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8/29/15

The Netherlands: KLM bans Ukrainian pianist from in-flight playlist after complaint over her political activism

Dutch airline KLM has removed tracks by a Ukrainian musician from its in-flight entertainment system after complaints from a passenger involved in a group dedicated to ostracizing her.

Valentina Lisitsa, a Ukrainian-born American classical pianist, rose to worldwide prominence through a YouTube following and has performed with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

But after the armed coup removed an elected government in Kiev last year and the country was plunged into a civil war, she also capitalized on her social media voice to advocate against the policies of the new government. Her opinions, mostly expressed through her Twitter account, put her at odds with many Ukrainians, living both in their home country and abroad.

One such opponent, who goes by the name “Inna Thorn” online, complained to KLM about the fact that its in-flight entertainment system contains tracks performed by Lisitsa. She alleged that Lisitsa was a “terrorist sympathizer” and had praised the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.

“I was so happy not to think about Putin trolls and Lisitsa and her hatred for a bit, and then during last hour of transcontinental KLM flight an unpleasant surprise. Imagine ))) I was wide awake right away. I am a regular KLM customer and KLM is to hear from me soon,” Thorn wrote.

Read more: KLM bans Ukrainian pianist from in-flight playlist after complaint over her political activism — RT News

Malta: Major protest against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

A huge Trojan horse – the infamous horse that hid thousands of Greek fighters to overthrow the city of Troy – has been erected in Valletta this morning to protest against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), “a dangerous deal that puts the interests of big businesses before the rights of EU citizens.”

The giant inflatable Trojan horse was installed by Friends of the Earth Malta and the Front Against TTIP (Malta) during the launch of a week of activities aimed at increasing awareness about the TTIP.

The organisations said the TTIP would enable food safety rules to be amended with the aim of facilitating trade – even to the detriment of the environment and the general public.

Urging the government, political parties, and Maltese MEPs to support their call against the trade agreement, the organisations insisted that the EU-US deal contains “hidden dangers” that could be detrimental to the environment and for the general public.

The organisations said that the TTIP would set up mechanisms that will enable big businesses to sue states for compensation if any new state regulations are seen as harmful to investment and profits.

“TTIP may reduce the possibility of restricting genetically modified organisms and the use of hormones and other chemicals in factory-farmed animals. Proposed legislation will be evaluated by its merit towards increasing trade, rather than increasing quality of life or environmental protection,” said Martin Galea de Giovanni, FoE Malta Director and member of the Front.

“The Front is against setting up of alternative, ‘compromise’ mechanisms that will still give the power to big business to sue states for compensation if any new state regulations are seen as harmful to investment and profits. This will make regulatory innovation slower and less ambitious.”

The Front Against TTIP (Malta) is made up of left-wing think tank Zminijietna, Moviment Graffiti, Association of Federative Socialist, GWU Youth, Friends of the Earth Malta, Partit Komunista Malti, Garden of Knowledge (Malta), ADZ - Green Youth, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement (MOAM), Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation, and Alternattiva Demokratika. 

Read more: Trojan horse erected in protest against ‘dangerous’ EU-US trade agreement - MaltaToday.com.mt

Religious Discrimination - Migrants crisis: Slovakia 'will only accept Christians'

Slovakia says it will only accept Christians when it takes in Syrian refugees under a EU relocation scheme.
The country is due to receive 200 people from camps in Turkey, Italy and Greece under the EU plan to resettle 40,000 new arrivals.

Interior ministry spokesman Ivan Netik said Muslims would not be accepted because they would not feel at home.

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) called on countries to take an "inclusive approach" to relocation.
But Mr Netik denied the move was discriminatory and said it was intended to ensure community cohesion.

Note EU-Digest: whatever way the Slovaks want to call what they are doing - it is discrimination with a capital D and should be unacceptable by the EU.

Read more: Migrants crisis: Slovakia 'will only accept Christians' - BBC News

Turkish Elections - Turkey forms interim government with pro-Kurdish party

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday approved the makeup of the provisional government that will run the country until November 1 elections, including for the first time pro-Kurdish MPs.

 "Our president... approved the interim cabinet formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Mr Davutoglu," the presidency said in a statement after a nearly one-hour meeting between Erdogan and Premier Ahmet Davutoglu.

The two pro-Kurdish lawmakers are from the People's Democratic Party (HDP), marking the first time a Kurdish party has been represented in the government.

The newly appointed cabinet will not have to undergo a vote of confidence in parliament, as required in the constitution. The president's approval is considered enough for interim governments.

Erdogan called new elections after Davutoglu – whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in parliament in June polls – failed to form a coalition government with the opposition.

He appointed Davutoglu to form an interim "election government" which according to the constitution must be made up of all parties represented in parliament.

It is the first time in modern Turkish history that post-election talks on forming a coalition government have failed.

Read more: Europe - Turkey forms interim government with pro-Kurdish party - France 24

Greek economy defies expectations

Despite the debt and political crisis in Greece the country’s economy is defying expectations

The government may be in crisis with new elections on the horizon after former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stood down, but there is at least some good news to report on the business front.

Second Quarter GDP growth has been revised up, yes up, to 0.9 percent from the initial reading of 0.8, surprising analysts.

There is a caveat. The figures reflect a time before capital controls came in. Their impact will only be seen in the third quarter reading.

Nevertheless it is good news. Consumer spending rose 1.1 percent in the second quarter and imports went down by 4.9 percent.

One of the most important sectors sustaining Greece is tourism. Visitors are still flocking to the country and its islands at the rate of over 20 million per year.

The country’s problems are far from over however with more possible political turmoil on the horizon.
Read more: Greek economy defies expectations | euronews, economy

Archeology: Europe's oldest prehistoric town unearthed in Bulgaria

Archaeologists in Bulgaria say they have uncovered the oldest prehistoric town found to date in Europe.

The walled fortified settlement, near the modern town of Provadia, is thought to have been an important centre for salt production.

Its discovery in north-east Bulgaria may explain the huge gold hoard found nearby 40 years ago.

Archaeologists believe that the town was home to some 350 people and dates back to between 4700 and 4200 BC.

That is about 1,500 years before the start of ancient Greek civilisation.
The residents boiled water from a local spring and used it to create salt bricks, which were traded and used to preserve meat.

Salt was a hugely valuable commodity at the time, which experts say could help to explain the huge defensive stone walls which ringed the town.

Read more: Europe's oldest prehistoric town unearthed in Bulgaria - BBC News

8/28/15

Electric Cars: Tesla earns perfect score from Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports rates vehicles on a zero-to-100 scale, but Tesla's high-performance, all-wheel-drive car scored 103.

"Consumer Reports had to make changes to its scoring methodology to account for the car's exceptionally strong performance," the magazine said in a statement.

To bring the score back in line, the P85D was given less credit for areas in which the Model S already beat other cars but, in this version, simply exceeded on those measures even more.

For instance, it was given less credit for improving its acceleration and efficiency which, in other versions of the Model S, already outperformed other cars.

Once those changes were made, the P85D earned the top score of 100, making it the first car ever to earn that score.

 Read more: Tesla earns perfect score from Consumer Reports - Aug. 27, 2015

Middle East: Saudi Arabia: From the Eyes of an Insider - by Mona Eltahawy

Nothing prepared me for Saudi Arabia. I was born in Egypt, but my family left for London when I was seven years old. After almost eight years in the United Kingdom, we moved to Saudi Arabia in 1982.

Both my parents, Egyptians who had earned PhDs in medicine in London, had found jobs in Jeddah, teaching medical students and technicians clinical microbiology.

The campuses were segregated. My mother taught the women on the female campus and my father taught the men on the male campus.

When an instructor of the same gender wasn’t available, the classes were taught via closed-circuit television, and the students would have to ask questions using telephone sets.

My mother, who had been the breadwinner of the family for our last year in the United Kingdom, when we lived in Glasgow, now found that she could not legally drive. We became dependent on my father to take us everywhere.

As we waited for our new car to be delivered, we relied on gypsy cabs and public buses.

On the buses, we would buy our ticket from the driver, and then my mother and I would make our way to the back two rows (four if we were lucky) designated for women.

The back of the bus. What does that remind you of? Segregation is the only way to describe it.

The campuses were segregated. My mother taught the women on the female campus and my father taught the men on the male campus.

When an instructor of the same gender wasn’t available, the classes were taught via closed-circuit television, and the students would have to ask questions using telephone sets.

My mother, who had been the breadwinner of the family for our last year in the United Kingdom, when we lived in Glasgow, now found that she could not legally drive. We became dependent on my father to take us everywhere.

It felt as though we’d moved to another planet whose inhabitants fervently wished women did not exist. I lived in this surreal atmosphere for six years.

In this world, women, no matter how young or how old, are required to have a male guardian – a father, a brother, or even a son – and can do nothing without this guardian’s permission.

Yes, this is Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to ten lashes and, again, needed a royal pardon.

Note EU-Digest: Democracy and women's rights - still a major stumbling block in country which considers itself the cradle of Islam. 
 
Read moreSaudi Arabia: From the Eyes of an Insider - The Globali

GMO: Hungarians Just Destroyed All Monsanto cancer risk causing GMO Corn Fields

Hungary has taken a bold stand against biotech giant Monsanto and genetic modification by destroying 1000 acres of maize found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds, according to Hungary deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Lajos Bognar.

Unlike many European Union countries, Hungary is a nation where genetically modified (GM) seeds are banned. In a similar stance against GM ingredients, Peru has also passed a 10 year ban on GM foods.

“Almost 1000 acres of maize found to have been ground with genetically modified seeds have been destroyed throughout Hungary, deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Lajos Bognar said.

The GMO maize has been ploughed under, said Lajos Bognar, but pollen has not spread from the maize, he added.

Unlike several EU members, GMO seeds are banned in Hungary. The checks will continue despite the fact that seek traders are obliged to make sure that their products are GMO free, Bognar said.

Read more: Hungarians Just Destroyed All Monsanto GMO Corn Fields | UPRISER

Europe - A patient in need of intensive care - by Martin Winter

The European Union has six difficult years behind it. But the coming years won't be any easier. The crisis doesn't mean the end of the idea of a peaceful European partnership, but it has certainly dispelled more than one European illusion.

The years of the financial and debt crises were both instructive and very bitter. Instructive, because they revealed the flaws in the political construction that, after the end of the Cold War, led the EU down the exuberant path of believing it was destined to be the new world power. Bitter, because they brought with them the realization that the member states lack the strength to fix these flaws.

Neither of the two big plans - meant to strengthen the EU to the outside and bind it closer together on the inside - had the desired effect. Just the opposite. The euro has brought not more political integration, but instead growing disintegration. Trust and solidarity have given way to distrust and old stereotypes. And the common foreign and security policy is still just a shadow of what the visionaries had hoped for.

Instead of being surrounded by friends and partners, the EU once again finds itself - as Britain's The Economist wrote - in a ring of fire. Europe and Russia are again arming themselves against each other. There's war in Ukraine. Unrest rules the Caucasus.

The wars in Syria and Iraq are threatening to drive the entire Middle East into the ground. The Arab Spring has devolved into an Autumn of Violence. Islamic State is expanding and becoming a potent threat to Europe.

Europe has become a patient in need of intensive care. The euro is limping along from one emergency operation to the next. When things get dicey on the foreign policy front, it's the big member states that again have to intervene. And they mostly act according to German, French or British interests.

The EU is still digesting the political and financial consequences of its eastern and southern expansion. And the current refugee crisis has shown that every EU state is looking out for No.1. The illusion born in the 1990s - that a common currency would automatically bring with it a political union - has shattered.

The crisis did not just expose the EU's construction flaws, it also revealed how they might be fixed. But this is where Europe's dilemma begins. No member state is prepared to relinquish national sovereignty over economic, social, and security issues to a European central government in order to save the grand idea of the EU.

The bloc has come a very long way since the first step toward its creation was taken in 1951. But the people are still not prepared to replace the current union of sovereign nations with a European federation.

Note EU-Digest: Great review by DW. Yes indeed, as long as we realize that this takes a combined effort of all EU nations to solve and that we don't listen to Nationalists like Geert Wilders and others who would like to turn back the clock to reestablish borders, national currencies and grocery style economics. One major priority for the EU should be to seriously review its Middle East and Eastern European foreign policies, which is presently linked to that of the US and has been a constant and historical source of.grief for the EU in every sense of the word. All we have to do is to look at the present avalanche of Middle Eastern and North African migrants now streaming into Turkey and the EU, and review the cause of it.

Read more: Europe - A patient in need of intensive care | Europe | DW.COM | 28.08.2015

8/27/15

USA Wall Street: "Casino Capitalism": Economist Michael Hudson on What’s Behind the Stock Market’s Rollercoaster Ride

The real problem is that we’re still in the aftermath of when the bubble burst in 2008, that all of the growth in the economy has only been in the financial sector, in the monopolies—only for the 1 percent. 

And it’s as if there are two economies, and the 99 percent has not grown. And so, the American economy is still in a debt deflation. So the real problem is, stocks have doubled in price since 2008, and the economy, for most people, certainly who listen to your show, hasn’t grown at all.

So, finally, the stocks were inflated really by the central bank, by the Fed, creating an enormous amount of money, $4.5 trillion, essentially, to drop over Wall Street to buy bonds that have pushed the yields down so high—so low, to about 0.1 percent for government bonds, that pension funds and investors say, "How can we make money?" 

So they buy stocks. And they borrowed at 1 percent to buy up stocks that yield maybe 4 percent. But who are the largest people who buy the stocks? They’re the companies themselves that have done stock buybacks. They’re the managers of the companies that have used their earnings, essentially, to push up stock prices so they get more bonuses. 

Ninety precent of all the earnings of the biggest companies in America in the last five years have gone for stock buybacks and dividends. It’s not being invested. It’s not building new factories. It’s not employing more people.

So, the real problem is that we’re in a nonrecovery in America, and Europe is in an absolute class war of austerity. 

hat’s what the eurozone is, an austerity zone. So that’s not growing. And that’s really what’s happening. And all that you saw on Monday was just sort of like a shift, tectonic shift, is people realizing, "Well, the game is up, it’s time to get out." And once a few people want to get out, everybody sees the game’s up.

Read more: "Casino Capitalism": Economist Michael Hudson on What’s Behind the Stock Market’s Rollercoaster Ride | Democracy Now!

Refugees: Germany Needs Europe's Help With Refugees

Germany is building new apartment blocks and refitting old ones to accommodate an unprecedented wave of refugees -- an expected 800,000 this year, four times last year's figure and many more than in any other European nation.

Volunteers are turning out in large numbers to help. As a response to human suffering, this should be a source of national pride.

The pace of Germany's human influx is more than one country can handle for long, however. The problem can be addressed only at a pan-European level.

Read more: Germany Needs Europe's Help With Refugees - Bloomberg View

European economy: Are Europe's Debt Wars Religious? - by Leonid Bershidsky

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron says there's a "religious war" over debt going on in Europe, in which each country's dominant religious denomination determines the side it picks. Macron's remarks were lighthearted, but they're also grounded in historical fact.

Speaking at a conference of German diplomats on Tuesday, Augusr 25 Macron said the war he was describing pitted a "Calvinist" view of debt, against a "Catholic" one. Under the former, puritanical approach, countries that "didn't respect their commitments" had to pay "till the end of their life," he said. For Catholics: "We failed, but we go to church, we explain the situation and we can start another week the day after."

In a 2002 paper, Rene Stulz and Rohan Williamson established that traditionally Catholic countries -- from Austria to Argentina -- afford weaker protection to creditors than do Protestant ones, such as the Nordic nations.

The Catholic cultures are also worse at enforcing creditor rights. This holds regardless of a country's legal system type -- common or civil law -- or wealth level. Stulz and Williamson trace that to the prohibition of usury in the medieval (pre-Protestant) church, which aimed to protect the weak from the strong:

Read more: Are Europe's Debt Wars Religious? - Bloomberg View

Iran and Internet Security: Here’s How Iran Resets Your Gmail Password - by Ben Collins

Tehran’s hackers are getting trickier—and finding new ways to get into your Gmail.
Iranian hackers have now found a way to get around Google’s two-step verification system and infiltrate GMail’s most elaborate consumer security system, according to a new report.

The Citizen Lab’s John Scott-Railton and Katie Kleemola outlined a few new ways that Iranian hackers can compromise the accounts of political dissidents, or even everyday citizens.

“Their targets are political, and include Iranian activists, and even a director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation,” said Scott-Railton in an email, referring to the digital rights organization. “In some cases they even pretend to be Reuters journalists calling to set up interviews.”

The report says attacks on political targets are new. But the methodology of the hack has been going on for years, especially as reliance on so-called “two-factor authentication”—using something in addition to a password to get into your account—has gone up.

Read more: Here’s How Iran Resets Your Gmail Password - The Daily Beast

Russia's Food Ban: What's 'Strategically Important' About French Cheese? - by Brian Whitmore

One face of Vladimir Putin's brave new Russia is a man called Nikolai.

We don't know his last name, but we know he lives in Vladivostok. And we know that after having a few drinks on the evening of August 16, he called the cops to rat on his neighbors for cooking illegally imported goose meat.

“I served in the army and I understand the situation like this: We have our superiors and they give orders that we must carry out, meaning there is the law and we must obey it,” Nikolai said, according to Russian media reports.

If it becomes law, the new classification will mean those caught importing banned fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry can face up to seven years in prison. French cheese is apparently now just as dangerous to the security of the state as polonium, uranium, assault weapons, and dirty bombs.

And speaking of cheese, the Interior Ministry this week released footage of a bust of what it called a “major cheese-smuggling ring.” Some 470 tons of forbidden cheese was found and six members of the alleged cheese mafia were arrested.

Read more: Russia's Food Ban: What's 'Strategically Important' About French Cheese? - The Atlantic

'Solar Energy: Smart' solar palm trees power WiFi, phones in Dubai - by Saket S.

A new species of palm tree has started sprouting around Dubai. But instead of producing dates, the fronds of the Smart Palm harness the sun’s energy to allow people to look up city information, access WiFi, and charge their phones, all for free.

Topped with nine leaf-shaped photovoltaic modules, a six-meter-tall Smart Palm can generate around 7.2 kilowatt hours per day, enough to operate without ever drawing off the grid.

The two prototype palms that have already been installed - one at a beach near the Burj Al Arab hotel and other at centrally located Zabeel Park - each carry a WiFi hotspot, eight charging stations for phones and tablets, and a touch-screen panel giving local details on things like weather and transportation.

The company behind the device, Dubai-based D Idea, says connectivity is just the start of the Smart Palm’s potential.

“Subsequent Smart Palms will have ATM machines and utility bill payment services,” said CEO Viktor Nelepa. “Our team has also started to find new ways in which the Smart Palm can support other forms of sustainable generation, specifically through air and water purification modules.”

Read more: 'Smart' solar palm trees power WiFi, phones in Dubai - The Globe and Mail