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1/31/16

Germany: German vice chancellor:"Monitor AfD party after call to shoot at refugees"

Speaking on Sunday in the German newspaper "Bild am Sonntag," Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that AfD "belongs in the intelligence services report and not on TV."

"It's unbelievable that such parties are allowed to send out their slogans on public broadcasters," Gabriel told the newspaper.

In Germany, Gabriel said, there used to be a clear rule, "We do not help parties, who oppose the free democratic basic order of our country, to spread their propaganda on television."

"This does not concern the bizarre demands, like Petry's call for all women to have at least three children," said Gabriel, who is also the German economic minister and head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). "Instead, this lady wants to let unarmed refugees be shot at."

Gabriel also said there were "huge doubts" that the AfD stood for the democratic principles Germany was founded on.

Read more: German vice chancellor: Monitor AfD after call to shoot at refugees | News | DW.COM | 31.01.2016

Israel - Netanyahu criticises French threat to recognise Palestinian state

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticised France's threat to recognise a Palestinian state if plans to renew peace efforts fail, arguing that it gives Paestinians no incentive to compromise.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday his country was working to quickly revive plans for an international conference to work toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Should efforts to breathe life into the moribund peace process fail, France would move to unilaterally recognize Palestine as a state, Fabius said.

"This will be an incentive for the Palestinians to come and not compromise," Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Note EU-Digest: Good move by France but Palestine should also show proof of maturity and declare it distances itself from acts of terrorism by Hamas. 

Read more: Flash - Netanyahu criticises French threat to recognise Palestinian state - France 24

Germany: Merkel: Refugees Must Go Home After Wars End

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday tried to placate the increasingly vocal critics of her open-door policy for refugees, insisting that asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq would go home once the conflicts there had ended.

Merkel, despite appearing increasingly isolated over her policy, has resisted pressure from some conservatives to cap the influx of refugees, or to close Germany's borders. A record 1.1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year.

But growing concern about the country's ability to cope and worries about crime and security after assaults on women are weighing on support for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

"We need...to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that once there is peace in Syria again, once IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country with the knowledge that you have gained," she said at a meeting of CDU members in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

She said 70 percent of refugees that fled to Germany from the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s had returned to their home countries.

Germany: Merkel: Refugees Must Go Home After Wars End

US Presidential Race: Trump: Right on Trade - Peter Morici

Donald Trump has been savaged by economists and media aligned with establishment candidates for tough positions on trade — including a 45% tariff on imports to force China to the negotiating table.

Actually, he’s got it right.

Establishment Democrats and Republicans embrace free trade because it puts free markets first with benefits any decently trained economist should extol.

Unfortunately, trade with China and many nations is hardly market-driven. It actually hurts U.S. growth and victimizes America’s families.

Worse, deteriorating conditions in China threaten to derail the U.S. recovery. Beijing’s statisticians report China’s growth slowed to 6.9% in 2015, down from double digits a few years ago. Western estimates are as low as 4%.

Building apartments and office complexes that attract no tenants, as well as entire ghost cities, counts in China’s GDP statistics — but adds little to productivity. Wasteful outlays have boosted debt to 260% of GDP.

Nervous about a looming credit crisis, Chinese investors are heading for the doors—selling yuan for dollars to invest in overseas real estate and securities.

This makes global stock markets panic and pushes down the yuan against the dollar — making Chinese goods artificially more price competitive against American-made products than underlying costs warrant.

Trump: Right on Trade - The Globalist

1/30/16

Germany, Dump Nord Stream 2 ? - by Judy Dempsey

It’s not only Merkel’s policy on refugees that has alienated her European allies. Increasingly, there is growing resentment from Italy, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Central European countries about Berlin’s determination to build Nord Stream 2. Germany should walk away the project, they say.

Nord Stream 2 is a second pipeline that is being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011 and sends gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. In doing so, the pipeline weakens Ukraine’s role as the major transit country for Russian gas exports to Europe.

The Russian-German project also involves three other energy companies: France’s Engie, the Netherlands’ Royal Dutch Shell, and Austria’s OMV.

Nord Stream 2 has become so controversial for its opponents because it runs contrary to Merkel’s policy toward Russia in addition to undermining the EU’s energy policy. Indeed, what Nord Stream 2 confirms is that national interests take precedence over—or certainly undermine—a common EU policy on energy security and efforts to establish an EU energy union.

Merkel’s support for Nord Stream is particularly puzzling. She has been the one European leader who has consistently taken a tough stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was she who pushed the EU member states to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its subsequent invasion of eastern Ukraine.

It was she who, along with the Russian, Ukrainian, and French leaders, negotiated the Minsk accords aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Above all, it has been Merkel who has turned away from Germany’s Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy. Successive German leaders had pursued this strategy of rapprochement with Russia believing it would stabilize Europe and nudge Russia toward modernization. Merkel has had no illusions about either goal, which is why she didn’t pursue Ostpolitik, which is still cherished by some of her Social Democrat coalition partners. Yet her unstinting support for Nord Stream contradicts her policy toward Russia.

Note EU: The issue here basically is a "no brainer". Why dump Nord Stream 2 ? To please the US and some of  their "lap-dogs" in the EU Eastern bloc?  

Ostpolitik is a sound political strategy which has worked and should be rekindled. Russia should be brought back into the European fold of friends. It is not a question of capitulation, but one of being smart. Why couldn't  Nord Stream 2 also become part of the EU energy union.  

Not one nation in the world has ever benefited from "hard-line" policies. Diplomacy yes - hard-line no.

Read more: Germany, Dump Nord Stream 2 - Carnegie Europe - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Corporate Tax Evadors: US 'hits out at EU tax probes'

The United States has attacked high-profile EU tax probes into American companies as unfair and encroaching on the US government's right to tax them, the Financial Times reported Saturday.

The European Commission has cracked down hard on companies, including US icons such as Apple, Starbucks and Amazon, who worked out arrangements with EU member states allowing them to slash their tax bills.

EU Competition Commissioner Magrethe Vestager has made a point of testing these "tax rulings," which are legal in themselves, to see if they breach strict bloc competition rules by giving some companies an advantage over their rivals.

The FT said Robert Stack, a US Treasury official, met EU competition officials in Brussels on Friday to express Washington's concerns.

"We are concerned that the EU Commission appears to be disproportionately targeting US companies," Stack was quoted as saying.

Stack's visit came just one day after the Commission launched plans to stamp out tax avoidance by multi-national corporations.

"The days are numbered for companies that aggressively reduce their tax bills," EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said.

The key proposal is that a company should report its profit country by country, rather than as now be allowed to shift earnings around into lower tax jurisdictions.

The plans were unveiled amid a storm of protest at a British government agreement for Internet giant Google to pay £130 million ($185 million, 170 million euros) in back taxes.

Critics denounced the deal as ridiculously low given Google's size and earnings but the company insisted the settlement was fair and that it complied fully with the tax laws in the countries where it operates.

Italy is meanwhile demanding Google pay some 200 million euros in back taxes and France reportedly wants 500 million euros after an investigation that included raids by police.

Google and Apple have complained they are being unfairly targeted by the European authorities.

Commission officials were not immediately available for comment on the report but Brussels has rejected charges of an anti-US bias in the past.

 Read more: Flash - US 'hits out at EU tax probes' - France 24

US Turkey Relations: How Turkey Fell Out of Favor - by Soner Cagaptay

The transformation of Turkey’s standing in the eyes of the U.S. military is due to Turkish and American dynamics.

Following the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government, including the military, became preoccupied with identifying moderate Muslim allies.

Turkey benefited from this endeavor as the ruling pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the elections in 2002, taking office on a platform of moderation.

The AKP upset its potential allies in Washington, however, when it refused to help Washington in the 2003 Iraq War.

Some argue that the American military never fully recovered from that break, though the rest of Washington eventually did.

In any case, bilateral ties recovered gradually once Ankara started to help the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and against al Qaeda.

Under the AK Party in the last decade, Turkey became a logistics hub for U.S. operations in the Middle East and beyond. In return, Washington started to offer Turkey intelligence assistance against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 2007 and relations between Ankara and Washington began to strengthen.

Read more: United States: How Turkey Fell Out of Favor - The Globalist

Sport -Tennis: Germany’s Kerber stuns Williams to lift Australian Open title

Germany's Angelique Kerber beat Serena Williams in a three-set thriller (6-4, 3-6, 6-4) at the Australian Open on Saturday to deny the world number one a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title.

The 34-year-old American had been seeking her seventh Melbourne Park title and 22nd overall, which would have moved her into a tie with Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era.

The seventh seeded Kerber, however, was not overawed by the occasion of her first final, breaking twice in the first set to take it in 39 minutes as Williams made 23 unforced errors.

Williams cut down on the errors to send it into a third, which Kerber, who had the opportunity to serve it out while leading 5-3 only for the American to battle back, clinched when Williams hit a volley long in the following game.

Kerber becomes the first German to win one of the four major tournaments since Graf won her last title at the French Open in 1999.

Read more: Sport - Germany’s Kerber stuns Williams to lift Australian Open title - France 24

China - USA- US warship sailed in waters off island claimed by China says Pentagon

A US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by Beijing in the South China Seas, in an operation intended to underscore America's right to access the disputed waters, the Pentagon said.

"We conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea earlier tonight," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said in statement issued late Friday US time
.
He said the operation was carried out near Triton Island in the Paracel Islands, "to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands."

 Read more: Flash - US warship sailed in waters off island claimed by China: Pentagon - France 24

Belgium - Nuclear P)ower Plants: Belgium's ageing nuclear plants worry neighbours

As the two cooling towers at Belgium's Doel nuclear power belch thick white steam into a wintry sky, people over the border in the Dutch town of Nieuw-Namen are on ed

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-belgium-ageing-nuclear-neighbours.html#jCp
As the two cooling towers at Belgium's Doel nuclear power belch thick white steam into a wintry sky, people over the border in the Dutch town of Nieuw-Namen are on edge.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-belgium-ageing-nuclear-neighbours.html#jCp
They are part of a groundswell of concern in the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg over the safety of Belgium's seven ageing reactors at Doel and at Tihange, further to the south and east.
"I'm happy Holland, Germany and Luxembourg are reacting because they (officials) don't listen to you and me," butcher Filip van Vlierberge told AFP at his shop in Nieuw-Namen, where people can see the Doel plant.
Benedicte, one of his customers, nodded in agreement.
Van Vlierberge said he was particularly uneasy with the Belgian government's decision in December to extend the lives of 40-year-old reactors Doel 1 and Doel 2 until 2025 under a deal to preserve jobs and invest in the transition to cleaner energy.
"I'm concerned they are too old," he said.
Belgium's creaking nuclear plants have been causing safety concerns with its neighbours for some time now after a series of problems ranging from leaks to cracks and an unsolved sabotage incident.
Luxembourg's sustainable development minister Camille Gira is due in Belgium on Monday to raise his concerns.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-belgium-ageing-nuclear-neighbours.html#jCp
As the two cooling towers at Belgium's Doel nuclear power belch thick white steam into a wintry sky, people over the border in the Dutch town of Nieuw-Namen are on edge.

They are part of a groundswell of concern in the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg over the safety of Belgium's seven ageing reactors at Doel and at Tihange, further to the south and east.

"I'm happy Holland, Germany and Luxembourg are reacting because they (officials) don't listen to you and me," butcher Filip van Vlierberge told AFP at his shop in Nieuw-Namen, where people can see the Doel plant.

Benedicte, one of his customers, nodded in agreement.

Van Vlierberge said he was particularly uneasy with the Belgian government's decision in December to extend the lives of 40-year-old reactors Doel 1 and Doel 2 until 2025 under a deal to preserve jobs and invest in the transition to cleaner energy.

"I'm concerned they are too old," he said.

Belgium's creaking nuclear plants have been causing safety concerns with its neighbours for some time now after a series of problems ranging from leaks to cracks and an unsolved sabotage incident.

Luxembourg's sustainable development minister Camille Gira is due in Belgium on Monday to raise his concerns.
As the two cooling towers at Belgium's Doel nuclear power belch thick white steam into a wintry sky, people over the border in the Dutch town of Nieuw-Namen are on ed

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-belgium-ageing-nuclear-neighbours.html#jCp

Read more: Belgium's ageing nuclear plants worry neighbours

1/29/16

Railroads: Magnetic trains: Attracting interest in Japan - by Anmar Frangoul

A nation with technology at its heart, Japan is already home to a dizzying array of high tech gadgets, gleaming skyscrapers and even restaurants staffed by robots.

When it comes to transport the country can also boast a proud record of innovation. Its Shinkansen network is famous for electrified, high-speed -- and safe -- train travel.

 5.6 billion people between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka at top speeds of 285 kilometers per hour (177 miles per hour).

On parts of the Tohuku Shinkansen, which runs between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori, trains can reach speeds  of up to 320 kph.

In April last year a Maglev – short for magnetic levitation – reached a top speed of 603 kilometers per hour (375 mph). 

"The Maglev train works thanks to superconducting magnets mounted into the linear motor train, reacting to the coils built into the guide way," the Yamanashi Maglev Exhibition Center's Makiko Kajiwara, said.

"They create a magnetic force that lifts the train 10 cm off the ground while it moves," Kajiwara added.

According to the Maglev Exhibition Center, the linear Chuo Shinkansen "will be the fastest bullet train in the world." It is hoped that the line will go into operation on the Tokyo-Nagoya route in 2027.

"The Maglev would emit a third of CO2 emitted by a plane for the same distance. So it's a very environmentally friendly transport solution," Kajiwara said.

Read more: Magnetic trains: Attracting interest in Japan: Anmar Frangoul

EU - Not all is bad: 5 great laws the EU nailed down in 2015 for its citizens

Divided we fail, United we gain
The EU is probably the most popular scapegoat for politicians. For some, it is a symbol of neo-liberal economic politics, for others, a bureaucratic nightmare that issues self-preserving legislation at a record pace.

David Cameron and the Christian Social Union even want to introduce a national veto, illustrating the trust that Brussels has haemorrhaged in "certain circles".

But not all is bad, As a matter of fact - if we did not have the EU, things could be quite awful for all of us, as we would not have any more controls over corporate manipulations, affecting our daily life, and even the food we eat. Also, local government's hanky panky in making "under-the-table" tax deals with multi-national corporations, already quite a problem, would probably go completely out of control.

1)  Every year, around 30,000 people are killed in traffic accidents on European roads. New EU legislation will require car manufacturers to build their vehicles with devices that automatically notify the emergency services in the event of an accident.

2) Use of Internet Data and privacy laws: EU data-protection reform comes into force in the spring and is implemented by member states over the next two years. Companies like Google and Facebook will now have to provide clear terms and conditions, with understandable symbols. In this way, citizens will have more useful information that will let them decide what information they want to make available. "Simple symbols will make it clear for everyone what companies can and cannot do with your data," said MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens), rapporteur for the data protection directive.

3)  Booking holidays and weekend breaks on the web continues to increase in popularity. Travel agents and providers have recognised this trend and have started to link their flight deals to car rentals, hotels and other deals. The total cost of the package being bought is not always clear to the consumer and there is sometimes a lack of protection.

Come the spring, new rules will mean that such offers are classed as package holidays. That means that consumers will be better protected. A standard 14-day return policy will be guaranteed and there will be more transparency and comparative deals on offer. If travel providers go bankrupt, then customers will always be paid back their money.

4) Banks often like to keep their customers in the dark about fees and Brussels has moved to make that a thing of the past. New legislation will now mean that customers will be given more clear information about the fees charged when making purchases with credit cards. The maximum charge for credit cards will be 0.3% of the value of the transaction and the maximum for debit cards will be 0.2%.. You are encouraged to question your banks about their charges and if you don't like what they tell you contact the European Ombudsman.

5) In the EU, around 100 billion plastic bags are used annually, about 8 billion of which end up being carelessly dumped in the oceans, where they have a huge impact on the environment and eco-systems. "In the North Sea, 94% of birds' stomachs contain plastic," reported the European Commission.

Brussels decided in 2015 to make the member states massively reduce their production and use of plastic bags, giving the 28 countries the choice of binding targets or pricing. EU states were given the choice of either ensuring that no plastic bags are given away free by 31 December 2018 or reaching the goals of 90 bags maximum per person per year by 2019 and 40 bags maximum by 2025.

Divided we fail, United we gain .

EU-Digest

Race for the US Presidency - Reflexions on the "debates". - editorial

Republican Debaters minus three
Maybe I have lost touch with reality, but my perception on all the presidential candidates debates so far - Democratic and Republican alike - is not one of praise.

Instead, more of  a worry about the quality of today's US politicians to tackle the enormously difficult problems the country and the globe is facing.

What a charade last night! One one side of town a "showman clown" doing his "thing" and on the other side of town a bunch of frustrated politicians, arguing with each other about statements they made in the past.

Certainly not a positive debate with visionary discussions as to  the future of America.

I will miss, and hopefully many others along with me, Obama's intelligence,vision, oratory skills and successes after he rides away in the sunset.

EU-Digest

Christianity: Expansion of Christian Church in the Birthplace of Confucius Creates Controversy in China

Confucius’s hometown, Qufu, knows how to market its most famous native son. Visitors to the city in eastern China’s Shandong province can savor Confucian cuisine, worship at a Confucius temple and follow the family tree of the Kong clan, which claims an unbroken lineage going back some 80 generations to the Great Sage himself.

The tourist boom has only intensified as China’s Communist leadership embraces homegrown traditions once derided as feudal relics by the party’s revolutionary elders.

Now, the presence of a Christian church near Confucius central is sparking debate as to whether the ancient philosopher—or, more accurately, his descendants—can handle an influx of Western spirituality in a nation yearning for fulfillment. In an online article published late this month, a prominent Confucian scholar protested the expansion of an existing church less than two miles from Qufu’s main Confucian temple and kickstarted a campaign against it. Such a church “towering over” the Confucian sanctuary, wrote Zeng Zhenyu, would stir up “intense controversy.” Sure enough, a torrent of digital discourse has ensued in China, with scholars and laymen alike parsing the ancient ideology’s stance towards a diversity of faiths.

“Qufu in China is like Jerusalem and Mecca,” Zeng, a professor at Shandong University’s Advanced Institute for Confucian Studies, tells TIME. “It’s the Chinese people’s spiritual home.” Christian churches, he believes, should be banned from Confucius’s birthplace. “You can build churches in other places,” he says. “But you can’t build them in Qufu, an iconic and holy spiritual place for the Chinese people.” (An ardent Confucian, Zeng also happens to be a member of Shandong Province’s communist elite.)

From the beginning of the People’s Republic through the madness of the Cultural Revolution, communist cadres tried to excise religion from Chinese society, destroying places of worship—Confucian temples included—and forcing the faithful to pray in secret. But a loosening of personal freedom in recent years has led to a remarkable religious revival. Indigenous philosophies like Confucianism and Taoism have gained new adherents, while Buddhism, long practiced in China, has also surged. Ancestor worship has returned, with an increasing number of families placing altars in their homes. Even in the nation’s far northwest, ethnic minorities are exploring new strains of Islam, even as the state discourages overt symbols of the faith.

The fastest growing religion in China is believed to be Christianity, which encompasses everything from congregations in state-sanctioned churches to millennial worshippers who believe that the second coming of Jesus is a Chinese woman. Some academics estimate that a nation helmed by an officially atheist party will be home to the world’s largest Christian flock within a generation. The faith’s rapid expansion has catalyzed an official crackdown, with mega-churches torn down and pastors of house churches jailed. Unorthodox Christian offshoots—labeled cults by the authorities—have been particular targets.

In some ways, the anti-Christian crusade shares roots with the government’s brutal crackdown on Falun Gong, a spiritual movement based on meditation exercises whose rapid growth in the late 1990s startled the authorities. Any force that mobilizes and unifies so many people could be viewed as a threat to the Communist Party. But Christianity’s foreign antecedents make it even more of a problem religion in China at a time when President Xi Jinping has intensified a campaign against “pernicious” Western influences. In 2014, Chinese authorities announced that they would create a “Chinese Christian Theology [that] should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.”

Read more: Expansion of Christian Church in the Birthplace of Confucius Creates Controversy in China | TIME

1/28/16

Global Warming: 2015 Crushed Global Heat Records: Three Things You Should Know | Climate Reality

NOAA and NASA have both confirmed what scientists have been predicting for months: 2015 was globally the hottest year ever recorded (and the direct temperature records date back to 1880). But what else did scientists determine about the state of the climate in 2015? Here’s what else you need to know.

1. 2015 Crushed 2014
Not only was 2015 the warmest year on record globally, it beat the previous record, set in 2014, by a wide margin. The average temperature (over land and ocean surfaces) was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average, a full 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the previous record set in 2014.

That might not seem like much, but it’s the widest margin by which the global average annual temperature record has been broken – ever.
  
2. It Wasn’t All Due To El Niño – But It Played A Part
The planet is warming because of manmade carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases emitted from human activities like burning fossil fuels. The planet has warmed about 1.4°F (0.8°C) since 1880 and in 2015 this warming trend continued unabated.

On top of this human-caused warming, an El Niño event began last year and continues into the present. El Niño refers to the natural condition where ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific near the Equator warm to levels above the long term average. The 2015/2016 El Niño rivals the one from 1997/1998 as the strongest since record-keeping began (in terms of ocean surface temperatures above the long-term average).

El Niño events are a result of complex circulations in the ocean and atmosphere. They occur roughly every four to seven years and have a big impact on weather patterns globally. El Niño events can cause short-term spikes in average global temperatures, but they are not behind the long-term warming we’ve experienced over the past century. An increasing body of research suggests that strong El Niño events might happen more frequently as our planet continues to warm and our climate changes.

The bottom line? El Niño makes temperatures change from year to year, but in the long run, the Earth is steadily warming and it’s due to human activity.
 
Read more: 2015 Crushed Global Heat Records: Three Things You Should Know | Climate Reality

Brexit: Juncker to meet Cameron in bid to put brake on ′Brexit′

Cameron's office said he was canceling a trip to Sweden and Denmark, and would instead meet Junker in Brussels on Friday.

The two would "discuss the UK's renegotiation of its membership" of the European Union (EU), a statement from Downing Street said on Thursday.

Cameron has been holding a series of meetings with European heads of government ahead of a leaders' summit next month, which could become a make-or-break moment for Cameron's demands.

"The opportunity for meeting on Friday has come up, so we are taking that opportunity," a British government source told the AFP news agency, adding that the last-minute meeting was "absolutely" a positive development.

Addressing reporters, Cameron's spokeswoman said: "Across Europe, we are seeing leaders, whether in the institutions or other countries, clear that they want a deal in February."

Read more: Juncker to meet Cameron in bid to put brake on ′Brexit′ | News | DW.COM | 28.01.2016

Britain: EU competition chief says she′s prepared to investigate UK Google Sweatheart tax deal

European Competition Comissioner Margrethe Vestager said on Thursday she would consider investigating the much-touted deal, which was announced in the UK last Friday.

Google said it would pay 130 million pounds ($185 million, 170 million euros) in back taxes, in a deal hailed as a major win by Prime Minister David Cameron's government.

However, the opposition Labour Party, among others, has been critical of the deal, saying it was a paltry sum for the company to pay. A spokesman for the Scottish National Party said it had sent a letter to the EU requesting a probe into the deal on Wednesday.

Read more: EU competition chief says she′s prepared to investigate UK Google tax deal | News | DW.COM | 28.01.2016

ICT Industry Europe: Impressive growth in the employment of ICT specialists in the EU

In the European Union (EU), nearly 8 million persons were employed in 2014 as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) specialists, representing 3.7% of total employment.
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Over recent years, both the number and the share of ICT specialists in total employment have continuously increased to better adapt to an ever digitalised world. However, almost 40% of enterprises with at least 10 persons employed which recruited or tried to recruit personnel for jobs requiring ICT specialist skills had hard-to-fill vacancies in 2014.

In light of the competitiveness of the European economy and EU employment strategies, policymakers and researchers feel a natural interest in the employment of ICT professionals, a strategically important segment of employment.

These data come from a report issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, and are used for several EU policies, in particular the Digital Single Market.

Read more: Impressive growth in the employment of ICT specialists in the EU for 2014 | Digital Agenda for Europe

1/27/16

Democracy: The Problem With 'Illiberal Democracy' - by Jan-Werner Müller

Poland’s turn toward authoritarian rule has set off alarm bells across the European Union and within NATO. 

Since coming to power in October, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party (PiS) has attacked the country’s Constitutional Court, politicized the judiciary and the civil service, and launched an assault on media pluralism.

Critics of the PiS government, which is led by Prime Minister Beata Szydło (with Kaczyński, ruling from behind the scenes as he holds no official post), have described its actions as a blitz to install “illiberal democracy,” similar to what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has done in his country over the past six years. 

But to call what is being constructed in Poland illiberal democracy is deeply misleading – and in a way that undermines efforts to rein in would-be autocrats like Kaczyński and Orbán. After all, it is not just liberalism that is under attack, but democracy itself.

The concept of “illiberal democracy,” attributable to a 1997 essay by the American foreign-policy thinker Fareed Zakaria, was an effort to describe regimes that held elections, but did not observe the rule of law and regularly overrode their political systems’ constitutional checks and balances. 

It was an idea born of disillusion. In the heady days after the fall of communism, a kind of democratic ecstasy prevailed (at least in the West). The “end of history” had been achieved, and elections, representative institutions, and the rule of law would, it seemed, always go neatly together.

Read more: The Problem With 'Illiberal Democracy' - by Jan-Werner Müller

Global Corruption: These are most corrupt countries in the world - by These are most corrupt countries in the world Holly Ellyatt

Corruption in all areas of life is still rife globally but more countries continued to improve their "corruption perception" scores in 2015, according to the latest research from anti-corruption body Transparency International.

According to the German lobbying group's latest "Corruption Perceptions Index" for 2015, which covers the perception of public sector corruption in 168 countries, the majority is still generally seen as more corrupt than not -- but more countries saw their score improving rather than declining.

Corruption in all areas of life is still rife globally but more countries continued to improve their "corruption perception" scores in 2015, according to the latest research from anti-corruption body Transparency International.

According to the German lobbying group's latest "Corruption Perceptions Index" for 2015, which covers the perception of public sector corruption in 168 countries, the majority is still generally seen as more corrupt than not -- but more countries saw their score improving rather than declining.

Read more: These are most corrupt countries in the world

EU Refugee Crises: Plea for a European asylum agency by - Prof. Dr. Friedrich Heinemann

More and more people seem to want to take the 'easy way out' when it comes to the refugee crisis. "Ceilings" and "border closures" should be the means by which we deal with the issue. Others want to rely on quotas and spread those who need help around Europe.

The problem, unfortunately, is that all of these solutions threaten Europe's open borders, the Schengen area. The 'easy way out', clearly, involves sealing the borders.

Closely-monitored, sealed borders are a costly obstacle to European trade and will ultimately affect European prosperity. Moreover, quotas are not going to work by themselves. So long as EU member states have diverging rules regarding accepting refugees and so long as the refugees themselves oppose the quotas, stricter border controls will have to be in place.

So where can we find a viable solution? Open borders within Europe are only likely to remain a reality if the EU finally finds a truly European solution to its asylum policy woes, beyond relying on a simple quota system.

The Mannheim-based Centre of European Economic Research (ZEW) has come up with a proposal that involves establishing a European Asylum Agency (EAA). The EAA would have comprehensive responsibility for processing refugees and implementing asylum procedures in all EU countries.

People seeking protection in a member state would be processed by the agency, which would be financed by the Brussels budget and which would set up a network of reception facilities throughout the EU.

Giving responsibility for the refugees to such an agency would have many advantages: The asylum procedure would be cheaper and fairer than the current system of relocation. Costs could be reduced due to the fact that the cases could be processed more quickly by the agency's managers than they currently are.

Currently, asylum officials have to deal with individuals from many different countries of origin and there are high costs involved in the training necessary to process people from such diverging backgrounds and cultures.

In contrast, the EU officials that would staff the EAA network would be highly specialised in dealing with such cases. As a result, the ZEW study concluded that the time and money saved through these measures would yield savings of anywhere between 16% and 40%.

The other advantage of a European process would be that the 'race to the bottom' in terms of offering the worst conditions for refugees would stop. In the current system, each EU country can make life as miserable as they like for refugees in order to deter them, thus shifting the burden to their neighbours.

Member states such as Germany, which do not participate in such practices, must then bear the costs as a result. Ethical misconduct has become financially beneficial and nations that embrace it are getting a free ride.

There are also problems in the way quotas are calculated, where capacity is calculated by analysing a country's population, GDP and unemployment rate, and then subsequent way in which they are implemented.

While countries like Germany and Sweden have accepted refugees in numbers double or even triple their allotted quotas, other countries in Central and Eastern Europe have only taken a fraction, sometimes just 5%; in the case of Slovenia and Slovakia, they have only fulfilled 1% of their obligation.

Read morePlea for a European asylum agency | EurActiv

USA: Trump and Palin: Is America Becoming an Oil Kleptocracy? - by Alexei Bayer

Oil-producing nations are a mess. Go down their full list – from A for Algeria, Argentina and Azerbaijan via I for Iraq and S for Saudi Arabia all the way down to V for Venezuela – and you’ll see economic and political basket cases.

Many of these oil-producing countries don’t need, or like, democracy. They are ruled by narcissistic authoritarians who distribute goodies, talk of national greatness and stuff their own pockets.

Muammar Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez come to mind. Eccentric, quirky, self-indulgent and totally devoid of self-doubt, they like to hear themselves talk and are very entertaining. They’re performers, not policy wonks.

They are, in short, wizards of Oz, selling snake oil to their grateful populace. Eventually, they turn nasty, making mischief in the rest of the world and oppressing and robbing their own people.

Now, what does that have to do with the United States, an industrial giant and the world’s leader in technological innovation? Well, in recent years the United States did become the world’s largest producer of oil. Last year, it even started to export some of the stuff.

Of course, the United States has a huge diversified economy and its oil industry accounts only for a small portion of its GDP. It is still a major importer of oil.

Besides, oil is currently quite cheap. At least for now, you can’t live high on the hog by exporting it. All those oil kleptocracies that were rich and self-important are suddenly starting to pawn their family silver (if they have any).

And yet, the U.S. economy and U.S. society as a whole are sending forth dangerous signals. The United States has long been on a road to de-industrialization, sending manufacturing jobs to China, Mexico and other places.

The number of U.S. manufacturing jobs is down 15% from 2006 and it didn’t grow at all during 2015, which was otherwise a bumper year for jobs. Since 1985, the number of manufacturing jobs has dropped by 35%.

 Read more: Trump and Palin: Is America Becoming an Oil Kleptocracy? - The Globalist

1/26/16

US Presidential Elections: Conservative Evangelical Author Matt Lewis on Trump, Evangelicals and Stupid Republicans

The timing of Lewis' book couldn't have been better. Due in stores Tuesday, publication is just six days before the Iowa caucus.

If you think this is a book about Donald Trump, you're sort of right. The current Republican presidential frontrunner hadn't announced his candidacy when the book was written, Lewis told The Christian Post in an email interview, but Trump's non-ideological populism has confirmed the book's thesis

Lewis is not opposed to all forms of populism. He supports populism that rejects corporate cronies working with big government to rig the system for their benefit and at the expense of the "little guy."

But, Lewis writes in a passage that earily fortells Trump, "If, instead, populism represents the demogogic politics of nativism, xenophobia, resentment, know-nothingism, victimhood, bitterness, envy ... and/or protectionism — used as a rhetorical cudgel to manipulate the masses — then count me (and most of the public) out. Unfortunately, it sometimes does. Populism often requires scapegoats."

CP readers will be particulary interested in chapter 5, on the Christian Right. Lewis, an Evangelical Christian, has mixed feelings about the contributions of Evangelicals to the Republican Party's anti-intellectualism.
In the afterword, Lewis mentions conservatives who have helped maintain an intellectually vibrant conservatism, and several Evangelicals are on the list, including Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, author and public speaker Eric Metaxas, and Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

On the other hand, Lewis believes the dumbing down of the Republican Party is partly due to the anti-intellectualism within certain strains of Evangelicalism, and the inclusion of those Evangelicals into the party.

Read more: Conservative Evangelical Author Matt Lewis on Trump, Evangelicals and Stupid Republicans (Interview)

US Presidential Campaign: Christian groups break with GOP over Syrian refugees - by Nahal Toos

Faith-based groups, who play a key role in resettling refugees to the United States, say they are dismayed by the wave of anti-refugee fervor set off by the Paris terrorist attacks and are urging supporters to contact elected officials on behalf of victims of the Syrian civil war.

Evangelical Christians, as well as Christians more broadly, are a core group in the Republican electoral base and are among the most passionate advocates for aiding refugees.

A push by Republican presidential candidates to ban Syrian refugees "does not reflect what we've been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country," said Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy at World Relief, an evangelical organization that helps resettle refugees.

"Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris ... doesn’t reflect who refugees are."

Reports that a Syrian migrant may have played a role in last week's attacks in Paris, which killed around 130 people, have set off a GOP-led backlash over the Obama administration's plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. More than half of U.S. governors have said they do not want Syrian refugees resettled in their states, while House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants a vote this week on GOP-drafted legislation to halt the administration's plans.

World Relief is one of nine not-for-profit organizations, several of them faith-based, that help resettle up to 70,000 refugees from around the world in the United States each year. Others include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the Church World Service. Many other faith-based groups, including evangelical Christian organizations, also perform aid work overseas specifically aimed at refugees fleeing conflicts.

Meanwhile, faith-based groups have also stepped up their advocacy efforts for refugees. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement expressing distress over calls by elected officials to halt the resettlement program.

Since the Paris attacks, World Relief has used a website to urge people to contact their governors to express their support for resettling Syrians. The Anti-Defamation League also has spoken out in favor of helping the Syrian refugees, noting that U.S. wariness to accept Jewish refugees during World War II is an example that must not be repeated.

Read more: Christian groups break with GOP over Syrian ref

US Presidential Elections: Bernie Sanders has the best policies - by Noam Chomsky

Renowned American academic Noam Chomsky says Bernie Sanders has the best policies of the Democratic presidential contenders, but does not have a real chance to win in a political system where elections are "mainly bought".

In the second part of an interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera's UpFront current affairs show, the MIT emeritus professor said that he considered Sanders to be "basically a new dealer".
"I agree with him in a lot of things, not in other things," Chomsky said.

Chomsky said there were clear differences between the two US parties.

"There are enormous differences," he said. "Every Republican candidate is either a climate change denier or a sceptic who says we can't do it.

"What they are saying is, 'Let's destroy the world.' Is that worth voting against? Yeah."

Read more: Noam Chomsky: Bernie Sanders has the best policies - Al Jazeera English

The Netherlands: Dutch people leaving Twitter en masse; more use WhatsApp than Facebook - by Janene Pieters

The popularity of social media is still growing in the Netherlands, though Dutch users are making less and less use of Twitter. Young people in particular are using Twitter less, instead opting for Snap Chat and Instagram.

Both these platform showed a big increase in Dutch users this year, according to an annual report by research form Newcom.

According to Newcom, the number of Dutch Twitter users decreased from 2.8 million to 2.6 million. The number of daily active users decreased from 1 million to 900 thousand. The researchers found that 11 percent of Dutch people stopped using Twitter this past year. The decrease is most significant among young people between the ages of 15 and 19 years. A decrease of 48 percent was seen in this age group.

Whatsapp is the largest social network in the Netherlands with 9.8 million users. Facebook came in second place with 9.6 million and YouTube came in third with 7.2 million Dutch users. LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter came in 4th, 5th and 6th.

Facebook also saw a decrease in the number of young Dutch users. 12 percent fewer young Dutch used the social media site.

The Dutch youth are rather opting for Instagram (2.1 million users), Pinterest (2 million users) and Snap Chat (1 million users). All three these platforms saw a significant increase in daily users this past year, but none more so than Snap Chat. Snap Chat saw an increase of 69 percent from 320 thousand to 541 thousand daily users, mostly teenagers.

Daily Instagram users increased by 37 percent from 722 thousand to 992 thousand daily users and Pinterest saw 28 percent increase from 261 thousand to 334 thousand.

Read more: Dutch people leaving Twitter en masse; more use WhatsApp than Facebook - NL Times

IRAN - Iranian president to visit Italy, France on first official Europe tour

Iranian President Hassan Rohani flew to Italy on Monday at the start of his first official visit to Europe, looking to sign multi-billion dollar contracts to help to modernise Iran’s economy after years of crippling financial sanctions.

 Heading a 120-strong delegation of Iranian business leaders and ministers, Rohani will spend two days in Rome before flying to France on Wednesday, hoping to burnish Tehran’s international credentials at a time of turmoil across the Middle East.

While diplomacy will figure high on his agenda, trade ties are likely to dominate the headlines, with Iran announcing plans to buy more than 160 European planes, mainly from Airbus, on the eve of Rohani’s departure.

Officials in Rome said Italian companies were poised to sign deals worth up to 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) over the next two days, including in the energy and steel sectors.

“Italy is very important to Iran. They’ve had a historic trade relationship for years, and that’s suffered… with the sanctions,” FRANCE 24’s Josephine McKenna reported from Rome. “There’s a lot riding on this visit, and we’ve already seen some speculation about deals.”

The deals will give a boost to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is struggling to revive Italy’s underperforming economy.

Read more: Asia-pacific - Iranian president to visit Italy, France on first official Europe tour - France 24

European Union: U.K. Out / Turkey In: the EU’s Next Storms - by Jorge Vanstreels

If the recent EU series of near-disasters has left you searching for some respite, think again: there are two threats ahead that could well transform into a systemic crisis. Indeed, after the near-collapse of the EU-bond market, the high drama of Grexit, and the mass refugee tragedy, the worst might be yet to come.

The first storm is the impending danger of a Brexit later this year. Although not official yet, Downing Street sources indicate the referendum is planned for June or July 2016. Unsurprisingly, with every day passing, EU membership becomes an ever tougher sell in the United Kingdom. Here’s why.

First, there’s the UK Independence Party. In the last elections they won 13 percent of votes, nearly four million, by campaigning on a severely anti-EU platform. It cost the governing Conservatives a good deal of seats in parliament; since that election the anti-EU wing within the Conservative party have strengthened: voices within the party are ever more louder to move decisively to the right, away from the EU, in search of lost voters.

To make matters worse, don’t expect Downing Street 10 to come to a help. The internal political situation came to a tense height two weeks ago, when PM David Cameron decided his cabinet ministers could individually choose whether to back the government standpoint in support of EU accession. It permits cabinet members to publicly campaign for a no-vote; expect them to use that freely and loudly, out of political ambition (and survival).

For the OUT-campaign, this summer’s migrant crisis could not have come at a better time. They will use it to their fullest advantage, playing into fears of insecurity. It will serve as a powerful illustration to their view of a dysfunctional EU that is without border and order. 

So to Cameron: all the best campaigning out there. Should it fail, as it could very well, he will have only himself to blame for in the first place suggesting a referendum that secured him a second term in office.
The great English statesman Benjamin Disraeli said it best: ‘How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct’.

Next storm up is further away: Turkey and the speeded-up accession negotiations.

Read more: U.K. Out / Turkey In: the EU’s Next Storms | European Public Affairs

1/25/16

Portugal - De Sousa wins Portuguese presidential election outright

 Centre-right candidate Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa won Portugal’s presidential election on Sunday, an outcome that should help maintain political balance after a dramatic swing to the left in October’s parliamentary ballot.

In his victory speech, Social Democrat Rebelo de Sousa, 67, said he will work to promote consensus and repair divisions created in the aftermath of the previous election when the left ousted a centre-right administration that imposed tough austerity under an international bailout in 2011-14.

Portugal’s president is a largely ceremonial figure but he plays an important role at times of political uncertainty - as have gripped the country since last October’s inconclusive parliamentary election. He has the power to dissolve parliament and fire the prime minister.

Portugal is likely to need all consensus possible as a shaky government of moderate centre-left Socialists dependent on far-left parties for support in parliament tries to reconcile its election pledges to end economic austerity with budget deficit cuts promised to the European Union.

“This election ends a very long election process... that unnerved the country and divided a society already hurt by years of crisis. It is time to turn the page and detraumatise, start an economic, social and political pacifiication,” Rebelo de Sousa said at the Lisbon University’s Law Faculty where he teaches.

“We have to align social justice with economic growth and financial stability, without compromising the financial solidity for which so many Portuguese sacrificed so much for years,” he said referring to Portugal’s budget consolidation drive of the past few years that helped it out of an acute debt crisis.

With nearly all votes counted, preliminary results showed Rebelo de Sousa, a former journalist and one-time leader of the centre-right Social Democrats, winning 52 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff.

Read more: Europe - De Sousa wins Portuguese presidential election outright - France 24

EU-USA Labor force: The Sharing-the-Crumbs Economy - by Steven Hills

In the aftermath of the economic collapse in 2008, there has been increasing reliance among employers on “non-regular” workers.

This growing army includes freelancers, temps, contractors, part-timers, day laborers, micro-entrepreneurs, gig-preneurs, solo-preneurs, contingent labor, perma-lancers and perma-temps.

It’s practically a new taxonomy for a workforce that has become segmented into a dizzying assortment of labor categories.

It is also a significant factor in the decline of the quality of jobs in the United States, as well as in Europe, since 2008. Even many full-time, professional jobs and occupations are experiencing this precarious shift.

This practice has given rise to the term “1099 economy” in the United States. Under the U.S. tax system, these employees don’t file W-2 income tax forms as a regular, permanent employee. Instead, they receive the 1099-MISC form for an IRS classification known as “independent contractor.”

The advantage for a business of using 1099 workers over W-2 wage-earners is obvious: An employer usually can lower its labor costs dramatically, often by 30% or more.

It is not responsible for a 1099 worker’s health benefits, retirement, unemployment or injured workers compensation, lunch breaks, overtime, disability or paid sick, holiday or vacation leave, and more.

Read more: The Sharing-the-Crumbs Economy - The Globalist

Eurozone: 'German Exports And The Eurozone' - by Simon Wren-Lewis

"I have argued that the low level of German wage increases before the financial crisis were a significant destabilising influence on the Eurozone, which also indirectly contributed to Germany taking a hard line on austerity.

The basic idea is that Germany gained a significant competitive advantage over its Eurozone neighbours, which it has since been unwilling to unwind (through above average German inflation). What this competitiveness gain did was lead to very healthy export growth and a large current account surplus, and that additional demand meant that Germany did not suffer as much as its neighbours from the second Eurozone recession that policy created. Peter Bofinger has made a similar argument."

This argument is often criticised on the grounds that Germany’s healthy export growth was not primarily due to any competitive advantage, but instead was the result of non-price factors like strong demand from China for the type of goods Germany produces. This and other criticisms were recently made in a paper by Servaas Storm. One of the points made by Storm has itself been criticised by Thorsten Hild, and Hild’s point is entirely correct (see also Storm’s reply here). But the issue about what was the primary cause of strong export growth remains.

Trying to disentangle how much of German export growth was due to the competitiveness advantage they gained would require some econometric analysis which unfortunately I do not have time to undertake. But the point I want to make here is that if there has been a permanent positive shift in Germany’s exports (i.e one unrelated to price or cost competitiveness), then this strengthens the argument that I have been making. Before we get there, it is worth going through the basic macroeconomics involved.

Read more: 'German Exports And The Eurozone' by Simon Wren-Lewis

Political Revolution?: The People Have Woken Up - Political Establishment in Europe And US Is In Trouble - by RM

French revolution 1789 until 1799
When you look at it closely there really is not much difference today between the EU and US when measuring the  public opinion in both areas as to how their ruling political establishment is perceived.

Polls show they both consider them unreliable and "in the pocket" of  private interest groups and lobbyists.

In a way this reaction is also a refreshing development. Slowly but surely in both America and in many countries around Europe people are waking up to the fact that many politicians within their political establishment, on both the left and the right, are not really representing the people who elected them anymore, but rather their own interests.

In fact, most of the polls taken on this issue seem to indicate that many voters now feel that they have been completely sold out by their political elite.

They are also angry about the steady takeover of their liberties by unregulated global corporate forces, and the fact that their elected Governments are doing very little to stop it.

Hence we see the rise of  a new breed of somewhat unorthodox people successfully entering the political arena in the US - like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Same is happening in Europe, with the likes of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marie Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in Britain, Victor Orban in Hungary, Alexis Tsipras in Greece, and .Pablo Iglesias in Spain, to mention just a few.

Could this be the beginning of a total shake-up and possibly even a peoples revolution changing the existing "fault-lines" of today's political and economic structures in both the USA and the EU ?

It looks like the party has only just begun.

EU-Digest

1/24/16

Oil: Will Cheap Oil Kill Global Stability ? "No it won't say experts-Yes it will says Wall Street PR on steroids" - by Judy Dempsey

Kris Bledowski, Director of economic studies at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation notes:

"The answer depends on how “stability” is defined. In political terms, one could see some instability creep in or deepen in countries where oil plays a disproportionately large fiscal role.

Yet this impact would be felt locally rather than globally, andmostly in countries with already-weak polities. Venezuela, Nigeria, or parts of the Middle East come to mind. It’s less likely  that potential conflicts could spill over outside domestic or localtheaters.

The economic impact has already been felt the world over. In the United States, mining activity has depressed industrial output, while in Canada the entire economy plunged into recession in 2015 as a result of sharply lower oil prices.

At the same time, income losses are being at least partly offset by gains on the consumer end. Shifts in relative prices of major inputs or outputs occur all the time,and the world economy is resilient enough to absorb them. Overall, oil and its derivatives make up a small and declining share of unit energy costs.

If global investment flows are more unpredictable, currencies more volatile, and changes in income more pronounced, other factors should be taken into account as well. Among them are differences in monetary policies (in the United States and the EU), private debt levels (in Brazil and China), and economic governance (in Russia and Saudi Arabia).

Ian Bremmer, President and founder of Eurasia Group says: 
"Did Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms kill Soviet stability? No. They hastened the melting of frozen instability. That’s the impact of cheap oil on the Middle East, in particular the Sunni Arab petrostates and the governments that rely on their largesse.

There’s already little domestic legitimacy keeping these regimes in place. The United States has little desire toact as the region’s policeman, and nobody else is going to pick up the baton.

Communication technologies allow disenchanted young men to more easily mobilize.

And there are scant few social, economic, and political reform efforts among the governments themselves; security solutions don’t address the underlying problems. Cheap oil makes those conflicts grow sharper. And faster."

Jan Cienski, Energy and security editor at POLITICO says:
"No, cheap oil won’t kill global stability—infact, it will bolster it. That doesn’t mean low oil prices aren’t terrible news for a host of countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Angola, and other emerging markets that have built their budgets on oil exports. But as their revenues shrink, their largely autocratic rulers will have to focus more on keeping their people from rebelling over budget cuts and less on causing trouble abroad.

No, cheap oil won’t kill global stability—in fact, it will bolster it. That doesn’t mean low oil prices aren’t terrible news for a host of countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Angola, and other emerging markets that have built their budgets on oil exports.

But as their revenues shrink, their largely autocratic rulers will have to focus more on keeping their people from rebelling over budget cuts and less on causing trouble abroad."

Deborah Gordon, Director of Carnegie’s Energy and Climate Program notes: "mighty global omnipotence is often attributed to oil. But it’s unclear whether low (or high) oil prices themselves can be squarely blamed for growing global instability. Increasing oil market volatility, however, could prove to be a stronger destabilizing force.

If oil prices continue to swing wildly back and forth in the years ahead, this could confound economic, technological, and geopolitical fundamentals."

Note EU-Digest: Wall Street and the financial Industry seem to be the only ones who are saying that lower oil prices will contribute to Global Economic and Political Instability , mainly because it hurts their energy investments and market portfolio's . The drop in oil prices, however, has been very beneficial  to consumers and the the economy in general.

EU-Digest

1/23/16

Sweden: Collective responsibility in Europe key to addressing refugee crisis, says Swedish prime minister

Kjell Stefan Lofven has been the Prime Minister of Sweden since 2014 and the leader of the Social Democrats in the country since 2012.

In this wide ranging interview with euronews the 58-year-old politician addresses the impact of the migrant crisis on Sweden and the issues it has raised in the European Union. He is clear that dealing with the problems should be done on a collective basis.

We have to find a way to cooperate, finally it is about shared responsibility. If we share responsibility we can handle it,” he said.

The PM gives his opinion on ‘Brexit’ and if he believes Great Britain should leave the European Union.

“From a Swedish point of view we have stated clearly we think it is very important that Britain stays within the European Union. It would be bad for Britain but also bad for Europe because they are an important part of the European Union,” he stressed.

Read more: Collective responsibility in Europe key to addressing refugee crisis, says Swedish prime minister | euronews, the global conversation

US Voter Privacy - "Big Brother": Thanks to big data, US parties know all about voters

If you're an American voter and have provided personal information to a company, chances are data groups have shared it with political parties to help them target potential supporters.

One of the main players is NGP VAN, which manages the Democratic National Committee's database.

Its name recently surfaced in connection with a data breach blamed on a technical glitch that enabled the campaign of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders to access voter data belonging to rival Hillary Clinton.

The incident raises questions about the reach of the database.

"Everyone" is in there, Kevin Thurman, who served as Clinton's deputy Internet director during her last campaign in 2008, said with a laugh.

"Every voter in America, since 2004, dead or alive."

NGP VAN estimates the number at about 195 million people, far more than the 146 million currently registered as voters. Voter registration is not mandatory in the United States.

Read more: Big BrotherFlash - Thanks to big data, US parties know all about voters - France 24

US Presidential Elections: Michael Bloomberg Mulling Run for President as Independent - by Mara Gay

Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seriously considering a run for president and is asking aides to explore a potential bid.

Mr. Bloomberg, 73 years old, has long contemplated a run at the White House. But the unlikely rise and continued strength of Donald Trump, along with polls suggesting Hillary Clinton’s campaign may be flagging, have driven the billionaire businessman closer than ever before to entering the race, a close adviser said Saturday.

Eyeing a potential opening for the first time, Mr. Bloomberg has retained a consultant to help him run on the independent ballot in state primaries. He has commissioned polls to test his path to victory. And he has directed the close circle of advisers who worked for him as mayor and have remained by his side over the past two years since he left office to begin mapping out a blueprint for a run, one adviser said.

That adviser said the former mayor has been upset by what he sees as extremist rhetoric from Republicans in the race, as well as a leftward turn from Mrs. Clinton, who is fending off an unexpectedly strong challenge in the Democratic primary from the more liberal Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Bloomberg’s path to victory remains narrow and unlikely. His outspoken support for gun control, as well as other liberal social views, could dissuade some Republicans from backing him. His more conservative record on policing, as well as his background on Wall Street, could prevent him from picking up crucial support among some Democrats.

Mr. Bloomberg, who founded the media company that bears his namesake, Bloomberg LP, has a history of switching parties, first running for mayor in 2001 as a Republican before switching his affiliation to independent. He served three terms as New York mayor.

He is likely to make a decision on the presidential bid sometime in March.

Read more: Michael Bloomberg Mulling Run for President as Independent - WSJ

Economy: Europe is less vulnerable than other regions to China slowdown - by Pierre Moscov

The European recovery remains on track, despite turbulence in China, according to EU Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. But he also warned against complacency.

In an exclusive interview with EurActiv at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Moscovici urged Greece to be more ambitious with its pension reform.

Pierre Moscovici is EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs.
He spoke to EurActiv's Jorge Valero.

You met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the World Economic Forum. The pension reform is the big issue on the table. Are you asking only for some fine-tuning of the reform, or are your objections more substantial?

I had a 15 minute-long meeting with Tsipras, which is a long meeting here in Davos. We are trying to work on what could be a global approach. We did not enter into specifics. It is not up to me to negotiate the precise parameters of a pension reform at this stage.

The Greek authorities and the European partners want to go on in building a success story in Greece, which means a full implementation of the programme, and strong reforms leading to a rapid conclusion of the first review, so that we can go on with the programme, and start the debate on alleviating the debt service under good conditions.

All with the presence of the IMF, which I think is a necessity for the Europeans. The IMF is part of the security of the programme, and a guarantee for its future.

I discussed with Tsirpas how this success story could go on. Of course, I insisted on an approach step by step. This means succeeding in the first step, which is what is necessary to conclude the first review and mostly the pension reform, and the implementation of the privatisation fund.

Given that Europe faces numerous challenges, and it would be difficult to handle another crisis like in the past year, would there be some leeway from the creditors to avoid another Greek tragedy?
We don’t have to alleviate our demands.

We have a roadmap, the memorandum of understanding which is based on the July agreement. We have to fulfill it.

But obviously, the climate and working conditions, the relationship between the institutions, the member states and the Greek government have changed positively since July. To sum up what I said to Alexis Tsipras: we must keep the momentum.

Let’s not enter in the atmosphere of drama or any kind of ‘Grexit’ scenario. We were too close to Grexit in the summer.  We avoided that. We don’t want to re-enter into that. On the contrary, let’s keep the momentum by advancing with the programme.

Therefore, we need an ambitious pension reform. We are not there yet, but I am confident that with goodwill and strong technical manage we can get there.

Read more: Moscovici: Europe is less vulnerable than other regions to China slowdown | EurActiv

Refugee Crisis: The EU’s Turkey Connection -Turkey is not living up to the bargain - by Holger Schmieding

Turkey matters. But Europe has to tread carefully as Turkey itself is in a precarious situation. I see a good chance that Europe (specifically Germany) and Turkey can work out a deal that will lead to a slower flow of refugees from Turkey into Greece.

One year ago, almost all eyes were on Russia and its war against Ukraine. Now, Europe’s attention needs to focus more on Turkey.

Almost as in the case of Russia, Europe may not like the government it has to deal with. But it has to deal with it nonetheless.

Last year, Turkey allowed 800,000 refugees to cross into Greece, mostly in the second half of the year. At the same time, the stream of boat people from northern Africa into Spain or Italy, which had made headlines earlier on, played a much smaller role.

This shows that, if transit countries police their sea borders, as Morocco and Mauritania have done in the past two years with some crucial support from Spain, the inflow of refugees can be reduced significantly.

Turkey itself is in a precarious position driven by significant domestic tensions. As a mostly Sunni country, it could become a more frequent target for IS terrorists from next door.

That risk has increased since Turkey seems to have hardened its initially rather permissive stance toward support for IS.

The conflict with the strong Kurdish minority in Turkey’s southeast has flared up badly again. Protests of the urban middle class against the authoritarian tendencies of President Recep Erdogan may easily erupt again as well.

With a current account deficit of 5% of GDP, Turkey’s economy is vulnerable to sudden capital outflows. Serious trouble within Turkey, a country with some 80 million inhabitants, would be a nightmare scenario for Europe.

Read more: Refugee Crisis: The EU’s Turkey Connection - The Globalist

Russia: Kerry hints at lifting of sanctions on Russia

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, the US Secretary of State commented on the areas of cooperation between Washington and Moscow and the peace effort in east Ukraine.

Kerry and US Vice President Joe Biden discussed the implementation of the Minsk peace plan with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during the Davos conference, he said.

"And I believe that, with effort and with bona-fide legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to find those Minsk agreements implemented and to get to a place where sanctions (against Russia) can be appropriately, because of the full implementation, removed," Kerry said.

Earlier this week, Kerry met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Zurich.

Read more: Kerry hints at lifting of sanctions on Russia | News | DW.COM | 22.01.2016

1/22/16

Privacy and Freedom in danger: A Cashless society will destroy freedom and privacy

Big Brother is always watching
Unfortunately, the time is fast approaching where our current technological snooping capabilities and the ease of  major data manipulation by the Government and the financial Industry will accelerate the arrival of a completely cashless society..  

This will happen in such a way as to permit governments to exercise incredibly powerful controls over all human behavior and activities.

While this may sound like a paranoid doomsday scenario to some, this theory is not only eminently possible, but most of the technology is already available to frighteningly make it a reality.

Technological advances have led to the creation of algorithms that can instantaneously review financial transactions, determining the nature, location and even the appropriateness of a purchase decision. These are already freely used by governments, banks, credit- and debit-card companies amd other financial institutions.

If these current trends continue, a cashless economy could thus very well lead to a complete evaporation of what we consider today as our basic Democracy and Human Rights. 

Imagine a future in which a government employee, who suspect an individual of some misconduct, or perhaps even that person's politics or speech as unacceptable, could, with a few keystrokes on the computer, order all financial institutions to decline any withdrawal or payment from that individual, and freeze all other access to funds. 

Perhaps, in order to show a veneer of due process, this would need to be reviewed by a secret Kangaroo court that would approve 99.7 percent of all requests.

The final result is that the  targeted individuals and anyone supporting them could in fact be made to starve to death. 

When it comes to creeping state control in creating a cashless society, it is therefore no surprise to find France out in front. In the wake of last year’s terrorists attacks, the government has clamped down on the use of cash.

In the Netherlands depositing cash more than six times a year even into your own personal account is penalized with a fee. All this without the Government lifting an eyebrow. 

In reality, cash is far too valuable to be given up lightly. In truth, the benefits of the abolition of cash are largely oversold and certainly are not in favor of the Public.

EU-Digest 

Finance & Technology: What Military Strategy Can Teach Us About the Vulnerability of Fintech - by William Laraque

Trading, EconomyOne of the fascinating aspects of military strategy is human psychology and the vulnerability of the human ego.

The psychological vulnerability of the high and mighty was often the subject of Greek tragedy, and many of Shakespeare’s plays. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is another great example, arguably the greatest psychological novel of all time.

My personal favorite exercise in psychology as it applies to military strategy is the battle of Austerlitz. Also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, it holds lessons in psychology that apply to this day.

I must first explain the most prominent uses of psychology in battle before I apply its lessons to today’s world.
The first use of psychology in battle is to move forces rapidly and to attack the enemy in diverse places, giving the impression of his being opposed by a force of great size.

This impression was used with great effect by Robert E. Lee in numerous battles. It was also used by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s ‘foot cavalry’ with great effect during the Shenandoah Valley campaign.

By these tactics, George Brinton McClellan was fought to a literal standstill, leading to Lincoln’s famous statement: “Caesar crossed the Rubicon but will McClellan ever cross the Potomac?”

The third and most psychological of the tactics that I will describe today is that of feigned weakness. By deliberately weakening one’s front, a tactician invites the hubris of his opponent, tempting him to attack at precisely this point.

The perception of weakness and entrapment was used by Hannibal (with his back to the river) at Cannae and by Napoleon on the Pratzen Heights of Austerlitz.

Bureaucratic psychology, ego-driven hubris, self-infatuation and the idolatry of technology all lead today’s government and corporate commanders to act in a manner which exposes their flanks to an extraordinary vulnerability.

This clear and present danger is described by James Comey, FBI Director. He said on 14 November 2013 that cyber-attacks are increasingly representing the most serious threats to homeland security and in the next decade they will likely eclipse the risk posed by traditional international terror organizations.

Fintech, the promise of a cashless society and the sheer ease of making purchases electronically is an invitation to the idle and impoverished hands and minds of unemployed youth.

I provided the statistics regarding global youth unemployment in a prior post on LinkedIn, entitled ‘Terrorism: the Causes and Cures’. The utter confidence that technologists have in their craft opens their hinge points to electronic attack.

This vulnerability is not confined to bureaucrats or technologists. It also applies to entrepreneurs. The entrepreneur or provider of new ideas thinks that all that is necessary is crowdfunding, P2P financing or angel capital and poof, they will instantly turn into Markus Persson (who sold Minecraft to Microsoft for a cool personal $1 billion), and that they, like he, can purchase a $70 million mansion in Beverly Hills.

The reality is quite different.

Age is looked upon as a problem, an impediment instead of what it could be: an opportunity to learn. This applies in particular to Fintech. Why? Because Fintech is mainly money transfer, and is small potatoes when compared to the technological brass ring.

The brass ring is trade finance, in which Fintech plays a critical role. The McKinsey Global Trade Institute report of 2014 estimates that trade flow in goods, services and finance (including FDI) will amount to $85 trillion by 2025.

Expertise in trade finance yields a much greater treasure than does a Fintech limited to money transfer, but hey, what do I know? I’m a dinosaur!

Read more: What Military Strategy Can Teach Us About the Vulnerability of Fintech | Finance Magnates