Category Archives: European Union

The forgotten origins of Greece’s crisis will make you think twice about who’s to blame

Ana Swanson reports for The Washington Post:

[…] In the mid-1990s, even before it came into existence, markets made a huge bet that the euro would be a reality. Specifically, investors, many in northern Europe, bet that interest rates in northern and southern Europe would converge. At the time, interest rates in southern Europe were much higher than in northern Europe, simply because people thought investing in countries like Greece was much riskier than investing in countries like Germany.

In anticipation of the euro zone, investors put lots of money in the cheap, high-yielding bonds of southern Europe. That helped to drive down yields and fueled borrowing and an economic boom in southern countries.

Ultimately, investors were right – Greek interest rates on 10-year bonds fell from around 20 percent in the early 1990s to only 3 percent in 2002. “They made a lot of money in the north betting against higher interest rates there. That fueled the boom, before the euro came, that overheated these economies.”

As economies overheated, it’s not a surprise that their competitiveness suffered, says Matthijs [co-editor of The Future of the Euro].

In short, many in the north pushed for a financial regime that didn’t fit the Greek economy, because they personally stood to benefit. Many rightly blame the Greeks for its current crisis, but some of the blame belongs farther north as well, he argues.’

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How Europe Played Greece

Alex Andreou writes for Common Dreams:

[…] Faith in European Institutions is thin on the ground. Lines have been crossed. At times of financial strain, a country’s currency issuer, its central bank, should act as lender of last resort and prime technocratic negotiator. In Greece’s case, the European Central Bank, sits on the same side as the creditors; acts as their enforcer. This is unprecedented.

The ECB has acted to asphyxiate the Greek economy – the ultimate blackmail to force subordination. The money is there, in our accounts, but we cannot have access to it, because the overseers of our own banking system, the very people who some months ago issued guarantees of liquidity, have decided to deny liquidity. We have phantom money, but no real money. There is a terrifying poetry to that, since the entire crisis was caused by too much phantom money in the first place.

EU Institutions are now openly admitting that their aim is regime change. A coup d’état in anything by name, using banks instead of tanks and a corrupt media as the occupiers’ broadcaster. The rest of Europe stands back and watches. Those leaders who promised the Syriza government support before the election, have ducked for cover. I understand it. They sympathise, but they don’t want to be next. They are honourable cowards. They look at the punishment beating being meted out and their instinct is to protect their own. ‘

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Joseph Stiglitz: How I would vote in the Greek referendum

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, writes for The Guardian:

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the radical left main opposition party Syriza, greets supporters after a rally of the party in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, January 2015. […] In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.

That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation (and also that there would be insufficient attention to financial stability). The economy would suffer, because the economic model underlying the eurozone was predicated on power relationships that disadvantaged workers.

And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalised those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy: many European leaders want to see the end of prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate.’

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Presidents, Bankers, the Neo-Cold War and the World Bank

Editor’s Note: Nomi Prins is a former managing director at Goldman Sachs and a former senior managing director at Bear Stearns. I would HIGHLY recommend reading her latest book, “All The Presidents’ Bankers“. You can check out more of Nomi’s great work at her website.

Nomi Prins writes:

At first glance, the neo-Cold War between the US and its post WWII European Allies vs. Russia over the Ukraine, and the stonewalling of Greece by the Troika might appear to have little in common. Yet both are manifestations of a political-military-financial power play that began during the first Cold War. Behind the bravado of today’s sanctions and austerity measures lies the decision-making alliance that private bankers enjoy in conjunction with government and multinational entries like NATO and the World Bank.

It is President Obama’s foreign policy to back the Ukraine against Russia; in 1958, it was the Eisenhower Doctrine that protected Lebanon from a Soviet threat. For President Truman, the Marshall Plan arose partly to guard Greece (and other US allies) from Communism, but it also had lasting economic implications. The alignment of political leaders and key bankers was more personal back then, but the implications were similar to the present day. US military might protected its major trading partners, which in turn, did business with US banks. One power reinforced the other. Today, the ECB’s QE program funds swanky Frankfurt headquarters and prioritizes Germany’s super-bank, Deutschebank and its bond investors above Greece’s future.

These actions, then and now, have roots in the American ideology of melding military, political and financial power that flourished in the haze of World War II.  It’s not fair to pin this triple-power stance on one man, or even one bank; yet one man and one bank signified that power in all of its dimensions, including the use of political enemy creation to achieve financial goals. That man was John McCloy, ‘Chairman of the Establishment’ as his biographer, Kai Bird, characterized him. The relationship between McCloy and Truman cemented a set of public-private practices that strengthened private US banks globally at the expense of weaker, potentially Soviet (now Russian) leaning countries.’

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US Hedge Funds Get Bailed Out if Greeks Pass Bailout Referendum: Interview with Bill Black and Michael Hudson

‘Foreign banks want to bleed the patient when a policy of debt cutting and tax reform would revive the Greek economy, say UMKC’s Bill Black and Michael Hudson.’ (The Real News)

The IMF defaulted on Greece a long time ago

Jerome Roos writes for ROAR Mag:

Post image for The IMF defaulted on Greece a long time agoTuesday marked the deadline for Greece to transfer a 1.6 billion euro debt repayment to the IMF. The country’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had already announced that his government could not — and would not — pay. And so, at 6pm Washington-time, 1am locally, Greece officially defaulted on the IMF.

The default is an unprecedented event in the history of finance: never before has a developed country fallen into arrears on a loan from the Fund. Unsurprisingly, the international press is already conjuring up unflattering comparisons with notorious failed states like Zimbabwe and Somalia, which are among the few countries to have gone down the same path of utter financial ignominy. With all due respect for Zimbabwe and Somalia, the implication of this media narrative is clear: Greece is about to become a hopeless basket case.

In truth, superficial parallels like these are dangerously misleading. Not only do they compare apples and oranges; they also end up obscuring the IMF’s own role in the decimation of the Greek economy, which basically made an eventual Greek default inevitable. By uncritically reproducing narratives of Greece’s “failure” to repay the Fund, many in the international media are directly overlooking the fierce internal criticism that top IMF officials have expressed about their own responsibility for the utter disaster of the Troika’s bailout programs.’

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As Greece Heads for Default, Voters Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity: Interview with Costas Panayotakis

‘Tens of thousands of Greeks have protested against further austerity cuts ahead of a key referendum on a new European bailout. The demonstrations come as the country confirms it will not meet the deadline for a $1.8 billion loan repayment due by 6 p.m. Eastern time tonight, deepening Greece’s fiscal crisis and threatening its exit from the eurozone. Greece will hold a vote this Sunday on whether to accept an austerity package of budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for new loans. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has urged a “no” vote, calling the proposal a surrender. We go to Greece to speak with Costas Panayotakis, professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology at CUNY and author of “Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.”‘ (Democracy Now!)

Robert Mundell, evil genius of the euro

Greg Palast wrote for The Guardian in 2012:

John Maynard Keynes in 1944 at the UN International Monetary Conference in Bretton Woods, NHThe idea that the euro has “failed” is dangerously naive. The euro is doing exactly what its progenitor – and the wealthy 1%-ers who adopted it – predicted and planned for it to do.

That progenitor is former University of Chicago economist Robert Mundell. The architect of “supply-side economics” is now a professor at Columbia University, but I knew him through his connection to my Chicago professor, Milton Friedman, back before Mundell’s research on currencies and exchange rates had produced the blueprint for European monetary union and a common European currency.

[…] The euro would really do its work when crises hit, Mundell explained. Removing a government’s control over currency would prevent nasty little elected officials from using Keynesian monetary and fiscal juice to pull a nation out of recession.

“It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians,” he said. “[And] without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”

He cited labor laws, environmental regulations and, of course, taxes. All would be flushed away by the euro. Democracy would not be allowed to interfere with the marketplace.’

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Will the Greek Referendum Force the Troika Back to the Bargaining Table? Interview with Dimitri Lascaris and Leo Panitch

‘Dimitri Lascaris and Leo Panitch discuss the possible consequences of a ‘no’ vote in the July 5th referendum on the bailout conditions offered by international creditors.’ (The Real News)

Joseph Stiglitz on the “criminal responsibility” of Greece’s creditors

Simon Shuster writes for TIME:

A few years ago, when Greece was still at the start of its slide into an economic depression, the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz remembers discussing the crisis with Greek officials. What they wanted was a stimulus package to boost growth and create jobs, and Stiglitz, who had just produced an influential report for the United Nations on how to deal with the global financial crisis, agreed that this would be the best way forward. Instead, Greece’s foreign creditors imposed a strict program of austerity. The Greek economy has shrunk by about 25% since 2010. The cost-cutting was an enormous mistake, Stiglitz says, and it’s time for the creditors to admit it.

“They have criminal responsibility,” he says of the so-called troika of financial institutions that bailed out the Greek economy in 2010, namely the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. “It’s a kind of criminal responsibility for causing a major recession,” Stiglitz tells TIME in a phone interview.

Along with a growing number of the world’s most influential economists, Stiglitz has begun to urge the troika to forgive Greece’s debt – estimated to be worth close to $300 billion in bailouts – and to offer the stimulus money that two successive Greek governments have been requesting.

Failure to do so, Stiglitz argues, would not only worsen the recession in Greece – already deeper and more prolonged than the Great Depression in the U.S. – it would also wreck the credibility of Europe’s common currency, the euro, and put the global economy at risk of contagion.’

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Greek debt crisis is the Iraq War of finance

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote for The Telegraph earlier this month:

[…] If we want to date the moment when the Atlantic liberal order lost its authority – and when the European Project ceased to be a motivating historic force – this may well be it. In a sense, the Greek crisis is the financial equivalent of the Iraq War, totemic for the Left, and for Souverainistes on the Right, and replete with its own “sexed up” dossiers.

Does anybody dispute that the ECB – via the Bank of Greece – is actively inciting a bank run in a country where it is also the banking regulator by issuing this report on Wednesday [June 17]?

It warned of an “uncontrollable crisis” if there is no creditor deal, followed by soaring inflation, “an exponential rise in unemployment”, and a “collapse of all that the Greek economy has achieved over the years of its EU, and especially its euro area, membership”.

The guardian of financial stability is consciously and deliberately accelerating a financial crisis in an EMU member state – with possible risks of pan-EMU and broader global contagion – as a negotiating tactic to force Greece to the table.

It did so days after premier Alexis Tsipras accused the creditors of “laying traps” in the negotiations and acting with a political motive. He more or less accused them of trying to destroy an elected government and bring about regime change by financial coercion.’

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Greece on the brink: Paul Mason on what happens next?

Paul Mason vlogs from Athens and asks: How will the bailout referendum help the country in its ongoing debt negotiations? (Channel 4 News)

Lessons from Iceland’s “pots and pans revolution”

Philip England writes for The Independent:

[…] Whether nationalising banks, jailing bankers, imposing controls on the movement of capital out of the country or holding two national referendums on whether or not to pay back foreign debtors, Iceland’s response to their devastating financial crash bucked all trends. Yet, six years later, the approach seems to have been a resounding success. In March, the IMF praised Iceland for being “one of the top economic performers in Europe over the past several years in terms of economic growth [with] one of the lowest unemployment rates”, and for being on course to pay back its IMF loans early.

However, since May 2013 the right-wing parties that set the conditions for the banking crisis have been back in power and some worry that they may be reverting to their old ways. Earlier this month the government proposed lifting capital controls by the end of the year (but said it would impose a one-off 39 per cent tax on investors withdrawing their money from the country). If Iceland sees a return to crony capitalism, then the economic bounce-back could be a short-lived phenomenon.

In the long run then, what may turn out to be a more significant outcome of the revolution is the cluster of citizens’ initiatives that emerged, dedicated to improving the way democracy works. Rather than focusing on banking reform, the post-revolution push from Icelandic civil society has been on fundamental democratic reform. The logic runs: why treat the symptoms of a system that has become corrupt when you can tackle the disease itself?’

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Humanitarian Warriors

Chase Madar writes for the London Review of Books:

Harold Koh is the former dean of Yale Law School and an expert in human rights law. As the State Department’s senior lawyer between 2009 and 2013, he provided the Obama administration with the legal basis for assassination carried out by drones. And despite having written academic papers backing a powerful and restrictive War Powers Act, he made the legal case for the Obama administration’s right to make war on Libya without bothering to get congressional approval. Koh, who has now returned to teaching human rights law, is not the only human rights advocate to call for the use of lethal violence. Indeed, the weaponisation of human rights – its doctrines, its institutions and, above all, its grandees – has been going on in the US for more than a decade.

Take Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, former director of Harvard’s Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy and self-described ‘genocide chick’, who advocated war in Libya and Syria, and argued for new ways to arm-twist US allies into providing more troops for Obama’s escalated but unsuccessful war in Afghanistan. This last argument wasn’t successful in 2012, though she was at it again recently when interviewed on Charlie Rose. Or there’s Sarah Sewall, another former director of the Carr Centre, who was responsible for the material on human rights in the reworked US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Or Michael Posner, the founder of Human Rights First, now a business professor at NYU, who, as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour in Obama’s first term, helped bury the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations to investigate atrocities committed during Israel’s 2008-9 assault on Gaza. Or John Prendergast, a former Human Rights Watch researcher and co-founder of Enough, an anti-genocide group affiliated with the Centre for American Progress, who has called for military intervention to oust Robert Mugabe.’

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France, Up in Arms Over NSA Spying, Passes New Surveillance Law

Martin Untersinger reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - If You Can’t Beat ’Em: France, Up In Arms Over NSA Spying, Passes New Surveillance LawOn Wednesday, France woke up to find that the National Security Agency had been snooping on the phones of its last three presidents.

Top-secret documents provided by WikiLeaks to two media outlets, Mediapart and Libération, showed that the NSA had access to confidential conversations of France’s highest ranking officials, including the country’s current president, François Hollande; the prime minister in 2012, Jean-Marc Ayrault; and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

Yet also today, the lower house of France’s legislature, the National Assembly, passed a sweeping surveillance law. The law provides a new framework for the country’s intelligence agencies to expand their surveillance activities. Opponents of the law were quick to mock the government for vigorously protesting being surveilled by one of the country’s closest allies while passing a law that gives its own intelligence services vast powers with what its opponents regard as little oversight. But for those who support the new law, the new revelations of NSA spying showed the urgent need to update the tools available to France’s spies.’

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Think it’s cool Facebook can auto-tag you in pics? So does the government

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

State-of-the-art facial recognition technology, which had been the stuff of hypothetical privacy nightmares for years, is becoming a startling reality. It is increasingly being deployed all around the United States by giant tech companies, shady advertisers and the FBI – with few if any rules to stop it.

In recent weeks, both Facebook and Google launched facial recognition to mine the photos on your phone, with both impressive and disturbing results. Facebook’s Moments app can recognize you even if you cover your face. Google Photos can identify grown adults from decades-old childhood pictures.

Some people might find it neat when it’s only restricted to photos on their phone. But advertisers, security companies and just plain creepy authority figures have also set up their own systems at music festivals, sporting events and even some churches to monitor attendees, which is bound to disturb even those who don’t give a second thought to issues like the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.’

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Major Strikes on Three Continents Spark Fears of Growing ISIS Reach

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

The first Friday of Ramadan was a bloody one indeed, with three major attacks on three continents, coming even as a major ISIS attack on the Kurdish city of Kobani was leaving nearly 200 civilians dead. A bombing claimed by an ISIS affiliate on a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait killed 27, 39 more were killed in a strike by apparent ISIS gunmen at a Tunisia resort. Another attack, in Paris, left one man dead.

Of the three attacks, only the one in Kuwait has been conclusively linked to ISIS, and the suspect in the French strike was a Salafist, but killed his boss, so it may have been coincidental timing. Still, these attacks are fueling growing international fear about ISIS’ considerable reach.

ISIS has made considerable territorial gains over the past two years, carving out a “caliphate” across both Iraq and Syria, and holding roughly half of the entire area of Syria. They hold oil-rich territory, cities of millions, and are about to issue their own currency.’

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Western collusion with Egypt’s reign of terror

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

[…] So far, Egypt has signed a grant total of $158 billion worth of agreements and memoranda of understanding with international companies, many of which have focused on energy.

Apart from Germany, Britain and Israel, as of March 2015, Egypt has also signed a $1.8 billion deal with China to develop Egypt’s electricity transmission grid; a $2.4 billion deal with companies from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to develop solar and wind power stations; a $7 billion deal with Saudi Arabia to develop a coal power station; a $5 billion deal with Italian oil major Eni to develop Egypt’s oil resources over four years.

Meanwhile, Sisi has appropriated the “war on terror” rhetoric of his Western benefactors to legitimise his brutal crackdown on political dissent and civil society activism.

Presenting himself as a bulwark of regional stability in the face of rising Islamist extremism, the West has rushed to shore up his tyranny primarily with energy contracts, but also, it seems, through direct collusion in Sisi’s domestic human rights abuses to crush political opposition.

The West has learned no lessons from the fall of Mubarak – except to keep doing more of the same.’

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Top U.S. general predicts international presence in Afghanistan for years to come

Josh Smith reported late last month for Stars and Stripes:

As Afghan forces try to fend off attacks by resurgent militants, the top coalition commander has been meeting with NATO leaders to hammer out details of a plan that could keep thousands of international advisers in the country for years to come.

“There is overwhelming support to do something” to continue to aid the Afghan security forces,” Gen. John Campbell, who commands both NATO’s Resolute Support mission as well as the American counterterrorism force in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Saturday.

What exactly that “something” is remains to be seen, but Campbell said some thirty countries have voiced support for a continued international mission in Afghanistan. NATO leaders have said they are planning for a civilian-led military mission to continue after the current training and advising-focused Resolute Support mission expires at the end of 2016.

Campbell said as many as 1,000 troops supported by contractors and other civilians could remain in Afghanistan past 2016 to try to help Afghan security forces stave off attacks by Taliban and other insurgent groups.’

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Wikileaks says NSA spied on last 3 French presidents: Interview with Robert David Steele

Robert David Steele is a former CIA case officer working in the clandestine services. He is the author of a number of books including The Open Source Everything. The book he mentions on mutual spying between America and its allies is available here.

Greece is a sideshow. The eurozone has failed, and Germans are its victims too.

Aditya Chakrabortty writes for The Guardian:

Matt Kenyon illustrationNearly every discussion of the Greek fiasco is based on a morality play. Call it Naughty Greece versus Noble Europe. Those troublesome Greeks never belonged in the euro, runs this story. Once inside, they got themselves into a big fat mess – and now it’s up to Europe to sort it all out.

Those are the basics all Wise Folk agree on. Then those on the right go on to say feckless Greece must either accept Europe’s deal or get out of the single currency. Or if more liberal, they hem and haw, cough and splutter, before calling for Europe to show a little more charity to its southern basketcase. Whatever their solution, the Wise Folk agree on the problem: it’s not Brussels that’s at fault, it’s Athens. Oh, those turbulent Greeks! That’s the attitude you smell when the IMF’s Christine Lagarde decries the Syriza government for not being “adult” enough. That’s what licenses the German press to portray Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as needing “psychiatric help”.

There’s just one problem with this story: like most morality tales, it shatters upon contact with hard reality. Athens is merely the worst outbreak of a much bigger disease within the euro project. Because the single currency isn’t working for ordinary Europeans, from the Ruhr valley to Rome.’

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Google, Dow and Deutsche Bank break into top 10 biggest corporate EU lobbying spenders

Olivier Hoedeman reports for Lobby Facts EU:

[…] While Exxon, Microsoft and Shell were also in the top of the biggest spenders last October, Google (which almost tripled its declared lobby spending), Dow (quadrupled), Deutsche Bank (doubled) and BP (doubled) are new in the top-10, due to remarkable increases in lobby spending. Compared to last October, Philip Morris International (PMI), GDF SUEZ (now called Engie) and Bayer have fallen out of the top-10. The new figures from tobacco giant PMI indicate that it has reduced its spending by almost 75%. This may reflect that the EU Tobacco Product Directive was finalised in early 2014, after several years of intense and controversial tobacco industry lobbying.

Combined, the top-10 declares to have spent over 37 million euro on lobbying on an annual basis, compared to 39 million euro the previous year. A modest decline in overall lobby spending among companies was perhaps to be expected, considering that 2014 was a year with European Parliament elections and the transition to a new European Commission team, which meant the EU’s legislative process was dormant for many months.

All the above figures should be treated with great caution, as the EU’s Transparency Register relies on estimates of lobby spending provided by the registrants themselves, with insufficient oversight or quality control due to low staff numbers at the register secretariat. Increases in declared lobby spending may reflect real changes in level of lobbying activity, but may also show up because companies were previously under-reporting on their spending, preferring their lobbying to appear smaller than it really is.’

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Where is Belgian euthanasia headed, asks The New Yorker

Michael Cook writes for BioEdge:

The long-drawn-out case of a woman who asked for euthanasia in 2012 may eventually reach a criminal court in Belgium. The European Court of Human Rights wants a Belgian court to hear allegations that there were serious irregularities in the euthanasis of Godelieva De Troyer by  Dr Wim Distelmans.

Ms De Troyer’s son, Tom Mortier, a university lecturer, claims that her own doctor denied his mother’s request for euthanasia because she was depressed. However, Dr Distelmans, who had no psychiatric expertise, readily agreed. Ms De Troyer made a 2,500 Euro donation to Dr Distelman’s Life End Information Forum, which suggests that there may have been a conflict of interest.

Ms De Troyer’s death was just one of 1,432 registered euthanasia deaths in Belgium in 2012. But a careful examination of the details of the case in America’s foremost literary magazine, The New Yorker, this week raises serious doubts about the wisdom of legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia in the United States and elsewhere. It is essential reading for anyone interested in end-of-life issues.’

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NATO Gets Tough After Russia Increases Nuclear Arsenal

Europe’s peaceful period “now over,” says Polish defense minister

DW reports:

NATO Manöver in PolenSpeaking on Thursday in Poland, following the first full exercise of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) or spearhead, Siemoniak said Europe must now do more to defend it’s itself due to the increasing number of crises erupting around the continent.

“It’s not only the Ukrainian and Russian crisis, but also [the “Islamic State”] and a number of different crises in northern Africa,” he said. “I think it’s a task for all of us to persuade the public that they should be ready to do more before it’s too late.”

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg joined Siemoniak in the Polish town of Zagan on Thursday to observe the NATO maneuvers. The Western military alliance was “implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defenses since the end of the Cold War,” Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

The move came after Russia announced that it would add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.’

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Juncker’s hidden hand? EU tax haven blacklist omits Luxembourg

Tax Justice Network reports:

We have often remarked how international tax haven blacklists generally reflect the political powers and influence of nation states; as a result they tend to include ‘minnows’ but not the big fish. (Among other things, this means a lot of econometric studies resting on a baseline of nonsense.)

So The Guardian‘s headline yesterday illustrates our point exactly. We’ve partly plagiarised its headline Tax haven blacklist omits Luxembourg as Brussels announces reform plans, which kind of tells the whole story. Yesterday’s huge Walmart story involving Luxembourg just emphasises the point.’

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Think Tank: Global Conflicts “Cost 13% of World GDP”

BBC News reports:

Syrian residents flee Maskana town in the Aleppo countryside and make their way towards the Turkish border on 16 June 2015Conflicts around the world cost $14.3tn (£9.1tn) last year, 13% of world GDP, says a survey on global peace.

That amount is equivalent to the combined economies of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, the report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) said.

The divide between the most peaceful and the least peaceful nations was deepening, the annual report added.

Iceland is the world’s most peaceful nation, whilst Syria is the least.

Libya saw the most severe deterioration over the course of 2014, according to the Australia-based IEP says.

The Middle East and North Africa now ranks as the world’s most violent region, overtaking South Asia which received that ranking for 2013.’

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Selling Out: Germany Sends Wrong Message By Welcoming Egypt’s Sisi

Raniah Salloum wrote recently for Der Spiegel:

On Wednesday [June 3rd], the German government is welcoming Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Berlin for an official state visit, despite the fact that he imprisons and tortures critics and even has them killed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) previously stated she would only invite the Egyptian leader after parliamentary elections, which probably would be neither free nor fair. But now he has been invited to Berlin, even without any date in sight for elections. What caused this change of heart?

In March, Egypt’s Constitutional Court annulled the country’s election law. Sisi invited international investors to Sharm el-Sheikh. German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) then traveled to the country with a delegation of business leaders. At the time, German engineering multinational Siemens signed memorandums of understanding worth up to €10 billion ($11.14 billion) with the Egyptian government. Gabriel then personally delivered to Sisi the chancellor’s coveted invitation to visit Berlin.

The German government is forfeiting one of its most powerful diplomatic instruments in exchange for a lucrative business deal. By welcoming Sisi in Berlin, the government is now providing him with the international recognition he needs. It is legitimizing a leader who is ruling Egypt more brutally than Hosni Mubarak did.’

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TTIP vote postponed as European Parliament descends into panic over trade deal

Hazel Sheffield reports for The Independent:

An historic vote on the biggest trade deal ever negotiated between the EU and the US has had to be postponed after the European Parliament descended into chaos.

European MPs were due to vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership on Wednesday. But the vote had to be delayed because there were too many proposed amendments.

“It’s panic in parliament,” Yannick Jadot, a Green MEP from France, told AFP.

Ministers have disagreed over a controversial dispute mechanism that some fear would allow big companies to bypass national courts to resolve disputes with investors.

Socialist groups in the European Parliament reportedly blocked the dispute mechanism on Tuesday, which resulted in the vote being postponed.’

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What really goes on at G7? Interview with Nick Dearden

‘Nick Dearden, Director of NGO Global Justice Now, talks about what is really going on at the summit in the Bavarian town of Schloss Elmau. As the leaders of the richest countries on the globe meet to discuss improving the world, are they really just planning policies to benefit elites in Western countries? Plus what is The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and how is it making it easier for big corporations to buy up land in developing countries.’ (Going Underground)