Advertise On EU-Digest

Anual Advertising Rates

11/30/14

Britain: David Cameron’s timetable for reform in Europe ‘impossible- by Toby Helm

David Cameron was facing new pressure over Europe as Tory Eurosceptics and EU experts cast doubt over his ability to secure changes to European law before a promised referendum on the UK’s membership in 2017.

The prime minister conceded on Friday that some of his plans aimed at stemming the flow of EU migrants to this country – including banning in-work benefits such as tax credits for four years – will require changes to EU treaties. “There is no doubt this package will require some treaty change, and I’m confident we can achieve that,” he said.

Under the proposals, jobless migrants would not qualify for unemployment benefits, and those who cannot find a job within six months would have to leave the country. However, Tory MPs and experts on EU treaties said that, even if he was able to negotiate such a package with fellow EU leaders, it would be impossible to complete the process of ratification in the 28 member states in time for a referendum on the amended rules in 2017.

Read more: David Cameron’s timetable for reform in Europe ‘impossible’ | World news | The Observer

11/29/14

Consumerism : GET A LIFE: Don’t lose your soul to sales - by Loretta LaRoche

The holidays are upon us! However, from my vantage point, they started in August with constant reminders that Halloween was approaching. Halloween comes in second to Christmas in money spent. Thanksgiving comes next, but that holiday focuses mostly on food. I love Thanksgiving because it does seem to remind us to be thankful, a welcome relief from what comes next – the Christmas crazies.
“Joy to the World” seems to have a new interpretation. It used to be focused on simple gifts, possibly homemade, a gathering of friends and family and the ritual of attending one’s church of choice. And believe me, I know there are still many who are involved in these practices. What seems to have grown exponentially is the incessant messages about retail purchases that will bring you happiness once you have them.
Black Friday is fast becoming another holiday. I have watched individuals slugging their way through crowds in order to get what they believe to be a deep discount on an item they want. There have been reports of people having tug of wars over a TV set or computer, and then there’s the nut bags that put a tent outside the store and camp out so they can be the first ones inside.
Am I sounding judgmental? Yes, I am, but I really need an explanation as to how we got to this place. I truly believe we have become consumed with consumerism. I doubt whether people camp out in front of a homeless shelter so they can be the first to volunteer as soon as the doors open. Research shows that altruism far outweighs buying something when it comes to lasting happiness. Our brains get giddy with delight when we first get what we thought we had to have. But it soon passes and then we need something else to get that that endorphin high.
Do I think we should wear shrouds and live in mud huts without any connection to the world? No, I seek the comforts of home, and I have technology that allows me to be current and connected. My greatest fear is that we are losing our “souls to sales.” The ultimate irony is that all the stuff being sold will go on sale and cost less as the holiday approaches. Most importantly, are we in control of our buying power, or are all the seductive ads making us their slaves?
 Read more: GET A LIFE: Don’t lose your soul to sales - News - Wicked Local Wareham - Wareham, MA

Moldova election: Will voters choose EU or Putin?

Sunday's electoral contest between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces in Moldova has taken on an unprecedented, wider significance in the shadow of the crisis in neighbouring Ukraine.

The former Soviet republic's governing pro-Western coalition is seeking closer ties with the European Union, but the Russian government is seen as piling on the pressure to sway Moldovans to change course.

In the summer, Moldova - along with Ukraine and Georgia - signed an association agreement on political and economic relations with the European Union. This angered Russia, which has called on Moldova to postpone the implementation of the free trade part of the deal, as Ukraine has since agreed to do.

Moscow says it is worried by a flood of cheap EU goods affecting its producers, but some observers believe its goal is to assert what it sees as Russia's natural sphere of influence in the post-Soviet region.

Read more: BBC News - Moldova election: Will voters choose EU or Putin?

TTIP: EU-US free trade agreement risks undermining democracy - by Eleanora Forenza

On 11 October, thousands of citizens, social movements and NGOs throughout Europe voiced concerns on developments related to the free trade agreement currently in discussion between the European Union and the US.

Why are so many people protesting against this agreement? First, they reject how negotiations are being carried out: the lack of transparency and the undue influence of corporate power is apparent to all. The second reason lies in the objective of this agreement which is to wipe out what is considered an obstacle to free trade between both sides of the Atlantic, so called 'regulatory barriers'.

Indeed, the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) will not only be about reducing tariffs, but it will deeply impact our environmental, food, social and labour laws through the revision of regulatory frameworks.

This will also be done through a strong liberalisation of the services sector, with the risk of undermining the social and environmental mission that many of these services play in European societies, for example, public transport, water management, healthcare and educational services, that traditionally are more protected in Europe than the US.

Furthermore, another controversial point is how the agreement will be implemented. The management will be transferred to a 'transatlantic council' tasked with monitoring whether regulations and laws are in line with the TTIP. Those risks will certainly be worsened if negotiators decide to adopt a legal instrument called the investor to state dispute settlement mechanism, which allows corporations to sue governments, for any action - at any level, including local government level - that limits a corporation's future profits. Imagine if 14,000 US firms had the possibility to sue EU member states through their almost 58,000 branches legally established in Europe, especially in fields such as GMOs, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, medical, and ICT industries.

The dispute panel will only take account of provisions contained within the agreement, disregarding values such as public health, human rights, environmental protection, labour and other social rights. Those forms of arbitration represent a clear blemish on the powers of our democratic institutions and risks reducing the room for any social or economic actions in the coming decades.

These are only some of the concerns that we are raising on this agreement, in countering the mainstream enthusiastic rhetoric on the TTIP and its effects on our economy. Past trade agreements have shown that rather than boosting our economy, they have destroyed our SMEs and manufacturing industrial fabric, profiting big corporations and multinationals.

Read more: EU-US free trade agreement risks undermining democracy | The Parliament Magazine

11/28/14

Oil Prices: Are U.S., Saudi Arabia conspiring on oil prices? - Joshua Keating

There are a number of factors behind the continuing global slide in oil prices, including North American production, increased energy efficiency, Europe’s economic stagnation, and China’s slowing growth. But a big one is Saudi Arabia, which, to the dismay of fellow oil-producing nations, has resisted pressure to cut production in order to stabilize prices.

Ahead of an OPEC meeting in Vienna this week, there are some contradictory theories about why Saudi Arabia is content to keep oil cheap for the time being. One is that the Saudis want to nip the U.S. oil boom in the bud. American shale oil is more expensive to produce and needs high prices to remain competitive. As one analyst put it when the kingdom cut prices for U.S. customers earlier this month, “the Saudis have basically declared war on the U.S. oil producers.”

But there’s a competing narrative, or “conspiracy theory” if you prefer, that the Saudis are waging war in cooperation with the United States, against their mutual enemies Russia and Iran. “Saudi Arabia, which intends to manage OPEC, serves the interests of the G20 group,” a former Iranian oil minister told Reuters. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government is collateral damage in this war, also aired this view recently, saying, “What is the reason for the United States and some U.S. allies wanting to drive down the price of oil? To harm Russia.”

The U.S.-Saudi oil alliance is basically taken as a given in the Iranian and Russian media, and the idea got a recent endorsement from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as well. Saudi Arabia may indeed want to punish Russia for its support of Bashar Assad’s government, and will take any leverage it can get over regional archrival Iran. The U.S., meanwhile, wants to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine and to pressure Iran into agreeing to a nuclear deal.

To be clear, there’s no proof of any deal, and Saudi Arabia denies its policies are motivated by geopolitical interests. Moreover, U.S.-Saudi relations aren’t at their best at the moment, and the kingdom is extremely skeptical of America’s latest opening to Iran. But even if there isn’t explicit collusion going on, Saudi Arabia’s move certainly benefits some key U.S. foreign policy interests, if not the bank accounts of North Dakota oil drillers.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the conspiracy theory is real, and that there is an agreement in place between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to keep oil prices down. Is it working?

Low oil prices are having an impact on both the Russian and Iranian economies. In Russia’s case, that impact is probably greater than that of the recently imposed Western sanctions. But as Dan Drezner points out in The Washington Post, if economic performance were a reliable guide to the future prospects of authoritarian governments, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and North Korea’s Kim family would have been deposed by angry mobs decades ago. For now, the dire state of the Russian economy doesn’t appear to be having much of an effect on Vladimir Putin’s popularity, and actions that anger the West only seem to make his position stronger at home.

Note EU-Digest: but as the saying goes - "where there is smoke there is fire. "

Read more: Are U.S., Saudi Arabia conspiring on oil prices? - The Japan News

A Sovereign Wealth Fund For The Eurozone? - by Henning Meyer

Social Europe Journal has just published its latest Research Essay “Public Capital in the 21st Century” by Giacomo Corneo. The main argument of the paper is that the state should become a kind of investment state in order to make sure that high returns on capital do not further increase inequality but benefit the wider public. To achieve this, Corneo argues that governments should set up sovereign wealth funds to manage their investments and take advantage of low interest rates on sovereign bonds as investments should be debt-financed.

Having read the paper I was wondering whether this would also be an option to create the much-touted fiscal capacity for the Eurozone. Such a mechanism wouldn’t need Eurozone taxes or tax harmonisation (although both would be desirable) and does not require an open-ended commitment to joint debt. Here is how it could work: Let’s assume a Eurozone debt instrument backed by all governments can borrow for 1.5% in financial markets.

 For the sake of it let’s assume an annual return of 6% on a globally diversified portfolio, which is a realistic scenario. 25% of the return would be required to service the debt and Corneo argues that the rest should be used to pay back the principal so the debt incurred will be repaid in 15 years or so. I would argue that the remaining 75% of the return should be split between repaying the principal and increasing the size of the fund. So an alternative split of the return could look like this: 50% repayment of debt, 25% debt service, 25% increasing the size of the fund.

The key points are that the initial debt will be fully repaid after a defined period of time (so there is no open-ended commitment to joint debt) and that such a sovereign wealth fund could create a significant amount of revenue that could be the income source for a Eurozone budget. The budget would be administered by a Eurozone group in the European Parliament and could be used to help stabilise the currency area.

Apart from the need to complement this pro-cyclical instrument with counter-cyclical measures (issuing debt for current spending rather than investment that would also be repaid with priority?) that should kick in if there is a general crisis, I cannot see a reason for why this wouldn’t work, especially given that a budget of about 2% of GDP is regarded as big enough to effectively counterbalance asymmetric shocks.

Read more : A Sovereign Wealth Fund For The Eurozone?

11/27/14

Is Google Too Big? Google should be broken up, say European MPs

The European Parliament has voted in favour of breaking Google up, as a solution to complaints that it favours is own services in search results.
Politicians have no power to enforce a break-up, but the landmark vote sends a clear message to European regulators to get tough on the net giant.

US politicians and trade bodies have voiced their dismay at the vote.

The ultimate decision will rest with EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

She has inherited the anti-competitive case lodged by Google's rivals in 2010.
Google has around 90% market share for search in Europe and rivals asked the commission to investigate four areas:
  • The manner in which Google displays its own vertical search services compared with other, competing products
  • How Google copies content from other websites - such as restaurant reviews - to include within its own services
  • The exclusivity Google has to sell advertising around the search terms people use
  • Restrictions on advertisers from moving their online ad campaigns to rival search engines
Predecessor Joaquin Almunia tried and failed to settle the case. A series of concessions made by Google were rejected, leading Mr Almunia to suggest that the only option was a fine. This could be up to $5bn.

The EU Commission has never before ordered the break-up of any company, and many believe it is unlikely to do so now.

Note EU-Digest: but the EU Commission better do something to give smaller European search engines and similar companies as Google at least a fair chance to succeed.  Right now Google certainly has become a "Big Untouchable Brother" collecting a lot of private and personal date and selling this information to companies which not always have the best interest in mind for the well-being of private European citizens.

Read more: BBC News - Google should be broken up, say European MPs

Thanksgiving Day 2014: This is why the US holiday has a Google Doodle today - Antonia Molloy

Google has celebrated Thanksgiving Day with a bouncing turkey Doodle on its US homepage.

The festive, cheery-looking bird replaces a letter “o” in Google, with the rest of the word spelled out in autumn leaves.

You might think a bird destined for the dinner table would have little to celebrate – but perhaps this one has been spared by President Barack Obama.

The presidential turkey pardon is a quirky annual tradition at Thanksgiving and this year saw a pair of turkeys named Mac and Cheese saved from the slaughterhouse.

The national holiday, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, can be traced back to the pilgrims arriving in America during the 17th century. The festival was originally held to give thanks to God for a good harvest.

These days it is more often seen as a day on which to count one’s blessings – and is celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Families and friends come together for a special meal featuring turkey, roast potatoes, vegetables and pumpkin pie.

Most government offices, businesses, schools and other organisations are closed and many employees enjoy a long, four-day weekend.

Meanwhile, many cities celebrate with large-scale events including the famous Macy’s Parade in New York City.

Note EU-Digest: to all our US readers a happy and blessed Thanksgiving  Day !

Read more: Thanksgiving Day 2014: This is why the US holiday has a Google Doodle today - Americas - World - The Independent

11/26/14

OPEC: Gulf OPEC producers agree not to cut output:

OPEC Gulf oil producers have reached a consensus not to cut oil output when OPEC meets on Thursday in Vienna, a Gulf OPEC delegate told Reuters.

Separately, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi confirmed the Gulf states had reached a unified decision, but did not specify what the consensus was. Naimi said he believed the oil market "will stabilize itself eventually," increasing speculation that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' largest producer and exporter, would not support an output cut at its Thursday meeting.

Other oil minister comments indicated a similar outlook to Naimi.

"The market will fix itself ultimately," United Arab Emirates Oil Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui told Reuters in an interview.

The OPEC meeting will be one of its most crucial in recent years, with oil having tumbled to below $78 a barrel due to the U.S. shale boom and slower economic growth in China and Europe.

Read more: Gulf OPEC producers agree not to cut output: Rpt

US Economy: Consumer Confidence drops sharply in November

US consumer confidence unexpectedly fell sharply in November.

The Conference Board's latest consumer confidence reading came in at 88.7, down sharply from October.
Expectations were for the reading to come in at 96, up from 94.5 last month.

The reading's expectations component also fell sharply, to 87.0 from 93.8 in October.
October's 94.5 was a seven-year high for the index.

Polish jobless rate falls to 11.3 percent in October, below forecast- by Michal Janusz

Poland's registered unemployment rate fell to 11.3 percent in October from 11.5 percent a month earlier, the state statistics office data showed on Tuesday.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the rate at 11.4 percent.

The data also showed the unemployment rate as measured by the Labour Force Survey (BAEL) stood at 8.2 percent in the third quarter, down from 9.1 percent in the second quarter.


Read more: Polish jobless rate falls to 11.3 percent in October, below forecast | Reuters

Turkey accuses Dutch government of racism, Dutch papers say

The Dutch government is acting in an aggressive and racist way towards the Dutch Turkish community, Dutch media quote Turkey’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday. The claim is reportedly made in a letter which has been sent by the Turkish foreign ministry to the Dutch parliament and is quoted in Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. In the letter, the minister says the initiatives and statements made by the Dutch government could damage bilateral relations between the two countries.

Read more at DutchNews.nl: Turkey accuses Dutch government of racism, Dutch papers say http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2014/11/turkey-accuses-dutch-government-of-racism-dutch-papers-say.php/
The Dutch government is acting in an aggressive and racist way towards the Dutch Turkish community, Dutch media quote Turkey’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday. The claim is reportedly made in a letter which has been sent by the Turkish foreign ministry to the Dutch parliament and is quoted in Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. In the letter, the minister says the initiatives and statements made by the Dutch government could damage bilateral relations between the two countries.

The letter follows the publication of a Dutch government report which paints a negative picture of Turkish organisations in the Netherlands, the Telegraaf says. That report led social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher to call for close monitoring of four Turkish organisations in the Netherlands which he said may be hindering integration. In addition, Turkey is angry about a report which said 80% of Turkish youngsters in the Netherlands support jihadist movements.

That report has since been heavily criticised by experts. According to Hürriyet, the letter states that ‘aggressive and racist accusations against Turks who are part of Dutch society and against a friendly ally are unacceptable.’ ‘We do not understand why these racist attacks… have recently appeared on the agenda.’

Vice PM Asscher used Twitter to brand the comments, if accurate, as ‘uninformed, inaccurate and inappropriate.’ ‘Integration policy is focused on participation and involvement, and that means everyone in the Netherlands,’ the minister said.

Read more: Turkey accuses Dutch government of racism, Dutch papers say - DutchNews.nl

Organic foods: Millennials Like 'Organic'—Even if They Have No Idea What It Means - Joe Pinsker

To be labeled "organic" in the U.S., a product must comply with a set of environmentally-friendly standards laid out by the United States Department of Agriculture. For the purposes of a consumer, it's easiest to define organic produce by what it isn't: genetically engineered, grown in synthetic soil or with certain pesticides, or allowed to be in contact with "sewage sludge." Organic livestock adheres to similar guidelines, with the additional provision that antibiotics and growth hormones weren't given to the animals.

But, going beyond those basic restrictions, the term "organic" has developed a remarkably benevolent aura in the mind of the consumer. After surveying 300 shoppers who were, for the most part, under the age of 35, the consultancy BFG recently found that 70 percent purchased organic foods, even though only 20 percent actually had any confidence that they could define organic. More than half were "concerned, but confused" about the words used to classify their groceries. BFG's CEO, Kevin Meany, described these young shoppers to Fast Company thusly: "They desire honesty. They want to believe."

300 respondents may seem like a small sample size, but the behavior-knowledge rift is large, and it's backed up by previous research. Some Canadians surveyed in a 2013 study thought that "local" and "organic" denoted the same thing, which suggests that meanings of these two terms have mushed together into a nebulous notion of goodness. That goodness, apparently, suffuses products with the right label. Participants in a study published last year estimated cookies to have 24 percent fewer calories when they were labeled organic. "Organic" cookies were also perceived to be more nutritious. (In reality, organic foods aren't any healthier than other foods in a nutritional sense—it's just that their lack of chemicals is probably healthier in the long run.)

Once a food is cast in the glow of the word organic, consumers will be more willing to pay a premium for it. Those cookies that were estimated to have fewer calories were also valued at a higher price than unlabeled cookies. Potato chips, another food examined in that study, took on a 23 percent premium when labeled "organic." Another study, this one from 2007, indicated that the more affordable an organic product was, the less likely it was to be perceived as nutritious. When people are shopping for organic foods, they apparently take high price tags as evidence that something's worth purchasing.

Read more: Millennials Like 'Organic'—Even if They Have No Idea What It Means - The Atlantic

11/25/14

EU: President Juncker on defensive in censure motion over Luxembourg tax schemes - by Ian Traynor and Simon Bowers

Jean-Claude Juncker’s fitness to head the EU’s executive for the next five years came under lacerating attack in the European parliament on Monday evening, with British, French and Italian far-right and populist leaders denouncing his record in facilitating massive corporate tax avoidance when governing Luxembourg for almost two decades.

Juncker became president of the European commission at the beginning of the month only to disappear for a week after disclosures in the Guardian and other newspapers on Luxembourg’s record in enabling multinationals to minimise their tax exposure while earning billions in profit elsewhere in the EU.

The entire new European commission was obliged to attend last night’s session in Strasbourg for the unusual censure motion, at which Juncker sought to defend himself by declaring he was “no friend of big capital”.

“Mr Juncker, you are the worst image of this Europe. If you had a crumb of dignity you would resign,” said Marco Zanni, an MEP from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement, which organised the motion, backed by a tenth of the parliament including Ukip and France’s Front National.

Juncker said the “problem is not peculiarly Luxembourg, it is Europe” and blamed the scandal of multinational tax avoidance on the reluctance of national governments to harmonise corporate tax rates.

The details of Luxembourg’s record as a centre for tax avoidance came in leaks of more than 28,000 documents that revealed how the authorities, headed by Juncker, reached agreements with more than 300 global companies allowing them to minimise their liabilities.

Note EU-Digest: also the Netherlands is a major player when it comes to providing a safe haven for corporate tax avoidance.

 Read more: Juncker on defensive in censure motion over Luxembourg tax schemes | World news | The Guardian

Banking Industry -the Netherlands: ING to cut 1,700 jobs, take $400 million charge

ING Group NV, the Dutch bank, says it will cut 1,700 jobs, or 2.7 percent of its workforce, to cut costs.
An additional thousand jobs will be lost at external suppliers, the bank said in a statement Tuesday.

ING said the cuts are part of a move to expand its digital banking operations and jobs will be lost "at the headquarters of ING Retail Banking and in the back offices, call centers and IT departments."

The company will book a 320 million euro ($400 million) charge to cover costs, and expects to save 270 million euros annually from 2017.

Earlier this month, ING paid back the last of a 10 billion euro bailout it received from the Dutch state during the financial crisis of 2008.

Read more: ING to cut 1,700 jobs, take $400 million charge

Global Economy: An economist explains what the heck is happening to the global economy - by Manuel Hinds

The dawn of the twenty-first century has proved unsettling. It was not what we expected. Only a few years ago, the world was full with apparently justified optimism.  

As the new century settled in, however, worrying facts are deflating all these optimistic expectations. Each and every one of the reasons for optimism has failed to deliver what it promised and many problems that we thought we had left well behind have come back to haunt us. Negative turns in the distribution of income and wealth, financial crises, terrorism, fundamentalist terrorist states trying to spring out of the Middle East and Africa, a visible turning away from democracy in many countries that had just become capitalistic or democratic.

What we have in common with the people of one hundred years ago is that we, like they did, are going under the sway of a technological revolution that will change our lives as deeply as the Industrial Revolution changed theirs.

Profound technological advances, while opening the road for a better future in the long run, are terribly disruptive in the short term. They render obsolete the capital accumulated in physical assets, in human knowledge and skills, and, even more fundamentally, in the shape of the institutions linking together the fabric of society. 

People who thought they had their future assured suddenly find that their skills have been turned obsolete by the new technologies or by the new styles of life derived from them. Activities that had been for decades the mainstay of an economy suddenly become unprofitable, either because their product disappeared or because, to be profitable, they have to be relocated to another part of the world.

This brings about all kinds of economic and social disruptions, including unemployment, negative turns in the distribution of income, bankruptcies, frequent financial crises, and depression. Life becomes unstable, the future unbearably uncertain.

This is what was happening a hundred years ago under the influence of the last stage of the Industrial Revolution, that which introduced electricity, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, the car, and the airplane.

This is what is starting to happen in our times as well under the influence of the new revolution that was set in motion by connectivity, the power to manage complex tasks from afar in real time, an ability that the combination of computers, telecommunications, and fast means of transportation has made possible. As much as the Industrial Revolution multiplied the power of the muscle, the new revolution is multiplying the power of the mind. It promises to improve dramatically the way we live.

In the short run, however, the transition to this new connected world implies the disruption, even the destruction, of what we have today in terms of skills, investments, ways of life, and basic institutions for our social order.
Read more: An economist explains what the heck is happening to the global economy - Quartz

UKRAINE: ​Russia loses €110bn with sanctions and falling oil prices says Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

Russia is losing around €110 billion a year due to Western sanctions, but they are not as critical to the economy as lower oil prices, which add $90-100 billion in losses, says Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

"We lose about $40 billion a year because of the political sanctions and around $90-100 billion a year due to the 30 percent reduction in oil prices," RIA quotes Siluanov speaking Monday at the International Financial and Economic Forum.

Lower investment and foreign loans along with capital outflow, estimated at $130 billion this year, are the key components of the loss, Siluanov explained.

Read more: Russia loses € 110bn with sanctions and falling oil prices – Finance Minister — RT Business

USA Riots: Outrage across US over Ferguson ruling

Thousands of people rallied in US cities including Los Angeles and New York to protest against a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gunshots rang out and police lobbed tear gas at an angry crowd in suburban St Louis after the grand jury decision was announced late on Monday.

Angry protesters overran barricades and taunted police in Ferguson, with some chanting "murderer" and others throwing stones and bottles, as police car windows were smashed and protesters tried to set vehicles ablaze.

Officers responded by firing what authorities said was smoke and pepper spray into the crowd, as some in the crowd tried to stop others from taking part in the violence.

The protesters ignored calls by US President Barack Obama on Monday night to accept the grand jury's decision.

"We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," Obama said. He echoed Brown's parents in calling for any protests to be peaceful.

Read more: Outrage across US over Ferguson ruling - Americas - Al Jazeera English

11/24/14

Alternative Enrgy: The Netherlands has laid the world’s first solar road – we go eyes-on to investigate - by Joel Hruska

Earlier this week, the first solar roadway opened in Amsterdam — a 70-meter stretch of cycle path between two suburbs of the city that generates solar power from rugged, textured glass-covered photovoltaic cells.

My significant other, Jessica Hall, happens to be spending a semester in Amsterdam and was willing to trek out to the Krommenie-Wormerveer cross-connection to see this solar roadway in action.

Below, we’ll answer some common questions people have raised about the projects and the road itself. One thing to know about the Netherlands is that biking is huge there, despite the wet, maritime climate. Building a solar bike path isn’t a throwaway gesture as it is in the United States, and the bike path itself, as you’ll see, is laned like a modern road.

This project is built by SolaRoad — it’s different from the crowdfunded Solar Roadways project that  Extreme Tech wrote about earlier this year.

Read more: The Netherlands has laid the world’s first solar road – we go eyes-on to investigate | ExtremeTech

Internet: Symantec Discovers ‘Regin’ Spy Code Lurking on Computer Networks - Nicole Perlroth

Security researchers say they have discovered a sophisticated piece of malicious code spying on researchers, governments, businesses, and critical telecommunications infrastructure since 2008.

The malware, called Regin, was first discovered by Symantec, the antivirus company, which released a white paper describing its findings on Sunday. On Monday, The Intercept, a digital magazine started by the journalist Glenn Greenwald, reported that the Regin malware is part of a decade-long joint operation by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, or G.C.H.Q. The Intercept report is based in part on disclosures from former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden.

“In the world of malware threats, only a few rare examples can truly be considered groundbreaking and almost peerless,” Symantec wrote. “What we have seen in Regin is just such a class of malware.”

Symantec found evidence that the malware has been used on targets in 10 countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and Russia, as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mexico, Ireland, Belgium and Austria. The Intercept reported Monday that the malware had been used to spy on companies in the European Union, notably Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and Internet provider.

The Regin malware is highly customizable, researchers said, and can be tweaked to include new features and capabilities, depending on the target. Symantec’s researchers estimate that it likely took months “if not years” to develop and said the malware’s “authors have gone to great lengths to cover its tracks.”

The researchers believe the malware was first used to spy on individuals in 2008, until it was “abruptly withdrawn” in 2011. The Intercept reported that the malware was used to infect a Belgacom server in 2010.

Then, last year, Symantec said the authors started using a new version of the same malware to spy on a variety of victims. Among them: academic researchers, individuals and small businesses, companies in the airline, energy and hospitality sectors as well as telecom companies, in what researchers believe was an attempt to gain access to telephone calls routed through their call centers.

Regin is undeniably a spy tool, based on its functions, the researchers said. It is configured to grab screenshots and take over a computer mouse’s point-and-click function. It can also grab passwords, monitor network traffic and gather information from the computer’s memory. It can scan for and retrieve deleted files.

Beyond those basic functions, its capabilities vary from target to target. In one case, Symantec’s researcher found that Regin had been tweaked to sniff traffic sent to mobile telephone base station controllers. In another case, it had been customized to parse mail from Microsoft’s Exchange email databases.

The Intercept reported Monday that the tool was part of a joint N.S.A.- G.C.H.Q. program, codenamed “Operation Socialist.”

Vanee Vines, a N.S.A. spokeswoman declined to comment on what the agency called “speculation.”
“The discovery of Regin serves to highlight how significant investments continue to be made into the development of tools for use in intelligence gathering,” Symantec researchers said.
Read more: Bits - Business, Innovation, Technology, Society

Where the Billionaires Are - while middle class, wages haven’t budged in 25 years -by Zach Wener-Fligner

Of the world’s population of more than 7 billion, around 200,000 people—or 0.003 percent—have a net worth of more than $30 million.

These super-wealthy individuals (UHNWs, as the research firm Wealth-X deems them, for "ultra-high net worth") control a handy $29.7 trillion, according to an analysis of Wealth-X data charted by CNN.
UHNWs make the 1 percent look like paupers. And there are far more of them in some places than others. The United States, for example, has more than three times as many ultra-wealthy folks as any other country. Here’s the complete list of countries with more than 1,000 people with a net worth of at least $30 million.

In the U.S. the richest 1 percent of the 1 percent are increasing their wealth faster than anyone else. The main reason is capital gains: From 1992 to 2007, the average salary of the country’s top 400 earners (as measured by U.S. tax returns) doubled, while their capital gains increased a stupefying 1,300 percent.
Meanwhile, among the middle class, wages haven’t budged in 25 years.

 Read more: Where the Billionaires Are - The Atlantic

Turkey's President Erdoğan Says Women's Position In Society Is For Motherhood

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday at a women's rights summit in Istanbul that women and men cannot be equal because it is "against nature," claiming that women and men have inherently different roles in society. Erdoğan, a devout Muslim, made statements during his time as prime minister that suggested he held conservative ideas about women's rights, but his speech Monday underscores just how strongly he rejects the notion that women should have the same civil liberties as men.

"You cannot get women to do every kind of work men can do, as in Communist regimes," he said. "You cannot tell them to go out and dig the soil. This is against their delicate nature."

Erdoğan attacked feminists in his speech, claiming they "reject the concept of motherhood."
"Our religion (Islam) has defined a position for women (in society): motherhood," Erdoğan said. "Some people can understand this, while others can't. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don't accept the concept of motherhood."

Erdoğan expanded his message, saying that women should each have at least three children and that abortion was "murder." He also said he was against the morning-after pill.

Opponents of Erdoğan took to Twitter to protest the president's statements, some claiming that he is "backwards," others saying he "is digging himself a grave."

Read more: Turkey's President Erdoğan Says Women's Position In Society Is For Motherhood

Europe's Challenge: A 'Twilight Zone' in Russia's Shadow, or a 'World of Rules?' -  Radek Sikorski

In Harvard Yard, on 5 June 1947, on the steps of Memorial Church, momentous words were said.
It is logical that the United States should do what it can to assist the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.

Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.

U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall set in motion the most profitable financial investment in human history: the reconstruction of Western Europe:

The Marshall Plan was part of a wider Western ambition after World War II. To create a World of Rules.
New global institutions were set up, led by U.S. leadership and generosity.

The United Nations. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The International Court of Justice.
Despite harsh Cold War ideological differences, these institutions took root. They grew and flourished.

Why? Because the world -- or at least a part of the world -- had agreed that explicit international military aggression had to stop.

Differences between peoples and nations should be settled by peaceful negotiation.


On one side of the line are countries and peoples free to choose their own democratic destiny.

On the other side are countries in a decaying Twilight Zone. A blighted, unhappy and unstable place outside the World of Rules.

If we get this wrong, our shared Western decades-long strategic ambition to create a Europe whole and free will falter.


Read more: Europe's Challenge: A 'Twilight Zone' in Russia's Shadow, or a 'World of Rules?' | Radek Sikorski

The Netherlands: Dutch jihadi bride: 'Is she a victim or a suspect?' - by Harriet Alexander, and Anna Mees

She was a blonde-haired, blue eyed Catholic girl whose family was a pillar of the Dutch town of Maastricht. He was a smiling, bicycle-riding Dutch former soldier - a man considered such an asset to his country he was encouraged to try out for their elite special forces.

And yet the marriage of Sterlina Petalo and Omar Yilmaz was, for their families, anything but a cause for celebration.

Yilmaz, 26, was one of the most high-profile Europeans to become a jihadi, travelling to Syria to live in the Islamic State and fight on behalf of the extremists. He gloried in the teenage fantasy of war - posting a series of Instagram photos of himself pouting at the camera on a motorbike, amid bombed-out buildings in his combat fatigues, AK47 slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. Miss Petalo was a recent convert to Islam, who fell in love with Yilmaz after seeing him on television, picturing him as a Robin Hood figure.

Last week their story took a remarkable twist when it was revealed that Miss Petalo had in fact returned to her hometown - after her mother travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border to bring the 19-year-old home from the jihadist-held city of Raqqa.

“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said her mother, Monique Verbert. “She rang me and said 'Take me home.’ But she could not leave Raqqa without help.”

The pair arrived back in the Netherlands on Wednesday, said Annemarie Kemp, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office. Clad in a niqqab, with only her eyes showing, the teenager - who has changed her name to Aicha - was photographed being driven through the town on her way to custody.

“Upon her arrival, Aicha was detained at once on suspicion of crimes threatening state security,” said Ms Kemp.

Miss Petalo is being held in a police cell - the prosecutor, Roger Bos, ruled on Friday that she should be detained for questioning for three more days. Mrs Verbert, 49, an administrator for BP, argued that her daughter’s flight to Syria was little more than teenage infatuation. Today Monday November 24 the court will decide whether to press charges.

Note EU-Digest: Every civilized human being should condemn the violence and terror IS is using to instill fear and terror in the areas where they operate. In that same breath one should also condemn social media and the International Press for publicizing these horrific scenes of barbarism, including the decapitation of body parts. This is pure commercially based sensationalism, which can only lead to popularizing these horrific acts in the minds of susceptible young people - case in point Ms Petalo who acted upon her teenage fantasy of a "glorified" war and followed this "insanely obsessed man" into certain disaster. 

Kudos to her mother for taking the proper action to bring her daughter back to reality and safety.    
Read more: Dutch jihadi bride: 'Is she a victim or a suspect?' - Telegraph

11/23/14

Israel - Palestine: Recognizing Palestine a 'Grave Mistake?' Israeli Prime Minister Warns France

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that it would be a "grave mistake" for France's parliament to recognize a Palestinian state in a vote on Dec. 2, reported France 24.

"Do they have nothing better to do at a time of beheadings across the Middle East, including that of a French citizen?" he said while talking to reporters in Jerusalem.
"Recognition of a Palestinian state by France would be a grave mistake," he added.
"The State of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, the only state that we have, and the Palestinians demanding a state do not want to recognize the right have a state for the Jewish people."
France's vote to recognize Palestine is reportedly symbolic and, while non-binding, is similar in nature to recent resolutions passed by British and Spanish governments. In October, Sweden ruled to officially recognize Palestine. As of early November 2014, 135 of the 193 United Nations member states have officially recognized Palestine as a state.

The proposal is being used as "an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict," according to France 24, and is modeled after one approve on Oct. 13 by British lawmakers, which was designed to "recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution."

Earlier Sunday, Israel's cabinet approved a bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While the bill is still waiting to pass parliament before becoming law, Sunday's vote is sure to strain relations with Arab Israelis - which make up about 20 percent of Israel's population - and Palestinians, as it excludes a "significant part of the population, both Arabs and Druze, many of whom serve in the Israeli military," according to France 24.

"The devil is in the details. Will the final bill talk about equality for all of Israel's citizens? Where will the democratic nature of the state fall into this bill?" said Gallagher Fenwick of France 24.
Read more: Recognizing Palestine a 'Grave Mistake?' Israeli Prime Minister Warns France : News : Headlines

Energy Renewables and the Private Sector: IKEA a shining star when it comes to efforts made by the private sector

The lion’s share of debate about the progress of renewable energy is missing an important dimension. It seems that the media, banks and NGOs largely value the worth of each renewable source by their rate of adoption at the national and international level. These measurements seem to rely on macro-economic indicators or on agreements such as that made last week by the U.S. and China. However, the efforts of private corporations to go green, while not wholly unnoticed, do not seem to weigh in. It would make no sense in most other industries to measure their health purely by public efforts. In fact, many renewable energy developers today are seeking to change their industry’s reputation as being dependent on government subsidies and costly to the taxpayer with little return. One way to fight this reputation is to show concrete evidence of global corporations going renewable. This week has given plenty of evidence of just that, with IKEA, Google and Amazon all making real commitments.

Back in March, IKEA acquired the Hoopeston wind farm in Illinois, which is set to produce more than enough energy to power all its stores and distribution stores in the country. 65% more. But this energy will not be sent to IKEA’s stores, instead, the Swedish retailer will sell it off as part of a strategy to offset its entire consumption by 2020. This week, an ever bigger announcement came. IKEA has purchased a 165MW wind farm in Cameron County, Texas, marking “the single largest renewable energy investment made by the IKEA Group globally to date.” IKEA goes on to say that it will invest $1.9 billion in renewables by the end of 2015.

Where IKEA is investing in renewables to offset its energy usage, Google and Amazon are doing so for a far more practical reason: data centers have incredibly high energy consumption and renewable projects can be a good way to reduce that burden. To power its new 600 million euro data center at Eemshaven in the Netherlands, Google has agreed to buy a wind farm being built by Eneco near Eemshaven. The 19-turbine 62MW wind farm will power the data center from day one, and comes on the heels of Google buying two other wind farms in Sweden to provide for its data center in Finland.

Other tech and retail leaders are making forays in the same direction, albeit with less emphasis. After being slammed on Greenpeace’s ranking of the green track records of IT leaders, Amazon seems to want to become more sustainable. Amazon Web Services, responsible for cloud computing, stated that it was taking a “long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.” Unlike Google and IKEA, though, Amazon has not stated any outright investments it is planning on making. It will likely take years for Amazon to become fully renewable, but even doing so for its cloud computing needs would be a major achievement, given how the likes of Pinterest, Netflix and Spotify rely on Amazon’s cloud.

On the negative side of the equation, Walmart is slipping backwards, having used renewables for 3 percent of its energy needs in 2013, as opposed to 4 percent in 2011. Although long identifying itself in its corporate branding as a green leader, a new think tank has revealed that Walmart is relying on coal for 40% of its energy needs in the U.S. This is a particularly damning accusation since Walmart’s stores use more power than Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont combined, according to the report. Walmart immediately rebutted the report, saying it gets 24 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources—and that it would “expand its renewable energy projects and procurement to reach 7 billion kilowatt-hours of wind, solar, hydroelectric and biogas globally by 2020, up from 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours today.”

Whether companies are making quantifiable commitments to renewables or are fudging the statistics to look sustainable, it is becoming increasingly nonsensical to weigh up the value of renewable energy sources through public investment alone.


EU-Digest

The Internet: Orwellian Big Brother is a Reality: "Government in Your Internet"

From the Snowden leaks to the recent passage of the Brazilian government “Marco Civil da Internet”, a set of legislation designed to enforce net neutrality, freedom of expression and privacy, there is no mistaking that this is a critical time for the internet and it’s digital citizens.

Cloud and hosting providers need to pay close attention to developing legislation and technologies to address the privacy and security needs of its customers in this fast changing environment.

Shortly after the NSA’s PRISM program was first reported, Forrester Research predicted that US cloud providers could lose up to $180 billion in business over the next three years due to concerns around the scope of surveillance the program enabled.

In a March Ted Talk Snowden said, “The best way to understand PRISM, because there has been a little bit of controversy, is to first talk about what prism isn’t. Much of the debate in the US has been about meta data. They’ve said ‘it’s just meta data, it’s just meta data’ and they’re talking about a specific legal authority called section 215 of the Patriot Act. That allows sort of a warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance of the entire country’s sort of phone records, things like that…PRISM is about content, it’s a program through which the government could compel corporate America, it could sort of deputize corporate America to do it’s dirty work for the NSA.”

Some companies initially resisted compliance, challenging the NSA in court, but they all lost. Later after the Snowden revelations, a new ruling forced the declassifying of the 2008 Prism decision.
“It was never tried by an open court, they were tried only by a secret court,” Snowden said. “And something that we’ve seen…15 federal judges have reviewed these programs and found them to be lawful, but what they don’t tell you is those are secret judges in a secret court based on secret interpretations of law that’s considered 34,000 warrant requests over 33 years, and in 33 years only rejected 11 government requests.

These aren’t the people that we want deciding what the role of corporate America in a free and open internet should be.”

Although the NSA continually tries to explain the measures and secrets as an important part of national security and characterizes its data collection as “only meta data”, it’s having a hard time spinning the Snowden revelations in its favor. Even late night political comedians are picking up on this topic. John Oliver addressed NSA policies Sunday in an interview with former NSA agency chief Keith Alexander which resulted in a funny yet powerful commentary on the organization.

In a blog post Monday, the NSA again addressed its policies in relation to internet security and the Heartbleed vulnerability. It explained some of its thinking on keeping threats secret.

“But there are legitimate pros and cons to the decision to disclose, and the trade-offs between prompt disclosure and withholding knowledge of some vulnerabilities for a limited time can have significant consequences,” Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator said.

“Disclosing a vulnerability can mean that we forego an opportunity to collect crucial intelligence that could thwart a terrorist attack stop the theft of our nation’s intellectual property, or even discover more dangerous vulnerabilities that are being used by hackers or other adversaries to exploit our networks.”

Discussion and news on privacy, net neutrality and data sovereignty happens daily. Multi- stakeholder governance as a means to address keeping governments out of the internet or at least equally represented is a hot topic. At the two day NetMundail conference last week,  guidelines were discussed for future internet governance.

As the discussion continues to evolve it’s important for cloud and web hosting providers to stay informed of the issues and new legislation so they can best serve their customers in whatever part of the globe they happen to be. As cloud services become more prevalent and are hosted in multiple countries, service providers may be facing more restrictions based on where data is physically stored and which country has domain over the data.

The WHIR interviewed  Jelle Frank van der Zwet of Interxion at World Hosting Days in Germany. When asked about the need for data centers in foreign countries, he had this to say, “If you want to do business in Germany, you must have a data center and infrastructure in Germany. That goes for Amazon, that goes for any cloud provider, small or large if you want to do business in Germany I recommend you have your infrastructure in Germany. I would say the same for France.”

His comment in the context of the greater discussion about data sovereignty and NSA backdoor access into United States based company’s data underscores the importance of where data is hosted in relation to local laws and policies, a growing concern among cloud and hosting providers.

For example, the US Supreme Court ruled recently that a government search warrant will require American companies providing internet, email, and online storage services to hand over data stored anywhere in the world.

Read more: Orwellian Big Brother is a Reality: Government in Your Internet - WHIR

China - Outer Space Research: Beijing edges ahead in the space race

As united as Asian countries may be in their attempts to keep pace with the West, they are worlds apart when it comes to catching up with its space exploration program. So far, it was clear who was winning the space race –with the US running out of steam, only Russia was left.

But it is rapidly losing its advantage as its Asian neighbors are busy looking to boldly go where no one has gone before. Beijing is especially close on Moscow's heels. Other than the Americans and the Russians, the Chinese are the only ones to have made it to the moon as yet.

China's lunar rover, Yutu – or Jade Rabbit – successfully landed on the moon last year. Even though it soon lost contact with controllers, the Chinese are pushing ahead with their ambitious space program. To be fair, they're not the only ones to have run into problems in the ether. In late October, the US witnessed the failure of two space missions.

First, the unmanned Antares rocket designed to transport supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) exploded seconds after liftoff. Two days later, Richard Branson‘s SpaceShipTwo blew up testing new fuel over the California desert.

Read more: Beijing edges ahead in the space race | Asia | DW.DE | 22.11.2014

Middle East- Syria - Kobani: Kurds seize Islamic State arms cache; Iraq touts progress in Baiji battle

Kurdish fighters captured six buildings used by Islamic State fighters besieging the Syrian town of Kobani on Tuesday, and seized a large amount of the militant group’s weapons and ammunition, a group monitoring the war said.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Iraqi security forces entered the country’s largest refinery for the first time on Tuesday after months of battling Islamic State militants who had surrounded it, a police colonel and state television said. If confirmed, the recovery of the facility could provide critical momentum for government forces.

Read more: Kurds in Kobani seize Islamic State arms cache; Iraq touts progress in Baiji battle - The Globe and Mail

11/22/14

ESA: Philae probe ‘sniffed’ organic building blocks of life, scientists say -by Victoria Bryan

European comet lander Philae “sniffed” organic molecules containing the carbon element that is the basis of life on Earth before its primary battery ran out and it shut down, German scientists said.

They said it was not yet clear whether they included the complex compounds that make up proteins. One of the key aims of the mission is to discover whether carbon-based compounds, and through them, ultimately, life, were brought to early Earth by comets.

The COSAC gas analysing instrument on Philae was able to “sniff” the atmosphere and detect the first organic molecules after landing, the DLR German Aerospace Center said.

The lander also drilled into the comet’s surface in its hunt for organic molecules, although it is unclear as yet whether Philae managed to deliver a sample to COSAC for analysis.

Also onboard the lander was the MUPUS tool to measure the density and thermal and mechanical properties of the comet’s surface. It showed the comet’s surface was not as soft as previously believed.

MUPUS could be used again if enough sunlight gets through to reload Philae’s batteries, which the scientists hope may happen as the comet approaches the sun.

Read more: Philae probe ‘sniffed’ organic building blocks of life, scientists say - The Globe and Mail

Farming: Germany: Greens to confront industrialized farm lobby

Germany's opposition Greens have set their sights on nutrition that avoids mass livestock farming. They have accused Chancellor Angela Merkel's government of giving agriculturalized industry an unrestrained free run.

Seven hundred delegates at the Greens' annual conference in Hamburg voted by a large majority on Saturday to make food and farming reform a key campaign issue, despite their electoral bruising last year.

Part of the Green's two-percent decline in voter support to 8.4 percent in Germany's September 2013 poll was widely attributed to their campaign call for a "Veggie Day," a suggestion that each consumer pick a weekday without meat.

The German farmers' federation (DVB) responded at the time by accusing the Greens of trying to impose eating habits on citizens.

Germans each consume annually about 60 kilograms (130 pounds) of meat, including poultry, pork and beef. An additional 4.3 kilograms ends up in the waste bin, according to a recent study by the Heinrich-Böll Foundation.

At Saturday's Hamburg conference , the party adopted a resolution, saying "what I eat and don't eat is for me to decide according to my tastes. But politicians must ensure safe food products and transparent information."

Anton Hofreiter, the opposition Green's caucus leader in the Bundestag said the "agricultural industry with its monoculture is responsible for species extinction worldwide."

Hofreiter also said the party's decision to push further for an agricultural transformation or "Agrawende" had ecological ramifications similar to the "Energiewende."

That was the centerpiece energy transformation adopted by Merkel, taking Germany toward renewables and away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, especially after Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Hofreiter on Saturday also demanded an end to the massive use of antibiotics in intensive farming of animals. His call for a ban on imported, genetically-engineered soya bean produce drew loud applause from delegates.

Read more: Greens to confront industrialized farm lobby | News | DW.DE | 22.11.2014

Internet: The Cloud -No, your data isn't secure in the cloud - by Lucas Mearian

While online data storage services claim your data is encrypted, there are no guarantees. With recent revelations that the federal government taps into the files of Internet search engines, email and cloud service providers, any myth about data "privacy" on the Internet has been busted.

Experts say there's simply no way to ever be completely sure your data will remain secure once you've moved it to the cloud.
"You have no way of knowing. You can't trust anybody. Everybody is lying to you," said security expert Bruce Schneier. "How do you know which platform to trust? They could even be lying because the U.S. government has forced them to."

While providers of email, chat, social network and cloud services often claim -- even in their service agreements -- that the data they store is encrypted and private, most often they -- not you -- are the ones who hold the keys. That means a rogue employee or any government "legally" requesting encryption keys can decrypt and see your data.

Even when service providers say only customers can generate and maintain their own encryption keys, Schneier said there's no way to be sure others won't be able to gain access.

For example, Apple's SMS/MMS-like communications platform, iMessage, claims both voice and text are encrypted and can't be heard or seen by third parties. But because the product isn't open source, "there's no way for us to know how it works," said Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "It seems because of the way it works on functionality, they do have a way to access it. The same goes for iCloud."

Note EU-Digest: The Cloud services are also offered to European Internet users. Given that  the storage data banks of  Google, and Apple for Cloud and other similar systems are kept in the US by American companies, and consequently  fall under US jurisdiction, it probably would not be a good idea for EU citizens and businesses to store sensitive material on these data bank services.

Read more: No, your data isn't secure in the cloud | Computerworld

11/21/14

US President Barack Obama takes decisive action and signs Executive Order on Immigration

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama kicked off his campaign to sell his new immigration plan to the American public Friday, making a pitch for the executive actions that will give millions of illegal immigrants new protections while pledging to continue to push for broader legislation.

Mr. Obama’s decision to act unilaterally on immigration — allowing up to five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and work legally without threat of deportation — came after months of congressional gridlock, in which a broad immigration overhaul that passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support died in the Republican-controlled House.

But the president’s executive action — and call for congressional action — thrust Republicans into a political challenge of their own. In the lead-up to his announcement and in the hours after, Republicans struggled to balance fighting what they view as an abuse of presidential power while still offering a carefully moderated response that does not damage the party’s standing with Latino voters, the nation’s fastest-growing minority, or imperil its governing agenda next year, when it controls both chambers.

So Republicans focused their fury on the president, making clear their anger and frustration at what they call “executive amnesty.” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, warned against the president’s “brazen power grab.” “The president is the one who is acting provocatively, not the Congress,”

Mr. Sessions said. “The last thing this Congress wants to do is have this kind of fight, but at some point the institution has to defend itself.” Nonetheless, Republican leaders have also warned their members against embarking on a strategy that could lead to a government shutdown, as well as cautioning them against talking about impeaching the president.

“Leadership in both the House and the Senate have been clear that talk of impeachment, talk of a shutdown, is not productive, doesn’t solve the problem,” said Pat Tiberi, Republican of Ohio, a close ally of Mr. Boehner.

But Mr. Tiberi also blamed the White House for playing politics with a serious issue, saying: “What did the president do? He pulled the pin on the grenade two weeks after the election, as our leadership was trying to extend the olive branch of working together.

” Not every Republican, however, is displaying the preferred Republican message of restraint. Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, has suggested that, depending on what exactly Mr. Obama undertakes, everything from impeachment to prison could be on the table.

And Representative Steve King — an outspoken opponent of an immigration overhaul who headed to the southern border on Friday with Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota — said censuring the president or even shutting down the government were other possible options.

EU-Digest

11/20/14

Health Services: Norwegian health officials visit Maine hospital

Mainbiz reports that Norway's minister of health-and-care services and a team of delegates visited Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick recently to explore the adoption of a new nurse practitioner program in their country.

Mid Coast Hospital said that Bent Høie, Norway's health minister, and other Norwegian health officials were there to learn about the role of the nurse practitioner, which will help inform the country as it plans its own program for nurse practitioners.

The hospital said the nurse practitioner has become a significant role in health care.

Patsy Cyr, who developed Mid Coast Medical Group's wound-and-ostomy care practice, said in a statement that "assisting the country of Norway with establishing educational opportunities and roles for nurse practitioners within their health care system will contribute to greater efficiencies and lower costs for the people of Norway.


EU-Digest

European Banking Industry: EU Court of Justice rejects the UK's challenge to its cap on bankers' bonuses

The Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice has rejected the UK's challenge to its cap on bankers' bonuses.

The cap restricts bonuses to 100% of banker's pay or 200% with shareholder approval.

Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen gave an opinion that the EU legislation limiting the ratio was valid.

The cap on the ratio is designed to reduce incentives for bankers to take excessive risks but critics say it will push up basic pay and banks' costs.

The UK government challenged the legislation asking the Court of Justice in Luxembourg to consider six arguments challenging both the scope and the legal basis for the new rules.

Advocate General Jääskinen said: "Fixing the ratio of variable remuneration to basic salaries does not equate to a 'cap on bankers bonuses', or fixing the level of pay, because there is no limit imposed on the basic salaries that the bonuses are pegged against."

Read more: BBC News - Blow to UK's bankers' bonus cap challenge

11/19/14

Turkey Global Insurers to Bid for Insurance, Pension Units of Halkbank in Turkey

Insurers from Europe, Asia and the United States are among some 20 potential bidders in the sale by Turkey’s state-run Halkbank of its pension and insurance arms, three sources close to the process said on Wednesday.

Halkbank said in July it planned to sell part or all of pension provider Halk Emeklilik and insurer Halk Sigorta through Turkey’s privatization office, but has yet to give details.

“Talks were carried out with around 20 interested buyers. They will decide whether to participate in the sale process once the privatization document is out,” one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is not public.

“Five of them are in the process of hiring an adviser already,” the source told Reuters.

With a population of nearly 75 million whose average age is under 30, and an underpenetrated market, Turkey offers lucrative opportunities for global insurers, particularly given government initiatives to encourage saving through private pensions.

European firms Ageas, Aviva and Zurich Insurance, Japan’s Meiji Yasuda, Nippon Life and Sompo Japan Insurance, Malaysia’s Khazanah and U.S.-listed ACE Group were among the interested parties, the sources said.

Read more: Global Insurers to Bid for Insurance, Pension Units of Halkbank in Turkey

Healthcare: Telehealth/Telemedicine: An Opportunity for Physicians and Providers to Add a New Line of Service

The cost effectiveness of providing health care via telemedicine or telehealth promises to be an effective tool to increase coverage and reimbursement of healthcare provided remotely or through telehealth. Towers Watson, a national consulting company, recently published a 2014 study that suggests that telemedicine could save $6 billion annually for the US health care industry.

“Achieving this savings requires a shift in patient and physician mindsets, health plan willingness to integrate and reimburse such services, and regulatory support in all states,” according to Dr. Allan Khoury, a senior consultant at Towers Watson.

What is Telemedicine/Telehealth? :

 Simply defining telemedicine can be tricky, as there is no single definition. CMS defines “telemedicine” as the “provision of clinical services to patients by practitioners from a distance via electronic communications.”

The American Telemedicine Association (“ATA”), a nonprofit organization dedicated to integrating telemedicine into health care systems, defines it as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.

The American Medical Association (“AMA”) approved “guiding principles” regarding telemedicine in June, but offered no single definition. The AMA report instead addresses telemedicine within three broad categories of telemedicine technologies: store-and-forward telemedicine, remote monitoring telemedicine, and real-time interactive telemedicine services.

Read more: Telehealth/Telemedicine: An Opportunity for Physicians and Providers to Add a New Line of Service | The National Law Review

CHINA: Beijing's New Stealth Jet: Made in China

The toys coming out of China nowadays are amazing.

Laymen build aircraft and submarines in their spare time, and take their creations on trial submersions that earn them fifteen minutes of fame on CCTV and Weibo. They’re bold, they’re scrappy, and they’re certainly impressive. But in the past week, the southeastern port city of Zhuhai saw a different kind of flight.

Fighter jets howled and scraped the skies overhead as crowds adored a docked GJ-1 drone that is normally flown remotely by officers of the People’s Liberation Army. Xiaomi smartphones and Samsung Galaxy tablets captured photos of the warplanes in action before the shots were uploaded to Weibo.

Few cared about the grounded luxury jets that offered all manner of in-flight comforts—those were meant for the princelings. The crowd was there to see something new, the star of the show: the Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter flown by elite pilots of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

Read more: Beijing's New Stealth Jet: Made in China - The Daily Beast

Banking Industry: Germany gets new deposit insurance law

The German government adopted a package of measures Wednesday at a cabinet meeting in Berlin aimed at ensuring depositors' savings are better protected if a German bank fails.

The measures responded to a European Union directive passed in June, requiring each EU member country to create a deposit insurance fund for the nation's banking sector. The directive specifies that each nation's fund must set aside an amount corresponding to at least 0.8 percent of total bank deposits covered by deposit guarantees.

The deposit insurance fund is to be brought up to the required level over the coming ten years, i.e. by 2024.

It's part of a wider effort to renovate the European banking system to achieve greater safety and stability in the wake of the problems since the 2008 financial crisis, which was generated by irresponsible banking practices. Europe-wide banking regulation - rather than purely national regulation - is key to that effort.

Read more Germany gets new deposit insurance law | Business | DW.DE | 19.11.2014

11/18/14

US Tax System: Inequality, Unbelievably, Gets Worse - by Steven Rattner

The Democrats’ loss  in the midterm elections was unfortunate on many levels, but particularly because the prospect of addressing income inequality grows dimmer, even as the problem worsens.

To only modest notice, during the campaign the Federal Reserve put forth more sobering news about income inequality: Inflation-adjusted earnings of the bottom 90 percent of Americans fell between 2010 and 2013, with those near the bottom dropping the most. Meanwhile, incomes in the top group rose.

Lower taxes means less for government to spend on programs to help those near the bottom. Social Security typically provides a retiree with about half of his working income; European countries often replace two-thirds of earnings.

Similarly, we spend less on early childhood education and care. And another big difference, of course, is the presence of national health insurance in most European countries.

All told, social spending in the United States is below the average of that of the wealthiest countries. And other governments help their less fortunate citizens to a greater extent than we do in ways that are not captured in the income statistics. The United States, which is the only developed country without a national paid parental leave policy, also has no mandated paid holidays or annual vacation; in Europe, workers are guaranteed at least 20 days and as many as 35 days of paid leave.

To his credit, President Obama has succeeded in keeping income disparities from growing even wider, by such measures as by forcing tax rates on the wealthiest Americans up toward fair levels.

Meanwhile, on the programmatic side, among the many meritorious aspects of the much-maligned Affordable Care Act are its redistributionist elements: higher taxes on investment income and some health care businesses are being used to provide low-cost or free health care to a projected 26 million Americans near the bottom of the income scale.

Read more: New York Times



Britain: David Cameron has now passed the point of no return on Europe - by Polly Toynbee

David Cameron has crossed the Rubicon. There is no going back. By proposing to limit free movement of labour from the EU he has planted himself on the side of the outs, as José Manuel Barroso made crystal clear in his Chatham House speech on Monday. The other 27 nations will never agree: if limiting national insurance numbers for EU workers is Cameron’s new red line then he has joined the Ukip wing of his party, who won’t let him renege.

“I will go to Brussels, I will not take no for an answer … when it comes to free movement,” he told his conference, and now that’s confirmed. In a riposte to Barroso’s plain statement of the facts on EU law, No 10 rudely warned him that he “should be under no illusion that the status quo is not acceptable to the UK”. Cameron went one worse and told him “who is the boss” on immigration.

There is no effective difference between Ukip and the Conservatives, both heading for the exit – except, as Nigel Farage says, Cameron “is deceiving the British public” with nonexistent options, breeding more political cynicism.

Cameron is no Caesar. He has been dragged backwards across this Rubicon by his enemies, in the long lurch away from Europe that began when he used an anti-EU ploy to secure the Tory leadership. Leadership? Not really, he’s been trailing after the Europhobes ever since, trying to keep up. Every step since then he has conceded British interests to appease the unappeasables. He won with a promise to withdraw the Tories from the European People’s party, outraging natural conservative allies such as Angela Merkel.

That bartering of British influence was the telling moment: Cameron would put his political interest ahead of his country’s in ways that would surely shock previous Tory prime ministers. Would any of them deliberately risk the nation’s pivotal international relationship just to swing an embarrassing byelection in Rochester? Cameron’s stated view is that Britain is better off inside the EU – but not, it seems, if it puts him to much inconvenience.

Note EU-Digest: maybe the best thing for Britain will be to hold the referendum on opting out of the EU because it would provide sensible British citizens together with recent immigrants, minorities and business groups, who realize that getting out of the EU would be suicide for Britain,  to defeat the Conservative grouping who are against being part of Europe for once and for all 

Read more: David Cameron has now passed the point of no return on Europe | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian