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5/31/16

The Netherlands: Dutch debtors to get 6 month payment break - by Janene Pieters

The Netherlands plans to give people who are deeply in debt a six month break in which they don’t have to make payments, won’t get reminders for payments and won’t get a visit from a bailiff, State Secretary Jetta Klijnsma of Social Affairs and Minister Ard van der Steur of Security and Justice announced on Tuesday, NU reports.

With this break the government wants to give debtors the opportunity to catch their breath, create some order and make a plan to pay off their debt. During the six month period, income above the minimum standard will still be put aside for eventual debt repayment.

The government hopes to implement the measure by January 1st next year. The proposal was drawn up in consultation with debt relief association NVVK, bailiffs, the association of Dutch municipalities VNG and the four major cities.

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, long insisted that a plan be made to give people in debt a breather. The ChristenUnie and the CDA eventually gave up on waiting for the State Secretary and submitted their own legislative proposal. But during a Kamer debate last month, Klijnsma promised to set up a proposal as soon as possible.

Read more: Dutch debtors to get 6 month payment break - NL Times

Russia-EU: Are we finally witnessing a thaw in Russia-EU relations? - by Bryan MacDonald

The process seemed to begin on the morning of May 25 when Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned Ukraine's Nadiya Savchenko, whose detention and conviction had caused Western outrage. Immediately, EU officials were falling over themselves to celebrate the move.

By the weekend, the German news weekly Der Spiegel, which is often regarded as the house journal of Angela Merkel's CDU party, was reporting that Berlin was considering the relaxation of sanctions against Russia.

Of course, the motives here might not be totally benevolent. After all, some EU leaders – most notably in France, Italy and Greece – have expressed dissatisfaction with the policy. As a result, Merkel may feel that retaining unity on the issue, as things stand, is impossible and that compromise is needed to preserve EU consensus.

Whatever the reasons, the fact that Der Spiegel carried the story almost certainly means that it reflects German government thinking. And talk of sanctions rollback is music to Moscow's ears right now.

Then, just when the Kremlin was digesting the notion of the embargo easing, up popped Jean-Claude Juncker with even better news. On May 30, the EU Commission president revealed that he will attend next month's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, widely known as the "Russian Davos." His spokeswoman said that "he will use this opportunity to convey to the Russian leadership as well as to a wider audience the EU's perspective regarding the current state of EU-Russia relations."

Leonard Cohen once wrote that "there's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Yet, it has taken a long time for Brussels and Moscow to uncover a luminous crevice. Russians will now hope that this diplomatic winter is finally over. So will many of the European businesses that have suffered under Moscow's counter-sanctions.

Note EU-Digest: Hopefully this thaw in the frozen relationship between the EU and Russia will also signal the beginning of a more independent foreign policy for the EU. A foreign policy which is more focused on the interests of the EU, rather than tagging along with the US on their foreign military adventures, which so  far have not been very successful or beneficial to the EU, to say the least.

Read more: Are we finally witnessing a thaw in Russia-EU relations? - UPI.com

5/30/16

Britain: Brexit campaign pulls left and right together

The campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union is creating some strange alliances.
Prime Minister David Cameron from the right and newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan from the left hit the campaign trail together.

Cameron said it was symbolic of the wider agreement across the political spectrum.

Khan said the issue is more important than differences between them: “You know the economic case is crystal clear – the evidence is compelling. From the treasury, from the IMF (International Monetary Fund), from the Bank of England, and from many others. Here in London, I see more than half a million jobs directly dependent on the European Union.”

Cameron – calling himself a Euro-sceptic – stressed he had pushed to cut the European budget: “I would say that when we admit frustrations with the European Union, and we sometimes do and I certainly have, that is not a cause of weakness in our campaign, it is a cause of strength in our campaign because we are levelling with people.”

The pairing was particularly strange to some given that during the London Mayoral race the Conservative party candidate Zac Goldsmith had joined forces with Cameron and other senior members of his members to question Khan’s past appearances alongside radical Muslim speakers at public events, accusing him of giving “oxygen” to extremists.

Cameron and Khan were speaking just after the release of a survey that showed nine out of 10 of Britain’s top economists believe the economy will be harmed if the UK leaves the European Union

The poll of more than 600 economists working in the City of London financial district, small business and academia found eighty eight percent of them thought an Brexit would most likely damage Britain’s growth prospects over the next five years.

While 82 percent said there would probably be a negative impact on UK household incomes.
Campaigners on both sides of the argument have targeted the economy as one of the main battle grounds to win round voters who are split in what is becoming an increasingly bitter fight over Britain’s future.

Read  more: Brexit campaign pulls left and right together | euronews, economy

USA: Memorial day: Our military justice oxymoron: Why we need to be more honest and realistic about the wars we fight —- by Chris Bray

In a recent New York Times story detailing efforts to challenge the current court-martial process for U.S. soldiers whose crimes may have been influenced by their mental health, reporter Dave Phillips interviews members of politically diverse coalition of law students and former soldiers who are ‘waging a joint campaign for one of the most unlikely causes: clemency for troops convicted of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.’

Their argument? That troops under intense pressure in combat zones are often unfairly judged and given harsh sentences because the public has sanitized and unrealistic expectations of war.”

This shared effort to re-balance postwar justice is not an unlikely cause. Rather, it’s an entirely normal cause, the nearly inevitable aftermath of a sustained war. Prolonged combat grinds down the armed forces, creating predictable crises for organizations trying to keep fighting in the face of continued losses.

The hunger for combat personnel leads to a reduction of standards, with the recruiting or retention of soldiers who aren’t psychologically fit to fight. They do improper things, or horrible things, and are tried by courts-martial. Then the war ends, and soldiers and lawyers try to clean up the result. It’s a process of cause and effect that’s about as predictable as the operation of a clock.

In World War II, soldiers initially classified by local draft boards as 4-F — unfit for military service because of mental or physical illnesses — were reclassified and drafted in the later years of the war. Among those was a small, nervous man named Eddie Slovik, a convicted petty criminal who had been in and out of jail for much of his young life. He deserted the first moment he could, hiding from combat and then plainly telling his commander that he would do it again. In one of the most famous cases in the history of military justice, Slovik was the only member of the American armed forces shot for desertion during the war.

A man who could barely function in the most ordinary circumstances as a civilian, he was sent to war and expected to adjust to it. The outcome was unsurprising.

Other soldiers executed during the war were equally unsuited to military service. Pvt. William Harrison, Jr., for example, sexually assaulted and murdered a seven year-old girl in Ireland. Walter Baldwin, who was tried in a hurry for the murder of a French citizen, and for the shooting of a second citizen who survived the attack, was a problem soldier whose final court-martial conviction was preceded by many others. In a study of World

War II military executions in Europe, the retired army officer French MacLean found evidence that Baldwin had been brought before “at least” six military courts before his execution. He was trouble as a soldier because he was troubled as a person, diagnosed by army psychiatrists as a “psychopath with emotional instability and inadequate personality.” That diagnosis preceded his deployment to France, not impeding an assignment to a war zone.

Rushing millions of men into giant armed forces, the American military ended up conducting more than 1.7 million courts-martial during World War II. After the war, the unmistakable failures and excesses of the military justice system led not only to the creation of several clemency boards, but also to the lawyer-driven, root-and-branch reform of American military law that eliminated the old Articles of War and replaced them with our current Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Later, during the Vietnam War, the desperate effort to replace combat losses led to Project 100,000 – a program that sharply lowered recruiting standards, bringing a flood of high school drop-outs into an army that often chose them for combat roles. It also led to the expansion of Officer Candidate School, and to the near-elimination of standards for completing it. Among the men commissioned as new second lieutenants in the expanded OCS was the grossly unfit William Calley, later to be the only soldier convicted for war crimes following the infamous My Lai massacre. A man who should never have been a military officer became a terrible military officer, another predictable event.

The recruiting and retention crises caused by sustained wars lead to horrifying acts, which lead to postwar attempts to reconsider the limits of justice for warriors who should never have been sent into combat. That entirely predictable reality should be baked into national policy and our shared understanding of war. The impact that it would have on military law would be enormous – and beneficial.

Read more: Our military justice oxymoron: Why we need to be more honest and realistic about the wars we fight — and the soldiers we send - Salon.com

Britain: Economists overwhelmingly reject Brexit in boost for Cameron

Nine out of 10 of Britain’s top economists working across academia, the City, industry, small businesses and the public sector believe the British economy will be harmed by Brexit, according to the biggest survey of its kind ever conducted.

A poll commissioned for the Observer and carried out by Ipsos MORI, which drew responses from more than 600 economists, found 88% saying an exit from the EU and the single market would most likely damage Britain’s growth prospects over the next five years.

A striking 82% of the economists who responded thought there would probably be a negative impact on household incomes over the next five years in the event of a Leave vote, with 61% thinking unemployment would rise.

Those surveyed were members of the profession’s most respected representative bodies, the Royal Economic Society and the Society of Business Economists, and all who replied did so voluntarily.

Paul Johnson, director of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the findings, from a survey unprecedented in its scale, showed an extraordinary level of unity. “For a profession known to agree about little, it is pretty remarkable to see this degree of consensus about anything,” Johnson said. “It no doubt reflects the level of agreement among many economists about the benefits of free trade and the costs of uncertainty for economic growth.”

The poll also found a majority of respondents – 57% – held the view that a vote for Brexit on 23 June would blow a hole in economic growth, cutting GDP by more than 3% over the next five years. Just 5% thought that there would probably be a positive impact.

The economists were also overwhelmingly pessimistic about the long-term economic impact of leaving the EU and the single market. Some 72% said that a vote to leave would most likely have a negative impact on growth for 10-20 years.

Just 4% of respondents who thought Brexit would mostly likely have a negative impact on GDP over the initial five years said it would have a positive effect over the longer term.

The findings – which come as 37 faith leaders write in a letter to the Observer warning that Brexit will damage the causes of peace and the fight against poverty – will bolster David Cameron and George Osborne, who have both argued strongly that the economy will be hit hard in the event of Brexit.

Read more: Economists overwhelmingly reject Brexit in boost for Cameron | Politics | The Guardian

EU-Russia: Juncker's Attendance of SPIEF Sign to Begin EU-Russia Dialogue

It is high time for reconcilliation
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s attendance of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is a sign that the EU is ready to begin dialogue with Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

Peskov said, however, that Juncker’s visit to St. Petersburg would not mean an immediate thaw in relations as time is needed to rebuild trust.

“Yes, Mr. Juncker’s arrival is expected and we’re preparing for this. Overall the issue of relations between Russia and the European Union is extremely important for the Russian Federation. [Relations] aren’t currently at their best,” Peskov told journalists.

Russia’s relations with the European Union will be discussed during a special session at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum (SPIEF) organized by the Valdai discussion club.

The SPIEF is an international economic and business event, which attracts politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and media from all over the world to discuss the most significant issues for Russia and the global community. The next SPIEF forum is scheduled for June 16-18.

Note EU-Digest: Compliments to Jean-Claude Juncker - Obviously the US does not like for the EU to decide about its own destiny, specially when it comes to foreign policy and military activities, regardless of all the mess it brought the EU in so far - Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and the refugee crises. It is high time the EU considers it's own interests first - improving relations with Russia on our own continent should certainly be a major priority.

Read more: Juncker's Attendance of SPIEF Sign to Begin EU-Russia Dialogue - Kremlin

Middle East: - Egypt court sentences Brotherhood leader Morsi to life

An Egyptian court Monday sentenced the Muslim Brotherhood's leader and 35 other people to life in prison over violent clashes after the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a judicial official said.

Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, has already been sentenced to death and prison terms in other trials.

The court also sentenced 48 defendants to jail terms ranging from three to 15 years, and acquitted 20 others.

The authorities have arrested thousands of Brotherhood leaders and members, including Morsi, since his ouster by the army in 2013.

Hundreds have been sentenced to death, although many have appealed and won retrials.

On Monday, the court convicted Badie and the other defendants of involvement in clashes in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya that killed three people.

The country was rocked by violence for weeks after Morsi's supporters set up protest camps and demonstrated against his overthrow.

The police killed hundreds of his supporters in clashes, including more than 600 on August 14, 2013 as they dispersed a Cairo protest camp.

Morsi, a senior Brotherhood leader, had won the country's first free election in 2012, more than a year after a popular uprising ousted veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

Read more: Flash - Egypt court sentences Brotherhood leader to life - France 24

5/29/16

World War One: Battle of Verdun: Hollande and Merkel remember WWI dead 100 years after Verdun Battle

Merkel and Hollande - the EU's corner-stone of unity
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande marked the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Verdun side-by-side on Sunday, laying a wreath at a cemetery in northeastern France for the 300,000 soldiers killed.

The Verdun battle was one of the longest in World War I, lasting more than 300 days from February to December 1916, and its commemoration has come to signify the reconciliation between Germany and France after decades of hostility and distrust following two world wars.

“We are side by side to tackle the challenges of today and first of all the future of Europe, because, as we know disappointment was followed by disenchantment, and after doubts came suspicion, and for some even rejection or break-up,” Hollande said in a closing speech at the ceremony.

It was not until 1984 that the neighbours carried out a joint ceremony to mark the Verdun battle, another step towards ending decades of residual hostility.

Read more: Hollande and Merkel remember WWI dead 100 years after Verdun Battle - France 24

EU-USA-TTIP: Obama’s Push for a New Transatlantic Relationship ( "with many flaws") - by Judy Dempsey

"TTIP not as good as being advertised"
U.S. President Barack Obama has only nine months left in office. He now seems a man in a hurry. During his visit to Europe on April 21–25, he made a big pitch for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would radically change the functioning of trade between European and U.S. companies.

Speaking in the German city of Hannover, where he opened one of the world’s biggest trade fairs, he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and scores of leading company executives how time was slipping by to clinch this trade deal. “If we don’t complete negotiations this year, then upcoming political transitions in the United States and Europe would mean this agreement won’t be finished for quite some time,” he said.


Obama’s pitch is long overdue. TTIP is not only about establishing a trade deal that would set crucial standards for how business is conducted. It is also about underpinning if not reviving the West’s liberal economic order, which is coming under massive pressure from Russia and particularly China.

After annexing Crimea in 2014 and later invading parts of eastern Ukraine, Russia is now meddling in Europe through a sophisticated propaganda campaign that does everything to publicize populist and Euroskeptic movements and anti-U.S. sentiments.

Russia is doing everything possible to rattle NATO weeks before the alliance holds a summit in Warsaw, where it will discuss how to improve the security of its Eastern members in the face of increasing Russian intimidation.

Europe’s divisions over refugees and TTIP also play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. A weakened Europe and a weakened transatlantic relationship are to Russia’s benefit. And to China’s.
Second only to the United States in terms of economic power, China is making a big bid to set new trading standards through its sheer size and political ambitions. Beijing’s huge investments in Africa and Latin America are about seeking allies to assert its authority and influence on the global stage.

That is why TTIP matters. If the deal does not go ahead, the West will have lost a major chance to regain its influence and set trading standards for the coming decades. Above all, Europe and the United States will have lost the opportunity to build a new transatlantic relationship, as the old one, built from the carnage of World War II, increasingly lacks the strategic importance and direction that it once had.

Despite the political and strategic significance of TTIP, European leaders have shied away from speaking out in favor of the deal. Merkel has rarely weighed in on an issue that has so far been successfully hijacked by a highly organized anti-TTIP campaign, not just in Germany but across Europe. Hours before Obama’s arrival in Hannover, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against TTIP.

Critics of TTIP insist that only big corporations will be the winners, that the United States will reap most of the benefits, and that consumers across Europe will be affected by lower standards when it comes to food protection and social issues.

Tell that to Germany’s Mittelstand, the medium-sized companies that are the backbone of the country’s economy. The German mechanical engineering industry, for example, ships more than €16 billion ($18 billion) of goods each year to the United States.

But don’t think a gadget made in Germany can be sold in its original form to a U.S. retailer. “We have to replace our EU plugs with US plugs, even though they essentially look the same, have the same safety characteristics and perform the same function,” said Carl Martin Welcker, vice president of the German Mechanical Engineering Industry and managing partner of Alfred H. Schütte, a machine tool factory.

“We are not just talking about plugs. We use the metric system to standardise our threads, whereas the USA measures in inches – so we have to change the threads in certain safety pipes,” he added. “The EU and the USA even have different requirements when it comes to the content of operating instructions. We end up producing the same machine twice, only differently. We have to buy materials twice, store materials twice. Machines have to be tested twice and approved twice.”

Just imagine the extra costs if a European company wants to enter and compete in the U.S. market. TTIP would do away with these different standards, in turn creating more jobs for European companies—and cutting production costs. These benefits are rarely articulated, just as the long-term strategic implications of TTIP are almost never discussed.

Instead, TTIP has become associated with populist, Euroskeptic, and antiglobalization movements. And there is more than a tinge of anti-Americanism, as Obama surely sensed during his visit to London on April 22–24. Indeed, his public support for Britain to remain in the EU and his pleading for European leaders to support TTIP were really about the United States wanting a stronger Europe and a revitalized transatlantic relationship.

Unless there is a major shift across Europe in the coming months, Obama’s bid to clinch what would be a historic trade deal will elude him. Russia and China will no doubt be relieved.



Note EU-Digest: The above report in favor of the TTIP , put together by a a US Democratic Party supported Think-Tank also contains some major omissions which are not in favor of this TTIP. 


These include:


The disappearance of jobs in some sectors

Increased international competition will lead to fewer jobs in some sectors. Research has shown, for example, that jobs will be lost among producers and exporters of machinery and meat. The Netherlands is looking for ways to compensate for job losses. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation is consulting the trade unions on this issue.

TTIP must not have a negative impact on our European social model. The government seeks to safeguard labour relations and terms of employment in the Netherlands. The government has asked the Social and Economic Council (SER) for advice on protecting labour standards in TTIP.

Concerns about lower standards

There are concerns that TTIP will lead to lower European standards. Like standards on food safety, the environment, privacy and labour conditions. TTIP’s benefits must not be brought about at the expense of people, animals and the environment. The Netherlands and the EU want to see firm guarantees to this effect in the agreement. See What guarantees does the EU want to see in TTIP?

Concerns about TTIP’s impact on low- and middle-income countries

TTIP could have an adverse impact on some low- and middle-income countries and their products. Yet TTIP’s benefits for these countries seem to outweigh the disadvantages. Higher economic growth in the US and the EU means, for example, more market opportunities for other countries, including poorer ones. The agreement should also make it easier for developing countries to export to the EU and the US.

The economic benefits of TTIP must not be enjoyed at the expense of low- and middle-income countries. The Netherlands believes that the agreement must offer just as many benefits to these countries, too. It has consistently called for a focus on these countries’ interests. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation has commissioned a thorough study of TTIP’s impact on them. 

Concerns that companies will be able to do as they please

Some civil society organisations are concerned that the investment protection provided by TTIP will give companies too much power. They fear it will limit governments’ democratic scope to make laws and regulations. This is known as the regulatory chill effect. Foreign investors that feel they 
have been disadvantaged can, for example, challenge a government decision

The Netherlands and the EU want to see a chapter on investment protection in TTIP that will prevent this from happening. That can be achieved by setting clear rules for conflicts between governments and investors. TTIP presents an opportunity to improve the traditional system of investment protection. The European Commission and the Netherlands are pressing for balanced system of investment protection that precludes abuse.

Read more: Obama’s Push for a New Transatlantic Relationship - Carnegie Europe - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Focus on the future: America’s Worst Laid Plans – by Michael Brenner

The United States has been pursuing an audacious project to fashion a global system according to its specifications and under its tutelage since the Cold War’s end.

For a quarter of a century, the paramount goal of all its foreign relations has been the fostering of a system whose architectural design features the following:

–a neo-liberal economic order wherein markets dictate economic outcomes and the influence of public authorities to regulate them is weakened;

–this entails a progressive financializing of the world economy which concentrates the levers of greatest power in a few Western institutions – private, national and supranational;

–if inequality of wealth and power is the outcome, so be it;

–security provided by an American-led concert that will have predominant influence in every region;

–a readiness to use coercion to remove any regime that directly challenges this envisaged order;

–the maintenance of a large, multi-functional American military force to ensure that the means to deal with any contingency as could arise;

–all cemented by the unquestioned conviction that this enterprise conforms to a teleology whose truth and direction were confirmed by the West’s total victory in the Cold War.

Therefore, it is inherently a virtuous project whose realization will benefit all mankind. Virtue is understood in both tangible and ethical terms.

American ‘Destiny’

The motto: There is a tide running in the affairs of man; so, now is the time for America to steer the current and fulfill its destiny.

The project has registered some remarkable successes (at least by its own definitions). The Washington sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its counterpart`, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTPI), ensconce a privileged position for corporate interests that supersedes that of governments in binding international law.

The towering financial conglomerates have emerged from the great financial panic and Great Recession, which they caused, not only unscathed but bigger, stronger and with a stranglehold over macro-economic policy across most of the globe.

The United States, the progenitor of neo-liberalism and its operational guide, has seen its democracy converted into a plutocracy in all but name. The more things change, the more they must be made to seem the same.

These tenets of neo-liberalism have been codified into an orthodoxy whose dogma permeates the intellectual fiber of academia, the media and the corridors of state power. Challengers are ruthlessly put down – as witness the crucifying of Greece’s first Syriza government. Political leaders who deviate find themselves the object of international campaigns to oust them, e.g., Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Russia.

As an indirect consequence of the project’s successes, political resistance now comes not from the Left but rather from a recrudescent nationalist Right as is occurring in Europe – the rebellion in both the East and the West against the European Union’s brave new world of technocracy of, by and for the corporate elites.

Trumpism represents the analogous phenomenon decked out in stars-and-stripes garb. This exacerbates the tensions generated internally by the guided globalization project. Within the decision centers of Washington power, that could either provide new impetus to the external dimension of establishing a global order under American aegis – or handicap it.

Whichever proves to be the case, the turn toward authoritarianism and xenophobia within the liberal democracies shows how ill-conceived and ineptly executed the design for a new world order is. For it has overreached at home and abroad.

Read the full report: : America’s Worst Laid Plans – Consortiumnews

EU Privacy Laws: EU lawmakers seek tougher limits on US data use

European Union lawmakers want tougher limits set on the U.S. using information about EU citizens that's exchanged under a new trans-Atlantic data agreement.
The lawmakers urged the European Commission in a resolution Thursday to fix "deficiencies" in the Privacy Shield agreement governing data transfers to the U.S. for commercial purposes.
They fear U.S. authorities could have access to too much information and that a future U.S. ombudsman meant to provide redress in case of abuses isn't independent enough.
The non-binding resolution was passed 501-119, with 31 abstentions.
Privacy Shield was unveiled in February after a European court struck down the previous pact, Safe Harbor, amid concerns over the safety of data stored by companies in the U.S. and possible exposure to surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-05-eu-lawmakers-tougher-limits.html#jCp
European Union lawmakers want tougher limits set on the U.S. using information about EU citizens that's exchanged under a new trans-Atlantic data agreement.
The lawmakers urged the European Commission in a resolution Thursday to fix "deficiencies" in the Privacy Shield agreement governing data transfers to the U.S. for commercial purposes.
They fear U.S. authorities could have access to too much information and that a future U.S. ombudsman meant to provide redress in case of abuses isn't independent enough.
The non-binding resolution was passed 501-119, with 31 abstentions.
Privacy Shield was unveiled in February after a European court struck down the previous pact, Safe Harbor, amid concerns over the safety of data stored by companies in the U.S. and possible exposure to surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-05-eu-lawmakers-tougher-limits.html#jCp
European Union lawmakers want tougher limits set on the U.S. using information about EU citizens that's exchanged under a new trans-Atlantic data agreement.

The lawmakers urged the European Commission in a resolution Thursday to fix "deficiencies" in the Privacy Shield agreement governing data transfers to the U.S. for commercial purposes.

They fear U.S. authorities could have access to too much information and that a future U.S. ombudsman meant to provide redress in case of abuses isn't independent enough.

The non-binding resolution was passed 501-119, with 31 abstentions.

Privacy Shield was unveiled in February after a European court struck down the previous pact, Safe Harbor, amid concerns over the safety of data stored by companies in the U.S. and possible exposure to surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Read more: EU lawmakers seek tougher limits on US data use

Middle East and the US: The US Decades-Long Foreign Policy Disaster That Set the Middle East on Fire - by Patrick L. Smith

I first interviewed Andrew Bacevich, the soldier turned scholar, after he spoke at the Hope Club, an old-line gents’ establishment in Providence, Rhode Island. That evening he outlined a dozen or so “theses,” as he called them in honor of the 95 Luther is said to have nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517. He was in essence reading a rough outline of the manuscript then on his desk. It was a powerful presentation, and we met again in a Boston restaurant to talk shortly thereafter. This was roughly a year ago.

The book Bacevich was drafting, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” is now out. And as impressive as his synopsis of its themes was last year, the “dissident colonel,” as I like to call him, did not do this account anything close to justice. It is the first book to explain the Middle Eastern wars we have lived with for 36 years now as one unbroken conflict with many theaters. And it is scholarship of the best kind—carefully researched and referenced, but written with unscholarly grace—to put the point bluntly—and perfectly accessible to the intelligent general reader. You put it down thinking, “I understand a great deal more than I did when I started reading this.”

I drove to Boston last month to interview Bacevich again. When I arrived he was delivering a lecture to a gathering of faculty and students at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is emeritus now at Boston University but plainly still firing on all eight. This will not be his last book, he hinted, but it may be his last on the topics he has addressed in his others to date. These include “American Empire” (2002) “The New American Militarism (2005), “The Limits of Power (2008) and “Washington Rules” (2010).

It was interesting to hear Bacevich talk through the new book again, this time post-publication. He was, if anything, more forceful in his judgments of America’s Middle East failures. But this did not deter detractors and critics, I ought to add. During the Q & A afterward, he contended with one LaRouche adherent and one member of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, whose questions were not quite questions so much as vehemently delivered challenges. I was struck by the courtesy and aplomb with which Bacevich responded—qualities I had seen in him when we met in Providence.

Afterward, we crossed a corner of the campus to the JFK Presidential Library, which sits on a rise overlooking Boston harbor. The spring wind out the building’s sea-facing wall of glass was brisk; gulls and geese wheeled just above the white caps as we spoke. As Bacevich was generous with his time and never other than interesting, I have broken the interview into two parts.

This is the first. The transcript was expertly produced by Salon’s Michael Conway Garofalo, who has my gratitude.

You’ve written a remarkable book. It’s original in treating the Middle East and surrounding regions as unitary in American strategic thinking since 1980. Yet you’ve done nothing more than examine readily available facts and records with the proper degree of intellectual detachment. To my knowledge, no one has treated the past 36 years as a single phenomenon. Am I wrong?

No, I think you’re correct. One of the aims of the book is to persuade Americans, persuade readers, that to consider U.S. military involvement in this part of the world as “one damn thing after another” is to miss the true significance of what we have been attempting to do and to misapprehend the scope of our failure. It’s a problem in our politics to focus on the most recent episode, the ongoing episode, and to ignore everything that came before.

There’s no past in Washington. There’s no past in the media. So the book’s an encouragement to self-understanding, in effect. But introducing historical perspective in these matters is like crashing a black mass with a crucifix, and I imagine your scholarly colleagues—those not ruined by ideology—approve. But what about your old army buddies and policy people on the inside?

All my old army buddies are long retired. And I have very, very few contacts in the active-duty force, in terms of personal connections. That said, I am encouraged by the number of emails I get from younger officers, people I’ve never met, who have now read this book or previous books or articles and express general support. My point here is that—and maybe this is wishful thinking on my part—I do sense there is something of an awakening in the officer corps, an awareness of how badly wrong we’ve gone. That awakening could lead to some critical thinking in military circles. Now, whether that would translate into political circles I don’t know. I find deeply troubling the absence of any serious critical thinking about our war, or wars if you wish, in the foreign policy establishment.

It’s astonishing.I’m never other than astonished by the shallowness of the thinking in the policy cliques.

Yes, astonishing. I mean there’s lots of debate, but it’s not a debate that takes the broad view, takes stock of how we got here.

You can move your needle one or two degrees either side of zero, in my read.Deviate further and you’re cut out of the loop.

Exactly right. So the debate ends up being: “Well, will bombing suffice to destroy ISIS?” or “Will we need boots on the ground?” I mean that’s about the extent of it.

I have to tell you a story. This happened right here, across the river in Cambridge. The daughter of a friend was at the Kennedy School [of Government, at Harvard] studying international relations, no mean accomplishment getting in. But she quit after a year. How come? All they ever want to talk about, she explained, is the military option. If you put any kind of paper forward that doesn’t begin with the military option, no one takes it seriously.

Isn’t that revealing?

Yeah. And that’s the Kennedy School.

Anyway, keeping in the historical vein, you draw a perfectly straight line from Truman’s “doctrine” speech, his “scare the hell out of the American people” address [delivered to Congress March 12, 1947] to Carter’s “doctrine” speech, which started the War for the Greater Middle East on January 23, 1980, and then Bush II’s “doctrine” of pre-emptive war, and then Obama’s assertions that the war in the Middle East was, as you put it, “redundant,” only to make enlarging our wars his chief contribution.

Are we required to conclude that a lot of very smart people are somehow incapable of learning anything at all from experience?

I actually think that Obama has learned from experience. In that now-famous Jeffrey Goldberg article [on Obama’s foreign-policy thinking, published in the Atlantic in March] it’s Goldberg allowing the president to speak, and I think the president is showing himself to be someone who over the past seven-plus years has actually acquired a very sophisticated understanding of statecraft and of the world as it is. When he became president he knew next to nothing about foreign policy. We routinely elect people to the presidency who know next to nothing about statecraft, but I think he’s learned a lot, and I found that to be very impressive.

That said, you would say, “Well if he’s learned so much then why don’t we see greater change than we see?” I think his presidency is a reminder to some degree as to the constraints under which presidents operate. There’s this fiction in our public discussion of politics that seems to imply that whoever is president is the dictator or the messiah, and that’s simply not true. They are constrained by the fact that there’re two other branches of the federal government. They’re constrained by the permanent national security apparatus. They’re constrained by history. They’re constrained by the fact that they inherit situations that they’re not able to wave their hand and make go away. They’re constrained by the actions and interests of other nations, some which profess to be allies, some of which are obviously not allies.

So I think we’re condemned to being disappointed by our presidents. Even if they come into office as people of good will, we’re condemned to be disappointed because we don’t appreciate the limits of their authority, and the limits of their freedom of action.

You mention that Truman had to “capitulate,” and then, similarly, Carter had to capitulate. When you say this, to what or to whom did they capitulate?

The Truman capitulation occurs in response to the beginning of the Korean War. I believe that until that point, Truman was still clinging to…

FDR’s vision of peaceful partnership [with the Soviet Union]?

…or of the United Nations becoming an entity that would prevent further conflicts after World War II. He also was resistant to the notion of creating a permanent, large U.S military establishment, to some degree because of his naivety, I think, about atomic weapons. Once the Korean War began, the capitulation was in agreeing to the conclusions contained in the famous document called NSC-68, which had been commissioned but had not been acted upon until after the North Koreans invaded the South. And the capitulation was to commit the United States to becoming a permanent military power. The permanent military power.

For which there was a considerable constituency?

Who was he capitulating to? He was capitulating to the then-emergent national security apparatus, consisting of senior military officers, the “four stars” [the joint chiefs of staff and other top generals], who had been adamant that the budgets that he was approving in ’46, ’47, ’48 were totally inadequate; but also capitulation to these new national security bureaucrats, who, for reasons not identical to those of the military, were also committed to maintaining, on a permanent basis, a large national security apparatus. The embodiment of those people at that particular moment was this guy Paul Nitze [a key figure in shaping Cold War policy during many administrations], who was the principal author of NSC-68—not the only example of that kind of a person but a very important example who was influential at the particular moment.

Carter’s capitulation was, in a sense, a capitulation to the American people. He had, in his “malaise” speech in the summer of ’79, called upon the people to change, to embrace a different definition of freedom, believing that if we embraced a different definition of freedom we would return to the path of virtue and would also be able to avoid getting drawn more deeply into the complex politics of the Persian Gulf. I think in January of 1980 he concedes that the American people are not going to change, not going to rethink our culture, not going to rethink what we believe is a satisfying way of life, and so the capitulation is to them.

And what is the capitulation about? The capitulation there is to add the Persian Gulf to the limited roster of places that we view as worth fighting for. And that we subsequently then do fight for, in ways large and small, albeit never yielding any particular success.

How do you parse and apportion the various drivers that make American policy what it is? I identify these as follows: Psychological—the insecurities Americans have nursed since the 18th century—and maybe the 17th ; ideological—our exceptionalism and universalism; material—the drive for markets and economic dominance—and strategic, which at this point amounts to a desire for global hegemony or something close to it. Do you have any others to add, and what is your read as to which are the most prominent?

I think you’re making a very important point, and that is that there is no single explanation. This is the problem, I think, of those who argue that it’s all about capitalism. Or people say it’s all the military-industrial complex. Or it’s all the state of Israel. It is all those factors that you cite, and I think I would add one more, and that would be domestic politics. The cycle of elections and the competition for political power, then, shapes the posturing that the campaigns elicit.

But your question was, how do they all stack up in terms of priorities? Well, this is where I subscribe to the argument that Niebuhr makes in “The Irony of American History.” [Reinhold Niebuhr, theologian and public-affairs commentator; the book was published in 1952.] As I understand the argument, at the root there is this conviction that we are uniquely called to be the agents of history. That history has a direction and a purpose and its destination is defined by who we are, and that we have some responsibility to bring history to this intended outcome. I think, by no means dismissing the influence of these other factors, that the dogged persistence of our behavior, even in the face of obvious failure, is rooted in our conviction that we are the instrument of Providence. And that goes all the way back to the founding of Anglo-America to John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill.”

Does your answer to that question change when you examine it in the context of Bush II’s presidency?

There is a slightly different answer. Maybe it’s sort of a variation on the theme, but my sense is that Bush and his inner circle were deeply influenced by their reading of the outcome of the Cold War, in three respects I think.

First is that the outcome of the Cold War marked a historical turning point of transcendent significance. Second, that the outcome of the Cold War affirmed the superiority of the American model—that liberal, democratic capitalism was indeed the only way. And third, that the end of the Cold War, combined with its immediate sequel, which was the Persian Gulf war of 1991, together demonstrated that the United States had achieved military supremacy and demonstrated the unprecedented utility of American military power, if policymakers simply had the guts to put that military power to work.

So when 9/11 occurs, it is an opportunity, from their point of view, to apply these insights. To embark upon this so-called “freedom agenda,” this project of transformation was to bring the Islamic world into line with the appropriate political and economic arrangements, and do it by aggressively putting American military power to work, informed by confidence that military victory and political success would necessarily follow. Apart from the arrogance of the political assumptions, the real fundamental mistake was in overestimating the efficacy of American military power. And when we didn’t win quickly, there they were, stuck with an unwinnable war that dragged on and on and on, and put the kibosh on any expectations that a transformation of the Greater Middle East was going to follow.

You write a lot about the flow of power back and forth between civilian government and the military. It’s plain that you feel quite strongly about this. “The perpetually shifting see-saw of civil-military relations” is the phrase you use in the book. It’s probably a matter of how close you’re standing to the phenomenon.

From my perspective, there has been a gradual, but eventually decisive shift of power to the military, intelligence, and national security apparatus. This process had its origins in World War II and was consolidated very early during the Cold War. At this point there seems to be very little flow. The Pentagon, Langley, and National Security run policy, at least when there is any serious strategic question at issue. I don’t consider this any kind of clumsy, leftist simplification. Can you address this?

I don’t disagree with what you just said. When I say this, the shifting see-saw is the relative weight of the militarized civilians within that apparatus that you just described, on the one hand, and the weight of the military professionals on the other hand. In a general sense they subscribe to the same world view, there’s no question about that, but when it gets down to particulars—that’s where you see the weighted influence changing over time.

Here is an example: During the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003, Donald Rumsfeld was driving the war-planning process. Donald Rumsfeld had very specific notions of how that war needed to be fought and was going to be fought, stemming from a vision of modern war that he had absorbed from certain theorists, proponents of something called “a revolution in military affairs.”

The RMA, as it is called.

The RMA. And Rumsfeld was absolutely determined that this war was going to be run his way. How did he achieve that? He achieved that by marginalizing the joint chiefs of staff. They played virtually no serious role in deciding the configuration of the forces and how they were going to be employed.

He did that by structuring a dialogue between himself and General Tommy Franks, the Centcom [Central Command, which oversees Middle East operations] commander. I don’t know if you caught the part of the book where basically Rumsfeld said “Hey, General Franks, I need a plan to invade Iraq.” And Franks said, “I’ve got one for you, boss.” And it basically was a replay of the plan for “Operation Desert Storm,” meaning that it assumed a U.S coalition of about 500,000 troops.

Rumsfeld said, “No, no, no. I think about 125,000 sounds right.” Franks said, “Well, would you settle for 375,000?” It went back and forth and back and forth, and ultimately I think the size of the force was 175,000. My point is that, by essentially browbeating Franks and marginalizing the JCS, the invasion phase of the war was Rumsfeld’s war. And briefly, if you remember in March, April, May 2003, everybody was ga-ga over “Rums-stud” as a genius. But of course he had not properly taken into account what was going to happen after the fall of Saddam, and we ended up with a mess. In 2002 and into 2003 the civilian voices in the apparatus…

… were emphatically dominant.

Now we fast-forward to the beginning of the Obama era. Obama becomes president in 2009, doesn’t know squat about the military, doesn’t know squat about war. Although he ran for the presidency promising to close down Iraq and to de-escalate in Afghanistan, he becomes president and announces an increase of 30,000 troops [in the latter theater]. He fires General David McKiernan, the Afghanistan commander—actually Gates does the firing—replaces McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal, who at that moment is seen to be kind of a clone of David Petraeus—this at a moment when Petraeus’s stock is at its absolute height.

So Gates sends McChrystal to Afghanistan and says, “Give me a plan for how we should conduct this war.” And McChrystal comes up with a campaign plan that is leaked to the Washington Post before the president has ruled on it. McChrystal appears on “60 Minutes” touting his plan before the president has approved it. McChrystal gives a speech in London to some high muckety-mucks touting his plan. Petraeus, who has now been elevated to Centcom commander, gives an interview with Michael Gerson, formerly a speechwriter for George W. Bush, in which he, Petraeus, says, “The answer to the war in Afghanistan is counter-insurgency with more resources.”

So this set of actions basically boxes in the president before the president has made a decision. The president makes a decision and the decision is to give McChrystal virtually everything McChrystal wants. My point there is, at that moment early in 2009, that see-saw had shifted so that within the national security apparatus, the military is in a position, not entirely but to a very considerable extent, to call the shots regardless of what the president wants.

I think we pay a serious price for the militarization of American foreign policy, and the Middle East is a textbook case. As an example: When the U.S. negotiated a deal with Erdoğan [Turkey’s autocratic president] last August to use Incirlik as a base for bombing runs into Syria, who did the work? Not a diplomat. No one from State. This is an extremely complex relationship. A Marine general whose intellectual credentials boast an honorary degree from Monmouth College did the work.Look what we’ve got now: exactly what we want on a purely operational plane, but we’re in bed with another disgraceful dictator who all but overtly supports the Islamic State.Am I right to suggest we pay this price again and again, with no examination of intent or purpose?

And more to the point, I think, no examination of the history. There is this assumption that these deals and relationships with countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt—can never be reconsidered. And this is certainly the case in Saudi Arabia and I think it’s also the case with the state of Israel, even when it’s patently obvious that those governments are taking actions contrary to U.S interests. And yet we have to pretend that they are allies, that they are friends. It’s heresy to insist that there are alternatives.

We are stuck in this falsely bifurcated reasoning that posits only two alternatives in foreign policy, notably in the Middle East: military engagement or isolation. We’re in militarily or we’re out altogether. Where did this reasoning come from?

To some degree you’ve already touched on it. It didn’t come out of nowhere. This is something that we can trace to the early days of the Cold War, to the militarization of U.S policy, to national security policy taking precedence over diplomacy, to national security becoming the phrase that defines our ultimate interests. C. Wright Mills [the noted sociologist], in “The Power Elite,” which was published in 1956, identifies this military mindset. I think he calls it “a military metaphysic” that even then, in the mid-1950’s, has already swept Washington. To the present moment there’s remarkably little willingness or capacity to question that.

And frankly, if you did or do question that you’re never going to get a job in Washington. If you’re a young person and you aspire to be assistant secretary of defense, or assistant secretary of state, or get a job at on the National Security Council, well, you better buy into the premises of that military metaphysic, or you are unemployable. Ambitious young people who probably go into government thinking, “I’ll pretend to buy into these things even if I disagree because then, when I get to be famous, I’ll make a difference.” But by the time they’ve spouted the line for 10 or 20 years they have come to believe.

They are the ones that change. Institutions change people more often than people change institutions is too often the grim reality.

You also note that the policy initiative in the military rotates from one service to another. Which service is it now? And what, if any, significance can we attach to this?

U.S. special operations forces are dominant at this point. Now, they’re not formally a separate service—Special Operations Command consists of people drawn from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps—but in response to the disappointments and failures of the “invade and occupy to transform” approach, which is what the George W. Bush administration was committed to, Obama has now devised an alternative approach, and it is one that elevates special operations forces to the premier status. And it’s helped along by a certain amount of Hollywood propaganda that celebrates the exploits of SEALs and so on. But they’re definitely in the driver’s seat right now. They’re expanding in the number of personnel in special operations forces. Expanding their footprint, that is to say, the number of countries in which they are active.

I rank seeing from the perspectives of others and understanding the validity of alternative points of view as essential in the 21st century. This is especially so as these matters relate to the divide between West and non-West. This is why I have an opinion of Vladimir Putin that many people find peculiar. I don’t know much about what goes on in Russia—marginally more than what I read in our newspapers, and it is long past possible to accept their correspondents’ accounts as ethical, professional or balanced. But Russia’s domestic scene isn’t my concern—that’s for the Russians. I’m concerned with Putin’s understanding of what goes on between West and non-West, and in this respect I have some time for him. Do you agree with this question of perspectives?

Right now I’m reading, in manuscript, a book by David Hendrickson that’s a critique of U.S. foreign policy. He’s a political scientist who teaches at Colorado College and author of a number of other important books. He’s one of these guys, I don’t understand why he’s not a household name. Brilliant work and certainly respected in academic circles, but he’s not on “NewsHour” every night. One of many interesting points that he makes in his new book is the remarkable lack of empathy on the part of American policymakers. Not sympathy. Not deference. But an inability to see a situation as it appears to people on the other side.

And I think Russia is a very good example. The facts are plain. The facts are that when the West won the Cold War, with the United States as its principal leader, we rather ruthlessly exploited our advantage to the disadvantage of the Russians. We did that in very explicit ways—by expanding NATO eastward, incorporating former Warsaw Pact countries, incorporating former Soviet republics, providing a security blanket so that those countries could then become a part of the E.U. and a part of Europe. From the point of view of Lithuania and Poland, I get it. It makes all the sense in the world.

But the empathy part is that there really is a need to appreciate the way all this looks from the Russian point of view. We have treated them with disrespect. We refuse to acknowledge that Russia may have legitimate security interests. The question of who controls Ukraine would be one of those questions. Instead, any action on the part of the Russians pursuant to security interests is immediately dismissed as evidence of Russian aggression.

Much of the same applies to Iran. We cannot see or will not acknowledge that Iran may have some reason to view U.S. policy as threatening. You can go as far back as the coup of 1953 as an example of that, but if you want to dismiss that as ancient history, you can go back to the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when there were some Iranian signals of sympathy and of a willingness to find way to rebalance relations. The reward was that they were immediately included in the “Axis of Evil” [George Bush’s noted phrase in his 2002 State of the Union address, delivered four months after the September 11 attacks]. The Axis of Evil combined with the Bush Doctrine of preventive war—meaning we’ll invade wherever we damn well feel like it. From an Iranian perspective, those were hostile actions. From an Iranian perspective, the notion that there might be some benefit in arming themselves is not evidence of irrationality, not evidence of wanting to extinguish the state of Israel.

Whether it’s an inability to see that or a stubborn refusal to see that, Hendricks’s point, which I agree with, is that if you’re not able to view empathetically the perspective of the other side, then you’re far more likely to miscalculate in formulating your policy to address the problem at hand. And it seems to me that we do that over and over again.

It occurs to me now, just this minute, that the reason we are so notably short in this regard is because it confirms us. Empathy, like diplomacy, is for other people. We don’t have to empathize with others.

Because we possess the truth.
Read more: The Real Story of Our Decades-Long Foreign Policy Disaster That Set the Middle East on Fire | Alternet

5/28/16

The US Presidential election is about the past -by Mark Perry

The first evidence that something was amiss in the American electorate came last February 20, when Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary. You don't need to be steeped in the minutiae of United States politics to work out why that happened - all you have to do is clear out all Trump's talk about walls and borders and focus on the US' intervention in Iraq.

That's right: Iraq.

During a televised debate before the South Carolina primary, Trump attacked fellow Republican Jeb Bush by focusing on George W Bush, his brother and former president. George, Trump said, had "lied" about why the US invaded Iraq.

"They said there were weapons of mass destruction and they knew there were none," he said. Trump's claim brought howls from political experts who confidently predicted that the claim would cost Trump votes. South Carolina, they said, loved the Bushes.

But when the votes were counted, Trump had won. Numerous accounts told the tale: Trump beat Jeb by "campaigning against nearly everything" that his brother George and his neo-conservative pals stood for, including the US' catastrophic Iraq intervention and the resulting conflagrations from Syria to Libya that it spawned.

Now, three months later, the New York mogul is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. And while it's easy to dismiss his triumph by claiming that the public has been seduced by a media savvy "liar", "birther" and "bully", the truth is more complicated.

South Carolina showed that while Americans question Trump's character, when it comes to military adventurism, they're with him.

Oddly, the only other candidate who has stood with Trump on the Iraq War is Bernie Sanders, who has attacked Hillary Clinton for supporting Bush's intervention.

Read more: The US election is about the past - Al Jazeera English

5/27/16

Freedom of Expression: Media Terror: Press Freedom in Turkey, Mexico and Russia -

Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 on press freedom as of 2016, according to the Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index.
2. That makes it the third-worst performer among the G-20 nations, after China and Saudi Arabia (165th).
3. As recently as 2006, Turkey ranked in the top 100 nations in terms of press freedom.
4. Turkey’s ranking has fallen in recent years because of increasing political pressure on journalists and the return of war at home and abroad.
5. The government also vigorously prosecutes alleged “insults” against top officials and seizes control of newspapers that it accuses of “terrorist” support.
6. Mexico ranks the next-worst (149th) in the G-20 after Turkey – and is the most dangerous country in the Western hemisphere for journalists.
7. Mexican drug gangs have used brutal tactics to intimidate the journalists reporting on their activities. Scores of journalists have been openly murdered.
8. Mexico in 2016 ranks next to Russia (148th), which makes the latter the fifth-worst performer among the G-20 nations.
9. Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, the repression and consolidation of the media in Russia have been stepped up.
10. Russia also stands out because of its systematic failure to punish, or even pursue, those who have attacked or murdered journalists.

Read more: Media Terror: Press Freedom in Turkey, Mexico and Russia - The Globalist

EU: Justice for atrocity and economic crimes: can the EU deliver? - by Javor Rangelov, Marika Theros, and Nataša Kandić

With the partial exception of the Holocaust, European states have done little reckoning with their own legacies of abuse inherited from war and repressive rule in Europe and the former colonies.
  
At the June Summit, which will take place after the UK Referendum, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, will present the results of her global review of external strategy. As part of the review process, the Human Security Study Group, at the LSE, which is convened by Mary Kaldor and Javier Solana, has presented a report entitled From Hybrid Peace to Human Security: Rethinking the EU Strategy Towards Conflict together with twelve background research papers .

Conflicts are at the sharp end of contemporary crises. Refugees, extremist ideologies, criminality and predation are all produced in conflict. Contemporary conflicts are sometimes known as ‘hybrid wars’ or ‘new wars’ in which classic distinctions between public and private, government/regular and rebel/irregular, and internal and external break down. They are best understood not as legitimate contests of wills (the twentieth century idea of war) but as a degenerate social condition in which armed groups mobilise sectarian and fundamentalist sentiments and construct a predatory economy through which they enrich. Identifying ways to address violent conflict could open up strategies for dealing with broader issues.

In this special openDemocracy series, the Human Security Study Group outlines the main conclusions of our report in our introductory essay together with six essays based on some of the background papers. These essays include: an analysis of the conceptual premises of the Global Review (Sabine Selchow); three essays on specific conflict zones – Syria (Rim Turkmani), Ukraine (Tymofiy Mylovanov), the Horn of Africa (Alex de Waal); the importance of the EU’s justice instrument (Iavor Rangelov); and how EU cyber security policy is human rights focused rather than state focussed (Genevieve Schmeder and Emmanuel Darmois). 

Few issues galvanise citizen action and activism in conflict-affected areas like justice for atrocity crimes and economic crimes. This high demand for justice reflects the criminalised character of both the violence and the war economy in today’s conflicts. Most people on the ground experience conflict as daily encounters with different forms of abuse and predation that make their lives profoundly insecure. 

Read more: Justice for atrocity and economic crimes: can the EU deliver? | openDemocracy

Greece: Putin Arrives In Greece On First Visit To EU This Year

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Greece on his first visit to the European Union this year as the bloc weighs whether to extend sanctions against Russia amid continuing tensions over Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.

Putin arrived in Athens on May 27 to begin a two-day visit. He is due to meet Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for energy and investment talks later in the day.
Putin's visit -- his first to the EU since December -- comes as the bloc's leaders are to discuss next month whether to renew sanctions on Russia's banking, defense, and energy sectors that expire in July.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on May 27 that the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) economic powers have agreed that sanctions imposed against Russia over its actions in Ukraine must be extended next month.

“The G7 has agreed on the vital importance of sanctions rollover in June,” Cameron said following a two-day G7 summit in Japan. “Ukraine is the victim of Russian-backed aggression. We must never forget that fact.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on May 27 floated the possibility of a "step-by-step" reduction of EU sanctions against Russia if there is progress on implementing peace accords on Ukraine.

"I hope that by the end of June there will be progress and then we can see if we can reduce the sanctions step by step, or if we stay with the measures we have right now," Steinmeier told reporters in Tallinn.

Read more: Putin Arrives In Greece On First Visit To EU This Year

Who wrote Obama's Hiroshima speech? by Julian Borger

Barack Obama has always been a superior orator. For many, his speech to the Democratic convention in 2004 was the most memorable moment of John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Since arriving in the White House, the lyrical quality of his rhetoric has continued to soar higher than actual policy achievements, especially when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

Like every president, however, Obama’s speeches are the product of teamwork. For the Hiroshima speech, his closest collaborator will have been Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, who trailed the Hiroshima address in a blogpost.

We now know a lot about Rhodes, due to a recent very long and controversial profile in the New York Times magazine. We know he studied literature and was an aspiring novelist at the time of 9/11, which got him interested in foreign policy. The article is controversial because Rhodes claimed to have orchestrated naive Washington journalists and thinktanks into accepting last year’s nuclear deal with Iran.

That might have been an overestimation of Rhodes’ influence but there is no doubting his skills as a wordsmith. The Times article quotes the American novelist Don DeLillo as an inspiration several times. Rhodes would have honed the first and last drafts with Obama but, in between those stages, presidential speeches are almost always the work of a committee. Drafts are sent to any government department with a potential interest, inviting input.

In this case, the speech would have gone to defence, state and the Department of Energy, to ensure it was comprehensive and free of gaffes. Then it would go back to Rhodes. But the final author is Obama himself. The delivered version of Obama speeches are covered with his longhand notes. The dominant voice does seem to be the man himself.

Note EU-Digest: A fantastic speech about the need for peaceful coexistence among the whole human race, and the awful and destructive consequences of war, by a President, who hopefully one day will be recognized as being among one of the best Presidents the US has ever had.

Read more: Who wrote Obama's Hiroshima speech? | US news | The Guardian

5/26/16

EU Refugee crises: AfD politician says churches ′making billions′ from refugee crisis

A regional leader from Germany's populist AfD party has accused churches of exploiting the refugee crisis to make a profit. Church organizations have hit back, describing the comments as incendiary and baseless.

Petr Bystron, the head of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the southern state of Bavaria, alleged Thursday that German churches were earning "billions of euros per year" from the surge in refugee arrivals in Europe.

"This phony public image of reaching out to refugees is also financing a gigantic charity industry under the organizational roof of the churches," he wrote in an article at Huffington Post on Wednesday.

Germany took in more than 1 million people in 2015 - more than any other European country. Church charities have played a significant role in providing resources such as counseling services and shelters for refugees. But Bystron said these organizations were making money "under the guise" of providing charity.

An AfD spokesman told the German news agency DPA that Bystron's position had not been endorsed by the party's national board.

Read more: AfD politician says churches ′making billions′ from refugee crisis | News | DW.COM | 26.05.2016

The US Presidency::A Psychologist Analyzes Donald Trump’s Personality - by Dan P. McAdams

The Next US President ?
In 2006 Donald Trump  made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort.

He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details.

But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
 
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.

The same feeling perplexed Mark Singer in the late 1990s when he was working on a profile of Trump for The New Yorker. Singer wondered what went through his mind when he was not playing the public role of Donald Trump. What are you thinking about, Singer asked him, when you are shaving in front of the mirror in the morning? Trump, Singer writes, appeared baffled. Hoping to uncover the man behind the actor’s mask, Singer tried a different tack: “O.K., I guess I’m asking, do you consider yourself ideal company?”

“You really want to know what I consider ideal company?,” Trump replied. “A total piece of ass.”

I might have phrased Singer’s question this way: Who are you, Mr. Trump, when you are alone? Singer never got an answer, leaving him to conclude that the real-estate mogul who would become a reality-TV star and, after that, a leading candidate for president of the United States had managed to achieve something remarkable: “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”

Is Singer’s assessment too harsh? Perhaps it is, in at least one sense. As brainy social animals, human beings evolved to be consummate actors whose survival and ability to reproduce depend on the quality of our performances. We enter the world prepared to perform roles and manage the impressions of others, with the ultimate evolutionary aim of getting along and getting ahead in the social groups that define who we are.

More than even Ronald Reagan, Trump seems supremely cognizant of the fact that he is always acting. He moves through life like a man who knows he is always being observed. If all human beings are, by their very nature, social actors, then Donald Trump seems to be more so—superhuman, in this one primal sense.

Many questions have arisen about Trump during this campaign season—about his platform, his knowledge of issues, his inflammatory language, his level of comfort with political violence. This article touches on some of that. But its central aim is to create a psychological portrait of the man. Who is he, really? How does his mind work? How might he go about making decisions in office, were he to become president? And what does all that suggest about the sort of president he’d be?

Trump’s personality is certainly extreme by any standard, and particularly rare for a presidential candidate; many people who encounter the man—in negotiations or in interviews or on a debate stage or watching that debate on television—seem to find him flummoxing. In this essay, I will seek to uncover the key dispositions, cognitive styles, motivations, and self-conceptions that together comprise his unique psychological makeup.

Trump declined to be interviewed for this story, but his life history has been well documented in his own books and speeches, in biographical sources, and in the press. My aim is to develop a dispassionate and analytical perspective on Trump, drawing upon some of the most important ideas and research findings in psychological science today.
 
Read the full report : A Psychologist Analyzes Donald Trump’s Personality - The Atlan

5/25/16

EU Refugee Crises: Germany has got their act together

Germany's push to integrate migrants - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36382703

Read the complete report click here

Greece Wins Pledge for Debt Relief as IMF Bows to Euro Plan - by Ian Wishart, Corina Ruhe, Nikos Chrysoloras

Greece’s creditors reached a preliminary accord to ease the country’s debt burden but left the important details to be hammered out after Germany’s federal election next year.

At a meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Brussels that ended early Wednesday, and paved the way for a 10.3 billion-euro ($11.5 billion) aid payout, the International Monetary Fund retreated from its hard-line stance for concrete and generous measures on Greece’s debt, allowing creditors to announce a “breakthrough” despite giving no figures or real commitments.

"It seems very much like an agreement of convenience more than anything else,” Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank told Bloomberg TV. “Greece needed the money now -- they were already behind on payments. Europe really needed to show a stable hand” before the June 23 referendum on whether the U.K. should stay in the European Union, he said.

Read more: Greece Wins Pledge for Debt Relief as IMF Bows to Euro Plan - Bloomberg

5/24/16

EU Refugee Crises: Merkel’s Austria Problem, Merkel’s Turkey Problem - by Judy Dempsey

Austria and Turkey have two things in common. Both are undergoing major political changes. And both are needed by Angela Merkel to stem the flow of migrants and refugees wanting to reach Germany. The political shifts in both countries do not augur well for the German chancellor.

In Austria, society has become deeply polarized, as the presidential election that took place on April 24 and May 22 confirmed. Immediately after the second-round runoff, Norbert Hofer, who represents the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria, was running neck and neck with Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green party leader. The result was decided by postal votes: Van der Bellen squeaked through.

The outcome matters for Merkel and for Europe. Although Hofer lost, his wide appeal—and his ability to push the established conservative Austrian People’s Party and center-left Social Democrats out of the presidential race—has shaken Austria’s comfortable postwar consensus.

The traditional political elites were so taken aback by Hofer’s dramatic rise that the Social Democrats’ Werner Faymann was forced to resign as Austria’s chancellor on May 9.

Faymann had forged a close relationship with Merkel and had cooperated with her at the height of the refugee crisis. But the Freedom Party was able to tap into the growing fears and anxieties of a country that was taking in many refugees from the Middle East. As a result, Faymann, with the agreement of governments in the Western Balkans, closed off the route through that region used by refugees. Yet that wasn’t enough to save his political career, as the presidential campaign showed.

Read more: Merkel’s Austria Problem, Merkel’s Turkey Problem - Carnegie Europe - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Belgium: Tens of thousands march against Belgian austerity reforms in Brussels

 ens of thousands of people took to the streets of Brussels on Tuesday, opposed to the free market policies of the centre-right government.

The austerity reforms will see cuts to public services, a real wage cut of 2% , enforced flexibility in the weekly hours worked and a reduction in pensions as well as a raising of the pension age.

“Today we have roughly a comfortable pension, but tomorrow are they going to do the same that they did to the Greek pensioners, that is cutting it by 20% and then another 20%?” said one protester.

Trade unions say the planned reforms cut into the foundations of Belgium’s welfare state.

A small number of protesters clashed with police, throwing rocks. At least one policeman and several demonstrators were injured

More demonstrations and national strikes are planned in the coming months.

Read more: Tens of thousands march against Belgian austerity reforms in Brussels | euronews, brussels bureau

France - strikes hit fuel supplies: Here is where France is hit hardest by fuel shortages

With 2,400 petrol stations across France either empty or running out of fuel, here's a look at which parts of the country are the most affected.

Key points 
- 2,400 petrol stations empty or running low
- PM warns the French not to panic
- Total says 509 of its 2,200 stations empty or running low

Authorities have tried to quell all talk of any fuel shortages, but 2,400 petrol stations out of 12,000 petrol stations around the country - that's one fifth - had either run out of fuel or were running very low.
And as the map below shows, it's looking extremely grim.



French oil giant Total said 54 percent of its stations in Brittany, 46 percent in Normandy, and 43 percent in the Pays-de-la-Loire region are totally or partially out of fuel.

In Nantes it’s proving almost impossible to find fuel. Posters announcing that pumps are empty greet motorists at almost every station. It’s a similar case in Vannes, where almost all stations are out of fuel.  

Read more: Here is where France is hit hardest by fuel shortages - The Local

5/23/16

USA: High approval rating for Obama

Just about 6 more months before the US elects a new President Barack Obama is riding an increased wave of popularity.



 Read more about it: click here

Austria: "Good news" - right-wing candidate defeated in Presidential election

Far-right candidate narrowly defeated in Austrian presidential election http://gu.com/p/4jfzj?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Blogger

Austria; Right Wing Presidential Candidate loosing ground


Sent Austrian right-wing candidate’s lead slips in early poll projections Early poll results show right-wing politician Norbert Hofer neck and neck with his nearest rival for the Austrian presidency, independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, in what is likely to be a nail-biting race to the election finishing line. http://f24.my/1XKivXF

5/21/16

The Netherlands - Turkey's Erdogan does not seem to understand that it takes two to tango

In the Netherlands there is major concern in political opposition circles and the general Public about the Governments very soft stance towards Turkey, when it comes to the issue of the intimidation tactics being used by the Turkish AKP party and their government entities operating in the Netherlands.

Among these issues is a so-called "klik lijn" whereby Turkish/Dutch residents can report any negative comments about Turkey or its leader Erdogan to pro -Erdogan organizations in the Netherlands, or even to the embassy.

Pro-Erdogan organizations in the Netherlands are not only receiving funding from Turkey but some even receiving Dutch government subsidies.

On top of that Mr Erdogan is even threatening the EU, that if Turkey does not become part of the Shengen treaty, because of what he calls "unreasonable demands", as to the freedom of expression,he will release "hordes of Syrian Immigrants" into the EU.

As a member of the opposition in the Dutch parliament said: "This approach used by Mr. Erdogan, in dealing with the issue of refugees can only be qualified as blackmail, and Mr. Erdogan should be made to understand that in order for this Refugee deal between Turkey and  the EU to work, it will take two to tango."

EU-Digest

5/19/16

US Healthcare More Americans Want Socialist Healthcare Than You Think

The passage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, shows what it takes to create a new government benefit in 21st-century America. The debate over the bill during Obama's first term was a nationwide shoutfest that turned violent at times; since Obamacare became law in 2010, the Republican-controlled House has continuously voted to defund it, conservatives have challenged it in multiple court battles (at least one of which is still being fought), many GOP-run states have stalled the expansion of Medicaid that was supposed to come with the law, and every Republican candidate for president has promised to make repealing Obamacare a priority.

So it's no surprise that Republicans really, really hate the ACA, and most polls over the years have shown that more Americans disapprove of Obamacare than approve of it. But according to a new survey from Gallup, what they want to replace it with is the sort of socialist-style system Bernie Sanders and others have been backing for years.

In Gallup's poll, Democrat-leaning voters mostly supported Obamacare, but 72 percent of all respondents who approve of it said they'd like to replace it with a "federally funded healthcare program providing insurance for all Americans," or what's commonly known as a "single-payer" system. And even 41 percent of Republican-leaning respondents, who mostly dislike the ACA, told Gallup they'd rather have single-payer than Obamacare—a position that, as far as I can figure out, not a single Republican officeholder has ever endorsed. But if socialized medicine is actually so popular, why can't we have it? In other words, why has the healthcare debate been so out of touch with what people say they want?

Health insurance is a fairly complicated topic, and not top-of-mind for most voters during a campaign cycle that has focused on the economy and immigration. According to recent Pew polls, Republicans generally don't think the government should get involved in healthcare. But there's a not-insignificant amount of evidence that when you strip out the names of parties and candidates, support for government-run insurance cuts across partisan lines.

The new Gallup poll, notably, didn't remind participants that federal health insurance was opposed by the right; one 2015 Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that if you told people single-payer was Donald Trump's idea a lot more Republicans were suddenly onboard (and a lot more Democrats suddenly opposed universal healthcare).

Opposition to Obamacare is often synonymous with the right-wing effort to block the expansion of the federal government into citizens' lives. On the angrier corners of the fringe, this means Sarah Palin–esque denouncements of rationing care and "death panels," but more respectable right-wingers will tell you that the problem is the government shouldn't be able to force you to buy something you don't want to. An anti-ACA lawyer even admitted, during the famous 2012 Supreme Court battle over the law, that a single-payer program would be more constitutional than the current method of requiring people to become private health insurance customers or face tax penalties.

Less talked about is the significant number of people who thought that Obamacare didn't go far enough. Sanders has been the most prominent supporter of a government-run system since he introduced an obviously doomed amendment to adopt single-payer during the original ACA debate in the Senate. Beyond single-payer, though, there's something called the "public option," a scheme that would give people the choice of buying government-provided insurance or going to the private market.

Read more: More Americans Want Socialist Healthcare Than You Think | VICE | United States