Friday, December 18, 2009

Obama urged unity at Copenhagen climate summit

Barack Obama urged nations to accept a less-than-perfect climate agreement in the final hours of the summit in Copenhagen today. A new draft agreement called the "Copenhagen Accord" drops a previous deadline extension… Read more at Haplif & Haplifnet (Deutsche Welle)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Can Barack Obama's turnaround save Copenhagen?


US President Barack Obama had been wary of attending the global climate change summit in Copenhagen next month. Many hope his decision to attend will increase the meeting's chances for success. But doubts remain about his commitment... Read more by Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington, Spiegel

Saturday, October 24, 2009

NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia

Strategy Review -- Substantial U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, endorsed the strategy put forward by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and allied commander. The alliance rejected competing proposals to narrow the military mission to fighting the remnants of Al Qaeda.

They did not discuss specific troop levels, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said a number of allies indicated they were thinking about increasing their own military or civilian contributions."

The only way to ensure that Afghanistan does not become once again a safe haven for terrorism is if it is made strong enough to resist the insurgency as well”, said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general. "In Afghanistan, you cannot separate counter-terrorism from counterinsurgency"... Los Angles Times

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Angela Merkel’s second victory in German elections

BERLIN -- Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed victory in national elections today, with projections by public television stations putting her conservative party on a path to form a new center-right government and achieve her goal of ending the country’s “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats.

If the slim lead for her conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats holds after all the ballots are tallied, Mrs. Merkel will finally have the chance to enact the kind of liberalizing economic reforms she proposed when she first ran for chancellor four years ago. But the celebration will be muted by the knowledge that rising budget deficits as a result of the economic crisis have dramatically limited the kind of tax cuts the new coalition will be able to enact... Read more by Nicholas Kulish, New York Times

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shelved missile defense plan -- shattered confidence in Europe

President Obama's decision to shelve the Bush administration's missile defense plans has created a crisis of confidence in Washington's relations with Central and Eastern Europe. The defense architecture the administration proposes may make more strategic sense in addressing the immediate Iranian threat. Nevertheless, it runs the risk of shattering the morale and standing of transatlantic leaders in the region who now feel politically undermined and exposed. The roots of this crisis lie less in missile defense than in policy failures over the past decade. Understanding and rectifying those errors is key to getting back on track with our allies.

Our first mistake was being overly optimistic about what would happen when these countries joined NATO and the European Union. We basically checked the box "mission accomplished." We assumed that Russia would finally accept that Central and Eastern Europe were gone from its sphere of influence and stop trying to interfere in their regional politics. But geopolitical competition didn't stop. Moscow simply tried to pressure and interfere in new ways, using energy and other weapons. It seeks to marginalize these countries in NATO and the European Union by going above their heads. It still wants to create a zone of special Russian interest, influence and lesser security… Read more by Ronald D. Asmus, Washington Post

Supplementary (later today):

Russia scrapped missile deployment plans in Eastern Europe


Friday, September 4, 2009

US Healthcare and Education Issues at HuffPost

So We Can't Have Single Payer for Health Care, But How About Single Payer for Education? By Arianna Huffington

Health care is rightly dominating the national debate, but with children all across the country heading back to school, education, currently seated in the back row of the national classroom, is raising its hand and asking to be called on.

On Tuesday (Sep 8), President Obama will be giving
a nationally televised speech on education to America's students, broadcast on C-SPAN and the White House website. On the same day, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is sponsoring a major conference in Los Angeles that will serve as the kick off of Get Schooled, a far-reaching initiative geared to developing solutions to the problems facing America's education system. (I'll be one of the speakers)… Read more

Addendum, Sep 7: Obama Back To School Speech: FULL TEXT

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jewish Settlements & Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

German Chancellor
Angela Merkel warned Iran that it could face energy sanctions if it doesn’t halt its nuclear program and pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Merkel, speaking at a joint news conference with Netanyahu in Berlin yesterday, said the world is heading toward a September deadline for Iran to cooperate with demands to stop enriching uranium. Netanyahu called for the threat of “crippling sanctions” and Merkel said “we reject” a nuclear-armed Iran.

The U.S., France, the U.K. and Germany have been pressing Iran to drop its uranium enrichment program in return for help in developing civil nuclear power. Together with China and Russia, which both hold vetoes at the United Nations Security Council, they have voted through three rounds of sanctions in an attempt to penalize Iran for breaking its commitments under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty… Read more (Gwen Ackermann and Tony Czuczka, Bloomberg)


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Control of Kazakhstan Metal & Mining Empire

Shifting sentiment over commodities and demand for base metals — in particular from China and Russia — has led to a volatile share price, just like any other blue chip London-listed miner. This volatility is made worse by the small float — only 20 per cent of its stock is in the market. The three founders, metal billionaires Patokh Chodiev, Alijan Ibragimov and Alexander Machkevich, control just over 40 per cent, having built the company during a wave of privatisations in the mid-1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The trio — former metal traders — are the subject of a long-running tax investigation by Belgian authorities, though they deny any wrongdoing.

ENRC’s fellow Kazakhstan miner, Kazakhmys, owns 26 per cent while the Kazakhstan Government holds 12 per cent. The company supplies 14 per cent of the country’s electricity and its ferrochrome and iron ore mines contribute 4 per cent to GDP… Read more (timesonline)

Patokh Chodiev: With partners and longtime friends Alijan Ibragimov and Alexander Machkevich (both also billionaires) built a metals and mining empire in Kazakhstan; stock of London-listed Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation down 54% over the past year. In July the trio's investment company, International Mineral Resources, took a 49% stake of Chinese carbon and stainless steel producer Jiuquan Iron & Steel. The Uzbekistan native lived in Japan before teaming up with his pals in Kazakhstan. (

Friday, August 14, 2009

Merkel & Medvedev Met in Russia on ‘Strategic’ Economic Deals

"I believe that we need to use every chance that the global financial crisis offers to develop the Russian-German economic relations", stated German chancellor Angela Merkel today in Sochi, Russia.

Chancellor Angela Merkel met President Dmitry Medvedev today and both called for deeper economic ties amid talk of several major Russian-German industrial deals in the works.

Speaking to reporters as he greeted Merkel at his palm-lined residence on the Black Sea, Medvedev congratulated Merkel on news that Germany had emerged from recession and said Russia was working hard to do the same.

"We should think how, by strengthening our bilateral economic strategic ties, we could help our economies and people overcome consequences of this difficult global crisis and emerge stronger from it", Medvedev said.

Merkel replied that she had been "very happy" at yesterday’s German economic news and confirmed that her meeting with Medvedev -- their second in just a month, and third this year -- would centre on economic issues… Read more (by Ellen Hasenkamp, AFP)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Status of Fixing the US Financial System

Excerpt - Talking to George Stephanopoulos last week, Tim Geithner bragged about the success of the bailout: "We've already earned about $6 billion for the taxpayer on those investments." Sounds great -- unless you consider the fact that we've we actually "invested" $4.7 trillion in our bank bailout. Shouldn't we demand to know what happened to the remaining $4.694 trillion?

Reforming the credit-rating agencies, to avoid ratings shopping by financial institutions and the fundamental conflict of having rating agencies be paid by the companies they are rating -- no wonder so much junk got AAA ratings -- got a hearing in the Senate yesterday, but we may not see action on this
until next year.

Legislation to reform executive pay
passed the House last week. The need for this reform was highlighted … Read more (by Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, Aug. 6, 2009)

FK Comment

While the reform window closes, unfortunately, another collapse appears to be inevitable. Yes, the AAA rating system is still junk. I agree, we should demand what happened to the remaining (yet roughly) $4.7 trillion which US taxpayers spent on the bailout. (HuffPost profile/comments)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Computer vs. Captain – Automation in Jets

Will Increasing Automation Make Jets Less Safe?

Computers on board aircraft have made flying safer, but when they encounter errors they can create turmoil. Engineers are pressing ahead with the automation of aircraft, but pilots warn that efforts to computerize jets are going too far and that diminished human control could create dangerous situations.

Ben Cave was starting to get bored. The Australian had been sitting in his seat for more than three hours, and he still had two hours left before the Qantas jet was scheduled to touch down in Perth.

The Airbus A330 was flying at a cruising altitude of 11,278 meters (37,000 feet). The calm of modern jet travel, accentuated by the monotonous drone of the engines, prevailed on board the aircraft…
Read more (by Gerald Traufetter, Spiegel)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama's Healthcare Reform -- top US domestic priority

President Barack Obama's healthcare reform drive suffered a setback yesterday when Senate leaders said they would not pass it before a month-long August recess, but Obama urged lawmakers to keep working toward approval by the end of the year.

The day after Obama held a prime-time news conference to sell his top domestic priority, congressional leaders struggled to ease doubts about the healthcare plan and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the full chamber would not take it up until September… Read more at Reuters

Supplementary: Obama's healthcare town hall -- the full transcript at Los Angeles Times.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Munich Summit Results - Angela Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev

The results of the two-day Petersburg Dialogue conference were presented. Around 300 delegates from both countries -- including representatives of the media, politics and civil society -- had been debating how Germany and Russia could tackle the current economic crisis together. Ideas like the creation of a joint German-Russian commission for fighting corruption were discussed. In addition, there were also concrete successes to celebrate, such as the foundation of a German-Russian energy agency and Berlin's commitment to provide guarantees for German exports to Russia as part of a €500 million ($706 million) scheme.

The two sides also agreed to develop a common school textbook together. Work on the project is set to begin later this year. If anything concrete comes out of the efforts, it will be a remarkable success. Russians and Germans currently have a very different view of their shared history. A common school textbook could help to promote mutual understanding between the two nations… Read more at Spiegel

Friday, July 10, 2009

G8 Summit focused on climate and African issues

Further to Barack Obama’s climate emphasis (click)
the G8 Summit of l’Aquila (Italy) ended with a focus on food security which the leaders of the world’s richest countries discussed with their counterparts from Africa.

The U.S. President and other Group of Eight leaders are expected to announce a $15 billion pledge over three years to help poor countries fight hunger and develop their own agricultural sectors.

Barack Obama also held separate talks with South African officials.

The U.S. leader next meets today with Pope Benedict in Vatican City. The White House says he and Pope Benedict will have "frank" talks on issues they disagree on, such as abortion, along issues on which they agree, such as helping the poor… More to read at Voice of America

Saturday, July 4, 2009

About the Guardian’s Media & Technology Conference in London

London Diary: Gordon Brown's Obsessions, The Loyal Opposition's Cuddly Karl Rove, Bad Germs, and the Most Unusual Royal Honeymoon Ever by Arianna Huffington

Hello from London, where I have come to take part in a media and technology conference sponsored by the Guardian.

Any time I'm in London, I always feel a bit nostalgic, having gone to college, started my career, and fallen head over heels in love here -- but never more nostalgic than during my breakfast at the flat of Lord George Weidenfeld, the legendary British publisher. He was the person responsible for turning my career around when he commissioned me to write a biography of Maria Callas. My previous book, After Reason, a rather chewy piece of political analysis I wrote in my mid-20s, was collecting dust on bookstore shelves when George took me aside and said: "If you are going to write books that have an impact, you are going to have to learn to tell a good story. Writing a biography is a way to learn to do that."… More to read at Arianna's Huffpost blog of July 2

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Transatlantic Relations -- Barack Obama & Angela Merkel

The Same Fundamental Values & Mutual Trust

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been awarded the Eric M. Warburg Prize in Washington for her services to transatlantic relations. In her acceptance speech the German Chancellor said that the United States and Europe shared fundamental values such as human rights.

But shared values had to be implemented not only when it came to security issues, but also in the international economic and financial crisis. "We need multilateral institutions that take on responsibility in the globalised world," Angela Merkel said.

Forthcoming Climate Protection Agreement

The United States and Europe were as close as never before on the issue of climate change - but they could get even closer. And here, too, Angela Merkel would like the United States and Europe to take the lead so that others could follow suit… Excerpts,

In a yesterday’s White House press conference Merkel stated she’s going to fully support the US international policy. Obama, in turn, dignified her as “smart” as well as “practical”, and then added that he “trusts” her.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Obama Unveiled Key Regulatory Overhaul

President Barack Obama has proposed the most "sweeping" regulatory overhaul since the 1930s, aiming to stop future meltdowns and purge the finance system of lax oversight, greed and huge debts.

"We did not choose how this crisis began. But we do have a choice in the legacy this crisis leaves behind," Obama said.

"My administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression."

The reforms, which must be approved by Congress, will inject the government deeper into the finance sector in a bid to tame the recklessness which saw a mortgage meltdown tip the world into deep economic crisis.

They are the latest attempt by the Obama administration to heal the US economy and ensure it never again pitches into such turmoil… More to read: Stephen Collinson, AFP - Washington, June 17


Friday, June 12, 2009

Barroso's bid to retain EU Commission presidency

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday they supported the re-election of European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso for a second five-year term.

"Important personnel and policy decisions must be taken immediately. That is why Germany and France support Jose Manuel Barroso," Merkel said at a joint press conference with Sarkozy in Paris.

There is a "strong desire" in the newly-elected EU Parliament that the choice of a new EC head should not take the entire summer.

"We will support the candidacy of Mr. Barroso, without ambiguity," Sarkozy said at a joint news conference at the Elysee presidential palace. But the support for the incumbent was not unconditional, he added. "Madame Merkel and I support Barroso... But we call on him before a second term to clarify, and in a way make formal, his position."

The Portuguese EC president has been criticized for waffling on a number of important issues. Barroso must commit himself to a Europe that protects its citizens... Deutsche Welle


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim world

US President Barack Obama has said the "cycle of suspicion and discord" between the United States and the Muslim world must end.

In a keynote speech in Cairo, Obama called for a "new beginning" in ties. He admitted there had been "years of distrust" and said both sides needed to make a "sustained effort... to respect one another and seek common ground".

He made a number of references to the Koran and called on all faiths to live together in peace and, thus, received a standing ovation at the end of his speech at Cairo University. [read more at BBC News]

Here’s, in addition, the full text of the unique and historic speech on Spiegel International as well as a speech video on Huffington Post.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Barack Obama sought to quell Sotomayor dust-up

President Obama sought yesterday to douse the political firestorm over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's much-dissected 2001 remark that a "wise Latina woman" could often reach "better" judgments than a white judge. […] "She was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through [and] that will make her a good judge," the president said in an interview with NBC News.

"Part of the job of a justice on the Supreme Court, or any judge, is to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes, to be able to, you know, understand the nature of the case, and how it has an impact on people's ordinary day-to-day lives," he added.

The remark at issue was made during a speech at the University of California at Berkeley in which Sotomayor said "our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging." "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said… The Boston Globe

Friday, May 22, 2009

Barack Obama and Dick Cheney clashed on fight against terror

In back-to-back speeches, President Obama and former vice president Dick Cheney faced off yesterday, both forcefully presenting their sharply different views on how to keep America safe from terrorism, the effectiveness of harsh interrogations, and whether the 240 Guantanamo Bay detainees pose an imminent danger if brought to American soil.

Obama said he is trying to clean up the "mess" he inherited from the Bush-Cheney administration and stressed the need to uphold American values, repeatedly noting the setting for his speech - the august National Archives, which houses the original Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. … More at The Boston Globe

Friday, May 15, 2009

How to end the disastrous US "Drug War"? [Huffington Post]

When it comes to addressing America's disastrous war on drugs, the Obama administration appears to be moving in the right direction -- albeit very, very cautiously.

On the rhetorical front, all the president's men are saying the right things.

In his first interview since being confirmed, Obama's new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, said that we need to stop looking at our drug problem as a war. "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on product'," he
told the Wall Street Journal, "people see war as a war on them. We're not at war with people in this country." … More >> Arianna Huffington, Huffpost

Friday, May 8, 2009

EU launched Eastern Partnership plan in Prague

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the only Western European leader, attended the talks

The European Union has just launched a new Eastern Partnership plan with six former Soviet states. However, Russia has already voiced its concern over the plan, which it sees as the EU encroaching on its territory.

The plan was launched in the Czech capital Prague on May 7 after being signed by representatives of the EU, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The main goal of the partnership was to "accelerate political association and further economic integration" between the EU and the former Soviet nations, the participants said in an agreed summit statement... Deutsche Welle