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European Salon de News, Discussion et Klatsch - 8 January

by Nomad Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:56:58 PM EST

A Daily Review Of International Online Media

 A Daily Review Of International Online Media 

Europeans on this date in history:

1823 - birth of Alfred Wallace, British naturalist and biologist, who independently thought of the theory of evolution and was co-author with Charles Darwin on the subject's first scientific paper (d. 1913 )

More here and here

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by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 11:02:36 AM EST
Silvio Berlusconi renews rightwing alliance ahead of Italian elections | World news | The Guardian

The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has renewed an alliance with his erstwhile coalition partners in the Northern League, raising the chances that next month's election will yield no outright winner and yet more political instability.

In a move unlikely to reassure the markets, the 76-year-old media magnate said that if the rightwing coalition won he would prefer to serve as finance minister rather than prime minister. The position, he said, "would allow me to demonstrate once again that I have no political ambitions". Given Berlusconi's latest poll ratings, such an outcome is improbable.

"The premier will be decided if we win," he told Italian radio, explaining that he would stand as the coalition's "leader of moderates" and that his People of Freedom (PdL) party would support Roberto Maroni, de facto head of the regionalist League, as governor of the Lombardy region around Milan, one of the country's chief battlegrounds.

The League, which campaigns for greater fiscal autonomy for northern Italy and tighter controls on immigration, had been holding out against an alliance with Berlusconi, insisting it would only lend him its support if he vowed not to use it to run for a fourth term as prime minister.

Reflecting the drawn-out negotiations, Berlusconi unveiled the deal by declaring "Habemus papam" - a term usually reserved for the announcement of a new pope. He had signed an agreement with Maroni in the early hours of Monday morning, he said.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:55:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Berlusconi surges in polls ahead of February election | EurActiv

Italy's centre-left coalition, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, has a comfortable lead in polls less than two months before the election, but Silvio Berlusconi's party is fast raising its share of the vote, according to the latest poll published on Sunday (6 January).

The number of voters who say they will vote for Bersani's bloc in the Feb. 24-25 parliamentary election is stable, at between 38-39%, and the PD alone is seen getting 32-33 %, the ISPO poll said.

But Berlusconi has boosted his party's standing to between 17-19% from 13-16% at the beginning of December, the poll found.

Bersani's formation is now in a three-way race with the centre-right bloc led by three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party and outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti's bloc.

Monti's bloc has gained between 14-15 % in polls, from the 10% it was standing at before he entered the race, the poll showed.

Berlusconi bids for Northern League alliance

If Berlusconi can seal an alliance with the Northern League, his coalition could pull in as much as 28% of the vote, ISPO said. The two parties were due to hold talks later on Sunday.

"The PDL has seen its consensus grow, thanks to the ever more frequent presence of Berlusconi on the television screen," said Renato Mannheimer, head of ISPO. Most of the PDL increase came from the large pool of undecided and disillusioned voters, Mannheimer said.

The number of undecided voters, or those who plan to abstain, has fallen below 40%, down from almost 50% a few weeks ago, Mannheimer said. Opinion surveys have shown that up to 50% of the electorate plan to abstain or are undecided in the election.

Both Berlusconi and Monti have made multiple appearances on TV, in Twitter question-and-answer sessions, and in online video interviews over the past week as they seek to close the gap with the centre-left.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:55:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Spain Taps Pension Fund in Borrowing Spree - WSJ.com

Spain has been quietly tapping the country's richest piggy bank, the Social Security Reserve Fund, as a buyer of last resort for Spanish government bonds, raising questions about the fund's role as guarantor of future pension payouts.

Now the scarcely noticed borrowing spree, carried out amid a prolonged economic crisis, is about to end, because there is little left to take. At least 90% of the €65 billion ($85.7 billion) fund has been invested in increasingly risky Spanish debt, according to official figures, and the government has begun withdrawing cash for emergency payments.

Although the trend has drawn little public attention or controversy, it has become a matter of concern for the relatively few independent financial analysts who study the fund, which is used to guarantee future payments of pensions. They say the government will soon have one less recourse to finance itself as it faces another year of recession and painful austerity measures to close a big budget deficit.

That pressure, some analysts said, could force Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government to seek a rescue this year from the European Union's bailout fund, a politically risky course he seeks to avoid.

In addition, there are worries that Social Security reserves for paying future pensioners are running out much quicker than expected.

In November, the government withdrew €4 billion from the reserve fund to pay pensions, the second time in history it had withdrawn cash. The first time was in September, when it took €3 billion to cover unspecified treasury needs.

Together, the emergency withdrawals surpassed the legal annual limit, so the government temporarily raised the cap.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:55:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Spanish priest sees hope in the deepest squalor | Europe | DW.DE | 07.01.2013

Canada Real, located just outside the Spanish capital, is one of the most infamous slums in Europe. Amid the drug-infested squalor, however, one priest refuses to relinquish his hope for rehabilitation.

At the wheel of his jeep, a wiry, black-bearded priest called Agustin Rodriguez drives through his parish. On the car floor there is a coil of rope and a spring hook. The padre goes pot-holing in his spare time. At work, too, he descends into dark places.

"There is drug dealing in most of the houses here," he says. "You better put your microphone down."

Father Agustin's parish is Canada Real Galiana, Madrid's out-of-town hard drug market. Small cars with people in the back buzz to and fro. 'Kundas' they're called. Unofficial taxis that ferry junkies here from a square in the center of Madrid.

Men have installed tables and chairs in front of some of the houses and are waiting like shopkeepers behind the counter. One of them catches my eye. Big belly, big moustache, white vest, trilby.

Outside the law

Eight years ago the police clamped down on drug dealing inside Madrid, and the dealers moved here. They chose Canada Real Galiana because it was already outside the law. It is an illegal settlement that has existed for decades. The authorities don't destroy it because they wouldn't know what to do with the people they'd make homeless if they did.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:59:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yesterday's Eurointelligence Daily Briefing (e-mail) comments, in the words of its Spanish correspondent:

(This is old news as already back in June there was a report that Spanish debt holdings by the Reserve Fund had gone from 55% in 2007 to 90%, and it was government policy to reach 100% by replacing maturing foreign debt holdings with new Spanish debt. It is also a bit of a noisy red herring, as a stock of €65bn is about 2/3 of the government's annual pension bill, it is clear that the Social Security Reserve Fund accumulated over the past decade can never be a substantial contributor to future pensions. However, the Euro's prohibition of central bank financing of state budgets may require the creation of such buffer stocks)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 02:47:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Southern Europeans flee to London to find work | EurActiv

Britain, and especially London, has become a popular place for tens of thousands of southern Europeans in search of work as the governments of Spain, Portugal and Italy continue to impose austerity measures.

5,350 Spaniards and 5,370 Italians were allocated national insurance numbers in London in the first quarter of 2012, according to The Times newspaper.

The number of national insurance registrations for Spaniards across Britain has soared by 25% year on year. The unemployment rate is more than 25% in Spain.

London was one of only three regions in Britain to see an increase in unemployment in the previous quarter. This is despite the biggest fall in unemployment for over a decade across the country, according to the Evening Standard.

However, London saw an extra 5,000 people join the ranks of unemployed in the period.

Meanwhile, Spain's jobless total has seen its biggest December decline since records began, official data showed on Thursday (3 January), as the services sector stepped up hiring in the run-up to Christmas.

The number of people registered as unemployed in Spain fell by 1.2% in December to 4.9 million - the first decline since July 2012, the country's labour ministry said.

Spain's labour minister Engracia Hidalgo highlighted a slowdown in the rate of job cuts. The jobless queue had grown by 233,000 people in the second half of 2012 compared with 300,000 a year earlier.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government predicts that the unemployment rate in Spain will fall to 23.3% in 2013.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:00:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Increased labour influx from Southern Europe

Twice as many persons from Spain and Greece applied for a Norwegian tax deduction card last year, compared with the year before.

Figures from the Tax Directorate show that there was also an increase in applications from Italy and Portugal.

Altogether 4,231 persons from Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy received Norwegian tax dduction cards for the first time in 2012, Klassekampen reports.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:03:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cameron wants `restrictions' put on EU freedom of movement | EurActiv

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday (6 January) that he would "look at arguments" to make it harder for nationals from EU countries to settle in Britain and claim social security benefits.

In a televised appearance on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Cameron was asked if the free movement of people inside the European Union could be limited in order to give Britain more control over its borders as part of a renegotiated relationship.

"One of the key reasons to be a member of the European Union are the key freedoms, the movement of services, the movement of goods, the movement of people," Cameron replied. "And there are restrictions already on the movement of people, if you have for instance an emergency".

The UK Prime Minister was referring to the new Schengen rules that allow countries to reintroduce border controls, if one state persistently fails to stop illegal migrants from entering Europe's border-free zone. The measure has been severely criticised by the European Parliament.

The Prime Minister continued: "Should we look at arguments about should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits: yes, frankly, we should. So there are areas even in the free movement of people where we may want to make changes".

The British press has also linked the British Prime Minister's comments on reforming freedom of movement to the lifting of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians from 31 December 2013.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:01:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cameron Succumbs to Growing Europhobia in the UK - SPIEGEL ONLINE
Britain's right-wing conservative movement is making life difficult for Prime Minister David Cameron. The UK Independence Party wants to lead the country out of the EU, and its approval ratings are higher than ever. As the pressure mounts, Cameron has been at pains to outline a clear stance on Europe.


Roughly one-third of Conservative MPs favor an EU exit, and even Cameron sees this as a plausible scenario. The prime minister has announced that he will clarify his stance on Europe in a long-awaited address this month, but he provided a foretaste in a television interview on Sunday.

While it would not be "right for Britain" to leave the EU entirely, the country is "perfectly entitled" to ask for changes to this relationship, particularly in light of the fact that the EU is "changing the nature of the organization to which we belong," he said on the BBC's "Andrew Marr Show."

In exchange for greater European integration, Cameron said that Britain should be allowed to take back some powers from the EU. Among his suggestions were a review of tighter EU immigration controls to limit the possibility for "people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits," and getting rid of the EU's Working Time Directive, which he said "should never have been introduced."

The political stakes are high and Cameron cannot allow himself to make any mistakes on these issues, having hesitated for too long to take a clear position on Europe. The prime minister has no strategy and has made tactical decisions out of fear of alienating voters. This is also one of the reasons why ranting members of UKIP and rebellious anti-EU members of Cameron's Conservatives are dominating the political discourse. They are making sweeping demands that Cameron cannot meet if he wants to avoid steering his country towards an exit.

Cameron's dithering on the issue is also to blame for the UK losing nearly all its clout in Europe. With increasing reluctance, he travels to Brussels, where the other heads of state hope that he won't threaten a veto again in an attempt to score points on the domestic political front. Nevertheless, Cameron doesn't want Britain to leave the European Union. He knows that an exit would damage the British economy -- and have considerable political consequences. On the other hand, he has members of his own party, Farage and a large proportion of the electorate breathing down his neck.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:03:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Should we look at arguments about should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits

Why bother looking for arguments, when you already have the magic word "benefits"?

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:16:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Eurointelligence Daily Morning Newsbriefing: Towards a hung parliament in Italy (08.01.2013)
Silvio Berlusconi and the Lega Nord have agreed an electoral pact, as a result of which a centre-left majority in the Senate is becoming doubtful; Berlusconi agreed not to be PM if the bloc were to win, but says he might become finance minister; the block's candidates for the top job are former finance minister Giulio Tremonti and Angelino Alfano, PdL general secretary; Partito Democratico leader Pier Luigi Bersani has criticised Mario Monti over his decision to stand for political office; Corrado Passera, economic development minister in Monti's cabinet, also joined the chorus of disapproval over Monti's decision to seek political office; Stefano Folli said the electoral pact had been a clever ploy, and vastly increased the probably of a hung parliament - or a German-style Grand Coalition; La Repubblica says that tax increases were the main factor behind Italy's primary surplus in 2012; Germany's Target 2 claims are shrinking, but Hans Werner Sinn remains unperturbed; ECB acknowledges a further collateral error; Japan said it will buy ESM T-bills; in Spain, food consumption has been falling as a result of the crisis; in Portugal, political parties have launched a further legal challenges against the 2013 austerity budget; the Democratic Left in Greece expels two MPs over their vote to support an inquiry into the role of Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of Pasok, in his handling of the Largarde list; Ireland's debt agency plans a syndicated tap of last year's 2017 bond - an increase in the size of its issue; a majority of the Finns expect worse of Euro crisis to come, with 50% against further bailouts; Ewald Novotny is expected to be re-nominated as the head of the Austrian central bank; bankers say the new Basle liquidity rules will have no positive impact on the eurozone in 2013; Frankfurter Allgemeine says the FDP needs a new leadership; Robert Mundell, meanwhile, rails against a fiscal union.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 09:11:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany's Target claims are now shrinking but this does not stop Hans Werner Sinn's alarmism

So this looks like to be the end of the Target scare. Germany's Target claims have fallen from €715bn to 656bn in December, Frankfurter Allgemeine reports. The reason for this trend reversal is the slow but steady recovery in the inter-bank market. The article quotes Commerzbank chief economist Jorg Kramer as saying that this was a definitive change in the trend, as the private financial outflows of the periphery had now stopped. But Hans-Werner Sinn says the fundamental problem persisted. The ECB's OMT programme and the banking union allowed peripheral banks to fund themselves in the capital markets, which is why the Target balances are falling. But this means that the eurozone is increasingly slipping into a joint liability union.


Robert Mundell against fiscal union

Frankfurter Allgemeine reports from  the annual congress of the American Economic Association in San Diego, quoting Robert Mundell as warning against a fiscal union. He said it would folly to create a central authority to co-ordinate taxes and expenditure. The right course of action would be to go back to the status quo ante, to the model of fiscal discipline among member states. He recalled the experience of the US debt crisis of the 1830s, when ten states got into difficulty, with only two paying back their debts in full, while the others defaulted or sought agreement with their creditors. Mundell was speaking in a panel that also included Kenneth Rogoff, Ronald McKinnon and Martin Feldstein. Rogoff said he expected further defaults, while Feldstein predicted that the markets may soon cease up on France.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 09:13:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 11:02:39 AM EST
The euro crisis is over, declares José Manuel Barroso | Business | The Guardian

The euro has been saved and the euro crisis is a thing of the past, European commission president José Manuel Barroso has declared.

But his optimistic comments and the prospect of looser rules for banks failed to lift markets, which ended a strong run of recent gains.

"I think we can say that the existential threat against the euro has essentially been overcome," Barroso said in Lisbon. "In 2013 the question won't be if the euro will, or will not, implode," he said.

Barroso has maintained an optimistic stance throughout the crisis, but his comments were in sharp contrast to the new year's message from German chancellor Angela Merkel, who told TV viewers last week that the currency zone faced another rocky 12 months.

City analysts are also deeply concerned that austerity measures demanded by Brussels as the price of bailout funds would lead to prolonged recessions in periphery countries and the need for steeper spending cuts.

Cuts to essential public services in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal are expected to increase unemployment and lead to further social unrest.

Protests on the streets of Madrid on Monday highlighted the tensions inside the euro area after banner-waving protesters blamed Brussels, Berlin and the right of centre PP government of Mariano Rajoy for privatisations and cuts in healthcare spending.

Elga Bartsch, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said she was anxious that Barroso and his colleagues in Brussels would fail to resolve long-running disputes over the EU's new institutions.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 03:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Europe's Recovery Hinges on Key Votes - WSJ.com

Elections this year in two of the euro-zone's largest countries--Germany and Italy--cast a shadow over the Continent's politics and complicate needed overhauls of the currency union.

As the euro zone this week enters its fourth year of a debt crisis and the economic woes of Greece and Spain continue apace, much work is needed to heal the Continent's economy and ensure the euro's viability.

Italy votes first, on Feb. 24-25. Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's bid for a comeback is already making politicians and markets anxious around Europe, while Mario Monti, who resigned last month, has laid out a blueprint for his own leadership of lawmakers from a slate of like-minded parties.

In September or October, Germany goes to the polls. Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking a third term, is loath to take steps to help fund a resolution to the crisis in Europe that could cost German taxpayers money and her conservative bloc votes, analysts say. Germany's long campaign period is Europe's biggest headache, rather than who wins, because the country's major parties have similar policies in any case.

The main question in Germany will be what wins votes, "rather than what is the best way of reducing public indebtedness...and restoring growth" to Europe, said Sony Kapoor, head of economic-policy consultant firm Re-Define. "We'll be seeing decision-making put on ice."

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 03:53:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany is not profiting from the eurozone | Gunnar Beck | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

The FT's newly ordained "person of the year", the ever sardonically smiling ECB president, Mario Draghi, recently addressed Germany's co-operative banks: eurozone trade, he claimed, accounted for a staggering 40% of Germany's entire GDP. Not a single eyebrow was raised in the audience. The truth is somewhat different: total exports are equivalent to around 43% of Germany's GDP and the eurozone accounts for less than 37% of total exports, according to recently revised figures. That means that exports to the eurozone nominally account for roughly 15% of German GDP. This share will fall further. In reality, however, the contribution of the eurozone to the German economy is even smaller. The reason for this is simple: the eurozone countries do not pay for most imports from Germany; most of Germany's current account surplus is financed by the Bundesbank.

Between 1998 and 2011, German exports grew by over 115%. Export growth, however, did not translate into economic growth. According to Eurostat, during 1998-2011 Germany grew at an average annual rate of close to 1.4%, compared to around 1.5% for France, 1.8% for the Netherlands, 2.7% for Sweden, 2% for Britain, and average growth of 1.7 % for the EU as whole. Germany also lagged significantly behind the United States which achieved over 2%. Only Japan, Italy, Portugal and, according to some calculations, Denmark performed worse than Germany.

While German industry has enjoyed record export and profit growth, ordinary Germans have not had much economic joy over the past 13 years. As Charles Dumas of Lombard Street Research has demonstrated, real personal disposable income per capita rose by just over 7% from 1998 to 2011, compared to growth of 13% for Spain and around or over 18% for Britain, France and the US. German income growth lagged behind almost all OECD countries; only Italy and Japan performed worse. Germany today is a poorer country compared to many EU members than it was in 1998.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:43:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Showing German growth figures is duplicitous because the export performance is predicated on suppression of domestic demand.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:10:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Export performance is also predicated on the exchange rate between the Euro and other currencies. There's plenty of reason to believe that the DMark would not be so kind to German exporters.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 12:00:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
EUobserver.com / Economic Affairs / IMF economists admit 'errors' on austerity policy

The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) top economists Olivier Blanchard and Daniel Leigh have drafted a special working paper on their own previous "errors" in predicting the impact of austerity on European economies.

"Forecasters significantly underestimated the increase in unemployment and the decline in domestic demand associated with fiscal consolidation," the paper, out last week, says.

After having briefly mentioned the problem in October in the IMF's global economic outlook, Blanchard and Leigh explain more extensively, complete with mathematical formulas, how forecasters got it wrong when assessing the impact of sharp spending cuts in places like Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Even though the paper runs a disclaimer that it "should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF," it does reflect an attitude shift in the Washington-based lender when it comes to harsh austerity measures in Europe.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:57:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now with formulas, so you know it's correct this time.

Still, it's nice to hear it over and over again.

sapere aude

by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:21:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regulators Give Ground to Banks - WSJ.com
Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky.

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019.

It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis.

The so-called Basel III accord, known for the Swiss city in which it has historically been negotiated, required banks to greatly thicken their capital cushions and come up with trillions of dollars of liquidity. The banking industry argued that the changes were overkill and would prompt them to dramatically reduce lending. Regulators ultimately accepted some of those arguments, and agreed to delay or ease key elements of the rules.

Meanwhile, questions are mounting in some countries, including the U.S., over whether the package will be implemented at all. It is up to individual countries to decide how to apply the rules to their financial institutions.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:05:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Basel rules eased to head off global bank credit crunch | FP Street | News | Financial Post

Global central bank chiefs gave lenders four more years to meet international liquidity requirements and watered down the measures in a bid to stave off another credit crunch.

Banks won the delay to fully meet the so-called liquidity coverage ratio, or LCR, following a deal struck by regulatory chiefs meeting Sunday in Basel, Switzerland. They'll be able to pick from a longer list of approved assets including equities and securitized mortgage debt as they seek to build up buffers of liquidity for use in a financial crisis.

"This was a compromise between competing views from around the world," Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said at a briefing following Sunday's meeting. King chairs the Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision, or GHOS, which decides on global bank rules. "For the first time in regulatory history we have a truly global minimum standard for bank liquidity."

Banks and top officials such as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pushed for changes to the LCR, arguing that it would choke interbank lending and make it harder for authorities to implement monetary policies. Lenders have warned that the measure might force them to cut back loans to businesses and households.

"The new liquidity standard will in no way hinder the ability of the global banking system to finance a global recovery," King said. "It's a realistic approach. It certainly did not emanate from an attempt to weaken the standard."

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:20:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Transatlantic trade talks near lift-off - FT.com

Like putting an astronaut on Mars, a US-EU bilateral transatlantic trade deal has been a long-held dream of policy makers that seemed always out of reach. Yet Brussels and Washington are edging closer to the launch pad.

This month, a working group led by EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and US trade representative Ron Kirk is likely to suggest starting formal negotiations.

In particular, political imperatives in the EU - with economic policy makers desperate to show they have ambitions beyond merely firefighting the eurozone crisis - have shifted in favour of pushing for a deal.

"The stars are almost aligned," says Greg Slater, director of global trade policy at Intel, the chipmaker. The US and EU "have the opportunity to try to set the gold standard" in areas such as intellectual property protection, he says, which emerging markets like China and India would then have to respect.

Yet the deal faces complex challenges. Trade policy has moved from focusing on simple import tariffs on goods - already low for most transatlantic commerce - to often complicated "behind-the-border" domestic regulation. Technical standards, not tariffs, are the biggest barriers to integrating fast-growing US and European markets such as pharmaceuticals, medical services and advanced electronics.

The EU and US already co-operate on standards for electric vehicles, for example but retain separate safety regimes for conventional cars. Indeed, highly technical disputes have bogged down transatlantic trade in areas as simple as basic foodstuffs.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:16:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Watch for a big campaign to dismantle REACH.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 12:02:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
US banks agree $18.5bn settlements in effort to clean up mortgage crisis | Business | guardian.co.uk

Ten US banks announced two huge settlements worth a total of $18.5bn on Monday, in the latest moves to clear up claims relating to the mortgage crisis that foreshadowed the meltdown of the American economy.

Bank of America agreed to pay $10bn to Fannie Mae, the national mortgage guarantor, to settle claims that Bank of America sold Fannie Mae bad loans for 10 years, ending in 2008. As part of the agreement, Bank of America will also buy back $6.75bn of bad mortgage loans. All the money will go straight to Fannie Mae, which will then be forced to hand it straight to the US government. The US Treasury, exasperated with continued losses at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, long ago barred either of the mortgage giants from keeping any profits.

In another, unrelated settlement 10 banks and financial institutions - including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo - agreed to settle claims of foreclosure abuses for $8.5bn.

About $3.3bn of that is intended to go partly to homeowners who suffered from the abuses in 2009 and 2010, ranging from bad loan modifications to lost or damaged paperwork. That settlement, which Bank of America reached with the Federal Reserve and banking regulator The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, also gives $5.2bn for loan modifications, or friendlier changes in loan terms to help homeowners pay the money back.

These settlements are good for banks, who are now able to put part of the mortgage mess behind them, and good for regulators, who can claim a victory. They are less good for homeowners, who often get caught up in red tape when trying to get mortgage help. 

Bank of America's CEO Brian Moynihan said the agreements were "a significant step" in resolving the institution's issues that related from its purchase of Countrywide in July 2008, just before the financial crisis. Countrywide was one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the US, but was known for approving high-risk loans.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:17:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What about people whose houses were stolen?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 06:12:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Post-Crisis Crises by Joseph E. Stiglitz - Project Syndicate
In the shadow of the euro crisis and America's fiscal cliff, it is easy to ignore the global economy's long-term problems. But, while we focus on immediate concerns, they continue to fester, and we overlook them at our peril.

The most serious is global warming. While the global economy's weak performance has led to a corresponding slowdown in the increase in carbon emissions, it amounts to only a short respite. And we are far behind the curve: Because we have been so slow to respond to climate change, achieving the targeted limit of a two-degree (centigrade) rise in global temperature, will require sharp reductions in emissions in the future.

Some suggest that, given the economic slowdown, we should put global warming on the backburner. On the contrary, retrofitting the global economy for climate change would help to restore aggregate demand and growth.

At the same time, the pace of technological progress and globalization necessitates rapid structural changes in both developed and developing countries alike. Such changes can be traumatic, and markets often do not handle them well.

Just as the Great Depression arose in part from the difficulties in moving from a rural, agrarian economy to an urban, manufacturing one, so today's problems arise partly from the need to move from manufacturing to services. New firms must be created, and modern financial markets are better at speculation and exploitation than they are at providing funds for new enterprises, especially small and medium-size companies.

Moreover, making the transition requires investments in human capital that individuals often cannot afford. Among the services that people want are health and education, two sectors in which government naturally plays an important role (owing to inherent market imperfections in these sectors and concerns about equity).

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 04:28:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 11:02:42 AM EST
.:Middle East Online::Islamists strengthen position in latest Egypt cabinet reshuffle:.

The Muslim Brotherhood has strengthened its position in the Egyptian government following the latest government reshuffle, which saw members secure three more portfolios, media reports said on Monday.

The ministries of transport, domestic development and supply went to members of the Brotherhood from which President Mohamed Morsi hails, reports said.

Eight of the 35 ministers led by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil come from the Islamist group which already holds the ministries of information and housing.

The new Finance Minister Al-Morsi al-Sayyed Hegazi, an academic specialising in Islamic finance, is also considered to be close to Brotherhood although he is not a member of the powerful organisation.

Ten new ministers joined the government in Sunday's reshuffle which drew criticism in the media and among some parties.

"The Islamisation of the government", wrote the independent daily Al-Shuruk.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:16:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
allAfrica.com: Egypt Steps Up Campaign Against Critical Media
The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a series of investigations into independent Egyptian newspapers on accusations of insulting the president or reporting false news. Some newspapers and media professionals face formal charges in connection to their critical reporting, according to news reports.

"There is a growing trend of targeting independent and critical voices under President Mohamed Morsi's government, which is especially worrying in light of a lack of protection for the press under the new constitution," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Egypt is taking a large step back toward Mubarak-era practices."

Today, Magdi Algallad, editor of independent daily newspaper Al-Watan, was charged with insulting the president-a criminal offense-in connection with published cartoons, according to the newspaper. Wednesday, Al-Masry al-Youm, one of Egypt's leading independent dailies, said it is being investigated by the prosecutor-general following a complaint from the president's office, which accused it of publishing false news. Also Wednesday, the prosecutor-general referred Abdel-Halim Qandil, editor of independent weekly Sawt al-Umma, to the North of Giza prosecutor for official investigation, according to news reports. The accusations relate to an article Qandil wrote in October under the title "You are a liar, Morsi."

Under Egypt's legal system, complaints are filed to the prosecutor-general's office, which does an initial investigation into whether there is enough evidence to refer the case to a judge or a local prosecutor for further investigation. Suspects can be detained during this stage of investigation. The judge or local prosecutor can then refer the case to a criminal court for formal charges. The current prosecutor-general, Talaat Abdullah, was appointed by Morsi in November.

Also this week, the prosecutor-general's office said it referred Bassem Youssef, who hosts a satirical TV news program called "Al Bernameg" on independent channel CBC, to a judge for investigation on accusations of insulting the president by showing Morsi's picture printed on a pillow. Youssef, who has actively criticized Morsi and Islamist groups, is widely called Egypt's Jon Stewart in reference to the host of "The Daily Show" satirical news program in the U.S. Appearing on CNN two weeks earlier with CPJ board member Christiane Amanpour, Youssef played down risks of prosecution for his commentary.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:26:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Army was the target audience of President's theatre at the opera house - Comment - Voices - The Independent

Bashar al-Assad was really talking to his soldiers yesterday - and the ghosts of their 12,000 dead. The faces of hundreds of these government "martyrs", coloured and bleached out on to a massive red-white-and-black Syrian flag, paraded on the wall of the Assad Opera House in Damascus just behind the President. It was, perhaps, ghoulish. Theatrical, of course. It must have taken days to stitch this lot together. But the message for Syrians was clear enough: the army is the real bedrock of power. He saluted them, he praised them, "the officers, warrant officers, brave soldiers". He never mentioned the Baath party, gave short shrift to the hated government militias. But the Syrian military - the Syrian Arab Army -might as well have stood with Assad on the 34-metre stage. The names of their dead, he said, would be "written in letters and lights of fire." And their dead faces stared down at the audience with what might have been reproach.

Those who hate Assad will remind us that Hitler's most important speech came at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin. Bashar al-Assad's most important speech came yesterday in the opera house he opened scarcely nine years ago. The last work to be performed at the Kroll - and among the first at the "Assad" - was The Marriage of Figaro. All speeches are theatrical. The comparisons end there.

Hitler was declaring war on the US. Assad was continuing his war with armed "terrorists". But - pity the West - Assad is far from Hitler's megalomania, and, boring though it appeared to his opponents, his address contained some intriguing clues about what is going on in the Baathist halls of power. His odd reference to the battle for Ras el-Ein was important. This tiny conflict in Hassakeh was fought between the Kurdish Democratic Union - which tends to ally itself with the regime - and the Free Syrian Army and its allies who have alienated and sometimes insulted the Kurds. Assad was praising his non-Arab Syrian friends, suggesting that armed Syrians need not remain alongside his opponents.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:18:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brian Whitaker's blog, December 2012

The Syrian conflict may be protracted but it is no more a stalemate than Libya was in 2011. A stalemate occurs when further moves become impossible. On the military front, the Syrian rebels have obviously faced setbacks but the overall trend points in their direction. Nobody seriously expects Assad to defeat them; the only real question is how long it will be before he falls. On the political front, meanwhile, support from the regime's few international allies is looking less dependable. Russia has begun distancing itself from Assad, Iran is mulling its options, the Maliki government in Iraq has a crisis of its own, and President Chavez of Venezuela - a more distant supporter - is seriously ill.

Once Assad goes, or agrees to go, there will certainly be a lot for Syrians to negotiate about but it's clear from the context in Cockburn's article that he is not talking about that. He is advocating a settlement with Assad - some kind of Grand Compromise for the salvation of Syria.

This may sound reasonable to people living in established democracies where there is a culture of compromise and the concept of "national interest" takes precedence over the interests of any particular government. Compromise, however, scarcely figures in the Baathist psyche, and Assad continues to equate national interest and national sovereignty with the survival and inviolability of his regime: to oppose him is unpatriotic.

In those circumstances, attempting to reach a political settlement with Assad would not only be futile but foolish. It would remove much of the pressure on the regime while giving it an opportunity to retrench.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:19:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Syrian conflict may be protracted but it is no more a stalemate than Libya was in 2011.

Is he saying that NATO will bomb the Syrian military forces?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 01:27:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Syria rebels 'monitor' chemical weapons sites - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

The rebel Free Syrian Army says it has formed special units to secure the country's chemical weapons.

The issue of what could come of Syria's cache of chemical weapons amid the instability and fighting in the country has prompted international concerns, with Russia and Israel weighing on where and how the weapons are being stored.

Rebel Brigadier General Salim Idris told Al Jazeera that the special units "provide us with intelligence on any movement at those sites and as soon as the regime falls, we have units tasked with securing the depots".

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:22:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
China Censorship Protests Widen - WSJ.com
Protests by journalists over alleged heavy-handed censorship at one of China's most daring newspapers have garnered high-profile support in the media and blogosphere, with prominent academics, bloggers and even movie stars joining in.

On Monday, several hundred protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, to vent their anger at the reworking of a New Year's editorial that originally called for greater legal rights but ended up as a celebration of the government's achievements.

"Abandon press censorship. Chinese people want freedom!" read a handwritten placard attached to a bouquet of flowers left in front of the main gates of the building.

Demonstrators laid bunches of chrysanthemums, a flower associated with funerals, outside the newspaper's offices, in mock mourning for the demise of the newspaper's hard-hitting style, photographs posted on Sina Corp.'s Weibo microblogging service showed.

One image showed a protester seated on a sidewalk wrapped head-to-toe in newspapers like a bandaged burn victim.

Reports circulating online said Southern Weekly's news staff had staged a strike to protest the rewriting of the editorial, but the accounts couldn't be confirmed. Calls to the news department rang unanswered on Monday, suggesting the newsroom was empty. "That has never happened before," said a receptionist who tried to put a call through.

Since Xi Jinping took office as general secretary of the Communist Party of China in November, he has stirred up hopes with optimistic talk about the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:27:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
China anti-censorship protest attracts support across country | World news | guardian.co.uk

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of a southern newspaper on Monday in a rare display of public anger over China's draconian censorship regulations.

Many held signs calling for greater press freedom and expressing support for the newspaper's editorial employees, some of whom have gone on strike against the provincial propaganda authority's interference with a recent editorial.

"I feel the ordinary people must awaken," demonstrator Yuan Fengchu told the Associated Press outside of left-leaning newspaper Southern Weekend's office in Guangzhou. "The people are starting to realise that their rights have been taken away by the Communist party and they are feeling that they are being constantly oppressed."

Late last week, employees at Southern Weekend - also known as Southern Weekly - wrote an open letter to the provincial propaganda department demanding the resignation of one of its highest-ranked officials, Tuo Zhen. They accused Tuo of surreptitiously revising the editorial, which urged China's leaders to adopt a constitutional form of governance.

"In this era where we see growing open-mindedness, his actions are muddle-headed and careless," said the letter, which was briefly posted to the internet before it was taken down by censors.

The public weighed in quickly and forcefully. Prominent intellectuals have rallied behind a strongly worded open letter denouncing top party officials. Widely circulated pictures on microblogs show large groups of young people holding up handwritten anti-censorship messages and grappling with police. Many of the paper's journalists have gone on strike, according to unsubstantiated online accounts.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:28:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
China Says It Will Overhaul Re-education System - NYTimes.com
China will start overhauling its draconian system of re-education through labor in the coming year, according to the state news media, signaling the incoming leadership's determination to alter one of the government's more widely despised cudgels for punishing petty criminals, religious dissidents, petitioners and other perceived social irritants.

 The brief announcement on Monday, by the official Xinhua news agency, lacked details, but legal advocates said they were hopeful that the five-decade-old system for locking up offenders without trial would be significantly modified, if not abolished altogether.

"If true, this would be an important advance," said Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University who has long pushed for the system's demise. "It's a tool that is widely abused."

Established by Mao Zedong in the 1950s to swiftly neutralize political opponents, re-education through labor has evolved into a sprawling extralegal system of 350 camps where more than 100,000 people toil in prison factories and on farms for up to four years. Sentences are meted out by local public security officials and defendants have no access to lawyers, and little chance for appeal.

Since the 1980s, legal scholars and human rights advocates have been urging an end to the system and urging that the prosecution of minor offenses be shifted to criminal courts. The campaign has been re-energized in recent months by several cases, widely promoted in the news media, in which people were consigned to the camps for criticizing or simply annoying local party officials.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:29:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hagel Independence Attracts Obama as Israel Issue Looms - Bloomberg
President Barack Obama sees in Chuck Hagel a new Pentagon chief who, as a decorated Vietnam War veteran, can stand up to generals at a tight budgetary time and shares his doubts about open-ended military commitments.

Now, Hagel, 66, faces a Senate confirmation fight because the outspoken former Republican senator often broke with his party on foreign policy, from his opposition to the American troop surge in Iraq to his past comments on the influence of the "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

"Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve," Obama said today in an announcement combining his choices of Hagel for the Pentagon and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

Obama picked Hagel to succeed retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta after several weeks of warnings from Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that will hold a confirmation hearing on the nominee.

"This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel," Graham said on CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday. "Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy."

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate's No. 2 Republican leader, has said he would oppose Hagel, and some Democratic allies of the president, such as Senator Charles Schumer of New York, have said they would have to evaluate the nomination once it was made.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:30:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
John Brennan's extremism and dishonesty rewarded with CIA Director nomination | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Prior to President Obama's first inauguration in 2009, a controversy erupted over reports that he intended to appoint John Brennan as CIA director. That controversy, in which I participated, centered around the fact that Brennan, as a Bush-era CIA official, had expressly endorsed Bush's programs of torture (other than waterboarding) and rendition and also was a vocal advocate of immunizing lawbreaking telecoms for their role in the illegal Bush NSA eavesdropping program. As a result, Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, issuing a bitter letter blaming "strong criticism in some quarters prompted by [his] previous service with the" CIA.

This "victory" of forcing Brennan's withdrawal proved somewhat Pyrrhic, as Obama then appointed him as his top counter-terrorism adviser, where he exerted at least as much influence as he would have had as CIA Director, if not more. In that position, Brennan last year got caught outright lying when he claimed Obama's drone program caused no civilian deaths in Pakistan over the prior year. He also spouted complete though highly influential falsehoods to the world in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing, including claiming that bin Laden "engaged in a firefight" with Navy SEALS and had "used his wife as a human shield". Brennan has also been in charge of many of Obama's most controversial and radical policies, including "signature strikes" in Yemen - targeting people without even knowing who they are - and generally seizing the power to determine who will be marked for execution without any due process, oversight or transparency.

As it typically does in the US National Security State, all of that deceit and radicalism is resulting not in recrimination or loss of credibility for Brennan, but in reward and promotion. At 1 pm EST today, Obama will announce that he has selected Brennan to replace Gen. David Petraeus as CIA chief: the same position for which, four short years ago, Brennan's pro-torture-and-rendition past rendered him unfit and unconfirmable.

Although I actively opposed Brennan's CIA nomination in 2008, I can't quite muster the energy or commitment to do so now. Indeed, the very idea that someone should be disqualified from service in the Obama administration because of involvement in and support for extremist Bush terrorism polices seems quaint and obsolete, given the great continuity between Bush and Obama on these issues. Whereas in 2008 it seemed uncertain in which direction Obama would go, making it important who wielded influence, that issue is now settled: Brennan is merely a symptom of Obama's own extremism in these areas, not a cause. This continuity will continue with or without Brennan because they are, rather obviously, Obama's preferred policies.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:31:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
US drone attacks 'counter-productive', former Obama security adviser claims | World news | The Guardian

The United States' use of drones is counter-productive, less effective than the White House claims, and is "encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent", according to a study by one of President Obama's former security advisers.

Michael Boyle, who was on Obama's counter-terrorism group in the run-up to his election in 2008, said the US administration's growing reliance on drone technology was having "adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists".

Civilian casualties were likely to be far higher than had been acknowledged, he said.

In an article for the Chatham House journal International Affairs, Boyle said the conventional wisdom over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) needed to be challenged.

He said there was an urgent need for greater transparency because most Americans remained "unaware of the scale of the drone programme ... and the destruction it has caused in their name".

US use of drones has soared during Obama's time in office, with the White House authorising attacks in at least four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is estimated that the CIA and the US military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:32:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Civilian casualties were likely to be far higher than had been acknowledged

Hmm, where have I heard this before?

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:25:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
General McChrystal on Drones: 'They Are Hated on a Visceral Level' | The Atlantic

"The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."

McChrystal said the use of drones exacerbates a "perception of American arrogance that says, 'Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.'"

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:57:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Punto Fijo, January 7th, 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Leaders of Venezuela's opposition parties are calling it a "violation of the constitution" if Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues as president after January 10th, the date set for his swearing-in ceremony, and argue that he should be replaced by the president of the National Assembly.
Also, opinion by a member of the leftist Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) current of Venezuela's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

(Mercopress): {Chilean} President Sebastián Piñera is considering declaring the state of emergency in the Araucanía region, in southern Chile, where six arson attacks which cost the lives of two people took place since Friday, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick said.
More HERE.

The Cuban Triangle: Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's National Assembly President, will be leaving that post because his name did not appear on the list of legislative candidates, AP reports.  Alarcon is a former foreign minister and UN Ambassador and has been Havana's senior point man for relations with Washington, with broad U.S. contacts.
See also Cuban Odds and Ends.

The Panamerican Post, Bolivia: As the number of suspects involved in an alleged plot by Bolivian officials to extort U.S. businessman Jacob Ostreicher continues to grow, the Bolivian government has accused the United States of using the case to delegitimize President Evo Morales.

ColombiaReports: Protesters rejected government claims that an indigenous leader arrested in southwest Colombia on Friday is a guerrilla.

The Cuban Triangle: Havana-based BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg interviewed the new EU representative in Cuba Herman Portocarrero, who says that the EU is prepared to negotiate a new framework for its relations with Havana over the next two years.

Tim's El Salvador Blog: My round-up of the top 10 stories from El Salvador during 2012.

Bolivia, Pagina Siete: President Evo Morales on Thursday inaugurated a lithium pilot plant, installed in the town of Llipi, in the Uyuni-Potosí, and indicated that the next step that Bolivia should follow is to target the industry of that mineral for expansion.

Narco News: Two guns of interest were found in late November of last year near the scene of a gun battle in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. (...) One of those guns can be traced back to a Phoenix gun store that sold multiple weapons to local, state and federal law enforcers who allegedly provided inaccurate information on firearms-transaction reports filed as part of those purchases, Narco News has learned.

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne
by maracatu on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 09:40:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a regular ritual in the developed world. The PISA results are announced, and the newspapers in every country (except Finland?) are full of newspaper articles asking why their kids are doing so badly. But it looks like Israel may be spared this ritual in the future (registration may be required)
With respect to the PISA exams, Israel participated in the exam administered in early 2012 (those results have yet to be published) and there is a chance it will participate in the 2015 PISA, but the latter will likely be the last PISA Israel participates in. After 2015, Israel will forgo the PISA as well, bringing the country's era of international testing to a close.

Why? The international organizations that shape the research assessment aren't suckers, and they aren't willing to include in their rankings countries suspected of altering their results through selective participation of students. Countries where a significant proportion of students aren't tested aren't allowed in international assessments.

The upper limit for non-participants in the TIMSS is 23 percent of the tested age group. During the last TIMSS, in 2011, Israel was on the verge of exceeding the 23 percent mark. Of Israel's students, 14.9 percent of Haredim, 1.5 percent of special education students, and 6 percent of those on the regular track were diagnosed with learning disabilities, and did not take the test.

The percentage of Israeli students who do not participate in the international exams is twice the number than in the rest of the world. Children diagnosed with learning disabilities do not take the exam anywhere in the world, but in Israel they constitute 6 percent of the student population as opposed to 2 percent globally. This figure should warrant an internal investigation in the educational system over the potentially inflated diagnoses of learning disabilities, independent of concerns about international exams.

Second, the large number of Haredi schoolchildren who do not learn math, and hence aren't tested in the subject for either national exams (Meitzav) or international ones (TIMSS and PISA) is unique to Israel. While the educational system can address the number of children diagnosed with learning disabilities, it cannot address the number of Haredi children. The increase in their numbers will almost certainly ensure that by the next TIMSS exam in four years' time, Israel will have crossed the 23 percent threshold.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 04:04:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On Finnish education:
What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success | The Atlantic

(Quick summary: no private schools, less homework, everyone expected to succeed and cooperate, little standardised testing.)

sapere aude

by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:55:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Arutz Sheva
Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, invalidated on Monday a radio campaign ad of the Arab Balad party. According to a report on Kol Yisrael radio, the ad included nationalist Knesset members who are heard singing the Israeli national anthem, "Hatikva", to an Arab tune.
Here is the banned ad:

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 07:39:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 11:02:45 AM EST
Pilot Plant in the Works for Carbon Dioxide Cleansing - NYTimes.com
WHETHER streaming from the tailpipes of cars or the smokestacks of so many power plants and factories, carbon dioxide emissions keep growing around the globe.

 Now a Canadian company has developed a cleansing technology that may one day capture and remove some of this heat-trapping gas directly from the sky. And it is even possible that the gas could then be sold for industrial use.

Carbon Engineering, formed in 2009 with $3.5 million from Bill Gates and others, created prototypes for parts of its cleanup system in 2011 and 2012 at its plant in Calgary, Alberta. The company, which recently closed a $3 million second round of financing, plans to build a complete pilot plant by the end of 2014 for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, said David Keith, its president and a Harvard professor who has long been interested in climate issues.

The carbon-capturing tools that Carbon Engineering and other companies are designing have made great strides in the last two years, said Timothy A. Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

"The technology has moved from a position where people talked about the potential and possibilities to a point where people like David Keith are testing prototype components and producing quite detailed designs and engineering plans," Dr. Fox said. "Carbon Engineering is the leading contender in this field at this moment for putting an industrial-scale machine together and getting it working."

Should the cost of capturing carbon dioxide fall low enough, the gas would have many customers, he predicted. Chief among them, he said, would be the oil industry, which buys the gas to inject into oil fields to force out extra oil. The injection has minimal risk, said Howard J. Herzog, a senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The enhanced oil recovery industry has put tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the ground every year for decades with no problems," he said.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:45:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:18:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both articles mention the two-pronged purpose of carbon capture: 1) industrial re-use and 2) sequestering. I don't immediately see how the first can contribute effectively to mitigating carbon exhaust - to note: carbon capture should not be conflated with carbon storage. In fact, that has been the problem from the start - there is no existing business case for sequestering carbon.

Particularly the scenario as sketched in the Scientific American article, with carbon 'captured' by pulverized rocks all depends on the kinetics of the chemical reactions. As I've previously mentioned before, one fellow geology student of my year has specialized in this branch and she remains skeptical of the chances there'll be a quick fix from magnesium/calcium based mineral formation. So a serious dose of skepticism is rather warranted for this kind of experiment.

And again, if the point is to re-use the carbon in other industrial processes, this is nothing but fiddling for a mining technique to make from the carbon resource in the atmosphere a carbon reserve.

by Nomad on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 06:47:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Should the cost of capturing carbon dioxide fall low enough,

Sounds like a business plan.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:19:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oil sands development polluting Alberta lakes: study - The Globe and Mail

Oil sands development has left some remote northern Alberta lakes with rising pollution levels, refuting long-standing claims that waterway pollution is largely naturally occurring, a new study has found.

The study, published Monday and conducted by a six-person team that includes federal government scientists, showed pollution is as much as 23 times higher than pre-development levels, extending as far as 90 kilometres from development. Levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of toxic chemical compounds researchers measured, have risen roughly in line with the level of development, the study found.

The remote lakes now are roughly as polluted as a lake near a major city, one author says.

The research team used samples from the beds of six lakes, where layers of sediment allow researchers to see year-to-year changes.

Waterways around the oil sands, in what's known as the Athabasca basin, have always had slightly elevated levels of toxins, because many river valleys have exposed layers of oil-sands bitumen, which can naturally run down into the water on hot days. Government and industry have relied on this to dismiss concerns about toxins in the waterways, most prominently the massive Athabasca River.

"I think, if anything, it puts the last nails in the coffin of [pollution] being natural," said John Smol, a Queen's University biology professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change who was a co-author of the study.

The study amounts to a snapshot of what the lakes were like before oil sands development picked up. No comprehensive baseline study was ever done. "We're trying to make up for missed monitoring, I guess," Prof. Smol said.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:46:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oil Industry's New Workers - WSJ.com

Until recently, falconry--the ancient art of hunting small game with trained birds of prey--was just a hobby for Michael Gregston, who makes a living leading canoe trips down the Missouri River. But to supplement his income, he has been toting four of his rare hawks and falcons in the bitter cold to an unusual destination for a bird enthusiast: an oil refinery.

"The battle begins when the sun goes down," said Mr. Gregston, 60 years old.

Donning a bright green hard-hat and fireproof suit on a recent afternoon, he prepared to fly his prized birds into the labyrinth of pipes and towers at the Phillips 66 refinery in Billings, Mont., where thousands of starlings roost each night. With two nearby refineries likely facing similar starling infestations, he said, "I think I have some job security."

Big oil has never had the most bird-friendly reputation. But refineries across the country are now paying thousands of dollars a day to bring in rare raptors to chase away the nuisance birds that sully their facilities. It is a relatively new form of pest-control that is also becoming popular at farms and vineyards.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife department started issuing commercial falconry licenses six years ago and has only issued 92 as of last month. But refineries say falconry is proving far more effective than old methods like poison, pellet guns or sonar devices, and as the technique takes off, some oil-industry veterans are going soft for the birds, which can travel faster than 200 miles an hour and spot a meal from a great distance. Meanwhile falconers, many of them die-hard conservationists, say they are learning to appreciate the virtues of the oil industry.

"I have friends and associates who tell me I'm working for the enemy--but they're just real people too," says falconer Jim Tigan, a former military pilot who has been working to rid Exxon Mobil's refinery in Torrance, Calif., of pigeons. Mr. Tigan, whose duties for the company also include neutering feral cats and helping Exxon Mobil employees adopt them, says the sprawling guarded plant is a "wildlife oasis."

Refineries get plagued with all sorts of pests, but starlings, which arrived in the U.S. more than a century ago, have become particularly vexing in recent years--their numbers continue to grow because they hail from Europe and have no natural predators in North America. The tiny birds travel in enormous flocks seeking warmth in the winter months, and their corrosive, slippery droppings pose safety hazards and can cause structural damage.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:47:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
because they hail from Europe and have no natural predators in North America.

Nor in Europe...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:22:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Robots find Barrier Reef coral at extreme depths, amazing ocean scientists | Environment | The Observer

Robots have found living coral on the Great Barrier Reef at a depth four times greater than most scuba divers can reach and far beyond the depth at which scientists expected to find them.

A team from the Catlin Seaview Survey discovered the reef corals living at 125 metres, the deepest ever found on the reef. Reef corals are in a perilous state around the world, under threat from climate change through warming oceans and acidification of seawater as well as by coastal pollution and unsustainable fishing practices. The remarkable find was made on the outer edge of the Ribbon Reefs off the north of the Barrier. The extreme depth is more than four times the depth of the shallow reef coral habitat (0-30m) which most scuba divers can reach.

Dr Pim Bongaerts from the Global Change Institute at Queensland University, who led the expedition's deep reef team, said: "It's intriguing. When we began our survey, we were amazed to see significant coral at depths of around 60 metres. However, it is truly mind-blowing to see reef coral at more than twice that depth.

"We found the plating Leptoseris corals at a depth of 125 metres. Although the corals are small and at such depth only consists of few species, it shows that there are viable communities living down there. The corals were attached to the rock surface and were certainly not individual corals which have fallen down to this depth. The discovery shows that there are coral communities on the reef existing at considerably greater depths than we could ever have imagined."

Dr Paul Muir, a taxonomist from the Museum of Tropical Queensland and a team member, said: "We had extremely calm seas so were able to deploy the Remotely Operated Vehicle on the very front of the Ribbon Reefs. Normally this part of the reef is off limits because it is fully exposed to big ocean swells and quite dangerous for any boat to anchor." Working at these depths proved very challenging and with more than 250m of cable out to provide power and communications, it was a real struggle to collect a specimen of one of these corals."

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:53:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
New U.S. estimate suggests billions of Earth-size planets in Milky Way | CTV News

Our Milky Way is home to at least 17 billion planets that are similar in size to Earth, a new estimate suggests. That's more than two Earth-size planets for every person on the globe.

Just how many are located in the sweet spot where water could exist is "simply too early to call," said Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who presented his work at an astronomy meeting Monday.

It's the first reliable tally of the number of worlds outside the solar system that are the size of Earth, but the hunt for our twin is far from over.

 Despite the explosion of exoplanet discoveries in recent years, one find remains elusive: A planet that's not only the right size but also in the so-called Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot or too cold for water to be in liquid form on the surface.

The sheer number of Earth-size planets gives astronomers a starting point to narrow down which ones are in the habitable zone.

Fressin and his team came up with their figure by conducting a fresh analysis of data collected by NASA's Kepler spacecraft, which was launched in 2009 to track down other Earths. They estimated at least one in six stars in the galaxy hosts a planet the size of ours, translating to at least 17 billion Earth-size worlds.

Using a different method, a team from the University of California, Berkeley and University of Hawaii separately came up with a similar estimate. They calculated 17 percent of distant stars have planets that are the same size as Earth or slightly larger.

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/new-u-s-estimate-suggests-billions-of-earth-size-planets-in-milky-way -1.1104020#ixzz2HKgyeyZF

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:55:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyone who had read Asimov's Foundation knew that...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 08:17:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Greens on the Run in Debate Over Genetically Modified Food - Bloomberg

Mark Lynas, the environmentalist and award-winning science author, has just publicly apologized "for having spent several years ripping up GM crops" and for his role in helping to spearhead the anti-GMO movement in the 1990s. Ten years ago, Lynas famously threw a pie  in the face of Bjorn Lomborg at an Oxford bookstore, where the Danish economist was scheduled to talk about his controversial 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Today, it is Lynas who has become increasingly skeptical of an environmental cause. He discusses his turnabout in his third book, The God Species, which was published in 2011. In it, Lynas makes an assertive case for nuclear power and biotechnology, both of which he argues will be necessary to address climate change and the food needs of a global population that is expected to surpass 9 billion people by 2050.

The broad outlines of Lynas's evolution have been public knowledge for several years. But the unflinching language and tone he used in a speech last week has reverberated. After three days, the video was downloaded 125,000 times, according to Lynas.  Some of the reaction from well-known greens has been outlandish, though few were as dramatic as Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva's comment over Twitter likening Lynas's defense of GM farming to saying that rapists should have the freedom to rape. Despite such outbursts, Lynas has said via Twitter that he's received "overwhelming support." He also said this moment "feels like a turning point" in the larger GM debate.

That may be wishful thinking.  Anyone who believes the combustible GM discourse has turned a corner would do well to remember similar pronouncements made about global warming in the last decade. How many times has it been said that the public finally -- finally! -- understands the climate threat and is ready to take it seriously?

Like climate change, the consensus science on GM crops crops is established, at least with respect to food safety, which Lynas put this way in his Jan. 3 speech: "The GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe--over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food."

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:56:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm

Straight out of the industry's propaganda book. Similarly, the chemicals industry sold the same line for years, but now is gradually being forced to admit the dangers of substances sold as safe. (Plastics components, pesticides...)

Lynas is supposed to be basing his "conversion" on science. And on this unscientific basis the "debate is over"?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:31:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Same 50 years ago with leaded gasoline. Now it looks like it might have been a major reason behind the crime wave of the 70s and its subsequent decline.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:57:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also tobacco.
A decade? A decade is nothing.

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 06:11:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The linked story on lead is excellent, BTW.

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 12:02:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From the linked Rick Nevin pdf I gather that the US reduced lead levels a lot more aggressively than France and the UK. What gives?
by generic on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 01:50:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
not whether a claim like that is straight from the industry's propaganda books (which I agree it is, but both sides have propaganda books as fat as fists filled with snappy lines and age-old arguments).

The question should be whether Lynas (and thus the industry?) is talking out of its behind. He has dished up quite a claim to unpack.

over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm

And actually, he added a sentence after that:

More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.


  1. In the past 15 years there were (I assume Lynas used the short scale trillion here) meals produced on the basis of GM foodware;
  2. None (0) have caused a 'substantiated' case of 'harm';
  3. More people (>0) have died from eating organic foodwares than from eating GM foodwares.

That surely warrants a <citation needed>, but the same applies for rejection of the claim. And then, as wont, everyone can enter their trenches.

Still, Lynas' speech is worth reading in full. He says a lot of smart things, and there's a lot I can find myself agreeing to - for example, I have personally encountered the past years that an organisation like Greenpeace is increasingly turning anti-scientific and closing ears to expert commentary that runs counter to their own dogmas.

But a real problem may just be that Lynas, even while better educated, still thinks and speaks as an activist - even while he has turned colour.

by Nomad on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 07:20:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the question is whether it is legitimate for him to claim to have been convinced by science, while adducing "proofs" of that nature.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 08:10:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's not what you first wrote, as you highlighted a quote and called it 'this unscientific basis'. But all good with me.

Why would it not be legitimate for him to claim to have been convinced by science? There's plenty of science out there. He, as a writer, researched the subject for his latest book that has plenty of scientific references.

I'd say Lynas' attitude is showing disrespect for the principle of falsifiability, and the limitations of the science that has been done. But unfortunately(?), that doesn't disproof the available "proof".

by Nomad on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 09:17:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That quote on a decade and a half and a trillion meals is unscientific. That's why I put "proofs" between scare quotes in the second comment.


There's plenty of science out there.

No, there isn't. Most of what has been done has been corporate funded and the data is kept under corporate trade secret wraps. There is a crying need for genuinely independent and open scientific appraisal of the question of the potential ill effects on health of consuming GM foods. As also on the potential ill effects of GM crops on soil microbiology.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 09:27:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But a real problem may just be that Lynas, even while better educated, still thinks and speaks as an activist - even while he has turned colour.
He has found religion:
So I guess you'll be wondering--what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 10:51:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Rather he has switched one religion for another.
by Nomad on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 11:52:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you ask me, this isn't about, let's say fanaticism, but big ego-trippers like him and Lomborg who just have to be front and centre stage. Trolls, in a way.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 12:10:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I discovered science.

Oh intrepid explorer of an arcane land!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 01:48:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he meant SCIENCE!11!

An easy mistake to make.

by generic on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 01:52:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, Bloomberg editor, for the lovely narrative in that headline.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 03:32:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mark Lynas » Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013
Nolan, and all other Lynas supporters- you are morons and shills and should be shot on contact. If you want to kill yourselves slowly, quickly, or however you wish, go for it, but you have NO RIGHT to do it to unknowing masses with your poisonous, genetically mutated monocultures that have NEVER been proven safe anywhere and have only every been tested by the chemical companies who make money selling seeds and pesticides. It is outrageous that you have stolen our land and poluted our food and fed our babies chemicals.
by Nomad on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 07:33:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC News - Russia: Raids by wolves spark 'emergency' in Sakha

An influx of wolves preying on reindeer herds has triggered a state of emergency in the Sakha Republic, in north-eastern Russia.

Squads of hunters will pursue the wolves in a three-month "battle" from 15 January, officials say.

The most successful hunters will get bonuses. The vast, sparsely populated region is also known as Yakutia.

Experts quoted by Russian media believe a shortage of mountain hares has caused the migration of hungry wolves.

Wolf packs have moved into Sakha's central reindeer pastures, from their normal hunting grounds in the mountains and dense forests. Reports speak of increased attacks on livestock, but not on humans.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:56:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Weather forecasters predict temperatures to hit 40C in southeast Queensland .

Heat is unbelievable in Australia.  The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is expecting temperatures in excess of 50C/122F later this week.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 01:10:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
15-year old whiz kid has research on dwarf galaxies published in Nature | MyScienceAcademy

Working with a team of astronomers, including his father Rodrigo Ibata, Neil took part in an analysis of dwarf galaxies surrounding Andromeda, our nearest galactic neighbor. Working with his father, Neil developed the code for a computer model of these celestial objects. His simulation showed that the galaxies appear to orbit in concert and align in a vast, thin disk -- a discovery that came as a complete surprise to the researchers.


Speaking to the news agency AFP, Rodrigo Ibata said he was "expecting the complete opposite" result. Though the researchers are not sure what it means, they believe the finding could reshape the understanding of how galaxies are formed.


And it shouldn't come as a complete surprise that Neil Ibata managed this tremendous accomplishment. He is an accelerated student attending the Pontonniers International School in Strasbourg. And in addition to his Python programming skills, he speaks German, English, and Chinese, and he studies piano at the local conservatory.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 08:34:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Working with a team of astronomers, including his father Rodrigo Ibata, Neil took part in an analysis of dwarf galaxies surrounding Andromeda, our nearest galactic neighbor. Working with his father, Neil developed the code for a computer model of these celestial objects. His simulation showed that the galaxies appear to orbit in concert and align in a vast, thin disk -- a discovery that came as a complete surprise to the researchers.

In other words, "a paper written by a professor under aggravating circumstances", to paraphrase Adolf Hurwitz.

Basically we have here an astrophysicist who can get his work published in Nature, but that is not in and of itself good enough to make headlines for more than 15 minutes, so he gets his son involved in the research in order to generate publicity.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 10:43:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you bleedin cynic!

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 10:51:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seeing a parent exploit their gifted child makes my blood boil.

(When it isn't a case of manufacturing a gifted child)

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 10:53:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Appels d'offres pour deux parcs éoliens en mer - Libération tenders for two offshore wind farms - Liberation
Les deux ensembles doivent être construits face au Tréport et à Noirmoutier et regrouper au total 200 éoliennes. LibérationThe farms will be built off Le Tréport and Noirmoutier and will have a total of 200 wind turbines.
Le gouvernement a lancé un appel d'offres pour deux grands parcs éoliens en mer, au large du Tréport (Seine-Maritime) et de Noirmoutier (Vendée), qui auront une capacité totale de 1 000 mégawatts, a annoncé mardi la ministre de l'Energie, Delphine Batho.The government has launched a call for tenders for two major offshore wind farms, off Le Tréport (Seine-Maritime) and Noirmoutier (Vendée), which have a total capacity of 1,000 megawatts, said Tuesday the Minister Energy, Delphine Batho.
Ce nouvel appel d'offres doit permettre de «consolider le développement de la filière», en érigeant 200 éoliennes au large des côtes françaises, et de «sécuriser les 10 000 emplois industriels directs attendus» par son développement, a déclaré Delphine Batho devant le Conseil économique, social et environnemental.The new tender will enable "strengthening the development of the sector" , erecting 200 wind turbines off the French coast, and "securing an expected 10,000 direct industrial jobs" through its development, said Delphine Batho before the Economic, social and environmental Council.
Ces deux projets viendront compléter un premier appel d'offres concernant quatre parcs maritimes d'une puissance totale de 2 000 mégawatts attribués au printemps au tandem EDF/Asltom (trois parcs) et à Iberdrola/Areva. Selon le calendrier prévu, les candidats pourront déposer leurs dossiers entre mars et septembre 2013, pour une décision du gouvernement attendue début 2014.These two projects will complement a first tender for four marine parks with a total capacity of 2000 megawatts allotted last spring to the tandem EDF /Alstom (three parks) and Iberdrola /Areva. According to the schedule, candidates may submit their entries between March and September 2013, with a government decision expected in early 2014.
La construction et la mise en service de ces deux parcs par les opérateurs retenus sont prévues à l'horizon 2021-2023.Construction and commissioning of these two parks by the selected operators are planned for 2021-2023.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 11:25:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NASA Launches David Bowie Concept Mission

"Admittedly, this is a very bold and risky departure for the agency," said Bolden, later adding that Bowie's Ziggy Stardust period and other outer-space-related work has been a major influence on NASA's direction since the early 1970s. "Those familiar with NASA's previous, more conventional research and exploration sensibilities are going to be in for quite a shock. Many are likely to be confused and threatened by the boundary-pushing nature of the project."

The five-member crew is made up entirely of United States Air Force officers and includes Maj. Tom Louis, Maj. Tom Greely, Maj. Tom Ohweiler, Maj. Thomas Sinclair, and Maj. Tom Keenan.

While the mission will primarily study paranoia, decadence, and the fluidity of sexual identity in a zero-gravity environment, additional scientific testing will be conducted during the shuttle's 14-day orbit of Earth.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 01:55:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well, it's his birthday.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:08:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 11:02:51 AM EST
Fake mission to Mars leaves astronauts spaced out | Science | The Guardian

As the cheerless skies and grim economy sap all will to return to work, take heart that even on a trip to Mars, it is hard to get out of bed in the morning.

The drudge of interplanetary travel has emerged from research on six men who joined the longest simulated space mission ever: a 17-month round trip to the red planet in a pretend spaceship housed at a Moscow industrial estate.

Though chosen for the job as the best of the best, the would-be spacefarers spent more and more time under their duvets and sitting around idle as the mission wore on. The crew's activity levels plummeted in the first three months, and continued to fall for the next year.

On the return leg, the men spent nearly 700 hours longer in bed than on the outward journey, and only perked up in the last 20 days before they clambered from their capsule in November 2011. Four crew members suffered from sleep or psychological issues.

"We saw some problems," said Mathias Basner, of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies the effects of sleep-loss on behaviour. "There were no major adverse events, but there could have been if the stars were aligned in a certain way."

The $10m (£6.2m) Mars500 project, run by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems, launched, metaphorically, when the hatch to the mock-up spaceship closed behind three Russians, two Europeans and a Chinese man in June 2010. The men spent the next 520 days in windowless isolation. Their only contact with the outside world was over the internet and by phone lines that carried a delay of up to 20 minutes, to mimic the time it takes radio waves to reach Mars from Earth.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:41:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
New Virtual Autopsy Procedure Is Changing Forensics - SPIEGEL ONLINE
A couple is sitting at the breakfast table, when the wife suddenly complains about a severe headache. She jumps up, screams and collapses. But only when she stops breathing at around noon does her husband call an ambulance.

For the investigating criminologists, this case of unbelievable heartlessness raised one question above all: What could the man have done to his wife? Their surprising conclusion was that he did nothing, and that he was only guilty of a shocking lack of interest in his partner.

Forensic scientists with the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich in Switzerland diagnosed blood in the cerebrospinal fluid as well as a small aneurysm that had burst in the woman's head, which indicated that she had died of natural causes.

In another case, the Zurich police searched for the weapon with which a woman had been murdered. The forensic pathologists discovered tiny metal particles in the chin region. That find eventually led the police to the corpus delicti: a kitchen knife.

To solve both cases, it wasn't enough for the forensic scientists to simply cut open the sternum of the dead woman, in accordance with the standard procedure used when conducting a classic internal autopsy. To examine the circumstance of death, they didn't perform an autopsy on the body. Rather, they reviewed three-dimensional images of the dead women they had stored on their computer.

The method, in which forensic scientists combine images from powerful computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) together with surface scans of corpses is called "virtual autopsy."

More Efficient Autopsies

With the help of these combined imaging techniques, experts are now capable of gaining revealing and fascinating insights into the interiors of dead bodies. Most of all, they are finding fractures and hemorrhages that were not discovered during conventional autopsies.

Experts rave about the new method which is, at the very least, expected to complement classic autopsy. The idea is that after imaging a body, radiologists can draw abnormalities they encounter on the screen to the attention of forensic scientists.

"This enables forensic scientists to plan their autopsies much more efficiently," says Dominic Wichmann, a specialist in internal medicine at the University Hospital in Hamburg's Eppendorf district. In a study recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Wichmann praises the benefits of virtual autopsies. Likewise, specialists with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been traveling to Switzerland lately to marvel at the computer-aided autopsies being performed at the University of Zurich.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:41:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC News - Totally blind mice get sight back

Totally blind mice have had their sight restored by injections of light-sensing cells into the eye, UK researchers report.

The team in Oxford said their studies closely resemble the treatments that would be needed in people with degenerative eye disease.

Similar results have already been achieved with night-blind mice.

Experts said the field was advancing rapidly, but there were still questions about the quality of vision restored.

Patients with retinitis pigmentosa gradually lose light-sensing cells from the retina and can become blind.

The research team, at the University of Oxford, used mice with a complete lack of light-sensing photoreceptor cells in their retinas. The mice were unable to tell the difference between light and dark.

They injected "precursor" cells which will develop into the building blocks of a retina once inside the eye. Two weeks after the injections a retina had formed, according to the findings presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Prof Robert MacLaren said: "We have recreated the whole structure, basically it's the first proof that you can take a completely blind mouse, put the cells in and reconstruct the entire light-sensitive layer."

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:50:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
African civil servants, please retire! | Radio Netherlands Worldwide
In many African countries, government officials and political leaders do not want to hear about retirement, although legally they are usually expected to retire at 55 or 60. These government officials use various schemes to remain in office. Some obtain special extensions by presidential decree, while others often fraudulently lower their age to become 'officially' younger.
Clinging to positions
Why do they cling so desperately to their positions at the expenses of the unemployed youth? 
"When I retire, I will receive one third of my current salary," explains Théophile, a civil servant in Cameroon. "What can I do with it?", he wonders. "We have very low salaries, and we have to look after our families and help our relatives. We can't really afford to save. One can start his career in government with a salary of 150,000 CFA francs (€230) and end with 250,000 CFA francs (€380). Without the benefits, one cannot afford to build a house and secure a decent life after retirement."
Bad management
Kouotou, a young entrepreneur, highlights how civil servants manage their income. "Most of them live from hand to mouth", he says. "They do not make any plans to save for a peaceful retirement. Therefore, a number of them are surprised when it comes time to retire, and they choose to hang on to their positions." 
Kouotou's observations are shared by a majority of young Cameroonians. "When I was still in primary school, the current president, the prime minister and most ministers were already in office", says Florent, frustrated and unemployed. "Meanwhile, I have completed my Master's degree and they are still there. There is no turnover. Everyone wants to remain in office until they die. How are we then going to find jobs?"
But for Simondi Barlev Bidjocka, leader of the Cameroonian Youth Rally (RJC), another reason government officials cling to their positions is because being a civil servant essentially means pay without work. "One comes to work at 10 a.m. and leaves at 3 p.m.", he says.
by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:50:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are the Los Roques islands the new Bermuda Triangle? | World news | The Guardian

The as-yet-unexplained disappearance last Friday of the plane carrying six passengers and crew, including Italian fashion mogul Vittorio Missoni, has prompted some to blame the "Los Roques curse".

The label has been attached to a series of mysterious plane crashes and "vanishings" over the past decade or so between the Caribbean archipelago of Los Roques and the Venezuelan capital Caracas, 140km to the south. Inevitably, comparisons have been made with the infamous Bermuda Triangle, the area between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico that has long had a reputation for unexplained disappearances of ships and planes.

To date, no wreckage of Missoni's plane has been located since it took off from Los Roques for Caracas. A hotel owner on the islands said he last saw the plane - a twin-engine BN-2 Islander built in 1968 - entering a bank of clouds. Meanwhile, the Missoni family said it was not ruling out the possibility that the plane had been hijacked by local drug smugglers. Venezuela's civil aviation authority said the aircraft's last recorded position was 18km south of the Los Roques.

Since the mid-90s, there have been at least 15 reported incidents in which small aircraft have either crashed, disappeared or declared emergencies while travelling through the area. In 2008, 14 people were killed when a plane making the same journey as Missoni's crashed into the sea. No wreckage was ever found and only one body was recovered.

Speculation about possible explanations for the "curse" has ranged from basic pilot error through to the release of methane hydrates from the sea floor. The lack of evidence only fuels speculation.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:52:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 11:02:52 AM EST
Cat caught sneaking saw, phone into Brazil prison | Reuters

Prison guards were surprised when they saw a white cat crossing the main gate of the prison, its body wrapped with tape. A closer look showed the feline also carried drills, an earphone, a memory card, batteries and a phone charger.

All 263 detainees in the prison of Arapiraca, a city of 215,000 people in the state of Alagoas, are considered suspect in the plot, which is being investigated by local police.

"It's tough to find out who's responsible for the action as the cat doesn't speak," a prison spokesperson told local paper Estado de S.Paulo.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 01:17:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Guardian has video of the cat.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 04:29:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
lolcatters, start your engines.

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 06:23:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Pff. There are talking cats all over Internet.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:33:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gerard Depardieu's Real Russian Love - Bloomberg

The bear hugs on the Black Sea didn't mask the irony of the moment. A wealthy Hollywood actor from France embraces the onetime secret-police agent of the former Soviet Union. Who would have thought only 20 years ago that Gerard Depardieu would find refuge in a country once renowned for destroying the hope of its citizens?

"I love your country, Russia -- its people, its history, its writers,'' the "Green Card'' actor wrote in an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nobody doubted that Depardieu's decision to accept Putin's offer of Russian citizenship stemmed from French President Francois Hollande's plan for a "rich tax'' of 75 percent for residents earning more than 1 million euros ($1.3 million). The French government has said it intends to revise its draft legislation after the country's top court struck down the proposed law last month. Russia's personal tax rate is 13 percent for most income, hardly comparable to Hollande's punishing levy for the rich.

Depardieu is just the latest in a series of high-profile figures fleeing the tsunami of higher taxes engulfing indebted Western nations. Billionaire Facebook Inc. co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship last year after taking up residency in Singapore, where the top tax rate is 20 percent. British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton caused a stir last year after he carried the Olympic torch in London, though he had lived in Switzerland and Monaco since 2007, partly -- by his own admission -- due to taxation. The top rate of income tax in the U.K. is 50 percent, and the country only provides major tax relief to those residents not domiciled in the country, a rule that doesn't apply to natives such as Hamilton. Monaco levies no income tax from its residents.

by Nomad on Mon Jan 7th, 2013 at 05:10:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Жерар Депардье now claims it's not the taxes, but doesn't give any other reason. So Putin can raise taxes without risking him moving to North Korea.
Film star Gérard Depardieu has denied that he is leaving his homeland for tax reasons, saying that he is still very much French, although he now has a Russian passport.

In an interview with sports channel L'Equipe 21 - his first since a row broke out in December over his decision to buy a house over the border in Belgium - Depardieu said that if he had wanted to leave to avoid tax rises, he would have gone earlier.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:23:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC News - Depardieu fails to attend court on drink-drive charge
Gerard Depardieu has stayed away from a Paris court where he faces a drink-driving charge, days after taking Russian citizenship in a tax row.
by Katrin on Tue Jan 8th, 2013 at 06:08:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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