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1/31/13

The Cooperative Movement - On The Rise Around The World

A cooperative is a business, not some kind of Communist egalitarian invention.  Co-ops range in size from small store-fronts to large Fortune 500 companies. In many ways, they're like any other business; but in several important ways they're unique and different.

The cooperative movement is on the rise, but Government support is essential for the cooperative movement’s progress. In Italy, for example, the movement is enshrined under Article 45 of the 1947 Italian Constitution and the Basevi Law of 1947, which, “provided co-ops with special tax treatment to encourage their self-capitalization and by creating the concept of ‘indivisible reserves’ for the benefit of all (i.e., future generations of employees and the community).”

Unfortunately still the most difficult barrier of all for the cooperative movement to be accepted is the widely publicized myth that corporate or individual-focused capitalism is the only feasible business method out there.

Today cooperatives are one of the most important and alternate solutions to the abusive and out-of-touch corporate pyramid system that places a few at the top and the majority at the very bottom. 

Fortunately the signs and sounds that people want a different and  more fair economic system are becoming louder every day around the world.

Yes indeed, change is in the air when it comes to a new and fair way of doing business – even in the United States, the powerhouse of traditional capitalism.

One of the many reasons why co-ops are becoming more and more popular is also because today  people spend so much more of their lives, energy and focus as uninvolved workers, rather than as active and participating shareholders.

When you join a co-operative, the main attraction is its democratic participative nature. What this means is that the people  that work in a business or factory, set-up as a cooperative, also own it and are motivated not by profit, but by service-to meet their members’ needs and to provide affordable and high quality goods or services; elect their own board of directors from within the membership, who take the decisions; share the profits and obviously also the losses; pay taxes on income kept within the co-op for investment and reserves. Surplus revenues from the co-op are returned to individual members who pay taxes on that income. 

Cooperatives can also also be highly effective and profitable in providing rural services and needs, such as: electricity, telecommunications, credit and financial services, housing, food, hardware and building supplies. 

It certainly is an idea whose time has come.

EU-Digest

USA : "Revolt of the Rich" - by Mike Lofgren

Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?

While there is plenty to criticize the incumbent president for, notably his broadening and deepening of President George W. Bush’s extra-constitutional surveillance state, under President Obama the overall federal tax burden has not been raised, it has been lowered. Approximately half the deficit impact of the stimulus bill was the result of tax-cut provisions. The temporary payroll-tax cut and other miscellaneous tax-cut provisions make up the rest of the cuts we have seen in the last three and a half years. Yet for the president’s heresy of advocating that billionaires who receive the bulk of their income from capital gains should pay taxes at the same rate as the rest of us, Schwarzman said this about Obama: “It’s a war. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”  For a hedge-fund billionaire to defend his extraordinary tax privileges vis-à-vis the rest of the citizenry in such a manner shows an extraordinary capacity to be out-of-touch. He lives in a world apart, psychologically as well as in the flesh.

That wealth-worship—and a consequent special status for the wealthy as a kind of clerisy—should have arisen in the United States is hardly surprising, given the peculiar sort of Protestantism that was planted here from the British Isles. Starting with the Puritanism of New England, there has been a long and intimate connection between the sanctification of wealth and America’s economic and social relationships. The rich are a class apart because they are the elect.

Most present-day Americans, if they think about the historical roots of our wealth-worship at all, will say something about free markets, rugged individualism, and the Horatio Alger myth—all in a purely secular context. But perhaps the most notable 19th-century exponent of wealth as virtue and poverty as the mark of Cain was Russell Herman Conwell, a canny Baptist minister, founder of perhaps the first tabernacle large enough that it could later be called a megachurch, and author of the immensely famous “Acres of Diamonds” speech of 1890 that would make him a rich man. This is what he said:
"I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. … The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. Let me say here clearly … ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. … I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins … is to do wrong … let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings."
Read more: Revolt of the Rich | The American Conservative

The Global Elite: When the rich are born to rule, the results can be fatal - by George Monbiot

In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt explains that the nobles of pre-revolutionary France "did not regard themselves as representative of the nation, but as a separate ruling caste which might have much more in common with a foreign people of the same society and condition than with its compatriots".

Last year the former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren wrote something very similar about the dominant classes of the US: "the rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens … the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it."

Secession from the concerns and norms of the rest of society characterizes any well established elite. Our own ruling caste, schooled separately, brought up to believe in justifying fairytales, lives in a world of its own, from which it can project power without understanding or even noticing the consequences. A removal from the life of the rest of the nation is no barrier to the desire to dominate it. In fact, it appears to be associated with a powerful sense of entitlement.

So if you have wondered how the current British government can blithely engage in the wholesale transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, how its frontbench can rock with laughter as it truncates the livelihoods of the poorest people of this country, why it commits troops to ever more pointless post-colonial wars, here, I think, is part of the answer. Many of those who govern us do not in their hearts belong here. They belong to a different culture, a different world, which knows as little of its own acts as it knows of those who suffer them.

Read more: When the rich are born to rule, the results can be fatal | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

Britain's shrinking economy is a paper house: "why the level of debate is farcical" - by Aditya Chakrabortty

When the news came in last Friday that the British economy was shrinking yet again, I slogged through the GDP report, the City analyses and the this-is- going-to-hurt-you-more-than-it-ever-hurts-us justifications by cabinet ministers. Yet none of them seemed to me as acute a guide to our present mess as an old comedy sketch by Armando Iannucci.

It begins with an estate agent taking a young couple around a house.

The dialogue is perfect: the broker waxes inanely on ("A lovely space"), and the prospective buyers ooze gratitude at being granted a viewing. But after tapping mannishly at the fixtures, the husband detects a problem. A big one: "This thing's made of paper."

Rip! His fist goes through the parchment microwave. The drawers and cupboards are torn apart. And when the water's turned on, the soggy paper taps wilt.

And just as Iannucci's couple eventually discovered that their house was made of paper, so in 2007 Britain's economic boom was revealed to be little more than a finance bubble.

The reason for this barrage of facts and stats is simple: you don't often get them elsewhere. Since the banking collapse, what purports to be a serious debate over the future of the economy has been whittled down to little more than a ping-pong match: cuts v no cuts. On the one side, you have David Cameron and George Osborne with their "tough choices" and stupid austerity.

But on the other, you have the equally false position staked out by Ed Balls: that with a wave of a Keynesian wand we can be magicked back to 2006.

Well, here's the thing about 2006: the economy was in better shape than today, but it still wasn't working for the majority of Britons. And unless we're honest about just how crocked our economy is, how the private sector doesn't create jobs and hasn't done serious investment for decades, we won't get out of this mess. We'll just be trying to rebuild a paper house.

Note EU-Digest: If that is not enough, quitting the EU will drag the British economy even further down.

Read more: Britain's shrinking economy: why the level of debate is farcical | Aditya Chakrabortty | Comment is free | The Guardian

European Housing Market: Dutch house price drop third biggest in EU since crisis began

Spain and Ireland are the only two countries in Europe where house prices have fallen more sharply than in the Netherlands over the past four years, according to Dutch national statistics agency CBS.

After reaching a peak in 2008, Dutch and Spanish house prices have been going down every year, but in Europe as a whole, prices have stabilised, the CBS told news agency ANP. The drop in Spain is around 7% a year, in the Netherlands 4%.

New figures from European statistics office Eurostat on Thursday show house prices across the EU went down an average 2.5% in the third quarter of last year, compared with the year-earlier period.

The drop in the Netherlands was 8.7%, in Spain 15% and Ireland almost 10%. By contrast, house prices in Norway and Estonia rose nearly 8.5%.

Read more: DutchNews.nl - Dutch house price drop third biggest in EU since crisis began

Middle East: Syria threatens to retaliate for Israeli airstrike

Syria threatened Thursday to retaliate for an Israeli airstrike and its ally Iran said there will be repercussions for the Jewish state over the attack.

U.S. officials said Israel launched a rare airstrike inside Syria on Wednesday. The target was a convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran.

In Israel, a lawmaker close to hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of confirming involvement in the strike. But he hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future.

Read more: Syria threatens to retaliate for Israeli airstrike - The Globe and Mail

Cellular Phones: BlackBerry shares continue slide after launch underwhelms

A day after the glitzy party to launch the company's new line of smartphones, BlackBerry shareholders' hangover continued Thursday as the stock extended its four-day slide.

BlackBerry shares were trading hands at $12.86 US on the Nasdaq, down seven per cent on the day. That slide was a continuation of Wednesday's action, when shares in the smartphone maker started sliding after the company launched its next generation BlackBerry 10 line of devices.

BlackBerry shares had been slightly higher in early trading Wednesday before Heins took the stage at an event in New York a little after 10 a.m. ET.

Before the launch, BlackBerry shares were changing hands at $16.56 US. Within minutes of news emerging that the devices would not be immediately available in the U.S. market, BlackBerry shares started slumping. They closed Wednesday below $14 and continued that slide early Thursday, opening at $12.46 — almost 25 per cent below the level they were at before Heins started speaking.

Read more: BlackBerry shares continue slide after launch underwhelms - Business - CBC News

Aircraft Industry: Boeing won’t pull back on 787 Dreamliner production

Boeing Co. isn’t planning on scaling back production of its troubled 787 Dreamliner or backing away from the lithium-ion battery that led U.S. regulators and others around the globe to ground the fleet of planes and launch investigations of the battery earlier this month.

“Nothing we have learned yet has told us that we have made the wrong choice on the battery technology,” Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Office Jim McNerney said as the Chicago-based aerospace giant released its fourth-quarter earnings and gave a 2013 profit forecast that beat Wall Street expectations.

Note EU-Digest: All Nippon Airways said it replaced batteries 10 times over the past few months, while Japan Airlines said it did so in a "few cases" over the past few months.
Boeing said that it was carrying out an investigation to find out what caused the battery malfunctions.

"Nothing that we have learned has told us that we have made the wrong choice on the battery technology," said Mr McNerney, chief executive of Boeing.

Read more: Boeing won’t pull back on 787 Dreamliner production - Chicago Sun-Times

" 2013, year of truth for EU tax harmonisation says Algirdas Semeta, EU taxation commissioner "- by Tanguy Verhoosel

"Will bank secrecy soon be a thing of the past? Do Depardieu and others in Europe have reason to be worried? Is it game over for Google, Starbucks, Amazon and others?"

The following are  excerpts of a wide-ranging interview with  Mr. Algirdas Semeta, the EU  commissioner for taxation." -  by Tanguy Verhoosel

Q: Would creating a common consolidated corporate tax base be a miracle cure for a lot of the Union’s problems?
" don’t believe in miracle solutions in any sector. But it is true that setting up the CCCTB could help resolve certain difficulties related to the distribution of companies’ earnings for tax purposes, and consequently to erosion of the tax base. The question of transfer pricing, in particular, would be settled, at least at EU level. So the debate absolutely has to be shifted from the technical level to the political level on certain key elements of the CCCTB proposal: the consolidation of results, mandatory application of the proposal to certain types of undertakings, etc." 

Q: Eleven countries will be launching enhanced cooperation on the FTT. Do you think the same scenario is possible on other tax issues, like the CCCTB?
"In theory, yes. But before we discuss that eventuality, let’s wait to see how the debate by the 27 evolves."

AQ: The new directive on administrative cooperation in the field of taxation contains a most favoured nation clause. Will it require Luxembourg and Austria to abolish their bank secrecy if they make concessions to the United States on automatic information exchange as part of the FATCA negotiations?
"Under this clause, a member state that offers better information exchange conditions to a non-EU country than to its European partners is obliged to offer them the same treatment if they so request. Legally, things are clear. Politically, in any case, it is hard to imagine a non-EU country being given better conditions than Union states".

So Luxembourg and Austria are trapped?
"Luxembourg’s Finance Minister, Luc Frieden, recently showed a somewhat open attitude. So I’m expecting positive developments. The debate on FATCA has changed the international atmosphere."
 
Q: If the 27 manage to strike a deal on savings taxation in the European Union, won’t we still have the stumbling block of certain non-EU states, in particular Switzerland? Luxembourg and Vienna insist on being on an equal footing with Berne.
"I don’t think so. Switzerland is negotiating an agreement with the United States. Given its proximity and close relations with the Union, Switzerland should logically have to offer similar treatment to the 27".
 
Q: Is the Rubik model, based on the withholding principle, dead and buried, in your opinion?
"I don’t know, but what is certain is that there has always been too much importance attached to Rubik. The scope of the agreements Switzerland has signed with the UK and Austria had to be pared down to the areas not covered by existing and future EU legislation on savings taxation. This legislation is being revised and the three countries were obliged to take this into account."
 
Swiss private bankers recently proposed to trade Switzerland’s bank secrecy for access to the EU’s financial services market. What do you think of that idea?"
"I don’t want to speculate on concessions that might be made to Switzerland in other policy areas. But I don’t see why we couldn’t discuss any proposals Berne may present. Meanwhile, let’s be clear: exploiting bank secrecy to do business is an obsolete concept when you consider what is happening today, in particular with the United States, and what is going to happen. On the one hand, the UK has committed to make tackling tax fraud and evasion a top priority of its G8 presidency in 2013. On the other, we’re working actively in the OECD to make automatic information exchange between administrations the international standard on tax transparency."

Read more: 28/01/2013 2013, year of truth for EU tax harmonisation

Tourism: Capsule Hotel Opens in Moscow

Moscow's first "Sleepbox" hotel has opened on 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ulitsa, conveniently located next to the Belorussky train station, the city's committee on tourism and hospitality announced Thursday.

The hotel, founded by Arch Group Architectural Bureau, is made up of 2-meter by 1.5-meter soundproof capsules — or sleepboxes — made from wood and plastic. One night in a sleepbox with a bunk bed for two costs 2,600 rubles each? ($86), while a single bed will run you 2,900 rubles, Interfax reported.

The sleepboxes differ from ordinary hotel rooms in their minimalism the only things in the "box" apart from a bed is a shelf and a few electrical outlets — the bare necessities for a traveler.

The first hotel of sleepboxes opened in Russia in 2009 at Sheremetyevo Airport, although that hotel offers showers and bathrooms in the capsules. Sleepboxes shot to popularity in Japan, where ordinary hotels are generally very expensive. It remains to be seen whether the innovation will become popular in Moscow as well.

Read more: Capsule Hotel Opens in Moscow | News | The Moscow Times

1/30/13

US GDP Declines 0.1% — Shocking Data Shows American GDP Shrunk last quarter (and infrastructure crumbling)

Government indicators suggest that GDP has shrunk by 0.1% in the last quarter. Many wonder why our economy continues to stagnate but in answer to this question Rick Santelli states, “We have become Europe.” Europe for the past few decades has seen slow growth and periodic recessions.

There is a reason that America is no longer considered the "new" world. Of course in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Americas were, as far as Europeans were concerned, new. That moniker was kept long into the 19th and the early 20th century, even though in reality America was no longer all that new.

The U.S. was populated by all of the western escapists trying to leave the command and control economies of the “old world.” Nowadays, Europe and the U.S. share many of the same political traits that caused the first immigrants to leave Europe in the first place. It has taken over a hundred years to bring the American economy to the point of stagnation.

What has brought this European growth model to these shores? The answer is simple elitism in the federal government. Europe has been rife for centuries with government agencies, run by an elite circle, that think they know what's best for everyone.

The U.S., on the other hand, had few agencies and few places where well meaning aristocrats could force their way on everyone. Now in the U.S., you cannot go throughout your day without running into some new regulation: the size of your toilet tank, the temperature of your water heater, or the size of your fountain drink. If it is not already regulated, there is some government bureaucrat who can find ways to make your life difficult until you comply with every one of his whims.

The vast size of government was also something of the "old world" that has been revived in the U.S., from the shallow grave it was buried in. Federal spending in the U.S. has been on a sharp increase since the turn of the last century and is only getting worse. The U.S. would not be experiencing any change in economic output in the 19th century due to cut backs, since government spending barely got above 5% of GDP on a bad year.

Europe is not a terrible place and there are many great things about Europe, their economy and their regulations are not any one of those things. I had a friend from the Netherlands stay with me for a couple days in a small town in Alabama, and I brought him to what I considered a small grocery store and he was amazed at the vast amount of choice and products that he could get. I have been to the Netherlands, and it is absolutely beautiful and rich in culture, but the people who live there want to have the choice we still nominally have in the U.S.

Note EU-Digest: most of this report is the viewpoint of what seems to be a disgruntled Tea Party conservative, but the last paragraph in the report is utter nonsense. Shops, Super markets in Europe carry as much choice if not more than US stores and when it comes to the crumbling US infrastructure Europe is light years ahead of the US.

Read more: GDP Declines 0.1% — Shocking Data Shows American GDP Shrunk In Final Quarter Of 2012

Eurozone, EU economic confidence firms - by Roddy Thomson

Clouds of economic gloom across the eurozone lifted Wednesday, as analysts hailed tentative signs of recovery with the latest European Commission data showing rising optimism among business leaders and consumers.

For the third month running, the EU's eurozone confidence index rose markedly against a background of rapidly easing tensions over Europe's three-year-old sovereign and banking debt crisis.

The index gained 1.4 points from the December level to reach 89.2, against a long-term average of 100.

While European stock markets fell on news the US economy contracted in the fourth quarter of last year, the euro jumped above $1.35 on the brighter data from the euozone, traders said.
And analysts wasted little time in declaring the positive signals as proof of recovery, even if consumer spending is expected to lag for some time.

Read more: AFP: Eurozone, EU economic confidence firms

Mali: French Forces Pressing Mali Campaign Seize Rebel Stronghold - by Rick Gladstone and Alan Cowell

French troops took control overnight of the airport of the last major northern Mali town still in rebel hands, officials said on Wednesday, after Islamist militants abandoned two other principal settlements in the vast, desert region where residents’ relief and elation has given way to some measure of reprisal and frustration. French troops took control overnight of the airport of the last major northern Mali town still in rebel hands, officials said on Wednesday, after Islamist militants abandoned two other principal settlements in the vast, desert region where residents’ relief and elation has given way to some measure of reprisal and frustration.

A French military spokesman in Paris, Col. Thierry Burkhard, said French troops reached the airport of Kidal, in the remote northeast of Mali, in an operation that is continuing. 

Haminy Maiga, a local official, told news agencies that French forces met no resistance when they arrived aboard four airplanes that landed late on Tuesday without encountering resistance. France also sent helicopters, he said. 

Kidal is the capital of a desert region of the same name. Secular Tuareg rebels claim to be in control of the town after Islamists fled. A newly formed Islamist splinter group that broke with the main Ansar Dine Islamist force also claims to have a power base there.

Read more: French Forces Pressing Mali Campaign Seize Rebel Stronghold - NYTimes.com

US Politics: Only 32% Polled Think Their Member of Congress Deserves Reelection

US voters aren’t just unhappy with Congress in general. They don’t think much of the member of Congress from their home district either.

Just 32% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe their local congressional representative deserves to be reelected, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Thirty-nine percent (39%) think their local congressman does not deserve reelection. Twenty-nine percent (29%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Read more: Only 32% Think Their Member of Congress Deserves Reelection - Rasmussen Reports™

Europe: Meteorologists warn of February ‘deep freeze’ across Nordic states

Temperatures are likely to drop even further below normal next month throughout the Nordic region, according experts from Weather Services International (WSI). WSI officials said that a high-pressure pattern is to persist over the arctic through to February, continually pushing frigid, dry air southward over Scandinavia, as well as toward Russia, the Baltic states and Britain.

The official WSI statement read, “All of the objective evidence suggests a very cold remainder of winter across the Nordic regions and northwestern Russia as atmospheric blocking re-emerges and allows for very cold Arctic high pressure and dry weather to persist over these areas, including the Scandinavia hydro basins.”

It added, “We expect the lingering impacts of the atmospheric blocking to persist into at least March, with cold temperatures persisting across the Nordic regions.”

Read more Meteorologists warn of February ‘deep freeze’ across Nordic states | IceNews - Daily News

Egyptian President Arrives in Berlin on Shortened Europe Visit - by Mayy El Sheikh

Germany is Egypt’s third most important trading partner and, according to an official schedule for his visit, Mr. Morsi was to meet with leaders of industry as well as the chancellor, hoping to persuade them to bring badly needed investment to his country. 

The cancellation of his trip to Paris was reported by French and Egyptian officials.
In Berlin, German officials signaled that Mr. Morsi would face questions about his democratic credentials after declaring a state of emergency in three Suez Canal cities gripped by protest and violence. 

Before Mr. Morsi arrived, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed the importance of democratic reforms in Egypt in exchange for economic support from Berlin. 

“We have seen worrying images in recent days, images of violence and destruction,” Mr. Westerwelle told the Deutsche Welle state broadcaster. “I appeal to both sides to engage in dialogue.” At the same time, he urged the West to have patience with Egypt, expressing understanding for the difficulties facing Mr. Morsi in leading his country through a transformation. 

Last year Egypt received around $130 million in development aid from the German government. Germany’s industry sector also views Egypt as having great potential, given its strategic location and size.

Read more: Egyptian President Arrives in Berlin on Shortened Europe Visit - NYTimes.com

Mali: German Foreign Minister Westerwelle Welcomes Political Roadmap

German Foreign Minister Westerwelle has welcomed the political road map produced by the Malian Government. Speaking in Berlin on January 28, he called it a good basis for international assistance. He said that the road map, which provides for a return to constitutional order, now had to be quickly passed by the Malian Parliament.

The Government of Mali adopted the road map on January 25, after several calls from the international community to put such a plan in place as a prerequisite for further assistance. In the long term, Westerwelle said, only a political solution would be effective. 

He said that the states of Africa, the Malian Government and France all shared that view. Pointing to the road map as a good basis for the search for such a solution, Minister Westerwelle affirmed that “the necessary military operations, which are increasingly led by Africans themselves, must now be coordinated with the political efforts.”

Read more: German Missions in the United States - Political Roadmap for Mali

1/29/13

The Netherlands - Tax Safe Haven In Trouble: Secretary of Finance Weekers Defends Loopholes Dutch Tax System in Parliament

Dutch State Finance Secretary Frans Weekers was asked today to justify and explain the controversy  surrounding the Dutch Tax system.  

The Parliament wants the Government to explain the extend of the tax evasions which took place and still seem to be taking place, damaging  the Netherlands image around the world. 

It was also noted that several requests for additional information by the Press to the Government tax authorities about this issue remained unanswered.

A study by the Volkskrant, a major Dutch newspaper, shows that the Netherlands Tax System, always  known  as a safe haven for the payment of dividends, interest and royalties, has now become a flawed and controversial system, favoring Multi-National corporations exploiting loopholes in the system to avoid paying millions in corporate taxes.

EU-Digest

Russia: Sechin to Visit Venezuela Amid Speculation About Chavez's Health

Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin is expected to visit Venezuela on Wednesday in a mission that might be used to secure the company's oil contracts in the country, with Sechin being one of Russia's most powerful officials and a leading advocate of economic ties with Venezuela.

The visit, confirmed by a Rosneft spokeswoman, comes at a difficult time for the country, amid speculation that the country's maverick leader, Hugo Chavez, who is sick with cancer, might soon die or step down as president.

But Vladimir Semago, a former United Russia deputy and a deputy head of the Russian-Venezuelan Business Council, is skeptical about the visit's prospects. "When you spend so much money for nothing, this money starts to work against your own interests. It has nothing to do with economics," he said.

Why America can’t be more like Scandinavia - by ames Pethokoukis

“I believe in American exceptionalism,” President Obama said back in 2009, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world.”

But thinking America is exceptional is not just about expressing a natural civic pride in the home team. America remains an unusually important nation, the Indispensable Nation, really. There is, of course, its role as the planet’s military superpower. In the After America alternate history series, an energy wave disappears most of the USA and almost immediately, as the book’s description aptly puts it, “the forces of order and anarchy wage all-out war for postapocalyptic dominance.”

Sounds about right. In fact, it sounds like what’s happening across the Middle East right about now.

In short, American-style capitalism generates the innovation needed for economic growth both here and over there. See, it doesn’t really matter so much if your own country is innovative as long as it is open to adopting innovations created elsewhere and to the “creative destruction” innovation brings with it. But someone, somewhere needs to be innovative.

As Acemoglu, Robinson, and  Verdier point out, the U.S., Finland, and Sweden are all wealthy nations, but the U.S is about 30% richer on an income per capita basis (purchasing power parity, 2005 dollars). The United States is also “widely viewed as a more innovative economy, providing greater incentives to its entrepreneurs and workers alike, who tend to respond to these by working longer hours, taking more risks, and playing the leading role in many of the transformative technologies of the last several decades ranging from software and hardware to pharmaceuticals and biomedical innovations.”

Read more: Why America can’t be more like Scandinavia | AEIdeas

EU, Britain and ANHRI condemn escalation of violence - by Luiz Sanchez

Britain and the European Union denounced the violence that followed the Port Said massacre verdict which sentenced 21 people to death on Saturday.

Britain strongly condemned the violence, calling for maximum restraint after at least 30 people were killed in Port Said. British foreign office minister Alistair Burt expressed his concern, saying the violence “cannot help the process of dialogue which we encourage as vital for Egypt today, and we must condemn the violence in the strongest terms.”

He continued by offering condolences to the families of those who have died on behalf of the United Kingdom. “We remain committed as a strong friend of Egypt and the Egyptian people to support the aim of strengthening true democracy,” Burt said.

“The right to peaceful freedom of expression and assembly is an essential part of this, but the violence we have seen [Saturday] can have no place in a truly democratic Egypt.”

Read more: EU, Britain and ANHRI condemn escalation of violence - Daily News Egypt

European Auto Industry: French court halts Peugeot Citroen job cuts

A French appeal court has suspended a restructuring plan involving 8,000 job cuts at carmaker Peugeot Citroen as sought by the CGT union at parts subsidiary Faurecia, the lawyer for the workers Fiodor Rilov said on Tuesday.

The CGT union had argued that the management of PSA Peugeot Citroen had not fulfilled its legal obligations to inform staff representatives and in particular the European works committee.

Read more: French court halts Peugeot Citroen job cuts - AUTO INDUSTRY - FRANCE 24

Turkey: Turkish businesswomen make a difference - 26 percent corporate top executives are women - well above the EU average

Turkey’s largest companies are increasingly assigning women to key positions and corporate boards. Of the top executives in these companies, 26 percent are women - well above the EU average.

Just last week, Siemens, the German engineering giant, elected renowned Turkish business women Güler Sabanci to its supervisory board. She is a member of the Sabanci family, one of the wealthiest in Turkey, but it is her individual efforts and achievements as the head of the family conglomerate which have earned her international acclaim. She was named by Forbes in 2012 to its list of the world's most powerful 100 women.

The selection of Sabanci, however, came as a surprise to many in Europe. Turkey  is more famous in Western media for unpleasant headlines, such as the rise of political Islam, the headscarf debate, violence against women, or her comments on extrajudicial killings.

But now, Sabanci has prompted fresh interest in the West on the role of women in Turkey's business world.

While the European Union is busy discussing ways to increase the number of women in top position with a gender quota, Turkey's largest companies have already set the pace with an impressive number of successful women executives in top corporations.

Read more: Turkish businesswomen make a difference | World | DW.DE | 29.01.2013

EU delegation to quit Republic of Suriname as part of cost-cutting

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Lackin confirms the European delegation in Suriname is about to leave the country. “I regret this decision and we are doing our utmost to keep the EU here in the current form.” Lackin says he was informed of the EU’s new plans a year ago. These plans include working from regional offices to cut costs. “We would rather have the delegation stay,” Lacking emphasizes again, “particularly because we have many plans together with the EU, namely in the agrarian sector.”

The EU in Suriname contributes to the objectives of the government, namely fighting poverty, sustainable income options and equal access to services. This is done through subsidies, funds and loans, with the European Development Fund (EDF) being the main instrument of development cooperation in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

In addition, Surinamese products, mainly rice and bananas, have access to the EU market. The total amount of aid provided by the EU to Suriname since independence in 1975 is estimated at 165 million Euros. The most important areas of cooperation are the transportation sector (60% of all EDF funds), micro-projects, the rice sector, the banana sector, the private sector, the environment, good governance and democracy. Suriname has utilized more than 90% of the 20 million Euros available to it from the 10th EDF (2008-2013). The EU is making over 30 billion available for the 11th EDF.

Read more: EU delegation to quit Suriname as part of cost-cutting - Stabroek News

CANADA: Moody's downgrades 6 Canadian banks - consumer debt record-high 165 per cent disposable income

Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the long-term credit ratings of six Canadian banks, including Toronto-Dominion, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and CIBC. National Bank and Desjardins were also downgraded.

The ratings agency lowered each of its ratings one notch, citing high levels of consumer debt and high home prices as threats to the Canadian economy. Moody's had put all six banks under review in October.

Canadian consumer debt has risen to a record-high 165 per cent of disposable income in the third quarter of 2012, up from 137 per cent in mid-2007. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has repeatedly warned about these levels, but they remain stubbornly high.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was quick to reiterate his confidence in Canada's banking system.
"For five years in a row, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's banking system as the soundest in the world," Flaherty said in a statement, adding that even after the downgrades, "Moody's rating of Canadian banks continues to be among the highest in the world."

Read more: Moody's downgrades 6 Canadian banks - Business - CBC News

1/28/13

Baltic Region: Tentative Steps Toward Deepening Defense Cooperation in the Baltic Region

In late December, the Swedish defense chief, General Sverker Göranson, stoked controversy by noting that Sweden would only be able to defend itself for a week without outside help (Svenska Dagbladet, December 30, 2012).

Generally taking its cues from Sweden, a few weeks later, a similar estimate of Finnish defense capability emerged when Alpo Juntunen, a retired academic, cited an increase in Russia’s military capability and opined Finland could only hope to briefly defend parts of its southern territory (Ilta-Sanomat, January 7), Juha Saarinen, Mikko Patokallio and Tomas Wallenius wrote in Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor of  January 28, 2013 — Volume 10, Issue 15.

Both estimates were met with swift government dismissals. Swedish Defense Minister Karen Enström noted Sweden’s military capabilities were sufficient in light of potential threats and comparable to its neighbors (Dagens Nyheter, January 9). In Finland, Juntunen’s remarks were met with emphatic rejection. Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund stressed that Finland was able to defend itself and, in contrast to Sweden, Finland retains a comparatively high defense capability (Helsingin Sanomat, January 8).

Nonetheless, Göranson’s and Juntunen’s comments struck a nerve in their respective countries, as well as the broader Baltic region, as both face economic pressures and a shifting strategic environment in their neighborhood. Indeed, the remarks have triggered unusually spirited debates in both countries, highlighting the growing willingness to deepen defense cooperation between the Nordic countries and their Baltic neighbors.

Read more: Tentative Steps Toward Deepening Defense Cooperation in the Baltic Region | The Lithuania Tribune

Russia: Putin Backs Privatization of Stakes on Moscow Exchange

President Vladimir Putin’s call for privatizations to be focused on the Moscow bourse may have the unwanted effect of draining demand from a planned $2 billion stock offering by banking group VTB.

Analysts warned on Monday that the Moscow stock exchange is too small to supply all the capital being sought by VTB and a series of state-owned companies, which could depress the price of the shares they aim to sell.

And a shortage of local demand could also undermine Putin’s desire to use the planned share offerings to boost Moscow’s status as a financial hub.

Seeking to transform Moscow into a global financial center rivaling New York, London and Hong Kong, Putin last week called for all state share sales to be held in Russia.

Recently, Russia merged its two stock exchanges into the united Moscow Exchange in a step to ease domestic share issues. The exchange plans an initial public offering on its own platform later this year.

But trading volumes in Moscow remain small by comparison with New York or London — the main listing platforms in recent years for Russian companies — as it has yet to create a competitive infrastructure and gain the trust of investors.

According to brokerage Otkritie, only 1.5 million people in Russia are direct or indirect stock market investors, compared with more than half of households in the United States.

Hungary: Govt to levy 35% withholding tax on expatriated assets

Hungary's government has decided to levy a 35% withholding tax on illegally expatriated assets, János Lázár, state secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, said in a break during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Assets expatriated to avoid payment of tax come to at least HUF 1,000 billion but could reach as much as HUF 1,500 billion-HUF 2 billion according to some estimates, Lázár said, citing data from the National Economy Ministry.

The Prime Minister's Office, the National Economy Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry have been given a mandate to track this money down, he added.

Read more: Govt to levy 35% withholding tax on expatriated assets | The Budapest Business Journal on the web | bbj.hu

The Netherlands: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to abdicate for son

In a pre-recorded address broadcast on TV, she said she would formally stand down on 30 April.

The queen, who is approaching her 75th birthday, said she had been thinking about this moment for several years and that now was "the moment to lay down my crown".

Queen Beatrix has been head of state since 1980, when her mother abdicated.
In the short televised statement, the queen said it was time for the throne to be held by "a new generation", adding that her son was ready to be king.

Prince Willem-Alexander, 45, is married to Maxima Zorreguieta, a former investment banker from Argentina, and has three young children.

He is a trained pilot and an expert in water management. Willem Alexander will become the Netherlands' first king since Willem III, who died in 1890.

Read more: BBC News - Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to abdicate for son

Technology and Research: Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg to be granted 1 billion euros in developing Graphene

The European Commission announced on Monday that researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg would be granted 1 billion euros for their work in developing Graphene.

Graphine consists of a hexagonal array of sp2-bonded carbon atoms, just like those found in bulk graphite. 2D materials display very interesting properties, and are fundamentally different from the 3D materials we encounter everyday. The discovery of 2D materials means that scientists now have access to materials of all dimensionalities, including 0D (quantum dots, atoms) and 1D (nanowires, carbon nanotubes).

Graphene can be used for many different purposes including: Transistors. It is so thin we can easily control whether or not it conducts by applying an electric field.
Gas Sensors: Gas molecules that land on graphene affect its electronic properties in a measurable way - in fact, we have measured the effect of a single molecule associating with a graphene.

This means that we can create gas sensors which are sensitive to a single atom or molecule.Support Membranes for Transmission Electron Microscopy Graphene is effectively the thinnest material that we can make out of atoms. Suprizingly it is also very strong, thanks to a lack of crystal boundaries to break along and very strong bonds between carbon atoms (Carbon nanotubes are made from rolled up graphene, and it has been suggested that cabling made from nanotubes would be strong enough to create an elevator into space!). As a result we can use it to hold micro- and nanoscopic objects we wish to look at in an electron microscope (e.g. DNA, nanoparticles) in a similar way we use glass slides in an optical microscope. Graphene is the perfect material for this job as it is made only of carbon, it is very thin so will not interfere with the pictures taken as much as other materials, and has a very simple crystal structure so can easily be eliminated from diffraction patterns.

Inert Coating: Graphene is resistant to attack by many powerful acids and alkalis such as hydrofluoric acid and ammonia, so one day could be used to give objects an atomically thin protective coating which would provide protection against these agents.

Although it will likely be many years before we see any of these applications fully realised, the discovery of graphene has provided an unparalleled opportunity for scientists to investigate these possibilities.

EU-Digest

Antartica: US polar researchers reach Antarctic subglacial lake

A group of American explorers managed to reach an Antarctic subglacial lake,  WISSARD reports. Specialists had to drill a hole 801 meters deep. The drilling was carried out using a special technology, with hot sterile water. In the near future, American researchers are going to descend instruments and equipment into the lake to start sampling the water of the lake.

Whillans Lake is 643 km from the South Pole. American explorers arrived on the site in mid-January of this year and conducted a ten-day preparation for the drilling. After passing the mark of 700 meters, specialists slowed down the rate of drilling. Afterwards, the water level rose sharply. The further study of the well with the help of a camera confirmed the penetration into the lake.

In Antarctica, there are more than 300 subglacial lakes - at least those that have been confirmed. Exploring some of them is important to study the biology of extremophiles - the organisms capable of living in extreme conditions.

Read more: US polar researchers reach Antarctic subglacial lake - English pravda.ru

Apple users sue Google over privacy breach

GOOGLE is facing a legal battle from UK internet users complaining that their privacy has been breached by the firm.

A group of 12 people, all of whom use Apple devices, are seeking damages from the internet giant after claiming that their browsing habits were secretly tracked.

It is thought the case, being brought against Google by law firm Olswang on behalf of the internet users, is the first of its kind in the UK.

They say that cookies, small tracking files, were installed by Google on the Apple computers and mobile devices of those using the Safari internet browser without their knowledge.
Cookies are used by advertisers, and owners of other websites, to target advertising based on an individual's internet use.

Read more: Apple users sue Google over privacy breach - Europe, World News - Independent.ie

Latin America: - CELAC: Europe losing out to Chinese conquista

China's growing economic presence in Latin America comes at Europe's expense. European leaders are trying to make up lost ground at this year's annual EU-Latin America Summit in Chile. 

A battle for access to Latin America's markets is being waged between Europe and Asia. German companies, too, are increasingly exposed to Asian competition. That is why German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to seek closer ties with her Latin American counterparts at the summit between the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in the Chilean capital Santiago this weekend (26-27.01.2013).

"The most important Latin American countries have very dynamic trade with the countries of the Pacific Rim and China," said Günther Maihold, deputy director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, who currently teaches at the Humboldt Institute in Mexico City. "The Europeans need to consider how to position themselves," Maihold told DW. "More is expected of them than just free trade agreements."

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), China increased its direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean from $621 million in 2001 to nearly $44 billion in 2010 (including investment in the Caribbean offshore financial centers).

By comparison, German direct investment in the region grew over the same period from $4 billion to $50 billion.

Oliver Parche, coordinator of the German industry's Latin America Initiative, does not see the growing competition between Asia and Europe as a huge problem. "We cannot catch up with the Asian countries," he says, "but we will certainly improve our position in the coming years."
Read more: Europe losing out to Chinese conquista | Americas | DW.DE | 26.01.2013

Italy's Berlusconi praises Mussolini on Holocaust Day and sparks outrage

Former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage on Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, after he praised the country’s wartime fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

Mussolini was a key ally of the Nazi regime, the main perpetrator of the industrialised slaughter of millions of Jews during the Second World War.

During his rule, Italy enacted anti-Semitic racial policies while allowing thousands of Italian Jews to be deported to concentration camps. “The racial laws were the worst mistake of a leader, Mussolini, who however did good things in so many other areas," Berlusconi said on the sidelines of a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in Milan.

“Italy does not have the same responsibilities as Germany,” said Berlusconi, who is hoping to make a return to politics in next month’s parliamentary elections.

Read more: Italy's Berlusconi praises Mussolini on Holocaust Day - ITALY - FRANCE 24

1/27/13

Mali: Malians celebrate, French-led forces clear Timbuktu

Residents of Mali's northern town of Gao, captured from sharia-observing Islamist rebels by French and Malian troops, danced in the streets to drums and music on Sunday as the French-led offensive also drove the rebels from Timbuktu.

The weekend gains made at Gao and Timbuktu by the French and Malian troops capped a two-week whirlwind intervention by France in its former Sahel colony, which has driven al Qaeda-allied militant fightinto the desert and mountains.

In Gao, the largest town in the north where the Islamist insurgents had banned music and smoking, cut off the hands of thieves and ordered women to wear veils, thousands cheered the liberating troops with shouts of "Mali, Mali, France, France".

French special forces backed by Rafale fighter jets and Tiger helicopters had helped capture the town early on Saturday.

The Rafale fighters in Mali as were the Eurofighters during the Libya conflict are performing extremely well and India has said it is planning to buy 189 Rafale fighter jets.

Read more: Malians celebrate, French-led forces clear Timbuktu | Reuters

Privacy Rights: Google user data requests from authorities soar

Governments and courts around the world have increased their requests for Google user data by 70 per cent since 2009, Google reports.

In Google's latest Transparency Report this week, the company showed it had received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users between July and December 2012, a rise from 12,539 during the same period three years earlier.

Google has released the reports every six months since 2010, saying "it's important for people to understand how government actions affect them."

U.S. authorities made 40 per cent of the requests in the latest report, which targeted 44 per cent of the users, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Google broke down the U.S. data for the first time to show that:
  • 68 per cent were subpoenas requesting information to identify users.
  • 22 per cent were search warrants.
  • 10 per cent were court orders.
Read more: Google user data requests from authorities soar - Business - CBC News

Russian Central Bank Foresees More Foreign Banks Leaving

Some foreign banks may be preparing to exit Russia because of low profitability, but Asian banks are actively looking at the market, a senior Central Bank official said.

Deputy Chairman Mikhail Sukhov said Thursday that of the 48 banks that reported losses last year, 13 were foreign-owned. "Probably they are waiting," he said at a briefing. "Not all of them have plans for a sale, but negative financial results are an additional factor for banks controlled by foreign capital."

Read more: Central Bank Foresees More Foreign Banks Leaving | Business | The Moscow Times

Britain: The Netherlands is happy not to be linked to Britain’s European wishes

Dutch took David Cameron’s decision to switch venue for his Europe speech from Amsterdam to London as a disenchanted fiancé might treat a break-up: with melancholy but also relief. Some Dutch politicians were excited by the chance to be host to such a defining moment in Britain’s relationship with the European Union. The government also agrees that some EU powers should be repatriated and its budget should be restrained. But there is little sympathy for British Euroscepticism—and some fear of Mr Cameron inveigling the Netherlands into a venture it dislikes.

Officials are clear that they oppose more opt-outs for Britain, and want to repatriate powers only on the basis of a deal for all. Members of the ruling coalition have called on Mark Rutte, the prime minister, to distance himself from Mr Cameron, with whom he has a close friendship. The leader of the opposition Christian Democrats said Mr Cameron was “not such a handy ally to have in Europe”. When Mr Cameron demanded treaty changes and an in-out referendum, the government counted itself lucky to be watching from afar.

The Netherlands has always tried to draw Britain as much as possible into Europe, seeking a free-trading Atlanticist ally against more mercantilist continental voices. Frans Timmermans, the foreign minister, says the “balance between London, Paris and Berlin” has always formed the best framework for Dutch interests. But he adds that the EU needs to be reformed from inside, not by “walking away.” Mr Rutte’s previous government, with his centre-right Liberals in queasy pseudo-partnership with Geert Wilders’s far-right Party for Freedom, was often hostile to Brussels. But his new cabinet is a centrist coalition with the Labour party. Mr Timmermans, a former Labour MP, is a dedicated multilingual European who grew up in a diplomatic family.

Read more: The Dutch and David Cameron: Not wanted here | The Economist

US Politics: This isn't Republican Party I knew - by Al McCray

Now 61 years old, I had been proud to be a Republican since I was a teenager.  I always voted a straight Republican ticket. For decades I endured the criticisms and negative comments from my fellow Negroes. I always defended my right to be a Republican.

In 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in as president, I started noticing a lot of changes in my party. It seemed like the party took a dark turn.

The most dramatic change was that the Republican Party's main goal became the defeat of President Obama. We were in the worst recession since the Great Depression and all my party wanted to do was to pull down the first African-American elected to serve in the White House.

Instead of working to help the economy, Republican leaders became attack dogs. It seemed like they cared less about the millions of Americans who were unemployed and losing their homes. The only word they knew when it came to President Obama was "NO

The party has to realize America's major voting bloc won't be whites but blacks eating soul food and brown people who love tacos. The party must look at the 2010 U.S. Census and stop marginalizing minorities. Stop all these phony promises to capture the vote in 2016. It won't happen, not even for the new Republican poster child, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Read more: Al McCray: This isn't Republican Party I knew - South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

Czech Republic: Leftist former prime minister elected new Czech president

Leftist former prime minister Milos Zeman won the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election, beating a conservative opponent, results showed on Saturday.

Zeman, 68, was leading by 55.1 to 44.9 percent over Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who is from a centuries-old aristocratic family, results from 98.3 percent of voting districts showed.

Economic forecaster Zeman, a member of the Communist Party before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, will take the Czechs closer to the European mainstream. Outgoing President Vaclav Klaus is strongly Eurosceptic.

Czech presidents do not wield much day-to-day power but represent the country abroad and appoint prime ministers, central bankers and judges.

Zeman served as Social Democrat prime minister in 1998-2002 under a power-sharing deal with Klaus’s right-wing party that critics saw as a breeding ground for corruption.

Read more: Leftist former prime minister elected new Czech president - CZECH REPUBLIC - FRANCE 24

1/26/13

Chile: Summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States

EU leaders have arrived in Santiago, Chile for the January 26 - 27  summit with their counterparts from Latin America and the Caribbean under the theme "Alliance for Sustainable Development: Promoting Investments of Social and Environmental Quality".

The summit is bringing together the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the bi-regional partnership, the Summit will give new impetus to cooperation and the building of common positions on global issues and shared challenges. Summit discussions will also review political developments and address crucial issues and opportunities currently faced by the EU and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Opening session EU -CELAC Summit, Santiago, Chile
The EU is represented at the Summit by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. A high level of participation is also expected from EU member states and virtually all leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to attend the Summit, hosted by President Piñera of Chile, which currently holds the CELAC Presidency.

President Van Rompuy said: "In Santiago, we will reaffirm the strategic nature of our relationship based on common values. We will review the main challenges that the international community is facing and consider ways to strengthen our cooperation in working towards a more just, secure and prosperous world. We will discuss regional integration as well as cooperation on international fora."

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani will be in Chile accompanied by a large business delegation composed of 51 representatives of 40 European companies and industry associations, from ten EU Member States. 

This  is part of a series of "Missions for Growth" to help European businesses, in particular small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to better profit from fast-growing emerging international markets. Vice-President Tajani will hold a range ministerial-level meetings intended to deepen the implementation of political agreements signed in June 2011 with the Chilean authorities on SME development, industrial cooperation, tourism and space. Discussions will also focus on encouraging the promotion of clusters and business networks to boost SME internationaliszation. 

European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, will also be in Santiago and will use the opportunity to engage with counterparts from the region on the trade agenda, giving particular priority to ensuring progress allowing for an imminent provisional application of free trade agreements with Colombia and Peru, and of the trade pillar of the Association Agreement with Central America.

Throughout the discussions in Santiago at all levels, the EU side will stress the importance of an open, transparent, non-discriminatory, stable and business-friendly environment. Legal certainty for investors is essential for the fostering of high-quality, socially responsible investment. The EU will also underline the importance of promoting open trade and refraining from protectionist measures so as to ensure continued growth and development. It will also underline its readiness to work together with LAC partners on Corporate Social Responsibility, which is an integral part of the EU's investment strategy.

Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso and Commissioner De Gucht will also participate in the Business Summit, which will bring together businessmen, political leaders and business-related institutions from both regions. The central topic will be ‘Investments for Economic Growth, Social Inclusion and Environmental Sustainability’.

The Santiago summit will be the EU's seventh summit since the inaugural EU-LAC summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1999, which launched a "strategic partnership" between the two regions. It will be the first Summit with CELAC - the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States - as the EU's counterpart.



Tax Havens: Move Over Switzerland, Netherlands Is The New Tax Haven

Netherlands: "Silent waters run deep"  (private collection RM)
Multinational companies including Yahoo Inc., Google Inc, Merck and Co., Inc. and Dell Inc.,  are taking advantage of the lenient policies and extensive network of tax treaties in Netherlands to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in global profits to reduce their worldwide tax bill.

The Netherlands emerged as the new tax haven in Europe, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Data from the Dutch Central Bank showed that multinational companies funneled €10.2 trillion in 2012 through 14,300 special financial units that only exists in papers, which is permitted by law in the country. According to the report, multinational companies use different techniques and nicknames such as “Dutch Sandwich.”

Bloomberg reported that Yahoo! Inc. used the home of its book keeper, Reindert Doove, as headquarter of its offshore unit and took advantage of the law to move some of its profits globally, reducing its worldwide tax bill.

The European Commission said tax evasion costs the European Union (EU) approximately 1 trillion per year. The commission vowed to fight the practice and encouraged its member countries including Netherlands to create a tax-haven blacklist and adopt anti-abuse rules. The European Commission also suggested reforms to weaken the spinoff industry.

A study conducted by SEO Economic Research in 2009 revealed that tax avoidance promoted a huge industry in Netherlands known as trust firms, which generates € I billion tax revenues and 3,500 jobs annually. Trust firms, such as Intertrust Group Holding SA and TMF Group provide high-priced mailboxes for multinational companies and non tax-related services including book keeping and payroll administration.

Jan Reint de Vos van Steenwijk, managing director of TMF Holding BV, expects the Dutch government to wait for the research report on the economic impact of the corporate service industry before taking any action on the issue.

On the other hand, Jos Peters, tax director for Merlyn Tax Solutions; Royalty Conduit Services in Rotterdam commented, “The benefits to Holland are employment, [and] high-level tax advisers. They come to us and why should we refuse this? We are not doing anything illegal or "immoral".

Dutch Parliament member, Arnold Merkies, believed the Netherlands is playing a harmful role in the world, citing that governments around the world have to cut their budget and at the same time multinational companies are avoiding taxes. “We connect the tax havens here. We have a harmful role in the world and have a responsibility toward the rest of the world.”

According to Kimberly Clausing, economics professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, the shifting of corporate profits into tax havens costs the United States $90 billion per year. The country is currently facing a budget deficit of approximately $1 trillion in fiscal 2013.

Read more: Move Over Switzerland, Netherlands Is The New Tax Haven

Germany - Aircraft Industry: Hypersonic plane to fly from Europe to Australia in 90 minutes

The rocket-powered hypersonic plane SpaceLiner, designed by the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Space Systems, aims to send passengers from Europe to Australia in 90 minutes by 2050

The futuristic vehicle would do so by riding a rocket into Earth's upper atmosphere, reaching 24 times the speed of sound before gliding in for a landing.

Many challenges still remain, including finding the right shape for the vehicle, said Martin Sippel, project coordinator for SpaceLiner at the German Aerospace Center. But he suggested the project could make enough progress to begin attracting private funding in another 10 years and aim for full operations by 2050.

The current concept includes a rocket booster stage for launch and a separate orbiter stage to carry passengers halfway around the world without ever making it to space. Flight times between the U.S. and Europe could fall to just over an hour if the SpaceLiner takes off — that is, if passengers don't mind paying the equivalent of space tourism prices around several hundred thousand dollars per trip.

Click here for Video: Hypersonic plane to fly from Europe to Australia in 90 minutes - The Globe and Mail

Smartphones: Huawei's Smartphone Sales Eclipse Nokia, HTC, RIM - by Anton Troianovski

China’s Huawei Technologies Co. has jumped ahead of Nokia Corp., HTC Corp. and Research In Motion Ltd. in the world-wide smartphone race, but steep challenges remain for the telecommunications firm as it pursues a bigger role around the world.

Huawei, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of telecom equipment that has aggressively pushed into the consumer market in recent years, shipped 10.8 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, ranking it the third-largest seller in the world, with a nearly 5 percent market share, according to researcher International Data Corp.

Read more: Huawei's Smartphone Sales Eclipse Nokia, RIM - Anton Troianovski - Mobile - AllThingsD

Austrian children help Romanian kids

A charity project run by the middle school in Hippach has been recognized with an award for its social work by officials in Tyrol. The pupils at the school have now been collecting money for six years as part of the project "building bridges" with the lion's share of the money going to help the children of poor families in Romania.

 Project coordinator Rita Lechner-Dreier said: "The project just took on a life of its own right after it was started. In addition once you had seen after the first year the positive effects of what we have done – it was hard not to carry on. In 2007 we went to Satu Mare to see what was being done with the money, and we saw that while a lot of good been done there was much more that still needed to be done and realised we couldn't just stop."

This year the kids at the school are in the process of painting up 300 cardboard boxes which will be filled with gifts – mainly foodstuffs – and sent to the region before Christmas. Thanks to a partnership with Caritas Tirol and the Caritas in Satu Mare is 100 per cent guaranteed that all of the packages end up with those that need them.

Read more: Austrian children help Romanian kids - General News - Romanian Times Online News - English Newspaper

Gun Control USA: Thousands march in D.C. for gun control

Thousands of people, many holding signs with names of gun violence victims and messages such as "Ban Assault Weapons Now," joined a rally for gun control on Saturday, marching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.

Leading the crowd were marchers with "We Are Sandy Hook" signs, paying tribute to victims of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials marched alongside them. The crowd stretched for at least two blocks along Constitution Avenue.

Participants held signs reading "Gun Control Now," "Stop NRA" and "What Would Jesus Pack?" among other messages. Other signs were simple and white, with the names of victims of gun violence.

About 100 residents from Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six teachers, traveled to Washington together, organizers said.

Participant Kara Baekey from nearby Norwalk, Conn., said that when she heard about the Newtown shooting, she immediately thought of her two young children. She said she decided she must take action, and that's why she traveled to Washington for the march.  "I wanted to make sure this never happens at my kids' school or any other school," Baekey said. "It just can't happen again."

Read more: Thousands march in D.C. for gun control - CBS News

IMF’ Lagarde Says U.S. Leading Economic Role at Stake - by Jeanna Smialek

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. policy makers should create a long-term plan for handling the deficit or they will risk the nation’s position as the world’s economic leader.

Lagarde said that Washington officials have to “consider that the leading role played by the U.S. economy in the world is at stake,” speaking from Davos, Switzerland, in an interview broadcast today on CNBC television.

The U.S. House voted this week to suspend the nation’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit until May 19. Congress should take advantage of the next three months to settle the debt ceiling issues rather than “kick the can down the road a little bit longer, a little bit farther,” Lagarde said.  “Things are negotiated under pressure, sometimes,” she said. “If they take the time to really sit down, rationally, sensibly, putting a little bit of their respective ideology on the side to really focus on what is good for the economy and what is going to be good for the rest of the world, that’s great.”

Faith in the U.S. economy could be undermined if uncertainty persists, she said.

Read more: IMF’s Lagarde Says U.S. Leading Economic Role at Stake - Bloomberg

Britain: Critical Stance on Europeans May Jeopardize Britain's Influence - by Stephen Castle

Many would ideally like to keep just one element of European Union membership, access to the single market, though achieving such status looks highly improbable.

Even those who sympathize with Mr. Cameron’s stance argue that a more detached position comes at the price of reduced influence, though they contend the cost of not changing would be higher. They also argue that leverage in some of the policy areas is of limited value anyway.

“There is a trade-off, there is no doubt,” said Mats Persson, director of Open Europe, a research organization that favors a change in Britain’s relationship with the union. “If you reduce the level of E.U. influence in the British economy and society, you will lose some influence over some policy areas.”

Others worry that Britain is weakening its own position. Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a research institute in London, says that already “British influence in Brussels is at its lowest level in the 25 years I have been following the E.U.”

And critics argue that standing back from more policy arenas would increase the country’s sense of alienation from the bloc and fuel popular sentiment that things are stacked against Britain. A more detached relationship could also prove a disadvantage in the deal-making culture that prevails in Brussels.

Britain has fewer than half France’s number of European Commission officials, and the situation seems destined to deteriorate because relatively few Britons are applying for entry-level jobs.

All this risks creating a downward spiral in British influence, which the country would need to counter by being more effective in the areas in which it remains.

“I think Britain still could have clout in more limited areas if it keeps friends and allies,” Mr. Grant said. “But the fact that we are not, for example, so engaged in justice and home affairs weakens our bargaining power across policy areas and weakens the career prospects of British officials.”

Mr. Grant added, “There has been a steady diminution in the last few years, which you could plot on a graph: the more you distance yourself the less influence you have.”

Read more: Critical Stance on Europeans May Jeopardize Britain's Influence - NYTimes.com

Airline Industry: A free EU smartphone App to know your rights in Europe after flight disruptions and other mishaps

Even though some of us sometimes view the European Commission  as a slumbering giant, spending years to make decisions and implement policy – that is not always true, at least when it comes to travel industry issues.

Passengers stranded at airports or awaiting missing luggage may now use a smartphone application to check their rights immediately on the spot.

The European Commission has launched an application for smartphones which covers air and rail transport and works on four mobile platforms: Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android, RIM Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7. The app is available in 22 EU languages. It currently covers air and rail transport to be extended to bus / coach and marine travel soon when these rights come into force.

European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas, responsible for Transport said: "How many of us have stood in an airport and felt the frustration of people telling you that you have no rights when you know you have! With this application millions of travelers can have easy access to the right information about their passenger rights when they most need it, when unexpected situations arise." 

Smart phone users can scan the QR code (left) to access the download pages directly from their smartphone or  click here.:  


Banking Industry: Attention shoppers: Another credit card fee is here

Legalized "swindling" is still alive and well when it comes to the banking industry and credit card companies so called fees..

It could soon cost you more to shop with a credit card at some stores. As of this Sunday, Jan. 27, merchants who accept credit cards issued by Visa and MasterCard will be allowed to add a service charge to the purchase price.

Visa and MasterCard had always prohibited merchants from doing this. They agreed to change the rules and allow the surcharge as part of the settlement of an antitrust suit brought by retailers.

The surcharge is supposed to equal the actual cost of processing the credit card transaction, which is typically 1.5 to 3 percent. Under the agreement, the fee is capped at 4 percent. The surcharge can vary based on the type of card. For example, it could be higher for a rewards card or premier card.

Fortunately merchants still cannot add a surcharge to debit card transactions.

EU-Digest

1/25/13

Immigration is a boon for society, and the EU should be praised for encouraging it - by Petros Fassoulas

If there is one thing that the British tabloid press and populist politicians (and many others besides) get exercised with and enjoy exaggerating about even more than the EU, it's immigration. No less during a time of economic crisis when scapegoats and easy answers are on high demand.

Immigration has been a cause célèbre for the coalition since coming to power. Promises to cut numbers of immigrants, attacking foreign students, even questioning the free movement of people in the EU have been employed to appease and at the same time fuel populist sentiments. It is also used as a stick to attack the UK’s membership of the EU, which is blamed for any perceived or real increase of immigrants. Rhetoric against immigration and the EU alike has been rife recently and it has been further inflamed because Bulgarian and Romanian citizens (whose countries joined the EU in 2007) are to be given access to the British labour market at the end of the year. Senior Conservative Ministers are already creating an atmosphere of speculation around the notion that such a move will produce negative effects.

But as it’s often the case with populist causes and tabloid obsessions the facts are widely ignored. Take the charge that immigrants come here to pillage Britain’s generous welfare system, for example. Figures from an IMF Working Paper collated as recent as 2011 paint an interesting picture. When measuring the gross replacement rates (the ratio of unemployment benefits a worker receives relative to the worker’s last gross earning) in the first year of unemployment across the world, Britain fares remarkably poorly. As one works his way down this table he quickly realises that our welfare system does not look all that generous, does it?

Immigration is neither a burden on our welfare system nor a threat to the domestic workforce, certainly not in the scale implied by certain politicians and newspapers. On the contrary, immigrants, who often take up job natives do not desire (the social care sector being a prime example) make a significant contribution to the economy (by spending on goods and services in this country and contributing to national GDP), the taxation and welfare system, the talent pool available in the labour market and last but not least the cultural wealth of Britain. Instead of demonising them we should be celebrating the role they play in this country.

Read more: Immigration is a boon for society, and the EU should be praised for encouraging it

Digital Technology: 700,000 unfilled ICT jobs in Europe - Nokia, Telefónica, HP and others pledge support for new EU digital skills coalition

In a boost to tech hopes, the European Commission has announced a digital skills coalition that brings together high-profile companies to help fill around 700,000 unfilled ICT jobs.

Vice President of the EU Commission, Neelie Kroes pointed out on her blog earlier this week that getting the right skills and jobs together to help give Europe a competitive edge was her mission at Davos this year.

According to the EU Commission, the number of digital vacancies across the continent is growing but the number of graduates and other ICT works with the required skills is shrinking.

In order to combat this, the coalition is taking pledges from companies that can offer training, free online university courses and startup cash to get things going. So far Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Nokia, Telefónica, Randstad, SAP,  ENI, Telenor Group and ARM have made pledges.

Read more: Nokia, Telefónica, HP and others pledge support for new EU digital skills coalition - The Next Web

Davos day 3 - the "talk fest"continues including side shows of Oil protest, Facebook COO on 'girl' T-shirts

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switerzland, has reached day 3 and the talking-shop of the world for global-leader types is showing no signs of slowing down.

On Friday morning, activists supported by Greenpeace decided to have their say. Armed with a big fake polar bear they occupied a Shell service station in the Swiss resort to protest Royal Dutch Shell's oil drilling in the Arctic. They hung a banner: "Arctic Oil – too risky."

The first two days at Davos saw some of our planet's most powerful and influential people voicing their views on the future of the European Union.

Read more: Davos day 3: Oil protest, Facebook COO on 'girl' T-shirts