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Thursday, December 14, 2017

US Wars: Wars are bleeding the US economy dry and the success rate of these wars? A bigger than life O

Investment in the US military versus return on investment?
Emily Larsen wrote in  the Daily Caller on Friday 8 November, that President Donald Trump claimed the U.S. has spent $7 trillion in the Middle East at a rally in Florida on Friday. This time he Presidewnt Trump seemed to have at least the some of the figures right  even thogh he might have mixed up the sequence of these figures..

Trump said: “We have spent as of two months ago almost $7 trillion in the Middle East,” Trump said. “And you know what we have? We have nothing. It’s worse than it was 17 years ago when they started.”

Trump made similar claims during the 2016 presidential election and in his first months in office, alluding to the cost of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Some figures from studies mainly, based on figures provided by the military estimate U.S. spending on wars in the Middle East is high, about $4.4 trillion, but not as high as Trump claims.

War spending in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria since 2001 is about $4.4 trillion, according to professor Neta Crawford from Brown University’s Costs of War project.

The Department of Defense (DOD) reported in June it had spent only $1.5 trillion on war-related costs since Sept. 11, 2001. But Crawford says that direct DOD spending doesn’t tell the whole story.

“War costs are more than what we spend in any one year on what’s called the pointy end of the spear,” she told The Wall Street Journal last month. “There are all these other costs behind the spear, and there are consequences of using it, that we need to include.”

Crawford’s $4.4 trillion figure includes costs through 2017 for operations overseas, medical and disability claims for veterans, counter terrorism efforts by the Department of Homeland Security and interest on borrowing for the wars.

Her estimate comes closer to Trump’s $7 trillion figure, when including expected future spending. When including expenditures for veteran health care through 2056 and estimated war costs for 2018, total war-related spending rises to $5.6 trillion.

A Harvard working paper from 2013 estimated that the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will total between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. These figures are also closer to Trump’s claim, but they are also based on cost estimates of veteran care for decades to come. Trump’s claim is based on costs to date.

Another factor is that the wars in the Middle East are financed almost entirely with debt. Crawford’s study estimates that accumulated interest on war appropriations through 2013 alone will add $7.9 trillion to the national debt by 2056. But, again, these are expected costs, not costs so far.

Note EU-Digest: the bottom line,whatever way one tries to juggle with the figures, is quite clear. The US is spending far too much on its military activities and basically have very little or nothing to show for it.  

Consequently, the EU must at least have the courage to also question these expenditure,  specially after President Trump scolded them for not paying their share of NATO expenditures. After all, what would otherwise be the purpose for EU nations to remain in the NATO?   


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Global Warming: World Bank won't back oil and gas projects after 2019

The World Bank has confirmed that it will stop financing upstream oil and gas projects after 2019 except under exceptional circumstances in the world's poorest countries.

The global financial institution made the announcement at climate summit in Paris on Tuesday, which took place roughly two years after the historic COP21 climate conference in the same city.

At Tuesday's summit, French insurance giant AXA announced that it will cease insuring the oilsands sector and new coal projects, and will divest more than US$3.5 billion from oilsands and coal companies. This includes divestment from energy giants TransCanada, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge, all of which have Canadian offices and are constructing major pipelines: Keystone XL, the Trans Mountain expansion and Line 3, respectively.

The announcements were among highlights of a one-day "One Planet Summit" attended by about 50 world leaders and 2,000 participants, including Canada and Quebec environment ministers, environmental organizations, business officials and public figures such as actor Sean Penn.
The goal was to find financial solutions to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and allocate more money to help developing countries that will help their transition to low-carbon economies in the fight against climate change.

“We’re determined to work with all of you to put the right policies in place, get market forces moving in the right direction, put the money on the table, and accelerate action,” World Bank president Jim Young Kim told the closing plenary.

Conference co-organizers, including the Government of France, the World Bank and the United Nations, called in advance of the summit for “concrete action” to reignite momentum as the United States remains absent from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. Reached in December 2015, the accord aims to keep global warming below 2°C this century.

“We are losing the battle,” French President Emmanuel Macron told participants. “The agreement has become fragile and we’re not going fast enough.”

Several financially stable countries and multilateral institutions made important pledges to help developing countries meet their commitments under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord on climate action.

That roadmap calls for the world to raise US$100-billion every year to help such countries meet their emissions goals by 2020. Last year however, the OECD estimated that only US$43 billion had been pledged, including $2.65 billion in funding from the Government of Canada by 2021

The absence of the United States remained bittersweet and disappointing for most participants, including California Governor Jerry Brown and former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who talked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “irresponsible” decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

But former New York mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg said he thought it had increased momentum.

“There isn't anything Washington can do to stop us, quite the contrary, I think that President Trump has helped rally people who understand the problem to join forces and to actually do something rather than waiting for the federal government to do something,” Bloomberg said at a press conference.

Bloomberg and several other major economic leaders, including Bank of England governor Mark Carney, announced 237 companies worth more than $6.3 trillion had committed to participate in a wide-reaching Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.

The task force aims to gather reliable data about the environmental metrics of its members, such as the carbon footprint of their operations.

According to the task force, only 20 per cent of major companies are currently reporting this kind of data. Bloomberg and his partners want to change that so CEOS, board members and shareholders can make informed decisions about their management practices and investment.

“Nobody would survive a board meeting where they said, 'I don't know that this risk is going to happen so let's just sit around and do nothing,'" said Bloomberg.

One of the task force members is AXA, the world’s third largest insurance company.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was among the world leaders who said private sector involvement in climate financing is urgent in the race against environmental catastrophe.

“We need to be smarter about this. We have to stop the old school way of thinking where governments are going to take actions,” she said at a panel. “We're missing a lot if we don't leverage the private sector.”

Responding to McKenna's comments however, Environmental Defense national program manager Dale Marshall emphasized that public financing will always be necessary.

“It's really hard to leverage private sector dollars to do adaptation work and that's really where governments need to step in with public money,” Marshall told National Observer.

Pembina Institute federal policy director Erin Flanagan made similar comments. National transitions to a low-carbon economy should be led by governments, she explained, and public policy must create a clear and assertive framework for the private sector, so it understands how it can support the green transition.

“If industry knows that the government is serious about achieving emissions neutrality by 2050, they will be less likely to build gas plants, they will be less likely to build new oil sands operations,” she told National Observer at the summit. “I think we still have a way to go at home to make sure that that consensus on the deadline is well developed.”

Meantime, McKenna unveiled a partnership with the World Bank to support developing countries’ transition away from traditional coal-fired electricity and toward clean energy. A press release said the parties would share best practices "on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities."

The partnership announcement came just as a Canadian and German environmental organizations released a report listing six Canadian financial companies among the world's top 100 investors in new coal plants. Friends of the Earth and Urgenwald looked at the top 100 private investors putting money down to expand coal-fired electricity — sometimes in places where there isn't any coal-generated power at the moment.

Together, Sun Life, Power Corporation, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife Financial and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have pledged $2.9 billion towards building new coal plants overseas, the report said.

Urgewald tracks coal plants around the world and reports there are 1,600 new plants in development in 62 nations, more than a dozen of which don't have any coal-fired plants now.

Read more: World Bank won't back oil and gas projects after 2019 | National Observer

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Brexit: EU leaders welcome Brexit divorce deal -by Eszter Zalan

EU leaders welcomed the Brexit agreement on the terms of divorce and said they were ready to launch discussions on the future relationship.

British prime minister May's fellow leaders in Europe welcomed Friday's hard-won Brexit agreement on divorce, but Berlin in particular warned that the more 'highly complex' part of negotiations is to come.

Read more: EU leaders welcome Brexit divorce deal

Saturday, December 9, 2017

EU, Eurasian Economic Union, Eurassia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia

The squabble between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was relatively petty, but the cracks that their dispute exposed in the Eurasian Economic Union, a trading bloc to which they both belong, are proving harder than ever to paper over.

In mid-October, days after the outgoing Kyrgyz president lashed out at his counterpart in Kazakhstan with a barrage of insults, a low-intensity trade row erupted. For a period of around six weeks, Kazakhstani border officials intensified checks on cross-border traffic, causing massive delays in the process. Fruits and vegetables piled high in idle vehicles on the Kyrgyz side of the border rotted, leading to significant losses for exporters. At one point, Astana also banned the import of a range of dairy goods from Kyrgyzstan.

While such disputes are not unprecedented in Central Asia, there was something especially awkward about this crisis, given that both countries involved are Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) members. Russia, Belarus and Armenia are the other members of the EEU.

Former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev, who in November concluded a six-year term as head of state, was livid that the EEU as an organization failed to get invol

For all Atambayev’s irritation, however, the reality is that the EEU in its current form, which has uneasily joined its five mismatched members in 2015, has few efficient mechanisms for tackling such situations. While the job should fall to the bloc’s permanent institutions, in practice members look to figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin to act as a power broker.

“The Eurasian [Economic] Commission has no power to settle disputes. If the problem gets too big, it will go to the level of the Supreme Council for resolution, which means Putin (alongside the other heads of state),” Sean Roberts, an associate professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, told in an email.

The primary shortcomings of the EEU were engineered unwittingly — or perhaps inescapably — into the bloc at its very inception. The most glaring issues are grossly unequal economies, the highly personalized style of semi-authoritarian leadership typical in the post-Soviet space and the reluctance by any members to yield any significant say over internal policy decisions to supra-national institutions. This combination, said political analyst Denis Berdyakov, will indefinitely hamper the development of the EEU.

“Initially, all the elites wanted to feel the benefits of integration, but they didn’t want to relinquish a share of political sovereignty,” Berdyakov said. “Other global blocs are quickly growing strong and the EEU is just not keeping up with them.”
Read moreL Eurasian Economic Union:  Many Problems, Few Solutions |

Friday, December 8, 2017

EU and Japan finalize trade deal

The EU and Japan finalised negotiations on a free trade agreement on Friday (8 December), the bloc's executive announced. The accord builds on the political agreement reached by the two sides over the summer. However, the deal does not cover investment protection yet, as negotiations on dispute resolution continue. The deal creates an economic zone of 30 percent of the world's GDP, according to the EU commission.

Read more: EU and Japan finalise trade deal

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Europe – A World-Class Place To Live And Work? -by Juan Menéndez-Valdés

A world-class place to live and work.’ That is how President Juncker described Europe at the summit to formally proclaim the EU Pillar of Social Rights in Gothenburg last month.

And he added: ‘Europe is more than just a single market, more than money … It is about our values and the way we want to live’.

So how do we live? Do the 510 million Europeans across the current 28 Member States really feel that their living conditions are ‘world-class’?

Certainly, many do. But many others still face inequalities and feel excluded or insecure, worry about access to decent housing and jobs and wonder about the future for themselves and their children. This is reflected in growing populist sentiment that seems to reject the Establishment, making the general narrative on Europe appear largely negative.

But, as always, the reality is significantly more complex.

In fact, the last few years have been generally good and the ‘wind is (indeed) back in Europe’s sails’.

The results from the most recent European Quality of Life Survey show overall progress in the areas of quality of life, quality of society and quality of public services. We have seen improvements for many, although from low points following the economic crisis. Indeed, in some cases, the indicators finally display a return to pre-crisis levels – reflecting, in part, the general economic upturn and return to growth across the Member States.

Levels of optimism have risen, and life satisfaction and happiness ratings have remained generally high in most EU countries. Satisfaction with living standards has increased in a majority of Member States and more people can now make ends meet than was the case in 2011.

Trust in national institutions has actually increased across the board and young people in particular show greater trust in other people. The welcome growth in engagement and participation in social and community organisations across Member States and the decline in feelings of social exclusion, which were more prevalent in the downturn, are also signs of a more positive post-crisis environment.

Indeed, perceived tensions in society between poor and rich people, management and workers, old and young persons and men and women, have all declined during the last five years.

Older people indeed fare less well than their younger counterparts, particularly in some central and eastern European countries, and age clearly contributes to decreasing life satisfaction in Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia. In two-thirds of the EU Member States, more than half of respondents also have concerns about their levels of income in old age.

In fact, despite growth that has seen fewer people reporting material hardship compared to five years ago, over half of the population in 11 Member States still say they have difficulties making ends meet.

This is marginally down on the 13 Member States where the majority of people expressed difficulties making ends meet in 2011 , but still more than 2007 levels. As always, the poor suffer most, and the results show that quality of life has improved less for those in lower income groups.

Read the complete report: Europe – A World-Class Place To Live And Work?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

EU releases "nebulous" tax haven blacklist; Netherlands not on it - by Janene Pieters

The European Union published its black list of tax havens. It consists of 17 countries the EU believes help multinationals and rich people avoid the tax authorities. The Netherlands does not appear on the list - no EU countries do. But Aruba and Curacao, which form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, were placed on a "gray list" - they have two years to implement promised improvements, or they'll be blacklisted, the Volkskrant reports.

This blacklist was compiled following journalistic revelations about large scale tax evasion by multinationals, entrepreneurs, politicians and others from documents like the Panama papers, the Paradise papers, Lux leaks and the like. After over a year of negotiations, the EU member states agreed to put 17 countries on the blacklist, including Panama, the United Arab Emirates, the Marshall Islands and Grenada. The countries on this EU blacklist can be penalized with trade barriers, stricter controls, loss of EU subsidies and additional tax levies, according to the newspaper.

In addition to the blacklist, the Member States also agreed to put 47 countries on a gray list. These countries promised enough improvements not to be blacklisted immediately. They have a maximum of 2 years to implement these improvements, or they will be moved to the blacklist. In addition to Aruba and Curacao, these countries also include Hon Kong, Taiwan, Turkey, the Cayman Islands, the Seychelles, Guernsey and Andorra.

European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici of Economic and Financial Affairs emphasized that these lists were compiled by the Member States and not by the European Commission. It is up to the Member States themselves how they handle their taxes, and the Member States can decide whether to impose sanctions against the countries on the black list. The Commission tried to impose an obligation to do so, but it failed.

The Socialists and Greens in the European Parliament called the list weak, according to the newspaper. The Greens believe that Member States like the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Great Britain and Cyprus should also be on the blacklist. "It is sad that the member states have shown so little courage and responsibility", PvdA European Parliamentarian Paul Tang said to the Volkskrant. He added that the cry of indignation about tax evasion was smothered in the back rooms of Brussels.

Last week development company Oxfam Novib also said that if the criteria for non-EU countries were also applied to EU member states, the . The company referred specifically to the Netherlands' sweetheart tax deal with American coffee giant Starbucks.

Last year the Netherlands was reprimanded by the European Commission for allowing Starbucks to avoid almost 26 million euros in taxes through the Netherlands. Despite the Dutch government's objections, the 

Read more: EU releases tax haven blacklist; Netherlands not on it | NL Times