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Health Care:The Netherlands continues to have the best health care system in the EU

The Netherlands has retained its position at the top of the annual Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI), which compares healthcare systems in Europe for the fifth year in a row.

Each year, the Swedish NGO Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP) ranks healthcare systems in Europe on 48 indicators, including patients' rights and information, accessibility, prevention and outcomes. Once again, the Netherlands secured a top position among 36 European countries for the fifth year in a row, scoring 898 of a maximum 1,000 points.

In the EU, the Netherlands was followed by Finland, Denmark, and Belgium as the countries with the best healthcare, while Romania, Lithuania and Poland scored the lowest. In an overall comparison in Europe, Switzerland came second with Norway on a third place.

Read more: The Netherlands continues to have the best health care system in the EU | EurActiv

Italy Elects President, While Mulling a Change in Role - by Eelisabetta Povoledo

Italian lawmakers on Saturday elected Sergio Mattarella, a veteran politician and constitutional court judge, as the country’s president, a post that is expected to be redefined during his tenure.

Mr. Mattarella was elected by lawmakers from both houses of Parliament and regional delegates on the third day of voting, when only a simple majority was needed, instead of the two-thirds required in the early votes. He won 665 votes out of a possible 1,009, signaling wide consensus across the political spectrum.

His election is also a political victory for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had sponsored Mr. Mattarella’s candidacy and asked his cantankerous party, and his broad coalition, to back his choice.

What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Renzi has lost the support of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose party has been an ally of the government as it has tried to push through institutional reforms. Mr. Berlusconi had protested that Mr. Renzi was imposing his choice on his allies, rather than reaching out to them to find a consensus candidate.

Although Mr. Mattarella, 73, has been on the political stage for many years, he has remained mostly out of the limelight, Italian media commentators noted as they struggled to find television footage, even recent photographs, of the reserved politician.

Read more:  Italy Elects President, While Mulling a Change in Role -

European Left Getting Motivated by Greece:Spain Rally: Podemos holds Madrid mass 'March for Change'

Tens of thousands of people have massed in central Madrid for a rally organized by radical Spanish leftists Podemos.

The "March for Change" is one of the party's first outdoor mass rallies, as it looks to build on the recent victory of its close allies Syriza in Greece.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias told the crowd a "wind of change" was starting to blow through Europe.
Podemos has surged ahead in opinion polls, and has vowed to write off part of Spain's debt if it comes to power.

The BBC's Tom Burridge in Madrid says that there has been an impressive turnout and a carnival atmosphere at the rally.

Several of Madrid's main avenues became a sea of people and purple, the party's colour, he says, after its supporters travelled from all over Spain.

Read more: BBC News - Spain rally: Podemos holds Madrid mass 'March for Change'

Russia's Finance Minister Backs Decision to Cut Key Interest Rate

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov backed the Сentral Bank's decision to cut its main interest rate on Friday and said the bank had grounds to say it had the situation on the foreign exchange market under control.

The Central Bank cut its main interest rate by 200 basis points to 15 percent as fears of recession mount following the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

"We believe that it was an absolutely correct and informed decision," Siluanov told reporters. "The situation has calmed down in the currency market, the [ruble] rate has found its equilibrium."

The ruble, which has fallen some 50 percent against the dollar since early last year, weakened as much as 4 percent against the dollar and euro from the previous close, before recovering slightly.

The Central Bank's decision to cut rates came little more than a month after the ruble's virtual free fall forced the bank to raise rates in an emergency move to 17 percent. Siluanov said the situation had stabilized since then.
"We all had complained about the high [lending] rates in the economy, which are guided also by the key [Central Bank] rate," Siluanov said. "The Central Bank's decision speaks of a further decline in [lending] rates. The Central Bank has reason to say that the situation in the foreign exchange market is under control."

Read more: Russia's Finance Minister Backs Decision to Cut Key Interest Rate | News | The Moscow Times

Turkey: New Greek Defense Minister Prompts Turkey To Scramble Jets

Greece's new nationalist defense minister prompted Greece's perennial rival Turkey to scramble jets on Friday, just days after he took office, by flying over uninhabited islets off the Turkish coast that nearly triggered a war in 1996.

Turkish fighter jets entered Greek airspace and were intercepted by Greek jets as Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and military chiefs flew by helicopter to the islet of Imia to drop wreaths in memory of three Greek officers killed nearby in a helicopter crash 19 years ago, the Greek Defense Ministry said.

Kammenos heads the small, right-wing, Eurosceptical Independent Greeks party, and the episode underlines the risk that its unlikely coalition with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's leftwing Syriza party, winner of last week's election, will come under strain on issues not related to their shared desire to end Greece's austerity program.

Read mre: New Greek Defense Minister Prompts Turkey To Scramble Jets


India, US Advance Strategic Relations - Success For President Obama

India and the US will initiate co-production of low-end weapons in India as the two countries renewed their 10-year Defense Framework Agreement during a visit here by US President Barack Obama Sunday through Tuesday.

The agreement, which defines steps to be taken in the next 10 years to bolster their bilateral defense partnership, incorporates for the first time a provision to co-produce weapons in India, along with transfer of technology through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI).

Analysts and serving military officers, however, said it is too early to expect co-development and co-production of advanced weapons systems, and the two countries will need to begin with low-end projects to become familiar with how the DTTI will work as bureaucratic hurdles can impede execution of such projects.

At first, the two countries will co-produce such low-end weapons as the Raven UAV, and reconnaissance modules for the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft bought in 2008, said an Indian Defence Ministry source. More products under DTTI will be identified during next month's visit by Frank Kendall, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Obama was the first US president to be the guest at the Jan. 26 Republic Day parade. His visit received substantial attention by the media, with analysts describing it as a watershed event and the beginning of a new era in Indo-US strategic relations under the Narendra Modi government.

Read more: ndia, US Advance Strategic Relations 

Greece rejects austerity in tense meeting with eurozone’s bailout chief

The new leftwing Greek government and the man overseeing its bailout operation – the eurozone’s finance chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem – met for the first time in Athens on Friday, and it was a difficult encounter.
Having paid his respects to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Dijsselbloem entered the lion’s den – the Finance Ministry to confront his nemesis.

There, during a one hour meeting, the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told the Eurogroup President in no uncertain terms the country is done cooperating with its bailout lenders, the so-called troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Afterwards at a tense news conference Dijsselbloem tried reasoning: He said: “It is of the utmost importance that Greece remains on a path of recovery. This requires commitments to reform process and to fiscal sustainability. Taking unilateral steps or ignoring previous arrangements is not the way forward.”

Varoufakis was having none of that. He accused the troika of trying “to implement an anti-European programme,” adding “We see no purpose in cooperating with this tripartite committee that the European Parliament has criticised as being built on a rotten structure.”

Varoufakis said he had assured Dijsselbloem that Athens planned to implement reforms to make the economy more competitive and have balanced budgets but that it would not accept a “self-fed crisis” of deflation and non-viable debt.

The news conference ended with an awkward handshake, after which Dijsselbloem headed back to Brussels, not looking at all happy and with apparently no idea what the Greeks will do next to find money to cover around 10 billion euros in debt repayments this summer.

In Athens euronews correspondent Symela Touchtidou concluded: “Since 2010 Greece has received dozens of visits from the troika, as the Greek bailout programme was implemented. Now the new finance minister has firmly declared that those visits belong to the past.”

Read more: Greece rejects austerity in tense meeting with eurozone’s bailout chief | euronews, economy

Religion: How Do Americans Feel About Women, Gays in the Pulpit?

Americans support women in the pulpit and in senior leadership positions within the church. But they are more hesitant when it comes to supporting openly gay and lesbian religious leaders.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 60% of American Adults favor women in the pulpit, while just 16% are opposed. Twenty-five percent (25%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Even more (74%) support women in leadership positions in their respective faiths. Just nine percent (9%) are opposed, with 17% undecided.

Just 43% of Americans favor openly gay and lesbian individuals in the pulpit. Thirty-eight percent (38%) are opposed. Nineteen percent (19%) are undecided.

Forty-six percent (46%) support open gays and lesbians holding senior leadership positions in their respective faiths. Thirty-four percent (34%) do not, while 19% are not sure.

The more one attends religious services, however, the less supportive he or she is of women, gays and lesbians in the pulpit.

Evangelical Christians are less supportive than those of other faiths when it comes to women in the pulpit but are equally strong supporters of women in leadership positions in their faith. Evangelicals are much less supportive than the others, though, when it comes to open gays and lesbians in the pulpit and in leadership roles.

Read more: How Do Americans Feel About Women, Gays in the Pulpit? - Rasmussen Reports™


Oil: US Senate OKs Keystone XL Pipeline, Setting Up Fight With Obama - by Krishnadev Calamur

Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans to pass the measure, which now must be reconciled with a version passed last month by the House. The Senate vote is also not enough to override a presidential veto.

NPR's Ailsa Chang tells our Newscast unit the measure is the first passed by the Senate in the new Congress. She says the Senate worked through dozens of amendments over three weeks despite the veto threat.

The U.S. State Department, which has been reviewing the pipeline for more than six years, is now deciding whether the project to carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is in the national interest. Congressional Republicans want to short-circuit that years-long process and grant the Keystone XL pipeline a permit immediately.

As we have previously reported, the "pipeline is a hot-button political issue, with politicians from both parties, some unions and energy companies supporting its approval while environmental groups, some Nebraska landowners and some liberal Democrats oppose it."

Read More: Senate OKs Keystone XL Pipeline, Setting Up Fight With Obama : The Two-Way : NPR

Greece Steps Back Into Line With European Union Policy on Russia Sanctions - by ndrew Higgens

Gathering in Brussels, European foreign ministers scrambled on Thursday to hold a united front against Russia over Ukraine, calming worries that the election of a far-left government in Greece hostile to sanctions could upend Europe’s policy toward Moscow.

This week’s victory of the anti-establishment Syriza party in Greece had been widely seen as enhancing dogged but previously unsuccessful efforts by Russia to divide members of the European Union and undermine the bloc’s sanctions policy.

In the end, however, Greece backed away from strong statements denouncing sanctions and joined other countries in the 28-member bloc in a unanimous vote in favor of expanding a list of sanctioned individuals, mostly Russians, and of work to prepare “any further action” to pressure combatants to respect a stillborn truce agreement from last year.

Greece also joined other countries in endorsing a six-month extension of sanctions imposed last March that would otherwise have soon expired.

The acquiescence of Greece’s new leftist government was greeted optimistically as a sign that, despite the tough words issued from Greek officials in recent days, Athens would continue to work with its European Union partners, including, perhaps, on its debt obligations.

Read more:  Greece Steps Back Into Line With European Union Policy on Russia Sanctions -

Saudi Arabia:West has doubts on repressive Saudi Arabia's king - by Olivia Ward

Recent events are reminders that Saudi Arabia — arguably the West’s mainstay in a rocky region — is universally condemned for its religious extremism by countries that diplomatically and economically embrace it.

Meanwhile, in Jeddah, imprisoned blogger and activist Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes, administered over 20 weeks, as well as 10 years in jail. 

On Thursday his wife, Ensaf Haidar, a refugee in Sherbrooke, Que., joined an all-party coalition and human rights advocates on Parliament Hill, calling for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s personal intervention.

The events are reminders that one of the West’s main Middle Eastern allies — arguably its mainstay in a rocky region — is universally condemned for its religious extremism by countries that diplomatically and economically embrace it.

Read more: West has doubts on repressive Saudi Arabia's king | Toronto Star

Russia: Putin Family Values - Leonid Bershidsky

Russian President Vladimir Putin has always been extremely secretive about his two daughters, so much so that it's all but impossible to find their recent photos on the Internet. Now, however, the Kremlin seems to be doing little to stop a fast-spreading story that Putin's younger daughter Ekaterina lives in Moscow and heads a company that's involved in developing a $1.7 billion innovation center.

The Dutch press has long reported that Maria Putina lived with her Dutch boyfriend in a posh apartment building in Voorschoten, Netherlands. When a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian rebels, the mayor of the city of Hilversum angrily demanded that Maria be deported: Two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch citizens. He later apologized, but tabloids were already reporting she had fled her Dutch home.

As for Katerina, she was linked -- originally by the Korean press -- to the son of a retired South Korean admiral who once worked at the country's Moscow embassy. The admiral denied the rumors.

Read more: Putin Family Values - Bloomberg View

France - Poll says 80% of French want a return to national service

Some 80 percent of the French population want a return to compulsory national service in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, and see it as a useful tool for giving alienated youngsters “Republican values”.

An IFOP poll for regional daily Ouest France on Sunday showed that 81 percent of men and 79 percent of women supported some kind of service, be it civilian or military, for young men and women.

Read more: France - Poll says 80% of French want a return to national service - France 24


Thank You Greece! - by Maria Helena dos Santos André

In a time when in Paris Marine Le Pen is “Ante Portas”, when xenophobic populists are marching through the streets of Dresden, when in London the UKIP sets the tone for an ever more anti-European hysteria, and when in Helsinki the Finnish government becomes the most ardent proponent of more austerity for Greece, for no other reason but the fear of a success of the “Real Finns” at the next ballot box, the Greek people have given a clear signal, voting against more austerity and for the European values of democracy, the welfare state, tolerance and inclusive societies.

They have rejected the ruling by European and international technocrats. They have said no to their national oligarchic establishment that has led the country into the current situation. But they also resisted the siren calls of Golden Dawn. They have given their confidence to an untested party, with no experience in government, a party that has presented an electoral programme proposing better governance, more democracy, greater social justice and an end of austerity policies that have destroyed the economy and created unprecedented hardship while the public (and private) debt continued to increase. The Greek voters have sent a clear message to the rest of Europe: they want to be part of Europe, they can’t bear more austerity; they need a sustainable solution to their debt problem; they want to be a respected partner in the European Union and play an active role in the common search for a Greek and European recovery.

Europe should not see the victory of Syriza as a threat. Instead, it should be seen as a clear signal from the people and as an opportunity for Europe as a whole to reconsider its crisis response, which has already lead the continent into what may become a decade of deflationary stagnation, even with the last intervention of the ECB. There is no easy solution to the deep crisis in Europe but one thing is certain:  continuing with policies that do not work, because they concentrate exclusively on fiscal prudence, is the opposite of what must be done. We must give priority to growth, investment, employment and redistributive policies.

Anyone guided by realism will recognize that Greece cannot, at the same time, serve its tremendous debt burden and recover economically and socially. Insisting on servicing the debt without a strong economic recovery might be popular in some European capitals but it will just not work. Debts that cannot be paid remain un-payable even if creditors continue to insist that it should be paid.

The debt crises in Germany in the last century offer great lessons in this respect. After World War I, the victorious powers insisted that Germany should pay reparations independently of its economic performance. The results are well known: hyperinflation in the twenties, brutal austerity in the early thirties resulting in the rise of Hitler who immediately stopped servicing any foreign debt when he came to power.

After World War II, the Allies recognized that Germany had to become prosperous first and should pay afterwards. That reasoning lies behind one of the most generous debt restructuring agreements in history in 1953, when more than 50% of the German debt was written off, repayment was stretched out over more than half a century and debt payments were made conditional on the existence of a trade surplus. The last payment of debt from World War I was actually made as late as in 2010 and payments at no time exceeded 5% of German export earnings.

Read more: Thank You Greece!

Turkey’s arms procurement raises questions

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Defense Industry, the highest decision-making body on arms procurement in Turkey, held its first meeting of 2015 last week under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Ambitious and costly projects approved were trumpeted as further steps toward “new Turkey.”

In the old days, news of EC meetings did not really interest the man in the street. But in recent years the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's frequent references to defense industry projects in its political discourse and boasting of grand successes achieved worthy of a global power in the making have made them newsworthy. Inauguration ceremonies for new projects that are public relations spectacles that the Turkish people enjoy are now a reality of that “new Turkey.”

This also explains why Davutoglu reserved most of his Jan. 13 parliamentary speech to the EC meeting. This is how he explained the EC decisions: “The defense industry is henceforth national and will remain national. It will be the basis of our national destiny. In old times, never mind Turkey even dreaming of making its own tanks and its own planes; we used plead for donations to buy the weapons other countries discarded. For tank modernization we needed Israel. Now we have a Turkey that won’t bow to others with its own national defense industry. This is the new Turkey.”

Read more: Turkey’s arms procurement raises questions - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

Greece: Yes, Europe will give in to Greece—but it won’t admit it

The coming face-off between Greece’s European creditors and the country’s new left-wing government is painted as an epic struggle between intractable foes, but it’s better to think of them as sharing a common goal: Reducing Greece’s daunting debt without admitting it to the rest of Europe.

Greece doesn’t want to be cut loose from the euro zone, but Germany and the rest of the EU will find it hard to keep it in without offering politically unpopular debt relief. As Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis of the Syriza party, put it, “we must offer Mrs. Merkel a way of packaging the new deal that she can then sell to her parliamentarians.”

The key thing to realize is that Greece’s problems date back far before Syriza came to spook the markets. The IMF’s most recent projection for Greece’s debt path is that it will decline from a horrendous 174% of GDP in 2013 to a hideous 128% by the end of the decade—but even that’s only if the country generates consistently high economic growth and runs a huge government surplus of around 4% of GDP for several years. Neither seems particularly likely, as private sector economists will tell you and even government ministers concede in private.

Read more: Yes, Europe will give in to Greece—but it won’t admit it – Quartz

Swedish far-right leader says Islamism is a bigger threat than Nazism - by Adam Taylor

The Swedish Democrats (SD) won 13 percent of the vote in September’s general election, becoming the third-most-popular political party in the country. Their success took many by surprise, but in many ways it was the result of a shift seen in other European far-right parties: SD, which has roots in Swedish fascism and white supremacy, had tempered its more extremist policies, and instead focused on social conservatism, immigration and Islam.

On Tuesday, acting party leader Mattias Karlsson hammered that point home by telling public broadcaster SVT that "the threat of Islamism is perhaps greater than it is from Nazism." The comments, which came on the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, stoked controversy in a country grappling with a backlash against multiculturalism.

SVT had asked Karlsson, who has been leading the party for the past few months after Jimmie Åkesson was put on leave for exhaustion, about statements once made by new party Secretary Richard Jomshof. Jomshof, a former teacher and member of a synth-pop band, had been criticized for a blog post in 2012 titled "Muslims who want to take over Europe" in which he said that Islamism is now a bigger threat than National Socialism or Communism were.

"[Nazism] was quite a terrible threat, much worse in his time," Karlsson told SVT. "Today, I think that the threat of Islamism is perhaps greater than it is from Nazism. But one must of course take all ideologies seriously and fight them in every way."

Read more: Swedish far-right leader says Islamism is a bigger threat than Nazism - The Washington Post


Greece: Eurogroup leaves door open for Syriza to partially renegotiate ‘if necessary’

Monday’s Eurogroup meeting in Brussels had to deal with a potential crisis triggered by a victory in Greece for Syriza. This has led the group’s leading lights to predict a tough round of talks ahead, especially if the Greeks push agressively for debt forgiveness.

“We have common goals; ensuring that Greece as a nation can stand on its own two feet, clean up its finances, and become a jobs generator again. A Greece that is growing, and can pay its debts,” said the EU’s Economic Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.

However all the initial reactions have sounded conciliatory with the Eurogroup’s president leaving a door open to easier debt terms for Athens.

“We have already done a lot to lift the debt burden for Greece over the last couple of years, in terms of interest, maturity and the length of the loans.

“If the Greeks commit to what we have agreed with, then, and if necessary – now, these words ‘if necessary’ refer to the debt sustainability, it’s too early to say – we’ve always said we would come back to debt sustainability issues after the completion of the fifth [bailout] review and that is still pending,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Read more: Eurogroup leaves door open for Syriza to partially renegotiate ‘if necessary’ | euronews, economy

Auschwitz survivors, world leaders mark 70th anniversary of camp's liberation

World leaders joined around 300 Auschwitz survivors at the site of the former Nazi death camp on Tuesday to mark 70 years since its liberation by Soviet troops, an anniversary held in the shadow of war in Ukraine and a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.
Tuesday's gathering in southern Poland marks perhaps the last major anniversary that survivors of the camp will be able to attend in numbers, given the youngest are now in their 70s. Some 1,500 attended the 60th anniversary.

Read more: Auschwitz survivors, world leaders mark 70th anniversary of camp's liberation - World - CBC News

The Super Bowl seen through the eyes of a European Soccer fan - by RM

American football -the Super Bowl is here again on Sunday, February 1, 2015

As a "foreigner" It's Interesting watching the news here in the US. For more than 10 days now we have been "pummeled" non-stop with news about a deflated football and its effect on the "Super Bowl" - for the uninformed this is the final game of an American football competition between 4 divisions around America.

For some outsiders American Football looks like Rugby except for the fact that its not about great athletics, but rather about a heavily padded group of guys who keep running into each other for about 3 hours until the least exhausted and battered team wins. 

The winning team is called "the World Football Champion" - world hmm ? For those outside the US who consider "the other football" - called soccer in America - as the real thing, it seems ridiculous. But hey, this is America, the world,s number 1 Superpower 

They are "the boss" when it comes to calling the shots around the world, at least for now. Anyway, I will be watching "the Seattle Seahawks" playing the "Boston Patriots" this Sunday", with my special interest focused on the usually spectacular half-time variety show - and may the best team win.


EU: The New Drivers of Europe's Geopolitics - by George Friedman

The story is well known. The financial crisis of 2008, which began as a mortgage default issue in the United States, created a sovereign debt crisis in Europe. Some European countries were unable to make payment on bonds, and this threatened the European banking system. There had to be some sort of state intervention, but there was a fundamental disagreement about what problem had to be solved. Broadly speaking, there were two narratives.

The German version, and the one that became the conventional view in Europe, is that the sovereign debt crisis is the result of irresponsible social policies in Greece, the country with the greatest debt problem. These troublesome policies included early retirement for government workers, excessive unemployment benefits and so on. Politicians had bought votes by squandering resources on social programs the country couldn’t afford, did not rigorously collect taxes and failed to promote hard work and industriousness. Therefore, the crisis that was threatening the banking system was rooted in the irresponsibility of the debtors.

Another version, hardly heard in the early days but far more credible today, is that the crisis is the result of Germany’s irresponsibility. Germany, the fourth-largest economy in the world, exports the equivalent of about 50 percent of its gross domestic product because German consumers cannot support its oversized industrial output.

The result is that Germany survives on an export surge. For Germany, the European Union — with its free-trade zone, the euro and regulations in Brussels — is a means for maintaining exports. The loans German banks made to countries such as Greece after 2009 were designed to maintain demand for its exports. The Germans knew the debts could not be repaid, but they wanted to kick the can down the road and avoid dealing with the fact that their export addiction could not be maintained.

Read more: The New Drivers of Europe's Geopolitics


Israel: How Will Obama Punish Netanyahu the Republican senator from Israel ? - by Michael Tomasky

How far does Bibi Netanyahu think he can push Barack Obama before the president says “enough”? Think back to 2010, when Israel announced plans to build new settlements while Joe Biden was visiting the country.

Even Hillary Clinton called that one “insulting.” There were other little digs, but then the WTF moment came when Netanyahu basically endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, you will recall, inviting Romney and Sheldon Adelson over to Israel that summer. After Obama won, both sides assured their publics that all was still smelling of roses. We all knew those assurances were false, but at least they bothered to make them.

The Republican senator from Israel is taunting the President of the United States. And someday, there will indeed be a price. Let’s just hope it’s one that only Netanyahu and those on the Israeli and American right, and not the people of Israel and Palestine, have to pay.

Read more: How Will Obama Punish Netanyahu? - The Daily Beast

EU: Austerity is not working around Europe - Time for change?

The Guardian notes in an editorial that at a stroke, the Greek general election of 2015 has destroyed the post-recessionary political norms and assumptions of Greece and shaken those of the European Union to the core as well.

For six years, Greeks have protested against harsh eurozone disciplines, but the nation’s eventual, though resentful, readiness to put up with the resulting hardships has been a source of stability. In Sunday’s vote, however, Greek patience finally snapped, particularly among the middle classes, ousting the pro-austerity government of New Democracy and electing the anti-austerity left-coalition Syriza in its place.

As a consequence, the past is no longer much of a guide to the future, at least in Athens, and perhaps elsewhere in Europe.

For the complete editorial  from the Guardian click here 

U.S. Attacks Islamic State Oil Revenue - by Albert R. Hunt

In an interview last week, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that U.S. officials believe that Islamic State's illicit oil sales have been reduced from about $1 million a day to a couple million dollars a week. Cohen credited the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State along with efforts by several neighbors, including Turkey and Kurdistan, to undermine Islamic State's capacities in the region.

While acknowledging "a fair amount of fuzziness" in any estimates, Cohen said Islamic State is getting less revenue from oil sales than from extortion, including kidnapping ransoms and shaking down banks and other businesses. Extortion, he said, is harder to stop.

Islamic State holds large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and needs resources to provide public services previously provided by those governments. "If they are unable to keep the water on, keep the electricity on, pick up the trash and meet basic needs, that undercuts their narrative that they are a legitimate governing entity," Cohen said. Based on anecdotal evidence and other reports, Cohen suggested, "They are failing at this."

Read more:U.S. Attacks Islamic State Oil Revenue - Bloomberg View

Greece Why aren't markets panicking about Greece? - by Robert Peston

he Greek people don't seem desperately grateful for the 240bn euros in bailouts they've had from the eurozone and IMF - and here is one way of seeing why.

So why aren't investors in a state of frenzied panic? Why have the euro and stock markets bounced a bit this morning? One slightly implausible explanation is that investors believe the eurozone would actually be stronger without Greece, so long as no other big country followed it out the door.

More likely is that they believe reason will prevail, and Berlin will sanction a write-off of Greece's excessive debts.

Here is the important point: outside of Germany it is almost impossible to find an economist or central banker who believed that the previous reconstruction of Greek debt was ever going to work.

So just maybe, after Greeks have made a colossal and some would say pointless economic sacrifice, Germany will allow a rescue that permits the country a fighting chance of crawling out from beneath its colossal debts.

Read more: BBC News - Why aren't markets panicking about Greece?

Terrorism: ​‘Small drone’ found on White House grounds, Secret Service looking for suspects

What is described as a small drone was found on White House grounds on Monday morning. President Obama and the First Lady are on a trip to India. The Security Service is looking for the perpetrators.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed that “a device” has been found. "The early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat to anybody at the White House," he said.
The Secret Service announced that one of the agents saw and heard a two-foot-wide "quadcopter" fly at a low altitude over the premises about 3 am local time.

"There was an immediate alert and lockdown of the complex until the device was examined and cleared," a Secret Service spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that the investigation is underway “to determine the origin of this commercially available device, motive, and to identify suspects."
The entire White House perimeter was on lockdown until around 5 am, AP reported. At sunrise, a vast search of the premises was carried out.

Read more: ‘Small drone’ found on White House grounds, Secret Service looking for suspects — RT USA

US Democracy On the Skids: Another Bush-Clinton race does not suggest a healthy democracy - by Ron Chimelis

Maybe Jeb is the best of the Bushes, combining the shrewd global vision of his father with his brother's grit.
Maybe Hillary would be the pragmatic head of state as many world leaders see her, a no-nonsense political leader and the better half of the power couple all along.

But I am tired of the Bushes and the Clintons, who seem geared up for another round of competing for the Presidency as if they were settling a border dispute.

If either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush wins the 2016 Presidential election and serves eight years, the White House will have been occupied by a Bush or a Clinton for 28 of 36 years. Say this for Barack Obama: Wherever the birthers think he was born, he wasn't cradled by members of either of America's two royal families as he entered the world.

What does it say about a sprawling democracy, though, when it keeps rotating back to the same two families? Names such as Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt and Kennedy remind us that political dynasties are nothing new in America.

This is different, though. A connected, media-driven age should allow us more access to a wider range of ideas and candidates.

Yet the pool is shrinking, not expanding. Never have two families run in lockstep with each other, jockeying for position in the heart and soul of America.

At a time most Americans say it's time for change, they represent safe and familiar security blankets. That is comforting to a nation that fears what change it may get, but it does not speak well for a nation built on choice and a broad range of ideas, not a reliance on heavyweights trotted out by two households.

Read more: Another Bush-Clinton race does not suggest a healthy democracy: Viewpoint |

France - Poll says 80% of French want a return to national service

Some 80 percent of the French population want a return to compulsory national service in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, and see it as a useful tool for giving alienated youngsters “Republican values”

 Read more: France - Poll says 80% of French want a return to national service - France 24

Greece: Greek radical-left leader vows to end Wall Street imposed 'humiliation and pain'

Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras promised on Sunday that five years of austerity, “humiliation and pain” imposed by international creditors were over after his Syriza party swept to victory in a snap election on Sunday.

Read more: Europe - Greek radical-left leader vows to end 'humiliation and pain' - France 24

Germany: Weapons Industry: Berlin mulls Saudi, Australian weapons deals

Germany's national security council, a government body headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and made up of ministers from seven ministries, has decided to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia due to "instability in the region," the mass-market Bild am Sonntag reported Sunday, adding that the information has not been officially confirmed.

According to the newspaper, orders of weapons from Saudi Arabia have either been "rejected, pure and simple" or deferred until further notice.

The kingdom is "one of the most important clients of Germany's arms industry," the newspaper said, noting that it paid German weapons manufacturers 360 million euros ($400 million) in 2013. But the government has decided "the situation in the region is too unstable to ship there."

Read more: Berlin mulls Saudi, Australian weapons deals: reports | News | DW.DE | 25.01.2015


Euro hits 11-year low after Syriza victory in Greece

The euro briefly fell as low as $1.1088 - the lowest level against the dollar in more than 11 years.

Traders says there is uncertainty about what happens next in Greece, as Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has pledged to renegotiate Greece's debts.

He has also vowed to reverse many of the austerity measures adopted by Greece in return for bailout deals.
"The troika for Greece is the thing of the past," he said after the election result, referring to the country's biggest international lenders - the European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB).

Read more: BBC News - Euro hits 11-year low after Syriza victory in Greece

Goldman Sachs boss: 'imperative' that UK stays in EU - by Szu Ping Chan

Britain must stay in the European Union if it wants to retain its status as the one of world's main financial hubs, the president of Goldman Sachs has warned.

Gary Cohn said London was the only financial capital to rival New York. He added that the US investment bank wanted to keep its European headquarters in the city.

"I think for the UK it's imperative to keep the financial services industry in London," he told the BBC. "We all want to stay in London.

Read more: Goldman Sachs boss: 'imperative' that UK stays in EU - Telegraph

Greece election: Tsipras promises ‘return to democracy’

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stepped out to vote on Sunday knowing that he is likely to be swept from power in the country’s general election.

Voters were expected to give the anti-austerity Syriza party the parliamentary majority.
The left-wing newcomers have led opinion polls for months and are committed to cancelling many of the terms of Greece’s debt bailout package.

Samaras appealed to undecided voters to keep the country on a stable path.

But the 40-year-old Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has won over many of them.

He promised that Sunday’s vote would see democracy return and the rich pay their share of taxes.
Vowing to force international lenders to write off more of the national debt, his party’s win is likely to send shockwaves through global markets amid fears Greece could be forced to leave the euro.

It is unclear whether Syriza will be able to govern alone or will have to form a coalition with a smaller party
Note EU-Digest: EU austerity programs have made half the Greek population unemployed - but then again the Greeks are not known to be the most industrious and innovative people in the EU. If this changeover works, however, they will have been the first EU country to dent the capitalist grip of the financial industry on the EU without totally collapsing, and more EU countries could follow. Bottom line = austerity programs are not the answer to achieve progress.People will eventually revolt. It has happened in Greece.

Read more: Greece election: Tsipras promises ‘return to democracy’ | euronews, world news

Germany: Anti-Americanism hits Germany′s streets and could spill - over around EU

Over 1,000 people gathered this Saturday in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern state of Thuringia, to protest against the "Americanization" of Europe, amid a groundswell of xenophobia in eastern Germany and ongoing social movements in cities around the country directed against what's been called an "Islamization of the occident."

The Erfurt police told DW that the situation in front of the central train station on Saturday was "outright aggressive," as protesters held posters and chanted anti-American slogans abreast with some 600 counterdemonstrators who attempted to break police lines.

One of the main messages one could hear chanted by the mob was, "Ami! Go HOME," which translates roughly as, "Americans! Go HOME." A series of speakers attempted to deliver addresses to the crowd, but their speeches were drowned out by whistling from counter demonstrators.

Journalists on the ground in Erfurt confirmed to DW that the mood was characterized by an aggressive anti-Americanism, coupled with violence between demonstrators and counterdemonstrators. A brawl nearly broke out at one juncture as counterdemonstrators, mostly young members of the left-wing anti-fascist Antifa group, attempted to block the anti-American protesters.

Read more:Anti-Americanism hits Germany′s streets | Germany | DW.DE | 25.01.2015

Elections: Greece’s Syriza would need 40 percent of vote for overall majority

A legislative election will take place in Greece on 25 January 2015 to elect all 300 members to the Hellenic Parliament in accordance with the constitution.

On 29 December 2014, after failing to elect a presidential candidate in the third round of voting with the required 180 votes, prime minister Samaras asked incumbent president Karolos Papoulias to dissolve the parliament. On 31 December, Papoulias formally dissolved the parliament by decree and set the new election to be held on 25 January and the new parliament to reconvene on 5 February 2015.

Voting is mandatory; however none of the legally existing penalties or sanctions have ever been enforced.

250 seats will be distributed on the basis of proportional representation, with a threshold of 3% required for entry into parliament. Blank and invalid votes, as well as votes cast for parties that fall short of the 3% threshold, are disregarded for seat allocation purposes. 50 additional seats will be awarded as a majority bonus to the party that wins a plurality of votes, with coalitions in that regard not being counted as an overall party but having their votes counted separately for each party in the coalition, according to the election law. Parliamentary majority is achieved by a party or coalition of parties that command at least one half plus one (151 out of 300) of total seats.​

Read Greece’s Syriza would need 40 percent of vote for overall majority | euronews, world news

Culture ? Hollywood uses ‘American Sniper’ to destroy history & create myth — by John Wight

The moral depravity into which the US is sinking is shown by American Sniper glorifying the exploits of a racist killer receiving six Oscar nominations, whereas ‘Selma’ depicting Martin Luther King’s struggle against racism has been largely ignored.

American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood, and tells the story of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal who served four tours of duty in Iraq as a sniper credited with 160 confirmed “kills”, and earning him the dubious honor of being lauded the most lethal sniper in US military history.

Played by Bradley Cooper, in the movie Kyle is an all-American hero, a Texas cowboy who joins the military out of a sense of patriotism and a yearning for purpose and direction in his life. Throughout the ‘uber-tough’ selection process, Kyle is a bastion of stoicism and determination, willing to bear any amount of pain and hardship for the honor of being able to serve his country as a Navy Seal – America’s equivalent of the Samurai.

The personal struggle he endures as a result of what he experiences and does in Iraq is not motivated by any regrets over the people he kills, including women and children, but on his failure to kill more and thereby save the lives of American soldiers as they go about the business of tearing the country apart, city by city, block by block, and house by house.

If American Sniper wins one Oscar, never mind the six it’s been nominated for, when this annual extravaganza of movie pomp and ceremony unfolds in Hollywood on February 22, it will not only represent an endorsement of US exceptionalism, but worse it will be an insult to the Iraqi people. In the movie they are depicted as a dehumanized mass of savages – occupying the same role as the Indians in John Wayne Western movies of old – responsible for their own suffering and the devastation of their country, which the white man is in the process of civilizing.

Anything resembling balance and perspective is sacrificed in American Sniper to the more pressing needs of US propaganda, which holds that the guys who served in Iraq were the very best of America, men who went through hell in order to protect the freedoms and way of life of their fellow countrymen at home. It is the cult of the soldier writ large, men who in the words of Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in the movie “just want to get the bad guys.”

The ”bad guys” are, as mentioned, the Iraqis. In fact if you had just arrived in the movie theatre from another planet, you would be left in no doubt from the movie’s opening scene that Iraq had invaded and occupied America rather than the other way round.

Unsurprisingly, the real Chris Kyle was not as depicted by Clint Eastwood and played by Bradley Cooper. In his autobiography, upon which the movie is supposedly based, Kyle writes, “I hate the damn savages. I couldn’t give a flying f**k about the Iraqis.”

It is clear that the movie’s director, Clint Eastwood, when faced with the choice between depicting the truth and the myth, decided to go with the myth.

But it should come as no surprise, given that the peddling of such myths is the very currency of Hollywood. Over many decades the US movie industry has proved itself one of the most potent weapons in the armory of US imperialism, helping to project a myth of an America, defined by lofty attributes of courage, freedom, and democracy.

As the myth has it, these values, and with them America itself, are continually under threat from the forces of evil and darkness that lurk outwith and often times within. The mountain of lies told in service to this myth has only been exceeded by the mountain of dead bodies on the basis of it – victims of the carnage and mayhem unleashed around the world by Washington.

Chris Kyle was not the warrior or hero portrayed in American Sniper. He was in fact a racist killer for whom the only good Iraqi was a dead Iraqi. He killed men, women, and children, just as his comrades did during the course of a brutal and barbaric war of aggression waged by the richest country in the world against one of the poorest.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the hands of a movie director with millions of dollars and the backing of a movie studio at its disposal, it is far more dangerous than that. It is a potent weapon deployed against its victims, denying them their right to even be considered victims, exalting in the process, when it comes to Hollywood, those who murder and massacre in the name of America.

With this in mind, it is perhaps fitting that Chris Kyle was shot and killed by a former Marine at a shooting range in Texas in 2013. “Man was born into barbarism,” Martin Luther King said, “when killing his fellow man was a normal condition ofexistence.”

Read more: Hollywood uses ‘American Sniper’ to destroy history & create myth — RT Op-Edge


Democracy: A voice from Guantanamo: ‘I can’t breathe...’ - by Sarah Leduc

Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been detained in Guantanamo for 13 years without ever facing trial. From his cell, he wrote "Guantanamo Diary," a unique account of the conditions in the US detention centre. 

The redactions are obvious and glaring. The nearly 2,600 black blocks which litter the text, aimed at concealing identities and forms of treatment, reveal the extent of US censorship. The French version of Slahi’s book, “Guantanamo Diary” – which was released this week in a dozen countries, including the US – appeared on the stands Thursday titled, “Les carnets de Guantanamo”.

The 100,000-odd declassified words give an account of life in the Guantanamo detention centre, a “no-go zone,” according to Amnesty International. While details of the CIA’s treatment of detainees are available on the public record in the US Senate Intelligence Committee report, Slahi’s book is a personal account of his experiences not only at the hands of CIA officials, but also with members of the US military.

A Mauritanian national, his book is also the first prisoner account to be published while the author is still in detention.

It took six years of negotiations for the US government to authorise the publication of his diary. The resulting text is a product of series of compromises: words, names, facts, dates, places, entire passages have been deleted to protect classified information. While the US treatment of detainees is no secret, the United States continues to cite security concerns to prevent the disclosure of documents proving tortu

Read more: Americas - A voice from Guantanamo: ‘I can’t breathe...’ - France 24

Central bankers move from shadows to spotlight:- by Don Pittis

Whoever said monetary policy was supposed to be dull? Well not any more.

It's as if suddenly the backroom boys and girls whose job it is to keep our financial system sound have come out of the phone booth dressed as Superman. Or, depending on how their announcements affected you, a super villain like Dr. Destructo.

In the financial pages, of course, central bankers have always made news. But even there, the role has been more that of a quiet aristocracy or high priesthood, murmuring riddles that their acolytes in the business press interpret for the adept.

An exception to that rule was Mark Carney, who with his media friendly looks and charm, risked making Canadian and then British monetary policy — after he moved to the Bank of England — glamorous. Of course everyone in the central banking brotherhood quickly learned the disadvantages of that once he became perilously close to turning himself and his family into a page one tabloid star.

Read more; Central bankers move from shadows to spotlight: Don Pittis - Business - CBC News

USA - Corporate Internet Manipulation:Who wants competition? Big cable tries outlawing municipal broadband in Kansas - by Jon Brodkin

Legislation introduced in the Kansas state legislature by a lobby for cable companies would make it almost impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband services to residents and would perhaps even outlaw public-private partnerships like the one that brought Google Fiber to Kansas City.

The Senate bill doesn't list any lawmaker as its sponsor, and there's a reason—a Senate employee told us it was submitted by John Federico on behalf of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, of which he is president.

That's a lobby group with members such as Comcast, Cox, Eagle Communications, and Time Warner Cable. The bill was introduced this week, referred to the Committee on Commerce, and scheduled for discussion for Tuesday of next week.

The telco-written bill starts out pleasantly enough, saying its goal is to "Ensure that video, telecommunications, and broadband services are provided through fair competition consistent with the federal telecommunications act of 1996" to "encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates; and ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive, and nondiscriminatory federal, state, and local government framework."

But instead of promoting development in broadband networks, the bill actually limits the possibility of them being built. Here's the key passage:

"Except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly:
(1) Offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications, or broadband service; or
(2) purchase, lease, construct, maintain, or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications, or broadband service to one or more subscribers.

Read more: Who wants competition? Big cable tries outlawing municipal broadband in Kansas | Ars Technica


Russia Faces $40 Billion Battle to Stave off Banking Crisis

Russia may have to spend more than $40 billion this year to avert a banking crisis, as the growing likelihood of a sharp recession threatens to pile extra costs on a sector suffering from Western sanctions over Ukraine and a plunge in the ruble.

Russian banks are seeing a deterioration in their loan quality, a rise in their risk management costs and increase in their cost of funding, and banking executives and analysts predict things are going to get worse.

This represents a major challenge to President Vladimir Putin, who took power 15 years ago in the ashes of a crisis that wiped out the financial system, and whose popularity partly rests on his reputation for restoring stability.

"We expect a contraction in the number of small, medium and large banks this year," Mikhail Zadornov, head of VTB 24, the retail arm of No. 2 bank VTB, said Thursday. "It will be hard for all banks. The weakest will leave the market," he said.

Russia's Central Bank has already relaxed regulation of banks, and the government has pledged support of more than 1.2 trillion rubles ($19 billion) this year after spending more than 350 billion rubles in 2014. But analysts say this is a fraction of what is needed.

Read more: Russia Faces $40 Billion Battle to Stave off Banking Crisis | Business | The Moscow Times

US Military:The Tragedy of the American Military - by James Fallows

Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religion, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military. Confidence in the military shot up after 9/11 and has stayed very high. In a Gallup poll last summer, three-quarters of the public expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military. About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress.

Too much complacency regarding our military, and too weak a tragic imagination about the consequences if the next engagement goes wrong, have been part of Americans’ willingness to wade into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we would win. “Did we have the sense that America cared how we were doing?

We did not,” Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”

Ours is the best-equipped fighting force in history, and it is incomparably the most expensive. By all measures, today’s professionalized military is also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years. No decent person who is exposed to today’s troops can be anything but respectful of them and grateful for what they do.

Yet repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war. Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion; Linda J. Bilmes, of the Harvard Kennedy School, recently estimated that the total cost could be three to four times that much. Recall that while Congress was considering whether to authorize the Iraq War, the head of the White House economic council, Lawrence B. Lindsey, was forced to resign for telling The Wall Street Journal that the all-in costs might be as high as $100 billion to $200 billion, or less than the U.S. has spent on Iraq and Afghanistan in many individual years.

Politicians say that national security is their first and most sacred duty, but they do not act as if this is so. The most recent defense budget passed the House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 61 to zero, with similarly one-sided debate before the vote. This is the same House of Representatives that cannot pass a long-term Highway Trust Fund bill that both parties support. “The lionization of military officials by politicians is remarkable and dangerous,” a retired Air Force colonel named Tom Ruby, who now writes on organizational culture, told me. He and others said that this deference was one reason so little serious oversight of the military took place.

T. X. Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel who has a doctorate in modern history from Oxford, told me that instead of applying critical judgment to military programs, or even regarding national defense as any kind of sacred duty, politicians have come to view it simply as a teat. “Many on Capitol Hill see the Pentagon with admirable simplicity,” he said: “It is a way of directing tax money to selected districts. It’s part of what they were elected to do.”

For the complete report: The Tragedy of the American Military - The Atlantic

Global Economy: The Politics Of Economic Stupidity - by Joseph Stiglitz

In 2014, the world economy remained stuck in the same rut that it has been in since emerging from the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite seemingly strong government action in Europe and the United States, both economies suffered deep and prolonged downturns. 

The gap between where they are and where they most likely would have been had the crisis not erupted is huge. In Europe, it increased over the course of the year.

Developing countries fared better, but even there the news was grim. The most successful of these economies, having based their growth on exports, continued to expand in the wake of the financial crisis, even as their export markets struggled. But their performance, too, began to diminish significantly in 2014.

In 1992, Bill Clinton based his successful campaign for the US presidency on a simple slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.” From today’s perspective, things then do not seem so bad; the typical American household’s income is now lower. But we can take inspiration from Clinton’s effort. 

The malaise afflicting today’s global economy might be best reflected in two simple slogans: “It’s the politics, stupid” and “Demand, demand, demand.”

Read more: The Politics Of Economic Stupidity

The corrupt Financial Industry: U.S. Fines Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Over 'illegal Mortgage Kickbacks' - Sarah N. Lynch

U.S. and state regulators ordered Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase to collectively pay $35.7 million on Thursday to settle charges that they participated in an illegal marketing kickback scheme with a now-defunct title company.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Maryland Attorney General's Office ordered Wells Fargo to pay a $24 million penalty plus another $11.1 million in redress to consumers. JP Morgan will pay a $600,000 penalty, plus another $300,000 in redress, the CFPB said.

Read more: U.S. Fines Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Over 'illegal Mortgage Kickbacks' - Business Insider

QE ECB: Germany wary of ECB quantitative easing, World Bank warns reforms needed as well

European stock markets were boosted by the European Central Bank’s bond-buying scheme with several share indexes hitting seven-year highs on Thursday.

Banks and car makers were among the best-performer companies as they are likely to benefit from cheap lending rates and a weaker euro.

But the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told euronews that on top of the bond purchases, eurozone governments also need to do more to reform their economies.

Referring to the bond buying he said: “This is a tool and it should be used, because the potential to have a self-fulfilling and continuous deflationary cycle was very real. The other half of this is that there’s still not enough to really solve the problems. You know, the countries that are in the most trouble, have to move forward with their reform agenda.

What an opportunity! We have historically low oil prices and now we have a quantitative easing. This is now the time to really jump in.”

Germany was the least enthusiastic with economists, politicians and business leaders there warning this is taking the euro system deeper into unchartered territory.

Hans-Werner Sinn, the head of the influential Ifo economic think-tank, called it “illegal, unsolid state financing by printing money”.

Note EU-Digest: Mario Draghi the ECB Chairman who used to be a Goldman Sachs employee is going on a slippery slope with QE financing - Given Draghi's US related banking experience and link with the Goldman Sachs Financial corporatio - whose financial history is not one of sound and honest practices puts up a lot of red flags.

Read more: Germany wary of ECB quantitative easing, World Bank warns reforms needed as well | euronews, economy

The Economic Pipe Dream: The Mother Of All Asset Bubbles Will Burst In 2016 - by Nouriel Roubini

In February 2013, NYU professor Nouriel Roubini made the call that US markets had entered the "mother of all asset bubbles.

With the rally in stocks that we've seen this year and a surge in high-yield debt issuance, Roubini said we're now at the midpoint of the bubble, in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Next year may see more gains across markets, but the bubble, bigger than the one before the 2008 recession, could pop in 2016. \

 Read more: Roubini The Mother Of All Asset Bubbles Will Burst In 2016 - Business InsideR


Israel: White House, Citing Israeli Election, Says Obama and Netanyahu Won’t Meet - Julie Hirschfield Davis

President Obama will not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel when he travels to Washington in March to address a joint session of Congress, the White House said on Thursday, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to their elections.

“As a matter of longstanding practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

“Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”

The decision to keep the Israeli leader at arm’s length when he visits this spring comes as Mr. Obama is clashing with lawmakers in Congress over a bid to pass legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if talks aimed at preventing the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon fail.

Read more: White House, Citing Israeli Election, Says Obama and Netanyahu Won’t Meet -

EU Economy: Euro-zone political divisions undermine ECB policy plans - by Nicholas Spiro

Ever since the euro-zone crisis escalated dramatically in the autumn of 2011, financial markets have been clamouring for a programme of large-scale government bond purchases by the European Central Bank aimed at restoring confidence in Europe's ailing economy.

After successive disappointments, the issue for investors is not whether the central bank has the gumption to act, but whether the deep disagreements among the 25 members of the ECB's governing council have caused irreparable damage to the bloc and the single currency.

Germany's influence looms large over the management of the euro-zone crisis - and particularly over the conduct of European monetary policy.

While Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, has long been a staunch opponent of government bond-buying on the grounds that it blurs the lines between fiscal and monetary policy and, if unlimited in size, would be illegal under the European Union's core treaty, its government has been more pragmatic.

It even gave its blessing to the ECB's 2012 bond-buying programme, which was known as outright monetary transactions.

However, Berlin's stance on a large-scale stimulus programme for the euro zone has hardened significantly over the past few months, and can now best be described as "Bundesbank lite".
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, has become more concerned about the unintended consequences of monetary stimulus.

The outright monetary transaction scheme led to a 2½-year-long period of calm in euro-zone financial markets, which relieved pressure on governments (in particular those of Italy and France) to undertake important fiscal and structural reforms.

As far as Germany is concerned - and indeed in the view of many euro-zone watchers - sovereign quantitative easing is not the answer to Europe's underlying problems, which are a dearth of labour and product market reforms to boost competitiveness and increase the bloc's long-term growth rate.

What is even more worrying is that investors themselves have little faith in the effectiveness of quantitative easing.

The results of a survey of economists published earlier this month showed that while the vast majority believed the ECB would undertake sovereign quantitative easing, most were of the view that a large-scale bond-buying scheme would do little to boost growth and inflation.

The disconnect between the certainty that full-blown quantitative easing would be launched and the lack of faith in its efficacy is striking and is the strongest sign yet of the widespread waning confidence in central banks.

Yields on euro-zone government bonds have fallen sharply over the past few months because investors expect deflation - or, at the very least, "lowflation" in the words of the International Monetary Fund - to persist for a considerable period of time.

According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the volume of negative-yielding government debt in the euro zone has more than doubled from about €500 billion (HK$4.5 trillion) in October.
Equity markets are more sanguine about the likely effects of quantitative easing.

German stocks have risen 2 per cent over the past three months on hopes that sovereign quantitative easing will weaken the euro further - Europe's single currency has already lost a further 7 per cent against the US dollar over the past month - and provide a fillip to Germany's export-driven economy.

Yet, the sharp decline in the euro is hardly a sign of confidence in the single-currency area.

If the price that the ECB must pay to get sovereign quantitative easing off the ground is that national central banks shoulder the risks of buying their respective governments' bonds, serious questions could be raised about the supposed singleness and integrity of the euro zone.

A bond-buying programme big enough to mask the political and technical weaknesses of the scheme is not going to repair that damage.

Read more: Euro-zone political divisions undermine ECB policy plans | South China Morning Post


US Oil and Gas Exports: Crushing The U.S. Energy Export Dream - by Arthur Berman

Exporting crude oil and natural gas from the United States are among the dumbest energy ideas of all time.
Exporting gas is dumb. Exporting oil is dumber.

The U.S. imports almost half of the crude oil that we use. We import 7.5 million barrels per day. The chart below shows the EIA prediction that production will slowly fall and imports will rise after 2016.

In other words, the U.S. is a fairly minor player among the family of major oil-producing nations. For all the fanfare about the U.S. surpassing Saudi Arabia in production of crude oil, we are not even players in reserves.

What that means is that we may temporarily pass Saudi Arabia in production because it chooses to restrict full capacity, and U.S. production will fade decades before Saudi Arabia's production begins to decline.

Read more: Crushing The U.S. Energy Export Dream

Davos 2015: Thought Leaders at Davos See Opportunities in 2015 - BY Matt McAllester

A number of pressing crises loom over this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting currently taking place in Davos—including the tumbling price of oil, an upcoming election in Greece that could deliver a blow to a still fragile European Union and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris—but the event also provides the world’s thought leaders with an opportunity to discuss reasons to be hopeful in the coming year.

That was the focus of a lunch discussion hosted by TIME on Wednesday, during which participants identified global bright spots in the fields of science and technology. The event, moderated by TIME Editor Nancy Gibbs, featured portrait photographer Platon; Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn; Jennifer Doudna, professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley; and France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation.

Gibbs opened the event by noting that journalists at TIME cover the challenges and crises the world faces, “but if we don’t also look at progress, at the quiet or noisy explosions of creativity, of innovation, of invention, then we’re going to miss the story.”

Cordova, an astrophysicist who was previously President of Purdue University in Indiana, spoke about the importance of the National Science Foundation’s role in funding what she called “basic” research. “All innovation is based on discovery,” she told the gathering, adding that she expected “breakthroughs to be made in our understanding of the 95% of the universe that we don’t know about.”

Read more: Thought Leaders at Davos See Opportunities in 2015 | TIME

Glonal Economy: gloom forecast as IMF revises down world growth

Not surprisingly the International Monetary Fund has cut its global growth forecast for the next two years.
In October the IMF projected world growth of 3.8 percent for 2015 now revised down to 3.5 percent.
In 2016 growth will fail to meet the IMF’s initial 4 percent target and will hit the 3.7 percent mark.

The latest doom and gloom comes despite most countries benefiting from the low oil prices.

Olivier Blanchard is Chief Economist at the IMF: “For 2015, we have revised US growth up to 3.6 percent, but we have revised Eurozone growth down to 1.1 percent and Japan growth down to point six percent.”

The exception to the rule is the United States of America with the IMF saying Washington has well and truly put the financial crisis behind it.

The British economy is expected to bump along at 2.4 percent growth for 2016.

While Russia will see its economy contract by 3 percent this year and 1 percent next.

A Capital Market Advise for Close Brothers Seydler Bank is Oliver Roth: “America and Asia have stable growth, while the Europeans are still right in the middle of a debt crisis. The economy is going nowhere. So the global economy is being supported by two and not three pillars and that is a grave concern for the IMF. .

"The emerging markets are facing problems namely from high US interest rates and as growth steadies governments need to take prudent decisions for the well being of their economies."

Read more: Global gloom forecast as IMF revises down world growth | euronews, economy

Greece: IMF’s Lagarde plays down debt conference for Greece at Dublin gathering | euronews, economy

Ireland’s economic fight back was the subject of a conference in the country’s capital. Can Greece learn something from the emerald isle?

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, who was present in Dublin played down talk of a debt conference for Greece and said a write-off could harm its reputation in international finance markets.

“There’s an issue of reliability on the financial markets, which has to be taken into account. From our perspective the country has made commitments. The country for its own sake and for its own economic recovery has to do structural reforms that are critically called for and we certainly hope that it honours its commitments,” she told reporters.

Constantin Gurdgiev, Professor of Economics at Trinity College in Dublin, supports Syriza leader Alexis Tspiras’s idea to have a partial cancellation of debt.

“We know Greece needs effectively a Marshall plan for investment. Greece really needs a significant write-down of its debt, equivalent to Europe stepping up to the place in terms of the German unification. This is the moment of truth for us. The longer we delay the moment of truth, the more painful it will be not just for Greece but for the rest of the eurozone as well,” he said.

According to the pressure group Jubilee Debt Campaign Greece’s debt pile has grown from 133 percent in 2010 to nearly 177 of economic output now. Athens owes 317 billion euros to its international creditors. The figures could be key should, as opinion polls suggest, Syriza win on Sunday.

Read more: IMF’s Lagarde plays down debt conference for Greece at Dublin gathering | euronews, economy