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2/29/16

German consumer rights win court victory against Facebook

Germany's Consumer Federation (vzbv) said on Monday that Facebook had tried "very persistently to circumvent consumers' rights in Germany and Europe."

"A fine of 100,000 euros is a clear signal. Companies need to implement judicial decisions and can not just sit out it," said vzbv Chairman Klaus Müller.

Under the contested clause, Facebook had a "global licesnse to any IP content" which was posted by users either on Facebook itself or in connection to the network - for example images.

Although Facebook has altered the clause in the meantime, the court ruled on Monday that the changes were not sufficient in light of a previous judicial decision.

The "significant disciplinary action" was justified because the clause concerns a very large number of users and their "significantly" restricted rights, the Berlin court ruled. The decision of the court is not yet final.

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the firm had complied with the previous arrangement and clarified the controversial point in the terms and conditions some time ago.

"Now the court has decided that this wasn't happening fast enough and have imposed a fine," the spokeswoman said, adding that Facebook would pay the penalty.

Read more: German consumer rights win court victory against Facebook | News | DW.COM | 29.02.2016

2/28/16

European Unity: The only plan B for Europe is rebuilding power for change - by Lorenzo Marsili

Europeans today are caught between a failing and undemocratic EU and equally failing and undemocratic national states. As Yanis Varoufakis prepares to launch a new movement for the democratisation of the EU, what’s the way out of the impasse?

There is no need to believe, with George Soros, that the EU is on the verge of collapse to believe that it is on the verge of irrelevance. Becoming little more than a dysfunctional common market shunned by its citizens and promoting tensions and antagonisms between states and between people.There is no Plan A for Europe. Mild adjustments to the status quo - the Juncker investment plan, the youth guarantee, additional fiscal leeway of a few decimals points or a banking union already surpassed by history - are unable to seriously address the historical challenges banging at our doors each day.

Plans for increased integration of parts of the European Union get regularly touted. There are some grounds to being diffident of such plans. Any deepening of integration risks in fact reinforcing the undemocratic nature of a Union of financial rules deprived of democratic accountability.

At the same time there is no viable national Plan B either. There is no space for political emancipation through a more or less harmonious abandonment of the European Union. The sirens of nationalism - be they on the right or on the left - sing a song of destitution and disempowerment.

Sovereignty belongs to the people, not to states or to institutions. Too often is this forgotten. Popular sovereignty is not going to be recuperated by the construction of micro-nations barricading and barking against flows of people and of capital but ultimately at the mercy of decisions taken elsewhere. There is no return to the golden age of the Bretton Woods agreements, when financial capital could be trapped within national boundaries for an emancipatory vision of “capitalism in one country”. Today, national boundaries can only trap refugees escaping war. Their invocation plays squarely into the hands of the far-right.

Recent years have marked a watershed in a post-1989 world-view characterised by talk of the end of history and of a third way of non-conflictual management. This is evident in the return of a political rhetoric that dares put into question the fundamentals of our economic and democratic system - from Sanders to Corbyn via Spain and Portugal. While, less promisingly, it is equally evident in the rise of a new far-right in Hungary, Croatia, Poland, and France.

One thing is for sure. This is no longer the time for the status quo. And that means relinquishing despondency and melancholy and rebuilding the ambition for root-and-branch change - at all levels.

We need to stop portraying the EU as an all-powerful behemoth impeding any real change at national level. 

This rhetoric is false and only benefits supporters of the status quo. What we lack is the capacity for articulating and promoting a new vision for all those policies over which national sovereignty makes sense. Ambitious plans for income redistribution, fighting privations and the protection of the commons, fair integration of migrants, tax justice, fair and free access to education for all, and more. In this sense, the campaign of Bernie Sanders is inspiring. 

Failure to achieve progressive national policies is not due to the EU. It is due to the incapacity of the progressive field to win popular consent. I have much sympathy for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Oskar Lafontaine, and other old left leaders who met recently in Paris to expound a Plan B for Europe. But I often feel their attacks on the EU have more to do with justifying their political failure nationally than opening up a new field of action for their countries.

At the European level, ambition means returning Europe to being the place where we can regain power to define all that is no longer possible at the national level. Not because the EU impedes it, but because on certain issues medium-sized nations no longer have a say.

Europe is the only space large enough to be able to rein in the rule of financial capital, forcefully addressing the scandal of 62 people in control of half of global wealth. It is the only space where it will be possible to free Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and provide a new technological infrastructure free of surveillance. Where a new ecological understanding of development can be fostered and forced on the rest of the world through commercial treaties based on climate justice and not competition to the bottom. Or, again, where we can nurture a multipolar alternative to US militarism and the rising nationalisms - often with an ethnic basis - of many emerging powers.

It is the capacity to decide through political struggle how to tackle systemic and historical issues such as these that popular sovereignty should really be about.
Until today European parties have failed to articulate and organise a convincing way out of our multiple crises. National parties have hidden behind unpronounceable acronyms at the European level - who knows the meaning of GUE/NGL? - creating umbrella-groups where they individually maintain their feeble autonomy and collectively maintain their tragic impotence.

A genuine multi-level political force  - and not necessarily a political party as traditionally understood - is long overdue. A transnational coordination summing up the plurality of national forces into a single and recognisable European political actor capable of campaigning and organising over all those issues that require European-level action. 

We have an example of this multi-level dynamic – albeit limited at the national level – in Spain. Where a clearly Catalan force such as the list headed by Ada Colau participates, at state level, in a political project that is able to act as a national political subject in its own right.

Rebuilding power for change ultimately means rebuilding ambition and innovating political practices. Beyond sterile arguments over the benefits of an independent nation-state or of a united Europe, what we should really be talking about is how to organise to transform both.

EU-Digest

Czech Republic: Shame on Czech Government not able to stop right-wing attackers torching refugee center in Prague

Shame on the Czech Republic
Czech police say unknown attackers have set a refugee center on fire in the Czech capital of Prague, injuring one person.

Spokeswoman Iveta Martinkova says about 20 people attacked the Klinika center in Prague's No. 3 district with Molotov cocktails Saturday about 7:30 p.m. She says it's not clear who was behind the attack and police are investigating.

The attack took place just hours after thousands of people rallied in Prague against Muslims and immigration.

This kind of behavior is not only barbaric, it is criminal  and Czech Government should be reprimanded by EU for not able to protect refugees safety properly.

EU-Digest

Turkey: The 'Tribune of Anatolia': America's Dark View of Turkish Premier Erdogan - by Maximilian Popp

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most important Muslim ally of the United States. On coming into office he promised a democratic Islam -- a vision that could have become a model for other countries in the region.

But if the US dispatches are to be believed, Turkey is far from realizing that vision. Erdogan? A power-hungry Islamist. His ministers? Incompetent, uneducated and some of them corrupt. The government? Divided. The opposition? Ridiculous.

US diplomats have sent thousands of reports from Ankara to Washington in the past 31 years. Recent documents, though, are merciless. They convey an image of Turkey which is at odds with almost everything the US government has officially said about the country.

First and foremost, the US distrusts Erdogan. A dispatch dated May 2005 says that he has never had a realistic worldview. Erdogan, the document says, thinks he was chosen by God to lead Turkey and likes to present himself as the "Tribune of Anatolia."

US diplomats claim that Erdogan gets almost all of his information from Islamist-leaning newspapers -- analysis from his ministries, they say, is of no interest to him. The military, the second largest among NATO member states, and the secret service no longer send him some of their reports. He trusts nobody completely, the dispatches say, and surrounds himselves with "an iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors." Despite his bravado, he is said to be terrified of losing his grip on power. One authority on Erdogan told the Americans: "Tayyip believes in God ... but doesn't trust him."

Read more: The 'Tribune of Anatolia': America's Dark View of Turkish Premier Erdogan - SPIEGEL ONLINE

Middle East: Turkey gives up on Obama, bristles over Syria deal – Roy Gutman

The Russian-American agreement on a partial cease fire in Syria, hailed by President Vladimir Putin as a “real chance” to stop the war, got a wary welcome this week in Turkey, whose government fears that Moscow will exploit the deal and continue with its bombing campaign to redraw the battlefield of Syria in favor of Bashar Assad’s regime.

It’s not only distrust of Russia, which according to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has completed 8,000 sorties since October, nine-tenths of them directed against the moderate opposition and civilian targets, and only a tenth against the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Adding to doubts about Moscow’s intentions in Syria is the fact that the accord goes into effect on Saturday, more than two weeks after the U.S. and Russia announced there would be a cessation of hostilities. “Apparently the Russians had some things to do on the ground,” said a senior Turkish official.

Then there’s the loophole that allows Russia — or the U.S.-led coalition — to continue bombing ISIL and Jabhat al Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate, whose fighters are mixed with moderate rebels in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.

And, above all, the skepticism about the cease-fire deal reflects the Turkish ruling establishment’s loss of confidence in Moscow’s negotiating partner in Syria — Washington. Officials in Ankara say they doubt the U.S. has the political will to see that this or any other agreement is upheld.

After nearly five years of watching Washington fumble the Syria crisis, Turkish officials say they are giving up on the Obama administration and will await its successor to craft a strategy for sorting out the Middle East’s expanding conflict.

Since the beginning of Russia’s air campaign on September 30, Syria’s low-intensity conflict has morphed into a high-stakes geopolitical contest. From the Turkish perspective, Washington silently stood by as rebel groups, backed by the U.S., Turkey and other allies were ousted from vital locations by Assad’s Russian-backed forces. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were sent fleeing their homes.

The relentless Russian bombing of cities, towns, villages and farms to prop up the Assad regime’s tenuous hold on power has killed at least 1,500 civilians, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). In February alone, the bombardment displaced more than 75,000 civilians in the war-wrecked country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Read more: Turkey gives up on Obama, bristles over Syria deal – POLITICO

Where will the next major war start: STRATFOR founder George Friedman gave us some jarring predictions for the future - by Daniel McDonald

In this day and age it’s relatively unusual for nations to go to war against one another.  Do you see that changing? Do you see interstate warfare making a comeback?
 
GF: From 1815 to 1871 there was not an interstate war of any substance in Europe. Then came World War I, a biggie.

I’ll give you another statistic. There has never been a century that has not had a systemic war — a systemic war, meaning when the entire system convulses. From the Seven Years’ War in Europe to the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century to the World Wars, every century has one.

Do you want to bet this will be the only century that doesn’t have one? I’ll take that bet …

When you have the countries like Germany, China, and Russia decline, and be replaced by others, that’s when systemic wars start. That’s when it gets dangerous, because they haven’t yet reached a balance. So Germany united in 1871 and all hell broke loose. Japan rose in the early 20th century, and then you had chaos. So we’re looking at a systemic shift. Be ready for war.

BI: Any predictions on where it could be?
GF: Well the most likely emerging countries are Japan, Turkey, and Poland. So I would say Eastern Europe, the Middle East and a maritime war by Japan with the United States enjoying its own pleasures.

But every time new powers emerge they have to find their balance. New powers are emerging, old powers are declining. It’s not that process that’s dangerous, it’s the emerging position that’s dangerous.

Read complete report: STRATFOR founder George Friedman gave us some jarring predictions for the future | New York News

2/27/16

The U.S. Healthcare Debate: Still Catching Up to Germany's Bismarck Healthcare of 1883 - by Stephan Richter

Ruling the German Empire from 1871 to 1890, Otto von Bismarck's appetite for military assets (hard and soft) — and a strong national economy supporting that machine — was legendary.

The most important people to him were the steel barons and financiers who provided the empire with the tools of ascendancy and materiel-based strategic advantage for global conquest.

Lest we forget the implicit challenge to U.S. conservatives today emanating from his dealings a century and a quarter ago, Otto von Bismarck was also quite an enlightened man. As far back as 1883 and 1889, he laid the groundwork for Germany's national health insurance and pension/retirement system, respectively.

His legislative accomplishments in that arena were so solidly conceptualized that they last to this day.
Bismarck's reckoning was simple. In providing a network of health and pension security, he laid the basis for a strong nation. Bismarck realized that only people who know they will be cared for in times of need and weakness are a strong people.

Read more: The U.S. Healthcare Debate: Still Catching Up to Bismarck - The Globalist

Syria: Russia halts air strikes as Syria truce takes hold

Russia has halted air strikes in Syria in accordance with a ceasefire brokered by the country and the US.

Russia entered the Syrian conflict on behalf of ally President Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, and its air power has played a significant role in the recent major gains by government forces.

"Russia's air force fully halted bombing in the green zone - that is in those areas and those armed groups which had sent us ceasefire requests," Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior representative of the General Staff, said.

A lull in fighting was reported throughout most of Syria on Saturday, hours after the US-Russia brokered "cessation of hostilities" agreement took effect.

The UN Security Council unanimously passed a vote late on Friday to support the pause in fighting in Syria, and demanded that all parties to the agreement fulfill their commitments to end hostilities.
The ceasefire began at midnight Damascus time on Saturday (22:00 GMT Friday).

READ MORE: Russia halts air strikes as Syria truce takes hold - Al Jazeera English

"The Illusion of Corporate Democracy": Maine Republican Robert A.G. Monks has got it right



Robert A. G. Monks.




At the "ripe" age of age 82, many people who can afford to do so are done working. Not Robert A. G. Monks.

He is still hard at work, trying to change the way corporate America operates.

He was recently interviewed by the Dutch FD (Financial Daily) and his statements were quite revealing as they always are when he is interviewed by journalists.

Like when he was interviewed by the NY Times and said that the American political establishment is now completely in the hands of corporate America. "To compare this corporate control with a dictatorship is absolutely correct", says Monks.

A Boston Brahmin who has been a corporate lawyer, venture capitalist, energy company executive, corporate director and Reagan administration official, Mr. Monks has an elite background that might have made him a consummate corporate insider. Instead, in his latest book, “Citizens DisUnited: Passive Investors, Drone C.E.O.’s and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream,” he has issued what he describes as “a call to arms.”

Mr. Monks has been battling for decades to make corporations more transparent and more democratic. Toward that end, he has founded companies like Institutional Shareholder Services, the Corporate Library and GMI Ratings, which assess the ways companies are governed. He has lobbied institutional investors to influence the behavior of companies in which they invest. He has also met with presidents, several years ago with  President Obama at a reception in Boston where he tried to enlist support for his cause, without much effect so far.

He  has been  pleading for the direct involvement of millions of individual corporate shareholders. “Nothing is going to happen unless you involve yourself,” he said. “Democracy isn’t going to work without involved citizens and corporations won’t work without involved owners.”

A slender 6-foot-6, Mr. Monks is imposing but not intimidating, with a courtly manner that seems at odds with the combative language he uses to describe corporate America.

Big companies have captured the political system in the United States, he says, and chief executives have captured the corporations, ensuring that the nation is effectively run by a handful of top business managers who pursue their own narrow self-interest.

“The most powerful C.E.O.’s have effectively seized authority over a vast range of America’s corporate resources,” he wrote, “and through those resources over the nation itself without assuming any responsibilities of dominion.”

For Mr. Monks, corporate governance centers on several main issues, including executive pay, corporate compatibility with the public interest and management’s responsiveness to shareholders.

He admires people like Ralph V. Whitworth, a founder of the private investment group Relational Investors, who, he says “has set a model for constructive shareholder activism.” Mr. Whitworth’s approach has been to accumulate a stake in a public company, perhaps only 1 percent, and then fight his way onto the board, where he pushes for a change in corporate strategy.

In 1999, Mr. Whitworth became acting chairman of Waste Management, helping it recover from an accounting scandal. A Hewlett-Packard shareholder, he joined its board in 2011 and became interim chairman earlier this year, amid a turnaround effort at the company.

Although ownership in the stock market today appears more widely dispersed than ever, individuals have been exerting less control over companies, Mr. Monks said. For instance, many millions of Americans hold stocks through mutual funds, representing by far the largest ownership block among institutional investors. As a purely legal matter, mutual funds have significant power to influence all aspects of corporate governance. In practice, though, the funds have tended to be hands-off, passive investors.

Mr. Monks thinks that needs to change. “It’s critical that mutual fund investors require the trustees of their accounts to act like stewards of each company they hold in their portfolio,” he said. “Many mutual fund companies are equipped to do this.” Those that aren’t should be responsive when researchers point out cent problems. “When a corporate governance issue comes to light,” he said, “they need to be involved.”

He also contends that others among the nation’s biggest investors — charitable funds and endowments — need to play more active roles. In his book, he argued that if excessive executive pay was to be curbed, it was important that the trustees of the top dozen endowments and charitable funds, accounting for $200 billion in collective assets, actively take a stand. “These are flesh-and-blood individuals who can actually do something,” he said.

Mr. Monks comes from a patrician New England background. With his wife, Millicent — a great-granddaughter of Thomas Carnegie, the younger brother of Andrew Carnegie — they live in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, not far from their son Bobby, author of the book Uninvested: How Wall Street Hijacks Your Money and How to Fight Back. It is from here that he and his son wage their battles against today’s corporate titans.

A self-described education snob, highly attuned to the background and credentials of those he meets, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard, did graduate work at Cambridge in Britain and then returned to Harvard for his law degree.

He sees himself as one of the last of the Rockefeller Republicans, and he served as a co-chairman of Republicans for Obama in Maine during the 2008 presidential election. During that campaign, he entertained Barack Obama at his home.

Mr. Monks even had his own political ambitions. In 1972, 1976 and 1996, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate. During his first race, he said, he had an epiphany that eventually set him on the path of corporate governance reform. While staying at a hotel on the bank of the Penobscot River, he says, he saw a wall of white foam coming down the river. He learned that it came from the paper companies in the area.

After that election, he became chairman of a trust company with paper company holdings. Mr. Monks said he wrote letters urging these companies to improve their environmental practices. The Clean Water Act of 1972 and its various amendments eventually provided the impetus for a significant cleanup of the river.

In some ways, corporations have become more powerful and shareholders have become less involved, he said, yet he is not discouraged.

“I’ve had so little tangible success and yet I’ve never been happier,” he said. “Each one of us needs to ask what we can contribute. I’ve tried to expose the illusion of corporate democracy. It’s a cost to all of

2/26/16

German Fin-Min Schauble opposes G20 fiscal stimulus package- by Axel Schmidt

Germany's Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday that the expansive fiscal and monetary policies implemented by governments to spur growth might have laid the foundation of the next economic crisis.

Those debt-financed fiscal policies and accommodative monetary policies had been only moderately successful in promoting growth, with public and private debt levels in the world now too high, Schaeuble said.

"Fiscal as well as monetary policies have reached their limits. If you want the real economy to grow there are no shortcuts which avoid reforms," Schaeuble said.

read more: German FinMin Schauble opposes G20 fiscal stimulus package

EU: Why The European Periphery Needs A Post-Euro Strategy - by Thomas Fazi

 n recent weeks, Germany has put forward two proposals for the ‘future viability’ of the EMU that, if approved, would radically alter the nature of the currency union. For the worse.

The first proposal, already at the centre of high-level intergovernmental discussions, comes from the German Council of Economic Experts, the country’s most influential economic advisory group (sometimes referred to as the ‘five wise men’). It has the backing of the Bundesbank, of the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and, it would appear, even of Mario Draghi.

Ostensibly aimed at ‘severing the link between banks and government’ (just like the banking union) and ‘ensuring long-term debt sustainability’, it calls for: (i) removing the exemption from risk-weighting for sovereign exposures, which
 essentially means that government bonds would longer be considered a risk-free asset for banks (as they are now under Basel rules), but would be ‘weighted’ according to the ‘sovereign default risk’ of the country in question (as determined by the fraud-prone rating agencies depicted in The Big Short); (ii) putting a cap on the overall risk-weighted sovereign exposure of banks; and (iii) introducing an automatic ‘sovereign insolvency mechanism’ that would essentially extend to sovereigns the bail-in rule introduced for banks by the banking union, meaning that if a country requires financial assistance from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), for whichever reason, it will have to lengthen sovereign bond maturities (reducing the market value of those bonds and causing severe losses for all bondholders) and, if necessary, impose a nominal ‘haircut’ on private creditors.

Read more: Why The European Periphery Needs A Post-Euro Strategy

Turkey High Court Frees Two Journalists After Court Rules Detention Violated Rights - by Jack Moore

Turkey on Friday Februari 19  released two journalists jailed for their reporting on the government’s alleged smuggling of arms to Syrian rebels, after the country’s highest court ruled that the detention violated their rights.

Turkish authorities detained Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, and Erdem Gul, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, in November over the publication of the controversial report. Prosecutors had sought life sentences for both men, on spying charges for revealing state secrets.

The court ruled on Thursday that both journalists’ “rights to personal liberty and security had been violated.” The court approved their release by 12 votes to three.

In a statement, the court added that the three-month detention violated “their freedom of expression and freedom of press.”

Authorities released them from the Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul in the early hours of Friday to a waiting crowd of supporters.

“This is a trial of press freedom,” Dundar said. “We got out but more than 30 colleagues are still in prison. I hope that this ruling will pave way for their freedom as well.”

The editor said that he would battle for the rights of the press to express itself freely in the country “until this concentration camp that you see behind me becomes a museum,” referring to the prison.

The Cumhuriyet report published images of what appeared to be Turkish vehicles transporting weaponry and ammunition to militants in the Syrian civil war. Turkey’s leadership is a staunch opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index 2015, Turkey ranked 149th for press freedom out of 180 countries in the world. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) says that Turkey allows one of the most free press corps in the world.

Read more: Turkey Frees Two Journalists After Court Rules Detention Violated Rights

Ukraine: Can Ukraine Save Itself? - by Geoffrey Berlin

Two years after Ukraine’s “Maidan uprising,” the Ukrainian people’s expectations for government reform and economic progress are being betrayed.

Last week, Ukraine’s Parliament voted to declare the work of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government to be “unsatisfactory.” It then fell short on a no-confidence vote that would have dismissed his government.

Two minority parties have now exited the governing coalition, depriving it of a majority in parliament.

In fact, this political turmoil offers Mr. Yatsenyuk an 11th-hour opportunity to salvage his country’s increasingly desperate state of affairs and get his government’s reform program back on track.

Read more: Can Ukraine Save Itself? - The Globalist

EU Commission questions legality of Hungary’s migrant referendum

The European Commission says Hungary’s planned referendum on the EU’s quota plan for asylum seekers may be at odds with an agreed strategy to handle the refugee crisis.

Hungary, whose border fence to keep migrants out underlines its stance, had already rebuffed the plan to accept a mandatory number of migrants who have arrived in Europe.

On Thursday Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a referendum saying it would be a test of European democracy.

On Friday it outlined its reasoning in a summary of an interview Orban gave to the German newspaper Bild, published on the Hungarian government website.

In Brussels the EU executive questioned Hungary’s stance, saying they were seeking clarification from Budapest on the planned referendum.

Read more: EU Commission questions legality of Hungary’s migrant referendum | euronews, world news

2/25/16

EU: End to Schengen could mean a dramatic decline in growth for Europe - by Dr. Ulrich Schoof

A permanent reinstatement of internal border controls would have a dramatic effect on economic growth throughout Europe, causing a noticeable decline in prosperity. For Germany alone, lower growth might be expected to produce cumulated losses of at least 77 billion euros between 2016 and 2025.

 In a more pessimistic scenario, losses could amount to as much as 235 billion euros. For the EU as a whole, they would be likely to reach 470 billion. If Schengen were to collapse, moreover, the negative economic effects would be felt even outside of Europe. These are the findings of a recent study conducted by Prognos AG on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Reinstating border checks would result in higher costs and prices, which would have a negative impact on Europe's economic growth. Even in an optimistic scenario, which assumes that the price of goods imported from other European countries would rise by only a moderate one percent, growth would decline substantially.

 Based on conservative assumptions, Germany's weaker growth would produce losses of up to 77 billion euros over the ten-year period from 2016 to 2025. France's cumulative losses would amount to 80.5 billion euros. Over ten years, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Europe as a whole would drop by some 470 billion euros. A more pessimistic scenario assumes that the price of imports would increase by three percent. Cumulated GDP losses would then total 235 billion euros in Germany, 244 billion euros in France and 1.4 trillion euros in the EU.

Read more: End to Schengen could mean a dramatic decline in growth for Europe

EU Migrant Crises: The EU must be able to face, acknowledge and fix the root of the problem - by RM

As the saying goes "concern yourself more accepting responsibility than with assigning blame".

US continuous criticism of the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis is the case in point .

Let's face it - the EU migrant crises comes as a direct result of a Europe which is still blindly following a US led foreign policy which is part of the so-called "allied commitments".

When these plans,however, as most of them usually do, turn into human disaster, Europe is required to carry the burden of fixing the mess afterwards..

The above specifically reflects on a totally flawed EU Middle-East foreign policy (a carbon copy of that of the US), specially in regions of the Muslim World, the Middle East and North Africa.

Where exactly is the line between inaction and complicity? The notion of neutrality, for a country as powerful as the United States, is illusory. Doing nothing or “doing no harm” means maintaining or reverting to the status quo, which in the Middle East is never neutral, due to America’s and Europe's  longstanding relationships with regional political actors.

Europe’s refugee crisis might feel a million miles away for many Americans, but there is something everyone can relate to: money:  and this ompletely messed up Middle East foreign policy could cost the United States several hundred billion dollars eventually.

That’s according to the Bertelsmann Foundation, a respected think tank here in Germany, which looked at the potential economic consequences if Europe were to reinstate border controls within its 26-country passport-free travel area.

As the continent buckles under the weight of the most serious refugee crisisever  since World War II, the breakdown of that zone, known as the Schengen Area, has loomed as a dark prospect.

Reinstating border checks are bad for European business, experts say. They would even stunt economic growth through a vicious cycle that starts with higher labor costs — thanks to long lines at borders — and ends with declining sales and lower production.

If this happens it would mean major economic losses for the EU could reach up to 1.4 trillion by 2025.

So what to do about it? It would basically need two essental steps to be taken by the EU .

The first would be to immediately decouple the EU foreign policy from that of the failed US Middle East foreign policy; secondly, invest in a  far reaching Euro-Mediterranean - North African Free Trade Area, which would aim at establishing peace and prosperity in the area by removing barriers to trade and investment between both the EU and countries in that area, based on mutual respect and recognition of all  freely elected governments, religious freedom and cultural ties.

It obviously would be a long and difficult process, but the results would certainly be far more rewarding, productive and beneficial to all the people in the area, and obviously less costly than the useless and destructive military campaigns most nations within the EU and the US are presently involved in.

EU-Digest  
 

EU Migrant crisis: Greece recalls ambassador from Austria amid EU rifts - by Richard Galpin

Greece has recalled its ambassador to Austria amid sharp divisions among EU states over the migrant crisis.
It came after Austria hosted a meeting with Balkan states on the migrant issue, to which Greece was not invited.

Meanwhile, EU and Balkan interior ministers have met in Brussels to try to heal rifts over the migrant issue.
Speaking afterwards, the EU's migration commissioner warned that the bloc's migration system could be days away from complete breakdown.

Dimitris Avramopoulos said member states had until a 7 March summit with Turkey to curb the number of migrants.

"In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground," he told reporters.
"Otherwise there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down."

Austria, Serbia and Macedonia have taken their own steps to limit entry to migrants, angering Greece, which fears the controls will cause a bottleneck. The measures also threaten Europe's Schengen passport-free travel area that spans 26 countries.

Note EU-Digest:  Greece's migration minister has accused fellow EU countries of hypocrisy and lying about Greece's handling of the huge migrant influx from Turkey.

"This discussion that we do not have control of our border - this is a lie," Yiannis Mouzalas said.
"We have the best control of a sea border that anyone can have," he added.

Read more: Migrant crisis: Greece recalls ambassador from Austria amid EU rifts - BBC News

Spain Discovers Parliamentarianism - by Diego Baes

Mariano Rajoy - obstructionist policies ?
It took Spain’s political parties a staggering 44 days to properly react and face head-on the outcome of the general election on 20 December. In a country hardly accustomed to tight election results and coalition talks, the aftermath of the vote left the political class not only in dismay but, more worryingly, in stasis.

Two months after a general election that has so far failed to produce a government, the running joke among the country’s chattering classes has become that Spain is now Italy. But without Italians. Or, more precisely, without the Italian nerve of steel for brinkmanship and their long history managing it.

The other joke — this one much more serious and revealing of the political culture — is that for almost 40 years Spain functioned as a presidential system disguised in parliamentarian robes. A de facto two-party system was able to amass enough votes on either side of the political divide to produce strong and stable governments that could turn the parliamentary chamber into a mere extension of the executive branch.

Until this last election, that is. It has not only buried the two-party system and suddenly forced parliamentarian manners on the political culture but also revealed a lack of political stewardship and negotiation skills that is putting Spain’s still young democracy to the test. As for the public and the media, they have required a crash course on the rules and procedures of a genuine parliamentary system of government.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment since the election came when Mariano Rajoy, head of the conservative PP and acting prime minister, rejected the King’s offer to — as head of the list with the most votes — lead the effort to gather support in the Cortes (176 votes needed for outright majority) to form a government. Rajoy declared himself unwilling while insisting he was not stepping aside.

 A tactical maneuver that went against a basic tenet of parliamentarian life: if the party with the most votes is unable to form a government, other parties get a shot. Rajoy wanted it both ways: avoid the political costs of a failed attempt while remaining on the sidelines arguing that his party had the most votes and therefore the right to govern.

Note EU-Digest: Mariano Rajoy seems to have received his "basic political training" in obstructionist politics from fellow Conservatives in the US Republican party, who also have a habit of using undemocratic obstructionist tactics. 

Read more: Spain Discovers Parliamentarianism

2/24/16

Brexit: UK PM Cameron has edge over London mayor Johnson in fight for EU swing vote says poll - by Estelle Shirbon

Prime Minister David Cameron, campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union, has the edge over London Mayor Boris Johnson, the most popular figure in the "Out" camp, in trying to sway the key group of undecided voters, a new poll indicated.

Evidence on which camp was ahead from another poll taken after Cameron's deal on new EU membership terms for Britain struck on Feb. 19 showed both sides were neck and neck.

The ruling Conservative Party is deeply split on the EU issue to be decided in a June 23 referendum, with Cameron and Johnson the figureheads of the opposing camps vying in particular for the support of moderate Conservatives, regarded as the pivotal, swing group of voters.

Overall, the latest ComRes telephone poll for the Daily Mail found that the "In" camp was ahead by 12 points at 51 percent, though its lead had narrowed since details emerged of Cameron's deal with the other 27 EU heads of government in Brussels.

An online YouGov poll for the Times found the sides were neck and neck, reflecting a trend that has been apparent for several months whereby phone polls have found "In" far ahead while online polls have found much closer results.

The YouGov poll, which had the "Out" camp one point ahead at 38 percent, suggested a drop in support for the "Brexit" option, which had been ahead by nine points in a poll published on Feb. 5, before Cameron's deal was finalised.

ComRes interviewed 1,000 people between Friday and Monday, while the YouGov poll of 3,482 people was conducted between Sunday and Tuesday. Both straddled key news developments.

Cameron clinched his EU agreement late on Friday night and announced on Saturday that the official government position was to campaign for an "In" vote. Britain has been in the EU since 1973 and has its second largest economy.

Six members of his cabinet defected to the "Out" side on Friday and Saturday, while on Sunday Johnson, who is not in the cabinet but has far greater popular appeal than those who are, came out for Brexit in a blaze of publicity


Read more: UK PM Cameron has edge over London mayor Johnson in fight for EU swing vote: poll | Reuters

EU Refugee Crises: EU-NATO coordination set to deepen, say Mogherini and Stoltenberg

EU and NATO coordination has started to tackle the refugee crisis and will be further deepened, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told MEPs and national MPs in the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, February 23.

"European and national parliaments can play a crucial role in these times and should remain connected", said Ms Mogherini, welcoming the participation of members of national parliaments in the debate with MEPs on Tuesday morning.

After outlining recent EU foreign affairs "success stories" (Colombia peace process, nuclear deal with Iran, etc.), Ms Mogherini turned to more worrying issues, such as the conflict in Syria, but remained optimistic: "After 5 years of war things are moving in the right direction", she said, welcoming the Monday’s US-Russia deal to enforce a ceasefire in Syria. Asked about the EU's role in this conflict, Ms Mogherini replied that "the major EU role is the humanitarian one, which does not mean being a charity but working on a humanitarian access on the ground."

"We see failures in management of refugee flows but we do not underline enough the success we achieve in saving lives", she continued, pointing out that “Decisions on relocation, resettlements, hotspots, returns have been made. All must be implemented now and it requires a mix of efforts on national and European levels.” The EU partnership with NATO will be “deepened to tackle this crisis”, she promised.

EU-Digest

EU-US Economy: Why more defense spending in the EU and US could slow technology growth

The “peace dividend” that helped propel the global economy after 1989 is in jeopardy.

After 1989, defense spending declined, freeing up resources. U.S. defense spending fell from around 5.5% of GDP in 1989 to 2.6% of GDP in 2000. The reduction in defense spending was even more marked in both Western Europe and in the Russian Federation.

As a result, scientific and mathematical resources previously employed in the defense-industrial infrastructure were redeployed, helping to accelerate the growth of other parts of the economy, especially technology.

Moreover, the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the integration of formerly communist economies into the Western trading economy, opening up new markets.

The global labor pool doubled to almost 3 billion workers from around 1.5 billion, reducing production costs and keeping inflation low. The dissolution of Cold War alliances and improved security conditions for trade and commerce provided impetus to globalization of production and capital flows.

Read more: Why more defense spending could slow technology growth - MarketWatch

US election 2016: Divided nation split into 'alien tribes'

More like "alien tribes" than rival parties. That's how the Pew Research Center describes how the two sides in an increasingly divided America see each other.

They can't stand the other side's viewpoint - and because hyper-partisan news and social media enables them to live in ideological isolation - they don't even have to try to understand it.

The BBC's Franz Strasser looks at the demographic trends that have made the US increasingly divided.

Read more: US election 2016: Divided nation split into 'alien tribes' - BBC News

2/23/16

US Politics: Are We Witnessing the Death of America's Political Establishment? - by Robert Reich

Step back from the campaign fray for just a moment and consider the enormity of what’s already occurred.

A 74-year-old Jew from Vermont who describes himself as a democratic socialist, who wasn’t even a Democrat until recently, has come within a whisker of beating Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus, routed her in the New Hampshire primary, and garnered over 47 percent of the caucus-goers in Nevada, of all places.

And a 69-year-old billionaire who has never held elective office or had anything to do with the Republican Party has taken a commanding lead in the Republican primaries.

Something very big has happened, and it’s not due to Bernie Sanders’ magnetism or Donald Trump’s likeability.

It’s a rebellion against the establishment.

The question is why the establishment has been so slow to see this. A year ago – which now seems like an eternity – it proclaimed Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush shoe-ins.

Both had all the advantages – deep bases of funders, well-established networks of political insiders, experienced political advisors, all the name recognition you could want.

But even now that Bush is out and Hillary is still leading but vulnerable, the establishment still doesn’t see what’s occurred. They explain everything by pointing to weaknesses: Bush, they now say, “never connected” and Hillary “has a trust problem.”

A respected political insider recently told me most Americans are largely content. “The economy is in good shape,” he said. “Most Americans are better off than they’ve been in years. The problem has been the major candidates themselves.”

I beg to differ.

Economic indicators may be up but they don’t reflect the economic insecurity most Americans still feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience.

Nor do the major indicators show the linkages Americans see between wealth and power, crony capitalism, declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, and a billionaire class that’s turning our democracy into an oligarchy.
Median family income lower now than it was sixteen years ago, adjusted for inflation.

Most economic gains, meanwhile, have gone to top.

These gains have translated into political power to rig the system with bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, special tax loopholes, trade deals, and increasing market power – all of which have further pushed down wages pulled up profits.

Those at the very top of the top have rigged the system even more thoroughly. Since 1995, the average income tax rate for the 400 top-earning Americans has plummeted from 30 percent to 17 percent.

Wealth, power, and crony capitalism fit together. So far in the 2016 election, the richest 400 Americans have accounted for over a third of all campaign contributions.

Americans know a takeover has occurred and they blame the establishment for it.

There’s no official definition of the “establishment” but it presumably includes all of the people and institutions that have wielded significant power over the American political economy, and are therefore deemed complicit.

Read more: Robert Reich: Are We Witnessing the Death of America's Political Establishment? | Alternet

The EU and TTIP: Secret document reveals EU offer to drop 97 percent of tariffs - Justus von Daniels and Marta Orosz

We now know that the TTIP negotiations entered a decisive phase on October 15, 2015. That’s when US and EU representatives laid their cards on the table, exchanging offers to cut taxes on imports from each other. Up until then, the US had only broached hypothetical reductions; now they were openly offering to remove 87.5 percent of tariffs completely.

That was more than the EU expected. European negotiators had to agree a better offer, or risk derailing the deal. A week later, they did came up with a new proposal: reductions in 97 percent of tariff categories.

The EU’s secret offer, which CORRECTIV has seen in its entirety, is made up of 181 pages of densely-printed text and can be found here. It’s got almost 8,000 categories: Every species of fish, every chemical has its own tariff category. Importing a parka? Wool, or polyester?

Trade deals are like poker games. Europe’s big offer comes with a big hope: That the US will open up its public bidding process to European firms. That way, European construction companies could bid on contracts to build US highways, or BMW could sell cop cars to American sheriffs.

For the first time, the tariff offer makes clear what TTIP might do for consumers: remove duties, and prices tend to drop. With tariffs on parts gone, cars could get cheaper. Per part, tariffs add just a few cents on the euro, but altogether European car manufacturers could save a billion Euros each year, according to German Association of the Automotive Industry calculations. Manufacturers could then pass the savings on to consumers.

The EU is now waiting for the US to offer a substantial deal on public procurement. In a September 15 report obtained by CORRECTIV, the European Commission says “it definitely expects that the US will offer to open public procurement at a future point in time, in exchange for the revised tariff offer.”

That report also indicated that the US “promised to make a proposal regarding public procurement for the first time” when the EU and US put forth their symmetrical tariff reductions, eliminating 97 percent of all tariffs.
Public bids are a major TTIP sticking point. The EU wants the US to finally open its markets to allow firms like Balfour Beattie or BMW to compete when cities put out a call for bids on a new building or fleet of cars. The US is less than eager, because that would subject domestic companies – which are already allowed to bid on projects in the EU – to increased competition.

Four days before the next negotiation round starts, the European Commission has now indicated that they don’t expect a comprehensive offer. Sources said that the US haven’t sent their proposal yet and that public procurement will be discussed right after the official negotiation round. The 12th round of negotiations started this Monday in Brussels.

Read more: TTIP: Secret document reveals EU offer to drop 97 percent of tariffs | openDemocracy

Facebook Is Making a Map of Everyone in the World - Robinson Meyer

Americans inhabit an intricately mapped world. Type “Burger King” into an online box, and Google will cough up a dozen nearby options, each keyed to a precise latitude and longitude.


But throughout much of the world, local knowledge stays local. While countries might conduct censuses, the data doesn’t go much deeper than the county or province level.

Take population data, for instance: More than 7.4 billion humans sprawl across this planet of ours. They live in dense urban centers, in small towns linked by farms, and alone on the outskirts of jungles. But no one’s sure where, exactly, many of them live.

Now, Facebook says it has mapped almost 2 billion people better than any previous project. The company’s Connectivity Labs announced this week that it created new, high-resolution population-distribution maps of 20 countries, most of which are developing. 
 
It won’t release most of the maps until later this year, but if they’re accurate, they will be the best-quality population maps ever made for most of those places.

The maps will be notable for another reason, too: If they’re accurate, they’ll signal the arrival of a new, AI-aided age of cartography.


In the rich world, reliable population information is taken for granted. (There are even nerd jokes about the need to remove population density from U.S. geographical data.)

But elsewhere, population-distribution maps have dozens of applications in different fields. Urban planners need to estimate city density so they can place and improve roads. Epidemiologists and public-health workers use them to track outbreaks or analyze access to health care. And after a disaster, population maps can be used (along with crisis mapping) to prioritize where emergency aid gets sent.

 In the next half decade, a fleet of Silicon Valley-funded satellite companies will release many more terabytes of imagery to the public than was previously available to civilians. These photos will be cheaper than ever before, and they’ll be more recent: Thanks to cheaper rockets and advances in small satellite-building, some companies are promising “revisit rates” of six or seven times per week.

This new data won’t be valuable unless companies—especially financial companies—get good at deciphering it without human labor. Already, startups like Skybox (owned by Alphabet) and Descartes Labs say they’ve made advances in pulling information out of pictures without a person sitting at the table. If Facebook’s map works, it’ll be one more sign that such a goal is feasible.

Read more: Facebook Is Making a Map of Everyone in the World - The Atlantic

President Obama: Rolling Stone Names President Obama ‘One of the Most Successful Presidents in American History’

In the mag, Nobel Prize- winning economist Paul Krugman wrote an amazing piece in defense of President Obama’s presidency.

Krugman declares President Obama as one of the “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history” and acknowledges the harsh and often unfair criticism he endures.

 Read more: Rolling Stone Names President Obama ‘One of the Most Successful Presidents in American History’ | 93.1 WZAK

USA: From Jerry Springer to Donald Trump: How America Lost its Damn Mind - by Jenn-Anne

Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican Party's nomination for President of the United States, which makes it official: America has lost its damn mind.

And I have a theory about how this happened.

The line between reality and reality TV has blurred in this country.

And it can all be traced back to Jerry Springer

Read more: From Jerry Springer to Donald Trump: How America Lost its Damn Mind

2/22/16

US Presidential Elections: How Clintonism Loses the White House - by Michael J. Brenner

The Clinton juggernaut is losing traction – and exposing a long-simmering fundamental split within the party.

Powered by the full weight of the Democratic Establishment, the juggernaut was designed to smoothly carry its idol across America and into the White House without a hitch.

It still may get there. But now it must traverse a far more treacherous and uncertain route than Secretary Clinton and her entourage ever imagined.

The course is lined with the pundits, operatives and analysts who will cover the spectacle with their usual attention to trivia and a faith in their own perspicacity matching that of the heroine herself.

This was all predictable. Fortunes could be made betting against the “Washington consensus” – in both the pundit class and the party establishments – whose singular talent for getting it wrong extends from the country’s endless skein of foreign misadventures to electoral politics.

They give the impression of all sipping out of each other’s double-lattes at Starbucks in Dupont Circle. On the Democratic side, the resulting damage done to the party’s traditional constituents, to the integrity of national discourse and to America’s interests in the world is incalculable – and may well be irreparable.

Read more: How Clintonism Loses the White House - The Globalist

'Brexit' could leave Britain vulnerable says Europol

Britain's citizens could be left more vulnerable to attacks by terror groups and organised crime gangs if they decide to leave the European Union, the continent's policing agency warned Monday.

"I see a very clear picture of the United Kingdom's dependency on the EU to help protect its security interest," Europol's director Rob Wainwright said in The Hague.

Should Britain leave in a so-called "Brexit" it will "no longer have the benefits that it currently has," Wainwright told reporters in The Hague, speaking on the sidelines of a conference on combatting migrant smugglers into Europe.

This included "direct access to our database, the ability to involve itself into our intelligence projects and many other areas," he said.

Europol's warning follows remarks by British Prime Minister David Cameron over the weekend that a Brexit would offer "risk in a time of uncertainty."

Britain would be "safer, stronger and better off" in the 28-member bloc, Cameron said Saturday after announcing June 23 as the date for a referendum on the issue.

The issue has deeply divided Britain's ruling Conservative Party with five cabinet members as well as London's outspoken mayor Boris Johnson supporting the "Leave" campaign, and the country's continued security is a key issue.

Read more: Flash - 'Brexit' could leave Britain vulnerable: Europol - France 24

Middle East - Syria - Press coverage: The media are misleading the public on Syria - by Stephen Kinzer

The Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, “The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS — so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?”

This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.ns Americans are being told that the virtuous course in Syria is to fight the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners. We are supposed to hope that a righteous coalition of Americans, Turks, Saudis, Kurds, and the “moderate opposition” will win.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics.

Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington.

In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS.

Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.

Politicians may be forgiven for distorting their past actions. Governments may also be excused for promoting whatever narrative they believe best suits them. Journalism, however, is supposed to remain apart from the power elite and its inbred mendacity. In this crisis it has failed miserably.

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it. The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story.

 In Syria, it is: “Fight Assad, Russia, and Iran! Join with our Turkish, Saudi, and Kurdish friends to support peace!” This is appallingly distant from reality. It is also likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. 

Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS.

Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.

Politicians may be forgiven for distorting their past actions. Governments may also be excused for promoting whatever narrative they believe best suits them. Journalism, however, is supposed to remain apart from the power elite and its inbred mendacity. In this crisis it has failed miserably.

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it. The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story. In Syria, it is: “Fight Assad, Russia, and Iran! Join with our Turkish, Saudi, and Kurdish friends to support peace!” This is appallingly distant from reality. It is also likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death

Read more: The media are misleading the public on Syria - Boston Globe - by Stephen Kinzer 

EU Refugee Crises:‘Criminal refugee smuggling enormous business-bigger than guns & drugs", says Czech defense minister

Where is the NATO promised support to stop this?
The business of smuggling illegal migrants to Europe far exceeds the volume of black market trade of drugs and weapons in the EU, said the Czech Defense Minister, who has “no illusions” of Turkey or Greece’s ability to curb illegal smuggling networks.

“The size of criminal business involving the transport of illegal migrants to Europe is enormous, it exceeds the turnover from the sale of drugs and weapons, making – without exaggeration – billions of EUROS,” said Martin Stropnicky.

The EU border agency Frontex estimates that people-smuggling networks made more than €4 billion ($4.45bn) from their criminal activities last year, with the biggest piece of the pie stemming from smuggling migrants.

That profit is further used to support the illicit drugs and weapons trade.

As over 1.83 million people made it into the European Union in 2015, according to Frontex, Stropnicky expressed doubts about Turkey’s and Greece’s ability to halt or at least deal with the bursting numbers of migrants.

He said that recent statics show that illegal migrant crossings are reaching 5,000 people a day, and this is before the start of the summer season when the waters of the Mediterranean get warmer. More than 870,000 migrants arrived on the Greek islands in 2015 using the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route alone.

Multiple “efficiently” organized smuggling networks operate along the route that smuggle people into Greece via the sea crossing though the Aegean, where the distance between the Turkish coast and Greek islands is as little as 4 nautical miles (7.5 km). These networks which are organized through the use of the social media make a large portion of their profit by selling illegal documents to those fleeing the conflict zones.

“In addition to organizing the sea crossing, smugglers give the migrants information about the asylum processes in different EU member states and sell them forged documents. The highest demand is for Syrian passports, identification cards, birth certificates and residence permits,” Frontex claims.

The Czech Defense Minister also criticized Brussels’ ineffectiveness in coming up with a viable solution to limit the flow of migrants to its borders, echoing the Czech Republic’s president who has earlier criticized EU’s initiative to station some 1,500 border guards at the bloc's gate as laughable.

“I do not see 1,500 European police officers [on southern EU borders], I do not see new reception and identification centers agreed on at previous EU summits,” the defense minister said commenting on the latest EU meeting in Brussels where the bloc’s leaders debated Brexit alongside refugee crisis.

The minister further rejected the European Union’s pondering of "Plan B" which is to close the Balkan borders if necessary.

Despite efforts by European leaders to stem the flow of refugees arriving in Europe, the number of new arrivals has seen an increase in 2016. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more asylum seekers arrived in Europe by boat during the first six weeks of this year than during the first four months of 2015.

Note EU-Digest: It's high time something serious gets done to stop these criminal smuggling activities and curb the flow of refugees.  

What is happening to the earlier agreed on NATO navy support. This is a unique opportunity for NATO to get involved in a far more productive and useful activity than they have done so far.

Read more: ‘Enormous business’: Criminal refugee smuggling bigger than guns & drugs – Czech defense minister — RT News

Global Economy: Chilling ways the global economy echoes 1930s Great Depression era - by John Coumarianos

One view of what caused the Great Depression in the 1930s is that the Federal Reserve failed to prevent a collapse in the money supply.

This is the famous thesis of Milton Friedman’s and Anna Schwartz’s A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, and it was, more or less, the view of Ben Bernanke when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The global economy today resembles that of the 1930s in several ominous ways.

Financial author Edward Chancellor recently called attention to a paper written by Claudio Borio, head economist at the Bank of International Settlements, that provides a fuller picture of the causes of the Great Depression. The paper also draws parallels between global economic conditions that led to the rise of protectionism in the 1930s and our situation now.

Now, as in the 1930s, the global economy is stretched. A low interest-rate regime in the developed world has encouraged lending to emerging markets. Additionally, China’s and Europe’s banking systems are burdened with bad debts.
Moreover, last year, as Chancellor reports, emerging markets experienced their first capital outflows in nearly three decades, and that movement of capital appears to be continuing in 2016. Ratings agencies have downgraded South Africa and Brazil sovereign debt, while commodity prices continue to plunge.
Protectionism is in the air with the European Union and the U.S. imposing tariffs on Chinese steel. Also, anti-immigration sentiment is rising.

Although the additional restrictions imposed by a gold standard don’t exist today, the peg of Chinese yuan to the U.S. dollar DXY, +0.05%  is unsustainable in Chancellor’s opinion, as may be the euro EURUSD, -0.1617%

So much elasticity or the buildup of imbalances can be painful during the process of restoring balance. Therefore, regarding monetary policy, it’s important, according to Borio, to lean “against the build-up of financial imbalances even if near-term inflation remains low and stable.”

Borio’s paper was written in August 2014, so it’s difficult to know what advice he’d have for the Federal Reserve today. But in his paper, he notes that the imbalances that low rates and elasticity produce may “return us to the modern-day equivalent of the divisive competitive devaluations of the interwar years; and, ultimately, [trigger] an epoch-defining seismic rupture in policy regimes, back to an era of trade and financial protectionism and, possibly, stagnation combined with inflation.”

Read more: Chilling ways the global economy echoes 1930s Great Depression era - MarketWatch

Israel: Six Reasons Trump Would Be Disaster for Israel and the Middle East - Alexander Griffing

Donald Trump declares he “will be very good to Israel.” He declares his “closeness to Judaism”. But it didn’t take long on the campaign trail for his ignorance about Israel and the region, and a superabundance of Jewish caricatures, to slip out.

Trump has been roundly criticized for his lack of foreign policy knowhow. On the Hugh Hewitt show he couldn’t distinguish between Hezbollah and Hamas. On Meet the Press he said he gets most of foreign policy advice “from the shows.” His mendacity on the campaign trail, including claiming he has a foreign policy advisor who isn’t actually advising him, won Trump Politifact’s “Lie of the Year Award,” - not just for a single mistruth but for over 58 false statements made in 2015.

 But not to worry, when he couldn’t name the basic players in the Middle East, Trump promised Hugh Hewitt that he either wouldn’t need to know or he would learn it all before getting into office. “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin,” he said.

Trump regularly cites Israeli policies that already divide the American Jewish community as being both successful and replicable for the United States. He cites “the [separation] wall” in Israel as an example of why the United States should build a wall with Mexico, and has repeatedly called for “taking out the families of terrorists,” one long step further from the Israeli policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes.

Israel certainly wouldn’t gain reputationally from this emulation: As Ryan Lizza noted in the New Yorker after attending a Trump rally, “I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.”

Historically, the American leaders who have historically best served Israel’s interests were fuelled by ideological motivations. Truman recognized Israel, against the urging of the advisor he believed to be the greatest man alive, George Marshall, because of his Christian faith and deep belief in spreading universal values. America’s patronage of Israel has been based more on ideological and philosophical imperatives, with a dose of clear-sighted pragmatism, than any so-called “Jewish lobby.”

Donald Trump has shown no ideological underpinnings, other than “making America great again,” that would ensure he would support Israel in tough times. He’s already shown little backbone in standing up for other states’ independence against larger foes: When pressed on whether or not he believed Ukraine should be a part of NATO, he said he didn’t care. He feels no nostalgia for backing up strategic allies of half-a-century’s standing:

 "If somebody attacks Japan, we have to immediately go and start World War III, OK? If we get attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us. Somehow, that doesn't sound so fair. Does that sound good?" Trump said. Israel’s fate in terms of its military and strategic dependence on the U.S. would be subject to a kind of erratic opportunism based on Donald Trump’s whims and the latest subjects of his bunker mentality. 

Read more: Six Reasons Trump Would Be Disaster for Israel and the Middle East - Haaretz - Israeli News Source Haaretz.com

2/21/16

EU: Only when it is in peril is the idea of Europe so inspiring - by Fintan O’Toole

Most ideas prove themselves by working well. The idea of Europe, on the other hand, seems to be most powerful when it’s going disastrously wrong. Over the course of modern history, it appears that Europe becomes an urgent business only when it is threatened with disintegration.

When things are OK, Europe bores us to tears. It is 28 shades of grey. But plunge Europe into existential crisis and it suddenly seems to matter. This is the great paradox of the idea: it grips the imagination only when it is in a dire state. The odd way in which the threat of Brexit makes the notion of Europe interesting again is actually quite familiar.

Europe has always drawn energy from the proximity of catastrophe. The first modern conception of Europe – that of a Christian commonwealth of holy kingdoms – took hold because the Turks were at the gates of Vienna and the triumph of Islam in Europe seemed a real possibility.

The religious wars in which Catholic and Protestant powers tore each other apart were ended by appealing to that same idea of European Later, the Enlightenment conceptions of a European culture based on science, reason and human rights became most vividly urgent when it collapsed face down in the mud of Flanders.

And the European Union emerged from the ultimate degradation of the European Enlightenment ideal at Auschwitz. Threaten or destroy the idea of Europe and it becomes suddenly potent. Take it for granted and it atrophies.

In its 58 years, the EU has worked best when it has been, in the broadest sense, negative. It has stopped things happening. It stopped Germany destroying itself, and Europe, yet again. It stopped central and eastern Europe from descending into chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It did not stop the horrendous civil wars in Yugoslavia, but it has offered a way out of them for Slovenia and Croatia and at least a roadmap for Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

It also – and this is not acknowledged often enough – allowed Europe to escape at least some of its own most vicious hypocrisies. At the heart of the idea of Europe were notions of superiority – of Christianity over Islam and of scientific rationalism over the benighted superstitions of lesser peoples. This superiority manifested itself in the barbarism of empires. “European”, to much of the world, meant a rapacious white man with a gun.

Maybe the British referendum will be the moment at which the EU begins to reconnect with its roots in the positive side of fear. Not a Project Fear of warning the Brits how harsh their lives will be outside an imaginary European Garden of Eden, but the energising fear that the world can be a pretty bad place if we don’t work in common to make it more equal, more democratic and more sustainable.

Read more: Only when it is in peril is the idea of Europe so inspiring | Fintan O’Toole | Opinion | The Guardian

Donald Trump and Europe: Donald Trump Predicts Germany’s Merkel Will 'Be Out if They Don’t Have A Revolution’ - by Michael Patrick Leahy

GOP front runner Donald Trump tells Breitbart executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon that Germany’s Angela Merkel is “a catastrophic leader” and that “she’ll be out if they don’t have a revolution.

 On Friday’s February 19 Breitbart News Daily radio program, heard on the Sirius-XM Patriot Channel, Trump said, “When you look at Europe, I have friends that live in Germany, they’re leaving.

I have friends that are leaving Germany because of what’s happened.” Trump was discussing Merkel’s policy of allowing thousands of unvetted Muslim refugees to come into the country. Merkel is struggling just weeks after being named TIME magazine person of the year.

“You know, what Merkel has done is incredible, it’s actually mind boggling. Everyone thought she was a really great leader and now she’s turned out to be this catastrophic leader. And she’ll be out if they don’t have a revolution,” he continued.

Trump said that all of Europe is turning into “a total disaster” because of unwise immigration policies:

Read more: Donald Trump Predicts Germany’s Merkel Will 'Be Out if They Don’t Have A Revolution’ - Breitbart