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9/29/14

Catalonia: Spain higher court suspends Catalonia vote

Spain's Constitutional Court has temporarily halted an independence referendum called by the rich northeastern region of Catalonia, a decision which the region's leaders vowed to ignore despite warnings by the central government.

The court's unanimous decision to hear the government's case automatically suspended the November 9 non-binding referendum from going forward until the court hears arguments and makes a decision, a process that could take months or years, a court spokeswoman said.

She spoke on condition of anonymity because of court rules preventing her from being named.
The court acted hours after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the referendum decree represents ``a grave attack on the rights of all Spaniards.''

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the vote is "a grave attack on the rights of all Spaniards," and a breach to the constitution, that "was based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish state".

Buoyed by mass street demonstrations, regional leader Artur Mas has pushed ahead for a vote in defiance of Rajoy's warnings.

Read more: Spain higher court suspends Catalonia vote - Europe - Al Jazeera English

European Airline Industry: Air France pilots end 14-day strike

Despite no deal in sight, Air France' s main pilots union on Sunday unilaterally ended a 14-day strike that grounded roughly half of the airline's flights, stranded passengers worldwide, cost tens of millions of dollars and led France's prime minister to decry a "selfish" walkout.

The pilots union said it didn't oppose those plans to build the new business, but rejected the labour conditions that management had planned. They started the strike two weeks ago out of concerns that management was looking for a way to outsource their jobs to countries with lower taxes and labour costs.

In a tactical retreat, the carrier's management offered Wednesday to scrap a central part of the plan to shift most of its European operations to Transavia. But the pilots remained unsatisfied, saying the contracts sought for the low-cost carrier's operations in France alone were insufficient.

Air France, in its statement, "confirmed its decision to continue its accelerated development of Transavia in France, without delay" — which suggested that issues remain unresolved. The carrier said it is sticking to plans to create 1,000 jobs in France through Transavia carrier, including 250 pilot positions.
 
Read more: Air France pilots end 14-day strike - World - CBC News

Golf: U.S. Ryder Cup Team : “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result”

In the wake of Europe’s victory, its eighth in the past 10 meetings, it has been suggested that the competition’s format or frequency be changed to restore competitive balance. There is no need to do anything radical, like broaden the biennial competition so it is the Americas versus Europe, though Argentina’s Ángel Cabrera versus Phil Mickelson in a team room table tennis match would be a sight to behold.

Read more: U.S. Ryder Cup Team Needs to Adapt to the Times - NYTimes.com

China: Hong Kong police use tear gas to disperse thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators - financial sector shuts down

A video of a young girl desperately calling on the world to help Hong Kong has emerged, ssued a low-level travel warning to its citizens traveling in Hong Kong, warning of “significant disruption to traffic and public transport services.”
 
The video titled ‘Hong Kongese: Please help Hong Kong’ has had more than 400,000 views on YouTube alone, and features Glacier Kwong, a Hong Kong University student, looking straight into the camera as she called on the world to help her country.

“As a Hongkonger standing here in Wan Chai, I ask all of you from all over the world: please help us,” she said.

“You are born with democracy choices and have free election rights, but we don’t. Please help us. Please spread the news all over the world.”

“We are just innocent people like you. We are just trying to protect the people in government house. We don’t want to see any tragedy performing on once safest city on the planet, like those happened in Syria, Ukraine and China. Maybe all of you are born in democracy States, you are born with democratic election, you have free election right, but we don’t.

“We need genuine democracy. We need a popvote on the constitution reform only, nothing more.”


Read more: Hong Kong police use tear gas to disperse thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators

Golf: Europe Wins The Ryder Cup Behind A Star And A Rookie

The tone was set by Rory McIlroy, the best player in the world. The winning shot came from Jamie Donaldson, a Ryder Cup rookie.

Europe added another layer to its Ryder Cup dominance on Sunday by leaving no doubt who had the best team, if not the best players. Behind two early comebacks that showed its resolve, Europe clinched the cup with four matches still on the course.

With a 16½-11½ victory, Europe kept that gold trophy for the eighth time in the last 10 tries.

McIlroy played some of his best golf this year - even for a guy who won the last two majors - by trouncing Rickie Fowler to put the first point on the board. Donaldson finished off the Americans with a 9-iron that settled 18 inches from the cup on the 15th hole at Gleneagles and set off the celebration.

Read more: Europe Wins The Ryder Cup Behind A Star And A Rookie : NPR

9/28/14

The Evil Alliance: ISIS reconciles with al-Qaida group as Syria air strikes continue - by Martin Chulov

The Evil Alliance: ISIS and al-Qaida
Air strikes continued to target Islamic State (Isis) positions near the Kurdish town of Kobani and hubs across north-east Syria on Sunday, as the terror group moved towards a new alliance with Syria’s largest al-Qaida group that could help offset the threat from the air.

Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been at odds with Isis for much of the past year, vowed retaliation for the US-led strikes, the first wave of which a week ago killed scores of its members. Many al-Nusra units in northern Syria appeared to have reconciled with the group, with which it had fought bitterly early this year.

A senior source confirmed that al-Nusra and Isis leaders were now holding war planning meetings. While no deal has yet been formalized, the addition of at least some al-Nusra numbers to Isis would strengthen the group’s ranks and extend its reach at a time when air strikes are crippling its funding sources and slowing its advances in both Syria and Iraq.

Al-Nusra, which has direct ties to al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called the attacks a “war on Islam” in an audio statement posted over the weekend. A senior al-Nusra figure told the Guardian that 73 members had defected to Isis last Friday alone and that scores more were planning to do so in coming days.

“We are in a long war,” al-Nusra’s spokesman, Abu Firas al-Suri, said on social media platforms. “This war will not end in months nor years, this war could last for decades.”

Read more: Isis reconciles with al-Qaida group as Syria air strikes continue | World news | The Guardian

The Canada-EU trade deal: Signed, not sealed

In October last year, Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, flew to Brussels to sign a trade-and-investment deal in principle between Canada and the EU. On September 26th, the two sides announced the close of negotiations. But despite the back-slapping there may still be work to be done. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economy minister, objected strenuously this week to a clause in the deal that would allow companies to sue governments if they felt their rights had been infringed.

The clause is common in bilateral investment deals and initially attracted little attention in the Canada-EU negotiations. But it has become a flashpoint in another set of trade negotiations, between the EU and the United States. The European Parliament, a range of environmental and civil-society groups, and certain German politicians oppose it because they feel it gives multinational firms too much power in their dealings with government.

During a debate in Germany’s Bundestag about the two sets of EU talks, Mr Gabriel said “it’s completely clear we reject these investment-protection agreements” and that the debate was not over yet. In Ottawa, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, questioned whether Mr Gabriel was speaking for the German government, saying that all official communications he had received from Germany were “absolutely in favor of this agreement”.

The text of the trade deal must go through a legal review and translation before being presented to the Canadian and European parliaments for ratification. Reopening it now would kill the agreement, according to Karel De Gucht, the European trade commissioner.

It would also be a blow to Mr Harper. The deal goes well beyond the traditional fare of lower tariffs and higher farm quotas. It also makes it easier for companies in both areas to compete for large government contracts, closes gaps in intellectual-property rules, and allows for mutual recognition of some professional certifications.

Note EU-Digest:  any clause in the deal that would allow companies to sue governments if they felt their rights had been infringed must not be accepted by the EU parliament in any way, shape or form.

Read more: The Canada-EU trade deal: Signed, not sealed | The Economist

Britain dodging EU laws and UK taxpayers now face huge bill from EU jobless - by Alison Little

European Union rules require a member state where a foreign worker has paid National Insurance Contributions (NICs) to reimburse the person’s home country for certain benefits, mostly Jobseeker’s Allowance, paid when they return.

Britain insists it will hand over the cash only where the person has paid NICs here for long enough to qualify for the benefits had they stayed in the UK and been unemployed.

But a group of Eastern European countries has signalled they will work together to step up pressure on the UK to bow to a non-legally binding recommendation from an EU committee that states should reimburse each other regardless of their own rules.

The Czech Republic said it was working with Hungary, Slovakia and Poland who all claim Britain owes them millions.

Czech Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Michaela Marksova yesterday  said her country had received just £800,000 from Britain in payments for unemployed returning Czechs when it was owed an estimated £3 million.

In a radio interview she accused UK authorities of dragging their heels and dodging their EU responsibilities.

Read more: UK taxpayers face huge bill from EU jobless who go home | UK | News | Daily Express

Ukraine: Is there a new crack in the West’s sanctions regime against Russia? by William E. Pomeranz

President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations Wednesday offered to roll back the U.S. sanctions if Russia takes the “path of diplomacy and peace.” This overture comes on the heels of an emerging ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine and continuing discussions in Minsk to find a political solution to the turmoil in eastern Ukraine.

Obama’s U.N. speech, however, opens up the possibility of creating some daylight between the United States and the EU sanction programs. The European Union remains openly divided over the current sanctions — and far more economically bruised than the United States.

So even though Obama continues to talk tough on Ukraine, his offer of yet another “off ramp” runs the risk of being seized not just by Russian President Vladimir Putin but also by the EU.

What are the actual prospects for removing U.S. and EU sanctions? This question remains central to the international business community and to the broader resolution of the Ukrainian crisis.

Read more: Is there a new crack in the West’s sanctions regime against Russia? | The Great Debate

China - EU: Chinese FM, EU foreign policy chief meet on closer strategic partnership - by Ren Zhongxi

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met here Friday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on the sidelines of the annual high-level debate of the UN General Assembly.

During their talks, Wang said that the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, which has laid a solid foundation and opened a bright prospect for the development of bilateral ties, ushers in a second decade this year.

During a trip to Europe in March this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping and European leaders decided to deepen their partnership for peace, growth, reform and civilization, which has charted the course for the future development of China-EU ties, said Wang.

China and the EU need to accumulate mutual trust and strengthen cooperation on the basis of mutual respect so as to further advance their comprehensive strategic partnership, said the Chinese foreign minister.

For her part, Ashton said that the EU-China relationship, which has made rapid progress over the past 10 years, enjoys great potential for further development.

Read more: Chinese FM, EU foreign policy chief meet on closer strategic partnership - CCTV News - CCTV.com English

9/27/14

Internet: The Debate Over Net Neutrality Has Its Roots in the Fight Over Radio Freedom

t’s almost hard to remember now, but the early years of the Internet were a carnival of crazy, chaotic amateurs.

When the web first went mainstream in the mid-’90s, the early sites weren’t big, glossy ones created by corporations. They were strange, offbeat ones crafted by individuals: diarists posting diaries, video-game fans creating encyclopedias of old arcade titles and discussion boards teeming with “X-Files” arguments.

Indeed, commercial activity was suspect, and anyone trying to make a buck online was shunned. When the lawyers Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel spammed newsgroups with a text-only ad for their green-card services, the outcry was so loud their Internet provider canceled their connection. The Internet, aficionados proclaimed, would always be a Wild West—amateur and proudly uncommercial.

This was naive, of course. By the early 2000s, commercial activity and huge firms boomed, as retailers like Amazon exploded in size and “netizens” began streaming video from services like YouTube and eventually Netflix and Hulu.

Today, it’s the little guy who looks to be in danger. The Internet service providers—like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T—have long pushed to create “speed lanes” online. If you run a website and want to make sure your connection moves swiftly to the end user, you’d need to pay these companies an extra fee.

If you don’t pay? Your signal might not move as fast as you’d like. The Federal Communications Commission this spring drafted rules that would allow for fast and slow lanes. If they take effect, it would be the end of “net neutrality,” and critics worry it would spell doom for amateurs online. Sure, established sites like YouTube or Facebook could pay those fees. But quirky little upstart websites—or even nonprofits like Wikipedia—couldn’t.

If amateurs really do get squeezed out, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this happen. Precisely the same thing happened a century ago to the original “people’s medium”: radio.

The idea of transmitting sound waves through the air caught on especially after the experiments of the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi in the late 19th century. The technology wasn’t complicated, and by the first decade of the 20th century, American tinkerers began building their own sets to transmit and receive radio signals. With relatively small amounts of power, someone at home could broadcast for dozens of miles.

Magazines printed schematics. “Any boy can own a real wireless station, if he really wants to,” urged The Book of Wireless.

Stations popped up everywhere—run in churches, fire departments and even businesses, when the owner bought a transmitter and started talking into the ether. Much like the first bloggers, early radio adopters were thrilled that they could reach a distant audience. They needed a new word for this; as Columbia law professor Tim Wu notes, they settled on “broadcasting,” which originally meant casting seeds in a field. “This was the first time in the history of mankind that people in different places heard the same thing at the same time,” notes Anthony Rudel, author of Hello, Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio.
Read more: The Debate Over Net Neutrality Has Its Roots in the Fight Over Radio Freedom | Innovation | Smithsonian

EU brainstorm ways of bringing billions of euro into its ailing economy

he European Union tried to find ways on Saturday to bring billions of euro into its slow economy without falling deeper into debt. Possible options include the creation of a pan-European capital market and a joint EU fund worth €700 billion.

The EU’s economy is still struggling to recover from the worst financial crisis in a generation. The EU economy grew by just 0.1% last year and around 25 million EU citizens are unemployed, almost double as many as in the United States.

EU finance ministers have asked the European Commission, the EU executive, and the European Investment Bank (EIB) to come up with a range of projects that would create growth.

“We have given a mandate to the Commission and the EIB to swiftly present an initial report on practical measures that can be taken, on profitable investment projects,” Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said.

European ministers are expected to discuss the projects and possible ways of financing them during a meeting in Luxembourg in October.

There are as yet no details on the actual projects. However, finance ministers discussed four proposals as to how to finance them.

Italy proposed a ‘pan-European market’ which will allow smaller companies to raise capital. This would be part of a new EU capital-marking union, expanding on the eurozone banking union.

Poland proposed creating a joint EU fund worth €700 billion that would be able to finance through leveraging its own capital. The fund would be under the umbrella of the European Investment Bank, the bank owned by European governments.

A French-German paper proposed boosting private investments, while incoming European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a  €300 billion investment program.

Read more: EU brainstorm ways of bringing billions of euro into its ailing economy - MaltaToday.com.mt

Ukraine: Russian foreign minister slams U.S., NATO; blames Ukraine crisis on Western-backed coup - by Steven R. Hurst

The Russian foreign minister issued a blistering attack on the West and NATO on Saturday, accusing them of being unable to change their Cold War “genetic code” and saying the United States must abandon its claims to “eternal uniqueness.”

Sergey Lavrov’s assault appeared to be an extension of the increasingly anti-Western stance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is riding a wave of popularity at home with his neo-nationalist rhetoric and policies

Read more: Russian foreign minister slams U.S., NATO; blames Ukraine crisis on Western-backed coup - The Globe and Mail

Middle East- ISIS : Arab nations join Syria strikes as Nusra front threatens retaliation

As British jets took off from Cyprus to carry out strikes on Islamic State (Isis) targets in Iraq on Saturday, and US-led strikes continued in Syria and Iraq, President Barack Obama used his weekly address to say American leadership was “the one constant in an uncertain world”.

Later on Saturday an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria, the Nusra Front, vowed to retaliate against countries taking part in the air strikes.

Obama said “America is leading the world in the fight to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group” known as Isis, and aded: “I made it clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition, and we were joined in this action by friends and partners, including Arab nations.”

On Saturday afternoon, the Department of Defence released a statement regarding the participants in and targets of the latest strikes, which said Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had participated in strikes on Syria.

The statement said: “US and partner nation military forces continued to attack Isis terrorists in Syria Friday and today, using fighter and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct seven airstrikes. Separately, US military forces used attack aircraft to conduct three airstrikes against Isis in Iraq.”

Note EU-Digest: compliments to President Barack Obama for including Arab States in the assault on ISIS.

Read more: Arab nations join Syria strikes as Nusra front threatens retaliation | World news | theguardian.com