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1/31/09

NYT: Credit Card Companies Go to War Against Losses - by Ron Lieber


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Credit Card Companies Go to War Against Losses - by Ron Lieber

Credit Card Companies Go to War Against Losses - by Ron Lieber

The suffering credit card industry wants some of you to help bail it out. In the last year or so, card issuers have raised interest rates, added new fees, lowered credit limits and even shut down accounts altogether. As unemployment has risen, so have the number of people who are paying their credit card bills late or not paying them at all. So the companies are deploying every weapon they have to shield themselves from further losses. They’re also scaling back their offers to new cardholders. According to new data from Synovate Mail Monitor, card companies sent 27 percent fewer solicitations to consumers in 2008 than they did in 2007. Given the wildly divergent approaches that card companies seem to be taking, it’s worth taking a closer look at what rules they’re changing, which customers they’re targeting and if there’s anything you can do to avoid drawing their attention.

Telegraph.com: Barack Obama to dilute 'Buy American' plan after Europe threatens US with trade war - by Tim Shipman and Philip Sherwell

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Barack Obama to dilute 'Buy American' plan after Europe threatens US with trade war - by Tim Shipman and Philip Sherwell

The White House has promised to review the protectionist proposals, passed last week by Democratic allies in the House of Representatives, which would ban the use of non-American steel in the $800 billion of construction projects. Obama officials are under pressure from what European diplomats in Washington describe as a discreet but outspoken campaign of "quiet fury" from America's closest allies. They regard the move as a provocative shift away from free trade and towards economic populism at a time of turmoil. In a bid to win further favor with impoverished voters, Mr Obama announced yesterday that his Treasury team will launch a dramatic overhaul of the existing bank bailout programme this week, designed to rein in executive bonuses and ensure banks do more to help mortgage holders. In his weekly radio address, Mr Obama promised to "help lower mortgage costs" and repeated his moral denunciation of corporate executives who ask for taxpayers money and then pay gigantic bonuses to their staff. "We learned this week that even as they petitioned for taxpayer assistance, Wall Street firms shamefully paid out nearly $20 billion in bonuses for 2008," Mr Obama said. "The American people will not excuse or tolerate such arrogance and greed."

Mr Obama also called for the stimulus package to be passed quickly. But the Buy America provisions in the plan are forcing him to choose between a showdown with Congress or a collision course with other Western governments that could end in a trade war.

NYT: China, Europe and Climate Demands - by James Kanter


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China, Europe and Climate Demand - by James Kanter

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with European Union officials on Friday morning in Brussels, and while significant parts of the gathering concerned the global financial crisis and human rights, the two sides also signed agreements on forestry and clean power in a further sign of how energy and environment are key components of the global agenda. The forestry measures are designed to reduce demand for illegal timber, said Johannes Laitenberger, a spokesman for José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. The clean power measure aims to establish a permanent center in Beijing to promote greener technologies, and to assist China in becoming a low-carbon economy, said Mr. Laitenberger. Talking without notes and “from the heart,” Mr. Wen emphasized how the world is increasingly “multipolar” and how the E.U., the world’s biggest bloc of countries, needed to work with China, the fastest-growing country, on issues like climate change.

1/30/09

Renewable Energy World: 300-MW of Offshore Wind Planned in Netherlands


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300-MW of Offshore Wind Planned in Netherlands

RWE has submitted a permit application and environmental impact assessment for its Tromp Binnen offshore wind farm to the Dutch Public Works and Water Management Authority. Initially composed of 59 wind turbines with a total capacity of approximately 300 MW, the project will use transportation cables leading to shore and a transformer station on the coast of Velsen-Noord. The report analyzes the environmental impact of the wind farm, which RWE would like to build 75 kilometers off the shore of Callantsoog. RWE submitted proposals to the Dutch authorities in February 2008 of this year to build at least two major offshore wind farms in the Netherlands.

With a total volume of up to 2000 MW the projects is thought to represent one of the largest offshore wind developments in the world. To date, the development will be the largest wind farm in the North Sea and located furthest from the shore. The use of a pedestal made out of concrete will make it unnecessary to drive piles into the ground. This technique will be a first for the Netherlands.

BBC NEWS: Davos 2009 - Turkish PM given hero's welcome on his return following his remarks to Peres about Gaza attrocities

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Turkish PM given hero's welcome on his return following his remarks to Peres about Gaza atrocities

Turkey's PM has received a hero's welcome on his return to Istanbul after he stormed out of a debate about Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reacted angrily when he was refused the chance to respond to Israeli President Shimon Peres' defense of the operation. Thousands of people turned out in the city to greet Mr. Erdogan's plane. He told them Mr Peres' language and tone had been unacceptable, so he acted to stand up for Turkish honor. "I only know that I have to protect the honor of Turkey and Turkish people," said Mr Erdogan. "I am not a chief of a tribe. I am the prime minister of Turkey. I have to do what I have to do."

Note EU-Digest: It is obvious to most people that the daily Hamas barrage of rocket fire towards Israel would eventually lead to Israeli retaliation. Mr. Erdogan has also reserved that right of retaliation when Turkey attacked Kurdish terrorists strongholds in Iraq. What is not acceptable is that Israel retaliated with excessive force, leading to incredible destruction and human suffering. All respect for Mr. Erdogan, who had the courage to tell Mr.Peres, who represented Israel (an ally of Turkey) at Davos, what most of their other allies and friends should have told them. There is no way this kind of barbaric warfare conducted by the Israeli's in Gaza can be justified, in particular because of their own experience with these kinds of atrocities in the the past.

Al Jazeera English - Blackwater banned from Iraq

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Blackwater banned from Iraq

Blackwater, a US private security firm, has been barred from providing security for US diplomats in Iraq for its alleged involvement in the deaths of at least 17 civilians in 2007. The Iraqi interior ministry on Thursday said the measure followed the firm's "improper conduct and excessive use of force". "It is because of the shooting incident in 2007 ... [Blackwater] came to us and applied and we refused them. They tried by all means to stay here and we said 'no'," General Abdel Karim Khalaf, an interior ministry spokesman, told AFP. Five former Blackwater guards are awaiting trial in the US for the incident that took place in September 2007.

M&C: German, French consumer confidence holds up despite slump - by Andrew McCathie

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German, French consumer confidence holds up despite slump

German, French consumer confidence holds up despite slump - - by Andrew McCathie

European consumer confidence continues to hold up in the face of deepening global gloom, key surveys released Wednesday said, as dwindling inflation helped to offset worries about the fallout from the worst economic downturn since World War II. The surveys showed consumer confidence in both Germany and France beating analysts' expectations as the 16-member eurozone's two biggest economies entered the new year. Indeed, while the Paris-based statistics office Insee said French consumer confidence rose to 9 month high this month, the Nuremberg-based GfK marketing institute said its forward-looking consumer confidence index came in at 2.2 points in February. This was higher than the 2 points predicted by economists.

guardian.co.uk: ECB hasn't ruled out "non-standard" tactics-Trichet

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ECB hasn't ruled out "non-standard" tactics-Trichet

The European Central Bank has not ruled out cutting interest rates to a record low, or employing "non standard" tactics to fight the economic crisis President Jean-Claude Trichet said on Thursday.Analysts expect the ECB to keep rates at 2.0 percent at its policy meeting next week, but in a Reuters poll most forecast it will cut them to an all-time-low of 1.5 percent in March. Economists are also speculating on whether the ECB might adopt unconventional measures such as following the U.S. Federal Reserve's current policy of buying up debt as an alternative way to boost the economy. "I said we could engage in non-standard actions and indeed we have already done so, notably on refinancing," Trichet told France's BFM radio from the World Economic Forum in Davos. He sent a similar message earlier, telling CNN that the ECB could use new, out-of-the-ordinary measures and he didn't want to rule anything out, or indeed in.

1/29/09

Europolitics: Progress made by Minsk “encouraging” but not sufficient - by Joanna Sopinska

Minsk in winter's grip


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Progress made by Minsk “encouraging” but not sufficient - by Joanna Sopinska

Last October, the EU decided to temporary lift visa sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and 35 of his officials for half a year, to renew political contacts and open new possibilities for cooperation with the country following the Georgia-Russia war in August. To this end, the EU offered Belarus participation in the Eastern Partnership - a new Eastern-oriented initiative providing for deeper political and economic ties, including free-trade agreements and “in the long run” a visa-free regime, with five other countries in the region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).

However, to avoid the sanctions to be revived in April, and consequently to become a fully-fledged member of the Eastern Partnership, to be launched on 7 May in Prague, Belarus has to meet five conditions. These include reform of the electoral code and concrete action to safeguard democratic values, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms - including those of expression and assembly.

Kentucky.com/AP: Scandinavian chefs ( Norway/Sweden) top prestigious Bocuse d'Or winners' list


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Scandinavian chefs ( Norway/Sweden) top prestigious Bocuse d'Or winners' list

A Norwegian chef, Geir Skeie, won France's prestigious Bocuse d'Or cooking prize Wednesday, beating out 23 other contestants to turn out the tastiest meat and fish dishes during a tense two-day contest. Another Scandinavian, Sweden's Jonas Lundgren, placed second while France's Philippe Mille was third. The Skeie, 28, selected as top chef by a panel of judges, takes home a gold trophy of chef Paul Bocuse, and euro20,000 ($26,400).

Flight Global: Venezuela set to order Russian aircraft- by Jackson Flores Jr.

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Venezuela set to order Russian aircraft- by Jackson Flores Jr.

The Venezuelan government is expected this month to order two Ilyushin Il-96-300 airliners to be used for commercial airline and government VIP transport. The widebodies - each valued at around $98 million according to local government sources - are scheduled for delivery in the first and fourth quarter of next year. Sources in Venezuela indicate that one of the airframes will be fitted out as a presidential transport aircraft in a configuration similar to that used by the Russian government. The second aircraft is expected to join state-owned airline Conviasa's fleet to fly on its long-haul routes.

Washington Post:: There Is No "Muslim World" - by Aloysious Mowe

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There Is No "Muslim World" - by Aloysious Mowe

Tempting as it might be to adopt Samuel Huntington's Manichean view of global conflict or some variation thereof, President Obama has to resist the impulse to speak of Muslims as a single bloc. This master of language knows that words matter. It may be convenient to speak of the "Muslim world" in a speech, but there are dangers in painting with so broad a brush when it comes to the articulation and implementation of policy. It makes no sense to speak of a "Christian world" as though it were possible to extrapolate, from their religious affiliation, the shared values of all Christians everywhere. Even within a major denomination such as Roman Catholicism, there are major disagreements as to how the hierarchy of values should be stacked. Some U.S. bishops made opposition to abortion the one and only criterion for how one was supposed to choose a candidate to vote for in the recent elections. The outcome of the elections showed that the majority of U.S. Catholics had greater moral discernment than some of their shepherds. There is no Muslim world, only a variety of nations with Muslim majorities. Some of these call themselves Islamic states, but the extent to which even these are governed according to Islamic principles and under Islamic law is a matter for debate.

AP: Turkey/Israel - Turkish PM admonishes Israel president over Gaza - "You kill people", Erdogan tells Peres - by JOHN DANISZEWSKI and MATT MOORE

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Turkey/Israel - Turkish PM admonishes Israel president over Gaza - "You kill people", Erdogan tells Peres - by JOHN DANISZEWSKI and MATT MOORE

Turkey's prime minister stalked off the stage at the Davos World Economic Forum red-faced Thursday after reproaching Israel's president over the Gaza offensive by saying "You kill people." The packed audience, which included President Barack Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett, appeared stunned as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres raised their voices and traded accusations. Peres was passionate in his defense of Israel's 23-day offensive against Hamas militants, launched in reaction to eight years of rocket fire aimed at Israeli territory. As he spoke, Peres often turned toward Erdogan, who in his remarks had criticized the Israeli blockade of Gaza, saying it was an "open air prison, isolated from the rest of the world" and referred to the Palestinian death toll of about 1,300, more than half of those civilians.

"You kill people," Erdogan told the 85-year-old Israeli leader. "I remember the children who died on beaches. I remember two former prime ministers who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks."

When Erdogan was asked to stop, he angrily stalked off, leaving fellow panelists U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon and Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa."When it comes to killing, you know it too well," the Turkish leader said. When the moderator tried to cut short Erdogan's remarks, saying it was past time to adjourn for dinner, he answered in frustration, "Don't interrupt me. You are not allowing me to speak. "He then said: "I will not come to Davos again." Ultimately, Erdogan stressed he left not because of a dispute with Peres but because he was not given time to respond to the Israeli leader's remarks. Erdogan also complained that Peres had 25 minutes while he was only given 12 minutes. "I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres, or the Jewish people," Erdogan told a news conference afterward. "I am a prime minister, a leader who has specifically expressly stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity," he said.

BBC NEWS:Britain - 'Vodka, homework and me - by Jamie Berry'

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Vodka, homework and me - by Jamie Berry'

Childhood should be "alcohol-free", according to England's chief medical officer. Sir Liam Donaldson says the medical advice shows it is safest for under-15s not to drink. The BBC Three documentary 'Vodka, Homework & Me' has followed 11-year-old Reece and Charlie, 15, over the last three months as they try to give up drinking and overcome its damaging effects.The World Health Organisation has identified excessive alcohol use as one of the most important risks to health and Britain has the fourth highest levels of underage drinking in Europe. The North West of England has the highest number of underage drinkers in the country. The latest statistics show that 90% of 15-16 year old school children drink alcohol.

EU-Digest/CQ Politics: Turmoil in the US Insurance Industry as Liberal Groups Seek Single-Payer Health Care Bill - by Alex Wayne

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Turmoil in the US Insurance Industry as Liberal Groups Seek Single-Payer Health Care Bill - by Alex Wayne

A coalition of liberal advocacy groups and labor unions is trying to breathe new life into the idea of a European-style “single-payer” health system in the United States, a concept thought discredited after the collapse of President Bill Clinton’s attempt at overhauling the health care system. The groups announced Wednesday the launch of a lobbying campaign to build support for a health care overhaul that would expand Medicare, the health entitlement for the elderly, to cover everyone and act as the “single payer,” putting health insurance companies out of business.The new coalition, which calls itself the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Coverage, thinks “Medicare for all” should get its own consideration. It is backing legislation Conyers introduced in the 110th Congress that would expand Medicare to everyone and would prohibit private insurance companies from competing with the program. Groups in the coalition claim to represent more than 20 million people, including many doctors and nurses.

Members of the coalition presented results of a study by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, a labor union, that predicts that expanding Medicare to cover everyone would lead to 2.6 million new jobs, $317 billion in new business and public revenue, and $44 billion in new tax revenue. The expansion would cost $63 billion a year, on top of the more than $2 trillion the United States already spends on health care.

1/28/09

tunisiaonlinenews.com: Tunisia: Airbus plant operational in 2010

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Airbus plant operational in 2010

Tunisia and Aerolia, a branch of Airbus (EADS), signed on Wednesday an agreement relative to the construction of a plant south of Tunis, in the industrial zone of El Mghira. The plant will become operational mid 2010 and will employ some 1500 qualified personnel, said Mr Christian Cornille, the company’s president during a press conference in Tunis on Wednesday.The project which is estimated at 60 million Euros, will also involve sub-contracting partners, essentially from France. A training program is also part of the agreement between Tunisia and the plane maker, it was announced. Aerolia, a French leader in the sector of aero structures, conceives and builds all of the front segments of Airbus planes.Among the reasons which prompted Aerolia to build their 4 th plant in Tunisia after those of Meaulte, St Nazaire and Toulouse in France, are the high degree of competence of Tunisian engineers, the proximity to Europe, the logistic advantage of a nearby harbor and the full support from the Tunisian government, said Mr Cornille.

EurasiaNet Business & Economics - Caspian Basin: Russia and Turkey Raise Obstacles for US Energy Policy

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Caspian Basin: Russia and Turkey Raise Obstacles for US Energy Policy

To no one’s surprise, a former US special envoy for Caspian energy issues labeled Russia as the biggest headache for American policy in the region. But the former diplomatic troubleshooter, C. Boyden Gray, also said Turkey, a NATO ally, has emerged as a wild card in the Caspian energy game. Gray spoke at an event January 26 sponsored by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, DC, titled Caspian Energy, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. During his tenure with the Bush Administration, Gray kept a low profile and made few public appearances or statements. But he did not appear to hold much back during his recent Washington appearance.

Gray’s tenure ended with that of the Bush administration on January 20, and he said he’s not sure if President Obama will appoint a replacement for him.

monstersandcritics.com: EU ready to revive observer mission at Gaza border, Solana says

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EU ready to revive observer mission at Gaza border, Solana says

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Wednesday Europe is ready to send back its team of observers to the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt 'at any moment.' He said however that an agreement was first needed between warring Palestinian factions, Egypt and Israel that would allow their return and the reopening of the crossing. The EU Border Assistance Mission in Rafah (EUBAM) was established shortly after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. It suspended its operations in June 2007 due to Hamas' Gaza take-over.

EU-Digest: US economy - House passes economic stimulus bill - by David Jackson and Richard Wolf

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House passes economic stimulus bill - by David Jackson and Richard Wolf

The Democratic-controlled House quickly voted its approval Wednesday for President Obama's economic recovery plan. The vote was 244-188. "We don't have a moment to spare," the president said earlier in the day. The vote sent the bill to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as this week on a companion measure already taking shape. Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama's signature by mid-February. A mere eight days after Inauguration Day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the events heralded a new era. "The ship of state is difficult to turn," she said. "But that is what we must do. That is what President Obama called us to do in his inaugural address."

Note EU-Digest " Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth" (James, Chapter 3, verse 4).

Times of India: Egypt warns Europe against sending warships to Gaza

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Egypt warns Europe against sending warships to Gaza

Egypt warned European countries on Tuesday that sending warships to patrol the waters off the Gaza Strip could strain ties with the Palestinians and Arab countries. Speaking to reporters after meeting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said he had urged European ministers in Brussels on Sunday to consider "Arab feelings" on such a deployment. "They must understand Arab and Muslim feelings," Abul Gheit said he told the ministers. "We don't envision European countries placing naval units in Palestinian territorial waters, to perform a task that is Israel's responsibility," he said.

NYT: Europe to U.S.: You’re a Big Polluter - by Sarah Graham

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Europe to U.S.: You’re a Big Polluter - by Sarah Graham

Now that George W. Bush has left the White House, European Union leaders are piling pressure on President Barack Obama to adopt regulations on climate change. The ideal scenario for Europe would be for the United States quickly to establish a system to cap and trade carbon dioxide, and then pledge to put pressure on other rich countries to do the same thing. The European Union already has adopted potentially costly policies that could hurt the trade bloc’s industrial competitiveness. If the United States resists that model, or delays action, Europe’s policies could lose their legitimacy.

1/27/09

Esquire: What's So Bad About Socialism Anyway? - by Stephen Marche

US Deficit 41% of GDP by 2080


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What's So Bad About Socialism Anyway? - by Stephen Marche

Roland Barthes, the French theorist and semiotician, once wrote that sex is everywhere in America, except in sex. For the past 40 years, the same has been true for socialism, which has been simultaneously nowhere and everywhere in America, falsely denied by its politics and falsely claimed by its popular culture. Obama's followers want results, on the financial crisis, the environment, and the war in Iraq. Who has time to watch four-and-a-half-hour movies about dead guerrillas?

CBS News: After Bailout, Lavish Spending Lives On, Luxury Jets, Oceanfront Homes Reveal A Very Different Attitude By Corporate CEO's

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After Bailout, Lavish Spending Lives On, Luxury Jets, Oceanfront Homes Reveal A Very Different Attitude By Corporate CEO's

The financial crisis hasn't necessarily put an end to lavish corporate spending or stopped its leaders from living the good life. Citigroup has received so much bailout money to date that the American taxpayer is now its major stockholder. So when it was reported Monday that the company is having a new, $50 million luxury corporate jet delivered, some people just couldn't believe it:"I was outraged," said one citizen-stockholder. "$50 million, they have leather seats in this airplane, and I don't think they care. I think they're spoiled babies."

"Why can't they fly commercial?" asked another. Citigroup's purchase follows a report that former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld deeded his $14 million oceanfront home in Florida to his wife for just $100 - the minimum amount needed for a property transfer.

Examoner.com:: Football, American football, soccer and Super Bowl 2009

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Football, American football, soccer and Super Bowl 2009

Tuscans and Italians in general gladly embrace sports among their passions.. In Italy, as in many countries around the world, "American Football"* fans are getting ready to watch the Super Bowl Americano. You have to be a really dedicated fan to watch the live Super Bowl in Italy - the sports event plays there in the middle of the night. Until this year, Italians needed to subscribe to their Sky (cable) channel in order to see the Super Bowl. This year, Super Bowl XLIII will be shown live on RAI 2, one of Italy’s major networks and does not require a subscription. In fact, RAI 2 has been showing NFL games since November. Italian fans are delighted.

Red Orbiit : USA Alternative Energy - Senate Begins Debate On Alternative Energy Bill

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USA Alternative Energy - Senate Begins Debate On Alternative Energy Bill

The Senate Finance Committee began debate on Tuesday a $31 billion bill that would provide financial incentives and tax cuts to encourage energy savings and promote alternative energy supplies. The funding will be part of the Obama administration’s broader U.S. economic stimulus plan. The tax breaks under debate would, in part, assist wind power and solar energy companies that are struggling to obtain financing under tight credit conditions. The incentives could also help offset sharply lower petroleum prices, which have made alternative energy projects less cost competitive. The Senate tax package mirrors most of the $20 billion in energy tax breaks cleared last week by the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, but with additional incentives to assist alternative energy firms.

GuruFocus.com: The next boom starts in ... 2014? -- by Chris Skinner

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The next boom starts in ... 2014? -- by Chris Skinner

The USA has pledged almost $2 trillion, the UK over $1 trillion, Germany around $700 billion with more to come, and the ECB over a trillion. Iceland’s bankrupt, and many say that Ireland is one character change and six months from being another Iceland. Spain’s property market has crashed as have their jobs, and Greece is seeing riots over the euro. Germany’s unemployment rates are breaking records, whilst the rest of Europe wonders what is happening. These are all the things we are wondering about today, and we are all trying to find some security and confidence.These are, as Warren Buffet calls them, “weapons of financial distribution”. These weapons saw bankers creating financial instruments that were fatally flawed, regulators with zero comprehension as to what they were regulating, and management driven by profits and greed.

The urgent three priorities right now, for example, are to get rid of bank’s bad debts, help banks to lend again, and to resurrect banks’ wallowing share prices and Tier 1 Capital ratios.This is being addressed and will be resolved through new regulations and new business structures. Five years to get back into a growth cycle. In 2014, we will be in another growth cycle. A more sombre one, with very different financial instruments and services, and with banks that are far more checked and regulated than ever before, but it will be another growth cycle. Those firms who harness the power of the network will be the ones that achieve the fastest growth in that next cycle.

1/26/09

TimesOnline: Even in the Alps, capitalism's elite can't stay above the economic crisis - by Gary Duncan

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Even in the Alps, capitalism's elite can't stay above the economic crisis - by Gary Duncan

This year's World Economic Forum in Davos has been described as the most crucial in the event's 40-year history. For the VIP delegates taking part, the challenge will be to find ways to survive the global turmoil. Next week, for the movers and shakers of the planet's corporate elite who will flock here, the only place to be is the annual Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum. Yet this time it is a very different Davos that awaits, with an atmosphere unlike any in the 40-year history of these starry gatherings of political titans, corporate sultans and academic luminaries. Over the past decade, the five-day Davos gathering has become celebrated as the rallying point for a vaguely triumphalist celebration of capitalism and globalisation, especially in its financial guise.

Yet this year must mark a radical and distinct shift in the atmosphere. Capitalism is, after more than a year of vast, once-in-a-century upheavals for the world's financial system, in the midst of a near-existential crisis. Months of economic and financial turmoil will cast a long, dark shadow across the normally sunny mood in Davos. For the participants, this is Shangri-La no more.

Telegraph.co.uk: Dutch International Banking Giant ING axes 7,000 jobs as boss steps down - by Katherine Griffiths

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Dutch International Banking Giant ING axes 7,000 jobs as boss steps down - by Katherine Griffiths

ING, the Dutch banking giant, announced the departure of its chief executive and 7,000 job losses as it posted a loss of €1bn for 2008. ING's revelations came as BNP Paribas, France's biggest bank, unveiled worse-than-expected results for the fourth quarter of 2008. Michel Tilmant, ING's chief executive, stepped down with immediate effect because of the stress of his job in recent months, a spokesman said. "It has taken its toll on him . . . Basically, he's tired and has decided it would be in ING's best interests for a chief executive with more energy to take over," the spokesman said. Mr Tilmant will be replaced by board chairman Jan Hommen, 65, former chief financial officer of Dutch electronics group Philips, which separately also announced yesterday that it was cutting 6,000 jobs .

ING has turned to the Dutch government for the second time in three months for assistance. The new state loan guarantees are targeted at tackling investor uncertainty about ING's €27.7bn portfolio of "Alt-A" mortgage-backed securities, a class of asset that sits between prime and sub-prime. ING said it would cut €1bn of costs in 2009, by scrapping 7,000 jobs out of a total of about 130,000 worldwide. It also said it would re-evaluate its sponsorship of the Renault Formula One racing team.

AFP: Clinton picks climate envoy, in another break with Bush

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Clinton picks climate envoy, in another break with Bush

In a sharp break from former president George W. Bush's approach to global warming, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has picked a special envoy for climate change, the State Department said Monday. Coming less than a week after Clinton assumed her job, the position signalled to US allies how urgently President Barack Obama's administration takes the threat posed by climate change after Bush played it down. During her Senate confirmation hearing on January 13, Clinton said that Obama would lead "a global and coordinated response" toward combating climate change. Climate change is "an unambiguous security threat," she said.

Note EU-Digest: Another step in the right direction by the Obama Administration.

AP: Obama's Pro-active Green car rules give auto industry a new challenge

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Obama's pro-active Green car rules give auto industry a new challenge

Obama on Monday directed the Environmental Protection Agency to review whether California and more than a dozen states should be allowed to impose tougher auto emission standards on carmakers to fight greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration had blocked the efforts by the states, which account for about half of the nation's auto sales. The new president also said his administration would issue new fuel-efficiency requirements to cover 2011 model year vehicles. The rules would be the first step toward a 2007 energy law that requires the auto industry to boost efficiency by 40 percent to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Obama's plans could bring smaller cars, more hybrids and advanced fuel-saving technologies to showrooms.

Note EU-Digest

This has been something that needed to have been done years ago. Bravo Mr. Obama.

The Good News: Secular Humanism: Between the Ideal and the Lie - by Garry Petty

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Secular Humanism: Between the Ideal and the Lie - by Garry Petty

A war of philosophy and of what defines morality is being fought daily in the media, judicial benches and legislative halls across the Western world. Issues include separation of church and state, euthanasia, abortion, gay rights and whether "one nation under God" should stay in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance or "In God We Trust" should remain inscribed on U.S. currency. On one side stand fundamentalist Protestantism and conservative Catholicism and on the other side secular humanism. The "religious right" claims that humanism is dragging the United States ( and other countries) into an abyss of crime and relativism. Secular humanists point to incidents like the pedophile priest scandal rocking the Catholic Church to trumpet that Christianity is discredited and has failed to produce a moral and safe society. Many find themselves in the middle, accepting some traditional religious ideas while embracing many secularist positions. What is secular humanism, and what are its effects on cultural development?

EU-Digest/Reuters: Norway adds green component to stimulus package of euro 2.24 billion


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Norway's government said it would boost spending on environmental projects in the energy sector by 80 percent this year, as part of a euro 2.24 billion (20 billion crown) fiscal stimulus package announced on Monday. Subsidies to Enova, the Norwegian government's "green energy" investment fund, will amount to euro 0.29 billion (2.6 billion crowns), some euro 0.13 billion (1.2 billion crown) more than envisaged previously. The Energy and Petroleum Ministry, which oversees Enova, said the additional money should be spent on projects seeking to improve energy efficiency in industry and construction, environmentally friendly heating and wind power.

Energy and Petroleum Minister Terje Riis-Johansen said in a statement the new spending would help shore up the economy by "securing jobs in a downturn" and help fight climate change.

Times Online: Silvio Berlusconi under fire for rape gaffe - by Richard Owen

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Silvio Berlusconi under fire for rape gaffe - by Richard Owen

Silvio Berlusconi has found himself in hot water again after saying that deploying more troops on Italian streets following a series of rape cases would not guarantee the safety of the country's women because "we would need as many soldiers as there are beautiful girls in Italy – which we will never manage". There was also outrage when it emerged that a 22-year-old man accused of raping a 23-year-old girl during a New Year's Eve party organised by the city council at the Rome trade fair site had been allowed house arrest by a woman magistrate who accepted that he had expressed remorse at his "violent behaviour under the influence of alcohol and drugs".

Gianni Alemanno, the mayor of Rome, demanded that the man be imprisoned after the victim phoned him in distress to say she felt "abandoned by the authorities". On Saturday Mr Berlusconi said he would increase tenfold the number of soldiers helping police patrol city streets – taking the total to 30,000.

AFP: France and Spain deploy troops after hurricane force storm kills 25

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France and Spain deploy troops after hurricane force storm kills 25

France and Spain deployed troops Monday to join massive recovery efforts after violent storms killed 25 people and left hundreds of thousands without electricity across southern Europe. Mourners meanwhile gathered in the northeastern Spanish town of Saint-Bois-de-Llobregat to bury four children killed at the weekend when gale-force winds brought the roof and wall of a sports hall down on their heads. Thousands of workers beavered on both sides of the border to restore power and reopen roads and rail lines blocked by trees uprooted by the worst storms to hit southwestern France and northern Spain in a decade. The tempest has meanwhile barreled across the Mediterranean to batter Italy, where a young woman was swept to her death by a wave as she walked on a beach near the southern city of Naples.

1/25/09

USA Today: "US Consumer - still living in a dream world" - Lower gas prices send buyers after big cars again - by Chris Woodyard

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"US Consumer - still living in a dream world" - Lower gas prices send buyers after big cars again - by Chris Woodyard

Gyrating gas prices are playing havoc on auto industry planners, who've been adding small cars to their lineups, even as customers are showing more interest again in bigger vehicles. New Chrysler small cars expected from a deal with Italy's Fiat hatched last week won't arrive for up to two years, says Chrysler President Jim Press, but even if they were showing up now, it wouldn't matter much. Press says the company's full-size Dodge Durango SUV is in the shortest supply among all the vehicles sold by Chrysler. Yet the automaker decided last year when gas prices were high to phase out the product out of fear buyers would shun it. The turnabout "shows the fickleness of the market," says Press, speaking after a J.D. Power and Associates conference here for auto dealers.

Note EU-Digest: The above report also shows that most US consumers are still living in a dream world.

Hybrid Cars: 6 Cool European Electric Cars Never Coming to the US

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6 Cool European Electric Cars Never Coming to the US

The European tradition of coachbuilding—the manufacturing of carriages—dates back to the 1700s. These days, it refers to the high-end auto design firms, such as Rolls Royce and Ferrari, which build custom-designed specialty vehicles. Like nearly every automaker in the world, coach builders are going green, by designing and building all-electric vehicles. Their electric cars are well suited to the congested streets of Rome or Paris, but don’t hold your breath for these cool electricity-powered rides to make it across the pond. By nature, the coach builders produce vehicles in limited runs intended for local markets.

xinhuanet.com: Romanian president calls for national solidarity amid economic crisis

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Romanian president calls for national solidarity amid economic crisis

Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Saturday that his country would overcome the ongoing world economic crisis if all people and political groups could stay united and pool their wisdom. The president also urged political leaders in the country to sacrifice group interests for Romanians. "We need all those representing now the political class to make sacrifices. The same as our predecessors did to sacrifice their personal and group interests 150 years ago, Romanians need now a political class to know how to sacrifice group interests in the name of the nation too," Basescu said.

On Jan. 24, 150 years ago, two Romanian principalities -- Wallachia and Moldavia -- formed a Union by electing Colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza as the common ruler. The unification generated a favorable framework for the modernization of the Romanian society. Romania became a national unitary state on Dec. 1, 1918, when Transylvania also joined in to form a Greater Union.

EU-Digest/AFP: France to offer all 18-year-olds a free daily copy of the newspaper of their choice

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France will offer all 18-year-olds a free daily copy of the newspaper of their choice

France will offer all 18-year-olds a free daily copy of the newspaper of their choice, President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday, announcing a package of measures to help the beleaguered press. French newspapers were already struggling to compete for readers with the Internet and broadcast journalism even before the economic downturn took a bite out of advertising revenue, and several are close to collapse. In response to the crisis, which some commentators have branded a threat to French democratic debate, the government organised a national conference on the future of the newspaper industry. "The habit of reading the press takes hold at a very young age," Sarkozy said, presenting the conclusions of several months of talks to an audience of media executives, journalists and officials in Paris.

MNBC: Alternative Eenergy: Fuel Systems Solutions to Launch U.S. Automotive Alternative Fuel Division in First Quarter 2009

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Alternative Eenergy: Fuel Systems Solutions to Launch U.S. Automotive Alternative Fuel Division in First Quarter 2009

Fuel Systems Solutions, Inc. (Nasdaq:FSYS) will begin manufacturing its innovative alternative fuel solutions for the North American transportation market during the first quarter of 2009 at its U.S. subsidiary, IMPCO Technologies, Inc., which has been serving the industrial market for 50 years. This launch expands the company's global distribution of transportation products. Since the 1960s, Fuel System Solutions' transportation subsidiary, BRC, based in Cherasco, Italy, has been a major provider of alternative fuel systems worldwide that convert gasoline vehicles to run on cleaner burning natural gas or propane, and in 2008, production increased to approximately 800,000 conversions annually.

1/24/09

freshplaza.com: Shipping Industry - EU exec clears Maersk to buy Sweden's Brostrom

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Shipping Industry - EU exec clears Maersk to buy Sweden's Brostrom

Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk gained clearance from EU competition authorities on Wednesday to buy Swedish shipping company Brostrom . European Commission, the competition watchdog of the 27-nation European Union, said the deal would not impede competition even though the parties' activities overlap on several markets in the liquid bulk tanker sector. "The Commission's investigation showed that the merging parties' combined market shares in these markets would remain relatively low and that customers would continue to have real choice between several suppliers," the Commission said in a statement.

Chicagotribune:Tourism: Europe feels U.S. financial crisis in absence of tourism -- Christine Spolar

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Tourism: Europe feels U.S. financial crisis in absence of tourism -- Christine Spolar

American Express has shuttered two decades-old offices in major tourist cities. Taxi drivers are wailing that Americans and their big tips are nowhere to be seen. Clerks at the upscale clothiers along Via dei Condotti are helping buyers from Russia and China—the only holiday travelers found sifting through their racks one day last week. "Americans just aren't here," said driver Piero Capotosti, who used to draw a dependable income from Americans. He estimates his traffic has dropped as much as 40 percent from last year. "They don't have the money. You can really feel it," he said. "Now a lot of tourists are taking low-cost tours or coming from Eastern Europe. We have a name for them: The 'tight-fisted tourists.' "

Alternet: US Economy: Obama's Economic Plan Is Not Going to Save US - by William Greider

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US Economy: Obama's Economic Plan Is Not Going to Save US - by William Greider

Three large obstacles are blocking Obama's path. The first is one of scale: his nearly $800 billion recovery package sounds huge, but it is perhaps two or three times too small to produce a turnaround. The second is that the financial system--still dysfunctional despite the bailouts--requires much more than fiscal stimulus and bailout: the government must nationalize and supervise the banks to ensure that they carry out the lending and investing needed for recovery. This means liquidating some famous nameplates--led by Citigroup--that are spiraling toward insolvency. The third is that the crisis is global: the US economy cannot return to normal unless the unbalanced world trading system is simultaneously reformed. Globalization has vastly undermined US productive strength, as trade deficits have led the nation into deepening debtor dependence.The most obvious and immediate obstacle to systemic change is the dysfunctional financial system. It remains inert and hunkered down in self-protection, despite the vast billions in public money distributed so freely, no strings attached, in the last days of the Bush administration. We will learn soon enough whether Obama intends to start over with a more forceful approach. Obama and his advisers are eager to get another $350 billion in bailout funds, but they have remained silent on whether this will finance a government takeover of the system. Without such a move, the taxpayers will essentially be financing the slow death of failed institutions while getting nothing in return.

FT.com - Real Estate - Exchange advantage - by Faith Glasgow

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Real Estate - Exchange advantage - by Faith Glasgow

The dramatic slide of sterling against the euro and other currencies since the start of last year has created big winners and big losers in the world of residential property. In the former category are international buyers in the UK, and especially in London, who are combining falling prices with improved exchange rates to secure deals that cost them 40-50 per cent less in their own currencies than they would have a year ago. In the latter are British buyers abroad, who can no longer afford the gîtes and haciendas they once coveted or have found themselves struggling to cover the monthly payments on their foreign-currency-based mortgages.If that is one silver lining to the euro’s strength, another is that European developers are also now offering “generous discounts” to sterling buyers, says James Hickman of Caxton FX. “Others have introduced a scheme where buyers pay a small deposit but then defer the rest of the payment for up to five years and pay only interest on it meanwhile,” he says. Julian Cunningham of estate agency Knight Frank confirms that such “solutions” are increasingly common. “It depends on the developer’s situation but typically at least 75 per cent [of the purchase cost] is postponed,” he says. “That gives buyers time to plan their finances. It’s not a new initiative but now it’s a key element of any deal.”

AP: EU and Turkey eye monitors and troops, solutions for Gaza border - by Angela Carlton

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EU and Turkey eye troops, solutions for Gaza border - by Angela Carlton

French troops, Turkish monitors, British ships, German tunnel detectors, European radar equipment — officials say all these options are being weighed as they try to cement the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The key to a solution is finding a way to choke off smuggling through tunnels under the slender border between Gaza and Egypt while opening the aboveground crossings to travel and trade. The eight-mile frontier is at the heart of secretive diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East this week. Dozens of European monitors and experts are ready to deploy immediately, but not until Egypt — and preferably someone on Hamas' side of the border — agree.Beyond the EU, a special Turkish peacekeeping unit outside Ankara is ready to deploy to the border if needed, Turkish officials have said. But Turkey is officially insisting it is only talking for now about sending monitors, not armed peacekeepers. Turkey enjoys, to some extent, the trust of both Israel and Hamas. It has also offered to mediate between Hamas and the moderate Palestinian movement Fatah led by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas. A Turkish official said there is an "implicit agreement" that the corridors must be reopened for trade and travel for the cease-fire to hold. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Turkey's discussions.

NYT - Obama May Face 'Rebuff' from Europe on Military Step-Up in Afghanistan - by Robert Hunter and Bernhard Gwertzman

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Obama May Face 'Rebuff' from Europe on Military Step-Up in Afghanistan - by Robert Hunter and Bernhard Gwertzman

Consulting Editor, CFR.org
Robert E. Hunter, U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Clinton administration, says despite U.S. calls for a stepped-up military role by European NATO members in Afghanistan, he thinks there will only be a "token response." He pointed to opinion surveys showing "there's not a single European country that wants to see more of its troops go to Afghanistan." The issue will be raised early by the Obama administration, Hunter says, "and if the United States pushes too hard on asking for new forces, it will lead to a rebuff, and at the beginning of an administration you don't want to be rebuffed."

There's no doubt that there is not a lot of confidence in Karzai. There are even supposedly members of his own family who are on the take when it comes to poppy production and the like. Recognizing, however, that Afghanistan is an amazingly complicated place, that competent central government has been the gross exception rather than the rule in that country, to say that somebody other than Karzai could do a better job is putting the wish ahead of what the facts are likely to be.

Note EU-Digest: What is being left out of the above discussion is to negotiate directly with more moderate factions of the Taliban.

1/23/09

Middle East Online: Hamas to Europe: time to talk

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Hamas to Europe: time to talk

The exiled chief of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said on Wednesday the time has come to lift a ban on contacts with his democratically elected Palestinian government, in a speech aired on Arab satellite televisions. "I tell European nations...It is time for you to deal with Hamas, which has gained legitimacy through struggle," Meshaal said. "For the past three years, they (Israelis) have been trying to get rid of Hamas," he said. "Now it is time to start to talk to Hamas," whose popularity had been further boosted recently due to Israel’s war on Gaza.

Note EU-Digest: Khaled Meshaal also seems to know the quote: "If you don't tickle yourself, nobody else will."

Guardian.co.uk: French justice chief Dati 'plans' to quit - by Angelique Chrisafis

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French justice chief Dati 'plans' to quit - by Angelique Chrisafis

Rachida Dati, the French justice minister handpicked by Nicolas Sarkozy as his symbol of change, is expected to quit in June after standing for the European parliament. The minister, who recently returned to work five days after giving birth in order to fight to keep her post, is said to have resisted leaving the government.A source from Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party told AFP news agency that she would run for the European elections but no decision had been fixed on her departure from government. Dati was always vulnerable. She was personally appointed by Sarkozy to one of France's most important ministries having never run for election and with little experience of party politics. This meant her future depended on the president's whim and strategy.

EU-Digest: POWER TO THE PEOPLE - The European Citizens’ Consultations 2009 (ECC 2009)


special EU-Digest report on Citizens Consultations leading up to the 2009 European elections

POWER TO THE PEOPLE - The European Citizens’ Consultations 2009 (ECC 2009)

In the run-up to the 2009 Euro-elections, the European Citizens’ Consultations 2009 (ECC 2009) will give citizens a voice in the debate over how to respond to the current economic and financial crisis by providing a platform for a pan-European dialogue on the future of Europe.

The ECC 2009 will give all European citizens an opportunity to join in the discussion on how the EU can shape our economic and social future in a globalized world, by taking part in an on-line debate on national websites launched on the 3rd of December in every EU member state – the first stage in a process which will culminate in a European Citizens’ Summit in May 2009.

The national websites will give everyone the chance to discuss and share their views on this crucial issue, and help develop recommendations for national and European policy-makers. Their ideas will be fed into national consultations which will be held in all 27 EU member states in March next year, involving some 1500 citizens from all walks of life. The outcome of all these deliberations will be handed over to policy-makers at the European Citizens’ Summit in May.

ECC 2009 is co-funded by the European Commission under its “Debate Europe” programme. Speaking at the launch, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström said: “This project sets a new standard for citizen participation by working on the national and European levels, and by combining online and offline dialogue.” The European Citizens' Consultations are run by a consortium of more than 40 European partner organisations, led by the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF), and is co-funded by foundations including the KBF, Compagnia di San Paolo and the Robert Bosch Foundation, and funders at national level.

LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD - FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS DISCUSSION CLICK ON THIS LINK - ONCE YOU ARE ON THAT WEBSITE SELECT THE EU COUNTRY YOU ARE FROM AND LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD

It is also possible to join the dedicated Facebook group “European Citizens’ Consultation 2009”.

The Economist: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer out - A contest to lead NATO - Who can unite the allies?


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Jaap de Hoop Scheffer out - A contest to lead NATO - Who can unite the allies? -

NATO’s hot war, in Afghanistan, is going badly and the alliance is at odds over further expansion. Relations with its neighbor in Brussels, the European Union, are paralyzed even though many countries are members of both. Poland’s foreign (and ex-defense) minister, Radek Sikorski, is an early front-runner. Another eastern possibility is Solomon Passy, the Trabant-driving former foreign minister of Bulgaria. Many allies want a secretary-general with political clout, “somebody whose phone calls will be answered when he calls European leaders”, as a NATO insider puts it. Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s has this clout. As Danish prime minister since 2001, he sent his country’s troops to serve alongside American ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Mr Fogh Rasmussen is thought to be more interested in becoming the EU’s first permanent president, if that position ever materializes.Two Canadian possibilities are Peter MacKay and John Manley, defense and former foreign ministers respectively. One contender is Britain’s soft-spoken former defense secretary, Des Browne. But Britain is detested by jihadists even more than Denmark.A French candidate might seal that country’s re-entry into NATO’s military structure, which will be confirmed at the April summit. Some NATO insiders think the best way to stop Berlin from becoming the new Paris might be to appoint a senior German with solid pro-American credentials to NATO’s top job—in effect, not Germany’s man at NATO, but NATO’s man for Germany?

Note EU-Digest Among all the soul searching that is being done about NATO maybe some serious thought should also be given to replace the NATO structure by a European Defense Alliance which includes Russia as a full member? Providing more of a focus on European strategic interests but nevertheless in close cooperation with the US military establishment.

Bloomberg.com: European Economy - Europe Services, Manufacturing Contracted in January

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European Economy - Europe Services, Manufacturing Contracted in January

Europe’s manufacturing and service industries contracted for an eighth month in January as the global recession curbed demand for exports and damped spending. A composite index of both industries was at 38.5 compared with 38.2 in December, which was the lowest reading since the survey began in 1998. Economists forecast a decline to 37.4, according to the median of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. The index is based on a survey of purchasing managers by Markit Economics and a reading below 50 indicates contraction. Companies are scaling back production and cutting jobs as global demand wanes. Europe’s gross domestic product will drop 1.9 percent this year, the European Commission forecasts.

While the rise in the purchasing managers’ index “provides a glimmer of hope that the rate of economic contraction may have peaked at the end of last year,” its level is “still consistent with a sharp drop in GDP,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

1/22/09

EU-Digest - Two Dutch students fly along with Richard Branson in private jet to Barack Obama inauguration

Omar Kbiri, Richard Branson and Lennard Hulsbos


Holland celebrates Obama inauguration

Two Dutch students fly along with Richard Branson in private jet to Barack Obama inauguration

Omar Kbiri en Lennard Hulsbos, two Dutch college students, hitched a last-minute ride to Washington from Amsterdam on the private jet of British entrepreneur Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Airways and joined the record crowd there hailing in the Barack Obama era.

Branson was a guest speaker at an Amsterdam congress and participants were able to ask questions by sending text messages from their mobile phones, which were shown on a large screen. Unexpectedly the following question came, "Will you take along two poor students to Obama?" the students' text message read, to which Branson immediately said yes. The two students returned to the Netherlands today following their 48 hour US adventure and in a press conference said the flight with Richard Branson and the inaugural festivities in Washington was something they will never forget as long as they live. While the students were in Washington, many prominent Dutch politicians and journalists attended a special Obama inauguration party thrown by Job Cohen, the Mayor of Amsterdam at his official residence. The Mayor's staff served hot dogs and mini hamburgers to politicians from the left and the right of the Dutch political spectrum as they watched the inauguration on a big screen. The Stars and Stripes was also hoisted above the 16th century Old Church in the middle of the capital's red light district. Obama's inauguration had rehabilitated the US's reputation in the Netherlands, at least for now.

Radio Netherlands: Dutch NATO chief critizises corrupt Hamid Karzai Kabul Government - Shouting matches in the palace - by Bette Dam

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Dutch NATO chief critizises corrupt Hamid Karzai Kabul Government - Shouting matches in the palace - by Bette Dam

Dutch NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has cast off his politeness. Although the alliance is in Afghanistan at the invitation of its President Hamid Karzai, widespread corruption within the administration led Mr de Hoop Scheffer to publicly criticise the Kabul government in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. Behind the scenes discussions with the president about his weak administration are said to have been going on for much longer.A Dutch diplomat in Camp Holland told me that the Netherlands, a NATO member, is simply waiting for the appointment of a new president. "Only then will something change in the area." The Dutch have repeatedly criticised Uruzgan's local Education Minister, Mualim Rachmatullah. He has been in power in Uruzgan since Mr Karzai's reign and is likely to remain there.

The Dutch I spoke to say he is a crook: you cannot conclude any agreements with him, the money is disappearing, and the man is mainly focused on his own building companies, people in Camp Holland have told me. The Dutch want to build schools in Uruzgan but are frustrated by the unreliable education minister, who continues to enjoy Mr Karzai's support.

Softpedia: European Space Agency Has Its Hands Full This Year - At least five critical launches are scheduled for 2009 - by Tudor Vieru

For the complete report from Softpedia click on this link,p>ESA Has Its Hands Full This Year - At least five critical launches are scheduled for 2009

European Space Agency Has Its Hands Full This Year - At least five critical launches are scheduled for 2009 - by Tudor Vieru

The European Space Agency (ESA) has big plans for 2009, its boss Jean-Jacques Dordain announced at a briefing in Paris on Wednesday. Among the most impressive plans that Dordain presented at the conference there's the launch of the Herschel and Planck telescopes, the maiden flight of the Vega carrier system, and the beginning of Soyuz-powered space flights, from ESA's spaceport in French Guyana. Also, three new satellites will be launched, whose missions are critical for gaining a better understanding of the way ecosystems on Earth work.

"Last year was really an outstanding vintage. But there'll be no breathing space going forward," the official said. Talking about the fact that Russian-built Soyuz missiles will start launching from ESA spaceports soon, Dordain said "This will be a significant milestone in many ways. We really do need Soyuz because at least half of ESA missions are due for launch on Soyuz, whether that be scientific missions or Galileo [satellite-navigation] satellites."

Flightglobal:: SIA takes delivery of first A330-22/01/2009-Singapore- by Nicholas Ionides

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SIA takes delivery of first A330-22/01/2009-Singapore- by Nicholas Ionides

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has taken delivery of its first Airbus A330-300. The aircraft was handed over by Airbus at a delivery ceremony in Toulouse, France, yesterday. It is one of 19 new Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered A330-300s that the airline will be leasing to provide "interim lift" until purchased Airbus A350s arrive in the coming years.

Sunday Herald: Offshore windpower: Scotlands Biggest Windfarm Grows To Generate Enough Power For Glasgow - by Rob Edwards

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Scotlands Biggest Windfarm Grows To Generate Enough Power For Glasgow - by Rob Edwards

Plans for a major expansion of Scotland's biggest windfarm are to be unveiled this week by Scottish Power, with the aim of generating enough electricity for every home in Glasgow. The Spanish-owned company is to apply for permission to build 45 new wind turbines at Whitelee on Eaglesham Moor, south of the city. Along with an extension planned earlier, this will bring the total number of turbines on the site to 221, and allow the windfarm will supply 614 megawatts of "clean green electricity", says Scottish Power. That is enough to power 340,000 households - 55,800 more than there are in the city of Glasgow. When the Whitelee windfarm was first given the go-ahead in 2006, it was for 140 turbines to generate 322 megawatts of electricity.

Whitelee is already Europe's largest onshore windfarm. The second-largest is in Guadalajara, Spain, run by Scottish Power's parent company, Iberdrola, with an output of 208 megawatts. So far, 102 turbines have been built at Whitelee, with another 38 due up before the summer. According to Scottish Power, the company is on target to produce over 1000 megawatts from all its wind farms by 2010. Up to 500 workers have been on the site, which could end up covering 75sqkm of moorland. The scale of the development has provoked criticisms from some environmental groups, though others are supportive.

FT.com: - Poll shows: EU voters resistant on Afghan war - by James Blitz

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Poll shows: EU voters resistant on Afghan war Poll shows: EU voters resistant on Afghan war - by James Blitz

Any attempt by Barack Obama to get European Union members of Nato to send more troops to Afghanistan will be strongly rebuffed by EU voters, according to a new opinion poll for the Financial Times. As Mr Obama prepares to be sworn in as US president today, a Harris poll for the FT shows that clear majorities in the UK, France, Italy and Germany believe their governments must not send more forces to Afghanistan, irrespective of demands that the new American head of state might make. The opinion poll shows that Mr Obama continues to enjoy high approval ratings in these four EU states. At least three-quarters of people in each of the countries surveyed, which also included Spain, believe the new president will have "a positive impact on the course of international events".

1/21/09

The Moscow Times.com: Russia Asks Obama for Change

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Russia Asks Obama for Change

The Russian Foreign Ministry is calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to end Washington's "anti-Russian" policy of granting swift NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the policy of former President George W. Bush had destabilized Ukraine and helped spark last summer's war in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. "I would like to hope that the new people in the White House will learn from the mistakes of their predecessors," Ryabkov said in an interview published by his ministry this week.

European states led by Germany and France blocked a U.S. drive at a NATO summit last year to grant Ukraine and Georgia a road map to membership. Officials said neither country was ready and that membership would unnecessarily provoke Moscow, which considers the former Soviet republics to be part of its zone of influence. "We are not against bilateral relations between the United States and ... Ukraine and Georgia," Ryabkov said. "But at the same time we do not intend to close our eyes to a situation in which the vector of such ties begins to negatively influence Russian interests in the area of national security. ... This relates in full to the essentially anti-Russian advancement of the policy of speedy NATO accession for Kiev and Tbilisi."

BBC NEWS: Russia offers Afghan defence help

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Russia offers Afghan defence help

Russia has said it is ready to help Afghanistan's defence sector by supplying equipment to the nation's armed forces.A statement from Mr Medvedev said Russia was "ready to provide broad assistance for an independent and democratic country that lives in a peaceful atmosphere with its neighbors". He added: "Co-operation in the defence sector... will be effective for establishing peace in the region." The Afghan presidency said Russia was also prepared to provide any other assistance that would help bring peace.

There have been complaints in Afghanistan that despite the huge Western presence its armed forces have not been properly equipped. The US has pledged to send up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2009, adding to the 32,000 troops already there.

Washington Post: Life Insurers Seek Lower Cash Cushions ( will Europe be next) - by David S. Hilzenrath

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US Insurance Industry - Life Insurers Seek Lower Cash Cushions ( Will Europe be next?) - by David S. Hilzenrath

To the list of industries seeking government relief, add another: life insurance. Battered by the financial crisis, life insurers are urging regulators to let them operate with thinner financial cushions -- the capital they must hold to absorb financial shocks and cover their obligations to policyholders.The changes the industry group seeks would make companies appear healthier. If the life insurance industry were to experience the equivalent of a bank run, companies could be forced to sell investments at depressed prices, exacerbating the industry's woes.

Like banks and other financial institutions, life insurance companies are required to maintain prescribed levels of capital. If they fall below those levels, state regulators are required to intervene. When a company's capital sinks to 35 percent of the required level, regulators are required to take it over. The meltdown in the financial markets has reduced the value of insurance companies' investments, leaving them with thinner cushions.

Reuters UK: EU ministers wary of debt buildup on Obama debut-day - by Huw Jones and Anna Willard

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EU ministers wary of debt buildup on Obama debut-day - by Huw Jones and Anna Willard

EU finance ministers came under pressure on Tuesday to recommit to lower national debts and roll back public spending once the region starts to pull out of recession. The European Union is striving to mobilise 200 billion euros ($260 billion) of public cash to blunt recession, way short of the $800-billion-plus being prepared by Barack Obama, whose inauguration as U.S. president comes later in the day. As he prepared to chair talks with colleagues from the 27 EU countries in Brussels, Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said ministers needed to demonstrate that they still had an eye on the longer-term goal of balanced state finances. "Public aid must be transparent and we must voice a pledge to go back to consolidating public deficits as soon as possible," Kalousek, whose country has just assumed the rotating EU presidency, said as he entered the so-called Ecofin talks.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who had chaired talks among euro zone finance ministers on Monday, said the buildup of more government debts was a worry for all, the United States first and foremost. "The Americans must take great care that they do not get too much in debt," Juncker said. "That is my biggest concern, along with others in Europe," he told German radio Deutschlandfunk on Tuesday, hours before Obama's inauguration ceremony. He said it was important that the United States did not sink into protectionism and it would be wrong if the U.S. government gave long-term aid to its auto industry without similar moves in Europe, where France is leading a push for aid to car makers.

IHT: French farmers protests US duties on Roquefort

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French farmers protests US duties on Roquefort

French farmers called Wednesday on President Barack Obama to stop holding Roquefort cheese "hostage" in a trans-Atlantic trade fight. Militant farmer Jose Bove — known for attacking McDonalds — and others protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Paris, hoping to reverse a decision by the former Bush administration to slap new sanctions on some European foods. Those sanctions include a tripling of import duties for the pungent Roquefort. "We are hostages in trade talks between Europe and the United States," said Jean Calmels, deputy mayor of the village of Saint Rome de Dolan and a milk producer for Roquefort, who spoke at the protest

Capital News 9: Hillary Clinton confirmed as secretary of state

For the complete report from Capital News 9 click on this link

Hillary Clinton confirmed as secretary of state

It's official. The Senate has confirmed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

The confirmation was held up for a day after the objection of one senator. Texas Republican John Cornyn said he wanted more time to address important questions concerning the foundation headed by former President Bill Clinton "and its acceptance of donations from foreign
entities."

BBC NEWS: Islam film Dutch MP Geert Wilders to be charged

Anti Geert Wilders cartoon


For the complete report from the BBC NEWS click on this link

Islam film Dutch MP Geert Wilders to be charged

A Dutch court has ordered prosecutors to put a right-wing politician on trial for making anti-Islamic statements. Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders made a controversial film last year equating Islam with violence and has likened the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.

"In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line," the court in Amsterdam said. Mr Wilders said the judgement was an "attack on the freedom of expression". "Participation in the public debate has become a dangerous activity. If you give your opinion, you risk being prosecuted," he said.

Note EU-Digest: Even though we have expressed indignation about the Geert Wilders Islam movie, it is unacceptable in a democratic society to prosecute someone for expressing his or her opinion. Freedom of expression also includes the above cartoon of Mr. Wilders head being chopped off. If we accept these kinds of legal procedures in a democratic society we can just as well start chopping off hands Saudi Justice style of people who have been caught stealing or the head of someone who has committed adultery?

Times Online: Britain to suffer 'deepest slump since 1946 and worst of big EU economies' - by David Charter and Gary Duncan

For the complete report from the Times Online click on this link

Britain to suffer 'deepest slump since 1946 and worst of big EU economies' - by David Charter and Gary Duncan

Britain's economy is about to suffer its most vicious slump since 1946, shrinking by a drastic 2.8 per cent this year, Brussels warned yesterday, as fears over the scale of the recession mounted despite the new banking bailout. In a dire assessment that threatens to leave Alistair Darling red-faced at a meeting of European Union finance ministers today, Brussels predicted that the UK would suffer the worst recession of any large European economy. The European Commission's grim forecast of Britain's outlook points to a toll this year more than twice as bad as the worst-case scenario in the Chancellor's Pre-Budget projections. Mr Darling had pinned his hopes on GDP falling by no more than 1.25 per cent, although he has admitted since then that this rosy view would have to be ditched. The warning is the most authoritative yet that the economy's plight will prove far worse than the Treasury has acknowledged. It comes as a growing number of independent economists are predicting a contraction in GDP of 2.5 per cent or more this year. In a further blow to the Chancellor, the EU Commission also challenged the Government's prediction of a swift revival next year.

Note EU-Digest: This is the unfortunate result of Britain copying US style economic practices turning them into one of the worst EU economic performers.

Blogging Stocks: Note to Fiat: Treasury may want some cash for Chrysler deal - by Douglas Mcintyre

For the complete report from BloggingStocks click on this link

Note to Fiat: Treasury may want some cash for Chrysler deal - by Douglas Mcintyre

Fiat probably hoped to get a 35% share of Chrysler without putting any skin in the game. Why would the Italian auto company expect that? May it is just naive. The US government is unlikely to let a foreign company get a piece of a US company for free, especially if the Treasury is writing the checks to keep the American company afloat. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Chrysler LLC has found an international partner in Fiat SpA but the auto maker isn't out of the woods, mainly because the deal is contingent on Chrysler getting $3 billion in additional government loans."

Why should Fiat walk in and get a piece of a firm that could be turned around using taxpayer cash? The answer is that it shouldn't. The Treasury should insist that Fiat put at least as much money into Chrysler as it is. Fiat is really not giving Chrysler much for its 35% in the US car company. It will help retool some plants and use them to build small cars that both companies will sell. Whether that helps Chrysler won't be known for some time. In essence Fiat is getting its stake almost for free.

WSJ.com: AIG Europe Completes EUR680M Capital Increase

For the complete report from the WSJ.com click on this link

A subsidiary of troubled insurance giant American International Group Inc. (AIG), said Wednesday it had completed a EUR680 million capital increase aimed at boosting its capacity to handle risk. According to the terms of the arrangement, EUR680 million in cash was transferred to AIG Europe by a newly created Ireland-based company named AIG Europe.

1/20/09

Insurance Journal: Obama Inauguration is a Global Event - by Charles E. Boyle

Barack Obama the 44th President of the US


For the complete report from the Insurance Journal

Obama Inauguration is a Global Event - by Charles E. Boyle

For the past 100 years or so the election of a new American President has been more than just a local event. But the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president has taken on a special importance. It is as closely followed abroad as it is in the U.S. Obama the man is extraordinary enough, but Obama the symbol, perhaps even more so. Few leaders have incarnated both the world's hopes and the world's fears as he does - FDR, Churchill, Kennedy, Martin Luther King - at least for black Americans.

He is also a symbol of hope in Europe, but the reasons and the feelings are more complex. George W. Bush never appealed to Europeans, a number of whom still believe that he stole the 2000 election from Al Gore. The high-handed manner of his administration convinced most Europeans that he neither knew about, nor cared for, the interests of other nations.Perhaps above all, Europeans, along with the rest of the world, believe he will reestablish U.S. influence and prestige, which has reached a nadir under Bush. One need look no further than local newspapers and TV coverage to attest how much importance is attached to Obama's installation in the White House. His story is front-page news. French TV channels have been profiling his life for the past two weeks, culminating in two full hours of live inaugural coverage. His promise of change and his political ideas are the main focus, as his mixed race background is less important to Europeans than it is to Americans. Although European countries, such as Britain and France, actively participated in the slave trade, there was little actual slavery in Europe itself. The slaves were sent to work on colonial plantations. However, most European countries now have large and growing populations of immigrant families of non-European origin. They routinely suffer the type of discrimination - economic, social and cultural - that has been the lot of black Americans for over 300 years. For them Obama's election has taken on a highly charged significance. In France, the UK and elsewhere the question is being asked - Could an Obama be elected to head this country? The answers boil down to "not yet, but maybe someday." By its very nature Obama's presidency brings that day closer.

Will he succeed in fulfilling the vast number of hopes that his election has created? Probably not, as he himself has acknowledged. That isn't really the point, however. As he begins his term of office, Barack Obama embodies the ideal of equality and a better life in a better world that encouraged millions of Europeans to emigrate to America. His father was African, his mother American. He's an outsider of mixed race. He's not a scion of wealth and privilege, but a hard working student, who succeeded by dint of his intellect and his passion. For those reasons alone Europe and the world rejoice at his election. The fact that he might actually be the right man for the almost impossible job he's taken on is an added bonus.

1/19/09

Dallas Business Journal: Cell phone sales may dial downward in ’09 - by Jeff Bounds

Skater using cell phone while skating on the Dutch Almere city lake - photo EU-Digest


For the complete report from the Dallas Business Journal click on this link

Cell phone sales may dial downward in ’09 - by Jeff Bounds

Makers of mobile phones are bracing for a potentially difficult 2009 after a number of years of strong growth, although analysts say the future is bright for makers of high-end “smart phones.” But ongoing uncertainty about the economy is making it difficult to get a glimpse of the future.

Radio Netherlands: Turkish PM pushes EU membership in Brussels

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During a visit to Brussels, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has again called for Turkey to become a full member of the European Union. On his first Brussels trip for four years, Mr Erdogan received backing for what he calls his number one priority from European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Mr Barroso said Turkey was doing well introducing the reforms necessary to join the 27 EU member states.

Turkey says the membership talks, which began in 2005 and are being made more difficult by Cypriot resistance, are going too slowly. Mr Erdogan was able to use the prospect of an important gas pipeline to Europe to his advantage in his talks with the EU. The pipeline, which is costing over nine billion euros, is designed to make Europe less dependant on Russian gas.

Financial Post: Demonizing Russia isn’t productive - by Vincent Lauerman


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Demonizing Russia isn’t productive - by Vincent Lauerman

For the sake of our own interests, the West should avoid blindly supporting countries such as Georgia and Ukraine in their disputes with Russia. Doing so merely pushes Russia deeper into an authoritarian bloc - a threat to European Union energy security and a geopolitical and economic catastrophe as well. The major powers need to work together to counter the economic fallout from the global financial crisis, not break into competing political and economic blocs as in the past (for example, during the Great Depression).According to a Nov. 7 article in The New York Times, accounts by independent military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at the beginning of the war call into question President Saakashvili's description of events. Most important, the monitors were unable to substantiate his claim that ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia were under heavy bombardment prior to Georgia moving its troops back into the region. In contrast, the monitors indicated that Georgia's "indiscriminate" bombardment of Tskhinvali put civilians, unarmed monitors and Russian peace keepers in harms way.

Note EU-Digest: A strategic partnership between Russia and the EU is not only essential for both countries but also practical as a first step to potential Russian membership in the EU. Russia is a European country and must be recognized as such.

Simon Tisdall: Turkey has a decisive role in world events. But is the EU listening?

Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

"Turkey's decisive role
After its mediation efforts in the Middle East, Turkey's influence is expanding. But will it ever be accepted by the EU?
Comments (48)

* Simon Tisdall

Turkey's value to Europe and the US as a close partner helping manage regional problems has been re-emphasised by the Gaza crisis. As the fighting threatened to spin out of control, Turkish diplomats showed they could reach parts other diplomats cannot by talking directly to the senior Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, in Damascus."

Alternet: USA: The insane adventure in national suicide known as the Bush administration is at last coming to an end - by David Michael Green

For the complete report from AlterNet click on this link

USA: The insane adventure in national suicide known as the Bush administration is at last coming to an end - by David Michael Green

Go on. Admit it. You never thought this would end, did you? You never thought they'd actually leave, huh? With only days remaining, you still have nagging doubts, don't you? Finally. Mercifully. Astonishingly. Incredibly. The insane adventure in national suicide known as the Bush administration is at last coming to an end. This was a ride that beggars belief. Even after McCarthy and Nixon and Reagan and Gingrich, nothing prepared us for the last eight years, and I for one have difficulty finding the words that could begin to do justice to describing this historical folly of epic proportions.

Arkansas Dem Gazette: Oil Rich Nations Investing In Future - by Elisabeth Rosenthal

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Oil Rich Nations Investing In Future - by Elisabeth Rosenthal

Arab Emirates - With one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints in the world, these oil-rich emirates would seem an unlikely place for a clean energy revolution. Still, the region's leaders know energy and money, having built their wealth on oil. They understand that oil is a finite resource, vulnerable to competition from new energy sources. So even as President-elect Barack Obama talks about an energy revolution as America's route out of recession, Persian Gulf nations - including the seven states that make up the emirates, plus Qatar and Saudi Arabia - are already making a concerted push to become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.

They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from California to Boston to London, and setting up "green" research parks at home - green referring to the movement to reduce waste and clean up the earth.

1/18/09

Artdaily.org - David Cerny Laughs at Europe with Installation at the Council of the European Union

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David Cerny Laughs at Europe with Installation at the Council of the European Union

The idea was simple but good. So effective that he convinced the presidency of the European Council, which this semester is headed by the Czech Republic, to give its blessing and the 500,000 Euros needed to finance it. Czech artist David Cerný promised the following: a collaboration between 27 artists from the European Community who would put forth their vision from their own countries. France was portrayed as a labor strike, Spain as a slab of concrete and Italy into a soccer field. The only problem is that behind this work of art, which has caused great controversy reducing Greece to a huge fire, Romania into a Dracula castle, there is only one creative mind, that of David Cerný. Czech Deputy Prime Minister, Alexandr Vondra, has confessed feeling "surprisingly sorry" after discovering that the only author of Entropa is Cerný and not 27 artists, as had been stipulated in the contract with the artist.

"David Cerný is the only person responsible for not fulfilling his commitment", said Vondra, who added that the Czech presidency is analyzing what to do with the installation, which has already been placed at the Justus Lipsius builiding of the EU Council building and which was supposed to be inaugurated on Thursday. Meanwhile, Cerný, known for his sculptures such as Freud hanging in the middle of the streets in Prague or for painting a rose on a Soviet tank, has laughed all along and said that he wanted to prove "that Europe could laugh at itself".

Note EU-Digest: Picasso said, “Art is a lie that tells the truth." David Cerný has certainly proven that point. The Commission should let the sculpture stay where it is.

European Voice: The EU needs leadership, not wilful determination - by John Wyles

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The EU needs leadership, not wilful determination - by John Wyles

The competition between European leaders to be the first to reach Cairo, Jerusalem or Moscow, highlights again the EU's lack of influence. Those of us who once lamented the lack of leadership in the European Union should have been reminded at the time of the old adage “be careful what you wish for”. Today the EU is awash with leaders dashing to Cairo, jetting into Jerusalem, acting as envoys to Moscow, stopping over in Kiev – all in a furious competition to acquire power and influence for themselves, their country and, sometimes, for Europe. Unfortunately, the spectacle to which we are all being treated is not one of carefully considered initiatives designed to make the best use, at the best time, of Europe's meagre political resources and slender influence in international affairs. Instead, our leaders are projecting disunion, disarray and a wilful determination by the big member states to continue pushing the European Commission into the political background.

Note EU-Digest: Very true, all this positioning by national European leaders on the International scene is just pathetic and bad for the image of the EU. Why can't we show some unity and get the Lisbon treaty passed. We in Europe complain about the ignorance of the US population having chosen George Bush twice, but at the same time the European population also shows that same weakness if they believe any individual member state within the EU could independently stand on their own against powers like the US, China, India or Russia.

NYT: Lincoln Memorial Concert Kicks Off Obama Inaugural Festivities - by Brian Knowlton and Jack Healy

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Lincoln Memorial Concert Kicks Off Obama Inaugural Festivities - by Brian Knowlton and Jack Healy

A singing, dancing, cheering sea of people poured onto the National Mall on Sunday afternoon to kick off three days of festivities to celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The “We Are One” concert featured a litany of musicians, sports stars and actors who sang well-worn hits and paid tribute to former presidents, the military and everyday Americans.

To view Obama's people click on this link