Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Music Video - Europe - Rock the Night

An Aging Europe’s Decline

Arthur C. Brooks

“I’VE fallen and I can’t get up.”
These words, shouted by an elderly woman, were made famous in a medical alert device ad in the 1990s. In 2015, they might be Europe’s catchphrase.
As the United States economy slowly recovers, analysts across the political spectrum see little to cheer them from Europe. The optimists see the region’s economy growing by just 1 percent in 2015; many others fear that a triple-dip recession is in the offing. Germany is widely viewed as a healthy country whose prosperity helps compensate for Europe’s weakness, yet over the past two quarters for which we have data, it has experienced no net growth at all.Predictions of decade-long deflation, low productivity and high unemployment are becoming conventional wisdom.
What does the Continent need? Most economists and pundits focus on monetary and fiscal policy, as well as labor-market reform. Get the policy levers and economic incentives right, and the Continent might escape the vortex of decline, right?
Probably not. As important as good economic policies are, they will not fix Europe’s core problems, which are demographic, not economic. This was the point made in a speech to the European Parliament in November by none other than Pope Francis. As the pontiff put it, “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.”
But wait, it gets worse: Grandma Europe is not merely growing old. She is also getting dotty. She is, as the pope sadly explained in an earlier speech to a conference of bishops, “weary with disorientation.”
Some readers might regret the pope’s use of language — we love our grandmothers, weary with disorientation or not. But as my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt shows in his research, the pope’s analysis is fundamentally sound.
Start with age. According to the United States Census Bureau’s International Database, nearly one in five Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. This is hard enough to endure, given the countries’ early retirement ages and pay-as-you-go pension systems. But by 2030, this will have risen to one in four. If history is any guide, aging electorates will direct larger and larger portions of gross domestic product to retirement benefits — and invest less in opportunity for future generations.
Next, look at fertility. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid-1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That’s up a hair from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That’s where Europe is heading in the coming decades. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer Christmas presents to buy.
There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?
Finally, consider employment. Last September, the United States’ labor force participation rate — the percentage of adults who are either working or looking for work — reached a 36-year low of just 62.7 percent.
Yet as bad as that is, the United States looks decent compared with most of Europe. Our friends across the Atlantic like to say that we live to work, while they work to live. That might be compelling if more of them were actually working. According to the most recent data available from the World Bank, the labor force participation rate in the European Union in 2013 was 57.5 percent. In France it was 55.9 percent. In Italy, just 49.1 percent.
One bright spot might seem to be immigration. In 2012, the median age of the national population in the European Union was 41.9 years, while the median age of foreigners living in the union was 34.7. So, are Europeans pleased that there will be new arrivals to work and pay taxes when the locals retire?
Not exactly. Anti-immigrant sentiment is surging across the Continent. Nativist movements performed alarmingly well in European Parliament elections last year. Europe is less like a grandmother knitting placidly in the window and more like an angry grandfather, shaking his rake and yelling at outsiders to get off his lawn.
None of this should give Americans cause for schadenfreude. At a purely practical level, a European market in further decline will suppress American growth. But more important, European deterioration will dissipate the vast good the Continent can do in spreading the values of democracy and freedom around the world.
So what is the prescription for Europe’s ills — and the lesson for America’s future?
It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.
Europe needs visionary leaders and a social movement to rediscover that people are assets to develop, not liabilities to manage. If it cannot or will not meet this existential challenge, a “lost decade” will look like a walk in the park for Grandma Europe.

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Obama will veto Keystone bill

Jeremy Diamond

President Barack Obama will veto the Keystone XL bill if Congress passes a measure green-lighting the oil pipeline, White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced on Tuesday.
The pipeline is currently in a final phase of review from the State Department, which has already concluded that it would have a minimal impact on the environment. But the State Department also assessed that the pipeline would create about 42,000 jobs directly and indirectly during the construction period -- but just 50 permanent jobs.
The White House reviewed the text of the bill to authorize the pipeline on Monday, Earnest said.
Obama's objection to the legislation, Earnest said, is not based on the merits of the project so much as the idea Congress was trying to take the decision out of the hands of the executive branch.
"The President has been pretty clear that he does not think that circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is the right thing for Congress to do," Earnest said.
    Previously, Obama had not said if he would veto another bill to authorize the pipeline, but suggested his position hadn't changed since he threatened to during the 113th Congress.
    Newly minted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline project a priority for the new Congress. The bill has some bipartisan support, but environmentalists and progressives have heavily lobbied the White House to oppose the pipeline.
    Democrats sought to delay progress on the bill by insisting the Senate vote to confirm committee members of the new Congress before proceeding with the pipeline legislation. Republicans are miffed Democrats objected over this technicality, but insist it won't have much practical impact on the bill. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee still plans to meet Thursday to vote to send it to the floor. The delay means a final Senate vote probably won't happen until sometime around the State of the Union address, which is the following Tuesday, January 20th.
    The House is expected is to pass its Keystone bill on Friday.
    House Speaker John Boehner's office quickly released a statement on Tuesday calling Obama out for opposing the pipeline, a decision Boehner painted as another sign Obama is "hopelessly out of touch" with Americans.
    "His answer is no to more American infrastructure, no to more American energy and no to more American jobs," Boehner said. "Fringe extremists in the President's party are the only ones who oppose Keystone, but the President has chosen to side with them instead of the American people and the government's own scientific evidence that this project is safe for the environment."
    A bill to authorize the pipeline failed in the last weeks of the Democratic-led Senate last year, but a new Republican majority ensured the vote could reach a 60-vote filibuster proof majority. Supporters of the pipeline would need to whip 67 votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto.
    Sens. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, introduced legislation to greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday, just hours before Earnest announced the President's commitment to veto any legislation.

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    Bahrain forces attack people protesting Shia cleric’s arrest

    Security forces in Bahrain have attacked demonstrators protesting the detention of Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the country’s main opposition bloc.
    On Tuesday, troops used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, causing a number of injuries.
    Demonstrators had gathered outside the house of Sheikh Salman, who leads the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, in Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of the Bahraini capital, Manama.
    Similar clashes have taken place over the past days.
    Bahraini forces detained Salman on December 28, two days after he was re-elected as the party’s leader.
    He was remanded in custody on Monday for two more weeks, pending an investigation into charges, including seeking to change the regime by force.
    Prosecutor Nayef Mahmud has said that Salman had confessed during questioning to having "contacted regimes and political groups abroad with whom he discussed Bahraini internal affairs."
    "The prosecution has ordered his continued detention for 15 days pending investigations," he added in a statement.
    Since mid-February 2011, thousands of protesters have held numerous rallies in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.
    The European Union has warned that Sheikh Salman’s arrest will worsen Bahrain’s already fragile political and security situation.
    On December 30, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Manama regime to release the al-Wefaq leader.

    Western idealism is cruelled in the Middle East

    By Tom Switzer

    Yezidi survivors say they cannot forgive Arab complicity in ISIS atrocities


    By Hemin Abdulla 

    Yezidi women baking bread on Mount Shingal.
    Yezidi women baking bread on Mount Shingal.
    SHARAFADIN, Kurdistan Region – Rasho and Salim, survivors of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) unmitigated violence against the Yezidis, are the two faces of a community struggling with the aftermath: one regards all Arabs as enemies fit to die, and the other sees them as fellow victims.
    As Kurdish Peshmerga forces fight to clean up remaining ISIS fighters from Shingal and the surrounding Yezidi areas the jihadis captured in an assault last August, many Yezidis cannot forget how their own Arab neighbors had turned against them and sided with the militants.
    Anti-Arab sentiments are so deep rooted among Yezidis that most of their religious men refuse even to wear the Arab headbands, or “agals,” that used to be part of their traditional costume.
    Rasho and Salim have both returned to see if their homes still stand in Sinune, a Yezidi Kurdish town near the Syrian border that the Peshmerga recaptured from ISIS just a few days ago.
    “If I see an Arab right now, I will kill him,” says Rasho, a 20-year-old in the Kurdish Yezidi town of Sinune near the Syrian border who has joined the Peshmerga forces and sports a beret in the style of the late Argentinian revolutionary, Che Guevara. 
    Whenever he sees Arabic writing on the walls of Sinune he turns away in anger: “I used to have so many Arab friends, but they betrayed us.”
    For Salim, who works as a laborer and lives in a camp near Duhok, all Arabs “are not the same.”
    He adds: “I still have Arab friends. Just like us, they have left their hometown and now they are sheltered in Erbil. They call me regularly and ask about my situation. As a matter of fact, during the Eid they called me.” 
    The village of Hardan, just a 10-minute car ride from Sinune, used to be populated by Arabs, Turkomen and Yezidi Kurds.
    Although there has been no fighting there for several days, plumes of smoke are still seen rising from the village. One villager, Rashid, whispers that the smoke is from Arab homes being secretly burned in revenge.
    “Some Kurds, without the knowledge of the Peshmerga, go and set those houses on fire,” he explains, confiding that he agrees with the practice.
    He and others in Hardan testify that, before the arrival of ISIS, the Arab residents closed the villages gates to prevent anyone from escaping. As a result, ISIS captured and massacred 500 Yezidi Kurds. 
    The brotherhood that once existed among the Yezidi and Arab residents is gone forever, one villager says: “There is no brotherhood after betrayal. They insulted our honor; they are no longer our brothers.” 
    Tensions seethe in villages like Awinat, where many Arabs have remained put in their homes, despite efforts by some Yezidis to force them out – which has been prevented by the Peshmerga.
    “I saw Arabs with my own eyes when they tied our children to the trees, cut off their legs and executed them,” says Ageed, a Yezidi Kurd who has joined the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that have joined forces with the Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS.
    He says that the Arabs should pay for what they did, and he is more than willing to fight them out of the village.
    “The price is that they should leave us, we don’t want them to live among us,” says Ageed, who tries to convince a Peshmerga commander for permission to enter one of the Arab villages. 
    But the commander warns: “We have orders from the president of the Kurdistan Region that no one should attack them.” 
    In the village of Sharafadin Sheikh Ismael Bahri, guardian of the second most important shrine for Yezidis after Lalish, shares the anti-Arab sentiments of much of his community.
    In his guesthouse, the photos on display show him with an agal on his head, though he says he no longer wears one.
    “The Arabs in our area betrayed us, that is why we decided to throw away our agals. Now you can rarely see a Yezidi wearing an agal, even if someone does, he is looked down upon,” Bahri explains.  
    In four mass graves found in Sharafadin, many of the agals mixed in with flesh and decayed body parts are shot through with bullet holes.
    Bahri calls upon the international community “to help Yezidis establish an independent Yezidi Region which would be part of the Kurdistan Region and under the supervision of the United Nations.”
    He warns: “there will be no place for Arabs in that Region.”

    Saudi Arabia is right to be anxious over its ideological links with ISIS

    In a pre-dawn raid on Monday, militants attacked a Saudi border post from the Iraqi side of the frontier. The resulting clash left three soldiers and four militants dead, according to the Saudi government news agency.
    It later emerged that one of the dead soldiers was no ordinary border guard but the commander of Saudi Arabia’s northern border forces, Brigadier General Awdah al-Balawi. This suggests that the attack, far from being random or opportunistic, had been carefully targeted and perhaps based on inside information regarding the general’s whereabouts.
    The attack has been widely attributed to Islamic State, with some reports saying the rebel group has now claimed responsibility for it. This might be viewed simply as a reprisal for Saudi participation in the US-led bombing campaign against Isis, but Isis has also been seeking to extend the current conflict in Syria and Iraq into Saudi territory.
    There is no doubt that Isis has both sympathisers and active supporters inside the kingdom – it claimed responsibility for shooting a Danish citizen in Riyadh last November, for example – but whether it will be able to establish a military foothold is another question. Isis tends to flourish militarily in places where central government is weak, but that is not the case in Saudi Arabia.
    In military terms, the Saudi security apparatus is probably capable of suppressing Isis on its own territory, just as it did with al-Qaeda a decade or so ago, but it is in no position to confront Isis at the ideological level. The problem here is that Isis and the Saudis’ Islamic kingdom are ideologically similar, so attempts to challenge Isis on ideological grounds risk undermining the Saudi state too. As Heba Saleh and Simeon Kerr noted in the Financial Times last September:
    “Some of the features of Isis ideology, such as its hatred of Shia Muslims and application of strict punishments such as limb amputations, are shared with the purist Salafi thought that defines Saudi Wahhabism. Isis has explicitly referenced early Wahhabi teachers, such as Mohammed ibn Abdulwahhab, to justify its destruction of Shia shrines and Christian churches as it cuts a swath through Iraq and Syria. Thousands of Saudi nationals have been recruited to its ranks.
    “Yet, in contrast to the tacit official encouragement of more liberal voices after 9/11, any debate within Saudi Arabia over the role of its official creed in fostering the group’s extremism has been timid and largely confined to social media ...
    “The Saudi authorities have been quick to condemn Isis. But, according to observers, they are anxious to avoid a potentially destabilising examination of common ideological links between the extremist group and the Saudi religious school whose support underpins the legitimacy of the royal family.”
    The underlying issue, therefore, is the rival claims of king and would-be caliph. In the words of two Saudi government supporters: “To restore the ‘caliphate’, [Isis] would ultimately need to implant itself at the epicentre of Islamic life, the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. Therefore, [Isis’s] road to the caliphate runs through the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
    Inconveniently for the Saudi monarchy, this challenge from the upstart caliph comes at a time of uncertainty over the royal succession. King Abdullah, now in his 90s, is in hospital – reportedly being treated for pneumonia – and his likely successor, Crown Prince Salman, is thought to be 77 and not in good health.
    So far, Saudi efforts to confront Isis ideologically have mainly taken the form of denunciations from tame clerics – figures who have no prospect of influencing Isis supporters and sympathisers – but it is difficult to see what else they might do without calling their own state system into question.
    The king and his princes have dug a hole for themselves by harnessing religion in the pursuit of power. Religious credentials bolstered their claim to legitimacy and helped them assert their authority. For a long time, those credentials served them well, but now they are becoming a liability and it may be too late to unfasten the harness.



    Iraqi Minister of Human Rights Mohammed Mahdi Ameen al-Bayati says the Takfiri ISIL militants have sold more than 5,000 women and girls from Iraq’s Izadi Kurdish minority in their slave markets.
    He said on Monday that the terrorist group has also displaced thousands of Iraqi families, and forced their children to carry out bombings.
    Global rights organizations have also reported about Izadi women and girls being forced into slavery by the ISIL militants, saying each girl is sold for only 200 dollars.
    Amnesty International has reported that Iraqi Izadi girls and women who have been sexually enslaved by the Takfiri ISIL group commit suicide or attempt to do so.
    “Hundreds of Izadi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in ISIL captivity,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response advisor, said after interviewing over 40 Izadi girls who had escaped captivity in northern Iraq.
    “Many of those held as sexual slaves are children -- girls aged 14, 15, or even younger,” Rovera added.
    Iraqi Minister Bayati said the ISIL militants are committing atrocities against the Christian minority groups as well.
    Bayati added that his country has provided the UN Human Rights Council with evidence about the ISIL terrorist group’s crimes and called on the international community and global bodies to declare them as genocide.
    ISIL terrorists are currently in control of some areas across Syria and Iraq, where they have been carrying out horrific acts of violence, including public decapitations and crucifixions, against different Iraqi and Syrian communities such as Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians.
    The Iraqi army, backed by Shia fighters and Sunni tribes, has so far managed to make many gains in the fight against the ISIL extremists.

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    Afghanistan - No Cabinet Deal As Afghan President Marks 100 Days In Office

    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his first 100 days in office on January 6, still struggling to form a cabinet with the chief executive of his unity government, Abdullah Abdullah.
    The deadlock over senior cabinet positions underlines the challenges Ghani faces under a power-sharing deal reached in September with Abdullah after a disputed election marred by fraud.
    Their unity government deal was aimed at averting a civil war.
    But the ongoing political deadlock over the details of that deal, including who will take key cabinet posts, threatens to fuel the Taliban insurgency after most foreign troops have withdrawn from the country and handed over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
    Ghani, a former U.S. citizen and former World Bank official, had pledged before taking office that he would implement ambitious policy changes within the first 100 days in office.
    In his September 29 inaugural speech, Ghani pledged that he would stamp out corruption within the Afghan government.
    He also said he would purge Afghanistan’s judiciary of corrupt judges and he called on lawmakers in the Afghan parliament to stop abusing their influence by pressuring ministers for personal favors.
    Ghani also called on the Taliban and other militant groups to come to the negotiating table with Afghan officials.
    But Taliban leaders rejected those calls and increased their attacks in some parts of the country, including the capital, Kabul, as most foreign combat forces were withdrawn by the end of 2014.
    Of 140,000 foreign troops once in Afghanistan, about 13,000 remain under a new two-year mission called Resolute Support.
    The bulk of the force for that training and support operation, about 10,800 of troops, are from the United States.
    On January 4, during an interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes, Ghani said that Washington might want to "reexamine" its timetable for the remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
    Ghani said: "Deadlines concentrate the mind but deadlines should not be dogmas."
    Faced with frequent attacks by Taliban militants, Ghani also said "there should be a willingness to reexamine a deadline" if all sides have "done their best to achieve objectives."
    A Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, said on January 5 that the U.S. "plan remains in effect and there have been no changes to the drawdown timeline” as a result of Ghani’s remarks.
    Warren said the Pentagon still plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 5,000 by the end of 2015 and to draw down to a "normal" U.S. Embassy presence in Kabul at the end of 2016.
    But many observers inside and outside Afghanistan have expressed concerns about the ability of Afghan government forces to maintain security across the country.
    Analysts say President Barack Obama may eventually review the U.S. withdrawal timeline and that Ghani's statements would help explain that decision if he does so.

    Afghanistan Set Record for Growing Opium in 2014

    After thirteen years of occupation by U.S. forces, Afghanistan set a record for growing opium poppies in 2014, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Heroin is derived from the poppy.
    A UNODC report—“Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014”--provides a “detailed picture of the outcome of the current year’s opium season and, together with data from previous years, enable the identification of medium- and long-term trends in the evolution of the illicit drug problem.”
    “The total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated to be 224,000 hectares in 2014, a 7% increase from the previous year,” says the report.
    Afhganistan Opium Poppy Production
    Net opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew from 209,000 hectares in 2013 to 224,000 hectares in 2014.
    The UNODC has been tracking opium cultivation in Afghanistan since 1994, whne net Afghan opium production was 71,000 hectares. The 2014 cultivation of 224,000 hectares was more then triple the 1994 level.
    According to the 2014 World Drug Report, also published by the UNODC, Afghanistan by far the world’s largest producer of opium. “The opium production in Afghanistan accounts for 80 percent of the global opium production (5,500 tons),” said that report.
    In addition to having record high of opium production in 2014, Afghanistan saw opium poppy eradication decrease 63 percent. “A total of 2,692 hectares of verified poppy eradication was carried out by the provincial governors in 2014, representing a decrease of 63 percent from 2013 when 7,348 hectares of governor-led eradication (GLE) was verified by [Ministry of Counter-Narcotics and UNODC],” states the report.
    Hilmand province was Afghanistan’s largest opium cultivator in 2014, producing 103,240 hectares.
    “In 2014, 98% of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan took place in the Southern, Eastern and Western regions of the country,” explains the report.
    Hilmand province was followed by Kandahar province which produced 33,713 hectares, Farah province which produced 27,513 hectares, Nangarhar which produced 18,227 hectares, Nimroz which produced 14,548 hectares, Uruzgan which produced 9,277 hectares, Badghis which produced 5,721 hectares, Badakhshan which produced 4,204 hectares, Zabul which produced 2,894 hectares, Laghman which produced 901 hectares, Kunar which produced 754 hectares, Hirat which produced 738 hectares, Day Kundi which produced 587 hectares, Ghor which produced 493 hectares, Kapisa which produced 472 hectares, Kabul which produced 233 hectares, and Sari Pul which produced 195 hectares.
    Most of the U.S. casualties in Afghan War have occurred in the Hilmand and Kandahar provinces, which are also the two leading opium-growing provinces.
    According to CNSNews.com’s database of U.S. casualties, from 2001 through 2014, 2,232 U.S. military personnel gave their lives serving in the Afghan War. Of those 2,232 casualties, 451 were in Hilmand province and 420 were in Kandahar. That represents 39 percent of the total casualties in the war.
    “There is evidence that Afghan heroin is increasingly reaching new markets, such as Oceania and Southeast Asia, that had been traditionally supplied from Southeast Asia,” the report states.


    Pakistan - Former President Zardari inaugurates two hydel power plants


    Pakistan Peoples Party Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari on Monday laid the foundation stone of two hydel power plants in Sukkur. One plant will be built at Rohri Canal and the other at Nara Canal, the two offshoots of left pocket of Sukkur Barrage.
    The plant at RD-27 of Rohri Canal will be installed at a cost of $36.4 million, while the other will be built at RD-15 of Nara Canal at a cost of $47 million.
    Both the power plants will be operated on run-of-river basis and are billed to be completed within 20 months. These power stations are being built by the Sindh government under the public-private partnership mechanism. Zardari was accompanied by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and the provincial minister for finance and energy, Syed Murad Ali Shah.