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4/30/11

Schwarzenegger For EU President? - by Laurent Thomet

It's a script drawing laughs and frowns among European Union veterans: Arnold Schwarzenegger, EU president, chairing summits next to Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and David Cameron.

News that the Austrian-born former "Governator" of California was advised to seek the EU presidency has brought smiles to the staid corridors of Brussels, but also exasperation about the EU's image in the United States. "It gave me a pretty good laugh," Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and head of the European Parliament's Liberal group, told AFP.

Turning serious, he sighed that it "shows a total lack of knowledge of Europe," noting it must be confusing for Americans to know who's at the helm when the EU has a European Council president and a European Commission president, each of whom tries to rival the top national figures.

For more: Schwarzenegger For EU President? : NewsTime : World News

USA Fake Recovery: 55 Percent of Americans Say 2011 Economy in Recession or Depression

Are the American people losing faith in the U.S. economy? The statistics that you are about to read might surprise you. Not everyone believes that the U.S. economy is dying (there are still millions out there that will swallow anything that the mainstream media tells them), but the reality is that there is a growing chunk of the population that has completely lost faith in our leaders and in our economic system. A brand new Gallup poll has found that the number of Americans that believe that we are in a "depression" is actually larger than the number of Americans that believe that the economy is "growing".

That is absolutely shocking because according to official government figures, the U.S. economy is growing right now and virtually nobody in the mainstream media or the government has used the term "depression" to describe the economic downturn that we went through recently. In fact, according to Gallup a total of 55% of the American people believe that we are either in a recession or a depression right now. This is clear evidence that the American people are losing faith in U.S. government economic statistics and instead they are basing their opinions on what they see in their own communities.

The Netherlands: Queen's Day: Go Dutch for an alternative royal celebration -

While much of the world's attention will be fixed on a certain royal wedding in London, Prince William's nuptials are not the only royal affair happening this weekend.

The orange craze, or "oranjegekte" in Dutch, returns to Netherlands on Saturday, when millions of revelers wearing head-to-toe orange will hit the streets across the nation to celebrate Queen's Day.

The Dutch royal occasion has been celebrated for over 100 years and is the annual official celebration of the Queen's birthday. The national holiday is a chance for revelers to take part in "vrijmarkts", or free markets, play traditional Dutch games with their families, listen to music and get decked out in their best Saturday orange.


For more: Queen's Day: Go Dutch for an alternative royal celebration - CNN.com

4/29/11

France using concrete 'training bombs' in Libya: military

French Military spokesman Thierry Burkhard denied rumours the use of the 300-kilo (660-pound) training devices was prompted by a shortage of real bombs. He said the first such strike crushed an armoured vehicle on Tuesday.

"The aim of this munition ... is to use the effect of the impact while limiting the risk of collateral damage," Burkhard told reporters. "It is a very precise strike. There is no, or very little, shrapnel thrown out."
The military said French warplanes have made 216 sorties in Libya over the past week and destroyed targets including 15 armoured vehicles and big guns as well as a munitions depot.

For more: France using concrete 'training bombs' in Libya: military - Money - Zawya

Military Jet deal: EU has the last laugh on defence deal

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) strictly went by results of field evaluation trials carried out by the Indian Air Force in short listing two European companies for the 126 combat jet contract, estimated to be $10.4 billion, and ignored political considerations in the form of pressure exerted by the US administration.Eurofighter Typhoon of European consortium EADS and Rafale belonging to the French company Dassault Aviation were the two aircraft that met the most of 600-plus technical parameters prepared by the IAF. The 600 parameter flight evaluation system was the most extensive used anywhere in the world to test fighter jets. Such has been the results that IAF chief P V Naik had even talked about getting the process patented. The biggest challenge now would be the price negotiations, as for the first time, life cycle costs would be factored in an arms contract in India instead of only the product value.

Defence Minister A K Antony endorsed these results and blocked political pressure as he even refused to give dates to his US counterpart Robert Gates who wanted to see him last month before the announcement of the deal. Not only the US official delegation, Antony had even turned down requests from all the six aviation companies in fray for the IAF contract, signaling he would go only by the field evaluation report.The US and its companies reacted cautiously for being kept out of one of the biggest deals because some more lucrative contracts are lined up in the coming months. Though they claimed to be deeply disappointed, they are not yet jumping the gun to launch any protest. Boeing is in the final stages of negotiations with the MoD on the sale of 10 C-17 Globemaster super heavy transporters. The deal, estimated to be $ 4.1 billion, is expected to be finalised anytime.

For more: Jet deal: Europe has the last laugh | Defence deal | military aircraft | Indian Express

4/28/11

Economy: Impending Economic Collapse: Why All Baby Boomers Are To Blamed

Over the last few weeks there seems to be consensus among many financial bloggers, whose credibility is far more trustworthy than the corporate mainstream media, that the country is teetering on the verge of economic collapse due to the complete capture of the government, financial, regulatory, and media by a small group of oligarchs. They have also been described as the super rich, plutarchs, ruling elite, and scum sucking leeches. The bloggers that I have the utmost respect for, including Jesse, Charles Hugh Smith, Mike Shedlock, Yves Smith and Gonzalo Lira have all come to the logical conclusion the horrific economic situation of the country is a direct result of the greed, corruption, fraud, and plundering by a powerful connected group of rich financiers operating without fear of being brought to justice by the authorities.

While pondering the ruminations of these dedicated truth tellers, I was reminded of the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More. The quotes above are representative of living in the USA today. There are supposed to be courageous, loyal and honest sheriffs that protect the citizens from crime, corruption and evil doers. But, just as we saw in the Old West of Clint Eastwood movies, the sheriffs are always corrupt and bought off by the evil cattle barons. In a world where life has no value and you can't rely on law enforcement to protect your interests, the citizens eventually will need to turn to bounty hunters to take care of the bad guys. The bounty hunters of truth reside on the internet. They reside at Zero Hedge, Jesse's Café Americain, Of Two Minds, Mish, Chris Martenson, and dozens of other anarchist websites. When you can't trust your government, your bankers, your church, your media, or mega-corporate CEOs, you need to seek the truth where it can be found. The insightful bloggers who courageously print the truth on a daily basis have unanimously concluded that a small band of powerful elite have accumulated undue influence and control over this country, having brought it to the verge of economic collapse. How did this happen? Who is responsible? Why were they permitted to gain this power?

US warns Turkey against financial transactions with Iran -

The United States has warned Turkey against conducting financial transactions with Iran and asked Ankara to halt the operations of an Iranian state-run bank in the country, local media reported Thursday.

David Cohen, the US acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, on Wednesday urged Ankara to 'isolate' Bank Mellat's branches in Turkey, Milliyet newspaper reported.

For more: US warns Turkey against financial transactions with Iran - Monsters and Critics

The European Union Should Start a Debate on Too-Big-To-Fail - by Morris Goldstein and Nicolas Veron

The existence of too-big-to-fail financial institutions represents a three-fold policy challenge.
  • First, such institutions exacerbate systemic risk by blunting incentives to manage risks prudently and by creating a massive contingent liability for governments that, in extreme cases, can threaten the latter's own debt sustainability; Iceland in 2008–09 and Ireland in 2010–11 serve as dramatic, recent cases in point.

  • Second, too-big-to-fail financial institutions distort competition. The 50 largest banks in 2009 benefitted from an average three-notch advantage in their credit ratings (Bank for International Settlements 2010)—an advantage presumably related in part to the higher likelihood of official support at times of crisis.

  • And third, the favored treatment of too-big-to-fail institutions—often summarized as "socialization of losses and privatization of gains"—lowers public trust in the fairness of the system (Johnson 2009).
For more: Op-ed from Peterson Institute for International Economics: The European Union Should Start a Debate on Too-Big-To-Fail

US Economy: Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations - How Wall Street Thieves, Led by Goldman Sachs, Took Down the Global Economy

For all the damning evidence you’ll ever need about Wall Street corruption, take a look at the recent report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: An Anatomy of a Financial Collapse” (PDF). The 650-page indictment reveals the myriad of ways Wall Street lies, cheats, steals and defrauds on a routine basis. Arguably the report is as revealing as the Nixon tapes or the Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, it’s too technical to get widely read. So here are the Cliff Notes.

This study, broken into four case studies, forms a biblical tale of how toxic mortgages were born, nurtured and spread like the plague throughout the land, making money for the financial philistines every step of the way. 

The first case study focuses on Washington Mutual (WaMu), the nation’s largest savings bank, and its overt strategic decision to go big into selling high risk, high profit mortgages. Here you will find a detailed description of every type of dangerous mortgage foisted onto the public. Your blood pressure also will climb when you read how the bank used focus groups to help its mortgage brokers find better ways to sucker customers into risky mortgages even though the applicants had qualified for and wanted safer fixed-rate mortgages.

For more: How Wall Street Thieves, Led by Goldman Sachs, Took Down the Global Economy -- Their Outsized Influence Must be Stopped | News & Politics | AlterNet

Russia-Denmark cooperation: turning a new page - by Denisova Olga

Russia will supply gas to Denmark as the Nord Stream pipeline project is scheduled to be commissioned this year. Denmark has confirmed its intention to assist Russia in implementation of other energy projects as well.

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Copenhagen on Tuesday accompanied by a group of the country’s leading businessmen to offer Denmark a portfolio of promising agreements. The results of the talks proved that both countries are interested in turning a fresh page in energy cooperation.

During the talks with his Danish counterpart Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Mr. Putin thanked Denmark for joining the Nord Stream project. Denmark was the first country to approve the construction of the pipeline on its territory. When the new route is launched, Denmark will be purchasing from Russia 1 billion cubic meters of gas, with plans to buy 1 billion cubic meters more with time. First supplies are scheduled this year, said Mr. Putin.

For more: Russia-Denmark cooperation: turning a new page: Voice of Russia

Economy: Politicians can't cut spending

In the 18th century, as democratic ideals were taking hold both on the American content and in Europe, it was observed that a democracy can exist only until its citizens discover that they can vote themselves access to the public treasury. While we don't know for certain who originally made this observation, he or she might have added a parallel: When politicians discover that they can buy votes through uncontrolled spending, economic collapse is assured.

As the US heads toward 2012, the population will be inundated with political ads proclaiming a new era of fiscal responsibility. Republicans will tell us that they engineered this "largest spending cut," and democrats, of course, will claim to have a master plan that will both cut spending and increase government's ability to meet our every need. In short, we will be lied to by both sides.

The reality is far too frightening for any career politician to acknowledge. Our nation borrows $6 billion per day. In 2010, government spending on entitlement programs alone exceeded total tax revenue. Today, one in six Americans receives money directly from the treasury. Every conceivable want and need of the masses is assumed to be government's responsibility. And, in the pursuit of votes, politicians have been only too willing to take it all on. Career politicians cannot and will not curtail spending. Funding government programs is the means by which they buy votes in order to remain in power. Next year, as political ads showing everything from hungry children to needy seniors flow across our TV screens, it won't take a PR genius to recognize that proposing specific, meaningful cuts is simply not an option.


For the career politician there is no self-interest separate from the desire to remain in Washington, feeding at the public trough for as long as possible. And, as history shows, the best way to do that is to spend, spend and spend some more. While limiting the terms of those elected to Congress would not solve all our problems, it would almost certainly make a serious (and honest) discussion about debt reduction much more likely.

Note EU-Digest: the answer to this problem lies in the hands of the voter. When looking for suitable political representatives, the voter must try and look beyond the billions of advertising dollars wasted by career politicians and political parties - be they Democrat or Republican, or indirectly associated with either one of these two parties, promoting unachievable goals  Instead, the voter should seriously start looking at political independents with a clean slate, who are driven by vision, ideals, inspiration and social consciousness, not just financial reward and political power. These people do exist, but it will require some personal effort and research by the voter to discover them. It will certainly be worth the effort and a service to the country.


For more: Politicians can't cut spending | The Newark Advocate | NewarkAdvocate.com

Earth to Greece: It’s Over - by Louis Woodhill

When a developed, sovereign nation finds itself borrowing at VISA card interest rates, it’s time to declare (really, admit) bankruptcy. With market interest rates on its 2-year notes now exceeding 22%, this is the position that Greece is in today. By making a bargain with the bailout devil to raise taxes in the name of “austerity”, Greece has pitched itself into an economic death spiral from which there is no escape short of defaulting on its debts.

Whether it involves Greece or the U.S., politicians, economists, and budget analysts seem hypnotized by “static analysis”, the naïve belief that if you raise tax rates by 10%, you will get 10% more revenue. This superstition leads to “austerity packages” that attempt to reduce budget deficits via combinations of spending cuts and tax increases. If austerity actually worked, Greece would not now be hurtling toward the deficit dumpster, with Portugal close behind.

Austerity is always self-defeating, because tax hikes suppress economic growth, and economic growth is the only thing that really matters to government finances. Here are some numbers. In 2007, Greece had debt equal to 105.4% of GDP. However, real GDP had grown at an average rate of 4.2% over the previous ten years, and the real interest rate on Greek government debt was only about 1.5%.

Even if the EU elites have a desire to continue flinging billions of euros into the fiscal black hole that Greece has become, the taxpayers supplying those euros do not. Political forces are building to put an end to the bailout game. Then what? The fact that Greece is stuck with the euro would actually be an advantage in the event of a Greek sovereign default, if things were handled correctly. This is because when a government defaults, the immediate challenge is to keep the economy moving, which means to keep transactions going and new investment flowing.

Unless the ECB were to do something stupid, a debt default by Greece would have no impact upon the value of the euro, so the Greek economy would still have a viable currency.

For more: Earth to Greece: It’s Over - Louis Woodhill - Unconventional Logic - Forbes

Air France search teams find part of the flight recorder

Part of a flight recorder from the Air France plane which crashed off the coast of Brazil in June 2009 has been discovered by search teams. But officials said it was not the ‘black box’ section which would reveal crucial data about the cause of the crash, which killed all 228 people on board.

The tail section of the Airbus 330 was found on the floor of the Atlantic ocean earlier this month.

For more: Air France search teams find part of the flight recorder-28 April, 2011

4/27/11

Generic Drugs exports from Brazil and India opposed by established US and EU drug companies

When Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, acquired 40 percent of Brazilian generic pharmaceutical firm Laboratorio Teuto Brasileiro in October last year, it wasn't a big surprise for industry watchers. Pfizer isn't the only pharma giant with an eye on Brazil's US$26 billion pharmaceuticals industry and its small but growing niche in generic drugs. A year earlier, French pharma firm Sanofi-Aventis bought Medley, Brazil's leading generics brand with annual sales of around US$286 million, in a US$679 million deal.

Other such deals could be on the way, predict some experts. "The big pharma companies worldwide are struggling with an absence of big blockbuster drug discoveries. They are losing revenue and cutting research," says Odinir Finotti, president of Pró Genericos, a Brazilian trade association representing 95 generic pharmaceutical firms. "So part of their strategy has been to buy generic drug companies, because that is where a lot of the growth is coming from."

Growth, indeed: In Brazil, sales last year of generic drugs -- which are nearly identical reproductions of off-patent medications and are distributed without patent protection -- increased 53 percent from the previous year, to around US$3.5 billion, according to Pró Genericos. Overall, Brazil sold more than 330 million units in 2010, up from roughly 233 million units of generic drugs in 2007.

According to a Bloomberg report, brand-name pharmaceutical companies like Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis and Eli Lilly were unhappy with growing generic drugs exports from both Brazil and India and began alerting EU customs officials about shipments of drugs from those countries that are suspected of intellectual property infringement. But after roughly 17 seizures at EU borders of Indian-made generic drug medications over the course of a year, the two emerging markets cried foul.
 
For more: Latin Business Chronicle – Latin American Business News and Intelligence

US Economy: Dollar Falls as Bernanke Unsure When Monetary Stimulus to Unwind

The dollar dropped to a 16-month low against the euro after Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in his first press conference after a policy decision that he's unsure when the central bank will unwind stimulus.

The yen fell against all of its major counterparts as investors sought higher-yielding assets and Standard & Poor's cut Japan's debt outlook to "negative." The greenback slid for a seventh day versus the euro as Bernanke said the central bank will likely continue reinvesting maturing debt after its $600 billion bond-buying program expires in June.

"His language does not provide enough to change the dollar's downtrend," said Jessica Hoversen, a New York-based analyst at the futures broker MF Global Holdings Ltd. "The Fed believes that accommodative policy is still necessary, long-run inflation expectations remain stable and growth fragile."


Germany backs EU sanctions against Syria -

Germany said on Wednesday it would strongly back European Union sanctions against Syria over its crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

"Berlin condemns severe human rights violations by Syrian forces against demonstrators," government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular media briefing and added that "Germany would support punitive measures by the EU. It is being examined, also based on a German initiative, whether it is possible to agree EU sanctions against the Syrian leadership," he said. "We would strongly support such sanctions."

Seibert said measures could include restricting the travel of top Syrian officials and seizing their assets, as well as cutting off economic assistance from the EU.

For more: Germany backs EU sanctions against Syria - Politics - iloubnan.info

Wall Street: "2008 crash deja vu: We’ll relive it, and soon" - by Paul B. Farrell

Warning, the stars are aligning, again. Much faster. We’re repeating the run-up to the 2008 meltdown, leading up to the next election. Yes, another crash is coming, unavoidable, just like 2008. Not because the US totally dysfunctional government is collapsing into anarchy, thanks to the 261,000 Super-Rich Lobbyists. Not just because our monetary system is run by the Bernanke Printing Press Company. And not just because a soulless conspiracy of Wall Street CEOs cares nothing for democracy and the public interest, only for their stockholders and their year-end bonuses.

Another crash is coming soon because we’re back playing the same speculative games as we did for years prior to the 2008 crash. When we collapse, it will be because America’s leaders never learn the lessons of history. Never. In a BusinessWeek editorial, Peter Coy and Rouben Farzad described the bubbles:“It’s as if 2008 never happened. Once again the worlds investors are pumping up bubbles that will probably explode in their faces. After the popping of a real estate bubble led to the first global recession since the 1930s, world markets are frothing like shaken Champagne. Pundits claim to have spotted price increases that are unsupported by economic fundamentals in assets ranging from U.S. farmland to Israeli biotech to Australian housing to Chinese cemetery sites. Commodities have soared. Global junk-bond issuance hit a record in the first three months of the year … this is the granddaddy of them all, an almost-encompassing bubble right at the heart of monetary systems.”

Yes, the “granddaddy of all bubbles” will explode right in US Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s face, a bubble that will then sink like a stiletto deep into the “heart of the monetary systems” across the world, proving something Nassim Taleb said about Bernanke when Obama reappointed him in 2009, “he doesn’t even know he doesn’t understand how things work,” and that his methods make “homeopath and alternative healers look empirical and scientific.”

Folks, there’s really nothing you can do to stop the inevitable crash that is coming possibly just before the presidential election in 2012.

Historical cycles have led to the inevitable collapse of all economic systems for 800 years, say economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff in their classic, “This Time It’s Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.”The facts of history are irrefutable, inevitable and brutal. And nothing can change the trajectory of the cycle. In fact, the end can accelerate fast, in decades, says Niall Ferguson, author of “Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World” and “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of The American Empire:”

Note EU-Digest: what no-one at Wall Street is talking about is that as the dollar deteriorates in value so will stock quoted and sold in dollarsEventually this will only increase the acceleration of the collapse of the economic system. Fortunately the outcome of this scenario is not totally negative. It will certainly end market mechanisms as we know them today; the era of "monopoly paper transaction" at "casino stock markets" around the world will dwindle, and be replaced by a system which defines wealth in more tangible terms, including those based on natural resources, alternative energy resources, water, metals and real estate.

For the complete report by Paul B.Farell in Market watch click on this link : 2008 crash deja vu: We’ll relive it, and soon.

4/26/11

Russia sides with Libya and does not support new resolution in UN

Russia said on Tuesday it will not support any United Nations Security Council resolutions on Libya which could escalate the conflict in the North African nation, local news agencies reported.

"If a resolution leads to a further escalation of a civil war by any means, including outside intervention, we will not be able to support this," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council member, abstained last month from the vote on a resolution authorizing force to protect civilians in Libya by enforcing a no-fly zone.

The problem with this particular Russian position on Libya, say most Western diplomats, is that the Russians have not come up with any alternative proposals which can stop the dictatorial regime of Gaddafi killing its own citizens.

EU-Digest

Euro Zone Deficit Down in 2010

According to data released by Eurostat, the European Union's (EU) statistics office, the euro zone's 2010 budget gap amounted to 6.0% of GDP, down from 6.3% in 2009. All countries in the 17-nation group, with the exception of Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and Ireland, improved their budget balances, although debt rose in 16 of the 17; the only exception was Estonia. Public debt amounted to 85.1%, up from a 2009 balance of 79.3%.

In comparison, the US budget deficit is estimated by the IMF to be around 10.76 percent of GDP and Public debt more than 90%

EU-Digest

Berlusconi, Sarkozy meet on Libyan crisis, immigration

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met here on Tuesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss military cooperation in the Libyan crisis and to launch a joint handling of the immigration emergency that lately triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries.

"It was a very positive summit, showing a wide convergence on all issues," Berlusconi told a press conference following the meeting.

In a joint declaration the two leaders outlined their cooperation in the Libyan crisis and called for a European Union ( EU) defense policy and a greater EU role in the economic development of the Mediterranean.

For more: Berlusconi, Sarkozy meet on Libyan crisis, immigration

Germany: 1 May rule changes raise mixed feelings in EU - TheNews.pl :: News from Poland

While the government in Berlin is positive about opening its labour market to Poles and others on 1 May, British media are warning of a new flood of immigration to the UK by eastern Europeans “looking for handouts”.

Changes in regulations on 1 May mean that Germany will open its doors fully to Poles and the other new arrivals to the EU from Eastern Europe. Germany’s economy needs more skilled workers to maintain economic growth, says the government in Berlin.

“Free movement of workers is normal in the EU and we are delighted that people from Eastern European Union will finally be able to make full use of this,” German State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour Ralf Brauksiepe told foreign journalists in Berlin, Sunday.


For more: 1 May rule changes raise mixed feelings in EU - TheNews.pl :: News from Poland

4/25/11

The 'Age of America' is ending- by Kim Peterson

The "Age of America" is ending in just five years. That's according to forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, which has set 2016 as the year when China's economy officially surpasses that of America as the world's largest.

To put this into perspective, only 10 years ago the U.S. economy was three times the size of China's, according to Brett Arends at MarketWatch. We knew this was coming, but this is the first time the IMF has put an actual date on it. "Most people aren’t prepared for this," Arends writes. "They aren’t even aware it’s that close."

The Daily Mail puts it starkly: "Whoever wins the 2012 presidential election will have the dubious honour of presiding over the fall of the United States." Even at its peak, Japan only had half of America's economic output, the Mail adds, and the USSR produced only a third.

For more: The 'Age of America' is ending- MSN Money

Turkey’s Opposition Makeover - by Ayla Albayrak

Even critics of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party are admitting to pleasant surprise at the party’s new election manifesto.

For the last two elections, the party, generally known by its CHP acronym, had positioned itself as a hard-line secular and nationalist bulwark against the Islamist threat it claimed the ruling Justice and Development party, or AKP, posed to Turkey’s secular constitution. It didn’t work. At the last election in 2007, the AKP won 47% of the vote to the CHP’s 21%.

So, after purging a reluctant old guard from the party’s candidate list, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has put out an election manifesto that appears tailored to woo voters who previously rejected the party — namely, ethnic Kurds and liberals. The CHP’s election slogan for the June 12 polls: “Turkey will breathe freely.”

For more: Turkey’s Opposition Makeover - Emerging Europe Real Time - WSJ

High-Speed Railway Systems: Are China’s high-speed trains heading off the rails? - by Keith B. Richburg

China’s expanding network of ultramodern high-speed trains has come under growing scrutiny here over costs and because of concerns that builders ignored safety standards in the quest to build faster trains in record time.

The trains, a symbol of the country’s rapid development, have drawn praise from President Obama. But what began in February with the firing and detention of the country’s top railway official has spiraled into a corruption investigation that has raised questions about the project’s future.

Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a longtime critic of high-speed rail, said he worries that the cost of the project might have created a hidden debt bomb that threatens China’s banking system.

“In China, we will have a debt crisis — a high-speed rail debt crisis,” he said. “I think it is more serious than your subprime mortgage crisis. You can always leave a house or use it. The rail system is there. It’s a burden. You must operate the rail system, and when you operate it, the cost is very high.”

For more: Are China’s high-speed trains heading off the rails? - The Washington Post

Aircraft Industry: European Helicopters Look to Take Off in U.S. Military Market

At a helicopter exposition in Orlando last month, CEOs of European manufacturers made it clear: They are both partners and competitors of their U.S. counterparts.

European and U.S. companies often have teamed up to offer military rotorcraft. But as the call for new designs and technologies grows louder, competition from across the pond could heat up.

For years the U.S. military bought helicopters solely from domestic companies, but not anymore, said Ray Jaworowski, senior aerospace analyst at Forecast International. U.S. firms increasingly will find themselves battling against international counterparts as the military looks to field next-generation rotorcraft, he said.

For more: European Helicopters Look to Take Off in U.S. Military Market

Libya war: Nato air strike destroys buildings in Gaddafi's Tripoli compound

Nato forces destroyed buildings inside Colonel Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound early on Monday, in what a press official from Gaddafi's government said was an attempt on the Libyan leader's life. 

Firefighters were still working to extinguish flames in a part of the ruined building a few hours after the attack, when foreign journalists were brought to the scene in Tripoli. 

The press official, who asked not to be identified, said 45 people were hurt in the strike, 15 of them seriously, and some were still missing. 

4/24/11

Syria: President Bashar al-Assad faces indictment by the International Criminal Court - by Adrian Blomfield

An influential body of international judges and lawyers called for Mr Assad and his lieutenants to be held to account for Easter weekend attacks in which troops and militamen fire on civilians.
"Those ordering and carrying out these attacks, including those firing live rounds into crowds, must be held criminally accountable," the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) said in a statement.

As opposition supporters continued to bury dead comrades on Sunday, four more were reported to have been killed.
For more: Syria: President Bashar al-Assad faces indictment by the International Criminal Court - Telegraph

Europe's most premature baby alive

German doctors say a baby girl who was born at 21 weeks and five days is spending Easter at home after five months in neonatal care. She is believed to be the most premature baby in Europe to have survived.

Doctors at the Fulda Children's Clinic say Frieda was born on Nov 7, 2010, weighing just 460g. She was released from the hospital on Wednesday weighing 3.5kg. Frieda's life hung in the balance several times during her long hospitalisation.

A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks and a twin brother, Kilian, who was born with Frieda did not survive, the Fuldaer Zeitung newspaper reported.

For more: TODAYonline | World | Europe's most premature baby alive

EU: Easter weekend weather in Holland topping Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Greece

Forecasters are advising people to reach for the sombreros and splash out on sun cream as it looks likely to be a scorching Easter weekend with temperatures reaching 27C

Temperatures in the Netherlands and Britain are now warmer than those in resorts in Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Weather experts are saying the great weather and heat wave is being caused by warm winds from Europe's sun spots in Spain like the Costa de Sol – and the tourist industry and local attractions are gearing up for a bumper Easter.

EU-Digest

4/23/11

Europe's path to Moscow leads through Kiev - by ANDREAS UMLAND

The EU's policies towards Eastern Europe during the last two decades were a failure, in a number of ways. In spite of considerable efforts of the Western political elite with regard to Moscow's leadership, Russia has become an advocate of anti-democratic tendencies.

After consolidating an authoritarian regime inside, the Kremlin is now engaged in anchoring the Putinist model, around the Russian Federation. In spite of the various setbacks of the last year, in Ukraine, the important preconditions for a new turn towards Europeanization still exist. What, so far, has been missing is targeted support, from the West, of such germs within society as well as political and intellectual elite of Ukraine.

The main reason for this omission is the generally low interest of both national- and European-level Western political actors for Ukraine. Their engagement with the Ukrainian government and civil society is often casual or limited to diplomatic niceties.

For more: EUobserver / [Comment] Europe's path to Moscow leads through Kiev

Yemen's Saleh Accepts Deal to Step Down - by MARGARET COKER and HAKIM ALMASMARI

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has accepted a political deal brokered by neighboring Arab countries that would have him step down from power after 30 days in exchange for immunity for himself and his close relatives, according to a presidential aide.

The apparent softening of the longtime ruler's recalcitrant stance that he would remain in power until the end of his term in 2013 comes after a burst of arm-twisting and backroom diplomacy by Yemen's close allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It renews the possibility that the volatile country could see a handover of power before the volatile country descends into widespread violence, but it is unclear whether key groups who comprise the backbone of Yemen's opposition movement would accept the controversial clause of immunity for the man who has ruled Yemen for 32 years.

Yemen's key Arab allies and the U.S. have grown increasingly worried that the three-month political standoff has reversed gains made by American and Yemeni forces to weaken and destroy the entrenched Al Qaeda networks inside Yemen. In recent weeks, as protests against the president have gained traction, as many as half of the country's U.S.-trained counter-terrorism forces, which are commanded by President Saleh's son and nephews, have left their posts in al Qaeda-infested areas of the country to help defend the leader's official residence in the capital San'a.

For more: Yemen's Saleh Accepts Deal to Step Down - WSJ.com

US Economy: How the Wall Street Journal distorts the truth about Taxes - by Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs writes in the Huffington Post "The Wall Street Journal is the leading US mouthpiece for cutting taxes for the rich. The Journal editorial board is fully in the service of that cause. An editorial at the start of this week ("Where the Tax Money Is," April 18, 2011) is a vivid case in point. The Journal claims that IRS data prove the "fiscal futility of raising rates on the top 2%, or even the top 5% or 10% of taxpayers to close the deficit." The IRS data in fact prove exactly the opposite of what the Journal claims

I direct readers to the "Summary of Latest Federal Income Tax Data" presented by the Tax Foundation, October 6, 2010, No. 249. There the reader will find the data they need to discover how the Journal has gotten it all wrong.Consider the top 1% of taxpayers. Even in a year that the Wall Street Journal acknowledges "was a bad year for the economy and thus for tax receipts," the top 1% reported to the IRS an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $1,685 billion dollars, amounting to 20% of the total reported household income that year, and around 12 percent of GDP. On this sum they paid $392 billion in taxes, an average tax rate of 23%.

With great bravado, the Journal claims that even the income of the top 10% of the taxpayers wouldn't close the deficit. The top 10% reported $3,856 billion in AGI, equal to 46% of total reported income in the United States, almost 27 percent of GDP. On that, they paid $721 billion in personal federal income taxes, or an average of 18.7% of income. If the remaining 81% of income were paid in federal income taxes, the increment in tax revenues would be more than $3,100 billion, or roughly 21% of GDP. The budget deficit would obviously be closed many times over.

The real point is obvious. The money received by the richest households is vast, and higher taxes on the rich will make a major contribution to closing the deficit. Nobody says that the rich should carry the entire tax burden or that spending cuts shouldn't play a role. The waste in military spending alone is so large that we can and should save at least 2 percent of GDP per year from the defense budget alone".

EU-Digest

US default could be doomsday option for economy

The United States has never defaulted on its debt and Democrats and Republicans say they don't want it to happen now. But with partisan acrimony running at fever pitch, and Democrats and Republicans so far apart on how to tame the deficit, the unthinkable is suddenly being pondered.

The government now borrows about 42 cents of every dollar it spends. Imagine that one day soon, the borrowing slams up against the current debt limit ceiling of $14.3 trillion and Congress fails to raise it. The damage would ripple across the entire economy, eventually affecting nearly every American, and rocking global markets in the process.

A default would come if the government actually failed to fulfill a financial obligation, including repaying a loan or interest on that loan. The government borrows mostly by selling bonds to individuals and governments, with a promise to pay back the amount of the bond in a certain time period and agreeing to pay regular interest on that bond in the meantime.

For more: The Associated Press: US default could be doomsday option for economy

Dollar and currency exchange rates: For the dollar, a 'crisis' is relative - by Tom Petruno

Some of America's trading partners aren't so supportive of a lower dollar. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week called U.S. monetary policy "hooliganism" for flooding the world with cheap dollars.
One side effect of a weak dollar is that it has become a source of fuel for market speculation, notes Michael Woolfolk, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon. Hedge funds and other investors worldwide can borrow dollars at low interest rates and use that money to buy other assets, including emerging-market stocks and commodities.

Barry Eichengreen, a UC Berkeley economics professor, chronicled the dollar's history in his book, "Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System," published this year. Although he believes that the dollar is in a long-term decline, he said he doubted that we're headed for a currency meltdown in the near term.

There's a practical barrier to a sudden collapse, Eichengreen said: "There has to be somewhere to flee to." The dollar remains preeminent as the world's primary currency, and no other paper currency has the market presence to take over for the greenback. Neither do gold or silver. Still, he expects that the dollar's status will continue to erode over the next few years, and that both the euro and the Chinese yuan will become more viable alternatives to the greenback for global investors weary of seeing their dollar holdings devalued.

If the world feels less compelled to hold dollars, one result will probably be higher interest rates if the Treasury remains on a borrowing bender. So S&P's warning about U.S. debt levels should be taken seriously in Washington, Eichengreen said. "This will hopefully concentrate the minds of the politicians."

For more: Dollar and currency exchange rates: For the dollar, a 'crisis' is relative - latimes.com

Turkey, France no longer in opposition on Libya, Gül says

The sparring partners of Europe, Turkey and France, are no longer in opposition over the Libyan crisis despite serious disagreements in recent times, top Turkish officials have said.

“President Abdullah Gül is pleased with the current state [of cooperation between Turkey and France],” a diplomatic source speaking on condition of anonymity told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

For more: Turkey, France no longer in opposition on Libya, Gül says - Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review

4/22/11

World reserve currency: Dollar collapse possible within a few months on new technical analysis - by Kenneth Schortgen Jr

A dollar collapse could be in the cards within a few months as new technical analysis shows the the reserve currency support eroding and within the parameters of uncharted territory.

Foreigners are seeing that buying US debt is a losing proposition, and this is requiring the Federal Reserve to monetize our debt, and print money which devalues the currency. Already, the G20, IMF, European Union, China, India, Russia, and the oil states are growing the talks to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency, and instead replace it with IMF controlled Special Drawing Rights (SDR's). Should the dollar collapse as projected, then the implementation of a new world currency would accelerate in scope, and be accepted fairly quickly by the global economy.

Logically, a dollar collapse within the next few months is not very likely, but logic has been throw out the window as the US and the Federal Reserve continue to print dollars and devalue the currency almost daily. Much the Middle Eastern protests over food this last month has occurred because the dollar has devalued, and caused massive havok on world food prices, and other commodities.

For more: Dollar collapse possible within a few months on new technical analysis - National Finance Examiner | Examiner.com

US Elections: Donald Trump - the Emperor has no clothes

For a US media that loves infotainment, the horse race, and spectacle—and has trouble tackling real policy issues and digging deep—Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving: all spectacle, all the time.

Now he’s out there on his ugly birther trip, riding it to the top of the polls amidst a GOP presidential field in disarray. And other than a few notable exceptions, the media is largely playing the role of cheering spectator for Trump’s latest self-aggrandizing parade—none more so than Fox which has treated his birtherism-based candidacy as a cause célèbre. Media Matters notes thirteen Trump appearances on the network since March 20.

“I haven’t seen anybody do anything for a long time that’s really tough coverage on Donald,” says David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter formerly with the New York Times, who has written extensively about Trump’s net worth as well as his business dealings in the gambling industry in his book Temples of Chance.

“He pays little to no income tax because he does these real estate deals that allow him to take—as a professional real estate developer—unlimited paper losses like depreciation against income he gets from NBC for his show,” says Johnston.

He’s also had more business bankruptcies than wives, and Johnston says Trump’s bravado about his wealth and business acumen contradicts his real record. According to Johnston, Trump typically does two kinds of deals: he borrows more than 100 percent of the purchase price for real estate and takes a fee off the top; or he’s paid a fee to put his name on a building.

Trump’s celebrated wealth is also likely not what Trump would have the public believe. In 1990 Johnston obtained Trump’s personal net worth statement that his bankers had prepared for him. At the time, Trump was claiming it was as high as $1.4 billion. Yet the statement revealed a negative net worth of $600 million—he owed $600 million more than the value of his assets. Johnston wrote a column with the lede, “You are probably worth more than Donald Trump.”

“Donald is one of many people in public life who whatever they say at the moment is their version of the truth, and empirical reality may not support what they say,” says Johnston. “He never produced any documented evidence indicating a net worth anywhere in the range of a billion dollars or more, he only claimed it. It doesn’t take that much of an income to appear to be fabulously wealthy. I don’t think he can sue anybody for making that observation.”

Picture insert: Salon
For more: Emperor Trump Has No Clothes | The Nation

Early European astronomers determined Easter dates

How do they know it’s Easter? Ever wondered how the exact dates of the Easter break are chosen? Easter Sunday can fall anytime between 22 March and 25 April and, thanks to European observations of the Sun that go back many centuries, the exact date can be predicted as far ahead as 4099 AD.

Back in 325 AD, it was declared that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full Moon following the vernal equinox (the Spring day in the northern hemisphere when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal). Over the next few centuries, theologians and scientists struggled with the problem of calculating these vital dates years in advance. Although they often studied the skies in some detail to help them work out future calendars, this was particularly difficult when working on the premise that the Sun moved around the Earth. Then, in 1651, Giovanni Cassini installed a pinhole camera in the roof of the San Petronio cathedral in Bologna in Italy.

Previous studies of the movement of the Sun indicated the urgent need for calendar reform in the sixteenth century and the introduction of the new Gregorian calendar, that is still in use today. But it was Cassini who installed the most accurate observatory at San Petronio, and made ample use of it to monitor the accuracy of the new calendar. Cassini’s observations allowed exact calculations of future equinoxes on the Gregorian calendar to be made in advance, thus helping to solve the ‘When’s Easter?’ problem.

For more: ESA Portal - Focus On - Early European astronomers determined Easter dates

Easter celebrates the defining moment of Christianity - by Thane Himes

Easter Sunday marks a time for Christians everywhere to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but their faith can be tested when problems like commercialization and other motivations for celebration risk depriving the holiday of its meaning.

Easter tends to see a rise in the number of church attendees. Brian Peck, president of The Rock Christian Students, believes family values can frequently be a contributor to the spike in churchgoers."Maybe people especially go because maybe their mom would appreciate that you go at least this one day a year," Peck said. "It's kind a special thing. I think a lot of it is tied to families."

There is a perception that there are many so-called "twice-a-year Christians," especially in America. "People have said many times that going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car," Peck said. "[Church] isn't described in scripture as what Christianity is about."

Michael Patterson, senior in computer engineering and president of the Campus Crusade for Christ, agrees attendance and labels aren't as important as what people get out of going to church. "God doesn't work on some type of point system where those who attend church regularly are 'good' Christians and those who attend church only on Christmas and Easter are 'bad' Christians," Patterson said. "That's just not how it works, and the Bible makes this extremely clear."

With the commercialization that comes with many Christian holidays, the original meanings of these holidays, as well as Christianity in general, are often misunderstood. Reverend Whit Malone, pastor at the Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames, thinks that from an outsider's perspective, it must be confusing. "Do we worship Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or Jesus?," Malone said. "For some it must look like we really just worship ourselves with the amount of money and energy we expend on the cultural trappings of Christmas and Easter."

However, Malone doesn't condemn these perceptions. He instead sees most of what Christians do as a culture during their holidays as an expression of hunger to believe in and live for something bigger than they are. Patterson agrees, saying Easter can be celebrated however people wish. "If I want to spend the entire day of Easter thinking about Jesus, I'm free to do so," Patterson said. "Similarly, if I want to buy huge amounts of chocolate and spend Easter eating it, I'm also free to do so." Patterson said that the commercialization of holidays is simply a product of the consumerist society that we live in today, and that he's not personally offended by it at all.

Above all, Malone believes Easter means that love wins. "Jesus loved even to death," Malone said. "His resurrection means that love is more powerful than death. And this is not just about the afterlife, though I look forward to that too. Because unconditional love wins in the end, we can risk loving unconditionally here on earth."

"It's really ... the climax of everything [Jesus] did," Peck said. "I think that [1 Corinthians 15:12-14] really sums it up. The reality is ... that if Christ wasn't resurrected, we'd ultimately be wasting our lives."

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." — 1 Corinthians 15:12-14

For more: Easter celebrates the defining moment of Christianity - Iowa State Daily: News

Greece not a threat to banks, Goldman says - by Sean Farrell

A restructuring of Greece's debt does not pose a serious threat to Europe's biggest banks after the European Central Bank (ECB) propped up the country's finances, Goldman Sachs said yesterday.

Goldman analysts said the impact on European banks would be much smaller now than a year ago at the height of Greece's sovereign crisis. They calculated that a haircut of 20 per cent to 40 per cent on Greek government bonds would cause losses of €13bn (£11bn) to €41bn or 1 per cent to 3 per cent of tier one capital – for Europe's banks.

For more: Greece not a threat to banks, Goldman says - Business News, Business - The Independent

Dutch Telecommunication giant KPN cutting 5,000 local jobs

The former state-owned company Dutch Telecom group KPN announced it will cut its workforce in the Netherlands by 25% - up to 5,000 jobs.

The job losses are part of a plan to take the company up to 2015 and involve contracting out and ‘off-shoring’ back office jobs.

New KPN CEO Eelco Blok said in a statement the measures are necessary because of ‘negative trends’ in the Netherlands. ‘I’m confident that we are taking all necessary measures to strengthen and grow our businesses,’Blok said. KPN also said it now expects operating profit from mobile telephony to reach at least €5.3bn this year.


EU-Digest

4/21/11

Libya: Rebels 'capture Wazin post' on Tunisian border

Libyan rebels have overrun a post on the Tunisian border in a rare advance against government troops in the west of the country, reports say. The reported capture of the Wazin crossing follows instense fighting in the area. 

Witnesses said dozens of Libyan soldiers had turned themselves over to the Tunisian military at the border.

The rebels now control much of eastern Libya. Fighting is continuing in the besieged western city of Misrata.

For more: BBC News - Libya: Rebels 'capture Wazin post' on Tunisian border

Health officials report measles outbreak in Europe with most reported cases in France

The World Health Organization says there is an outbreak of measles in Europe with more than 6,500 cases reported in 33 nations.WHO officials released figures Thursday showing three of every four of the reported cases have been in France. The figures show that as of Monday there were 4,937 reported cases in France between January and March, compared with 5,090 during all of 2010.

Spain reported more than 600 cases in Andalusia in two outbreaks since October. Sevilla had more than 350 cases, Granada, about 250 cases.

WHO said outbreaks and rising case numbers were reported in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia and Switzerland.

For more: Health officials report measles outbreak in Europe with most reported cases in France - Winnipeg Free Press

4/20/11

Aircraft Industry: Government Regulations Force U.S. Airlines to Be Nicer - by Jenny Wilson

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules Wednesday that aim to make airlines more user-friendly. The consumer protection rules arose in response to a variety of passenger frustrations and addresses lost baggage procedures, fee disclosures, bumping compensation and tarmac delays. In a press release issued on Wednesday, the government detailed changes that will come into effect in August.

The rules require airlines to refund baggage fees in case of lost luggage and fully disclose fees related to baggage, meals, changes in reservations and upgraded seating both when advertising and after passengers have booked tickets. Fare quotes also must include government taxes and fees so passengers don't feel "tricked" into paying more for a ticket than they originally anticipated.

The airline industry notoriously overbooks flights and consequently bumps passengers, but new provisions will soften the blow of this reality by requiring airlines to increase compensation. Current standards allow passengers their ticket value in compensation, up to $400. The new rule will entitle passengers to double the value of their ticket for shorter delays and increase the value up to four times the price for longer delays, which could result in up to $1300 worth of compensation, significantly more than the current upper limit of $800.

The Netherlands: Internet - Dutch data protection authority pursues Google

The Netherlands has added itself to the list of countries taking Google to task for saving private wireless Internet connection data while cruising through Dutch cities and towns for its Street View maps.

The Dutch Data Protection Agency (DPA) on Tuesday called on Google to contact the 3.6 million WiFi network owners in the Netherlands and offer them a way to have the data the US-based Internet giant saved removed from servers.

The Dutch DPA said Google has been ordered to inform the affected parties about the company's collection of their data. "Within the same period of three months, Google must also offer an on line possibility to opt-out from the database in order to enable people to object to the processing of the data concerning their WiFi routers," the authority wrote in an English-language statement posted to its website.

Note EU-Digest: Just imagine what would have happened if a European search engine company had done the same in the US. This is unacceptable. Google must be taken to court in Europe on this issue. Google can not be allowed to get away by offering an apology and stating the information has been removed from their servers. The Netherlands should also lodge an official complain with the European Commission and the European parliament.

For more: Dutch data protection authority pursues Google | Science & Technology | Deutsche Welle | 20.04.2011

US Economy: Is the US Press Muffled By Their Owners?

From an editorial "No News is Bad News"  by Tony Manfred, in the Cornell Sun: "When the Senate releases a 650-page report on the causes of the 2008 financial crisis and the media doesn’t talk about it, does it make any sense?

Last week the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released the conclusion of its two-year investigation into the causes of the financial crisis that has decimated the U.S. economy. The report finds that “the crisis was not a natural disaster, but the result of high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; and the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.”

The investigation, headed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), focuses primarily on three areas: Washington Mutual and the Office of Thrift Supervision that failed to regulate it; Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, the country’s two largest credit rating agencies; and Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, two investment banks that worsened the crisis through the promotion of questionable financial products.

Yet in the week since the report was released, the media has responded with a baffling lack of coverage. I realize finance stories are absent of the sex and violence that constitute front-page news, but how is this not a bigger story? "

The deadly silence by most of the US press on the  above mentioned issue should not come as a surprise. They also are controlled by major corporate interests and are part of the "financial mafia" which caused the financial crises. Its all about money and shareholders today, and unfortunately this means fair and honest journalism is not part of the equation.

EU-Digest


Solar Energy: Brussels warns Italy against slashing solar energy incentives

The European Union's energy chief urged Italy to set up a clear and predictable support scheme for the solar energy sector and ensure stability for investors to avoid possible penalties.

Under a law passed in Italy in March, current generous incentives to the booming solar market - originally expected to run from 2011 to 2013 - will apply only to those solar plants that connect to the grid by the end of May.

The law was issued in compliance with the EU's directive on 2020 green energy targets but the sudden change in the support scheme has caused uproar among investors and operators about the future of business in one of Europe's biggest solar markets.

For more: Brussels warns Italy against slashing solar energy incentives | EurActiv

China's procurement practices 'unfair'

Business leaders in Europe have accused China of having unfair procurement practices that exclude foreign companies and lead to corrupt officials.

In a study released this week, the European Chamber of Commerce in China said favoritism and opaque bidding laws mean public projects tend to go to local firms.  This is in spite of repeated pledges from Beijing to make it easier for foreign companies to get contracts. Public procurement in China totals around $1 trillion (£0.6 trillion), the study went on to say, or around one-fifth of the total economy.

"The regulatory framework for government procurement in China is a drag on efficiency and innovation for the Chinese economy as a whole," said the report.

For more: Purcon - Supply Chain, Purchasing & Procurement Recruitment - Building Great Teams - News Archive

4/19/11

Italy shelves nuclear plans after Japan quake

Italy's government proposed on Tuesday to shelve indefinitely its nuclear plans following radiation leaks at Japan's nuclear plant.

The government presented an amendment to legislation under consideration in the Senate that would call off plans to find, build and activate nuclear plants in the country. The amendment says the government plans to define a new energy strategy instead.

Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani said the leaks at Japan's Fukushima plant had changed everything and that Italy was merely taking the same steps as Germany and others in altering energy strategies following the disaster.

For more: The Associated Press: Italy shelves nuclear plans after Japan quake

Facebook: Study: One in five EU kids aged 9-12 are on Facebook

A new report (PDF) from the EU Kids Online at the London School of Economics finds that age restrictions designed to keep young children off social networking sites like Facebook are not particularly effective. The survey polled some 25,000 young people across Europe and found that, on average, 38 percent of respondents aged 9 through 12 use social networking sites, and one in five has a profile on Facebook. In some countries, the proportions are higher: for instance, 38 percent of British children surveyed aged 9 through 12 have a profile on Facebook. The study also found that over than a quarter of those 9-12 year-olds have their profiles set to fully public, so they are viewable by anyone in the world.

For more: Study: One in five EU kids aged 9-12 are on Facebook

EU 'ready to send troops to Libya'

The proposal by the European Union to deploy the armed force to escort humanitarian aid drew an immediate warning from Muammar Gaddafi's regime that this would be tantamount to a military operation. France's foreign minister also said he was hostile to such a deployment.

The new tactics seem to have been spurred by the continued deadlock after two months of fighting between Gaddafi's army and rebel forces. There has also been growing international concern over the fate of the besieged rebel city of Misrata, where Nato has been unable to halt heavy shelling by Gaddafi's forces with airstrikes alone.

Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, has been under siege for nearly two months, with rebels holding on to seaside positions in the port area. In recent days, Libyan troops have pounded the city with shells and rockets.

For more: The Press Association: EU 'ready to send troops to Libya'

France was right to block refugee trains from Italy says EU Commission

France has been backed by the European Commission in its row with Italy over Sunday’s shutdown of the rail link between the two countries to halt a train loaded with Tunisian immigrants. France said it feared the arrival of the train would lead to “public disorder”.

Italy has protested against the closure of the Vintimille-Menton railway link for six hours on Sunday saying it was a “violation of European principles”. Some Italian protest groups said it “violated the basic right of free movement of citizens”. The shutdown came after a “train of dignity” carrying 100 Tunisian and nearly 300 human rights activists was stopped at the Italian border at Vintimille. Other trains were said to be carrying several hundred Tunisians who had been given three-month temporary visas after landing in the island of Lampedusa.

The island has been swamped by an estimated 25,000 Tunisians and Libyans since the troubles in those countries.

For more: France was right to block refugee trains from Italy says EU Commission – The Connexion

EU sets assertive trade policy agenda for next five years

The European Commission last week laid out its blueprint for an EU trade policy to help revitalise Europe’s economy. In its discussion paper "Trade, Growth and World Affairs", the Commission analyses how trade is an engine for economic growth and job creation. It proposes a strategy to reduce trade barriers, to open global markets and to get a fair deal for European businesses. The overarching aim is to take a more assertive approach to ensure the benefits of trade reach European citizens.
"Trade is working for Europe's economic recovery by ensuring growth and jobs", said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

For more: EU sets assertive trade policy agenda for next five years

4/18/11

Dutch court rejects MP Geert Wilders anti-Islam bid against judges

A Dutch court on Monday rejected right-wing anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders' bid for the withdrawal of a panel of judges chosen to try him for hate speech. "The request for recusal is denied," A.J. van der Meer, the presiding judge of an independent panel set up to hear Wilders' application, said at a hearing broadcast via the Internet.

Wilders, 47, faces five counts of giving offence to Muslims and of inciting hatred against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.

Wilders' lawyer Bram Moszkowicz told the court last Friday he believed the judges to be partial as they had refused to order a probe of a witness accused of lying to the court.  But van der Meer said there was no proof of impartiality, adding "irritation is not enough of a reason for a recusal."

The allegations arise partly from the short film "Fitna", which catapulted Wilders to international notoriety in 2008 and in which he mixes Koranic verses with footage of extremist attacks. Wilders likens the Koran to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

This had been Wilders' second application for the withdrawal of judges on the grounds of bias.

For more: Dutch court rejects anti-Islam MP's bid against judges < Dutch news | Expatica The Netherlands

Insurance Industry: Insurance Companies On The War Path In Europe

Europe’s four major industry bodies signed a joint letter to EU commissioner Michel Barnier objecting to onerous new capital requirements imposed by Brussels. The unprecedented step reflects growing concern at how the regulation, called Solvency II, will damage the industry.

The letter from industry bodies the PEIF, CEA and the CRO and CFO Forums, slammed parts of the draft rules as “excessively conservative and prescriptive” and said the changes would “risk driving insurers out of their long-term business”.

In response to this letter, the Commission and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority decided to meet with industry leaders regarding the areas of greatest concern. Karel Van Hulle, the Commission's chief Solvency II officer, will meet with representatives from the Chief Financial Officer Forum, the Chief Risk Officer Forum, the Pan European Insurance Forum, and the CEA, the European insurers trade association.

EU-Digest

US Economy In Dire Straits Says Standard & Poors

Standard & Poors cut its outlook on the US government debt to negative from stable for the first time in its history, noting it is concerned over the long-term fiscal health of the US for a variety of reasons. They said that the "gulf of differences" between Republicans and Democrats over how to reduce the US's fiscal deficit is a major problem for the country in solving its fiscal deficit.

While other AAA-rated countries which faced similar problems implemented major budget cuts to overcome their debt problems, the US did very little and is now left behind with a debt burden that is still rising and polarized politicians which can't come to a workable agreement.

The negative outlook for the US now puts it on a list with countries ranging from Portugal to Egypt. However, the US is the only "AAA" rated country that now carries a negative outlook. Meanwhile, the combination of stagnant wages and rising food and energy costs has prompted some economists to lower their growth estimates for the US economy in the first quarter by half. The leading indexes in the US and around Europe were all down by around 2% following the announcement.

Kathleen Brooks, research director at Forex, said the downgrade was a "shocker" which could affect investors' appetite for US government bonds. She said: "The US may be in the last throes of being a safe haven, and the notion of the Treasury being a risk-free asset may die a slow death from here." Richard Hunter, head of UK equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "It also comes as a timely reminder that although focus has tended of late to center on peripheral Europe, opposing political forces in the US need to unite and tackle an increasingly difficult deficit situation at home."

What this announcement has done is brought home to investors that the US really does face unusually high political risk right now. With the two parties fighting it out over cuts and tax hikes, there's no guarantee that they'll come up with a package that will stick, or that they'll begin to address the deficit quickly enough to make a noticeable difference to the overall debt burden. 

EU-Digest

Libya: Horror in Misrata grows with fresh shelling, little aid

The nightmare in Libya's war-torn city of Misrata intensified Monday amid more shelling on the city and desperate measures to get medical care, an opposition spokesman said.

"The aid coming from outside is not enough. There is no hospital," said the spokesman, who wanted to be identified only as "Mohammed" for safety reasons.

He said 21 people were killed and more than 100 were injured from shelling Sunday in Misrata. Monday's shelling fell on the city's critical port area -- Misrata's lifeline to humanitarian aid -- and an industrial area that includes small businesses and small factories.

Note EU-Digest: NATO should move faster here - this kind of artillery shelling by Gaddafi forces can be stopped by NATO air attacks because they are coming from open spaces and are aimed at innocent civilians.

For more: Spokesman: Horror in Misrata grows with fresh shelling, little aid - CNN.com

Immigration Issues Test Unity Of The European Union - by Sylvia Poggioli

A showdown is under way at the France-Italy border on the Riviera, where thousands of recently-arrived Tunisian migrants are testing the notion of a united Europe.

In recent weeks, France has sent some 2,000 Tunisians back to Italy. Paris rejects Italy's decision to issue six-month permits to the 25,000 Tunisians who have landed on its shores since January.

When a train from Italy pulls into Menton-Garavan station, members of France's anti-riot police force are waiting to board it. They single out a small group of dark-skinned young men, ask to see their identification then take them in for questioning.And on Sunday, fearing protests by anti-globalists, France temporarily blocked all trains from Italy.

For more: Immigration Issues Test Unity Of The European Union : NPR

4/17/11

The global oil casino benefits only its players - by Leah McGrath Goodman

The Middle East and north Africa, we are told, lie behind the recent increase in global fuel prices, which Wednesday. Yet while Brent crude this week stayed above $120 a barrel, in Tripoli petrol hovered at around 34p a gallon. And that is not a typo.

The popular reason for why those closest to the fighting, in this case, suffer less than those farther afield, is Libya’s hefty subsidies. The less popular reason is that world energy markets have been carefully designed to profit from the slightest supply hiccup, even if there is little evidence of actual shortages.

The energy-trading fraternity has never let the facts get in the way of a good supply scare. True, this historically fragile market is vulnerable to price swings as demand threatens to climb faster than production. But there is more to it than that. Indeed, what President Barack Obama did not mention last week in his energy security speech about the faults of the global energy market could fill a Saudi oilfield.

For more: FT.com / Comment / Opinion - The global oil casino benefits only its players

Suriname: Bearing aid and cheap loans, China's invasion of Suriname goes on

The Foreign Ministry's elegant new headquarters in Suriname is a gift from the Chinese government.

Chinese signs on hundreds of businesses, from casinos to grocery shops and furniture stores, beckon the residents of this capital. Chinese work crews are paving roads cutting through the jungle. Anchored by a surge in immigration to this country since the '90s, and smoothed with gifts of aid and low-interest loans, China has quietly but surely established a foothold in Suriname, a tiny corner of South America that is often an afterthought even for its neighbours.

While the economic aid has certainly been welcome in Suriname, formerly known as Dutch Guiana, the growing political and demographic profile of the Chinese here has created concerns.

They range from xenophobic calls from some political leaders to investigate what they call a "Chinese invasion" to more tempered efforts to decipher what effect China's rising influence will have on a country that is already distant linguistically and culturally from the rest of South America.

For more: TODAYonline | World | Bearing aid and cheap loans, China's invasion of Suriname goes on

National Coalition Party Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen declared winner Finland election- by Arild Moen

National Coalition Party Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen was declared the winner late Sunday, after a finely balanced election which saw the euro-skeptic True Finns emerge as Finland's third largest party.

The True Finns--who are against bailouts for deeply indebted euro-zone countries--won 19% of the vote, adding to the probability that the party could be part of Finland's new coalition government.

That is a dramatic increase from the 4.1% they received in the last election in 2007.
Fin
For more: True Finns Cast Finland Support for EU Bailouts Into Doubt - WSJ.com

US Economy: US consumer inflation gains most in 15 months as food and petrol prices increase - by Alex Webb

The US Labor Department said that consumer prices climbed a higher-than-expected 2.7pc in March from a year before.

Almost three quarters of the rise was due to surging food and petrol prices, with petrol costs climbing 5.6pc, the ninth straight month of increases. Food rose 0.8pc in March, the largest gain since July 2008.

A survey of 41 economists by Bloomberg had on average expected annual inflation to hit 2.6pc.

For more: US consumer inflation gains most in 15 months as food and petrol prices increase - Telegraph

Europe watches as Finland goes to polls

Voters in Finland are going to the polls today in a general election which could have a significant impact on future European Union bailouts.

Opinion polls suggest that the anti-euro 'True Finn' party will make significant gains.

Such an outcome would increase pressure on the next government to take a much tougher line on negotiations currently under way with Portugal. The reason the outcome of this election is being watched so closely is that Finland's parliament has the right to vote on EU bailouts, such as the one currently being negotiated between Portugal and EU and IMF officials.


For more: Europe watches as Finland goes to polls - RTÉ News

4/16/11

Christianity: Does Love or Hell Win

What does hell mean to you? Is it an endless nightmare for sinners and unsaved souls, as mainstream Christianity has taught for centuries? Or is hell here on Earth, in the distractions, addictions and emptiness of daily life?

Those ideas are receiving fresh scrutiny from some believers after a prominent evangelical pastor questioned the traditional idea of hell in his new book, "Love Wins."

Even before Rob Bell's book was published this month, religious leaders and their followers were branding it heresy, hailing it as a breakthrough or landing somewhere in the middle. Thousands have weighed in on Twitter, Facebook, blogs or outside their places of worship.

For more click on this link

Abbas eyes French, German help on Palestinian state

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas has told AFP he will visit France next week and Germany in May to seek advice on the creation of a Palestinian state.

"We will ask the Europeans -- I will go to France on 21st, and next month I will be in Germany .. to ask 'What shall we do?' because we want their advice," he said in the interview late on Friday conducted in English.

"We will ask (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy for his advice," Abbas told AFP, saying he wanted the Europeans' advice about the steps leading to the recognition of a Palestinian state later this year.

For more: AFP: Abbas eyes French, German help on Palestinian state

Libya: Rebels 'Push Towards Brega

For several days, opposition fighters say they have maintained their positions around the city of Ajdabiya, about 30 miles to the east - and have now pushed further west.

The rebels claim they have reached Brega's university campus, just outside the town's oil port.

Brega has changed hands around half a dozen times since March and a rebel officer said if the opposition retakes it, they will bring engineers to repair any damage to the refinery and oil facilities there.

EU-Digest

Germany Floats Greek Restructuring as Papandreou Pushes Cuts - By Tony Czuczka

German officials are putting Greek debt restructuring on the table over declarations by leaders in Athens and policy makers elsewhere in Europe that Greece will make good on its obligations.

German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer said yesterday a Greek restructuring “would not be a disaster.” The previous day, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted by Die Welt newspaper as saying “further measures may have to be taken” if Greece flunks a June audit.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputies are raising what has been a taboo issue for European officials -- a restructuring by a euro member -- to show its unwillingness to contribute to more bailouts, Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Joh Berenberg Gossler & Co. in London, said in a phone interview. Germany is the largest contributor to European Union rescue funds, which have been tapped by Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

For more: Germany Floats Greek Restructuring as Papandreou Pushes Cuts - Bloomberg

4/15/11

Democracy Middle East: Syria's silent majority will determine next step as protests grow - by Katherine Marsh

It was an episode that at any other time in Syria's history might have gone unnoticed. A month ago, a group of Syrian children, aged between 10 and 13, daubed anti-regime graffiti on a wall in a dusty town near the Jordan border. The security forces made some arrests. Relatives of the children protested. They were insulted and beaten.

Syrians have become used to this kind of brutality during the 11-year rule of Bashar al-Assad. But amid the revolt sweeping the Arab world, the incident quickly turned explosive. "It was unintentional," said Omar, 29, who identified himself as a family friend of the children in the original protest. "They saw on television Egypt and Tunisia and copied it." In the month since then, protests have swirled around Syria, raising questions about the durability of the Assad regime. A rally in Deraa ended with six people being killed by security forces. The movement spread to other areas – Homs, the Damascus suburb Douma, Aleppo and Latakia in the north, Banias on the coast. Every time the security services tried to quash the protests, it merely provoked more unrest. The number of protests has increased ever since, as has the death toll, which is now estimated at more than 200.

Assad has tried waving threadbare olive branches: on Thursday he offered a prisoner release and appointed a new cabinet. But on Friday security forces used teargas to prevent thousands of protesters from marching towards Damascus's main Abbasside Square, while thousands once again took to the streets in a number of towns and cities from Deraa to Banias.

For more: Syria's silent majority will determine next step as protests grow | World news | The Guardian

China Economy: Political Overlords Shackle China's Monetary Mandarins - by Bob Davis

China's premier, Wen Jiabao, warned last month that inflation is like a tiger—once unleashed, it is "very hard to cage again."

Yet Beijing has been slow to pounce, even though food prices are rising at a nearly 12% annual clip and overall inflation hit 5.4% in March, according to numbers released Friday, more than twice the pace of a year ago. The steps it has taken thus far, including last week's 0.25% interest-rate increase, have been modest. If it had been solely up to the People's Bank of China, the nation's central bank, the inflation-busting would have begun sooner, according to people involved in the matter. But the process of fighting inflation here is Byzantine, much like the Chinese government itself.

Monetary policy in the world's second-largest economy involves dueling bureaucracies, secretive committees and a Communist Party whose influence is hidden but pervasive, these people say. No single official is in charge, making it nearly impossible for other leading nations to coordinate economic policy with China.

For more: Political Overlords Shackle China's Monetary Mandarins - WSJ.com