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3/31/15

Greece: In order to save Greece and the EMU the EU might have to dump Ukraine

Greece failed to reach an initial deal with the European Union and the IMF to unlock aid after the creditors dismissed a package of reforms from Athens as ideas rather than a concrete plan, officials said on Tuesday.
The lack of a deal further raises pressure on Athens, which faces the prospect of running out of money in a few weeks unless it can convince lenders to dole out more financial help.

Athens put a brave face on the failure to reach an agreement with the "Brussels Group" of representatives from the EU and the IMF, saying it remained keen for a deal on the basis of its long-held demand that the measures it is asked to implement do not hurt economic growth. Lenders will intensify efforts to collect data in Athens, it said.

he country’s immediate fate now hinges dangerously upon a colourful but corrosive personality struggle. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s charm has worn thin, and so has Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s charisma. Mr. Varoufakis is visibly despised by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, though the latter is no match for him in wit and lucidity.

Mr. Schaeuble is more or less in tune with his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, but both are at loggerheads with Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission in Brussels. Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, is in conflict with Jens Weidmann, president of the German Bundesbank. The Prime Minister of Spain, fearful of a challenge from his leftist opposition, is openly derisive of the new Greek government, and even the socialist leaders of Italy and France are keeping their distance.

The root cause of this personality struggle is the merit of so called “austerity” as a remedy for indebtedness. Under German leadership, the European Union has imposed spending cutbacks on Greece that are the most severe in postwar history: the outcome has been the most prolonged economic contraction and highest unemployment in Europe’s postwar history.

In order to save  Greece the EU might even have toi go as far as cancelling its planned investments in Ukraine and offer Ukraine as a gift to Russia thereby guaranteeing stability in the EMU and the survival of the EU if the US likes it or not..

EU-Digest

Middle East: Iran - No nuke agreement yet: Iran talks push past deadline - by M. Lee and G. Jahn

Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers have entered into overtime, after negotiators decided to ignore a midnight Tuesday deadline and give more time to efforts to reach agreement.

Negotiations were continuing into Wednesday morning, local time. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says the extension was justified although "several difficult issues" still needed to be bridged.

The sides hope to reach a preliminary understanding that will allow them to enter a new phase of negotiations aiming at a final deal by June.

Read more: No nuke agreement yet: Iran talks push past deadline - Yahoo News

Energy Supplies: Oil - Its all about Geopolitics

The Oil and Energy Insider reports that when it comes to geopolitical events affecting oil prices, there is no shortage of possibilities. Whether it is the outbreak of a war, a terrorist attack, a massive industrial accident, or a financial crisis, these events usually take the oil markets by surprise. It is not too often that there is a major geopolitical event that will have enormous influence over oil prices yet is known ahead of time. But we are in the midst of one of those rare moments: we are arriving at the deadline for the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, with the clock running out at midnight on March 31. The two sides are furiously negotiating, trying to overcome their differences to make history. A comprehensive agreement between Iran and the West was always going to be extraordinarily difficult and would involve painful concessions on both sides. But there is some indication that a deal is there to be grabbed if the major world powers want it.

The Russian Foreign Minister had previously bailed on the talks, saying that he would only return if a deal looked realistic. However, he did in fact decide to fly back to Switzerland and rejoin the talks on March 31 as there were signs of progress. “The chances are high. They are probably not 100 percent but you can never be 100 percent certain of anything. The odds are quite 'doable' if none of the parties raise the stakes at the last minute,”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian media in Moscow.

The outcome of the negotiations will have an immediate effect on the price of oil, one way or another. If the parties come to terms – and reach a truly historic resolution to such an intractable problem – it could lead to the removal of sanctions on Iran and the return of Iranian oil to the global market. Iran could probably ramp up production by an additional several hundred thousand barrels per day over the course of a few months with the potential to ultimately add around 1 million barrels per day. Still, if a deal is sealed in Switzerland, the oil markets will react immediately, most likely falling by several dollars per barrel. If the two sides fail to come together, that would be bullish for oil, although perhaps not quite as dramatically, since it would essentially continue the status quo regarding Iran over the last three years. Another possibility that is looking increasingly likely is that Iran and the West reach a rough outline of an accord, and
push off the thorniest issues until June when the final agreement must be reached. That would leave the oil markets in a status of limbo over the next three months regarding Iranian oil.

Speaking of a flood of oil, the Energy Information Administration
released new data that showed that the growth in oil production in the U.S. in 2014 was the highest in over 100 years. The United States has long been an oil producer – dating back to the 19th century. It was even the world’s largest oil producer in the early 20th century. By the 1970’s however, its vast oil fields appeared to be tapped out, and production went into decline. We have all read about how new drilling techniques have unlocked shale oil, but for drillers to be able to ramp up production to such a degree in a very oil-mature country is impressive. Last year, the U.S. added 1.2 million barrels per day to its output, the largest production gain since record-keeping began in 1900.

But the next chapter is uncertain. Low oil prices are forcing big-time cutbacks. The question is where oil prices go next. The looming oil storage “crisis” threatens to crush oil prices much further. However, the worst may be avoided as U.S. consumers and refiners pick up the slack. In fact, refiners churned through 15.5 million barrels per day in mid-March,
a record for the time of year when many units are taken offline for maintenance. With unusually large margins right now, refiners are taking advantage and buying up oil, paying enough to keep some oil out of storage. Refining demand is now stronger than expected, and that may divert oil away from storage in Cushing Oklahoma, as refiners pull oil down to the Gulf Coast. It is not just because refining margins have improved, but also because U.S. drivers are hitting the roadways, pushed on by low gasoline prices. Gasoline demand in the U.S. jumped by 6 percent in January, the largest surge in demand in over 20 years. If that keeps up, oil markets may find an equilibrium not just through supply rebalancing – which is where market analysts have kept most of their attention – but also through a pickup in demand.


EU-Digest

Election fever hits Britain with start of general election campaign | euronews, world news

The countdown began on Monday to the UK general election due to be held on May 7.

The poll is being described as the most closely fought election in decades.

Parliament has been officially dissolved and Prime Minister David Cameron was driven to Buckingham Palace for a traditional audience with Queen Elizabeth.

Current polls suggest the ruling Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are neck and neck.
A latest Populus poll showed the number of seats each party is likely to win in the 650-member lower house of parliament.

As day one of campaigning gets underway, here's the latest poll projection http://gu.com/p/474a7?CMP=dis_2981   

Read more: Election fever hits Britain with start of general election campaign | euronews, world news

3/30/15

US Politics: Ted Cruz & Tom Cruise Have More In Common Than You Would Ever Have Believed - by Zoe Ferguson

Two men are about to make a star turn in the American media, and their ascensions couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Just as Ted Cruz is running for the Republican Presidential nomination, his potential alternate self Tom Cruise is facing the release of a new Scientology documentary this weekend that will call him out. As both men prepare to have their personal lives analyzed by the national public, we hope they might find solace in one another’s struggles and triumphs. After all, with such similar names, how different could Tom Cruise and Ted Cruz be?

While the two men may have their differences, their kindred souls are more than apparent when the facts are examined. It’s true that Cruise is 52 and Cruz is eight years younger, at 44, but they are stunningly similar public figures: both have controversial political, scientific, and religious beliefs that have put them at the center of debates about ethics, morality, and truth.

Both are leading figures who have captured the American imaginary and will no doubt continue to be featured in newspapers and tabloid magazines alike for years to come. And best of all, their names are essentially twins of each other. Here are a list of nine reason why you could be talking about Ted Cruz but people could think you were talking about Tom Cruise, or vice versa.

While Cruise’s religion, Scientology, was literally founded by a science fiction author, Cruz has come under just as much fire for his questionable theories about the nonexistence of global warming. Cruz told Seth Meyers:

Read more: Ted Cruz & Tom Cruise Have More In Common Than You Would Ever Have Believed | Bustle

USA - Republicans: Indiana to 'clarify' religious freedom law

Republican leaders in the Indiana state legislature say they are looking at ways to amend a controversial new "religious freedom" law.

The law has created a national outcry, with critics saying it could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects businesses from state laws that "substantially burden" their religious beliefs.

There have been calls to boycott the state, in response.

Connecticut has banned state-funded travel to Indiana, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has condemned the measure.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the legislation into law last week, but some of his fellow Republicans are already seeking to make amendments.

Read more: Indiana to 'clarify' religious freedom law - BBC News

EU Economy: Eurozone economy breaths a sigh of relief

Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Greek debt issue confidence in the Eurozone economy has risen for a fourth straight month to the highest since July 2011.

A European Commission survey says the weak euro and the dramatic drop in oil prices are behind the boost.

Italy showed the largest leap in faith followed by Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
Observers are now suggesting that the Eurozone is now moving away from the damaging double recession, which crippled the euro area in 2008.

 Read more: Eurozone economy breaths a sigh of relief | euronews, economy

Aircraft Industry: Solar Impulse plane lands in China - by Jonathan Amos

The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, touched down in Chongqing in China just after 17:30 GMT.

It had left Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) some 20 hours previously.

The intention had been to make the briefest of stops in Chongqing before pushing on to Nanjing in the east of the country, but that strategy has been abandoned because of weather concerns.

The team will now lay over in southwest China until a good window opens up on the east coast at some point during the coming days.

Getting to the city of Nanjing would set up Solar Impulse to make its first big ocean crossing - a five-day, five-night flight to Hawaii.

Leg five proved to be a tough one for Bertrand Piccard. He had to cover a distance of 1,375km, and faced some difficult winds as he approached Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport. Local controllers also asked the Swiss pilot to delay his arrival for a short while because of the pressure of commercial traffic.
 
Read more: Solar Impulse plane lands in China - BBC News

​AIIB: ​Beijing calling: Australia, Denmark

Australia and Denmark, despite previous American objections to the move, say they will join a new Beijing-backed investment bank that some in Washington say could supplant the US-dominated International Monetary Fund.

In a testament to China’s growing economic clout on the global stage, western countries are lining up to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB.

Read more: Beijing calling: Australia

EU: Leave Facebook if you don't want to be spied on by US, warns EU - by Samuel Gibbs

The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services, finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen’s data.

The case, dubbed “the Facebook data privacy case”, concerns the current Safe Harbour framework, which covers the transmission of EU citizens’ data across the Atlantic to the US. Without the framework, it is against EU law to transmit private data outside of the EU. The case collects complaints lodged against Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Microsoft-owned Skype and Yahoo.

Schrems maintains that companies operating inside the EU should  not be allowed to transfer data to the US under Safe Harbour protections – which state that US data protection rules are adequate if information is passed by companies on a “self-certify” basis – because the US no longer qualifies for such a status.

The case argues that the US government’s Prism data collection program, revealed by Edward Snowden in the NSA files, which sees EU citizens’ data held by US companies passed on to US intelligence agencies, breaches the EU’s Data Protection Directive “adequacy” standard for privacy protection, meaning that the Safe Harbour framework no longer applies and does not protect citizen’s data.

The comments were made by EC attorney Bernhard Schima in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, looking at whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in a post-Snowden revelation landscape.

“You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one,” Schima told attorney general Yves Bot in a hearing of the case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.

Read more: Leave Facebook if you don't want to be spied on, warns EU | Technology | The Guardian

3/29/15

IRAN: Tehran ′conditionally willing to accept new nuclear constraints′

Sources familiar with talks on Iran's nuclear program say Tehran may accept sharper curbs on it if they are of shorter duration. Israel has meanwhile again slammed the proposed deal.

The sources said Tehran could agree to operate only some 6,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment as against the around 10,000 currently in operation, if the limitation were to tend toward the lower end of the 8-15 year range that is being discussed.

Their comments come as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif holds talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, with several international counterparts in a bid to hammer out a preliminary deal by a self-imposed Tuesday deadline.

The deal, to be finalized by the end of June, would see Tehran cutting back its nuclear activities - which many Western countries fear are aimed at creating atomic weapons - in return for the scrapping of economic sanctions.

In view of the Tuesday deadline, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on all parties at the talks to make a final big effort, saying that the last stretch was "the hardest, but the most decisive."

Read more: Tehran ′conditionally willing to accept new nuclear constraints′ | News | DW.DE | 29.03.2015

Middle East:: Arab League summit wraps up with plan for pan-Arab force

Arab leaders have agreed to try to form a joint military force to tackle regional crises. Saudi Arabia is already leading a coalition of Arab countries that have been conducting airstrikes against rebels in Yemen.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (pictured above), who hosted the two-day Arab Summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, told the final session of the gathering that the leaders had agreed in principle to form the pan-Arab force. He said a high-level committee would be formed to work out the details of implementing the force.

Other Egyptian officials said it was to include up to 40,000 elite troops backed up by fighter jets and warships. However, it wasn't immediately clear how many of the Arab League's 22 member states were prepared to contribute to the proposed force.

Much of the discussion over the past two days focused on Yemen, which the elected president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, fled late last week, before traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh.

With Shiite Muslim Houthi forces advancing on President Hadi's power base of Aden in the south of the country, Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, along with several other Arab nations, launched a bombing campaign against the rebels four days ago. So far though, there was little evidence that the air campaign had stopped the Houthi advance.

Read more:: Arab League summit wraps up with plan for pan-Arab force | News | DW.DE | 29.03.2015

France - The ‘moderate’ imam who claims ‘all women are selfish’

An imam in France has claimed in a sermon that selfishness is part of “the nature of women”, comments that have shocked all the more because of his reputation as a progressive influence on Islam in the country. “No matter how much good you bestow upon a woman, she will deny it. Her selfishness drives her to deny it.”

These were the words of Imam Mohamed Khattabi, delivered during a Friday sermon at the Aicha Mosque in Montpellier, southern France, on March 6, two days before International Women’s Day.

Standing high in the mosque’s minbar (pulpit), Khattabi continued: “This holds true for all women, whether Western, Arab, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. This is the nature of women.

“If a woman overcomes her nature and acknowledges [the truth] … Allah grants her a higher place in paradise. But if she succumbs to her nature, and refuses to acknowledge the man's rights – or rather, the goodness that man bestows upon her – she is destined to go to [hell]…”

Read more: France - The ‘moderate’ imam who claims ‘all women are selfish’ - France 24

3/28/15

Soccer -European Championship: Wesley Sneijder rescues Netherlands for stoppage-time draw vs. Turkey

Holland continued to struggle in their European Championship qualifying campaign as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Turkey at the Amsterdam ArenA on Saturday March 28.

Burak Yilmaz fired Turkey into the lead thanks to a deflection in the 37th minute and Holland had to wait until second-half stoppage time for Wesley Sneijder to score the equaliser which saw them narrowly avoid their third defeat in Group A.

The result left them six points adrift of leaders Czech Republic and one point ahead of Turkey in third place, five behind Iceland who defeated bottom side Kazakhstan 3-0 earlier in the day.

Read more: Wesley Sneijder rescues Netherlands for stoppage-time draw vs. Turkey | FOX Sports

Space Research: Russia & US agree to build new space station after ISS, work on joint Mars project

In a landmark decision, Russian space agency Roscosmos and its US counterpart NASA have agreed to build a new space station after the current International Space Station (ISS) expires.

The operation of the ISS was prolonged until 2024.

“We have agreed that Roscosmos and NASA will be working together on the program of a future space station," Roscosmos chief Igor Komarov said during a news conference on Saturday.

 Read more: Russia & US agree to build new space station after ISS, work on joint Mars project — RT News

Nuclear Negotiations: Iran appeals to world leaders as nuclear deadline nears

Iranian President Hassan Rohani appealed to world leaders including US President Barack Obama on Thursday as part of an intense diplomatic push to ensure that a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program can be reached ahead of a deadline next week.

Rohani wrote to the American president, US officials confirmed, as well as to the leaders of the five other powers heading efforts to resolve the 12-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Talks on the subject resumed in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Thursday.

Negotiators are racing against the clock to meet a March 31 deadline by which it is hoped a framework for a deal can be agreed.

Read more: Asia-pacific - Iran appeals to world leaders as nuclear deadline nears - France 24

Middle East - Mideast's religious minorities at risk of 'genocide'

Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East are being targeted and some are facing a possible "genocide" by Islamic State militants, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the UN on Friday.

Speaking at a UN Security Council debate, Fabius said an "action charter" was needed to address the threat from the Islamic State group.

"We are witnessing a true genocide," Fabius said. "The Islamic State group in particular kills, enslaves or exiles people who don't think like them, especially Christians. It's not enough to raise awareness – we need to implement concrete solutions to protect these vulnerable populations."

Read more: Middle East - Mideast's religious minorities at risk of 'genocide' - France 24

Middle East: Why the U.S. Is Fighting Beside Iran in Iraq and Against It in Yemen - by Karl Vick

Tehran and Washington share an interest in re-establishing state authority in Iraq, but in Yemen their agendas diverge

Just to set the scene: In Iraq on Wednesday March 25, U.S. warplanes began providing air cover to Iranian-backed militias in Tikrit, in a joint effort against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) coordinated through the Iraqi government.

On the same day, 1,200 miles to the south in Yemen, the U.S. was providing guidance to Saudi pilots bombing Shia insurgents who are supported by Iran. So the U.S. was bombing Iran’s enemies in one country, and helping to bomb Iran’s allies in another.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, American and Iranian diplomats were resuming their intense talks about how to contain Tehran’s nuclear program. Both sides insisted the negotiations were confined to matters atomic, nothing else. And that’s a good thing, because the ever-complex Middle East has never looked more so than it does at this moment.

Read more: Why the U.S. Is Fighting Beside Iran in Iraq and Against It in Yemen | TIME

3/27/15

The Netherlands: Amsterdam area hit by power outage, halting trains, trams and planes

The Amsterdam region suffered a power blackout of more than five hours on Friday that hit a million households, forced flights to divert from Schiphol airport and disrupted national public transport networks.

After more than two hours without power, lights switched back on in the Amsterdam financial district and gradually returned to cities across the province of Noord Holland, home to a sixth of the country's 17 million people.

"The power outage brought trams and metros to a standstill, traffic lights went out and people were trapped in lifts," the city of Amsterdam said in a statement. There were no reports of injuries or security problems.

Power outages on this scale are rare in Europe. In December 2013, storm damage deprived 240,000 homes of electricity in France, mostly in coastal Brittany and Normandy.

The most recent region-wide outage was on November 4, 2006, when 15 million people in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal lost power, according to the International Energy Agency.

The outage, the largest in recent memory, was caused by a technical fault at a substation in the southern Amsterdam suburb of Diemen, where a backup system also failed.

Read more: Amsterdam area hit by power outage, halting trains, trams and planes - World - CBC News

Middle East - France says Assad talks would be ‘scandalous gift’ to Islamic State group

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday rejected any role for President Bashar al-Assad in Syrian peace talks, saying it would be a “scandalous gift” to the Islamic State group Fabius’s comments came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that talks with Assad were necessary to bring the bloody conflict in Syria to an end as it enters its fifth year.

“The solution is a political transition which would preserve regime institutions, not Mr Bashar al-Assad. Any other solution which would keep Mr Assad in the saddle would be an absolutely scandalous, gigantic gift to Daesh,” Fabius said in Brussels, using another name for IS.

“The millions of Syrians who have been persecuted by Assad would transfer their support to Daesh. Obviously that must be avoided.”

The French minister said he had spoken to Kerry on Monday morning and that the top US diplomat “assured me that there was absolutely nothing new in the American position on Syria.”

Read more: Middle East - France says Assad talks would be ‘scandalous gift’ to Islamic State group - France 24

Brazil: Nearly a million Brazilians march to demand president’s ouster

Close to a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across Brazil recently to protest a sluggish economy, rising prices and corruption - and to call for the impeachment of leftist President Dilma Rousseff.

The marches across the continent-sized country come as Brazil struggles to overcome economic and political malaise and pick up the pieces of a boom that crumbled once Rousseff took office in 2012.

Now in the third month of her second four-year term, Rousseff is unlikely to resign or face the impeachment proceedings called for by many opponents angry about a fifth year of economic stagnation and a multibillion dollar corruption scandal at state-run energy company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.

Read more: Americas - Nearly a million Brazilians march to demand president’s ouster - France 24

Greece says sending reform list on Friday in bid to unlock aid - by Annis Behrakis

Greece is submitting a long-awaited list of reforms to euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders on Friday in the hope it will unlock badly needed cash, a Greek government official said.

The European Union and IMF lenders, informally called the Brussels Group, will meet in Brussels later on Friday to start discussing it, the official said. Their approval, followed by the blessing of euro zone finance ministers, will be needed for Athens to unfreeze aid and stave off bankruptcy.

Athens has so far given little indication about whether the latest list will contain a more far-reaching reform than a previous list of seven reforms on broad issues ranging from tax evasion to public sector reforms that failed to impress lenders.

Read more: Greece says sending reform list on Friday in bid to unlock aid | Reuters

3/26/15

US Economy: "It's the Inequality, Stupid" - by Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot

Eleven charts that explain what's wrong with America's economy..

Read more: It's the Inequality, Stupid | Mother Jones

Germany - Air Crash: Profile Andreas Lubitz: co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 - all appears normal

Andreas Lubitz, 28, from the town of Montabaur in Rhineland-Palatinate, has been named as the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 who appears to have deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

While the captain and crew banged on the cockpit door during the descent, Lubitz was said to have been breathing normally.

A first officer, Lubitz had been flying for Germanwings since September 2013 after being trained with the airline’s parent company, Lufthansa, in Bremen. He had clocked up 630 hours in the air.

The Lufthansa chief executive, Carsten Spohr, said Lubitz had passed all the psychological tests required for training and undergone regular physical examinations.

He told a press conference on Thursday that Lubitz had started training in 2008 - first working as a flight attendant - and there was nothing unusual in the results of his training, but acknowledged there had been a gap without saying what had caused it.

Andreas Lubitz: co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 - profile | World news | The Guardian

Greece optimistic on deal with euro zone next week

Greece is optimistic about reaching a deal on economic reforms with its euro zone peers early next week, unblocking urgently needed funding, its economy minister said on Thursday.

After talks with EU leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the past week, Athens said it would present a package of reforms to its euro zone partners by Monday in the hope of unlocking aid and avoiding bankruptcy.

"I believe that at the beginning of next week we will have an agreement on the package of reforms the Greek government is proposing, and on the funding of the country," Economy Minister George Stathakis told Antenna TV.

He did not specify when the list would be sent.

The reforms are a sensitive issue for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's leftwing government, which came to power in January pledging to end austerity.

It is not clear whether they will include measures agreed by the previous conservative-led government, such as privatizations and pension reforms.

Euro zone authorities have said Athens, which has been kept afloat by EU/IMF bailouts worth 240 billion euros since 2010, will not get any further aid until the reforms are approved by the bloc's finance ministers.

A source familiar with Greece's financial position told Reuters on Tuesday Athens would run out of money on April 20 without new cash.


Read more: Greece optimistic on deal with euro zone next week | Reuters

Middle East - Yemen: Saudi and Arab allies bomb Houthi positions in Yemen

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of regional allies have launched a military operation in Yemen against the Houthi rebels, who deposed the US-backed Yemeni president last month.

Adel al-Jubair, Saudi ambassador to the US, said on Wednesday that a coalition consisting of 10 countries, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), had begun airstrikes at 7pm Eastern time.

"The operation is to defend and support the legitimate government of Yemen and prevent the radical Houthi movement from taking over the country," Jubair told reporters in Washington.

The Houthi-run health ministry in Sanaa said that at least 18 civilians were killed and 24 others were wounded in the Saudi-led airstrikes on the capital.

Huge explosions were heard in Sanaa as strikes hit an airbase at Sanaa airport and other locations in the capital, an AFP correspondent reported.

Strikes were also reported on targets in the Malaheez and Hafr Sufyan regions of Saada province, a main Houthi stronghold on the border with Saudi Arabia.

Read more: Saudi and Arab allies bomb Houthi positions in Yemen - Al Jazeera English

France:- Air disaster: Pilots Recognized Signs of Suicide In Germanwings Crash

Even before a French prosecutor said that the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 had crashed the plane deliberately, pilots in online forums were saying the available evidence pointed to a suicide flight.

“Travelling in excess of VMO in a A320 disconnects the AP and triggers the high speed protections which pitch the aircraft up,” a user named Capt Kremin wrote Thursday on PPRuNe, a pilot forum. “This aircraft did not pitch up. Which probably means it was being over-ridden by whomever was flying it.”

The prosecutor, Brice Robin, said co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, 28, pressed a button that accelerated the Airbus A320’s descent while his pilot was in the bathroom. “The intention was to destroy the plane,” Robin said.

Some pilots on PPRuNe are now calling for the mental health of pilots to be taken more seriously. A user named LadyL2013 wrote, “Considering the prevalence of MH problems most of us have probably been piloted by a sufferer. I think when you make it a very taboo thing, it drives it underground and problems may only get worse. Indeed I would encourage a very open and honest MH culture within aviation where a sufferer can be assessed and treated so that if possible they can continue their career with the appropriate support.”

Read more: Pilots Recognized Signs of Suicide In Germanwings Crash

3/25/15

The Netherlands: "Can’t touch this": Muslim students sue Dutch medical university over physical exam

Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Two Muslim students have filed a case against Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam after a request for an exemption from the physical examination requirement was turned down. The curriculum requires a cross-sex physical exam by course mates.

The two Muslim girls filed a case against Erasmus MC at the Board of Appeal for Higher Education in The Hague, De Volkskrant daily reported Tuesday.
 
All students in the course must go through a physical examination provided by their fellow students. The exam involves looking at the chest, abdomen, and legs, and must be performed both by a male and female student.

The requirement raised concerns among the Muslim students, who did not want to be examined by a male.

However, they stressed that in the future they would practice without making such distinctions.
 
One of them initially applied for an exemption, but her request was denied. Although the other student has already completed the subject, she decided to support her colleague at the Board of Appeals.

David Drexhage from Erasmus MC says the practical experience student gain during such exams is important for their professional skills. “The students also have to experience how an examination feels for a patient. That promotes understanding.

Students are aware that this part of the studying process is required during enrollment, he added.

Erasmus MC believes that if the Board of Appeals makes a decision in favor of the students, it will have profound implications for the entire course procedure. The Board of Appeals is expected to make a decision in about six weeks.

Note EU-Digest: Lets hope the  'Board of Appeals' does not cave in to this utterly incomprehensible request by students who have chosen the medical profession, where these procedures are common day practice. 

Reading this you also realize that Islam is in "deep need" of reformers like the Christians had in the 16th century with Martin Luther and John Calvin. They brought religious, political, intellectual and cultural renewal that splintered the radical Catholic Europe of those days, setting in place the political structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era. 

Come on, it's 2015 now and Muslims are still hanging on to medieval customs and rituals. If Muslims  want  the "others" to remove the Islamophobia label they put on them, they should "put their money where their mouth is", or as some would say, "wake-up and smell the roses" - do something about it. Don't blame everyone else but yourselves !

As to the two girls who sued the Erasmus University, the suggestion would be, why don't they go to a University in a Muslim country, or anywhere else for that matter,  if they can't  live with the rules at Erasmus? 

Read more: Can’t touch this: Muslim students sue Dutch medical university over physical exam — RT News

Ukraine's latest challenge: oligarchs with private armies - by Fred Weir,

As Ukraine struggles with near-financial meltdown and a shaky peace deal with pro-Russian rebels in the east, the last thing it needs is a showdown with a powerful oligarch with a private army. But that may be just what is brewing.

Igor Kolomoisky, governor of the restive Dnipropetrovsk region of east Ukraine and a rough-and-tumble tycoon, was handed political power and the right to establish an army in the wake of last year's Maidan revolution. Last week, he triggered what some are calling a serious political crisis by using that force to seize the state oil company's headquarters in Kiev.

At stake, experts say, is a harsh redivision of property and influence under way as Ukraine tries to meet International Monetary Fund demands for deep reforms to its oligarch-dominated economy.

The standoff at the oil company escalated Tuesday as Mr. Kolomoisky's supporters in Dnipropetrovsk announced that they will stage a huge rally Wednesday in support of greater regional "decentralization" and more cash from Kiev.

Read more: Ukraine's latest challenge: oligarchs with private armies - CSMonitor.com

Israel: Obama White House accuses Israel of spying to undermine Iran talks - by Paula Rogo

Members of the Obama White House are alleging that Israel has not only been spying on nuclear negotiations with Iran but has been using the information gleaned to undermine the efforts of the United States.

The already strained relationship between the White House and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a nosedive after the Israeli leader spoke to Congress on Iran, a move the White House felt was designed to undermine the president's efforts. Then, during campaigning for elections last week that will almost certainly see Mr. Netanyahu lead Israel's next coalition, he vowed never to allow a Palestinian state to emerge on his watch – undermining the premise of the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Obama's frustration can now be seen in a greater willingness to place stories critical of Israel in the press.

 Unnamed White House officials, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, say Israeli spies eavesdropped on the Iran nuclear talks as part of an effort to upend moves toward sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a reduction in the scope of its program. US officials are most upset by Israel’s efforts to upset the talks by using the information gained from the spying in Netanyahu’s speech to Congress earlier this month.

Read more: Obama White House accuses Israel of spying to undermine Iran talks (+video) - CSMonitor.com

GMO Foods and Pesticides: Monsanto seeks retraction of WHO report linking herbicide to cancer - by Carey Gillam

Monsanto Co, maker of the world’s most widely-used herbicide, Roundup, wants an international health organization to retract a report linking the chief ingredient in Roundup to cancer.

The company said on Tuesday that the report, issued on Friday by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), was biased and contradicts regulatory findings that the ingredient, glyphosate, is safe when used as labeled.

Monsanto Co, maker of the world’s most widely-used herbicide, Roundup, wants an international health organization to retract a report linking the chief ingredient in Roundup to cancer.

The company said on Tuesday that the report, issued on Friday by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), was biased and contradicts regulatory findings that the ingredient, glyphosate, is safe when used as labeled.


Read more: Monsanto seeks retraction of WHO report linking herbicide to cancer - The Globe and Mail

3/24/15

Air Crash: France - Live: Black box found at Germanwings crash site in French Alps

A Germanwings flight carrying 144 passengers and six crew from Barcelona to Dusseldorf crashed Tuesday in the southern French Alps, aviation authorities said. French transport officials said there were no survivors.French President François Hollande called the crash "a tragedy on our soil''.

"We still don't know much beyond the bare information on the flight, and there should be no speculation on the cause of the crash," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin. "All that will be investigated thoroughly."

There were no survivors from the crash of flight 4U9525, said Alain Vidalies, France's junior minister of transport.

Brandet told BFM television that he expected the search and recovery operation to be "extremely long and extremely difficult'' due to the remoteness of the crash site.

Read more: France - Live: Black box found at Germanwings crash site in French Alps - France 24

3/23/15

France: Former French hostage slams Western approach to fighting jihadists

Nicolas Hénin is an independent French reporter and the author of a new book in French, "Jihad Academy", in which he traces the rise of Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria. Hénin draws largely on the ten months he spent as a hostage of the Islamic State group in Syria.

The book is an indictment of the West's approach to fighting extremists, which he says is a litany of errors.

Read more: THE INTERVIEW - Former French hostage slams Western approach to fighting jihadists - France 24

Czech Republic: Russian Spying in Czech Republic ‘Worse Than Cold War’ - by Damien Sharkov

Prague has become a major target for Russian and Chinese spies attempting to gain access to NATO intelligence and leverage the Czech Republic’s status as an EU member state, according to a former head of the Czech military intelligence.

After reports emerged in the Czech press that three suspected Russian spies were asked to quietly leave Prague, the Czech government has struggled to play down the incident as rumours of its longstanding problem with Russian intelligence have begun resurfacing once again.

To complicate matters further, all three alleged spies had diplomatic ties with Russian foreign missions, one of them being a full time employee Prague embassy, according to Czech magazine Respekt, forcing Prague to refuse to either confirm or deny the truth of the reports.

Prague has become a major target for Russian and Chinese spies attempting to gain access to NATO intelligence and leverage the Czech Republic’s status as an EU member state, according to a former head of the Czech military intelligence.

After reports emerged in the Czech press that three suspected Russian spies were asked to quietly leave Prague, the Czech government has struggled to play down the incident as rumours of its longstanding problem with Russian intelligence have begun resurfacing once again.''

To complicate matters further, all three alleged spies had diplomatic ties with Russian foreign missions, one of them being a full time employee Prague embassy, according to Czech magazine Respekt, forcing Prague to refuse to either confirm or deny the truth of the reports.
 
General Andor Šándor, the former head of Czech military intelligence who retired from the service in 2002, says that regardless of the details surrounding this latest bust up between Czech and Russian intelligence, Prague’s Russian spy scandal is far from an isolated incident.

“We have had this issue for some time,” says the general, who served in the intelligence services before and after the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia. “No doubt it is much worse now than during the Cold War because then, the Russians would not spy on us and the Germans and the US pulled back their spies.”

“But now the major intelligence force against our country is posed by the Russians and the Chinese,” General Šándor says, adding that since the start of the Ukraine conflict last year, Russia has “definitely” increased its spies in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Security Information Service (BIS) has warned that since the start of the Ukraine crisis Russia has sent an “extremely high” number of spies, as General Šándor believes Moscow takes a particular interest in Czech energy reserves, its access to NATO information and its leverage as an EU member. 

“We used to be in their sphere of interest and they still see our country as the one that can be their springboard to to EU and NATO,” Šándor says.
  

Greece - Germany : A different vision, but the same goal: Merkel and Tsipras agree to cooperate

In his first official visit to the German capital, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pledged to honour his country’s commitments following almost five years of austerity measures.

He said it was important to move away from stereotypes about the two nations, adding that Greece’s economic problems were not the fault of any one country or institution.

Speaking from a press conference in Berlin, both Tsipras and Merkel agreed Athens needs to make big structural reforms in order to fight widespread tax evasion and corruption in Greece.

Such reforms, combined with a solid Greek budget would provide the foundations for a return to growth and a rise in employment, they added.

Read more:A different vision, but the same goal: Merkel and Tsipras agree to cooperate | euronews, world news

NATO: Czechs told not to throw tomatoes, eggs at US military convoy

Czech people were told not to throw tomatoes and eggs at a US military convoy rumbling through Eastern Europe, the local media said, citing the laws of the land. Those in love with egg & tomato hurling may get up to three years if convicted.

“Should anyone emerge with the intent to attack the convoy, with [items] such as tomatoes or eggs, it would qualify as disorderly conduct according to Czech legislation (up to 2 years without parole, in recidivist cases up to 3 years) or damage to property (sentences in the range of 6 months to 3 years).”

This statement was aired on Czech TV Nova and cited by the Russian Insider last week, ahead of the planned US military convoy.

Read more: Czechs told not to throw tomatoes, eggs at US military convoy — RT News

France - Has Sarkozy won first battle in the war to reclaim Elysée? - by Joseph Bamat

Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), in coalition with centrists of the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), claimed a resounding victory in departmental polls with 29.4 percent of all votes, according to interior ministry figures. The surging far-right National Front (FN) finished in second place with 25.2 percent of ballots, while the ruling Socialist Party (PS) and its allies came in third with 21.9 support.

The triumph appeared to cement Sarkozy’s return to politics four months after he took over as his party’s chairman. In a speech following results on Sunday night, the former head of state declared the ballot was also the beginning of a political sea change.

“French people want clear change that will start with these departmental elections,” Sarkozy told a crowd of supporters and reporters in Paris. “A new government is coming and nothing can stop it.”

Sarkozy, who was France’s president between 2007 and 2012, was making a direct reference to more important regional polls scheduled for December and presidential elections in 2017 – a contest in which he is widely expected to seek the UMP’s nomination.

Read more: France - Has Sarkozy won first battle in the war to reclaim Elysée? - France 24

Greece: Prospect of Greek default raises tensions as Merkel and Tsipras meet in Berlin

The prospect of Greece defaulting on its debt has been raised amid a meeting between Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras. The Greek and German leaders are holding talks in Berlin.

Ahead of the encounter the Financial Times reported that Tsipras wrote to Merkel saying it would be impossible for Greece to meet debt payments without further funding, given commitments made by the leftist government to reverse austerity measures.

The meeting has been portrayed in some media as a showdown between Merkel and Tsipras.

Dimitris Sotiropoulos, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Athens sees it as a clash between eurozone and Greek national interests: “We have a clash between a democratic mandate to change economic and social policy on one hand, and the requirements of running smoothly and economy within a wider, economic integration project which is European unification.”

Also adding a potential undercurrent of tension to the talks was a meeting on Sunday between the countries’ foreign ministers in which Greece is thought to have raised the issue of reparations dating back to the Nazi occupation of the country during the World War II.

Berlin says it is conscious of Germany’s historical responsibility, but is reluctant to link it to euro zone policy.

Read more: Prospect of Greek default raises tensions as Merkel and Tsipras meet in Berlin | euronews, world news

Greece: Where Now For Greece And The Eurozone?

In this first episode of Social Europe Talk (SET) economists James K. Galbraith and David Lizoain as well as Maria Joao Rodrigues, the Vice-President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, join Social Europe Editor-in-Chief Henning Meyer to discuss ‘Where now for Greece and the Eurozone?’

Read more: Where Now For Greece And The Eurozone?

3/22/15

EU-Israel: Jerusalem at boiling point of polarisation and violence says EU report - by Peter Beaumont

Israeli Settlements West Bank A Stumble Block to Peace
A hard-hitting EU report on Jerusalem warns that the city has reached a dangerous boiling point of “polarization and violence” not seen since the end of the second intifada in 2005.

Calling for tougher European sanctions against Israel over its continued settlement construction in the city – which it blames for exacerbating recent conflict – the leaked document paints a devastating picture of a city more divided than at any time since 1967, when Israeli forces occupied the east of the city.

The report has emerged amid strong indications that the Obama administration is also rethinking its approach to Israel and the Middle East peace process following the re-election of Binyamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister.

According to reports in several US papers, this may include allowing the passage of a UN security council resolution restating the principle of a two-state solution.

The leaked report describes the emergence of a “vicious cycle of violence … increasingly threatening the viability of the two-state solution”, which it says has been stoked by the continuation of “systematic” settlement building by Israel in “sensitive areas” of Jerusalem.

Note EU-Digest: Even though most democratic nations applaud the democracy and parliamentary system of Israel, one must also, unfortunately, conclude, that there are presently some 4.5 million people living in the Israeli occupied areas of Palestine,  who are completely disenfranchised and have no voting rights. 

Read more: Jerusalem at boiling point of polarisation and violence – EU report | World news | The Guardian

European far-right politicians in Russia to support Putin

Nationalist supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin brought together controversial far-right politicians from across Europe on Sunday in an effort to demonstrate international support for Russia and weaken European Union commitment to sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in Ukraine.

Putin's critics pointed to the irony of St. Petersburg, his hometown, welcoming neo-Nazis as Russia prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The meeting drew about 40 protesters, who held signs denouncing fascism, and about eight of them were detained by police.

Among the more prominent Europeans at the gathering was Nick Griffin, the expelled former leader of the anti-immigrant British National Party, who accused the U.S. of aggravating the confrontation in Ukraine, where more than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists.

"The people running the U.S. and their puppets in the European Union are doing everything they can, whether deliberately or just by stupidity, to drag us into a terrible war," Griffin said.

He spoke out against the EU sanctions, as did Udo Voigt, a senior figure in Germany's neo-Nazi fringe National Democratic Party, who was among several members of the European Parliament who attended the St. Petersburg gathering. Griffin lost his seat in the EU body last year.

Read more: European far-right politicians in Russia to support Putin - Yahoo News

TTIP: No EU-US trade deal by 2015, says TTIP expert - by

“I don't think the [TTIP] deal is going to be done in 2015,” said Joseph P. Quinlan, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

In an interview with EurActiv's Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti at the Transatlantic Conference, organised by the American Chamber of Commerce [AMCHAM], Quinlan also said that he is “still optimistic” that the EU and the US can reach an agreement.

“In 2016, 2017 we keep talking, we keep narrowing the differences until we get a deal that is beneficial to all stakeholders,” Quinlan added.

Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July 2013. If successful, TTIP would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment.

The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world.

But anti-TTIP campaigners claim the deal will lead to a lowering of environmental, food safety and other standards. They have also criticised a lack of transparency in the talks.

Read more: No EU-US trade deal by 2015, says TTIP expert | EurActiv

France local elections: conservatives hold off National Front

France's centre-right UMP party and its allies have taken first place in the first round of local elections, partial results show.

Projections suggest that the far-right National Front - despite strong gains - came second with about 25% of the vote, behind the conservatives on 30%.

President Francois Hollande's governing Socialists came third with about 20%.

Voters are electing representatives in 101 departments, or counties, charged with issues like schools and welfare.

The results mean the second round on 29 March will see a run-off between the UMP and the FN in many constituencies.

In the past, voters for rival parties have combined in the second round to keep the far right out.

Read more: BBC News - France local elections: conservatives hold off National Front

IRAN Negotiations: West, Iran cite progress in nuclear talks

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Saturday after meeting his counterparts from Germany, France and the US that nuclear talks with Iran were progressing well, but also stressed that "we will not do a bad deal that does not meet our red lines."

The four ministers issued a joint statement after their meeting: "We agreed that substantial progress had been made [with Iran] in key areas although there are still important issues on which no agreement has yet been possible. Now is the time for Iran, in particular, to take difficult decisions."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany arrived for the negotiations on Saturday evening, along with Laurent Fabius of France and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Read more: West, Iran cite progress in nuclear talks | News | DW.DE | 21.03.2015

3/21/15

France: National Front of Marie Le Pen moves ahead in French polls before weekend elections - by Elaine Ganley

Discontented Socialists, frustrated conservatives and an eclectic array of others – from gays to political renegades – could be among those casting ballots for France’s far-right National Front in local voting this weekend, elections that promise to solidify leader Marine Le Pen’s position as one of the country’s leading political figures.

Ms. Le Pen has been the single most visible presence in weeks of campaigning on city streets and in rural villages with a relentless message to voters fed up with traditional parties: We care about you, they don’t.

For Ms. Le Pen, Sunday’s election for more than 2,000 local councils is an important step in building a grassroots base critical to her ultimate goal: the 2017 presidency.

“This is the big straight line to 2017,” she said in a speech early this month in Paris. “There is no minor election, no minor vote.”

Read more: National Front moves ahead in French polls before weekend elections - The Globe and Mail

The Netherlands: The Tax Attraction Between Starbucks and the Netherlands - by Danny Hakim

American companies have plowed more money into the Netherlands than any other country in the world — for five years running.

This does not reflect a new fascination with pot or pancakes. It is about the taxes, or lack of them.

The laws in Netherlands shield a variety of profits from taxation, making it attractive for big multinational companies like Starbucks, Google and IBM to set up offices. Even rock stars like the Rolling Stones and U2 have taken advantage of Dutch tax shelters.

The same goes for Luxembourg, Bermuda, Ireland and the British Caribbean countries like the Cayman Islands. Along with the Netherlands, those places rank among the top destinations for foreign direct investment from the United States, according to a review of data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that shows how entrenched tax avoidance strategies have become.

Read more: The Tax Attraction Between Starbucks and the Netherlands - NYTimes.com

EU unveils draft laws to end secret sweet tax deals

Tax Evasion
The European Union plans to oblige member countries to share details of tax agreements made with big companies and end the practice of sweet deals made in secret.

The EU’s executive commission unveiled yesterday draft laws that would require countries “to automatically exchange information on their tax rulings” every three months.

EU countries rarely share information about their tax decisions and are often unaware of rulings made by their partners, which creates a gap that some multinationals exploit.

The EU’s top economic and finance chief, Pierre Moscovici, said: “It’s high time to re-establish a tax balance and for companies to pay what they owe.”

The move comes after the so-called LuxLeaks allegations about sweet deals for multinationals with offices in Luxembourg. In February, the EU set up a special committee to look into national tax rules following the revelations.

The commission, which polices EU laws and drafts new legislation, also opened tax investigations last year into Apple in Ireland, Starbucks in the Netherlands and Amazon in Luxemburg. It is also looking into tax provisions in Belgium.

The commission believes that many multinational corporations are taking advantage by shifting profits between countries and that this deprives EU governments of tax revenues.

Tax rulings are the confirmation or assurance that authorities give to taxpayers on how their taxes will be calculated.

The new legislation would force national tax authorities to send a short report about all cross-border tax rulings they have issued.

Read more: EU unveils draft laws to end secret sweet tax deals | Shanghai Daily

Climate Change: Why we can’t avert our eyes from climate change - by Jeffrey D Sachs

North Carolina’s coastlands, like coastal areas around the world, are threatened by rising sea levels caused by human-induced climate change. Yet in 2012, land developers convinced the state legislature to bar the use of scientific evidence on rising sea levels in the state’s coastal management policies, at least until 2016.

The issue is equally flagrant at the federal level: US Congress members, on the take from Big Oil, simply deny the reality of climate change.

The bad news about mega-droughts and freshwater scarcity stretches from Brazil to California to conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East.

Sao Paulo’s metropolitan region of 20 million people is now on the verge of water rationing, an unprecedented threat for one of the world’s leading cities. In California, this winter has been another dry season in a bitter four-year drought, one of the most severe in the region’s history. In Iran, the Hamoun wetlands bordering Afghanistan are disappearing, posing a grave threat to the local population.

The global message is clear: the world’s growing population (now at 7.3 billion, but likely to reach eight billion by 2024 and nine billion by around 2040), human-induced climate change, and the overuse of freshwater for irrigation and urban needs (especially when cities are built up in dry regions) are all fueling the potential for catastrophe.

Recent research indicates that these trends are likely to intensify. Almost all studies of human-induced climate change show that the Mediterranean region is likely to experience a further significant decline in rainfall, compounding the drying trend that has occurred during the past quarter-century.

Likewise, a recent study by my colleagues at Columbia University’s Earth Institute has shown that human-induced climate change is likely to cause increasingly frequent mega-droughts in the American southwest and Great Plains states in the second half of this century.

In September of this year, world leaders will gather at the United Nations to adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to address these rising threats. The SDGs will not ensure global action, but, as US President John F. Kennedy once said about UN agreements, they can serve as a lever to help move the world toward action. That is why it is so important to start planning for the SDGs now.

Read more:  Why we can’t avert our eyes from climate change | Shanghai Daily

Global Economy: EU allies defy US to join China-led Asian Bank

The new China-led Asian investment bank, a potential rival to institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, has enlisted more US allies as members after Britain decided to join last week.

The membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is set to expand further, with three more European countries following Britain’s lead.

France, Germany and Italy have defied US instructions not to participate in the Bank, said UK daily, The Financial Times.

The decision of the three European countries, yet to be officially announced, came in the wake of Britain’s application last week to be a founding member of the $50 billion bank.

Meanwhile, Australian leaders have been lining up in the past few days to voice support for joining the AIIB, which marks a conspicuous U-turn from the cabinet’s previous stance.

“Our position all along has been that we are happy to be part of some thing which is a genuine multilateral institution such as the World Bank, such as the Asia Development Bank,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said during an interview with Sky News over the weekend.

In addition, South Korea, Switzerland and Luxembourg are deliberating over the decision to participate in the infrastructure investment Bank.

In a last-ditch attempt to hinder its allies’ participation in the China-backed Bank, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said in Seoul on Tuesday that there must be “unmistakable evidence” about the standards of the Bank before members join in.

“Every government can make its own decision about whether the way to achieve that goal is by joining before the articles of agreement are clarified or by waiting to see what the evidence looks like as the bank starts to operate,” the US official was quoted by Reuters.

China, with $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, is pushing for the growth of its own multilateral bodies, including the AIIB, the BRICS Bank and a bank for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but also seeking to strengthen its voice at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

As regards Japan, Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said earlier this month that the chance to be an AIIB founding member is available for all Asian countries including Japan by March 31, and the ball is in Japan’s court.

“They told us they are considering. Whether Japan will join, we do not know. It is Japan’s own decision,” Lou said.

Nearly 30 countries have confirmed their participation in the AIIB, which is aimed at helping finance infrastructure projects across Asia and expected to be operational within 2015.

In response to US concerns about the standards of the AIIB, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that the AIIB’s operation and governance will be open, transparent, inclusive and responsible.

“It will draw experiences from other multilateral development banks and avoid their detours so as to be more cost-effective and efficient,” he told a press conference.

“The AIIB will complement existing multilateral development banks and support the infrastructure and economic development in Asia,” he added.

Read more: EU allies defy US to join China-led Asian Bank | The BRICS Post

Turkey offers Ukraine $50 mln loan: Ukraine's Poroshenko - by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice

Turkey has offered a $50 million loan to Ukraine to help cover its budget deficit, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a joint press conference with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.

"I'm grateful to Erdogan for the decision to offer a loan of $50 million towards covering the budget deficit," Poroshenko said following a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan, who was on an official visit to the Ukrainian capital.

Turkey also offered Ukraine $10 million in humanitarian assistance, Poroshenko said.

Read more: Turkey offers Ukraine $50 mln loan: Ukraine's Poroshenko - Yahoo News

America’s Shame: What’s in the Senate Torture Report? - John Cassidy

The executive summary of the long-awaited Senate report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration obviously raises many questions, some of which my colleague Amy Davidson touches on in her recent post. From earlier reports, including Seymour Hersh’s pieces on Abu Ghraib in this magazine, we are familiar with some of what happened in Iraq and other places where the C.I.A. was holding detainees suspected of having links to Al Qaeda. But the details contained in the executive summary still have the capacity to shock and outrage. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

Waterboarding: Contrary to what the C.I.A. told the Justice Department, the report says, this interrogation technique “was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. During one session, Abu Zubaydah”—a Saudi Arabian who is still being held at Guantánamo Bay—”became ‘completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a ‘series of near drownings.’ ” The report also says that the C.I.A. may have waterboarded more detainees than previously disclosed. For example, the Senate committee’s researchers turned up a photograph of a waterboard and buckets of water at a site where the agency had said that it wasn’t waterboarding. “In meetings between Committee Staff and the CIA in the summer of 2013,” the report notes dryly, “the CIA was unable to explain … the waterboard’s presence at COBALT.”

Other interrogation practices: In addition to waterboarding, the report says, the C.I.A. used a variety of aggressive techniques on its prisoners, including isolating them, depriving them of sleep, stripping them of their clothes and keeping them naked, subjecting them to loud music, and pinning their arms above their heads. The report also says that the C.I.A. “placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’ The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because, ‘we can never let the world know what I have done to you.’ CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families.”

According to the report, one prisoner, Ridha al-Najjar, identified as a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, was “left hanging—which involved handcuffing one or both wrists to an overhead bar which would not allow him to lower his arms—for 22 hours each day for two consecutive days, in order to ‘break’ his resistance.” Zubaydah, for his part, was “kept naked, fed a ‘bare bones’ liquid diet, and subjected to the non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” He had a bullet wound, but “the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take ‘precedence’ over his medical care.”

The report also provides new details about the treatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi detainee who was alleged to have been behind the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. (He’s currently on trial at Guantánamo.) At one C.I.A. detention site, in late 2002, al-Nashiri was waterboarded at least three times, the report says. Then he was transferred to another site, where his interrogation continued despite the fact that C.I.A. agents there believed he wasn’t hiding anything. C.I.A. headquarters told them to keep questioning him. In fact, the agency dispatched an interrogator, described in the report as “untrained,” who placed al-Nashiri in a “standing stress position,” with his hands above his head, for two and a half days. “Later, during the course of al-Nashiri’s debriefings, while he was blindfolded, [CIA OFFICER 2] placed a pistol near al-Nashiri’s head and operated a cordless drill near al-Nashiri’s body,” the report says. “Al-Nashiri did not provide any additional threat information during, or after, these interrogations.”

“Rectal feeding”: The report says that ”at least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal hydration’ or rectal feeding,” which involved putting a tube up their rectums and pumping in fluids. In a redacted C.I.A. document included in the summary, a C.I.A. officer explains: ”Regarding the rectal tube, if you place it and open up the IV tubing, the flow will self regulate, sloshing up the large intestines…What I infer is that you get a tube up as far you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag—let gravity do the work.” The documents indicate that the detainees who received this treatment included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Majid Khan, who were all suspected of being senior figures in Al Qaeda. Evidently, the technique was used to hydrate prisoners who had refused liquids, and also to influence their behavior. One C.I.A. officer wrote, “While IV infusion is safe and effective, we were impressed by the ancillary effectiveness of rectal infusion on ending the water refusal in a similar case.”

Read more: America’s Shame: What’s in the Senate Torture Report? - The New Yorker

Middle East: "Its all about oil stupid " - The Middle East Oil/Nuclear Puzzle  - by Pepe Escobar

"It's all about oil stupid"
US Secretary of State John Kerry may be starting to enjoy the brinkmanship, as he says it’s “unclear” whether the US and Iran would reach a political framework nuclear deal before the end of this month.
Loud applause may be heard in corridors ranging from Tel Aviv to Riyadh. 

As negotiations resume in Lausanne, the fact is a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, BRICS members Russia and China, and Germany) is bound to open the possibility of more Iranian oil exports – thus leading oil prices to fall even further. As of early this week, Brent crude was trading at $54.26 a barrel.

Assuming the US and the EU nations that are part of P5+1 really agree to implement the suspension of UN sanctions by the summer (Russia and China already agree), not only will Iran be exporting more energy – that should take a few months - but also OPEC as a whole will be increasing its oversupply.

The EU badly wants to buy loads of Iranian energy – and invest in Iranian energy infrastructure. Beijing, a key yet discreet member of the P5+1, is also watching these developments very carefully.

Whatever happens, for China this is a win-win situation, as Beijing keeps actively building up its strategic petroleum reserves profiting from low prices. And even as oil prices also remain under pressure from the strong US dollar – which makes oil way more expensive if you are paying with a different currency – that’s certainly no problem for China, with its mammoth US dollar reserves.

The oil price war essentially unleashed by Saudi Arabia has hit Iran with a bang. The country may be down, but not out. There were no good options for Tehran except to try to keep its market share by offering the same discounts – especially to Asia - the Saudis are offering.

Note EU-Digest: ISIS, Israel, Palestine are all "side-shows" in the unfolding Global Energy reshuffle.   Republican Congressional leader Boehner's visit to Israel therefore mainly has to do with the Republican's trying to block the 5 + 1 nation Iran nuclear agreement  on behalf of their "financial backers, US based global oil corporations who will be losing a lot of money if the Iran deal gets signed and Iran starts competing on the world market again. The EU which is a part of the negotiating group with Iran is already banking on the possibility an agreement will be reached and only a few days ago approved the establishment of an EU Energy Group, 

In case a deal is reached among the 6 negotiating countries and the Republicans block approval of  the deal in the US Congress, thereby depriving the American taxpayers in paying less for their energy, it is probably very likely that the deal will then go for approved to the UN, because the agreement is one which includes 6 different countries. At that point the present US Obama Administration, which does not need a mandate from the US Congress to vote yes or no on any UN resolution, can endorse the agreement in the interest of the US economy.

As the Chinese would say: "these are interesting times  ! "

EU-Digest