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4/30/15

Vietnam celebrates 40 years since the fall of Saigon

Vietnam is marking 40 years since the end of a war which killed at least three million of its citizens.
The country’s political and military powers attend a colourful parade in Ho Chi Minh City.

Formerly known as Saigon, the then capital of South Vietnam fell to the north in 1975, setting the wheels in motion for the nation’s reunification under Communist rule.

The Vietnam War was fought over more than two decades, following the signing of the Geneva Accords in 1954, which divided the country in two.

Guerillas in the US-backed south fought against the separation, helped by the Communist north.
US bombs were launched in 1964, followed by the arrival of its ground troops in ’65. They would continue fighting for a decade.

Some 58,000 American troops died during the conflict, dividing opinion on the country’s involvement.

The Paris Peace Accords officially ended US involvement in 1973, although fighting continued between the north and south until North Vietnamese troops rolled up to the presidential palace in Saigon, ending the war.

Read more: Vietnam celebrates 40 years since the fall of Saigon | euronews, world news

Global Insurance Industry: US Congress Skeptical Of Global Insurance Talks - by Ryan Tracy

The US Congress is ramping up scrutiny of global discussions about insurance regulations, putting pressure on the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department as they seek an international agreement on capital rules.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats pressed officials from the agencies about global discussions between the U.S. and regulators in Europe and elsewhere regarding capital rules for globally-active insurance firms.

In the House, Republicans were set to hold their own hearing on the topic Wednesday and Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wisc.) is readying a bill that would constrain the Fed’s latitude as it writes rules for some insurance firms.

Lawmakers have been hearing for months from the insurance industry and U.S. state insurance regulators, both of whom are worried that new insurance capital rules being negotiated internationally could be imported in the U.S.

The U.S. and European approaches to insurance rules “are very fundamental different ways of viewing the world,” Kevin McCarty, Commissioner of the Florida Insurance Department, told the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday. “When you try to harmonize those two, it would create the potential for great disruption [that] potentially raises prices for consumers in the United States and potentially jeopardizes the availability of products.”

Among the fears of state regulators, he said, is that the failure of a company would be handled differently under new international rules, hamstringing state regulators who want to protect insurance policyholders even at the expense of other participants in the financial markets.

Industry officials also express worry that the Fed, which is working on regulations impacting about one-third of the industry, will use the international process as a precedent to impose rules that raise their costs or force them to restructure certain businesses.

Read more: Congress Skeptical Of Global Insurance Talks - MoneyBeat - WSJ

Greece close to minimum agreement deal with creditors, says deputy PM - by Nick Fletcher and Helena Smith

Greece could seal a deal with its creditors in early May, its deputy prime minister said on Wednesday, as the country prepared a new list of reforms and the European Central Bank provided more support to its beleaguered banks.

But Yannis Dragasakis warned it was likely to be only a “minimum agreement” to unlock the delayed funds Greece needed to avoid default. He said: “Now we are going to a minimum agreement with actions that can be taken immediately. But [in the long-term] not just any solution will suffice. The solution has to be viable. After the interim agreement a long discussion about the debt, primary surpluses, investment and growth will follow.”

A eurozone official told Reuters time was running out to reach a deal about releasing the emergency funds, which amount to €7.2bn (£5.2bn), since the country needed to begin negotiating a third bailout agreement before the current programme runs out at the end of June. Otherwise it faced the prospect of default or having to leave the eurozone. He said: “We are not talking about weeks any more, we are talking about days.”

If the latest Greek proposals were approved, eurozone finance ministers could endorse the deal at their next meeting on 11 May. Greece’s creditors – the European Union, ECB and the International Monetary Fund – are demanding economic reforms in exchange for more bailout cash.

Read more: Greece close to minimum agreement deal with creditors, says deputy PM | World news | The Guardian

The Netherlands - Insurance Industry:Merger VMDeerenberg and KOSTER Insurances b.v

VMDeerenberg in Bodegraven and KOSTER Insurance b.v. in Alphen a/d Rijn announced they have agreed to cooperate and merge their activities. As a result of this merger a large consulting company in the area of risk management, damage and revenue insurance, pensions and mortgages services, has been created right in the center of the Netherlands, known as the “Green Heart”. 

For Wim Koster, the CEO of Koster Insurances b.v. this merger is a logical move. After 30 years of service and having built a profitable, pro-active and solid corporation ogether with his spouse and business partner Jolanda of Mil, Wim says: "We have chosen for VMDeerenberg because we believe that through them we can provide continued good and reliable services and security for our clients and to our employees. VMDeerenberg seeks these same values, as we move along in the coming year, and continue our progress."

For Herman Broere, owner of VMDeerenberg, the merger with KOSTER Insurances b.v. is a welcome addition to his company: "Wim Koster, and Jolanda van Mil have built a large and reputable retirement advisory and insurance company, and besides having an excellent reputation, KOSTER insurances unique automated online support systems are able to address and communicate all administrative and retirement solutions electronically in 'real time' .This is very distinctive and unique in the market." 

To guarantee the transparency of this merger VMDeerenberg Holding B.V.'s name will be changed into VMD KOSTER Group B.V.  Consequently as a result of this merger VMD KOSTER Group B.V., including their sister companies employ 66 people. Premium income is EUR 50 million. The company presently has over 30,000 clients and services some 70,000 policies through VMDeerenberg or KOSTER in management.

Mortgage sales amount to more than EUR 47 million. Turnover from billings, subscriptions and fees are EUR 5.2 million. The locations of operation of VMD KOSTER Group B.V are in Alphen aan den Rijn and Bodegraven in the Netherlands







Turkey: Gezi Park activists acquitted in Turkey

A judge has dismissed the case against more than a dozen activists involved in Turkey's 2013 anti-government demonstrations. The accused were leaders of Taksim Solidarity, originally an environmental group. 

Read more: Gezi Park activists acquitted in Turkey | News | DW.DE | 29.04.2015

Britain - Elections Miliband leads ‘new generation taking charge of Labour’

Edward Samuel Miliband, aged 45, leads a party of waning fortunes since Tony Blair held power. He is on record as saying he believes he is the best person …“to move us on from New Labour… to get back in touch with the concerns of working people.”

Some of course call him ‘Red Ed’, given his Marxist father and his left-wing mother.
Their Oxford and London School of Economics-educated son, however, won the support of the unions while sticking up for middle income earners, vowing tax cuts and better services with accountability.

In a rousing speech, he said: “Everything in this manifesto is funded. The deficit will be cut every year. And I offer this manifesto as proof — a better plan, for a better future for our country.”

Ed Miliband’s older brother David, policy chief for Blair and then foreign minister under Brown, eased out of politics when Ed won the Labour leadership in 2010. Ed had left a journalist career behind him and now became head of the Opposition, record young, at 40. David seemed not to bear him any hard feelings.

Miliband was favourable to devolving authority to lower levels of government, although critics on the left complained he was too far right, yet slowly the party began performing better. Labour also won more seats in the European elections, ahead of the conservatives though behind UKIP.

Read more: Miliband leads ‘new generation taking charge of Labour’ | euronews, world news

4/28/15

Middle East - UAE: Trouble in Paradise: How U.S. Ally UAE Crushes Dissent - by Brian Dooley

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is eager to show that it's a safe and stable business environment, and a dependable U.S. military ally.

"United in Security" with the U.S., declared the UAE state media this week, reminding readers it's the "only Arab country to join the U.S. on six military operations over the last 25 years" (First Gulf war, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and ISIL).

Backed by an impressively lavish lobbying and PR machine Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Defense Secretary Carter in Washington last Monday to discuss, according to him, "new steps to enhance the already deep security between the U.S. and the UAE."

Sheikh Mohammed is a regular visitor to DC, commanding red carpet treatment and access to the highest possible levels of the U.S. government. He is likely to be back in a couple of weeks representing UAE at the Camp David conference of Gulf leaders.

He's also head of the feared state security system, the UAE's Stasi, which regularly suppresses freedom of speech and ruthlessly suffocates civil society voices of those who are critical of the regime. In recent months, the attacks on dissidents have intensified. In November 2014 the UAE cabinet announced a list of 83 "terrorist organizations." These included two American NGOs, the Council on Islamic-American Relations and the Muslim American Society.

Previously tolerated local civil society organizations have been disbanded, including the Association of Teachers and the Association of Jurists. Former heads of the Jurists Association are now political prisoners, including renowned constitutional scholar Dr. Mohammed al Roken. He's one of dozens serving long prison sentences after being convicted in a mass unfair trial in 2013.

Reports of torture in custody have intensified in recent years, and only a tiny handful of dissidents are currently in the country and out of jail. These include prominent Human Rights Defender Ahmed Mansoor, named this week as a 2015 finalist for the internationally prestigious Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award. Nearly all peaceful dissent in the UAE is silenced, both on and offline. Abuse of migrant workers' rights persists, and no labor union is allowed to exist to protect them.

Meeting me in secret this week in the UAE, human rights activists told me there is now a zero tolerance policy for peaceful criticism of the Emirati regime. "It's got so much worse in the last few years," said one. "Ten years ago arrests without warrants or disappearances happened but they were rare. Now they're common." Even relatives of political prisoners have been targeted in recent months, some hit with arbitrary travel bans that prevent them from leaving the country.

Read more: Trouble in Paradise: How U.S. Ally UAE Crushes Dissent | Brian Dooley

France: Jean-Marie Le Pen allegedly hid millions in money and gold in secret Swiss account

While Le Pen has been known to make headlines in France for his provocative, if not outright racist or anti-Semitic remarks, this time it’s for possible fiscal fraud.

The 2.2 million euros, 1.7 million of which was in gold bullion and coins, was originally placed in a trust with the Swiss branch of the bank HSBC, French investigative website Mediapart revealed on Monday.

In May 2014, the money was transferred to another Swiss bank, the Compagnie Bancaire Helvétique (CBH), in the Bahamas via a trust handled by Le Pen’s personal assistant, Gérald Gérin, Mediapart reported.

Meanwhile, Le Pen’s financial dealings apparently caught the attention of France’s anti-fraud and money laundering agency Tracfin, which alerted the prosecutor’s office in Nanterre, just west of Paris, to the situation in late 2013, Mediapart reported. Around the same time, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a separate, preliminary investigation into Le Pen’s assets.

The scandal comes as the FN faces serious questions over its funding. In November 2014, the party confirmed reports that it had borrowed nine million euros from the Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank (FRCB) because it was struggling to find lenders in France.

More recently, the FN came under scrutiny last month after the European Parliament informed the European Anti-Fraud Office of suspected irregularities regarding the FN’s use of funds intended to pay the salaries of EU parliamentary assistants.

Read more: france 24 - Jean-Marie Le Pen allegedly hid millions in money and gold in secret Swiss account - France 24

British Elections: Pre-election blow to Cameron′s Conservatives as UK growth slows sharply

First-quarter GDP in Britain slowed more than expected, dealing a blow to the government ahead of next week's elections. Growth was lackluster across the board, including in the country's dominant service sector. 

Gross domestic product grew by a mere 0.3 percent in the fist quarter, compared with the previous quarter, according to the preliminary reading released on Tuesday. Analysts had expected 0.5-percent growth. The all-important service sector grew by just 0.5 percent, the slowest rate since mid-2013.

It was the slowest rate of growth since the end of 2012, putting a damper on UK Prime Minister David Cameron's campaign message emphasizing the achievements of the government's "long-term ecomomic plan" ahead of the general election on May 7.

UK Finance Minister George Osborne tweeted that the figures showed that the recovery in Britain could not be "taken for granted" and that voters should stick with the government's plan.

Read more: Pre-election blow to Cameron′s Conservatives as UK growth slows sharply | Business | DW.DE | 28.04.2015

Press Cartel: Google launches digital news project in Europe

The Digital News Initiative launched on Tuesday is a partnership between Google and eight European news publishers aimed at supporting quality and innovative journalism.

The project brings together German media outlets Die Zeit and FAZ, Les Echos in France, UK's the Financial Times and The Guardian, as well as NRC Media in the Netherlands, Spain's El Pais and La Stampa in Italy.

Carlo D'Asaro Biondo, head of Google's strategic relationships in Europe, said in a statement that the partners would focus on product development, innovation as well as training and research, while setting up a working group to "increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement."

As part of the initiative, Google will spend around 150 million euros ($160 million) on various digital projects over the next three years.

Some publishers such as Germany's Axel Springer and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, however, have stayed away from the venture.

But welcoming the initiative, Tony Danker, international director of Guardian news and media, said the test of the initiative's success was "whether it leads to meaningful change to ensure journalism flourishes in the digital age."

The move by Google follows the company's recent decision to change the way it will handle searches from mobile devices. The firm's search algorithm now gives higher priority to sites that optimize their content for small screen mobile devices.

The new partnership also comes at a time when Google finds itself in the midst of mounting criticism in Europe.

The European Commission recently announced it was probing the Mountain View-based firm for alleged anti-competitive practices and distortions in its search results. Google faces fines of up to $6.6 billion if the charges are proven. Google, however, has strongly rejected the accusations.

Read more: Google launches digital news project in Europe | Business | DW.DE | 28.04.2015

Wall Street and banking industry: Democratic leaders should Endorse the Warren Wall Street reform agenda

At a time when the corporate shills in the Democratic party are increasingly voting with Republicans in Congress to gut the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, Senator Warren spoke the truth about what’s really going on. "Republicans claim loudly and repeatedly that they support competitive markets,” she said, “but their approach to financial regulation is pure crony capitalism that helps the rich and the powerful protect and expand their power and leaves everyone else behind.

Most importantly, the senator from Massachusetts laid out a simple, no-nonsense agenda to complete the “unfinished business” of Wall Street reform .
* Hold financial institutions and individuals accountable for cheating customers. Stop offering “deferred prosecution” get-out-of-jail-free cards and giving special status to companies that were already caught breaking the law. Impose mandatory fines equal to the profits from illegal conduct. Make the governors of the Federal Reserve personally approve all settlement deals, and close the loophole that prevents the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from protecting people buying a car.
* Stop financial institutions from passing risk on to taxpayers. Cap the size of big banks and break them up if they grow too large. Restrict the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority so banks know they won’t get a bailout for bad behavior. Pass the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act to reinstate the barrier between commercial and investment banking that once prevented financial crises for decades.
* Change tax policies that encourage excessive risk-taking and financial instability. Reduce risky and pointless speculation with a small sales tax on certain financial transactions, like the one proposed by Representative Keith Ellison and backed by more than 65,000 CREDO members.6 Force companies to rely less on debt by ending the tax-deductibility of interest payments, and close the loophole that allows big companies to write off billions in bonuses for top executives.
* Create simple, structural rules for regulating the shadow banking sector. Companies that act just like banks but aren’t regulated like banks pose a massive risk to the financial system, and it is time regulators took the threat seriously.
"The fight over financial reform can't be over to back up a little or to back up a lot," Warren told reporters. "It has to be about finishing the job. She’s right – and so we need to demand that every Democrat get behind this agenda and commit to making it law.

EU-Digest



4/27/15

EU Parliament: More than 30,000 lobbyists and counting: Brussels under corporate siege

When the Polish MEP Róża Thun was elected five years ago, she thought the job would be fairly straightforward. She hadn't reckoned with the lobbyists.

Take mobile phone charges. She saw the fact that EU citizens pay eye-watering sums in other EU states as an anomaly that needed fixing. But it wasn't that simple. "We had telephone companies and lobbyists who started to invade us," she recalls. "They obviously didn't want to reduce roaming charges because it would hit them in the pocket."

To stroll around the vast, ugly and permanent building site that is Brussels' European district is to brush up against the power of the lobbies. Every office block, every glass and steel construction within a kilometre of the EU Commission council and parliament is peopled by some of the globe's biggest corporate names.

Thousands of companies, banks, law firms, PR consultancies and trade associations are there to bend ears and influence the regulations and laws that shape Europe's single market, fix trade deals, and govern economic and commercial behaviour in the European Union of 507 million people.

Lobbying is a billion-euro industry in Brussels. According to Corporate Europe Observatory, a watchdog campaigning for greater transparency, there are at least 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels, nearly matching the 31,000 staff employed by the European commission and making it second only to Washington in the concentration of those seeking to affect legislation. Lobbyists sign a transparency register run by the parliament and the commission, though it is not mandatory.

By some estimates, they influence 75% of legislation. In principle, lobbyists give politicians information and arguments during the decision-making process. In practice, the corridors of the parliament often teem with individuals, who meet MEPs in their offices or in open spaces such as the "Mickey Mouse bar" (nicknamed so because of the shape of its seats) inside the parliament.

They explain their concerns, provide a "position paper", and send in suggestions for amendments to legislative proposals. Of course, the final decision is taken by MEPs. But examples are legion of the tail wagging the dog.

Lobbying is such a crucial part of the climate in Brussels that it has spawned manuals, a documentary (Who Really Runs the EU?) and even "the worst lobby awards". Not surprisingly, the biggest movers and shakers agitate for the biggest industries with the most to gain – and lose – from European legislation.

Basically, if you are in Bruxelles or Washington - the lobbyists have taken over and politics have not much to do with Democracy anymore.

EU-Digest

US Politics: The Super Rich Have a New Way to Buy Elections - by Robert Faturechi and Jonathan Stray

The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters.

More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players.

A growing number of political committees known as super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records. During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million—16 percent of money raised by all super PACs—went to committees dominated by one donor. That was quadruple their 2012 share.

The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.

The trend may continue into 2016. National Review recently reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs. Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate.

Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers”—volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns. Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”

Read more: The Super Rich Have a New Way to Buy Elections - The Daily Beast

Greece - Power Play: Tsipras ready for reforms, to replace Varoufakis in bailout talks

As Greece moved closer toward bankruptcy, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seemed more eager to strike a deal with his international creditors.

Tsipras was finally ready to cut pensions, speed up privatizations and increase Value Added Tax (VAT) in luxury islands like Mykonos and Santorin. These proposals would be soon presented to the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), media reports said on Monday.

"We need to find a solution by mid-May," Nikos Filis, parliamentary representative of Tsipras' party Syriza said on Greek radio.

Tsipras was finally ready to negotiate after he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem in separate phone calls on Sunday. He then met Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, causing the media in Greece to speculate that Varoufakis might eventually be removed from the position of chief negotiator in Greece's talks with its creditors.

Tsipras' decision could be traced back to a Eurogroup meeting in Riga last week, where eurozone finance ministers accused Varoufakis of being a "gambler" and leading his country in the wrong direction. "They want his head," said a headline in the Greek daily Ta Nea.

Euclid Tsakalotos, the deputy foreign minister, would henceforth lead all bailout talks for Greece, Tsipras said. However, Varoufakis would still remain finance minister, although his close confidante was being replaced with Nikos Chouliarakis, who has worked with the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank before.

Read more: Tsipras ready for reforms, to replace Varoufakis in bailout talks | News | DW.DE | 27.04.2015

Technology - Google: Would Thomas Jefferson Work At GoogleX? - by David Ewing Duncan

The government needs brilliant minds reinventing it with the same urgency they use to create apps and nano-bots. How the tech world stole America’s biggest thinkers.
As Americans brace for another presidential election, availing a process invented over 200 years ago, where are this century’s counterparts of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton?

They’re working for Google or Facebook, or they’re founding start-ups to build the world’s first flying car—or bioengineering super cells to repair injured brains.

What they are not doing is devising new and creative ways to improve the body politic. For many of our best and brightest, government these days feels obsolete. Politics is creaky and dysfunctional, or is something they seldom think about.

President Barack Obama has drawn some creative thinkers to the White House. These include Megan Smith, who left Google last fall to become the nation’s chief technology officer, and former Facebook engineering director David Recordon who became director of White House information technology.

Most brainiacs, however, head for Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, Kendall Square in Cambridge, and dozens of other places that are not on the Potomac River. Even those engaged in the White House and elsewhere tend to be focused on technology and not on rebooting politics for the 21st century.

Possibly the arrival of more cool kids in D.C.—particularly in Congress—will make government and political theory fashionable again, like it was in the late 1700s and early 1960s. Hip or not, it would be smart for our greatest minds to look up now and then from building drones and cancer-killing nanobots so that the peanuts in government can be moved perhaps an inch or two.

Read more: Would Thomas Jefferson Work At GoogleX? - The Daily Beast

Iran: How a Nuclear Deal Could Bring Democracy to Iran - by Peter Beinart

Last week, Akbar Ganji wrote one of the most important essays published since the signing of the framework nuclear deal with Iran earlier this month. It’s partly important because of who Ganji is. Imprisoned in 2001 for accusing Iranian officials of orchestrating the murder of government critics, he penned a manifesto from jail calling for Iran to replace theocracy with democracy. After being released and leaving Iran, he launched a hunger strike on behalf of Iranian political prisoners in 2009. He’s been called Iran’s “preeminent political dissident.”

But it’s also important because of what Ganji says. In the essay, he calls the framework deal “a great victory for Iran and Iranians, if we look at it from a democracy angle.” Why? Because “when a nation such as Iran is threatened by the US and Israel for over two decades, and suffers from the most crippling economic sanctions in history, democracy becomes an impossible dream for its people, who live instead in terror and fear of war.”

 If the United States and its allies “are truly interested in the development of democracy in Iran,” he continues, “they should set aside military threats and economic sanctions. Peace and economic well-being is directly linked with democracy.”

In those sentences, Ganji challenges one of the most damaging myths in modern American foreign policy: that via war and cold war, America promotes freedom.

As with so much else involving today’s GOP, that myth is connected to the myth of Ronald Reagan. As hawks tell it, Reagan entered the White House in 1981, built up the American military, sent arms to anti-communist rebels, refused to negotiate arms-control deals, called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and, presto, the Berlin Wall fell. It was America’s escalation of the Cold War that liberated Eastern Europe.

The lesson isn’t that American leaders should never criticize dictatorships. They should. But they should also remember that imposing sanctions and threatening war rarely strengthen human rights. It’s usually the reverse. First, threats of war make it easier for dictators to discredit their opponents. In Ganji’s words, “The Islamic Republic’s dictatorship used the threat of military action [from Israel and the United States] to increase its repression of the Iranian people, accusing the opposition of treason and being turncoats.” Second, sanctions tend to impoverish the very middle class best able to create and sustain democratic change.

Sometimes, as in apartheid South Africa, dissidents endorse sanctions anyway. But even in South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress only endorsed sanctions aimed at improving human rights. Most of the sanctions imposed on Iran make no pretense of that; they’re simply designed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Third, and most obviously, America’s wars themselves often threaten human rights.

In the midst of genocide, “humanitarian war,” coupled with diplomacy and long-term peacekeeping, can sometimes bring peace, as it did in Bosnia and Kosovo. But more often, bombing an oppressed people simply makes their plight worse. 

Read more: How a Nuclear Deal Could Bring Democracy to Iran - The Atlantic

US Corporations Political Power: How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy - by Lee Drutman

US Lobbyists
Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million).

 It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.

Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.

Read more: How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy - The Atlantic

4/26/15

EU telecoms reform to address competition from WhatsApp, Skype - by Julia Fioretti

The European Commission will take into account increased competition from cable operators and alternative services such as WhatsApp (FB.O) when it overhauls Europe's telecoms rules next year, a move that will be cheered by the telecoms industry.

A draft seen by Reuters of the Commission's strategy for creating a digital single market says telecom operators compete with "over-the-top" services "without being subject to the same regulatory regime".
"It is necessary to design a fair and future-proof regulatory environment for all services," the document says.

The bloc's telecom firms such as Orange (ORAN.PA) and Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) have long called for lighter-touch regulation, after years of declining revenues and competition from new entrants, to enable them to invest in network upgrades.

Telecom companies point to increased competition from services such as Skype (owned by Microsoft (MSFT.O)) and online messaging as a reason for easing the regulatory burden.

Considering Skype, or any other "voice-over-IP" application, as a substitute for traditional phone services could lead to those companies being subject to the same obligations as traditional operators, such as offering emergency calls.

The new European executive, which took office in November, has made investment in superfast broadband a priority. But incumbent telecom operators say the current set of rules does not provide incentives to invest in their networks. The Commission will unveil its proposals for an overhaul of the telecoms framework in 2016, the document states. Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip is expected to unveil his digital single market strategy on May 6.


Read more: EU telecoms reform to address competition from WhatsApp, Skype | Reuters

Europeans Fight U.S. Trade Deal With Fear of McHospitals, Fracking Under Eiffel Tower (and they should)-by Leo Cendrowicz

It will afflict Europe with American abominations on an almost Biblical scale: cheap and dirty food, toxic waste, mind-numbing movies and television, gas-guzzling cars, all while scrapping healthcare and erasing labour rights.

That, at least, is how angry European activists are painting a planned trade deal between the European Union and the United States. A legion of horrors has been evoked about an agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which is currently under negotiation.

Dozens of groups have sprung up to oppose the planned pact, like Stop TTIP (whose website describes the deal as “a corporate coup that will put power and money into the hands of corporations and away from the elected government.”) and No TTIP (“TTIP would lock in the privatization of our public services, erode government protection for people and the environment and threaten a new round of unjust economic reforms forced on the poor”).

U.S. and E.U. officials are currently in New York this week for their ninth round of talks to hammer out the details of deal. But on Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Madrid, Helsinki, Warsaw, Prague and other cities in simultaneous colorful demonstrations against TTIP.

Europe’s anti-TTIP campaigners characterize the plans as a diabolical plot to allow the likes of McDonalds to take over hospitals, Exxon to frack under the Eiffel Tower, and Google to take over parliaments. “It’s the most contested acronym in Europe,” admits Cecilia Malmström, the E.U. trade commissioner, who is in charge of the European side of the negotiations.

Work on TTIP will continue for the moment. Planned for over a decade before its formal launch in 2013, the negotiations are expected to last at least another two years. But the real test will come when the ratification process begins in European and American legislatures – some 898 amendments have so far been proposed in the European Parliament’s TTIP wish list.

 If anger continues to swell, it could dilute TTIP or derail it completely. If that happens, TTIP’s many opponents would celebrate. Whether their interests would be served by the trade pact’s demise is another matter. But even TTIP’s supporters accept that in its current form, the agreement has become a lightning rod for almost every European discontent.

Read more: Europeans Fight U.S. Trade Deal With Fear of McHospitals, Fracking Under Eiffel Tower - The Daily Beast

′Turkey is shooting itself in the foot′- by Thomas Seibert

 Turkey has rarely launched rhetorical attacks on so many different international players in such a short time. The pope came in for his share, as did the European Parliament.

Then it was Austria's turn, before Germany, France, Russia and the USA were also all verbally assaulted - in a series of foreign office statements issued at the rate of almost one a minute - for the positions they have taken in the debate on the correct word to give to the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman authorities one hundred years ago.

In the case of Germany, Ankara stressed that the Turkish people would neither forgive nor forget the words of President Joachim Gauck, who has spoken of an Armenian genocide. At the same time, the Turkish government warned the German parliament in Berlin against passing a planned resolution that also speaks of a genocide against the Armenians from 1915 to 1917.

The presidents of the USA, Russia and France - Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande - drew Ankara's ire because they also mentioned the massacre. And Obama didn't even use the "G-word" out of consideration for his country's important NATO ally.

Read more: ′Turkey is shooting itself in the foot′ | News | DW.DE | 26.04.2015

Nepal: Top Google executive killed in Nepal quake, 100s of foreign tourists missing

The head of privacy at the secretive Google X facility was one of the 18 people killed in an avalanche at Mount Everest, triggered by the Nepal earthquake. Hundreds of foreign nationals are also feared dead or are missing.

Dan Fredinburg, 33, was part of the Jagged Globe expedition team that was tackling Mount Everest when the 7.9-magnidue quake shook Nepal, according to Jagged Globe and his family. He died of fatal head injury.
The head of privacy at the secretive Google X facility was one of the 18 people killed in an avalanche at Mount Everest, triggered by the Nepal earthquake. Hundreds of foreign nationals are also feared dead or are missing.

Dan Fredinburg, 33, was part of the Jagged Globe expedition team that was tackling Mount Everest when the 7.9-magnidue quake shook Nepal, according to Jagged Globe and his family. He died of fatal head injury.

 Read more: Top Google executive killed in Nepal quake, 100s of foreign tourists missing — RT News

4/25/15

Mercury in Vaccines: Anti-vax group defends comparing immunisation withThimerosam additive to rape

In a press release issued recently, one that almost no mainstreain Australia m media sources have bothered to report, it was announced that Dr. Brian Hooker had finally received documents from the CDC through a Freedom of Information Act that revealed the CDC had access to data linking Thimerosal in vaccines to autism, non-organic sleep disorders, and speech disorders.

Two members of Congress helped Dr. Hooker draft his letter to the CDC, after having spent nearly 10 years submitting over 100 Freedom of Information Acts to no avail.

This information is very damaging to the CDC, which has stated for years that there are no studies linking the mercury of Thimerosal in vaccines to autism.  

In another recent testimony given by the CDC in the November 2012 Congressional Hearing on Autism, they claimed there are no studies linking Thimerosal to autism. Thimerosam however is still used today in the flu shot that is administered to pregnant women and infants.


An Anti-vaccination group in Australia has defended an advert which appears to compare immunising children with being raped. The Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network posted an image of a woman with a man threateningly holding his hand over her mouth on its Facebook page earlier today.  

This information, so far, has been completely blacked out of the mainstream media.

EU-Digest

GM Foods: EU Commission proposes GM opt-out for member states "why not total ban?"

The European Commission has proposed a new law which would allow individual EU countries to restrict or prohibit imported genetically modified (GM) crops – even if they have been approved by the bloc as a whole. The US says the move is "not constructive."

According to EU Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, the plan would "grant member states a greater say as regards the use of EU-authorized GMOs in food and feed on their respective territories."

It will now go to the European Parliament and member states for further consideration. There is concern that giving nations the opportunity to opt out from EU laws goes counter to many EU initiatives which traditionally seek a common stance on EU policies.

The proposal – which covers human food and animal feed – comes as a knock to the US, which wants Europe to fully accept its GM crops as part of an EU-US free trade deal.

Note EU-Digest: This EU Commission proposal is not a solution - the EU must ban the use of genetically modified foods throughout the EU period.

Read more: EU Commission proposes GM opt-out for member states — RT News

Britain - Frenchwoman who inspired ‘Ratatouille’ named world’s best chef

Hélène Darroze, 48, has an eponymous restaurant in Paris and another in the Connaught hotel in London, which has two Michelin stars.

Darroze was named the world's best female chef by Britain's Restaurant magazine, and is to collect her prize at "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" awards in London in June.

"It is an honour to win the award because there are talented female chefs all over the world and I imagine it's hard to choose just one," she said in a statement after her nomination was announced.
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"My hope is that the winners of this award inspire young women, including my daughters, to follow their passion and work hard to hone their skill regardless of their profession."

Read more: France - Frenchwoman who inspired ‘Ratatouille’ named world’s best chef - France 24

Armenia: Turkey and Armenia Host Clashing Centennial Memorials - by Noah Rayman

Commemorations of two 1915 events—the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey and the Turkish stand at Gallipoli—have caused tension More than 60 leaders and representatives from around the world converged on the Armenian capital on Friday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of a period during which more than 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President François Hollande both attended the ceremony, while the White House dispatched Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The anniversary of the 1915 killings, in what was then the eastern edge of the Ottoman Empire, has coincided with a surge in international awareness. In the past month, global icons ranging from Pope Francis to Kim Kardashian (who has Armenian ancestry) have ruffled Turkish feathers by shedding light on the killings and using the term “genocide,” which the Turkish government rejects. And as world envoys gather in Yerevan, similar ceremonies will be held in cities around the world.

On April 24, 1915, the Ottomans rounded up Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul in the beginning of what historians widely consider a genocidal act of bloodshed. In an article years later about a violent Armenian campaign for vengeance, TIME Magazine described the killings - click on the link below for the complete report

Indeed terrible atrocities took place on both sides - but the figure of 1.5, constantly quoted, mainly by Armenians, as to the number of Armenian victims is fictitious. There were not even that number of Armenians living in the whole of Turkey at that time.

Hopefully some time soon some independent forum (UN) can come up with a realistic answer to what now seems to have become a profitable venture for the Armenians and a very sad, but time consuming issue for everyone else.

Read more: Turkey and Armenia Host Clashing Centennial Memorials | TIME

4/24/15

Greece: Eurogroup sends Greeks back to their homework "and considers Greek Finance team amateurs"

The Eurogroup finance ministers meeting in Riga has ended with a unanimous call for Greece to speed up its economic reforms if it wants its financial aid to continue.

Discussions between Greece and its international partners about ways to save the economy need to lead to a “global accord” say the FinMins, who also express “worry” about what they call the new government’s limited progress.

“A comprehensive and detailed list of agreed reforms is needed as a basis for a successful conclusion of the current review.

We are all aware that time is running out. Too much time has been lost in the past two months and this is therefore clear that these discussions need to make significantly more progress,” said Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Reportedly more than one minister at the talks expressed frustration with the Greek economic team in Riga and in particular Finance Minister Varoufakis for an approach one participant described as “amateur”.

Read more: Eurogroup sends Greeks back to their homework | euronews, economy

The Internet: The Only Email System The NSA Can't Access - by Hollie Slade

When the NSA surveillance news broke last year it sent shockwaves through CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Switzerland. Andy Yen, a PhD student, took to the Young at CERN Facebook group with a simple message: “I am very concerned about the privacy issue, and I was wondering what I could do about it.”

There was a massive response, and of the 40 or so active in the discussion, six started meeting at CERN’s Restaurant Number 1, pooling their deep knowledge of computing and physics to found ProtonMail, a gmail-like email system which uses end-to-end encryption, making it impossible for outside parties to monitor.

Encrypted emails have actually been around since the 1980s, but they are extremely difficult to use. When Edward Snowden asked a reporter to use an end-to-end encrypted email to share details of the NSA surveillance program the reporter couldn’t get the system to work, says Yen.

“We encrypt the data on the browser before it comes to the server,” he explains. “By the time the data comes to the server it’s already encrypted, so if someone comes to us and says we’d like to read the emails of this person, all we can say is we have the encrypted data but we’re sorry we don’t have the encryption key and we can’t give you the encryption key.”

“We’ve basically separated the message that’s encrypted apart from the key – all the encryption takes place on your computer instead of our servers, so there’s no way for us to see the original message.”
This is different from all other systems, says Yen. While Gmail has implemented some encryption, they still have the encrypted message and the key to decrypt the message.

While half the team is now at MIT, some are still in Switzerland where the ProtonMail’s servers are housed for extra protection. “One of the key things we want to do is control our servers and make sure all the servers are in Switzerland which will increase privacy because Switzerland doesn’t do things like seize servers or tape conversations,” says Yen. This will help avoid a situation where the U.S government could forcibly shut them down, says Yen, similar to what happened to Lavabit last year.

Read more: The Only Email System The NSA Can't Access - Forbes

Britain: HSBC drops electoral bomb: quit EU and we may quit London

Britain’s biggest bank HSBC has waded into the UK election campaign by saying it is considering leaving London because of the economic risk of Britain pulling out of the EU.

It condemned the uncertainty around continued British membership the outgoing Conservatives have created by promising to hold a referendum if re-elected.

Read more: HSBC drops electoral bomb: quit EU and we may quit London | euronews, economy

EU-US Trade Agreement:Reiner Hoffmann and Richard Trumpka On TTIP

The German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Washington organised an event on TTIP with the President of the German trade union confederation DGB, Reiner Hoffmann, and his US counterpart, Richard Trumka, the President of the AFL-CIO.

The event was moderated by Shawn Donnan, the World Trade Editor of the Financial Times.
With TTIP controversies frequently in the news there is an urgent need to better understand the issues at hand. You can watch the full discussion bu clicking on the link below.

To hear the discussion click on the link below: Reiner Hoffmann And Richard Trumpka On TTIP

4/23/15

Ukraine: CIA fingerprints’ all over Kiev massacre – by Oliver Stone

The armed coup in Kiev is painfully similar to CIA operations to oust unwanted foreign leaders in Iran, Chile and Venezuela, said US filmmaker Oliver Stone after interviewing Ukraine’s ousted president for a documentary.

Stone spent four hours in Moscow talking to Viktor Yanukovich, who was deposed from power during the February 2014 coup, the filmmaker wrote on his Facebook page.

The filmmaker added that the events in Kiev, which led to collapse of the Ukrainian government and imposition of a new one hostile towards Russia, were similar to those in other countries, which he called “America’s soft power technique called ‘Regime Change 101’.”
 
Historically those were CIA-perpetrated coups against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 – both leaders with policies undesired by Washington or its allies.

More recently there was the 2002 coup in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez was briefly deposed “after pro and anti-Chavez demonstrators were fired upon by mysterious shooters in office buildings” and the anti-government protests against Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro, which “was almost toppled by violence aimed at anti-Maduro protestors,” as Stone put it.
 
Read more: ‘CIA fingerprints’ all over Kiev massacre – Oliver Stone — RT News

EU considers military action against migrant smugglers

EU leaders gathering in Brussels Thursday for an emergency summit on Mediterranean migration will consider launching a military operation against human traffickers, according to EU officials.

Days after a shipwreck killed more than 800 people in the “worst-ever” migrant boat disaster in the Mediterranean, EU officials are under pressure to formulate a robust response to the increasingly alarming problem on the continent’s southern border.

A draft statement for Thursday’s summit seen by the AFP called EU officials to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers."

The EU's top diplomat Federica Mogherini "is invited to immediately begin preparations for a possible security and defence policy operation to this effect, in accordance with international law," the draft added.

Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti also said human traffickers must be targeted with military intervention.

Note EU-Digest: it is also being recommended that European fighter jets also take out mercenary smugglers and ISIS strongholds in Libya

Read more: Europe - EU considers military action against migrant smugglers - France 24

EU Emergency Summit Leaders on Refugee Problems

Seeking solutions to the Mediterranean migrant crisis, European Union leaders have gathered for an emergency summit in Brussels.

Greece and Italy are the gateway to Europe for those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

But with record numbers drowning in the attempt, including up to 900 migrants from one boat killed last Sunday, the EU as a whole is being urged to act now to stem the loss of life.

Read more: International news | euronews, latest international news

Egypt′s former President Morsi sentenced to 20 years

Former President Mohammed Morsi has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Egyptian court. He was accused of inciting violent protests that led to the deaths of three people in December 2012.

When Morsi was toppled in 2013, authorities initiated a bloody crackdown against the Brotherhood and their supporters, jailing thousands. Hundreds of people lost their lives in clashes with security forces. The Muslim Brotherhood itself was declared a terrorist organization by the government and outlawed.

Note EU-Digest: President Mohammed Morsi, the first truly democratically elected president of Egypt was overthrown by a military coup in 2013 and unfortunately Egypt is a dictatorship again

Read more: Egypt′s former President Morsi sentenced to 20 years | News | DW.DE | 21.04.2015

4/22/15

Greece - Poll: 42.86 % in Eu-Digest Poll say that Greece should not remain in Eurozone

In a recent (March 22 - April 22 ) EU-Digest poll,  42.86 % of the poll respondents said Greece should not remain in the Eurozone, while 28.57 % said they should be given more time to pay off their debt and an equal percentage said they should stay in the Eurozone regardless.

Our new April 22 - May 22 poll reflects the deteriorating refugee - migrant problems facing the EU and asks the following questions

1) EU should block migrants from leaving African and Mediterranean coasts

2)The EU should process migrants and refugees who reached EU shores as legal immigrants

3) The EU done an effective job in coping with this problem so farand should not do anything else

EU-Digest

Iran : 19 Reasons Why You Should Never Visit Iran or should you ?

No doubt you’ve heard a lot about Iran from the Republican party and in the media.. And it’s true, Iran is a truly evil and terrifying place. Here we present 19 reasons you should never, ever, visit this godforsaken land. On the other hand should you ever believe what US Republicans tell you ?

Read more: 19 Reasons Why You Should Never Visit Iran

Libya - - Post-Gaddafi chaos in Libya fuels EU migrant crisis

The battle between secular and Islamist militias in Libya – including the Islamic State group – is helping fuel a migrant exodus from the North African nation, which has descended into chaos since the 2011 ouster of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. EU foreign ministers were set to discuss the influx of migrants at a meeting Monday in Luxembourg after the drowning of at least 700 people off the Libyan coast over the weekend.

The disaster has shined a spotlight on a burgeoning EU immigration crisis that the UN said has claimed some 1,600 lives so far this year.

Per capita national income in the European Union is 30 times that found in Libya and most other North African states, a discrepancy that prompts many to risk crossing the Mediterranean. But the militia takeover of much of Libya – and the continuing fighting between rival armed groups – has led many more in recent years to attempt the perilous journey to European shores.

Libya is embroiled in a civil conflict that is threatening to turn the country into a failed state. Two rival governments – the internationally recognised winner of June 2014 elections based in Tobruk and another Misrata-based faction that controls the capital, Tripoli – are jockeying for dominance, with each controlling its own political institutions and military forces.

Read more: Africa - Post-Gaddafi chaos in Libya fuels EU migrant crisis - France 24

Culture - Novel set in occupied France wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

American author Anthony Doerr was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction on Monday for his novel “All the Light We Cannot See”, which is set in German-occupied France during World War II. Doerr happened to be in Paris, where part of the book is set, when he learned about the award.

 “I’m here, to find this out – it’s crazy,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
The Pulitzer jury praised Doerr’s book as “an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology”.

In “All the Light We Cannot See”, Doerr beautifully intertwines the stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young, blind French girl, and Werner Pfenning, a gifted orphan who is conscripted into the German army during World War II.

Read more: Culture - Novel set in occupied France wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - France 24

4/21/15

U.S. warships heading to Yemen to monitor ships from Iran - by Jim Sciutto and Jamie Crawford



U.S. ships do not have authority to forcibly board Iranian-flagged ships.

Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy ship consensually boarded a Panamanian-flagged vessel suspected of trafficking people, drugs or weapons. Nothing was found.

Read more: U.S. warships heading to Yemen to monitor ships from Iran - CNN.com

US Health care Poll: Obamacare in positive territory

There's more evidence that President Obama's health care law is gaining in popularity.

According to the monthly Kaiser Health Tracking Poll released Tuesday, 43% have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act and 42% have an unfavorable view -- the first time the law has been in positive territory since November of 2012, the month President Obama won re-election.

Of course, the poll points out that the margin is "one percentage point, and the difference is within the

But the law's popularity appears to be rising. As National Journal points out: "Last month, 43% of Americans viewed the law unfavorably and 41% favorably. In April of last year, the gap was larger; 46% viewed Obamacare unfavorably, 38% favorably."

Obama's health care law -- signed in 2010 -- figures to play a major role in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, as many Republicans call for repeal of Obamacare.

One thing that hasn't changed in the polls: Opinions of the health care law fall largely along party lines.

Read more: Poll: Obamacare in positive territory (by one point)

Mediterranean Disaster: Fears that 30,000 migrants could die crossing Mediterranean in 2015

A dire warning has been issued as survivors of Sunday’s shipwreck arrived in Sicily, after a disaster that left up to 900 people dead.

It is feared that if Mediterranean migrant deaths continue at the same rate, more than 30,000 people could drown before the year is through.

The warning comes from the International Organisation for Migration.

From the United Nations Refugee Agency too, the statistics are grim.

“April 2015 has truly been the cruellest month, the highest numbers that we have seen for deaths in any month on the Mediterranean,” UNHCR Spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.

“We have had so far this year 1,776 reported dead on the Mediterranean.”
Europe is soul-searching after this worst such tragedy in living memory.

 Read more: Fears that 30,000 migrants could die crossing Mediterranean in 2015 | euronews, world news

4/20/15

Turkey softens tone in Armenian row, Germany to defy Ankara

Turkey's prime minister has said the government "shares the pain" of descendants of Ottoman Armenians killed in 1915. Germany, meanwhile, looks set to follow the pope and others in calling the killings "genocide."

Ahmet Davutoglu sought to reach out to Armenians on Monday, sayingTurkey wanted to heal the wounds of the past 100 years after the mass killings of their ancestors under the Ottoman Empire.

However, the Turkish prime minister's statement stopped well short of recent comments by Pope Francis and the European Parliament, never referring to the events as "genocide"."We once again respectfully remember and share the pain of grandchildren and children of Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during deportation in 1915," Davutoglu said in a statement released by his office to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the killings, observed on Friday, April 24.

Turkey softens tone in Armenian row, Germany to defy Ankara | News | DW.DE | 20.04.2015

China cuts bank reserves again to counter slowdown

China's central bank on Sunday cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, the second industry-wide cut in two months, adding more liquidity to the world's second-biggest economy to help spur bank lending and combat slowing growth.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) lowered the reserve requirement ratio for all banks by 100 basis points to 18.5 percent.

The reduction is effective from April 20, the central bank said in a statement on its website www.pbc.gov.cn.

The latest cut in the reserve requirement shows how the central bank is stepping up efforts to ward off a sharp slowdown in the economy.

Weighed down by a property downturn, factory overcapacity and local debt, growth is expected to slow to a quarter-century low of around 7 percent this year from 7.4 percent in 2014, even with expected additional stimulus measures.

Read more: China cuts bank reserves again to counter slowdown

Spain: Ex-IMF chief Rodrigo Rato’s bank accounts frozen in Spain

After the insults, after hours of questioning, more humiliation for Spain’s Rodrigo Rato.

The former economy minister’s bank accounts have all been frozen as part of a money laundering investigation.

Customs agents already searched the home and office of the former conservative deputy prime minister on Thursday.

The probe comes in an election year in which corruption has become a major theme, embarrassing the ruling conservative party.

“The institutions work well and they have to work regardless of time and place, regardless of whether there are elections coming up. And regardless of political affiliation,” said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

Rato is separately suspected of fraud and misuse of funds while he was chairman of Bankia, which was bailed out by the government in 2012.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Read more: Ex-IMF chief Rodrigo Rato’s bank accounts frozen in Spain | euronews, world news

4/19/15

Pollution - US, China contribute most 'mountains' of electronic waste

The United States and China contributed most to record mountains of electronic waste such as cellphones, hair dryers and fridges in 2014 and less than a sixth ended up recycled worldwide, a U.N. study said on Sunday. Overall, 41.8 million tonnes of “e-waste”—defined as any device with an electric cord or battery—were dumped around the globe in 2014 and only an estimated 6.5 million tonnes were taken for recycling, the United Nations University (UNU) said.

“Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’, a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials,” said David Malone, the U.N. under-secretary-general and rector of UNU.
\
The report estimated that the discarded materials, including gold, silver, iron and copper, was worth some $52 billion.

The United States led e-waste dumping with 7.1 million tonnes in 2014, ahead of China on 6.0 million and followed by Japan, Germany and India, it said.

Read more: Americas - US, China contribute most 'mountains' of electronic waste - France 24

Middle East: Sales of US arms fuels the wars of Arab states - by Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper

To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin's F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood.

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more.

The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

Read more: Sales of US arms fuels the wars of Arab states

4/18/15

Britain's 2015 Election Polls Show Closest Result In a Generation - by Alastair Jamieson

Britain is less than three weeks away from voting in its closest general election for almost a quarter of a century, with no obvious winner emerging despite clear differences on austerity, immigration and tax.

Polls suggest Prime Minister David Cameron hasn't done enough to secure an outright majority for his Conservatives after five years of power-sharing with the smaller Liberal Democrats — even after returning the U.K. economy to steady, if unspectacular, growth. 

Nor has Britain's main opposition Labour Party, steered to the left by a faltering Ed Miliband, established enough momentum to secure the 326 seats needed for victory in the House of Commons, Britain's lower house of parliament. 

Miliband himself said he was fighting the "tightest general election for a generation" and The Economist magazine called it "wildly unpredictable."

Read more: Britain's 2015 Election Polls Show Closest Result In a Generation - NBC News.com

EU: Has Europe’s migration policy capsized? - Shiulie Ghosh

European nations have been accused of putting the lives of thousands of migrants at risk, as unprecedented numbers make the sea crossing from north Africa.

Amnesty International said the EU is "turning its back on its responsibilities" by scrapping rescue operations.

It’s estimated that more than 10,000 migrants have set off for their preferred destination of Italy in April alone, crammed aboard overcrowded old boats and rafts.

On Friday, an Italian coast guard ship docked in Sicily, carrying another 300 migrants, rescued off the coast of Libya. Most were from Somalia, Nigeria and Eritrea, with a small group from Syria.

Hundreds of others are reported to have died this week as their boats capsized or ran into difficulties, although there is no accurate figure.

The UN said the latest loss of life is "...a human rights tragedy, not a natural tragedy,” and one that needs to be addressed through a "…comprehensive human rights-based approach, that is the shared responsibility of all countries."

European Commission spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, admitted the situation had become grave, but added: "We do not have a silver bullet or any kind of panacea that is going to make the situation go away … and no amount of finger-pointing is going to change that."

So should the European Union take more responsibility for migrants heading to its shores?
Or does there need to be a broader policy to spare migrants from falling into the hands of smugglers?

Read more: Has Europe’s migration policy capsized? - Al Jazeera English

Germany: ‘Game of Drones’: heart of US strike operations ‘in Ramstein, Germany’ - by Alasdair Sandford

Top-secret intelligence is said to indicate that the hi-tech heart of America’s drone programme is in Germany.

An anonymous high-level source is quoted in a joint investigation by The Intercept website and Der Spiegel magazine as saying that the US military base at Ramstein performs an essential function in the lethal strikes carried out in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

“Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source is quoted as saying.

Two years ago, allegations that the huge U.S. base in Germany was being used to facilitate drone strikes caused massive controversy. In response, Berlin claimed it had no hard evidence of Ramstein’s role.

Use of the military base is on condition that the Americans do nothing there that violates German law.
The new evidence in a series of slides is said to give details of how Ramstein relays crucial information, enabling drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.


The new claims may embarrass the German government, already accused of failing to challenge Washington over Ramstein’s role.

Note EU-Digest: Once again another sign how weak and fearful Europe (the EU) is when it comes to dealing more firmly with  the US. When the US says "jump", the EU always answers "how high"?  

To make matters worse, terrorism confronting the EU and other European nations on our home territory has never been at higher levels than today as a result of these totally failed US Middle East policies and  the US "success" in dragging the EU into their Middle East "escapade"s. Why doesn't the US base their drones on US territory instead of Germany and  also take up the millions of refugees fleeing into Europe as a result of this debacle of theirs in the Middle East ? Maybe instead of burdening Europe with this problem, these refugees could at least help to populate  some of the US's sparsely populated  states like Wyoming, Maine, Alaska and Montana.

Read more: ‘Game of Drones’: heart of US strike operations ‘in Ramstein, Germany’ | euronews, world news

EU Say No To TTIP: The world’s largest free trade zone is coming – what will it mean?

Say no to EU-US Trade Deal
The EU and US are in talks to create the world’s biggest free trade zone, claiming it will make both regions richer than ever.

But critics question the alleged economic benefits of the deal – called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – and say the inclusion of investor-state settlement dispute clauses will undermine democracy.

Activists will take to the streets on Saturday (April 18) in what is expected to be one of the biggest protests against the EU-US trade deal.

A huge alliance of groups have come together to organise a global day of action (#A18DoA) against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Negotiations began in 2013. The ninth round of talks is set to begin in New York on Monday, April 20, 2015.

Karel De Gucht, former EU commissioner for trade, said last year there was a “window of opportunity” to tie up the deal in 2015, or early 2016.

One key area where the US and EU differ is genetically modified foods.

The production of GM foods sees DNA from another organism added to them to create a perceived advantage. For example, proponents of GM crops argue they can be made to be more resistant to pests, thereby increasing productivity.

The EU has some of the strictest GM regulations in the world (each case is subject to a science-based evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority before going before the European Commission) and has authorised just 52 to date.

The US, on the other hand, is the largest commercial grower of GM crops in the world. It wants the EU’s regulatory process to be harmonized.
 
The EC says the trade deal will not see laws changing on GMOs: “Basic laws, like those relating to GMOs or which are there to protect human life and health, animal health and welfare, or environment and consumer interests will not be part of the negotiations.”

Friends of the Earth in Europe said: “US negotiators at the talks have been clear that one of their main aims is to increase market access for US agri-business and hormone and anti-biotic treated meat and poultry  products.

Note EU-Digest: This agreement known as TTIP would be a disaster for the EU similar to what NAFTA turned out to be for Mexico and Canada, and give US multi-nationals an even greater influence over our lives than they already have. The prosperity TTIP claims it will be creating is total nonsense. We can only hope the EU parliament does not fall for it.

Read More: The world’s largest free trade zone is coming – what will it mean? | euronews, world news

4/17/15

Italy: Christian migrants thrown overboard into Mediterranean en route to Italy

Italian police arrested 15 Muslim migrants on Thursday suspected of throwing about a dozen Christians from a boat in the Mediterranean as it headed to Italy. Police in the Sicilian capital Palermo said they had arrested the men, from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal after survivors reported they had thrown 12 people from Nigeria and Ghana to their deaths and threatened other Christians.

The 15 were arrested on charges of multiple homicide motivated by religious hatred.

“The motive for the resentment was traced to their faiths,” police said. “Twelve people are said to have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean, all of them Nigerian and Ghanaian.”

The survivors’ account underscores the rising chaos in the Mediterranean, which thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and deprivation in Africa, try to cross in rickety boats in the hope of a better life in Europe.

In a separate incident the same day, another 41 migrants were feared drowned after their boat sank en route to Italy, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

Around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast this year, according to the IOM, fewer than arrived in the first four months of last year, but the number of deaths has risen almost nine-fold.

Read more: Europe - Christian migrants thrown overboard into Mediterranean en route to Italy - France 24

Chomsky says US is world’s biggest terrorist - by Isabelle Kumar

Naom Chomsky is one of the superstars of the intellectual world; a prolific author and self-proclaimed anarchist, who, at the age of 86 still doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He still rails against a whole host of perceived injustices, with the West generally in his line of fire. Isabelle Kumar of Euronews interviewed him about terrorism, Cuba and the future of Europe.

"In the global scene we are racing towards a precipice which we are determined to fall over which will sharply reduce the prospects for decent survival.”

“There are actually two, one is environmental catastrophe which is imminent and we don’t have a lot of time to deal with it and we are going the wrong way, and the other has been around for 70 years, the threat of nuclear war, which is in fact increasing. If you look at the record it is a miracle we have survived.”

The human species has been around for maybe a 100,000 years and it is now facing a unique moment in its history. This species is now in a position where it will decide very soon, in the next few generations, whether the experiment in so-called intelligent life will proceed or are we determined to destroy it? I mean scientists overwhelmingly recognise that most of the fossil fuels have to be left in the ground if our grandchildren are going to have decent prospects. But the institutional structures of our society are pressuring to try to extract every drop. The effects, the human consequences, of the predicted effects of climate change in the not very distant future, are catastrophic and we are racing toward that precipice.”

“The United States is carrying out constant actions which are dangerous to Israel, very seriously. Namely supporting Israeli policy. For the last 40 years the greatest threat to Israel has been its own policies. If you look back 40 years, say to 1970, Israel was one of the most respected and admired countries in the world. There were lots of favorable attitudes to it. Now, it’s one of the most disliked and feared countries in the world. In the early 70s Israel made a decision. They had a choice and they made a decision to prefer expansion to security and that carries with it dangerous consequences. Consequences which were obvious at the time – I wrote about them and other people did – if you prefer expansion to security it is going to lead to internal degeneration, anger, opposition, isolation and possibly ultimate destruction. And by supporting those policies, the United States is contributing to the threats that Israel faces.”  

Read more: Chomsky says US is world’s biggest terrorist | euronews, the global conversation

Armenia - Turkey: was it "Genocide" or are there two sides to this story ?

Professor Edward Erickson, an authority on the Ottoman army during World War I, claims that there is no substantial evidence to support labeling the counterinsurgency operation against Armenians in 1915 as a genocide, but neither is there enough evidence to support a denial of the label.

Regardless of how we refer to the event, it is now of interest to historians, and the current Armenian endeavor to convince parliaments of different countries to pass genocide recognition bills, to come up with some better factual information, before everyone starts jumping to conclusions

Erickson, whose 2013 book “Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency” was the first account from a military perspective of the forced relocations, or “Tehcir" in Turkish, shared his views on what actually happened a hundred years ago.

A retired US army officer, Erickson delved into the Turkish archives and researched extensively before writing his book. He concluded that the Tehcir was vital, as it allowed the Ottoman government to disaffiliate insurgents from "Entente" (European powers), had posed a threat to the existence of the empire.

Frankly, the Armenian revolutionary committees were unsuccessful in achieving their goals; in the end they were crushed, and the majority of the Ottoman Armenians were either dead or refugees.

One of the major reasons for the failure of the committees was that the Armenian revolutionary committees were never a popularly supported movement among the majority of Ottoman Armenians, who were law abiding Turkish citizens. In order to be successful, a revolutionary movement must have a base of popular support and the Armenian revolutionary committees never had that.

The Ottoman government forced about 400,000 Ottoman Armenians to relocate. These Armenians mostly lived in six eastern provinces and in key cities along the army's lines of communication.

Since the Ottoman government and army were unable to determine which Armenians were actively supporting the committees and which Armenians were not. They erred on the side of what they believed to be national security, and relocated all of them from selected locations.

In 1917, there were still over 350,000 Ottoman Armenians living in their own homes in what is western Turkey today.

The successful inclusion of any minority in the political process is problematic at best. Simply having a few representatives in parliament cannot change the fundamental mismatch of political power.

The successful inclusion of any minority in the political process is problematic at best. Simply having a few representatives in parliament cannot change the fundamental mismatch of political power.

The Ottomans felt obliged to adopt a brand-new method to quell the Armenian insurrection, a method that was expressed in a decree by the government on May 31,1915. In what ways was this new method different from the counterinsurgency methods the Ottomans had resorted to throughout their history?

This was the first time the Ottoman government did not have sufficient military forces available to deal with rebellion. Traditionally, the Ottomans dealt with rebellion by sending in the army. In the spring of 1915, without the army in its normal garrisons, the Ministry of War had to find an alternative to the use of force.

The relocation of the Armenians from the rear areas of the eastern war zones was the solution of choice. While relocation was a new approach for the Ottoman Empire, in fact, it had been widely practiced by the Great Powers.

Confronting the past has nothing to do with it. It is important to consider that the Ottoman government in 1915 did not “invent” population removal as a way to deal with rebellion. It was widely used in practice by many of the Great Powers before World War I. We must also not forget that the government did not deport the Ottoman Armenians (deportation is permanent) and that the government intended to allow them to return to their homes after the war.

The relocations would not have happened if well-known leaders of the revolutionary committees (Andranik [Ozanian], Dro [Drastamat Kanayan] and Boghos Nubar, for example had not aligned themselves (and the committees) with the Russians, British, and French.

 Keep in mind that most Ottoman Armenians, and even many of the committee members, wanted the Ottoman Armenian population to remain law abiding and support the Ottoman government in 1914. They understood that rebellion would likely result in the destruction of Armenian lives and property. However, the actions of a few influential individuals brought great suffering to the majority of Ottoman Armenians, who were innocent bystanders.

Tens of thousands of Armenians died during the relocation  Were the Ottomans taking some kind of revenge?

There are number of explanations of why this happened. Many historians believe that hatred and jealousy against the Ottoman Armenians had built up over several generations. This made it easier for the numerous atrocities to happen.

There is absolutely no question that the Ottoman government did not fully consider what might happen to the hundreds of thousands of relocated Armenians. There is no doubt that the government did not have the resources to protect, feed and care for the huge numbers of Armenians under its care.

The relocations were badly managed and under resourced. The relocation convoys became easy targets for both criminal gangs and poorly supervised provincial officials. Let us also say that the Hamidiye cavalry regiments had long since been disestablished by the Ministry of War, but it is very likely that many of the renegades and criminals who preyed on the convoys were ex-Hamidiye cavalrymen.

Some historians argue that the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) opted to let things worsen and even facilitated the mass killings of civilian Armenians en route to the camps. Are these claims substantiated by historical facts?

The Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa  played no part in the relocations or the massacres of Armenians that accompanied the relocations and convoys.

Recent scholarly work by Dr. Ahmet Tetik and Ph.D. candidate Polat Safi establish that the SO had no part of this. The case against the SO was constructed by Vahakn Dadrian from a textual analysis of the 1919 newspaper accounts of the 1919 İstanbul show trials of individuals accused of war crimes. Dadrian's thesis is incorrect.

The CUP was a secret revolutionary group that did not oppose the use of terror to achieve its goals. The inner circle of the CUP had overthrown the Ottoman government and there is no question that Enver and the other CUP leaders knew exactly how dangerous secret revolutionary committees could be.

Enver and the leadership of the SO were also knowledgeable about guerrilla and irregular warfare, which also caused them to worry about the Armenian revolutionary committees' activities in 1915.

Whether it was a genocide or not. It might have been a genocide or it might not have been a genocide. To be honest, there is no authentic evidence (a paper trail of documents) today proving that this was a top-down, state-sponsored campaign of annihilation. However, neither can the reverse -- that it was not a genocide -- has been totally proven either.

What I assert is that the Armenian population of six provinces, as well as selected individuals elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire who were considered dangerous, were relocated for military reasons related to the perception that a large-scale Armenian insurgency , coordinated with and supported by the Russians, was about to erupt.

Bottom-line seems to be that this group of Armenians was not relocated to be killed; they were relocated as a precautionary military measure. In the absence of full evidence, it is premature to attach a label such as genocide to what happened in 1915.

Ottoman Armenians from all provinces and cities were relocated, mostly from the six eastern provinces.

However, many Armenians in the western provinces were excluded from relocation, such as Protestant and Catholic Armenians, also Armenians who worked on the railroad system, and also Armenian government officials and Armenian officers and soldiers (and their families). When the Ottoman government, however, thought, that Ottoman Armenian had links to, or was sympathetic toward, the committees, they were relocated.

Most Ottoman Armenians were law-abiding Ottoman empire citizens who had no interest in rebellion.

The mobilization and war plans, which were aimed at external threats, did not consider the Ottoman Armenians as an internal threat. It was only after an escalating series of incidents, including small rebellions and small landings on the Mediterranean coast by the British navy in early 1915, that the committees came to be seen as dangerous.

It is beyond doubt that the Armenian revolutionary committees in eastern Anatolia possessed the capability and the capacity to interdict the Ottoman army's lines of communications. What does this mean? Simply, there were small numbers of Armenians in key locations who had the ability to block and obstruct the flow of supplies (food, fodder and ammunition) to the Third Army, which was fighting the Russians.

If this had been allowed to happened, the Third Army would grow progressively weaker and would be unable to stop the Russians. The Ottoman military staffs believed that this was happening in March and April 1915 and they had plenty of reports as evidence.

Consequently the Ottoman government took action (relocations) to prevent this from happening. The relocations and elimination of the committees can be compared to cutting out a cancer before it metastasizes.

In American history, George Washington is a hero, but he was also a traitor to the British King George III. Washington's side won the war. Robert E. Lee, a famous confederate general, was also seen as a  traitor. His side lost the war.

So, whether one calls rebels, insurgents and guerrillas “traitors” depends on who wins or loses the war.

There is no question that the small numbers of Ottoman Armenians who engaged in rebellion, terrorism or who fought alongside the Russians were seen as traitors to the political entity known as the Ottoman Empire of which they were citizens.

The Ottoman army commanders and staffs saw the hostile activities of the Ottoman Armenians as evidence of military operations that were coordinated with and supported by the Russians. The Ottomans viewed the external operations of the Russian army and Armenian Druzhiny [legions] as complementary to the internal hostile

Opening up all of the archives on both sides of the argument will be good but probably won't accomplish much. Historians will never be able to agree conclusively about what actually happened. There will always be those who believe there was a genocide and those who think that it was something else.“

Open” archives is also an ambiguous and relative term. The Turkish archives are open, but it is very hard to gain access to because of the paperwork involved. For example, research in any Turkish archives by a foreigner requires a special visa from the Foreign Ministry.

US and EU archives do not require a special visa and anyone can walk in and get a research card.

Moreover, the Turkish military archives are located inside the military compounds in Ankara and one cannot just “walk in” like at the US archives in College Park, Maryland or in to EU archives in Bruxelles.  in Kew.

That said, however, the Turkish archives are “more open” than the Armenian archives or the records of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which are not open to International scholars.

Some historians say that the Armenian archives are not open to researchers because  they contain information confirming that the Armenian revolutionary committees were engaged in an actual conspiracy with the Russians and the committees intended to conduct a coordinated joint offensive against the Ottoman Empire.

This is obviously only a guess on the part of some historians but it does make sense.

The official Turkish government position today is that more research is needed to fully understand what happened.

President Erdoğan has called for a joint historical commission to investigate the events of 1915.

Essentially, this also means the Turkish government has moved away from a position of total denial  (“it never happened”) to a more realistic position of “we don't really know what happened and we are willing to support historical research to discover the truth.” This is a good position.

Regarding the diplomacy surrounding the  issue. Today's Republic of Turkey was not in existence in 1915 and probably ought to totally ignore accusations on the subject until their has been an international and neutral, possibly UN study  done on the subject.

Parliaments cannot legislate history by voting on resolutions re: the Armenian genocide, which are not based on accurate facts and figures.

Parliamentary recognition, or the Pope's statements about the so-called Armenian genocide really don't mean too much or carry a lot of weight in the modern world of today, unless it supported by massive evidence - which so far it has not 

Turkey and Armenia will need to request the UN to do an in-depth study on the issue resulting in a binding conclusion to finally end this drama of mutual accusations.

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