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12/31/16

European Populism: Across Europe, populists drag moderates to the right-by Tony Barber

Populism on the rise
Speaking at a congress of her ruling Christian Democrats earlier this month, chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates that next autumn’s Bundestag elections would be the party’s most formidable test since German unification in 1990. Similar challenges lie in store for France’s Republicans and the Dutch VVD, two like-minded parties that face elections in 2017.

It is not that the centre-right risks defeat at the hands of its traditional centre-left opponents. On the contrary, opinion polls put the CDU, Republicans and VVD comfortably ahead of their social democratic or socialist rivals.

True, Germany’s elections may deliver a legislature splintered into six parties, making it hard for Ms Merkel, if she wins, to construct a coalition government. But in Germany and France, as in Britain and Spain, the left is split, demoralised and buried in a crisis that mixes short-term unpopularity with long-term structural decline.

In fact, the most difficult and delicate task for the CDU, Republicans and VVD will be to stem the advance of the radical right. In an earlier epoch, before Britons voted to leave the EU and Americans elected Donald Trump as president, the centre-right would have hammered home the message that rightwing extremists offer dangerous, simplistic solutions to complicated economic and social problems.

But in 2017 this approach will not be enough. Likewise, recent warnings from mainstream politicians and national security services that Russia may meddle in the elections for the purpose of discrediting western democracy, and even influencing the results, may go largely unheard.

Arguably, the radical right has almost no prospect of actually winning power in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Still, it is riding a wave of popular support. Superficial or inflammatory to the ears of moderate voters, some of the radical right’s anti-establishment slogans nevertheless resonate with parts of the electorate.

Now it is clear that much of the European centre-right intends to address this challenge by adopting policies that echo far-right themes. On Islam, immigration, national identity and attitudes to the EU, the centre-right is becoming less centrist and more rightist. The CDU’s party congress illustrates this tendency. Against Ms Merkel’s wishes, the party voted for stricter laws against dual citizenship. Jens Spahn, a CDU minister tipped as a future chancellor, demanded lower barriers for deporting migrants without refugee status. Even Ms Merkel called for a partial ban on full-face veils, which almost no Muslims in Germany wear.

These initiatives do not push the CDU far to the right. But rank-and-file party activists want more robustly conservative policies. The populist Alternative for Germany party benefited in 2016 from Ms Merkel’s previously open door to refugees, as well as sexual attacks and robberies in Cologne and the murder in Freiburg of a student by an Afghan asylum seeker. Because of the AfD’s electoral threat, the centrist path of Ms Merkel’s 11-year chancellorship no longer satisfies the CDU faithful.

France’s Republicans have gone further down this road by choosing François Fillon as their candidate in next spring’s presidential poll. Mr Fillon published a book with the title Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism. He wants a rapprochement with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. On Islam, national security and foreign policy, almost nothing distinguishes him from Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front.

They part ways on economic policy and the EU. He promises to slash public spending, shrink the welfare state and cut business taxes. In complete contrast, she resembles some Jacobin revolutionary of 1793 in her call for sweeping economic controls. Under Ms Le Pen, France would quit the eurozone and EU. Under Mr Fillon, France would stay in but — tellingly — put more emphasis on national sovereignty.

In the Netherlands, the VVD is threatened by the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-EU PVV party of Geert Wilders. Under Mark Rutte, the prime minister and VVD leader, parliament’s lower house has passed a limited burka ban.

It is not only electoral pressures that are forcing the hand of the centre-right across Europe. Social attitudes are hardening, too. According to a YouGov survey in November, liberal values are losing ground in countries such as Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Poland, while anti-immigrant sentiment and impatience with the EU are rising.

These deeper forces are propelling the radical right’s advance. The AfD seems certain to win seats in the Bundestag for the first time. It may even end up as the German legislature’s third-largest party.

Ms Le Pen is set to sail through the French presidential election’s first round. She would probably lose against Mr Fillon, her likely opponent in the run-off. However, few expect her to do as badly as Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father, who took 17.8 per cent of the vote when he fought the centre-right Jacques Chirac in the 2002 contest.

Some recent Dutch surveys have put the PVV ahead of the VVD. Yet the Dutch practice of forming coalition governments that exclude extremists makes it improbable that Mr Wilders and the PVV will be in the next government.

In all three countries, the question is what price the centre-right will be prepared to pay in order to neutralise the radical right. On present trends the price is getting higher.

Read more: Across Europe, populists drag moderates right

Global Political Outlook: The world in 2017: Trump's long shadow and other events to watch

USA: The main thing to watch in 2017 in the US and in the world is the Von Trump family presidency, as dad and the kids likely won't even wrestle with policy issues, because of their supreme confidence in their own grasp of issues like the Middle East and nuclear arms.

It would be great if the shock of the Trump presidency sparked genuine grassroots interest in fixing American's dysfunctional democracy -  only about 55 per cent of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls in 2016 and democracy is retarded by serial maladies, from gerrymandered electorates to state-driven voter suppression to the role of lobbyists to big political donations.

As for US-Russian relations, the fallout from Vladimir Putin's alleged interference in the US elections will likely play out in the first months of the Trump administration, as Trump himself encounters resistance from his own Republican camp on sweeping it under the carpet.

China: One thing to watch in 2017 will be the political jostling and manoeuvring that will heat up ahead of a key Chinese leadership reshuffle at the 19th Party Congress to be held towards the end of the year. All eyes will be on any signalling of a potential future successor to President Xi Jinping, though speculation continues to firm that Xi plans to defy party convention and remain in power beyond the end of his second five-year term in 2022.

Taiwan looks set to pass a marriage equality bill allowing same-sex couples to wed, a move overwhelmingly backed by popular sentiment. Despite a stagnating economy and strained cross-strait relations, becoming the first Asian jurisdiction to legalise same-sex marriage will reinforce its reputation as one of the region's most progressive, vibrant and confident democracies.​

The South China Sea will remain the region's flashpoint with growing concern about the potential for conflict. Incoming US President Donald Trump has already raised questions about the "One China" policy after making a telephone call to Taiwan's leader. What happens in the strategic waters of the South China Sea, where most of Australia's trade passes, will depend on how Trump sets the parameters with China's thin-skinned communist rulers in 2017

Europe: Worst-case scenarios seem to have popped up quite a lot recently, which is a worry, because the worst-case scenario for Europe in 2017 is the effective collapse of the European Union. Under the continuing threat of terrorist attacks and the pressure of incoming refugees from Africa and the Middle East, politics is turning insular. Nationalism is on the rise.

On the eastern front, European states will continue to openly flirt with Russia, or bristle with worry about Donald Trump's commitment to NATO and their security.

Key elections will test whether the mood is merely grim or actually apocalyptic. Geert Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-immigration party will threaten to seize a share of power in the Netherlands, and the National Front's Marine Le Pen is likely to go head-to-head with social and economic conservative Francois Fillon in the French presidential race.

Italy may also go to the polls, with the anti-euro Five Star party in rude electoral health.

Then later in the year, Angela Merkel faces a tough fight to prove Germany's political centre can still command a majority.

Meanwhile, Britain will continue to tie itself in knots over what Brexit is going to involve, and how on earth it can actually be turned from a radical idea into a not-complete-debacle.

Oh, and, Eurovision is in Kiev this year. That's going to be weird..

The world in 2017: Trump's long shadow and other events to watch

12/30/16

EU: Will Bulgarians and Romanians be toasting their ten years in the EU?

Bulgaria’s GDP per capita was 41 percent of the EU average when it joined in 2007, rising to 47 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

Romania’s, meanwhile, stood at 57 percent in 2015, up from 43 percent in 2007, according to data from Eurostat.

There is also a smaller proportion of people in both countries at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

In Bulgaria, around 60 percent fell into this category in 2007, falling to 41.3 percent in 2015.

In Romania the figure fell from 47 percent a decade ago, to 37.4 percent in 2015.

Yet despite these positive indicators, people in Romania are not all feeling this in their pockets, Romanian political analyst Radu Magdin told Euronews.

“Yes you can say we registered economic growth, yes you can say after the economic crisis Romania is the economic tiger of Europe,” he said. “But there is some frustration – which is not attributable to Europe – in the sense that the economic growth is not being reflected in people’s pockets.

“The structure of the economy is mostly based on exports. The profits being made by multinational companies are reflected in this growth but it’s very difficult to translate this growth into people’s pockets because we’re not talking redistribution.”

Read more: Will Bulgarians and Romanians be toasting their ten years in the EU?

Russia: Putin: Russia won't expel US diplomats - by Laura Smith-Spark and Matthew Chanc

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow will not expel American diplomats in response to US sanctions against Russia.

Putin said he would not pursue "irresponsible diplomacy" and would instead attempt to rebuild relations with Washington after the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump.

However, Putin said that Russia reserved the right to respond to the new US sanctions, which included the expulsion of 35 diplomats from the US.

The Obama administration said the measures were in response to allegations that Russia had meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.

"Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policies carried out by the administration of President Trump," a Kremlin statement said.

Read more: Putin: Russia won't expel US diplomats - CNN.com

Middle East: New Syria cease-fire set to begin at midnight

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the truce will include 62,000 opposition fighters across Syria, and that the Russian military has established a hotline with its Turkish counterpart to monitor compliance.

The deal will be guaranteed by Russia and Turkey. It's set to be followed by peace talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and opposition leaders. The Syrian parties would meet in Kazakhstan for the talks, though no date has been set.

Read more:New Syria cease-fire set to begin at midnight | Fox News

12/29/16

EU Economy: What will the European economy look like in 2017? - by Lizzie O'Leary and Stephen Beard

There were three big electoral events affecting the global economy in the second half of 2016.

The biggest event  by far, of course, occurred in the U.S. on November 8th. The other two were in Europe and are set to have repercussions well into 2017: the vote for Brexit in the U.K. and the "no" vote in the Italian referendum.

Marketplace European Bureau Chief Stephen Beard joined Lizzie O’Leary to take a look at Europe moving into the New Year.

Read more: What will the European economy look like in 2017?

POLITICS: Liberal Democracies and the Rise of Populist Politics - by Yascha Mounk

After years of simmering disenchantment with status quo politics, “2016 was a watershed” for populist parties and movements, says Yascha Mounk, a political theorist at Harvard University.

Major democracies have seen movements that challenge democratic norms and institutions score victories at the ballot box amid rising economic anxieties and mass migration. Meanwhile, leaders in Hungary and Russia have modeled an alternative to the liberal democratic order that has predominated since the end of the Cold War, says Mounk, who holds fellowships at the German Marshall Fund and New America Foundation. The trend toward populist politics “is seemingly still accelerating,” he says, as the coming year is set to bring at least three elections in Europe.

Read more: Yascha Mounk on Illiberal Democracies and the Rise of Populist Politics - Council on Foreign Relations

Obama sanctions Russian officials over election hacking

Responding to evidence that Russia hacked Democratic Party officials during this year's presidential election, the Obama administration Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence officials, expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies and shut down two Russian facilities in the United States.

Obama also suggested that the Russians sought to affect previous elections via cyber-espionage, and that the U.S. would engage in covert retaliation activity.

The administration will soon "be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections," he said.

Read more:Obama sanctions Russian officials over election hacking

Automobile Industry: Panasonic to invest over $256-million in Tesla’s U.S. plant for solar cells

Panasonic Corp will invest more than 30 billion yen ($256-million) in a New York production facility of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors to make photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules, deepening a partnership of the two companies.

Japan’s Panasonic, which has been retreating from low-margin consumer electronics to focus more on automotive components and other businesses targeting corporate clients, will make the investment in Tesla’s factory in Buffalo, New York.

The U.S. electric car maker is making a long-term purchase commitment from Panasonic as part of the deal, besides providing factory buildings and infrastructure.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the two companies said they plan to start production of PV modules in the summer of 2017 and increase to one gigawatt of module production by 2019.

The plan is part of the solar partnership that the two companies first announced in October, but which did not disclose investment details.

Tesla is working exclusively with longtime partner Panasonic to supply batteries for its upcoming Model 3, the company’s first mass-market car. Panasonic is also the exclusive supplier of batteries to Tesla’s Model S and Model X.

Panasonic to invest over $256-million in Tesla’s U.S. plant for solar cells - The Globe and Mail

Poll: World Relies on America But Doesn't Like Us Much

Most U.S. voters still consider the United States the best country in the world, but they don’t think we are winning any popularity contests. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on September 28-29, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology

Read more: World Relies on America But Doesn't Like Us Much - Rasmussen Reports™

USA: Trump Tweets Gives A Glimpse Into Foreign Policy Approach

President-elect Donald Trump has used Twitter — his preferred means of communication — to weigh in on a swath of foreign policy issues over the past few weeks.

His comments give glimpse into how his incoming administration will deal with pressing foreign matters — but also highlight how reactionary comments on social media can immediately spur international concern and attention.

And his staff have indicated that taking to Twitter to air his concerns or, often, grievances, won't end once he enters the Oval Office.

Read more: Trump Tweets Gives A Glimpse Into Foreign Policy Approach

12/28/16

EU: Will Be Watching These Faces during 2017: Ten to watch for Europe

The European Union enters 2017 under siege from without and within, facing challenges to the east, west and south and experiencing a surge by anti-EU nationalists across the continent itself.

These are 10 faces Europe will be watching in 2017:

DONALD TRUMP – USA

JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI – POLAND

GEERT WILDERS – Netherlands

THERESA MAY – UK

MARINE LE PEN – FRANCE

VLADIMIR PUTIN – RUSSIA

SERGIO MATTARELLA – ITALY

ANGELA MERKEL – GERMANY

THE AFRICAN MIGRANT

THE MEN AND WOMEN IN BLACK - ISIS

Read more: Faces of 2017: Ten to watch for Europe

Israel: Kerry harshly condemns Israeli settler activity as an obstacle to peace

Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday offered a harsh and detailed assessment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying their growth threatens to destroy the viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the United States was obliged to allow passage of a U.N. resolution condemning the activity in order to preserve the possibility of peace.

Kerry noted that the number of Israelis living in settlements has grown significantly and that their outposts are extending farther into the West Bank — “in the middle of what by any reasonable definition would be the future Palestinian state.”

“No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of the threat settlements pose to peace,” he said.

Kerry, in the hour-long speech delivered at the State Department, also condemned Palestinian incitement to violence as a barrier to direct negotiations. But his focus was on defending the Obama administration’s policies and highlighting Israel’s actions at a moment of high tension between the two governments, following the passage of the U.N. resolution.

“Regrettably, some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

He said the vote at the United Nations was about “Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve, for our sake and for theirs.”

Although he did not mention Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by name, he addressed head-on the Israeli leader’s assertions that the United States had “colluded” and “orchestrated” last week’s U.N. resolution affirming that settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”

Kerry denied that the United States drafted or promoted the resolution, and took a swipe at the rhetoric coming from Israeli leaders. “It will be up to the Israeli people to decide whether the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed toward this administration best serve Israel’s national interests and its relationship with an ally that has been steadfast in its support,” he said. “Those attacks, alongside allegations of a U.S.-led conspiracy and other manufactured claims, distract and divert attention from what the substance of this vote really was about.”

Kerry acknowledged that his vision is not shared and is unlikely to be followed by President-elect Donald Trump.

Read more: Kerry harshly condemns Israeli settler activity as an obstacle to peace

12/27/16

The Environment: Air pollution in Europe is getting worse says European Environment Agency

 France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain or Bosnia-Herzegovina…. All these countries, whether big or small, are being threatened with the same problem: air pollution.

According to the World Health Organisation, this is now the environmental factor causing the greatest concern for our health. The European Environment Agency states that around 90% of the urban population in Europe is exposed to pollutants which are considered to be harmful.

“This hike in pollution is partly due to the increased emissions caused by more heating being used to combat cooler temperatures,” explains weather forecaster Lionel Guiseppin. “Also, other contributing sources of pollution are traffic and manufacturing. These factors combine to create an accumulation of pollution. “

The European Union is trying to find solutions to this dangerous threat. A directive governing national emissions levels has been issued (the PEN directive) and the EU has also set limits, for the first time, on the ambient concentrations of fine particles.

On a national scale, each member state has taken emergency measures to limit the harmful effects.

Many European towns, especially in France, have reduced the speed limit in built up areas from 50 to 30 km per hour. The aim is to encourage the use of bicycles. The introduction of the ruling concerning alternate number plates, although quite efficient, has caused problems for public transport.

“I think it’s a good thing but at the same time it is a bit of a pain,” says French commuter Laurice Harrow. “As it’s free today, people are no longer using their cars but the trains are full and we no longer have any space, it’s a real pain.”

The second solution offered by Public Authorities is to ban vehicles with a high level of pollution. In Germany, ignoring this directive can lead to a fine of up to 40 euros while in Sweden, drivers may have to pay 113 euros. In London, the fines are higher still and can reach approximately 1200 euros for heavy goods vehicles.

Whilst waiting for the benefits of these solutions to take effect, some citizens have already taken measures. Anti-pollution masks are slowly but surely infiltrating the large European towns.

Air pollution in Europe

Israel UN Vote; Too Little, Too Late for U.S. Decision on Settlements - by Cesar Chelala

 The United States ’ abstention on the UN Security Council (UNSC) anti-settlement resolution is a serious blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of annexation in the West Bank . Israel ’s Prime Minister Bureau stated that, “ Israel rejects the contemptible, anti-Israel UN resolution and will not subordinate itself to it.” This action, the first openly critical and possibly effective one on Israel ’s policy came, however, too late to be of long-term significance and will not probably advance the prospects for peace in the region.

Israel ’s government immediately reacted stating that it will impose sanctions on the two states that pushed for the resolution, New Zealand and Senegal , and ordered their ambassadors for consultation. However, the Israeli government couldn’t take a similar action against the two other states that called for a vote on the resolution – Venezuela and Malaysia , since it doesn’t have diplomatic ties with them.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau lambasted President Barak Obama for not vetoing the resolution stating, “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes. Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

In an unusual move, the White House laid the responsibility of this action on the Israeli government stating that Netanyahu’s settlement policy is responsible for the passing of the UNSC resolution on settlements. Predictably, president-elect Donald Trump, with his characteristic insouciance, said that “Things will be different after January 20.”

In Israel, Meretz’s leader, Zehava Galon, broke with that government line and said that she was happy at the U.S.’s abstention, since the resolution was, in effect, “against the policy of annexation and settlement and not against Israel,” adding that the resolution was “the direct result of the law to legalize settlements, with Israel having lost all its shame and the world having lost its patience.”

In its three first paragraphs the UN resolution on settlements clearly states that to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations on the ground it,

1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem , and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.

Shortly after the UNSC vote, President Barak Obama’s senior adviser Ben Rhodes explained why the U.S. had not vetoed the resolution on the settlements saying that the U.S. abstention should surprise no one, especially Israel ’s Prime Minister, saying that UNSC Resolution on settlements 2334 was Netanyahu’s personal failure.

The U.S. ’s abstention on the settlement issue is an important one that, if history is correct, will not necessarily change Israel ’s policy of annexation, and hence the possibility of a two-state solution. The Netanyahu government should realize that not recognizing Palestinian rights goes contrary to Israel ’s own interest for peace in the region.

In 2012, I met the late Stéphane Hessel, French Ambassador and member of the French Resistance. He was also the author of “Indignez-vous!” (Time for Outrage!), an essay mainly addressed to today’s youth, on what he considered should be their activism for human rights. He was in New York as member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine , which was highly critical of Israeli actions against the Palestinians. I asked him how, being a Jew, he was so respectful of Palestinian rights. He gave me the best answer I could possibly imagine. “Because I love Israel ,” he told me.

Read more; Too Little, Too Late for U.S. Decision on Settlements

Gun Control USA; Police, researchers: To address gun violence, U.S. needs to track the number of people shot - Baltimore Sun

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn, whose department also collects statistics on nonfatal shootings, said that relying on a broad category of aggravated assault data is an ineffective way to spot and address trends in gun violence.

"If we can reliably extract nonfatal shooting data across jurisdictions," he said, "we will have a much more useful comparative metric."

The Baltimore Sun, in a yearlong investigation, compiled crime statistics on gun violence from the nation's largest cities, including nonfatal shootings, necessary to calculate the lethality of gun violence over the past five years. Half of the 30 biggest cities kept the necessary data.

The Sun's investigation found that one out of three people who were shot died of their wounds in Baltimore, Washington and New Orleans — a distinction that ranked them as the most lethal. The Sun also found that the odds for gunshot victims worsened in at least 10 of the nation's largest cities last year.

Several factors were behind those trends. In Baltimore, the number of victims shot in the head or multiple times has increased dramatically over the years. And in a number of places, gun-seizure data shows criminals are wielding higher-caliber guns and more large-capacity magazines.

The information collected by the FBI from local police departments across the country is compiled in the Uniform Crime Report. The report, which hasn't changed significantly since it was started in 1930, is one of two crime surveys the agency conducts. Both provide incomplete information, the DOJ report said.

"The two currently available crime databases run by the federal government cannot provide high-quality and promptly available data about the incidence of crime," the report said.

The second crime database run by the FBI, the National Incident Based Reporting System, is a program created in 1988 to record more specific national crime data than the Uniform Crime Report. But only about one-third of all U.S. law enforcement agencies use the new system, the DOJ report noted, and it doesn't require agencies to report nonfatal shootings as a separate category.

Both the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide annual estimates of nonfatal shootings, but the information is based on limited surveys.

Read more; Police, researchers: To address gun violence, U.S. needs to track the number of people shot - Baltimore Sun

EU Forecast 2017; Three trends that will continue hurting the eurozone in 2017 – by Ilaria Maselli

In a referendum earlier this month, Italian voters dealt a knockout blow to their prime minister’s proposed reform agenda. He declared his resignation that very night.

Disdain for the current crop of politicians extends throughout Europe, with uncertainty surrounding the 2017 elections in the Netherland (March), France (May), and Germany (September.

On top of all of this comes the start of the Brexit negotiation, presumably in March. How will Theresa May manage to ensure that companies but not people retain the freedom of movement? For the rest of the EU, more than an economic challenge, the negotiation poses an existential challenge: does the eurozone need more or less integration to fix its economy and address the uncertainty? And if the answer is “more” what are the policies needed? Eurobonds? A common unemployment insurance scheme? More redistribution across regions?

This lack of confidence almost always puts the brakes on economic growth, since it pushes companies to postpone hiring and delay investment decisions. Moreover, recent research reveals that the most productive companies – those that have the most to lose from taking risks – demonstrate the strongest wait-and-see attitude. A protracted state of uncertainty can therefore permanently affect the productivity, innovation and growth performance of even the best companies.

Read more; Three trends that will continue hurting the eurozone in 2017 – EurActiv.com

EU; A Soul for Europe conference: Desperately seeking a soul for Europe - by Sergio Cebrián

What a fitting headline for the times – Europe and the European project face many threats, such as the unresolved Euro crisis, desertions such as Brexit, disagreements over international issues like the one that the signature of the free trade agreement with Canada brought to the fore after much wrangling, and last but not least, the (victory) of Donald Trump in the American presidential election and his intention to revisit transatlantic relations. These uncertainties that taken together force us to ponder the relevance of the European project, how it is perceived, and how to address these threats.

Such was the objective of the conference A Soul for Europe that was jointly held in Berlin this past 8 and 9 November by the Allianz Foundation and the Berlin Zukunft Foundation. Political leaders, members of civil society, journalists and experts met there to discuss the European project and along what lines to relaunch it. On day one, the sole topic was the role of cities, which play a key role in the construction of Europe. On day two, there were three topics: culture as an integration factor, immigration and its impact on the construction of Europe, and the construction of the Europe of citizens based on the first two topics. According to participants like Ivan Krastev and Ulrike Guerot, citizen participation is crucial to building a European demos and reenergizing the European project. To achieve these goals, institutions to bolster participation are needed. Bloggers such as Jon Worth also hold this opinion.

Several projects designed to address these points were presented at the venue Marketplace Europe, such as vonkiezzukiez.eu (“Neighbourhood to neighbourhood"), which aims to communicate on the topic of the issues in European neighbourhoods and cities by collective discussions between citizens and representatives of institutions. The objective of the project called Migration Matters is to demonstrate through thorough studies the truth about migration to the public. European Alternatives, is striving to l'"create a transnational political space that enables citizens to take decisions."

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, delivered the closing speech, which was on the state of Europe, and sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Juncker, who seemed more humane up close than one would guess from his public persona reflected by the press, stressed one fundamental point for all who are involved in or affected by the European project: "Often I see it written that the European Union is the main problem of the European continent. To the contrary, it is the only way that Europe will manage to survive in tomorrow's."

Read more: A Soul for Europe conference: Desperately seeking a soul for Europe | VoxEurop.eu: European news, cartoons and press reviews

12/26/16

France -Banking Industry: French banks refuse to loan far-right party

French banks are refusing to lend the far-right National Front party money for political reasons, according to a senior party official. This means leader Marine Le Pen may lack the resources needed to fund a presidential campaign in 2017.

As reported online by France 24, National Front party Secretary General Nicolas Bay said he had asked for a loan of about €27m for the April-May presidential and legislative campaigns next year “from among banking establishments in France, Europe and around the world”.

In an interview with Europe 1 radio, Bay said French banks were refusing to lend the party money, he said, adding that the party was facing “discrimination based on political opinions”.

Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, BPCE and Crédit Mutuel did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), while BNP Paribas and the French banking federation declined to offer a statement.

In a separate report, the Reuters news agency noted that Le Pen has the support of around a quarter of French voters according to opinion polls, but campaign funding has long been an issue.

In 2014, it emerged that the party had received a €9m loan from a Russian lender.

Read  more: French banks refuse to loan far-right party

US - Incoming Cabinet Appointees: Four Cabinet nominations that could blow up in Trump’s face - by Amber Phillips

With a 52-to-48 Senate majority next month, Republicans will have power in numbers. But a handful of independent-minded GOP senators could arguably have even more power.

Just three Republicans could derail some of Donald Trump's critical Cabinet-level nominations, which need to be approved by a 51-vote majority of the U.S. Senate. (After Senate Democrats got rid of the filibuster in 2013 for nominations like these, they essentially took away their ability to block Trump's nominations, because a filibuster would have essentially translated into a 60-vote confirmation requirement.)

History suggests it's very rare for senators from the president's own party to block his Cabinet appointments. But it is a possibility for several of Trump's picks.

Here are four of Trump's nominations that could draw support from most Republicans — but resistance from a critical few: 

Rex Tillerson: Secretary of state: Tillerson has extensive business ties to Russia and, specifically, to President Vladimir Putin. 

Jeff Sessions: Attorney general: Trump awarded one of his earliest Capitol Hill supporters with the nation's top law enforcement job. Sessions — a hard-line anti-immigration politician

Steven Mnuchin: Treasury secretary: Like Trump, the former Goldman Sachs executive and finance director of Trump's campaign has no former experience in government. 

James Mattis: Defense secretary :In the Marines, retired Gen. James Mattis is a legend. His gritty, no-nonsense, hard-charging style earned him the battlefield nickname "Mad Dog,",  a high compliment in Marine culture and one that Trump apparently appreciates - but probably not so much appreciated on the Global scene.  Congress also has a 65-year-old law that defense secretaries can't have been on active duty in the previous seven years, a somewhat symbolic reminder from our government that the military serves to help civilians. Mattis retired in 2013. James Mattis: Defense secretary::

Read more: Four Cabinet nominations that could blow up in Donald Trump’s face - The Washington Post

12/25/16

US Economy: Obama gives gift of solid economy to Trump

President Barack Obama inherited a shattered economy when he came into office that stemmed from the bursting of a housing bubble that led to a financial-sector meltdown.

When the president took over in 2009 the country was in the midst of a deep financial crisis and recession with unemployment near 10 percent.

Eight years later Obama is giving a gift of a solid economy to President-elect Donald Trump.

Despite problem of slow growth and an uneven recovery there has been an economic turnaround under Obama

Unemployment has fallen dramatically to just 4.6 percent, a nine-year low.

When Obama became president nearly 800,000 Americans had lost their jobs. Compare that today when America has gained over 11 million new jobs since Obama took office.

“The labor market is in better shape than at any point in the recovery,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at the job site Indeed.

In addition to a better economy, 20 million more Americans now have health insurance coverage. Today only 8.9 percent of Americans now lack health insurance, a historic low, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Yet Trump has criticized the Obama economy as terrible. He says unemployment is lower because many American gave up search for jobs. Nearly two-thirds of voters described the economy as “not so good” or poor, according to polling after the November election.

The new economic reality is that for decades now jobs options have been dwindling for workers with only high school diplomas. This trend was occurring before Obama took office. Workers in rural towns in which Trump won big never enjoyed the economic recovery that benefited major cities.

Trump was able to capitalize on these economic trends fueled by globalization and technology to ride to victory in November.

Still the fact remain that Obama pulled the economy from the brink of collapse.

Read more: Obama gives gift of solid economy to Trump | Commentary | phillytrib.com

The Netherlands: Santa's secret past: Who is the real Saint Nicholas? And why do we celebrate Christmas? - by Tom Rawle

Saint Nicholas is said to have created miracles across Turkey
The big guy in the North Pole has been the traditional Christmas gift-giver for hundreds of years now.

But his dark past is a fairly untouched subject. Look away now kids.

The well-known bearded ball of joy was based on Saint Nicholas, a 4th century bishop based in Turkey.

Saint Nick was known for giving secret presents and pulling off a handful of miracles according to the history books.

Yet the real festive folk hero is now also widely revered as being the patron saint of prostitutes.

According to the story, Nicholas saved three women from becoming hookers after their father could not afford dowries for them to wed.

At the time in Turkey – then known as Asia Minor, unmarriable women would be forced into prostitution.

Luckily old Nick had a plan.

On the night before the eldest daughter came of age, he anonymously offered up a purse of gold coins to the family.

One year on, he repeated the same gesture for the middle daughter.

And finally in the third year, he dropped a purse down the chimney for the third daughter (hence the modern day fable).

The wonderworker is said to have continued his good will to help maintain the purity of women and slow down the growth of prostitution.

Gerry Bowler, historian and author of World Encyclopedia of Christmas, told Daily Star Online exclusively that Saint Nicholas is a “semi-mythical saint”, yet was renowned around the globe.

He said: “So many stories were told about his wonder-working powers — he could fly, he could be in two places at once, he could raise the dead to life — that he was the most popular saint in heaven (outside of the Virgin Mary).”

In another story Saint Nick is said to have brought back to life three children murdered by an evil butcher.

In translated script from Symeon the Metaphrast, a philosopher in 900AD, he wrote: “Now after he had long lived in this manner, renowned for his virtuous conduct, he asperged the metropolis of Myra with sweet and lovely unction distilled from the blossoms of divine Grace.

"When he came to the very advance age, full of days both heavenly and earthly, he need must comply with the common law of nature, as is man's lot.

Dr Bowler said many areas of the Catholic Church still allow for the teachings of Saint Nicholas, despite some no longer trusting the legend.

In his book, World Encyclopedia of Christmas, he writes: “After his death Nicholas became a well-loved saint, being named the patron, among other things, of Russia, Greece, Vikings, choirboys, thieves, perfumers, barrel makers, unmarried women and sailors.”

He adds: “By the sixteenth century German children hung out their stockings for him to drop presents in just as he had dropped bags of gold to the poor man’s daughters.

“At the same time in England children were told that he came in through the window.”

From this, the idea of Santa Claus was born”

He writes: “Among Protestant countries only the Netherlands maintained its devotion to Nicholas, known there as Sinterklaas.

“This figure of Sinterklaas inspired early nineteenth-century Americans in New York City to develop a new Gift-Bringer, Santa Claus.

“It is Santa Claus who is exported back to Europe to provide the model for Gift-Bringers such as Father Christmas.”

So the good news is Santa Claus is (based on) a real person.

The bad news, he meddled a bit too much with prostitutes

From: Santa's secret past: Who is the real Saint Nicholas? And why do we celebrate Christmas? | Daily Star

Air Disaster Russiar: Famed Russian Military Choir Among 92 Feared Dead After Plane Crash by Ivan Nechepurenko

A Russian aircraft bound for Syria carrying a famed military band to entertain Russia’s forces there crashed into the Black Sea moments after takeoff Sunday, and the authorities said all 92 people aboard were believed dead.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, although initial Russian news media reports indicated it was a technical failure rather than terrorism.

The Russian military has had only minor casualties throughout its deployment in Syria, but the country has experienced a series of setbacks in recent days.

On Monday, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an art exhibit in Ankara, with the killer yelling “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!”

That came not long after forces from the Islamic State recaptured the storied Syrian city of Palmyra, forcing the Russian garrison that had been stationed there since helping to take the city last spring to flee.

The military plane, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154, disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from the resort town of Sochi. Russia’s official weather forecast agency said that conditions near the airport were “normal, easy,” the Interfax news agency reported. The airplane was technically fit, the Defense Ministry said.

Wreckage of the plane, which was carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members, was found in the sea, most of it about one mile from shore, the Russian Defense Ministry said. No survivors have been found at the crash site, Russian officials said.

Passengers on the flight, which originated in Moscow and stopped in Sochi to refuel, included 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the Russian military choir, who were traveling to Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria. The band planned to serenade Russian personnel in Syria on New Year’s Eve.

President Vladimir V. Putin deployed Russian armed forces in Syria in September 2015, ostensibly to fight terrorism but primarily to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, the leader of the lone remaining Russian ally in the region, whose forces have been fighting an insurgency for nearly six years.

In Moscow, flowers were placedin front of portraits of Russian television journalists who were aboard the crashed military plane. Credit Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

Russian forces have been instrumental in helping the Damascus government regain the initiative, with the final rebels expelled from the besieged city of Aleppo on Thursday.

Three journalists from Channel One, Russia’s main television station, were on the plane, as were journalists from the Zvezda and NTV television networks, news reports said.

Yelizaveta P. Glinka, a prominent Russian philanthropist and a member of the presidential council on human rights and civil society, was also on the list of people on board. Mr. Putin recently honored Mrs. Glinka with a state award for her human rights and charity work. Valery V. Khalilov, the ensemble’s artistic director, was also on the plane, according to the list of passengers.

Mr. Putin expressed his condolences to relatives of the victims, and he declared Monday a national day of mourning. (Christmas is not celebrated as an official holiday in Russia on Dec. 25, because the Russian Orthodox Church observes it on Jan. 7.)

Read more: Famed Russian Military Choir Among 92 Feared Dead After Plane Crashes Into Black Sea - The New York Times

12/24/16

Resolution 2017- Help Clean-up Global Plutocracy:: Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think

This has become the New Normal: Don't accept it
 "When a small group of people rules a society the political system is considered an oligarchy; when only money and wealth determine how a society is controlled, the political system is a plutocracy.

This is basically the situation we have today in the US, Russia, China, EU and many other countries in the world.

From the standpoint of a democratic society, both oligarchy and plutocracy are inherently unjust and corrupt.

Of course there are variations in the degrees of authoritarianism and cruelty that each system exercises over the communities it relies upon for workers and wealth. Scholars have resorted to using phrases like “benign dictatorships” or “wise rulers” or “paternalistic hierarchies—“ to describe lighter touches by those few who impose their rule over the many.

Thomas Paine simply called them tyrannies. People, families, and communities can only take so much abuse before they rise up to resist. The job of the rulers is always to find that line and provide the lowest level of pay, security, housing, consumer protection, healthcare, and political access for society so that they can extract and hoard the greatest amount of wealth, power, and immunity from justice for themselves. In many ways, the majority of Americans live in a democracy of minimums, while the privileged few enjoy a plutocracy of maximums.

In a plutocracy, commercialism dominates far beyond the realm of economics and business; everything is for sale, and money is power. But in an authentic democracy, there must be commercial-free zones where the power of human rights, citizenship, community, equality, and justice are free from the corrupting influence of money. Our elections and our governments should be such commercial-free zones; our environment, air, and water should never fall under the control of corporations or private owners. Children should not be programmed by a huckstering economy where their vulnerable consciousness becomes the target of relentless corporate marketing and advertising.

American history demonstrates that whenever commerce dominates all aspects of national life, a host of ills and atrocities have not just festered and spread, but become normal—enslavement, land grabs, war, ethnic cleansing, serfdom, child labor, abusive working conditions, corrupt political systems, environmental contamination, and immunity from the law for the privileged few. History also shows that whenever there have been periods when enough of the country organizes and resists, we see movements of people and communities breaking through power. Progress is made. Rights are won.

Education and literacy increase. Oppression is diminished. It was in this manner that people of conscience abolished the living nightmare imposed by the laws and whips of white enslavers. The nation moved closer to promises of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” expressed in the Declaration of Independence. We won more control over our work, our food, our land, our air, and our water. Women secured the right to vote. Civil rights were elevated and enforced. Public schools, improved environments, workplace collective bargaining, and consumer protections did not spontaneously evolve; they were won by people demanding them and breaking through power.

These moments of great progress are expressed in terms of new legislation, regulations, and judicial decisions that directly benefit the life, liberties, and pursuit of happiness of most Americans. From the abolition of slavery to the introduction of seat belts, great social gains have been achieved when people mobilize, organize, and resist the power of the few. The problem is that these liberating periods of humanitarian and civilizational progress are of shorter duration than the relentless commercial counterforces that discourage and disrupt social movements and their networks of support. Some commentators have used the bizarre term “justice fatigue” to describe the pullback that often occurs when communities of resistance are faced with increased surveillance, infiltration, harassment, and arrest. A more accurate term is repression.

Concentrated power in the hands of the few really should matter to you. It matters to you if you are denied fulltime gainful employment or paid poverty wages and there are no unions to defend your interests. It matters to you if you’re denied affordable health care. It matters to you if you’re gouged by the drug industry and your medication is outrageously expensive. It matters to you if it takes a long time to get to and from work due to lack of good public transit or packed highways. It matters to you if you and your children live in impoverished areas and have to breathe dirtier air and drink polluted water and live in housing that is neglected by your landlord. It matters to you if your children are receiving a substandard education in understaffed schools where they are being taught to obey rather than to question, think and imagine, especially in regards to the nature of power.

If you’re a little better off, it matters to you when your home is unfairly threatened with foreclosure. It matters to you when the nation is economically destabilized due to Wall Street’s crimes, and your retirement account evaporates overnight. It matters to you if you can’t pay off your large student loans, or if you can’t get out from under crushing credit-card debt or enormous medical bills due to being under-insured. It matters to you if you are constantly worried about the security of your job, or the costly care of your children and elderly parents.

“We live in a beautiful country,” writes historian Howard Zinn. “But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back.” To better assess what it specifically takes to do just that, it is important to understand how the people profiting from plutocratic forces strategically and regularly dominate old and new circumstances with powerful controlling processes".

With elections coming up in in Europe and other countries of the world in 2017- don't ever believe it is too difficult for you as one person to make a difference.  Speak out, join an advocacy group, or even organize one yourself. Go to political meetings of your choice and ask questions.

Politicians need your vote and will listen to you, specially if their political career depends on it.Politicians will usually also tell you everything you want to hear, and will even lie through their teeth, as long as you give them your vote. Check their voting record and compare it to their promises.  You will notice that most of what they told you before they never materialized. Question them about it in Public.

In Europe these questions could be : "why is Europe spending millions of euros fighting loosing wars in the Middle East.  What is done to improve education, Why has the care for the elderly declined so dramatically?" 

Or people in the US could ask: "why do we still have an outdated voting system, How come military spending figures are kept secret, etc etc".

Believe it or not, your future and that of your children stands or falls based on your involvement as a Citizen. Sitting at home and watching "pre-cooked" news by the corporate owned media or wondering what kind of dog food is better for your dog won't get you anywhere.

Most of the above quoted text comes from an easy-to-read compact book by Ralph Nader, called "Breaking Through Power" - You can order it on line and certainly will find it most fascinating as the world around you becomes more bizarre by the minute.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and an active and involved 2017 - hope you will take-off those slippers and use them to start slapping your politicians into shape and making them listen more attentively to you and what your needs are.

EU-Digest

12/23/16

Money Laundering: EU tables new rules to counter money laundering- by Irene Kostaki

The European Commission on December 21 proposed the tightening of controls on cash and precious metals that are transferred to the bloc from non-EU countries.

The proposal is part of the EU’s action plan to cut financing to Islamic State. It comes after the December 19 attack in Berlin in which 12 people were killed when a truck ploughed into a crowd at a busy Christmas market.

Under the new proposals, customs officials in EU member states will be given the powers of checking freight payments via cards and prepaid/debit cards.

This means that anyone carrying more than €10,000 in cash will be required to declare this at customs when entering the EU.

EU officials also said some of the recent attacks in Europe were carried out with limited funds, sometimes sent from outside the EU. These amounts probably originated from criminal activities, such as drug dealing, according to Vera Jourova, the EU Commissioner for Justice.

She presented the Commission’s proposal on freezing terrorists’ financial resources and on confiscating assets – even from those who are only suspected of being connected to criminals.

“There are a lot of new ways of transferring money and not all of those are covered in the EU-US scheme,” Julian King, the Commissioner for the Security Union, told a news conference in Brussels. He also said the Commission will study the impact of a possible EU programme and “report back by next summer”.

Read more: EU tables new rules to counter money laundering

Israel - UN Security Council Vote On Occupied Territories West Bank: Rebuffing Israel, U.S. Allows Censure- by S.Sengupta and R.Gladstone

Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements. The American abstention on the vote also broke a longstanding policy of shielding Israel from action at the United Nations that described the settlements as illegal.

While the resolution is not expected to have any practical impact on the ground, it is regarded as a major rebuff to Israel, one that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel.

Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14 to 0, with the United States ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention. Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, denounced the measure, and castigated the council members who had approved it.

Rebuffing Israel, U.S. Allows Censure Over Settlements - The New York Times

Syria: Assad thanks Russia & Putin for helping to liberate Aleppo

The Syrian President, Bashar Assad, has expressed his gratitude to Vladimir Putin and the Russian people for their help in liberating Aleppo from terrorists as the two leaders talked a day after Damascus assumed full control over the city.

The phone conversation was initiated by Russia as Putin congratulated his Syrian counterpart with the conclusion of the Aleppo operation.

“The two sides discussed during the phone call the next political process in Syria, with President al-Assad thanking President Putin and Russia as a key ally for Syria which contributed along with other allies to liberating Aleppo,” the Syrian state-owned news agency SANA reported.

Read more: Assad thanks Russia & Putin for helping to liberate Aleppo — RT News

Motor Sports: Verstappen wins Sportsman of the Year award in the Netherlands

Max Verstappen youngest ever Formula 1 Grand Prix winner
Max Verstappen has been named Sportsman of the Year in his home country during an award ceremony on Wednesday evening.

The Red Bull Racing driver became the youngest ever Formula 1 Grand Prix winner and the first Dutch GP winner in F1 history when he defeated the Ferraris in Barcelona this year. The victory came after the season’s dominant cars, the two Mercedes-Benz W07s, collided with each other on the opening lap.

Verstappen was not present to collect the award – it was collected on his behalf by former Dutch Grand Prix driver and sportscar star Jan Lammers. But Verstappen told the audience via a video message that he was ‘very honored’ to receive it.

“It’s been a superb season for me with many highlights,” he said. “Something I will always remember, of course, is the victory. That was a very emotional moment.

“It’s something you work very hard for from a very young age. I think everybody in the audience will understand this.”

The 19-year-old went on to finish fifth in the championship, despite spending the first four races of the year at Scuderia Toro Rosso, with whom he made his F1 debut in 2015.

Verstappen also mentioned Johan Cruyff, the Dutch football legend who passed away in March this year, and who had paid Verstappen a visit during pre-season testing at Barcelona, just weeks before his passing.

“I am very glad to have met him,” said Verstappen. “Of course this was something very, very emotional after the victory.”

Referring to Cruyff’s iconic #14, which Dutch team Ajax retired in his honor back in 2007, Verstappen said: “I’ve read his book and it mentioned that he was fascinated by numbers. My victory was one hour, 41 minutes and forty seconds, so two times fourteen [1:41.40]. I think this makes it extra special.”

Read more: Verstappen wins Sportsman of the Year award in the Netherlands

Amaq News Agency: Isn't it high time for anti-terrorist forces to neutralize this major terrorist propaganda tool?

WIKIPEDIA reports that the Amaq News Agency was established during the Siege of Kobanî in 2014 as an alternative to Western media coverage of the siege.[1] It became more widely known after it began reporting what have been taken as claims of responsibility of terrorist attacks in Western countries, such as the 2015 San Bernardino attack. IS officially claimed responsibility the next day.[1]

It has featured embedded reporters at the scene of IS battles, including an Amaq cameraman who shot the first footage of the capture of Palmyra in 2015.[1]

Amaq has launched an official mobile app and has warned against unofficial versions that reportedly have been used to spy on its users.[2] It also uses a Telegram account.[3]

The obvious question is: with all the Western technical resources amd know-how at their disposal why hasn't the Intelligence Community not yet taken this News Agency out, or at least infiltrated them?

EU-Digest 

ANOTHER ISIS TERRORIST PIG MEETS HIS DESTINY: German Fed. Prosecutor confirms death Berlin Christmas market killer

Misguided, Deranged and Killed: Anis Amri
Anis Amri, the lead suspect in the attack on a Berlin Christmas market this week, has died in a shootout with Italian police, according to the Italian interior minister. Germany has confirmed that the dead man is Amri.

Anis Amri, a Tunisian man suspected of having driven a truck into crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring nearly 50 more, has been shot dead in a shootout with police in Milan, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said on Friday, with Germany's top prosecutor later confirming that Amri had been killed.

Minniti told a press conference in Rome that there was "no doubt" that the dead man was Amri after his fingerprints were clearly identified.

Amri was killed at around 3 a.m. local time (0200 UTC) on Friday. One policeman was injured in the shootout, which occurred when police requested identity papers from a suspicious-looking person.

Instead of producing papers, Amri drew a gun from his backpack and fired at one of two police officers, injuring him, Minniti said. The other police officer then shot Amri dead. No one else was injured.

Note EU-Digest: as one bystander who saw the terrorist being killed by police noted: "may God forgive this deranged terrorist pig. Hopefully this is another warning to those who are planning such deplicable deeds that they will either be caught or killed - there is no escape".  

Read more: German federal prosecutor confirms death of Berlin Christmas market attack suspect | News | DW.COM | 23.12.2016

12/22/16

Italian Economy: Italy moves to rescue its banks

On Wednesday, Italy's two houses of parliament approved a government request to increase the public debt by up to 20 billion euros (20.8 billion dollars) to fund a rescue package for ailing banks. It will likely begin by recapitalizing Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

MPS, founded in 1472 and considered the world's oldest lender, is struggling to complete a 5-billion-euro recapitalization by year's end, as required by the European Central Bank after recent stress tests showed it was grossly undercapitalized in view of a heavy burden of billions of euros in uncollectable debts on its books.

MPS was set to announce on Thursday its failure to find sufficient private investment money to bolster its capital base. In the night before Thursday, MPS announced it had been able to collect less than 2.5 billion euros through debt-equity swaps, and that no major investor had responded to its recapitalization bid, which started Monday and was due to close at 2 pm Thursday.

A resolution in the lower Chamber of Deputies, which was in favour of the government's plan, was approved in a 389-134 vote. There were 8 abstentions. A few minutes later, the Senate also gave its go-ahead in a 221-60 vote, with 3 abstentions.

The 20-billion-euro sum "is sufficient" to solve the problems of an Italian banking sector that "is solid, healthy, but with some well-known critical cases with specific characteristics for each," Minister for the Economy and Finanaces, Pier Carlo Padoan, told the Chamber of Deputies.

The money will fund a "precautionary" safety net, and could be used to inject capital into lenders needing to increase their capital buffers, or to reimburse retail savers caught up in the new European Union 'bail-in' rules. Those rules are meant to ensure that private investors - including retail clients - will bear most of the costs of bank bailouts, rather than taxpayers bearing the cost as was the case in the wake of the banking crises that occurred in the wake of the 2008 financial system meltdown.

Read more: Italy moves to rescue its banks | Business | DW.COM | 21.12.2016

Turkey: Assassination in Ankara: the Middle East Crisis is Engulfing Turkey - by Patrick Cockburn

The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by a 22-year-old riot policeman underlines the degree to which Turkey is being destabilised by the hatred and violence spreading from the wars in Syria. Spectacular killings and bombings are happening every few days in which the identity, affiliations or motives of the perpetrators are often in doubt because the attacks are a reflection of the multiple crises threatening to tear Turkey apart.

The circumstances surrounding the killing of ambassador Andrey Karlov by Mevlut Mert Altintas are an example of this over-supply of possible suspects. Many Turkish observers regret that he was shot dead by the security forces soon after the assassination because his connections point in different directions and the reason for his actions may never be explained.

The international media has generally focused on his shout “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” This fits in with a simple narrative that a lot of Turks are enraged by Russia’s support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and for his recapture of east Aleppo. Maybe one of them decided to do something about it.

But these cries were not the killer’s first words after he had fired the fatal shots and may not have been the most significant. These were in Arabic and spoke of those “who give Mohammed our allegiance for jihad,” suggesting that the speaker had moved in jihadi circles in Turkey. This argues against the killing being a spontaneous response to events in Aleppo, but does not tell one much about the gunman’s affiliations.

The best informed Turkish commentators are suggesting that these were with Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria or with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, which the Turkish government blames for the attempted coup on 15 July. On the other hand, they admit that he could have been a lone assassin who happened, from his point of view, to be in the right place at the right time.

Eead more: Assassination in Ankara: the Middle East Crisis is Engulfing Turkey

USA:SOCIAL SECURITY: Republican Introduces Legislation To Completely Gut Social Security - By Farron Cousins

Republicans in Washington, DC, are still trying to destroy Social Security. The latest attempt is the Social Security Reform Act of 2016, by House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee chairman Sam Johnson. What Johnson is trying to do basically is essentially what he calls a restructuring of the Social Security system in the United States. By restructuring, he means reducing benefits for those who receive Social Security, while at the same time lowering the cap for wealthy Americans so that they actually pay less into the Social Security fund.

Now, their concern, allegedly, is that Social Security in the next 20 years is going to run out of money. It’s going to be paying out more than its taking in. That is a lie. That is not true. But, that’s the lie they’re going with, so let’s talk about this. If you’re afraid that this thing is going to run out of money, why would you go ahead and reduce the amount of money that people pay into it, because that’s what Johnson’s plan does. It lowers the cap for wealthy Americans, once they make over a certain amount, that amount is not taxed for Social Security. It’s going to lower that cap, so they will pay even less into Social Security. At the same time, beneficiaries who’ve made, I think, between $24,000 and $49,000 a year throughout their life, their benefits are going to be reduced by 28%.

That’s not how you solve the problem, idiot! That’s not how you solve any problem. ‘Oh, we don’t have enough money, so let’s take even less money in.’ That doesn’t work. For these people living off of Social Security, who get $1,100 a month, that’s just a tiny percent higher than making minimum wage, which is what most elderly people living off Social Security have to end up going to do. That’s why they’re greeters at big box stores, cashiers at grocery stores.

We have to take care of senior citizens, and in order to do that, we have to get rid of the Republican party all together. They got to go. The sad irony here is that the majority of Republican voters are over the age of 55. These people living off of Social Security, over the age of 65, 67, they’re the ones who put these people into power, who in turn want to cut their Social Security. Even though these elderly voters know this, they still vote them back in.

Read more: Republican Introduces Legislation To Completely Gut Social Security - The Ring of Fire Network

12/21/16

The Netherkands: Geert Wilders tweets image of Angela Merkel with blood on her hands but does not point at the real culprits of EU Refugee crises

EU Populists: Geert Wilders and Marie Le Pen
Far-right leaders across Europe have accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of having blood on her hands following Monday's Berlin terror attack.

Not one European politician, however, from the right or left, so far has dared to point their finger at the US Government Middle East Policies as the direct cause of this refugee and terorism disaster in Europe, or demanded that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair be tried as war criminals.   

Instead obsessed out of control Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders  tweeted a provocative photo of Angela Merkel with blood on her hands as he blamed Europe's 'cowardly leaders' for a 'tsunami' of Islamic terrorist attacks. 

In a previous tweet, he wrote: 'They hate and kill us. And nobody protects us. Our leaders betray us. We need a political revolution. And defend our people. 

The leader of the Dutch far-right tweeted a provocative photo of Angela Merkel with blood on her hands as he blamed Europe's 'cowardly leaders' for a 'tsunami' of Islamic terrorist attacks.

Germany's far-right has also blamed Agela Merkel's immigration policy for the Berlin Christmas attacks as the chancellor insisted terrorists will not destroy 'freedom' in the country.

Mrs Merkel has laid white roses at the scene where 12 died after she said she was 'shocked and shaken' by the deadly attack in Berlin. She admitted it would be 'particularly sickening' if the terrorist was an asylum-seeker.

In Britain, the extremist Britain First organisation also claimed Mrs Merkel's immigration policy has put the entire continent at risk.

The party's 'acting leader' Jayda Fransen issued a two-and-a-half minute video for her organisation's followers claiming they had predicted such an attack would happen.

She said: 'After allowing millions of asylum seekers into Europe, Angela Merkel has put every single one of us at risk. There are now millions of people who are able to move freely throughout Europe who want us dead.'

The war in Iraq was the beginning of all this drama and disasters we are facing today. 

Europe has to change its Middle East Policies by stepping away from blindly following the US lead in this area and thereby providing deranged populists politicians like Geert Wilders and others of his kind with the amunition to spout their hate speeches and other nonsense.


Wall Street: Dow 20,000 and Donald Trump as the embodiment of animal spirits: by Don Pittis

Even as stock markets climb higher and the Dow Jones industrial average flirts with the 20,000 mark, some of our wisest critics have continued to doubt the substance of the Donald Trump rally.

Rational analysts assumed that last week's hike in interest rates from the U.S. Federal Reserve, with hints of more to come, would knock the stuffing out of the market surge.

But in a world where rationality has repeatedly failed to guide us, maybe it's time to revisit the idea that irrationality — namely president-elect Donald Trump as the embodiment of animal spirits — has a far greater effect on markets than rational analysts might have us think.

The fact is, economics contains more voodoo than many of its exponents admit.

Trump's role is as cheerleader, appointing cabinet members who seem to favour business success, promoting policy that seems to support new investment and growth.

Research conducted for the Globe and Mail's Report on Business shows that even in Canada Trump is spurring executive optimism. Studies in the U.S. also show business leaders have been energized by the election results.

For many critics, economic optimism requires a certain amount of nose-holding and ear plugging.

Trump's outrageous stance on many issues, such as yesterday's comment about "Islamists who slaughter Christians," could lead to outcomes disruptive to the economy.

And the rationalists could be right. An overpriced dollar could kill off U.S. exports. A shortage of labour could block growth. Trouble in Europe or Japan could be contagious. Growing inequality or environmental outrage could lead to a political backlash.

But if the new U.S. president can concentrate on being the economic orchestra leader, convincing Americans that now is the time to succeed and invest, urging on the sections at the back and getting everyone to play in concert, maybe the great performer will have found his best role.

Read more: Dow 20,000 and Donald Trump as the embodiment of animal spirits: Don Pittis - Business - CBC News

12/20/16

Britain: Deloitte agrees not to bid for Government contracts after leaked Brexit memo row - by Steven Swinford 

One of the world's biggest consultancies has agreed not to bid for central Government contracts for six months following a furious row with Theresa May over a Brexit memo.

Last month a consultant working for Deloitte claimed in a two-page memo that civil servants were struggling to cope with more than 500 Brexit-related projects amid Cabinet splits.

The memo prompted a withering response from Downing Street, which dismissed the memo as "unsolicited" and accused Deloitte of "touting for business".

Deloitte last night issued a statement saying that it had put forward "a plan for working with central Government to put this matter behind us".

It said: "Deloitte regrets the publication of the two-page note, and has apologised for the unintended disruption it caused the Government. The note was intended for internal audiences and was not a Deloitte point of view."

Downing Street declined to comment on the arrangement with Deloitte.

At the time the memo was leaked, former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the consultancy should be stripped of Government contracts, while other Eurosceptic Conservative MPs suggested the document had been released in an attempt by Remain campaigners to frustrate Brexit.

Note EU-Digest: The Deloitte Memo also shows that Britain's government is ill prepareed  to cope with BREXIT's article 50  

Read more: Deloitte agrees not to bid for Government contracts after leaked Brexit memo row 

US Politics: It Wasn’t the Russians: Hillary Lost Because She Blew Off Sanders and His Voters - by David Lindorff

The incredible group-think that has seen the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, President Obama, the Clinton campaign and most of the corporate media braying that Vladimir Putin scandalously upended American democracy and threw the election to his favored candidate Donald Trump is based on a ludicrous premise. That premise: that the election went Trump’s way because several tens of thousands of voters in a few states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — switched away from Clinton to Trump because of an alleged (and factually unproven) Russian “hack” of Democratic National Committee and of Hillary campaign chair John Podesta’s emails.

According to this conspiracy theory — and that is what it is — the “Russian” hack, with the results allegedly passed on to Wikileaks, and the resulting release of emails that showed that the DNC had conspired to throw the primary election to Clinton, and that revealed the contents of Clinton’s secret sycophantic quarter-million-dollar speeches to Wall Street banks, explain those narrow Trump wins in three key swing states.

What is ludicrous about this alleged conspiracy is that Sanders supporters already knew the DNC was in bed with the Clinton campaign. They’d already learned that first hand from Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who quit in disgust back in late February, saying that the DNC was undermining Sanders and working for Clinton. As for the bank speeches, Clinton did all the damage herself by refusing to disclose what she’d said in those extravagantly paid gigs, and by getting caught in a lie that she couldn’t release the texts because they were “under the control” of the banks (she actually owned the copyrights). She also hurt herself by lying and saying during one debate that she hadn’t asked for the high fees when in fact her agent had demanded them. This infuriating information was all out there way before Wikileaks started releasing the documents in had in its possession.

The truth is that it was Clinton’s own actions that lost her the support of Sanders voters. Her repeating lying about Sanders during the campaign, and her gratuitous dissing of Sanders and his supporters even after it was becoming clearer that she would win the primary because of the corrupt support she had lined up from the party’s unelected so-called “super delegates,” and her decision in the fall, after winning the nomination, to ignore the 13 million Sanders voters from the primary and instead to pursue the support of what she hoped were disenchanted Republican voters upset that Donald Trump had won the Republican nomination, all doomed her in the general election.

The anger among Sanders backers by the time of the convention at the end of July was palpable and was demonstrated when over 700 Sanders delegates walked out of the convention en masse, many tossing their convention credentials over the tall security fence. Clearly they were not going to back Hillary Clinton in November. And those delegates represented millions of voters back in their home states. (See: Jeffrey St. Clair’s Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution.)

Hillary Clinton didn’t lose Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and most importantly Florida because a small percentage of voters switched from her to Trump in those states. She lost those states because millions of Sanders voters nationally, and hundreds of thousands of Democrats and independent progressives in those key states decided not to vote for her because they were disgusted by both her and the Democratic Party.

In other words, even if the Russians did hack the DNC and Podesta emails, and even if the leaked emails (all of which by the way were true and accurate, not fake or doctored!), did manage at the last minute to persuade a few thousand Clinton voters to switch their votes to Trump, or to simply not vote for Clinton, that only had an impact because so many hundreds of thousands of more progressive voters had already written her off as a voting option. The races in those states never should have been that close in the first place, and wouldn’t have been had the Clinton campaign not played so dirty in the primary, and then been so patronizing and vengeful towards the Sanders campaign and Sanders voters after gaining the nomination.

Leaving aside the reality that there is no evidence that Russian government hackers did obtain those emails and handed them over to Wikileaks to release during the last weeks of the campaign (the evidence is really that they were obtained by insider leaks, not by Russian hackers, the truth is that mounting evidence of Clinton corruption and of cheating in the primaries led millions of furious Sanders backers to decide they would never vote for Clinton.

The “false news” about Russians hacking US democracy, pushed by the Clinton campaign, sclerotic Democratic Party leadership, elements within the intelligence establishment and the Obama administration and parroted endlessly by the corporate media and by normally sentient liberals usually quick to condemn “conspiracy thinking,” doesn’t bode well for any real effort to wrench the Democratic Party away from its thoroughly discredited corporatist political stance, and raises the prospect of further Republican gains in the coming off-year Congressional elections in 2018.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way forward is going to have to be an abandonment of the Democratic Party by progressives and its replacement by a genuine progressive socialist party that is clearly of and for working people, and for those who cannot find work in this increasingly dystopic America.

Read more: It Wasn’t the Russians: Hillary Lost Because She Blew Off Sanders and His Voters