player directly challenging heavyweight LATAM Airlines Group, which controls Brazil's number one carrier, TAM.

Read more: Azul Orders Airbus Jets To Start US Flights

European Insurance Industry: Solvency II technical draft too harsh, firms claim - by Hugo Coelho

Insurance industry representatives have called on the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (Eiopa) to soften draft Solvency II technical specifications, arguing that some of the specifications are not aligned with parts of the Solvency II legislation and impose harsher requirements than politicians intended.

An updated draft of the technical specifications, circulated in March for consultation, is inconsistent with the Solvency II delegated acts in relation to ring-fencing requirements and the calculation of the volatility adjustment, insurers say.

The technical specifications provide the details that insurers will use both to calculate their regulatory capital for forthcoming Eiopa stress tests and to complete reporting exercises during the preparatory period for Solvency II, which comes into force in 2016. They are subordinate to the delegated acts – the second layer of Solvency II legislation now being finalised by the European Commission.

Read more: Solvency II technical draft too harsh, firms claim - Risk.net

Ukraine: Russia plans military exercises as tensions mount in Ukraine - by John Reed, Kathrin Hille, Roman Olearchyk

Russia has ordered new large-scale military exercises on the border of Ukraine on Thursday after Kiev sent its army to flush out armed pro-Russia rebels in the east of the country, raising tensions between the two countries to new heights.

A war of words between Moscow and Kiev intensified as Vladimir Putin, Russian president, warned Ukraine there would be “consequences” for using its army “against its own people”. But Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, accused Russia of “co-ordinating and supporting terrorist killers” inside his country.

Concerns were mounting in Kiev and internationally that Russia might use Ukraine’s military action as a pretext for an invasion by troops it has massed on the border – and that the military exercises might be a cover for preparations.

The agreement reached between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US in Geneva last week aimed at reducing the tensions appeared to be in tatters.
Read more: Russia plans military exercises as tensions mount in Ukraine - FT.com

US Education: University education in America leaves most graduating students heavily in debt - by Max Keiser

The Keiser Report is a no holds barred look at the shocking scandals behind the global financial headlines.

From the collusion between Wall Street and Capitol Hill to the latest banking crime wave, from bogus government economic statistics to rigged stock markets, nothing escapes the eye of Max Keiser, a former stockbroker, inventor of the virtual specialist technology and co-founder of the Hollywood Stock Exchange.

With the help of Keiser's co-host, Stacy Herbert, and guests from around the world, Keiser Report tells you what is really going on in the global economy.

For the latest episode of the Keiser report on the cost of a US University education click here 

Some European countries, like the Netherlands, are also  trying to copy this US system whereby students take out loans to finance the cost of their education. As the Keiser report explains this is a recipe for disaster.

Get more more information about the Keiser Reports

European Elections: Upstart Portuguese party wants more Europe

Rui Tavares sits at a small podium as he faces the audience in the crowded library in Lisbon. He tells them about "Ulysses". But the thin man with the round glasses is no literary critic, and he's not here to talk about Homer or James Joyce. He's talking about the future of Europe.

"Ulysses" is the name the 41-year-old has given to an ambitious economic policy project with which aims to redefine the roles of southern European countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain in the EU.

"Above all, we want to achieve one thing. We no longer want the countries in the south of Europe to be called PIGS."

Tavares says solving the sovereign debt crisis must no longer be a national task. Instead, the crisis has to be solved by Europe as a whole.

He wants the EU to set up its own,independent financial institution similar to the International Monetary Fund and controlled by the European Parliament. The problems in the south of Europe could be solved with an economic stimulus package, like the Marshall plan set up after World War Two, Tavares says.

He's not short of bigideas for Europe. Tavares has been an independent member of the European Parliament since 2009. Almost three years ago, he decided to join the group of the Greens/EFA.. Tavares is again contesting a seat in the upcoming European elections in late May, with the party he has founded in Portugal
.
"The LIVRE party is based on four pillars: freedom, being leftist in the classic sense - that means equality and social justice - environmental protection and Europe," the party founder explains.

Read more Upstart Portuguese party wants more Europe | Europe | DW.DE | 24.04.2014

4/23/14

Turkey: Police raid suspected ISIS militants in Istanbul, five wounded

Turkish special forces raided buildings in Istanbul used by suspected members of an Islamist militant group active in neighbouring Syria and Iraq late on Monday, leaving three policemen and two suspects wounded, police said.

The five - including a man and a woman thought to belong to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) - were hit after people in the buildings opened fire on security forces, police added.

ISIS is among fragmented Islamist groups fighting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in a three-year conflict. It is has also battled Iraq's government in that country's western Anbar province.

Ankara has repeatedly denied it is arming rebels inside Syria, but its highly publicised opposition to Assad has raised fears that Turkey may have become a safe haven for Islamist militants battling against Damascus.
If ISIS's involvement is confirmed, it would be the first clash with the group inside a Turkish city.

The raid in Istanbul's residential Umraniye neighbourhood came a week after two members of the security forces were killed in the southern Turkish province of Nigde when suspected members of ISIS opened fire from a truck, and just days before Turkey holds high stakes municipal polls.

Read more: Police raid suspected militants in Istanbul, five wounded | News , Middle East | THE DAILY STAR

Terrorism: France to stop citizens joining Syria war - EU member state Governments and EU parliament must also act

ISIS in Syria and Iraq
Aljazeera reported that France has unveiled steps to stop its citizens from joining the Syrian civil war and prevent young French Muslims from posing a threat to their home country.

France, which has been a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, estimates the number of its nationals directly involved in the Syrian conflict is about 500, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a radio interview.

President Francois Hollande has prioritized the crackdown on groups and individuals planning domestic attacks since a Toulouse-based al Qaeda-inspired gunman, Mohamed Merah, shot dead seven people in March 2012.

But with the Syrian conflict entering its fourth year, the government has increasingly come under fire for failing to stop its nationals - some of whom are as young as 15 - from heading to Syria.

"France will take all measures to dissuade, prevent and punish those who are tempted to fight where they have no reason to be," Hollande told reporters on Tuesday.

The Dutch Government also reported recently that two Dutch Muslim nationals, who are part of a group of at least 150 other Dutch citizens, who have joined radical Muslim groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda and others  in Syria,  blew themselves up in suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq.

As ISIS’s name suggests, the interests of the group and its current leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi go beyond Syria. Its members believe that the world's Muslims should live under one Islamic state ruled by sharia law. 

War and instability in Syria and Iraq have given it an opportunity to attempt to build a proto-state in the adjacent Sunni-majority areas of these two countries, before spreading further. 

Its 7,000 or so fighters in Syria have expended as much energy on consolidating the group’s rule in towns and cities behind rebel lines as fighting the regime. ISIS is willing to use ruthless tactics to assert its authority. 

Once in control of an area it has told women to cover up and kidnapped journalists, aid workers and Syrian activists. Beheadings and suicide bombings are now a regular feature of ISIS There are also many other EU Muslim citizen, including Germany and Britain, who have voluntarily joined radical Muslim groups like ISIS in  the Syrian conflict.

Many people fear that "rebel fighters" returning home to Europe will have become so radicalized that they could become a danger to their local societies.

There seems to be an urgent need for EU member state Governments and the EU Parliament to legislate laws which forbid and punish anyEuropean citizen for joining external conflicts or radical fighting Units.

EU-Digest

4/22/14

The Netherlands:- Environment: Most of us know we should live in a sustainable way. But it doesn't happen because we don't feel involved.

Most of us know we should live in a more environmentally sustainable way. But it does not happen because we do not really feel involved.

How can policymakers change the way people think? This is what the InContext project, funded by the EU, hopes to answer. Leading European research institutions in the fields of transition, behaviour and sustainable development are trying to create a manual for change.  

This manual should ultimately be developed into a so-called ‘Transition Theory’ that is, as yet, unproven. And this theory, in its turn, should make it possible to change people’s mindset. For example, towards living in a more environmental sustainable way.

A number of pilot projects have been initiated in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The idea was to put this theory to the test, to refine it and hopefully to prove it right. For example, in the Dutch city of Rotterdam a community centre in the neighbourhood of Carnisse was facing cutbacks. It was due to be closed down in January 2012.  Drift, the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, which is a project partner, took it upon itself to help the people of Carnisse save it.

Project leader Julia Whittmayer, researcher and consultant, and other colleagues of Drift invited residents to come up with ideas, and to present them in brain storming sessions. This resulted in a plan of action. This also gave people an opportunity to decide themselves how they could help.  

It was expected that this process would provide inspiring examples from amongst the residents of Carnisse to motivate others to spring into action. Thus they would ultimately make a ‘bigger noise’ and save the community center. But to Whittmayer’s dismay, many preferred “to be told what to do!” instead.

It might be true that inspiring examples can help change. But it is just as true that some people rather want to be told what to do, according to behavioural psychologist Max Mulder, who is a market researcher at the Dutch consultancy called Beautiful Lives, based in Hilversum.

Read more: Most of us know we should live in a sustainable way. But it doesn't happen because we don't feel involved.

France: Revolutionary analysis questions basic distribution of wealth - by Paul Sweeney

Few economists inspire popular movements, but Thomas Piketty has. “We are the 99 per cent”, the slogan of the Occupy Movement, was based on his in-depth analysis with Emmanuel Saez of income distribution and inequality in the US in 2003. 

The Frenchman’s new book Capital in the 21st Century is already causing a stir. Some reviewers have called it the economic book of the year, others of the decade.

Piketty’s ground-breaking work on the historical evolution of income distribution is impressive, but he covers many other areas, including the erosion of meritocracy by inherited wealth, public debt, education, health and taxation. He also proposes challenging ideas for funding the social state in the 21st century. 

Piketty’s central point is that when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of economic growth, the economy automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities which undermine the meritocratic values on which democracy is based.

Unless capital owners consume all of the return on their capital, more will remain for them and they get richer, effortlessly. 

In the late 19th century, the amount of private wealth was a staggering six or seven years of national income.
Two world wars and the Depression wiped out much of this wealth and, since the second World War, the emergence of welfare states, nationalisation of monopolies, labour-friendly governments and high income and inheritance taxes greatly reduced accumulated capital. 

In the public mind, that trend towards equality seemed to be normal, but Piketty shows it was an exceptional period, which will not be repeated on current trends.

It is already over in the US, where average real incomes have hardly risen since the 1970s, despite high productivity. The labour share of national income has been declining in most countries for over 30 years.

This optimistic public misperception was shaped by the work of Nobel economist Simon Kuznets, who argued that, as economies developed, inequality appeared to fall and then stabilised. The labour share of national income seemed to stabilise at about 75 per cent. The distributional issue seemed to be settled and economists ignored it and most still do. 

However, Kuznets only examined a short period of time (1914-1948) and only the US. It was the wars, the Depression and state “interference” that reduced the inequality, rather than any self-correcting market mechanism, he argues.

In Capital ’s 650 pages of tightly argued data-based economics, Piketty and others have compiled their argument from data stretching back to the 1700s. 

Note EU-Digest:  Capital in the 21st Century is a must read book for every economist and Government  Ministers of Finance and Economic affairs. Also people who have no educational economic background can read it because of its simple and very clear definitions as to the workings of economics.

Read more: Revolutionary analysis questions basic distribution of wealth - Economic News | Ireland & World Economy Headlines |The Irish Times - Fri, Mar 28, 2014

Slovenia - Italy: 4.4 earthquake in Slovenia and Italy, near nuclear plant

A 4.4-magnitude earthquake has struck Slovenia southwest of the country’s capital, Ljubljana, at a depth of 12.4 kilometers, says USGS.

According to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center, the magnitude of the quake was measured at 4.5, with a depth of 2 kilometers.

The earthquake took place about 200 kilometers from a nuclear power plant at Krško, a town in eastern Slovenia. The plant is co-owned by Slovenia and Croatia.

The quake struck at about 11:00 local time (09:00 GMT).

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the quake hit about 5 kilometers northeast of the Slovene town of Ilirska Bistrica, 32 kilometers northwest of the Croatian city of Rijeka and 37 kilometers east of the Italian city of Trieste.

Read more: 4.4 earthquake in Slovenia, Italy, nr nuclear plant — RT News

Ukraine: Photos show undercover Russian troops - by Arwa Damon, Michael Pearson and Ed Payne

Do a series of photos of gun-toting men wearing green uniforms prove Russian forces are operating in eastern Ukraine?

Ukrainian officials point to the pictures in a dossier obtained Monday by CNN, arguing that the images show Russian "sabotage-reconnaissance groups" acting in Ukrainian towns.

The images, Ukrainian officials say, prove organized Russian activity in the region.
CNN cannot independently confirm the photographs, some of which were first published in The New York Times.


The dossier shows what Ukrainian officials say are images of well-equipped gunmen in eastern Ukraine who look similar to photographs of Russian forces taken in Crimea, Russia and during Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia.

Last week, Ukrainian security officials told CNN they had arrested a Russian military officer and a woman Ukrainian officials said is a Russian intelligence agent.

Moscow has disavowed involvement in the takeover of government buildings in eastern Ukraine or other acts by often-masked pro-Russian gunmen.

Read more: Ukraine: Photos show undercover Russian troops - CNN.com

Middle East: Syria conflict: West criticises Assad election plan

The US has dismissed a Syrian plan to hold a presidential election on 3 June as a "parody of democracy".

UN chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the plan, saying it could torpedo efforts to broker a deal to end the three-year civil war, which has killed 150,000.

Government forces have made gains recently, but rebels still control vast territories. It is unlikely that voting would be held in those areas
.
President Bashar al-Assad is expected to seek a third seven-year term.

The government recently framed an election law that stipulated all candidates must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years.

Read more: BBC News - Syria conflict: West criticises Assad election plan

Economics: Capital in the 21 Century: Still Mired in the 19th - by Dean Baker

Thomas Piketty's new book on the history and future of capitalism (Harvard University Press) is a bold attempt to pick up where Marx left off and correct what he got wrong. While there is much that is useful in this lengthy and well-written book (Piketty and his translator Arthur Goldhammer can fight over credit), it owes too much to the master, and not in a good way.

For backdrop, economists and social scientists in general have a huge debt to Piketty. His work with Emmanuel Saez has advanced enormously our understanding of income distribution at top end. The World Top Income Database that they constructed along with Facundo Alvaredo and Anthony Atkinson is an enormously important source of data that economists are just beginning to analyze. This book is a further contribution in providing a wealth of information about historical trends in income distribution and returns to capital over large parts of the world.

Piketty begins his book by dissing the unnecessary complexity of economics. While the theoretical excursions of the last four decades have been an effective employment program for economists, they have done little to advance our understanding of the economy. The book itself is laid out in a way that makes it easy for the non-expert to understand, with the mathematics kept to a bare minimum.

Based on his analysis of capitalism's past, Piketty has a grim picture of the future. The story is that slowing growth will lead to a rise in the ratio of capital to income, which we have already seen throughout the world with the rise in stock and house prices. This is turn will imply growing inequality as wealth distribution is hugely unequal and there is little reason to believe that the market will somehow reverse this inequality. Piketty's remedy is higher income taxes on the rich and wealth taxes, solutions that he acknowledges do not seem to have good political prospects right now.

While the book presents this story with the sort of the determinism that many have seen in Marx's theory of the falling rate of profit, there are serious grounds for challenging Piketty's vision of the future. First, there are many aspects to the dynamics that have led to the redistribution to profit and high earners in the last three decades that are likely to change in the not too distant future.

The top of my list is the loss of China as a source of extremely low cost labor. According to the International Labor Organization, real wages in China tripled in the decade from 2002-2012. While these data are not very accurate, there is little doubt that wages in China are rising rapidly. While Chinese wages still have a long way to go before they are on a par with wages in the United States or Europe, its huge cost advantage is rapidly disappearing. Manufacturers can look for other low-wage havens, but there are no other Chinas out there.

The loss of extreme low wage havens is likely to enhance the bargaining power of large segments of the workforce.

However, perhaps a more fundamental objection to Pikettys' grim future is the fact that a very large share, perhaps a majority, of corporate profit hinges on rules and regulations that could in principle be altered. My favorite example is drug patents. This industry accounts for more than $340 billion a year in sales (@ 2 percent of GDP and 15 percent of all corporate profits). The source of its profits is government granted patent monopolies.

Suppose the government weakened patent rights or allowed low-cost generics from India to enter the country, profits and presumably the value of corporate stock in the sector would crumble. Is there a fundamental law of capital that prevents this from happening? The same could be said about the patents that provide the basis for enormously profitable tech companies like Apple. Are we pre-destined never to take steps to weaken these laws which lead to enormous corruption and economic waste?

Another big profit sector is cable and telecommunications where we seem to have unlearned the lesson from intro-econ that monopolies are supposed to be regulated to prevent them from gouging consumers. Obviously the monopolists won't like to see their profits eroded, but allowing near monopolies to operate without regulation does seem like an aspect of capitalism that can be altered in the future as it was in the past.

The financial sector has gone from accounting for less than 10 percent of corporate profits in the 1960s to over 20 percent in recent years. Is there a law of capitalism preventing us from instituting financial transaction taxes like the UK has had on stock trades for more than three centuries or breaking up too big to fail banks?

Piketty is not just pessimistic when it comes to profit shares. He also tells us there is little hope that improved corporate governance will put a lid on CEO pay. Is it really implausible to believe that shareholders will ever be able to organize themselves to the point where they can do something like index CEO stock options to the performance of other companies in the industry? This means the CEO of Exxon doesn't get incredibly rich by virtue of the fact that oil prices rose. Is it a law of capitalism that shareholders will forever throw money in the toilet by giving unearned bonanzas to CEOs?

These and other areas might be viewed as important institutional details that get short-shrift in the book. To take another example, in an analysis of returns on university endowments Piketty attributes the extraordinary returns to the endowments of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to the fact that they could afford top quality financial advisers. This is another source of inequality for Piketty; the rich can buy good financial advice, while the average person has to rely on their brother-in-law.

Harvard, Princeton and Yale undoubtedly have sophisticated financial advisers, but many equally sophisticated advisers don't consistently produce above market returns. An alternative explanation is insider trading. The graduates of these institutions undoubtedly could prove their alma maters with plenty of useful investment tips.

I have no idea if such insider trading takes place, or if so whether it is a major factor explaining above average returns, but it would provide an alternative and more easily remedied fix for this particular source of inequality. A few years in jail for some prominent perps would do much to curtail the practice.

Rather than continuing in this vein, I will just take one item that provides an extraordinary example of the book's lack of attentiveness to institutional detail. In questioning his contribution to advancing technology, Piketty asks: "Did Bill [Gates] invent the computer or just the mouse?" (To be fair, the comment is a throwaway line.) Of course the mouse was first popularized by Apple, Microsoft's rival. It's a trivial issue, but it displays the lack of interest in the specifics of the institutional structure that is crucial for constructing a more egalitarian path going forward.

In the past, progressive change advanced by getting some segment of capitalists to side with progressives against retrograde sectors. In the current context this likely means getting large segments of the business community to beat up on financial capital. This may be happening in the euro zone countries where there is considerable support for a financial speculation tax - although the industry is fighting hard.

In terms of drug patents, India's generic drug industry is a natural ally for progressives everywhere who care both about public health and want to stop the upward redistribution to drug barons. In the United States, public options for both health care insurance and retirement savings accounts could be a boon not only to workers who use them, but also small businesses who lose valued workers to larger employers who offer better benefits.

The list of options could be extended considerably, but the point is that capitalism is far more dynamic and flexible than the way Piketty presents it in this book. Given that we will likely be stuck with it long into the future, that is good news.

Read more: Capital in the 21 Century: Still Mired in the 19th (See correction) | Dean Baker

4/21/14

Middle East: Saudi Arabia jails lawyer and human rights activist in ongoing crackdown on dissent

Saudi Arabia must immediately release prominent human rights activist and lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was arrested following his fifth hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court on Tuesday and taken to al-Ha’ir prison without an explanation, said Amnesty International.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was detained in connection with his human rights work. He is now facing charges almost identical ones he was convicted of by another criminal court back in October 2013.

“Authorities in Saudi Arabia are clearly punishing Waleed Abu al-Khair for his work protecting and defending human rights.

 He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Said Boumedouha Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“Waleed Abu al-Khair’s detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression.”

Waleed Abu al-Khair is among a dozen prominent activists who were all sentenced in 2013 to long prison terms based on trumped-up charges that the authorities resorted to after failing to silence them by other means, including the threat of prosecution and other extra-judicial means of intimidation.

He was brought before the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh on 6 October 2013, on charges that included, among other things, “breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler”, “disrespecting the authorities”, “offending the judiciary”, “inciting international organisations against the Kingdom” and “founding an unlicensed organization”.

Read more: Saudi Arabia jails lawyer and human rights activist in ongoing crackdown on dissent | Amnesty International

Energy-Fracking: British Poll finds: Wind farms more popular than fracking sites - Fracking dangerous to your health

Fracking good for the corporate world - but not for your health
More people would prefer a wind farm in their local council area than a fracking site, according to research published recently by YouGov for the renewables company, Ecotricity.

When asked “Which of the following energy projects or plans would you prefer to have operating in your council area”, 62% said a wind farm, 19% said a fracking site and 19% said they didn’t know.

The research found that a wind farm was more popular than a fracking site, regardless of political opinion.

The preference for wind farms was lowest UKIP and Conservative supporters and highest among Lib Dem and Labour supporters

Conservatives: 50% chose wind, 33% chose fracking, 17% did not know
Labour: 76% chose wind, 9% chosefracking, 14% did not know
Lib Dem: 78% chose wind,14% chosefracking, 8% did not know
UKIP (Eurosceptics): 41% chose wind, 36%chose fracking, 24% did not know

Interesting note about these figures is that the Conservatives and the right-wing UKIP Eurosceptics had the least understanding of what fracking is all about.

Women were more likely to support wind farms than men. The research found that among women, 68% of women would prefer a wind farm, compared with 9% who would prefer a fracking site. The figures for men were: 56% would prefer a wind farm, compared with 29% a fracking site.

Fracking was more popular in older people. According to the research, of those that preferred fracking over wind, 29% were over 60.

To watch a video on what Fracking does to the environment and your health click here.

EU-Digest

EU-US Trade Negotiations: Chemical industry secretly manipulating US-EU trade negotiations

A leaked document from the December 2013 round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations exposes the extent of chemical industry influence over secretive ongoing US-EU trade negotiations. Chemicals industry proposals to TTIP would have a chilling effect on the regulatory environment, slowing down the implementation of precautionary decisions on toxic chemicals, undermining democratic decision making and stifling the innovation of safer alternatives.

A report published today by ClientEarth and CIEL shows that the leaked proposal from lobby groups, the American Chemistry Council and the European Chemical Industry Council, would damage future protective legislation on toxic chemicals.

For years the US government and the chemical industry has complained about protective EU chemicals laws being a trade barrier, with some industry groups calling it the largest transatlantic trade barrier. The major aim of the TTIP is to minimise what it calls technical barriers to trade. Its actions could weaken the implementation of vital laws to protect people and the environment. 

“This proposal illustrates two huge and interrelated problems with TTIP,” says Baskut Tuncak, Staff Attorney for the Center for International Environmental Law, “the privileged position of industry to craft language in the trade agreement without public input, and the unlimited potential of TTIP to affect the ability of countries to regulate on toxic chemicals, energy and climate change, food and agriculture, and other critical issues.” 

“The overriding theme of the proposals is secrecy,” says Vito Buonsante, ClientEarth Lawyer. “The industry wants to restrict the transparency of information, which is essential if people are to make choices about what they expose themselves to. They also want to undermine the democratic process by putting decision making in the hands of industry dominated committees.”

The report also shows that the leaked proposals would have a particularly damaging effect on legislation concerning chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are found in everyday products such as sunscreens, deodorants and children's toys.

The ClientEarth’s and CIEL’s joint report is available at: http://www.clientearth.org/reports/health-and-environment/140310-acc-cefic-critique-ciel-clientearth.pdf  

Read more: ClientEarth - environmental lawyers | Chemical industry secretly manipulating US-EU trade negotiations (TTIP) [2463]

France: Thousands rally for France’s Brittany reunion and greater autonomy

Nantes residents in France’s west rallied for their city’s reunification with Brittany where it historically belonged, and the greater autonomy of the area.

Those who gathered at the Saturday event demanded that Brittany’s rights be expanded and its historical boundaries restored. Among the main slogans that were shouted by the crowd, were: “Get Nantes back into Brittany”, “Reunite Brittany”, and “Live, work and decide in the reunited Brittany.”
 
The estimates of those present at the march range from 5,500 people, according to police, to up to 15,000 people, as the organizers claim.

The majority of the participants were representatives of the “Red Hats” movement who are known for speaking out against Francois Hollande’s economic policy last year.

“Currently, France is the most de-centralized state in Europe,” the mayor of the town of Carhaix, Christian Troadec, stated at the rally.

Read more: FRANCE : Thousands rally for France’s Brittany reunion and greater autonomy — RT News

Pollution: Climate change experts call for institutional reform to battle global warming

A UN-backed panel of climate change experts has released another major report warning that governments around the globe have to move faster - and cooperate better - to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC said reaching climate change targets will require technological advancement and instiutional reform. 

See the video: Climate change experts call for institutional reform to battle global warming | All media content | DW.DE | 15.04.2014

US Political System : "It's time for America to get rid of the two-party system" - by Bart McPherson

The article "Who's Setting the Agenda?" in the Press-Register on April 9 has some comical aspects. It seems both national political parties are in a tizzy over their partial loss of control over the elections. Their whining leaves one cold.

What is there about the way politics in this country has "progressed" over the past four or five decades that makes one believe we should preserve the prerogatives of the two political parties? The fact that Barack Obama and John McCain were judged to be the best two choices out of 300 million Americans tells you something about how effectively they pick and promote top candidates for the top job in the world.

It is time the election of presidents is taken out of the exclusive hands of the two entrenched political parties.

There are two major developments today that have the political parties, as well as much of the national media, nervous. They see a possibility that those entities may be losing the enormous power that they have had in our national elections.

First, the dedication of people on both sides of the fence to get more involved, financially and otherwise, in national elections with all that that implies for the future of politics.

Second, and possibly even more important, is the developing monster called the internet. It seems that people do not yet realize what a powerful weapon has been dropped in their laps. Never before in history has it been possible for literally millions of people to message their politicians instantly.

It staggers the imagination as to the possibilities if the people get organized and use their new power to put their opinions before their politicians instantly and in stunning mass. Politicians must and will react immediately to such inputs from their constituents.

It is entirely possible that we are entering a new age where the people, for the first time, can be heard from directly in a most powerful way.

Politicians heretofore have had it made – if they can satisfy their political party and their media supporters they have little to fear from the people. Voters have felt they have had little influence on their government. Can that be about to change?

Read more: It's time for America to get rid of the two-party system | AL.com

Ukraine: Putin playing the long game over Russian kin in Ukraine - by Christian Lowe

Russia's decision last week to sign a peace accord on Ukraine does not mean that the Kremlin is backing down, rather that President Vladimir Putin is prepared to be patient in pursuit of his ultimate objective.

That aim, his own reflections and those of people close to his way of thinking seem to indicate, is one day to re-unite Russian speaking peoples, including those living within the borders of Ukraine, within one common home.

As a skilled tactician, Putin knows that to push too fast to achieve this ambition could be damaging for Russia - as demonstrated by the Western threat of tough sanctions and Europe's rush to wean itself off Russian gas supplies.

Signing the four-way agreement on Ukraine in Geneva last week, and thereby showing the West that it was willing to compromise, made tactical sense for Russia.

With another four years before he needs to seek re-election, and the strong chance of winning another 6-year term after that, Putin can take his time, giving him an advantage over his Western rivals whose policies are driven by more short-term imperatives.

"Now the main thing is to keep the powder dry and be prepared for the eventuality that the crisis in Ukraine is going to last a long time," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a journal which has the Russian foreign minister on its editorial board.


Read more: Putin playing the long game over Russian kin in Ukraine | Reuters

Pharmaceutical Industry: Do free samples influence the way doctors prescribe drugs?

A new study from Stanford University's School of Medicine found that doctors who are allowed to hand out free samples of expensive drugs prescribe those drugs more often than doctors who don’t have access to free samples. Dr. Alfred Lane, senior author of the report, talks with Hari Sreenivasan about the implications of the findings.

See more: Video: Do free samples influence the way doctors prescribe drugs? | Watch PBS NewsHour Online | PBS Video

Middle East: Arab elections do not herald democracy - by Sharif Nashashibi

Instead of heeding popular demands for an end to autocracy, Arab leaders have adapted to maintain their longevity, promising cosmetic reforms without ceding any real power.

They are neither embracing nor opposing the Arab Spring, but - more conveniently for them - managing it. It is a remarkable turnaround since the ouster of strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. It seems we have underestimated our dictators.

One of the cosmetic reforms that have become trendy is holding elections, but not the kind that take place in real democracies. Instead of one-man races, tolerated opposition parties and figures are now allowed to take part, but without any chance of success.

Furthermore, Arab leaders have decided to make the results a little more credible than the near-100% approval that they are used to, while still claiming popular support that would be the envy of genuinely elected leaders. It makes one almost miss the days when our dictators did not pretend to be democrats.

Algerians have just gone to the polls, and Iraqis, Egyptians and Syrians will follow suit in the coming weeks and months. However, this does not herald an outbreak of democracy, merely its façade. Besides Iraq, the results of the other elections are a foregone conclusion, and in all cases, the processes are deeply flawed.

Read more: Arab elections do not herald democracy - Al Arabiya News

Netherlands - Kosovo: KLA war crimes hearings to begin in the Netherlands - by Peter Cluskey

A new international court, funded by the European Union, is expected to begin hearings in the Netherlands as early as next year exclusively to try crimes allegedly committed by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian rebels during their war with Serbia in 1998 and 1999.

The court is expected to cost in the region of €170 million to set up, but its running costs and the length of time it will need to remain in existence will be impossible to calculate until it begins its work and issues its initial indictments, all in a difficult domestic political climate.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rebels had the backing of NATO during the war in which some 10,000 people were killed and 300,000 displaced. It was brought to an end by a campaign of allied air strikes, the first ever launched without the approval of the UN Security Council.

The rebels emerged from the conflict as national heroes. Their former political chief, Hashim Thaci, was elected first prime minister of a newly independent Kosovo in 2008, and described at one point by US Vice-President, Joe Biden, as “the George Washington of Kosovo”.

But as the sickening extent of the bloodshed committed by all sides in the Yugoslav wars began to emerge, the KLA too was accused of atrocities – specifically of trucking prisoners across the border to secret torture camps in Albania, and most notoriously of trafficking in the organs of dead Serbs.

Read more: KLA war crimes hearings to begin in the Netherlands - Crime & Law News from Ireland & Abroad | The Irish Times - Mon, Apr 21, 2014

EU-Turkey: Economic integration should come first - by Angelo Santagostino

In the past fortnight, two interesting reports by the Independent Commission (IC) and the World Bank (WB) on Turkey’s relation with the EU have been released. Both give an insightful view of the situation concerning the bilateral relations between EU-28 and a negotiating candidate state such as Turkey. Both share a common view concerning the foreseeable developments of economic integration between both parties.

In the chapter on the Turkish economy, the IC states, “Beyond existing trade, there is much potential for trade between the EU and Turkey in the field of services and public procurement, as well as agricultural goods, were the EU-Turkey custom union to be extended to these two sectors.” This possible development however, was not resumed in the conclusion, where “a credible accession process” is considered the main road for Turkey “to jump into the high income country category.”

Nevertheless, no statement on the opening of Chapters 1 and 3 on the free movement of goods and on the right of establishment and freedom to provide services can be found in the report.

The IC calls for a reset in the accession process this year in order to generate an impact on reform (like the one of 2001-2) and considers that, “there is no better place to start than to open Chapters 23 and 24 in accession talks on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security.” 

Read more: EU-Turkey: Economic integration should come first - CONTRIBUTOR

4/20/14

Turkey: Censorship - Leaving the Web: Will Turkey ditch 'www' for 'ttt'?

Turkish newspaper Hürriyet reported over the weekend that officials are considering the establishment of their own "ttt" protocol, instead of the conventional “www” of the World Wide Web.

According to the report, Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan made the groundbreaking suggestion during an informal meeting with journalists in Parliament on Friday.

Turkish Daily News, on the other hand, quoted officials who denied such intention.

The Turkish government is involved in a bitter struggle with social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube, which, it says, publish "malicious" information about the government in general and about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular.

"Instead of www, a ttt system could be formed. Turkey and other countries could establish their own domains.

Such a move would detach the Internet systems from each other. This is a controversial issue," Elvan was quoted as saying by Hürriyet.

Read more: Leaving the Web: Will Turkey ditch 'www' for 'ttt'? - World Israel News | Haaretz

Weather satellites: Airbus to build critical European weather satellites - by Jonathan Amos

The competition to build Europe's next generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites has been won by Airbus.

The big aerospace concern was declared the winner at the latest meeting of the European Space Agency's (Esa) Industrial Policy Committee (IPC).

A contract valued in the hundreds of millions of euros will be signed by Esa and Airbus in due course.
The existing Metop series, as it is known, has a profound impact on the quality of weather forecasting.
The satellites' sensors gather profiles of atmospheric conditions, layer by layer.

Studies comparing all the different types of meteorological observations (including surface weather stations, balloons and aeroplanes, etc) have found Metop data to have the biggest single contribution to the accuracy of the 24-hour look ahead, at around 25%.

The improved forecasts of storms and other extreme events are estimated to be worth billions of euros annually in terms of lives saved and property damage avoided.

Read more: BBC News - Airbus to build critical European weather satellites

Washington Post wins Pulitzer Prize for NSA spying revelations; by Paul Farhi

A team of 28 Post journalists, led by reporter Barton Gellman, won the public service award, as did Guardian US, which also reported extensively about the NSA’s secret programs. Gellman and Glenn Greenwald, then the Guardian’s lead reporter on the NSA pieces, based their articles on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who has fled to exile in Russia, lending a controversial edge to this year’s awards.

The Post’s Eli Saslow also won a Pulitzer — newspaper journalism’s highest award — for a series of stories about the challenges of people living on food stamps. Saslow, 31, was cited in the explanatory-journalism category by the 19-member Pulitzer board in an announcement at Columbia University in New York, which administers the prizes.

The Boston Globe won in the breaking-news category for its extensive coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings last April.

The New York Times swept the two photography categories. The award in breaking photography went to Tyler Hicks for his photos of a terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, and the feature-photography prize went to Josh Haner for his photos of a Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost most of both legs.

Read more: Washington Post wins Pulitzer Prize for NSA spying revelations; Guardian also honored - The Washington Post

4/19/14

Ukraine: Lavrov: Russia, US and EU ready to help stabilize Ukraine economy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Thursday's key four-way meeting on the Ukrainian crisis in Geneva saw a declaration of the sides' readiness to help stabilize Ukraine's economy. 

Read more: Lavrov: Russia, US and EU ready to help stabilize Ukraine economy

4/18/14

Christianity:Easter Holiday At Center Of Christianity - by Sylvie Belmond

This weekend, almost 2.2 billion Christians around the world will come together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter is a universal tradition and the greatest event in the Christian calendar. “Easter is the preeminent celebration in our church, bigger than Christmas,” said Monsignor Paul Albee of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Moorpark.

Unlike Christmas, which marks the birth of Christ on a set date each year, in the Western church Easter is a movable holiday taking place on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.

Easter is the whole point of Christianity. This particular faith tradition sees its whole focus on the idea that God in Jesus has overcome everything that holds us back as human beings—even death,

Read more: Holiday at center of Christianity | www.simivalleyacorn.com | Simi Valley Acorn

Highway Safety: Glow-in-the-dark 'smart' highway opens in the Netherlands - by Michelle Starr

A strip of "smart" highway with glow-in-the-dark road markings has opened in the Netherlands to improve road safety.

When Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde unveiled his smart highway back in late 2012, it seemed an ambitious project.

Designed as a means of both improving road safety and environmental friendliness, it proposed several features, including: dynamic, temperature-sensitive markings that could change to indicate weather conditions; glowing road markings; wind indication lights; and a lane embedded with induction coils to charge electric cars as they drove over.

A 500-metre strip of the proposed road has opened on the N329 in Oss, but the features have been stripped down to just one: the glow-in-the-dark lane markings.

Read more: Glow-in-the-dark 'smart' highway opens in the Netherlands - Crave

Mexico: Powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake hits Mexico

A powerful, magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake hit at about 9:30 a.m. and was centred northwest of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, where many Mexicans are vacationing for the Easter holiday.

The quake was felt strongly in the resort city, as well as in Mexico's capital and at least six other states. Around the region, there were reports of isolated and minor damage, such as fallen fences, trees and broken windows.

The quake struck 273 kilometres southwest of Mexico City, which shook for at least 30 seconds. Mexico City itself is vulnerable even to distant earthquakes because much of it sits atop the muddy sediments of drained lake beds that quiver as quake waves hit.

Read more: Powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake hits Mexico - World - CBC News