Thursday, 29 March 2012

Baggage handlers to strike at Easter

 

Baggage handlers at Stansted Airport are to strike over Easter in a row over pay, the GMB union announced today. The move follows an overwhelming vote in favour of industrial action by 150 GMB members employed by Swissport after the union claimed that shift changes would lead to wage cuts of up to £1,000. The GMB said strikes will be held on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, threatening disruption to passengers flying on holiday for the holiday break. GMB official Gary Pearce said: "GMB members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and for action short of a strike. "Up to now the company has been intent on imposing these changes without agreement and this is completely unacceptable, as this vote shows. "GMB has offered several alternative shift patterns and working arrangements but the company refuses to listen so far. "I have notified Swissport of the ballot result and I have asked them for more talks to try to avert action over these pay cuts. "GMB members consider that Swissport is attempting to make savings at their expense and they are not willing to agree to this. "Unless there is urgent talks and a settlement, this vote for action this will result in disruption over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. "The travelling public need to be aware that it has been this aggressive move by Swissport to cut our members pay at a time of high inflation that has led to this strike vote. "If the strike goes ahead, Swissport is entirely to blame for the disruption."

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Cheap drugs abroad could pay for break

HOLIDAYMAKERS can pay for the cost of a break in the sun by buying their prescription drugs while abroad. Legally they can purchase their prescribed drugs -- at a fraction of the cost here over the counter -- in Malaga, Marbella , Faro or Lisbon. Those on long term medication and covered by the Drug Payment Scheme, who cough up €132 a month, can particularly benefit. For example, a patient on holiday in Marbella recently bought the three main elements of her prescription. Prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and to reduce risk of cardiovascular problems they cost her almost four times as much in Dublin as in Spain. The products -- Lipitor, Cozaar Comp and Tritace -- in their generic form came to €108.13 in Dublin for a month's supply. In Marbella the same medicines are sold under a different name for €63.72 for two months' supply. That is a saving of €152.54 for two months. On that basis a six month prescription for the three tablets would cost €648.78 in Dublin as against €191.16 in Spain -- a staggering saving of €457.62. The Irish Medicines Board and the Revenue Commissioners both confirmed that medication, prescription and non prescription, bought for personal use within the EU or outside may be brought back in to the State legally. imported They agreed that travellers are permitted to import on their person or in their baggage "a reasonable amount of such medicines for personal use". "Anyone entering the State may bring their personal medication with them and that personal medication should be no more than any amount that may be obtained on a prescription, for example up to a three months supply. "Any amount being imported above a level that would be considered to be normal personal use, could be considered to be a commercial quantity and for business purposes." This "personal use" exemption does not apply to products imported by other means, ie. in the post, by express couriers or in merchandise. Revenue said that the law of the country where you are visiting will dictate whether your Irish prescription will be accepted or whether you will require a doctor's prescription from that country. They advised it is always a good idea to have a copy of your prescription in your possession so that customs officers can verify it by contacting the dispensing pharmacy and the doctor who issued it.

Sex is a multibillion-dollar industry in Spain, with colorfully lit brothels staffed mainly by poor immigrant women from Latin America, Africa and eastern Europe lining highways throughout the country

Pimps Arrested in Spain for 'Barcoding' Women

Police in Spain arrested 22 alleged pimps who purportedly tattooed women with bar codes as a sign of ownership and used violence to force them into prostitution.  Police are calling the gang the "bar code pimps." Officers freed one 19-year-old woman who had been beaten, held against her will and tattooed with a bar code and an amount of money — €2,000 ($2,650) — which investigators believe was the debt the gang wished to extort before releasing her. The woman had also been whipped, chained to a radiator and had her hair and eyebrows shaved off, according to an Interior Ministry statement.All those arrested were of Romanian nationality and had forced the women to hand over part of their earnings, the statement said. The women were tattooed on their wrists if they tried to escape, the statement said. Police also seized guns and ammunition. It was not immediately clear when the raids took place. Police seized €140,000 ($185,388) in cash, which had been hidden in a false ceiling, a large amount of gold jewelry and five vehicles, three of which were described as luxury cars. The gang was made up of two separate groups, referred to as "clans" in the statement, each dedicated to controlling prostitution along fixed stretches of a street in downtown Madrid. One of the alleged ringleaders who was identified only by the initials "I.T." is wanted by authorities in Romania for crimes linked to prostitution, the statement said. The women were controlled at all times to ensure "money was taken off them immediately," the statement said.   Sex is a multibillion-dollar industry in Spain, with colorfully lit brothels staffed mainly by poor immigrant women from Latin America, Africa and eastern Europe lining highways throughout the country. Prostitution falls in legal limbo: it is not regulated, although pimping is a crime. The northeastern city of Barcelona plans to introduce regional legislation in coming weeks banning prostitution on urban streets.

Russian banker shot six times had testified over murder plot


The banker was left for dead by a lone gunman as he returned to his home in Canary Wharf on Tuesday evening. Scotland Yard detectives are investigating the attempted assassination, which Mr Gorbuntsov’s lawyer believes was a retaliation attack after the banker gave evidence in a 2009 attempted murder case. Mr Gorbuntsov, who fled to London because of his fear of reprisals, had recently submitted new evidence to Russian police about the attempted murder of Alexander Antonov, another Russian banker. The case was closed three years ago when three Chechen men were jailed for attempted murder. But police have never discovered who organised the attempted hit. Officers re-opened the case on March 2 this year after Mr Gorbuntsov submitted his new testimony.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Serbian mafia 'put gangster in mincer and ate him for lunch'

Milan Jurisic

Gang that assassinated Serbian prime minister admits making 'face mask' out of member's skin

A GANGSTER who helped orchestrate the Serbian prime minister's assassination in 2003 was allegedly made into a stew and eaten by his associates after falling out with his gang leader.
 
Police believe Milan Jurisic (above) was beaten to death with a hammer, skinned and boned with a sharp knife and then put through a meat grinder at a flat in Madrid in 2009.
 
The Zemun clan, a notorious faction of the Serbian mafia that once had connections with the Serbian government, police and media, allegedly made a face mask from Jurisic's skin before turning him into stew and eating him for lunch.
 
It apparently took the gang five days to clean up what is being described as "the house of horrors".
 
Sretko Kalinic, nicknamed 'The Butcher' and known as the gang's hitman, confessed to the crimes when he was arrested in Croatia last year, according to the Daily Mail. Kalinic admitted that he "literally dismembered" Jurisic and then threw his remains into Madrid's Manzanares river.
 
This week, Spanish officers discovered documents at the scene of the crime supporting The Butcher's account. They also found 50 bones in the river and are currently awaiting identification from forensics.
 
Jurisic was one of 12 men found guilty of arranging the 2003 murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was killed by a sniper as he approached a government building in Belgrade.
 
Jurisic was on the run when he was murdered, having been convicted in his absence to 30 years' jail by the Belgrade Special Court for Organised Crime.

It is believed Jurisic had fallen out with the leader of the Zemun cklan, Luka Bojovic, either over money or a woman.
 
As the BBC reports, Bojovic himself was arrested in a restaurant in Valencia, Spain last month, wanted for more than 20 murders in Serbia, the Netherlands and Spain. He is also suspected of involvement in the 2003 assassination. · 




Spain moves toward freedom of information law


Freedom of information in Spain came one step nearer Friday after the recently-elected government agreed to introduce a bill in response to widespread disgust over corruption and mismanagement by elected officials of both main political parties. The country's Cabinet agreed to put forward legislation that will allow Spaniards to find out more about how their money is spent by government. Spain, which is struggling to get its public finances under control, is one of Europe's few countries without wide-ranging freedom of information legislation. "It is a law whose main goal is improve the credibility of and trust in our institutions, especially government ones," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said. The legislation will take months to come into effect, after an unprecedented 15-day period in which the general public can make suggestions on what should be accessible to them and how the law should work. After that, the bill has to be go through normal Parliamentary procedures. Though the salaries of the prime minister and government ministers are already public information, as are the national budget and much other money-related data, not all of it is easy to access. But under the new bill, information on subjects including senior public servants' salaries and detailed data on government contracts and subsidies will be published online. Spaniards will also be able to file requests for other kinds of information providing it does not breach national security or personal privacy. The goal of the new law is to make public officials at all levels much more accountable for how they spend taxpayer money. People will be able to get information just by the click of a mouse. "It is a law that tries to give rigor to compliance with budget and financial obligations that were unknown until now, but will serve to restore credibility to all levels of government," Saenz de Santa Maria said. News of the Cabinet's support for a package that should make for more open government comes as the country struggles to avoid the same fate as other indebted European countries. The newly-elected conservative government is trying to convince investors that it has a strategy to deal with its debts so it won't follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a bailout. Concerns have swelled recently after figures showed the country's borrowing last year was way more than expected, due in large part to overspending by regional governments but also because the economy is shrinking and laying siege to tax revenues. And a new code of good governance included in the law will make it easier to fire government officials — and ban them from serving anew for up to 10 years — if they do things such as fail to set or meet deficit-reduction targets under a balanced budget law, planned for 2020.

Spain's Iberia starts low-cost airline

Spanish carrier Iberia on Friday launched a new low-cost airline, Iberia Express, which aims to claim a stake in the highly competitive no-frills sector of the European market. The new airline is part of a plan by parent company International Consolidated Airlines Group to increase profitability after the merger of its component parts, British Airways and Iberia. Iberia Express will initially cover Vigo, Santiago and Granada on Spain's mainland and its island destinations of Minorca, Ibiza, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Palma. It will expand internationally to Ireland, Italy, Greece, Latvia and Netherlands, chief executive Luis Gallego said at a news conference. "The containment of costs will allow Iberia Express to grow and compete with the low-cost operators," said Gallego, adding that although the new airline will be managed independently, it will employ Iberia's maintenance and other services. Inaugural flights will take off Sunday, although the company's website was not up and running Friday afternoon. Prices begin at (euro) 25 ($33) one-way with a surcharge for checking in luggage and booking seats in advance. The new company employs 500 staff and has a fleet of four Airbus 320 planes, although there are plans to increase this to 14 aircraft by the end of the year and up 40 by 2015. The airline is the subject of a protracted labor dispute between Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA and Spain's main pilots' union, Sepla — which held 12 days of work stoppages in December and January to protest the low-cost airline. Sepla pilots argue Iberia Express would mean job losses among the 1,600 pilots who work for the main airline — a claim disputed by Iberia. Sepla had announced nine days of strikes in April and May but called them off following government mediation and has agreed to negotiate further with Iberia.

Russian banker shooting: 'It looks like a contract hit'


A former Russian banker is in a critical condition in hospital after he was shot several times in east London. German Gorbuntsov was shot by a man armed with a sub-machine gun as he entered a block of flats in Byng Street, Isle of Dogs, on Tuesday. Aleksander Nekrassov, a former Kremlin advisor, told the BBC that Mr Gorbuntsov was a "key witness" in the case of a murder attempt on another Russian banker, Alexander Antonov, in Moscow in 2009. He said: "It looks like a contract hit to be honest because a sub-machine gun is not really a weapon that would be used by some amateur"

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

TWO men who have been arrested by detectives investigating the murder of crime boss Eamon 'The Don' Dunne are senior lieutenants of crime lord Christy Kinahan.


 The mobsters were picked up by armed gardai during a dawn raid at a property in the north inner city and are currently in custody at Store Street Garda Station. Sources do not believe that either is the gunman who actually killed Dunne in the gangland murder in a Cabra pub in April 2010 but they believe that the pair played a key role in organising the hit. The Herald can today reveal that gardai also planned to arrest the young criminal who they believe shot Dunne but he "has gone to ground." The north inner city gunman is a close associate of the two related men who are in garda custody today. Selling One of those arrested -- aged in his late 20s -- was mentioned by Spanish authorities in the four-page European Arrest Warrant they used to extradite 'Fat' Freddie Thompson to Spain last year. The warrant asserts explosive details about the criminal's role within the multi-million euro Christy Kinahan drugs organisation. This man, who comes from a flats complex in the city, was previously arrested by Spanish police as part of Operation Shovel -- the massive probe against Kinahan's organisation which revealed that his mob were selling shipments of drugs worth a staggering €1m every two months. The 'Fat' Freddie warrant alleges that the arrested criminal is a "member of this organisation in Ireland". The warrant claims that the criminal travelled to Malaga on May 7, 2010, to meet Christy Kinahan's son Daniel to discuss a major drugs shipment into Ireland. "Daniel was supposedly going to finance part of the shipment. A surveillance operation was launched in Malaga Airport and officers saw Ross Browning, another one of the persons under investigation, arrive at the airport," the warrant alleges. The Herald has previously revealed that Browning (28) was named in the warrant, which claims he was a driver for the Kinahan drugs organisation. Browning, from the north inner city, is a close associate of the men arrested yesterday. In January 2001, a 30-year-old, who is in custody today, was involved with Browning in the robbery of over £IR13,000 from a a Securicor van driver. Both men later received suspended sentences. Gardai believe the shocking murder of Dunne was sanctioned by Christy Kinahan who felt that the reckless behaviour of the gang boss was getting out of control. 'Dapper Don' Kinahan -- who is serving the last days of a jail sentence for money laundering in Belgium -- is regarded as the biggest drugs trafficker in the history of the Irish State.

A Nation 'Addicted' To Statins...


Dear Reader,

In the UK alone, more than 7 million people are taking cholesterol-lowering statins. This is extremely worrying when you consider the damage these over-prescribed drugs can inflict, with side effects ranging from liver dysfunction and acute renal failure to fatigue and extreme muscle weakness (myopathy).

Slowly tearing us apart

Even more concerning are the side effects that crop up after long-term use, which are often not linked to statins. For example, one study monitored the symptoms of 40 asthma patients for a year. 20 of these patients started statins at the outset of the study, while the remaining 20 did not.

The results showed that those patients on statins used their rescue inhaler medications 72 per cent more often than they had at the start of the study, compared to a 9 per cent increase in those who were not taking statins. The researchers also reported that patients taking statins had to get up more frequently at night because of their asthma and also had worse symptoms during the day...

Worsening asthma symptoms is just the beginning. More recent research has linked statins with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, depression, Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Still, doctors are very quick to reach for their prescription pads and push these drugs. There appears to be an unofficial (but widely practiced) 'statins for all' approach... especially if you are aged 50 and over.

Luckily, some mainstreamers are slowly catching on to what we've been saying for nearly a decade. In 2011, research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine drew attention to the fact that there is inadequate medical data available that proves the benefits of statins, and that many studies fail to acknowledge the most commonly reported adverse effects of statins.

The fact remains (and your doctor may still deny this) that in total, statins cause serious damage in about 4.4 per cent of those taking them, in comparison to the 2.7 per cent statin users benefiting from them... and it looks as if this message is finally getting through to medical authorities.

A case in point is simvastatin or Zocor. After being on the market for almost 3 decades and causing havoc and distress with its horrendous side effects, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally issued a warning about the use of this drug... saying that even the approved dosage can harm or even kill you!

Yep! Kill you!

All well and good

It's all fair and well and good that the FDA flagged this warning, but what's the point if doctors continue to prescribe these drugs left, right and centre?

Professor Sarah Harper, director of Oxford University's institute of population ageing, recently said that the UK's "love affair" with prescription medicine, shows how people choose to pop pills rather than follow a healthy lifestyle.

She cited the widespread use of statin drugs to 'help' protect against heart disease and lower cholesterol, instead of eating healthily, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and taking regular exercise.

By all means, I applaud Prof Harper for pushing the message that living a healthy life plays a big part in preventing disease, but why blame patients for being a bunch of pill poppers when doctors hand out drugs with reckless abandon... and recommend taking preventative drugs to ever younger age groups. So in fact, the white coats should be labelled as Big Pharma's drug pushers, because they're part of the problem... especially considering that so many people put their entire trust in their doctor and would never dream of questioning their advice. Most people take what they say as gospel.

Then there's the media, inundating Joe Public with inflammatory headlines like: 'Statins could help fight breast cancer' or 'Statins can prevent infections like pneumonia'... Not to mention their reporting on botch studies showing the 'unintended benefits' of statins, like their potential to prevent pneumonia, combat diabetes, reduce the risk of oesophageal cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer — all of these so-called benefits are of course not yet proven, and highly unlikely. Still, they reach the front pages!

So, yes we might have turned into a pill popping public, but it's the mainstream and the media that have created this monster all with the help and backing of the puppet master: Big Pharma. Because as you and I know all too well, it's all about the money. 

Two police officers were injured in a shoot-out in Toulouse on Wednesday with a gunman claiming links to al Qaeda


Two police officers were injured in a shoot-out in Toulouse on Wednesday with a gunman claiming links to al Qaeda and who is believed to responsible for the killing of four people at a Jewish school and three soldiers in southwest France. Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that the 24-year-old man had made several visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had said that he was acting out of revenge for France’s military involvement overseas. “He claims to be a mujahideen and to belong to al Qaeda,” Gueant told journalists at the scene of the siege. “He wanted revenge for the Palestinian children and he also wanted to take revenge on the French army because of its foreign interventions,” Gueant said. Heavily armed police in bullet-proof vests and helmets cordoned off the residential area where the raid was taking place, in a suburb a few kilometres from the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school where Monday’s shootings took place. Reuters witnesses at the scene heard several shots at about 04:40 a.m. British time. Gueant said that police were also talking to the brother of the gunman, who is a French citizen from Toulouse. Police sources told Reuters that a man had been arrested earlier on Wednesday at a separate location in connection with the killings. The gunman’s mother had also been brought to the scene of the siege in a northern suburb of Toulouse to help with negotiations, Gueant said. “Negotiations with the suspect are ongoing, gunfire has been exchanged,” the minister said. He said that France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy had been informed of the situation at 03:00 a.m. (02:00 a.m. British time), when the raid began. Authorities believe that the gunman in Monday’s school shooting is the same person responsible for killing three soldiers of North African origin in two shootings last week in Toulouse and the nearby town of Montauban. The same Colt 45 handgun was used in all three attacks and in each case the gunman arrived on a Yamaha scooter with his face hidden by a motorcycle helmet. The killings come just five weeks before the first round of France’s presidential elections in which immigration and Islam have been major themes as Sarkozy seeks to win over voters from far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Shoot-Out In Raid Sees Police Injured

 

French police are engaged in a siege with a man they are reportedly "confident" was responsible for the killings of seven people in the south west of the country. Two elite officers reportedly suffered minor injuries during a shoot-out with suspects in the ongoing pre-dawn raid in the Croix-Daurade district of the city of Toulouse. AFP news agency - which said up to six shots were heard in the raid - is reporting that police believe the gunman responsible for three attacks that killed three children, a rabbi and three soldiers is inside the target building. Four people were killed during the shootings at Ozar Hatorah school A source linked to the probe also told the news agency that a man claiming to be linked to al Qaeda was holed up in the building. The agency said the suspect being sought was 24 and had previously travelled to the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has been known to house al Qaeda safehouses. French news channel BFM TV said the suspects were linked to an Islamist group which it identified as Forsane Alizza. Sky News' Robert Nisbet, in Toulouse, said: "We know that someone is inside the building. It could one person, it could be more than one person. "I understand this is a relatively poor suburb of Toulouse. Obviously, there is an intense pressure on French police to solve this crime." The killings atOzar Hatorah Jewish school on Monday followed the shootings of four soldiers - three of them fatal - in two attacks over the previous eight days. All three of the soldiers killed were of North African descent. All of the attacks were apparently carried out by an assailant using the same gun and scooter. The victim's backgrounds had led to fears the killer was specifically targeting members of minority communities. Chief prosecutor in Paris, Francois Molins, who is monitoring the investigation in Toulouse, had warned there could well be more killings. "At this stage, everything is being done to identify, find and stop the perpetrator, of these three killings as fast as possible," he said. "In these exceptional circumstances, I think it is obvious that we are up against an extremely determined individual, who knows he's being hunted, who could strike again."

Monday, 19 March 2012

18 Best Places to Retire Overseas

When choosing a place to spend your retirement years, the cost of living is important. But it is only one consideration. The ideal retirement spot is a place where you can live a rich life filled with friends, travel, discovery, physical and intellectual distractions, and opportunities for growth. A super-low cost of living is great, but more important is the quality of life your retirement budget is buying you. Many of the best options for enjoying an enormously enriched retirement lifestyle on even a very modest budget can be found overseas. Here are the world’s 18 top retirement havens, where an interesting, adventure-filled lifestyle is available for a better-than-reasonable cost. The Americas 1. Panama. Panama is the world's top retirement haven. Panama City no longer qualifies as cheap, but other spots in this country certainly do. Panama continues to offer the world's gold standard program of special benefits for retirees. The currency is the U.S. dollar, so there is no exchange rate risk if your retirement savings and income is in dollars. The climate in Panama City and on the coasts is tropical, hot, and humid. However, the climate in the highlands can be temperate and tempting. Panama is the hub of the Americas, meaning it's easily accessible from anywhere in North and South America and Europe. 2. Belize. Belize is a great place for reinventing your life in retirement. This tiny, under-developed, sparsely populated country offers two distinct lifestyle options: Ambergris Caye is the best of the Caribbean at a discount, while the Cayo is a frontier where independent-minded pioneers can make their own way and do their own thing, peacefully and privately. The climate is tropical, warmer on the coast, and cooler in the mountainous interior. The official language is English, so there’s no foreign language barrier for Americans. You’ll find a well-established and welcoming community of expats in San Pedro and on Ambergris Caye, and an emerging community of expats in the Cayo around San Ignacio. 3. Colombia. Medellin, a city of springtime and flowers, is the unsung jewel of Colombia. This city is pretty, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, safe, and affordable. Perhaps the most appealing advantage in Medellin is the cost of real estate. It's an absolute global bargain. You can buy property in a good neighborhood for as little as $1,000 per meter. Medellin’s second biggest appeal is its climate, which is spring-like year-round, thanks to the high elevation. Medellin is a more developed city than you might imagine, with five of the best hospitals in Latin America, universities, museums, art galleries, and an efficient and reliable metro system. It also has international-standard shopping and many interesting nightlife options. If you fancy Paris or other Continental city choices, but don't want or can't afford Europe, I strongly recommend you take a look at Medellin. This city is one of the best places in the world to hang your hat. 4. Uruguay. It seems that the more troubled the rest of the world becomes, the more people are finding appeal in Uruguay, a stable commodity-based economy with a sound banking system. Uruguay is neither an aggressor nor a target of aggression in the world arena, and it's not a high-stakes player in world politics. Costs have risen in recent years thanks to the strength of the Uruguayan peso and the sinking value of the dollar. But, even as the cost of living and of real estate rose, Uruguay has become even more popular as a lifestyle and retirement destination. Accordingly, people are coming to Uruguay in record numbers, with residency applications up over 300 percent since 2007, many of these coming from the United States. 5. Ecuador. Ecuador is perhaps the best choice in the Americas for a retiree looking to enjoy a rich and interesting quality of life on a limited budget. I recommend Cuenca, the former Inca and Spanish capital, a current UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the intellectual heart of Ecuador. Cuenca is home to about 1,500 full-time residents from North America. This is not a big number compared with some more recognized Mexican retirement choices, but Cuenca clearly qualifies as an expat-friendly city, offering one of the most interesting retirement lifestyles available anywhere. Amenities include theater, orchestra, shows, restaurants, broadband Internet service, reliable electricity and telephone, and drinkable tap water. Cuenca’s appeal as a retirement haven is expanding in important ways, thanks to a recently developed program promoting the city as a medical tourism destination. The city's five top hospitals have joined together to offer bundled programs of medical tests, procedures, and services available for from $66 to $401. Costs for comparable services in the United States would be multiples of these amounts. In addition, Cuenca is now offering nursing care of a standard suitable for and appealing to the expat retiree at a cost of just $450 per month, including 24-hour doctor and nurse attendance, food, laundry, personal care, and occupational and rehabilitative therapy. 6. Nicaragua. Another top choice for a retiree with a very limited budget is Nicaragua. This country’s Pacific coastline is every bit as dramatically beautiful as that of neighboring Costa Rica. Infrastructure is under-developed in both countries, but the cost of living and especially real estate are noticeably lower in Nicaragua, making the pot-holed roads easier to bear. Nicaragua also boasts two of the top Spanish-colonial cities in the Americas: Granada, a pretty and romantic city that everyone should see once, and Leon. Both places were founded in the early 16th century by Cordoba. 7. Roatan, Honduras. I’m not a big fan of mainland Honduras, which is under-developed and, in some places, unsafe. However, the Bay Island of Roatan is a world apart and one of my two top picks for affordable retirement in the Caribbean (the other is Ambergris Caye, Belize). 8. Argentina. Argentina is a dynamic and charming nation that rides perpetually between crisis and boom. This rich country boasts abundant natural resources and offers many appealing retirement lifestyle choices, including the eclectic and cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, the provincial capitals, a finca in the countryside, and a boutique vineyard in Mendoza. Retirement life in Argentina could be many things, but never dull. The downside is a rising cost of living, thanks to local inflation and the falling value of the U.S. dollar versus the Argentine peso. 9. Mexico. This is historically one of the most recognized retirement havens for Americans. But Mexico today is suffering from a lot of bad press thanks to its drug wars. However, Mexico is a big country, and the drug goons haven’t overtaken it entirely. It continues to offer some of the best coastal lifestyle and retirement options in the Americas, including Puerto Vallarta, my number-one choice for an affordable life of luxury on the Pacific. A couple could enjoy a a five-star retirement in this beautiful and romantic coastal town of marinas, golf courses, yacht clubs, and fine dining on a budget of as little as $2,500 per month. 10. Chile. Chile is a developed, First World destination that is also quiet, safe, and stable. Unlike its more scandalous neighbor, Argentina, Chile offers a cultured, comfortable lifestyle that is relatively calm. Santiago is a city of classic-style architecture, cobblestoned streets, and cafes with outdoor seating, in many ways reminiscent of Paris or Barcelona. This city of 7 million is also remarkably clean and friendly and boasts a diverse and expanding property market that is affordable on a global scale. You could own property at some of the city’s best addresses for less than $2,000 a meter. One important downside to retirement in Santiago is the air pollution, which is a serious problem, especially during the winter months. A better option could be the country’s beautiful Lake District to the south of Santiago, which is a favorite retirement choice among Chileans themselves. Europe 11. France. France is a land of superlatives. Its capital has been called the most beautiful, most romantic, and most touristed city on earth. It also boasts some of the world’s best wines, cheeses, restaurants, shopping, castles, gardens, parks, beaches, museums, cafes, galleries, vineyards, and architecture. The typical concern for anyone who has ever dreamed of a new life in France is that it's too expensive for the average retiree to consider seriously. Not so. Paris isn't cheap. But elsewhere in France you can find realistic options, even if your retirement budget is modest. Perhaps the most retirement friendly region in this country is in the southwest, north of Spain, where small country towns offer a way of life that is quintessentially French and also very affordable. 12. Italy. The cost of living in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Tuscany might be beyond the limits of your retirement budget. But that doesn't mean you should take Italy off your list entirely if this is the country that stirs your imagination and speaks to your soul. A retiree on a budget interested in Italy could look at Abruzzo. From this beautiful Old World base, within a half-day's drive of both the coast and the mountains, you could plan excursions to Italy's better-known and more expensive outposts as often as you liked. 13. Ireland. Americans have long dreamed of retirement on the Emerald Isle and with good reason. Ireland is safe, peaceful, relaxed, welcoming, friendly, hospitable, and English-speaking, making it an ideal retirement choice for many. Ireland today is also more affordable than it has been in more than a decade, and its property market has fallen off a cliff. Real estate prices are down 50 percent or more in many markets and are still falling. If you, like so many others, have dreamed of wiling away your retirement years on your own little piece of the Auld Sod, this could be the best time in your lifetime to think about making that purchase. 14. Spain. Spain is known among expats for its Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, especially its infamous (and unfortunately over-developed) Costa del Sol. But there's more to this country than its costas. Barcelona, for example, is a world-class city on the ocean, perfect if you're looking for a cosmopolitan life near the water. Real estate prices in this country have fallen tremendously since the highs of four or five years ago. If retirement in Spain appeals to you, this could be the time to search for a great deal on Spanish retirement digs. 15. Croatia. Croatia, a country with an extraordinarily complicated history and an extremely open-minded, forward-looking population, is at another turning point in its long history. Countries at turning points are interesting places to be. I recommend the country’s Istrian Peninsula, which serves up some of the most delightful scenery on the planet. The land seems to rise up to embrace you, and everywhere you look, something nice is growing like olives, grapes, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins, blackberries, and wildflowers. Even the buildings seem to be part of the earth, built of its white stone and red clay. This sun-soaked region offers one of the most appealing lifestyle options in Europe today. Asia 16. Thailand. Thailand boasts both really cheap and developed and comfortable lifestyle choices. It is also noteworthy as being one of the few countries in this part of the world that offers formal options for long-term and retirement visas. Hua Hin is one of the few classic retirement havens in Southeast Asia, complete with golf courses, factory outlets, and gated communities. Foreigners make up approximately 15 percent of that population, and most of them are retired. With 12 golf courses in operation and another 3 under construction, this is definitely the place to go if you're a golfing enthusiast. Hua Hin is a place where, if you were so inclined, you could live a North American lifestyle and never have to involve yourself more than superficially with the local Thai culture. This could be a plus or a minus for you, but it is worth noting when discussing options in this typically exotic part of the world. 17. Vietnam. While Thailand is well-established as an interesting option for expats and foreign retirees, Vietnam is an emerging choice, which could get a lot more attention in the coming few years. Nha Trang offers an interesting coastal retirement option for adventuresome retirees. Nha Trang’s total population of more than 200,000 includes an expat population of about 1,000 people, meaning foreigners here are still pioneers. You'll find no organized activities for foreigners, such as expat clubs or softball leagues. The lack of a big foreign population makes it easier to have meaningful interactions with the locals. The major attraction in Nha Trang is its cost of living, which can amount to much less than $1,000 per month for a retired couple. If you're a budget-minded retiree with an interest in Asia, this town should be on top on your list. 18. Malaysia. After Thailand, Malaysia is the easiest country to navigate in this part of the world. The country's capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a city of contrasts. The shining stainless steel Petronas Towers, two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, anchor a startlingly beautiful skyline that is truly unique to this city. Modern, air-conditioned malls flourish, selling everything from beautifully handcrafted batik clothing to genuine Rolex watches and Tiffany jewelry. In the shadows of these ultra-modern buildings, the ancient Malay village of Kampung Baru still thrives, with free-roaming roosters and a slow pace of life generally found in rural villages. Less than a 20-minute walk from the city center, you can find yourself conversing with monkeys in the city-jungle surrounding one of the highest telecommunications towers in the world. A walk of less than 30 minutes leads you to Chinatown and Little India, where merchants offer their wares, foods, and culture in happy neighborhoods that showcase the amazing diversity of the city. Unlike some places in Asia, foreigners are genuinely welcomed in Kuala Lumpur. Language isn't a problem, as almost everyone speaks adequate English. Immigration is easy, and it is possible to stay for an extended period with a simple tourist visa. Although Kuala Lumpur is more expensive than rural Malaysia, it can be marvelously inexpensive by Western standards. You can realistically expect to cut your living expenses by a third and still enjoy a lifestyle comparable to what you are accustomed to now.

5 Top Ways Stars Lose All Their Cash

Last week Gary Busey passed a mandatory online financial management course in an attempt to convince a U.S. Bankruptcy court he'll start sensibly managing his money.  The veteran actor recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. But in Hollywood, going broke is just about as as common as a leaked nude photos; just ask Toni Braxton, Larry Wilcox, Vince Neil, Mike Tyson, and Stephen Baldwin, all of whom have recently filed for bankruptcy. Not to mention Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband, who was forced to put their Bel Air mansion on the market last year to pay the ailing star’s medical bills; Wesley Snipes, who was imprisoned for three tax-related misdemeanor convictions; and Nicolas Cage, who lost one of his homes to foreclosure and has been plagued by IRS issues. So how is it that some of the most well-paid people on the planet can end up with next to nothing? We talked to financial management experts and they ticked off the top five ways rich celebs lose it all (or close to it). 5. They have no idea how money management works.  “Most celebrities have extremely creative minds. But in my experience, the most creative folks tend not to want to spend time dealing with business issues,” tax and business expert Joseph M. Doloboff, Partner at Blank Rome LLP in Los Angeles told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. But don’t famous folks hire financial planners and business managers to take good care of their millions? “Most of them do, but at the end of the day, these accounts are still in a celebrities’ name, which gives them ultimate control over their wealth,” said Certified Financial Counselor for Financial Advice for the Artist, Erin Elizabeth Burns. Which can mean big spending, big mistakes and… 4. Bad advice.  Pete Krainik, Founder and CEO of The CMO Club, a networking resource for top marketing executives, noted that some celebrities do not have the skill sets to identify and determine the right business/financial managers for their needs. “Because they don’t think of themselves as brands, they don’t put the efforts or plans in place to maximize their value for endorsement deals,” he explained. “They should have themselves significant additional revenue streams – it is not just about getting the next role, but getting the next deal.” But some such "additional revenue streams" can also run in the red.. Last year, the Las Vegas rendition of Beso – the restaurant/nightclub co-owned by Eva Longoria – filed for bankruptcy to restructure nearly $5.7 million in debt and other liabilities. Prior to that, the Jay-Z owned 40/40 sports bar in Sin City shut its doors a mere eight months after opening. Britney Spears’s southern-inspired Nyla Restaurant reportedly hit monetary blows before she also severed ties, and both Jennifer Lopez’s “Sweetface” clothing line and restaurant Madres went dark. 3. Theft and fraud.  Hollywood's highest profile people are actually human, which means they too are susceptible to being screwed by business managers, badly worded deals and corrupt advisors. Just ask Kevin Bacon and wife Kyra Sedgwick, who were taken to the cleaners by Ponzi schemer Bernie Maddoff. Doloboff also said prominent factors in a celeb’s financial crumbling is their tendency to bring "friends" -- or family -- into the fray as business partners or employees. “Many professional athletes and entertainers want to help their friends while simultaneously helping themselves,” he said. “The best advice is to refrain from doing business with friends. True friends don’t condition their friendship upon doing business together.” Comedian Dan Cook will probably adhere to that – in 2010, his half-brother Darryl McCauley was ordered to pay the comic $12 million in restitution after pleading guilty to embezzling funds from him. McCauley allegedly stole $12,500 a month as Cook’s business manager. Friends and fraud – double whammy! 2. Drugs, booze, and bad habits. Stars are known to fall when the temptations of drugs/alcohol/hard partying turns into a dangerous addiction. It can also be more than an expensive habit, as addiction often impacts other areas. “You are far more likely to make poor decisions when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When you’re dealing with celebrities, the problem is that their support groups, (friends, family, entourages, et al), often consist of enablers,” explained Richard Taite, the Founder and CEO of rehab center Cliffside Malibu. “It comes as no surprise that a successful celebrity can face financial destitution if they are abusing drugs or alcohol and are left to their own devices.” 1. Ridiculous overspending. Last but not least, some beautiful yet broke folks just lead foolishly fabulous lives (we're talking to you, MC Hammer) and refuse to accept that fame (and its fortune) can be fleeting. “Most celebrities have luxuries such as a cook, a driver, a personal stylist, a personal assistant etc.,” said Burns. “They become accustomed to this lifestyle, but when their contract isn’t renewed, or when the films offers stop coming in, they are still living this life of luxury with the expectation that they will always be in demand.” Yes, sadly, not every Hollywood tale has a happy ending. But with some good financial advise, the ending doesn't have to be tragic.

At least four people, including three children, were killed, when a man on a scooter opened fire outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in southwestern France


At least four people, including three children, were killed, when a man on a scooter opened fire outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in southwestern France on Monday, officials said. The attack also left several injured, two of them seriously, and followed the killing of three soldiers in two separate shootings in the same region last week by a man who escaped on a scooter. BFM TV news channel said that the gun used in the attack at the Ozar Hatorah school was of the same calibre as that used in the soldiers’ shootings, but a spokesman for the interior ministry could not immediately confirm this. President Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled other appointments and was on his way to Toulouse on Monday morning, accompanied by Education Minister Luc Chatel and the president of the CRIF French Jewish association, Richard Prasquier. “I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child … Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children,” a distraught father whose child attends the school told RTL radio. “I did not find my son, apparently he fled when he saw what happened. How can they attack something as sacred as a school, attack children only sixty centimetres tall?” Several other people were injured, two of them seriously. A rabbi at the school, identified as Rahamim Sabag, told Israel’s channel two television that the dead were a 30-year old rabbi who taught at the school, the rabbi’s five-year-old son and two eight-year old children, one of them the daughter of the school’s principal. A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, Yigal Palmor, expressed outrage at the killings: “We are following with great shock reports coming from Toulouse and we trust the French authorities will solve this crime and bring those responsible to justice.” A spokesman for the interior ministry said that security was being tightened at all Jewish schools in the country. About 50 investigators are already looking into the killings of two soldiers on Thursday in the town of Montauban, close to Toulouse, as they tried to withdraw money from a cash machine close to the barracks of the 17th parachute regiment. A third soldier was killed the previous weekend in Toulouse. Investigators had already confirmed on Friday that the same weapon had been used in both incidents.

Spain's Unicaja, Caja Espana savings banks merge


Spanish regional savings banks Unicaja and Caja Espana have merged following the government's recent requirement that banks raise substantially their provisions set aside to cover toxic real estate exposure. The merger, in which Banco Caja Espana-Duero (Banco Ceiss) is effectively absorbed into Unicaja Banco, creates a group with approximately (EURO)80 billion ($104.9 billion) in total assets and a turnover of (EURO)120 billion ($157.4 billion), according to a joint statement released late Friday. The deal must first receive Finance Ministry and central bank approval and would require (EURO)850 million ($1114.86 million) of state aid, which is added to (EURO)525 million ($688.59 million) already injected into Caja Espana in 2010 by the Bank of Spain's restructuring fund (FROB).

Sunday, 18 March 2012

German taxpayer would be obliged to subsidise the wages of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

When faced with the prospect of the Spanish government waiving the collective €752m debt the nation's football clubs owe to the country's tax authorities, the reaction in Europe last week was one of outrage. The German tabloid Bild even asked how long the German taxpayer would be obliged to subsidise the wages of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. What they meant was that while the European Union members bailed out the Spanish economy, successful Spanish clubs were failing to meet their own tax obligations. Strictly speaking, Real Madrid have no tax debt among the €170m debt that the club carry, but Barcelona owe €48m of their overall €364m debt to the Spanish taxman. Uli Hoeness, the outspoken president of Bayern Munich, got to the point rather more quickly when asked about the proposal to excuse Spanish clubs their tax debt. "This is unthinkable," he said. "We pay them hundreds of millions to get them out the shit and then the clubs don't pay their debts." It is a uniquely modern European dilemma, encompassing EU bail-out funds and the competitiveness of the continent's respective leading clubs, all of which ultimately adds another fiendishly complex element to the concept of Financial Fair Play, as proposed by Uefa president Michel Platini. It is further proof that while Spanish football is undoubtedly top dog in Europe, with five teams in the quarter-finals of the two Uefa competitions, it is not without problems. As The Independent's Pete Jenson reported in these pages on Saturday, a government report in Spain last week disclosed that the equivalent of £625m is owed by Spanish clubs to the country's public purse, with £353m of that due from 14 of the 20 clubs in the top division. This is not money owed to banks, investors or owners. It is owed to the Spanish people. On a sporting level it is "financial doping" at its very worse. On a social level it is nothing short of a disgrace in a country where youth unemployment currently runs at 50 per cent. Not all top Spanish clubs are culpable and it was reassuring to read in the breakdown of club debt by AS newspaper that Athletic Bilbao, the team of largely home-grown Basque stars who left English football spellbound with their schooling of Manchester United last week, do not owe the taxman a cent. So too Real Sociedad, Getafe, Villarreal and Sporting Gijon. On the other hand, Atletico Madrid, currently eighth in La Liga and drawn against Hannover 96 in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, owe the Spanish public purse €155m (£128m), more than any other club. The money from the €50m sale of Sergio Aguero to Manchester City last summer went straight to the tax authorities. Valencia, who play AZ Alkmaar in the same stage of the competition, owe €6m in unpaid tax. When Hoeness expressed German football's bitterness that their government is, indirectly, subsidising the success of Spanish clubs it is the likes of Hannover he was talking about. Atletico's big signing was Falcao from Porto last summer, a £33m signing financed by third-party ownership deals. Hannover bought Mame Biram Diouf from Manchester United. Enough said. No one would pretend that British football is the perfect financial model, especially given Rangers' and Portsmouth's debts to HMRC. Even the Germans have had their problems with Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. But unpaid taxes at a time when public services are being cut and jobs lost are particularly repugnant. Real Betis, Real Zaragoza, Racing Santander, Levante and Mallorca (denied a place in last season's Europa League because of their finances) owe a total of €118m to the Spanish tax authorities between them. There are also suggestions that unpaid social security contributions by some Spanish clubs rival those eye-watering figures for unpaid tax. In the past, Spanish football has been protected by the assumption that punishing badly-run clubs would cause such a backlash against government by voters that it would not be politically expedient. There is no points penalty in Spain for going into the equivalent of financial administration as there is in England. But attitudes are changing. The governing political group Partido Popular has described the situation as "intolerable". The government was forced to disclose the figures of unpaid tax because of an official request by Caridad Garcia of the Izquierda Unida (IU) party. A spokesman for IU, José Luis Centella, made the connection last week between the financial hardship felt by the Spanish people and the clubs' failure to pay. "This is bad news for all the people who have lost homes and suffered from the cutbacks while there is this tremendous generosity towards football." Wisely, the Spanish sports minister Miguel Cardenal announced last week that the government had dropped any consideration of giving football clubs a clean slate on their tax debts. There has even been a call from the centre-left party PSOE to ban clubs with tax debts from competing in the league, a rule that, already in place in Italian football, would change the face of La Liga overnight. Were the Spanish tax authorities to call in their debts tomorrow, Barcelona would surely be able to find, or borrow, the €48m they owe. Atletico, on the other hand, would find themselves in the kind of dire situation currently enveloping Rangers. There is a lesson for English football that in the risky game of investment and borrowing that most clubs enter as they attempt to fulfil the ambitions of supporters and owners, there are certain obligations that are non-negotiable. Football clubs command such loyalty and affection that they are too often cut slack, but, as the situation in Spain is starting to show, there is always a limit. Ridicule of Richards the last straw Down the years, Sir Dave Richards has given every appearance of being invulnerable to criticism or error of judgement. He has survived adversaries in the Football Association such as Lord Triesman and Ian Watmore in recent years. The financial problems of Sheffield Wednesday, where he was chairman, do not seem to have had an impact on his reputation. He walked out on the 2018 World Cup bid in a huff and it all blew over. Which makes it all the more incredible that an ornamental fountain, and a slightly unhinged but largely irrelevant speech on football, should prove his undoing. It just goes to shows that a divisive figure in football administration can survive a great deal but once their mistakes start to make people laugh – it's over. Will City seize their chance to get Mourinho? When Manchester City meet Chelsea on Wednesday, the shadow of one man falls over both clubs. Jose Mourinho is the last card that the most ambitious football club owners can play. If all else fails, then give Mourinho the job and if that does not bring success then you really are out of options. In Spain, the mood is that Mourinho may stay at Real Madrid in the penultimate year of his contract next season or he may go back to England if the right job presents itself. Is that Chelsea or could it be City? If Roberto Mancini fails to win the title this season and Mourinho is willing to come then it places an idea in the heads of City's owners. It is not as if he is available every summer.

S SPAIN THE NEXT GREECE? NATION SINKS FURTHER INTO MIRE

Savage cuts to the Greek health service have seen the country's HIV and Tuberculosis rates soar - sparking fears it is becoming a third world nation.

Aid agencies said the cutting of hospital budgets by an astonishing 40 per cent had also led to a sharp rise in the number of citizens being diagnosed with Malaria.

In the south, they said, it is reaching near endemic levels not seen since 1970s.

The scrapping of needle exchange services has seen the number of HIV and Aids sufferers in central Athens rise by 1,250 per cent in 2011 alone.

There are more prostitutes on the streets selling their bodies to make ends meet, while heroin addicts are finding it harder to come by anti-retroviral treatments.

There is also the first instances ever of the two illnesses being transmitted between mother and child - something usually equated with sub-Saharan Africa and not Europe.

Médecins sans Frontières Greece's Reveka Papadopoulos said the health service cuts, which saw widespread job losses, were putting social services 'under very severe strain'.

She added: 'If not in a state of breakdown. What we are seeing are very clear indicators of a system that cannot cope'. She said the 40 per cent cuts were on top of a 24 per cent increase in 2011 in demand for medical services.

This, she said, was 'largely because people could simply no longer afford private healthcare. The entire system is deteriorating'.

On the rise: The number of HIV and Aids sufferers in Greece is soaring

On the rise: The number of HIV and Aids sufferers in Greece is soaring

 

She added: 'There has also been a sharp increase in cases of tuberculosis in the immigrant population.

'Cases of Nile fever - leading to 35 deaths in 2010 - and the reappearance of endemic malaria in several parts of Greece.

 

 

 

'The simple fact of the reappearance of malaria, with 100-odd cases in southern Greece last year and 20 to 30 more elsewhere, shows barriers to healthcare access have risen.

'Malaria is treatable, it shouldn't spread if the system is working.'

Good news: Greece is set to receive the next tranche of bailout cash next week

Good news: Greece is set to receive the next tranche of eurozone bailout cash next week

The news comes as it was revealed Greece will get €5.9billion in new bailout money on Monday. It is the first slice of a new rescue package meant to keep the country afloat while it overhauls its economy.

Greece stands to receive a total of €172.7 billion from its partners in the 17-nation eurozone and the International Monetary Fund until 2016.

IS SPAIN THE NEXT GREECE? NATION SINKS FURTHER INTO MIRE

Spain now owes more money than it has done in the last 20 years, the Bank of Spain said.

For 2011 the country's public debt was 68.5 percent of gross domestic product, up from 61.2 per cent in 2010.

While it is a relatively low ratio, compared with its 16 eurozone peers who have an average 87.7 per cent, it has almost doubled from 36.3 per cent in 2007.

This is because there is a lack of economic impetus since the credit-and-construction bubble burst in 2008.

Spain has been ordered by the European Commission to cut its budget shortfall from 8.5 per cent of GDP in 2011 to 5.3 per cent this year and 3 per cent in 2013.

It has forced Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to hunt for savings worth around €60billion.

This year's target is a compromise after Rajoy defied Brussels by ditching a much tighter goal of 4.4 per cent of GDP agreed by the previous government.     

But the task will be made tougher as the economy is thought to already be in its second recession in three years, with the government expecting output to shrink 1.7 per cent in 2012.

The cuts has led to the closure of 27 publicly run companies, some of which were duplicates - such as a water company.

Others included a loss-making entity tasked with stimulating Spain's small housing rental market and one created to back the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.    

The central bank also said Spain's 17 autonomous regions, blamed for the lion's share of the fiscal slippage last year, ran debt up by 17.3 per cent in 2011 to €140billion.

The data showed the country's wealthiest region of Catalonia, was the most indebted, closely followed by Valencia.  Both had debt-to-GDP ratios of around 20 per cent compared to an average of 13.1 per cent.    

Tighter controls over regional budgets imposed by the central government aim to bring their spending back under control this year, even if analysts retain doubts over their future compliance and banks' balance sheets.    

The sum includes money left over from the country's first rescue package and a new €130billion programme.

The disbursement was approved earlier this week, said Matthias Mors, the European Commission representative to the troika - the debt inspectors from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF who are managing the Greek bailout.

The bailout, on its own, will not be enough to ease the country's financial woes.

An EU report released today said Greece must make a sustained effort to attract future investment and support export-led growth as it seeks to recover from a recession that is now in its fifth year.

But the report, prepared by the European Commission and the ECB, also said a bond swap deal with private creditors has made the country's debt load far more sustainable in the long-term.

The news has had a positive effect on European financial markets.

The FTSE 100 is today 0.45 per cent up at 5,967.43; France's CAC 40 is 0.54 per cent up at 3,599.37; and Germany's DAX is 0.33 per cent up at 7,168.37.

The report projects that, assuming interim targets are met, Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio will decline to below 117 per cent in 2020 and to below 90 per cent in 2030.

It was as high as 160 per cent of GDP before the debt relief deal was agreed with private creditors.

While progress has been made in reforming the economy, significant concerns remain, including inflation, a lack of credit available to households and business, and the need to regain competitiveness by reducing labor costs, Mors said.

'One of the priorities of this second program is the recapitalization of banks,' Mors said.

For one thing, bank deposits have fallen, he said. For another, the agreement to write down private debt 'will leave holes in the balance sheets of banks, because they held government bonds,' he added.

He said the new program includes €50 billion for bank recapitalisation. 'This is an enormous amount,' he said. Mors also warned that significant more belt-tightening lies ahead.

'The target for this year is a primary deficit of 1 per cent,' he said, referring to the budget balance before interest payments. 

'And the programme target for 2014 is a surplus of 4.5 per cent. And therefore people have to be aware that, in terms of fiscal adjustment, there's still a long way to go.' He said the Greek government will have to identify before this summer how it plans to close that gap.




Saturday, 17 March 2012

Premier League footballer Fabrice Muamba is in intensive care after collapsing during an FA Cup tie.

 

 The 23-year-old was said to be critically ill in the London Chest Hospital after falling to the ground at White Hart Lane in front of millions of television viewers watching the sixth round tie between Tottenham Hotspur and his club, Bolton Wanderers. Outside the hospital, the club's manager Owen Coyle said the following 24 hours were "absolutely crucial" and urged people to pray for the player's recovery. A Bolton spokesman said: "Bolton Wanderers can confirm that Fabrice Muamba has been admitted to the heart attack centre at London Chest Hospital where he is currently in a critically ill condition in intensive care. No further information will be issued at this stage. The club has requested the media to respect his family's privacy at this time." A packed White Hart Lane looked on with a worldwide audience watching live coverage on ESPN as the Trotters midfielder suddenly fell to the floor. Confusion turned to horror as medics sprinted on to the pitch to begin resuscitating the young man. Players looked shocked and watched in disbelief as the former England Under 21 star was treated with a defibrillator for several minutes before being stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask and taken to hospital. World Cup referee Howard Webb abandoned the game. As the message was relayed around the stadium with the score at 1-1, the fans applauded and chanted Muamba's name. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said: "The thoughts of the Premier League, its clubs and players are with Fabrice Muamba, his family and Bolton Wanderers. We would like to praise the players, match officials, coaching staff and medical teams of both clubs at White Hart Lane for their swift actions in attending Fabrice. "The league would also like to commend the compassion shown by the fans of Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur. We hope to hear positive news about Fabrice who is and has been a wonderful ambassador for the English game and the league at Arsenal, Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers." Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand wrote on Twitter: "Come on Fabrice Muamba, praying for you." England striker Wayne Rooney wrote: "Hope fabrice muamba is ok. Praying for him and his family. Still in shock." Muamba's team-mate Stuart Holden, added: "Still praying for Fab, the guy is a fighter on and off the field. We love you bro."

Facebook's 'dark side': study finds link to socially aggressive narcissism

 

Researchers have established a direct link between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a "socially disruptive" narcissist, confirming the conclusions of many social media sceptics. People who score highly on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory questionnaire had more friends on Facebook, tagged themselves more often and updated their newsfeeds more regularly. The research comes amid increasing evidence that young people are becoming increasingly narcissistic, and obsessed with self-image and shallow friendships. The latest study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, also found that narcissists responded more aggressively to derogatory comments made about them on the social networking site's public walls and changed their profile pictures more often. A number of previous studies have linked narcissism with Facebook use, but this is some of the first evidence of a direct relationship between Facebook friends and the most "toxic" elements of narcissistic personality disorder. Researchers at Western Illinois University studied the Facebook habits of 294 students, aged between 18 and 65, and measured two "socially disruptive" elements of narcissism – grandiose exhibitionism (GE) and entitlement/exploitativeness (EE). GE includes ''self-absorption, vanity, superiority, and exhibitionistic tendencies" and people who score high on this aspect of narcissism need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They often say shocking things and inappropriately self-disclose because they cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion. The EE aspect includes "a sense of deserving respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others". The research revealed that the higher someone scored on aspects of GE, the greater the number of friends they had on Facebook, with some amassing more than 800. Those scoring highly on EE and GG were also more likely to accept friend requests from strangers and seek social support, but less likely to provide it, according to the research. Carol Craig, a social scientist and chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being, said young people in Britain were becoming increasingly narcissistic and Facebook provided a platform for the disorder. "The way that children are being educated is focussing more and more on the importance of self esteem – on how you are seen in the eyes of others. This method of teaching has been imported from the US and is 'all about me'. "Facebook provides a platform for people to self-promote by changing profile pictures and showing how many hundreds of friends you have. I know of some who have more than 1,000." Dr Viv Vignoles, senior lecturer in social psychology at Sussex University, said there was "clear evidence" from studies in America that college students were becoming increasingly narcissistic. But he added: "Whether the same is true of non-college students or of young people in other countries, such as the UK, remains an open question, as far as I know. "Without understanding the causes underlying the historical change in US college students, we do not know whether these causes are factors that are relatively specific to American culture, such as the political focus on increasing self-esteem in the late 80s and early 90s or whether they are factors that are more general, for example new technologies such as mobile phones and Facebook." Vignoles said the correlational nature of the latest study meant it was difficult to be certain whether individual differences in narcissism led to certain patterns of Facebook behaviour, whether patterns of Facebook behaviour led to individual differences in narcissism, or a bit of both. Christopher Carpenter, who ran the study, said: "In general, the 'dark side' of Facebook requires more research in order to better understand Facebook's socially beneficial and harmful aspects in order to enhance the former and curtail the latter. "If Facebook is to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support, it is vitally important to discover the potentially negative communication one might find on Facebook and the kinds of people likely to engage in them. Ideally, people will engage in pro-social Facebooking rather than anti-social me-booking."

It's Not Dementia, It's Your Heart Medication: Cholesterol Drugs and Memory

 

One day in 1999 Duane Graveline, then a 68-year-old former NASA astronaut, returned home from his morning walk in Merritt Island, Fla., and could not remember where he was. His wife stepped outside, and he greeted her as a stranger. When Graveline’s memory returned some six hours later in the hospital, he racked his brain to figure out what might have caused this terrifying bout of amnesia. Only one thing came to mind: he had recently started taking the statin drug Lipitor. Cholesterol-lowering statins such as Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor are the most widely prescribed medications in the world, and they are credited with saving the lives of many heart disease patients. But recently a small number of users have voiced concerns that the drugs elicit unexpected cognitive side effects, such as memory loss, fuzzy thinking and learning difficulties. Hundreds of people have registered complaints with MedWatch, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s adverse drug reaction database, but few studies have been done and the results are inconclusive. Nevertheless, many experts are starting to believe that a small percentage of the population is at risk, and they are calling for increased public awareness of the possible cognitive side effects of statins—symptoms that may be misdiagnosed as dementia in the aging patients who take them. Fat and the Brain It is not crazy to connect cholesterol-modifying drugs with cognition; after all, one quarter of the body’s cholesterol is found in the brain. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that, among other things, provides structure to the body’s cell membranes. High levels of cholesterol in the blood create a risk for heart disease, because the molecules that transport cholesterol can damage arteries and cause blockages. In the brain, however, cholesterol plays a crucial role in the formation of neuronal connections—the vital links that underlie memory and learning. Quick thinking and rapid reaction times depend on cholesterol, too, because the waxy molecules are the building blocks of the sheaths that insulate neurons and speed up electrical transmissions. “We can’t understand how a drug that affects such an important pathway would not have adverse reactions,” says Ralph Edwards, former director of the World Health Organization’s drug-monitoring center in Uppsala, Sweden. Two small trials published in 2000 and 2004 by Matthew Muldoon, a clinical pharmacologist at the University of Pittsburgh, seem to suggest a link between statins and cognitive problems. The first, which enrolled 209 high-cholesterol subjects, reported that participants taking placebo pills improved more on repeated tests of attention and reaction time taken over the course of six months—presumably getting better because of practice, as people typically do. Subjects who were on statins, however, did not show the normal improvement—suggesting their learning was impaired. The second trial reported similar findings. And a study published in 2003 in Reviews of Therapeutics noted that among 60 statin users who had reported memory problems to MedWatch, more than half said their symptoms improved when they stopped taking the drugs. But other studies have found no significant link between statins and memory problems. Larry Sparks, director of the Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Research at the Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz., goes so far as to say that “you’ve got a better chance of buying a winning lottery ticket, walking outside and getting hit by lightning and dying” than you do of suffering a cognitive side effect from statins. Vulnerable Genes? Many experts agree that for most people the risk is quite low, but they are beginning to believe the effects are real. “A subset of the population is vulnerable,” argues Joe Graedon, co-founder of the consumer advocacy Web site the People’s Pharmacy, which has collected hundreds of reports of cognitive-related statin side effects in the past decade. Some researchers believe these people have a genetic profile that puts them at risk.

Statin side effects: How common are memory loss, diabetes, and muscle aches?

 

When the US Food and Drug Administration told the makers of cholesterol-lowering statins to add new side effect warnings to their labels last week, many of the 40 million statin users may have been unaware of the extent of the risks associated with these drugs that have been touted by some cardiologists to be safer than aspirin. No question, statins -- which include Lipitor (atorvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), and Crestor (rosuvastatin) -- are relatively safe drugs, and they’ve saved thousands of lives over the past 20 years, particularly in men with established heart disease. But like any drug they can cause problems in some, including muscle aches, an increased risk of diabetes, and, gaining recent attention, memory loss. University of California-San Diego researcher Beatrice Golomb published a paper two years ago describing 171 statin users who reported that they had developed memory problems and dementia-like symptoms that the statin users attributed to their use of the medications. The vast majority experienced an improvement in their symptoms after stopping the drugs and many saw their symptoms return after going back on statins. Robert Grindell, a state employee from Makinen, Minn., told me his short-term memory began to deteriorate after he started taking Zocor in his early 50s. (He contacted Golomb after hearing about her research.) “My co-workers told me I was coming in to ask them the same question three times in one day,” he said. “I had a CT scan to determine if I had a stroke, but it came back fine; the next day, I couldn’t even remember where I had the test performed.” After learning that Zocor caused memory problems, Grindell decided to go off it and said within a few days he noticed an improvement in his memory, not having to glance down several times at a printed phone number as he dialed it to remember the digits. Unfortunately, the exact incidence of these memory problems isn’t known. Manufacturer-sponsored clinical trials show that they occur in fewer than 1 percent of users, but statin researcher Dr. Paul Thompson, chief of cardiololgy at Hartford Hospital, said the real incidence is probably much higher. He has a study expected to be published sometime this year that measured cognitive effects in statin users compared with those on placebos that he said will provide a better estimate; the findings can’t be disclosed until the study is published. The diabetes risks of statins are more well-established. One review study published last year calculated an extra two cases of type 2 diabetes in every 1,000 patients who took a high-dose statin (80 milligrams per day) compared with those who took a lower dose (20 to 40 milligrams). And one clinical trial found that statin users had about a 25 percent increased risk of developing diabetes over a two-year period compared with those who took placebos. Experts, though, agree that in people at high risk for heart disease, the increased diabetes risk is outweighed by the statin’s protection against heart attacks and deaths from any cause. The danger of muscle destruction from statins -- which can damage the liver and kidneys -- is also clear but slight. According to Thompson, about 1 in every 1,000 statin users will develop severely elevated levels of the enzyme creatine kinase, which indicates muscle death, and only 1 in 10 million die from developing an extremely severe case of the condition called rhabdomyolysis. Muscle aches are far more common: occuring in about 1 in 10 users, according to Thompson. “It seems to be more common in people who do a lot of exercise.” In fact, a study he conducted found that marathon runners taking statins developed a greater increase in creatine kinase right after their race compared with runners who weren’t on statins. “We also see more muscle aches in older people and women since they have less muscle mass,” he said. Lowering the statin dose or switching to a different statin doesn’t always help, Thompson said. “In our studies, those who develop statin myalgia tend to get it again and again; they’re body may get sensitized to statins.” There may also be a genetic component, with statin muscle aches occuring more often in those whose parents also had them. And there may be a link between memory loss and muscle aches. “In our database, the majority of patients who had cognitive problems also had muscle problems,” Golomb said. She recommends that those who are having memory loss or muscle aches speak to their doctor about going off statins -- especially if they’re not in a high-risk group for heart attacks. Those who get the most benefits are men under 65 who’ve already had a heart attack, she said. Women, elderly people, and those without heart disease get much smaller benefits from statins, and it’s unclear whether the drugs extend their lives. “Many patients have told me that their doctor said going off statins would kill them,” Golomb said, “but that’s not an accurate representation of the evidence.”

Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain


Earlier evidence out of UCLA suggested that meditating for years thickens the brain (in a good way) and strengthens the connections between brain cells. Now a further report by UCLA researchers suggests yet another benefit. See Also: Health & Medicine Nervous System Psychology Research Brain Tumor Mind & Brain Neuroscience Intelligence Brain Injury Living Well Reference Thalamus Alpha wave Cerebral contusion Functional neuroimaging Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification ("folding" of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain's neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes. The article appears in the online edition of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of neural tissue. Among other functions, it plays a key role in memory, attention, thought and consciousness. Gyrification or cortical folding is the process by which the surface of the brain undergoes changes to create narrow furrows and folds called sulci and gyri. Their formation may promote and enhance neural processing. Presumably then, the more folding that occurs, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth. "Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration," said Luders. "That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding." Of the 49 recruited subjects, the researchers took MRI scans of 23 meditators and compared them to 16 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. (Ten participants dropped out.) The scans for the controls were obtained from an existing MRI database, while the meditators were recruited from various meditation venues. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types -- Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers applied a well-established and automated whole-brain approach to measure cortical gyrification at thousands of points across the surface of the brain. They found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) across a wide swatch of the cortex, including the left precentral gyrus, the left and right anterior dorsal insula, the right fusiform gyrus and the right cuneus. Perhaps most interesting, though, was the positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification. "The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration," said Luders. "Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula." While Luders cautions that genetic and other environmental factors could have contributed to the effects the researchers observed, still, "The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification."

Health board owed £130k for treatment of foreign nationals


FOREIGN nationals not entitled to free treatment are said to owe Swansea Bay's ABM University Health Board more than £130,000 — the second highest figure in Wales. According to figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives, only Cardiff and Vale UHB is owed more, at just over £200,000. ​ Darren Millar AM The Welsh Government has now said it is looking at further measures to help health boards recoup their costs. Figures obtained by the Tories following a Freedom of Information request show the money owed to the NHS in Wales more than doubled between 2008 and 2011. Of the £380,000 that was unpaid, at least £199,311 is still outstanding to Wales's seven health boards, while a minimum of £185,700 was written off after bosses exhausted efforts to be reimbursed. Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM expressed concern at the figures, arguing the Welsh NHS was in no position to be owing substantial sums of money. He said: "There are strict guidelines in place for explaining details of charges to patients who are required to pay. "The Welsh Government should look carefully at how well these rules are followed. "Any money written off by the NHS is regrettable when budgets are being squeezed so hard. The big rise evident in these figures is of great concern." The figures show that, in 2008/09, £70,815 had not been paid back. In 2010/11 that had increased to £257,713. And the Tories also claim there was been a downward trend in the rate of collecting money owed, down from 71 per cent in 2008/09 to 43 per cent in 2010/11. Some treatments, such as medical emergencies at A&E or compulsory psychiatric care, remain free of charge for everyone in Wales — regardless of where they are from or how long they have lived in the country. Other procedures, which include non-life-threatening outpatient care, are supposed to be paid for by non-EU residents. But the process and guidelines are far from straightforward as some countries have signed healthcare agreements with the UK. This makes its citizens exempt from some charges. ABM officials could not be contacted for comment. A Welsh Government spokesman said: "All visitors to Wales requiring NHS treatment are assessed as to their eligibility for free NHS treatment. "All treatment received in an accident and emergency department is free to all. "We have issued clear guidance to NHS organisations which states that they should recover the cost of caring for overseas patients who are not entitled to free care. "We are looking at what further measures can be introduced to support NHS organisations recover costs."

Spanish state will need outside help – or even go bankrupt.

 

If the negative development in the Spanish housing market continues, it can – worst case – lead to renewed concern over that the Spanish state will need outside help – or even go bankrupt. Banks might face several hundred billion Euros in losses on the Spanish real estate market. This will mean a recapitalization of the Spanish banks – capital that can only come from the Spanish state. Now there is nothing new in that; but what is interesting is the free admission of a need to nationalize the Spanish banks. If you glace at the graph you will see the Danish housing market has dropped between 22% and 30% from the top – time and actual drop depending on market segment. As Danske Bank is roughly half the Danish finance sector it is hard to escape the conclusion that Danske Bank is in at least as big trouble as the banks in one of the more notorious frivolous and irresponsible economies in Europe. Danske Bank will presumably peg their flag to the difference in unemployment figure (Spain hovers around 20%). True as that may be; but unemployment figures are notoriously difficult to compare between countries. Not only do criteria differ; but the criteria differs over time – according to political convenience. It is kind of discussing distress on board the Titanic: “It’s only your end that is under water! I’m fine!!” That is the nearest to a Freudian slip admission of life threatening financial distress we can expect from Danske Bank. But it is time to bust a few myths before they come too much of age – and be established as “truths” – and draw some conclusions. 1)    Looking at the graph again prices on condominiums/flats/apartments had begun to drop way before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Two years in fact. That was more due to a temporary rise in interest rates that made the calculations of monthly payments  – even to the least lunatic bank manager – clearly unrealistic. 2)    Generally sales were falling from mid 2007 – I trust the reader is can see through the regular seasonal variation to distinguish the trend. 3)    The collapse of Lehman Brothers and the perhaps inept handling of the resulting Credit Default Swap disaster had indeed nothing to do with the much deeper issue of banking irresponsibility and incompetence. Alan Greenspan has been quoted for saying that what surprised him was that banks had not taken preventive measures in their own interest. The forces of the free market self-regulating controls do NOT apply in the financial sector. 4)    The next major meltdown – which clearly is underway (Spain will not be able to meet the budget target agreed upon by Rajoy) – will in essence have nothing to do with the Greek debacle. Greece was/is – all things considered – handled more effectively than the collapse of Lehman Brother. To be fair: There was more advance warning and the cacophony of idiotic optimism had been quenched by German lack of sentimentality. 5)    You can see the lack of linkage to the Greek situation by the fact that the Danish and Spanish drop in housing prices (and lack of trade) is simultaneous. Danish banks were not exposed to Greek sovereign debt to ANY appreciable extend. Furthermore Denmark has a reasonably healthy export which is more than can be said about Spain. Still a near similar and at least simultaneous price drop in Denmark and Spain points to a factor nobody has wished to mention: The banks of both countries are to all intents and purposes deceased and with no future without state ownership.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Spain Approves Canary Islands Oil Exploration


The Spanish government approved Friday a controversial permit to explore for oil offshore the Canary Islands, in an area that could become by far the largest source of oil production in a country heavily dependent on crude imports. Approval of an exploration license marks the latest move in Spain's shift away from a policy of subsidy-dependent renewable energy projects as it seeks ways to improve its trade balance and steady its budget, but will likely face opposition from environmentalists and local government officials concerned about the threat of damage to the island's tourist-friendly, white-sand beaches.

Spain's public debt soars to record high


Spain's public debt soared to a record high at the end of 2011, Bank of Spain figures showed Friday, as Madrid struggled to slash costs and escape the eurozone debt crisis. Public debt amounted to 734.96 billion euros ($960 billion), equal to 68.5 percent of annual economic output at the end of 2011 -- up from 66 percent three months earlier and 61.2 percent at the end of 2010. The accumulated debts breached the European-Union agreed limit of 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) but was still below the eurozone average, which approached 90 percent in the third quarter last year. It was the highest public debt ratio recorded in Spain since statistics in the current format were first published in 1995. Spain's public debt is rising fast because of runaway annual public deficits that have shot past EU-agreed targets, in part owing to high spending by regional governments. The previous Socialist government, ousted by the conservative Popular Party in November elections, had forecast a debt of 67.2 of GDP for the end of 2011, aiming to curb it to less than 70 percent in 2014. But the European statistics unit Eurostat was not so optimistic. It forecast a public debt of 69.6 percent in 2011, 73.8 percent in 2012 and 78 percent in 2013. Spain's conservative government, which took power in December, has yet to announce a new public debt target. The public debt ratio has grown without interruption since the first quarter of 2008 when, after nearly a decade of fast growth and budget surpluses, which trimmed the debt, it amounted to 35.8 percent of GDP. The situation in the 17 regions is particularly worrying: at the end of 2011 their accumulated debt rose to 140.1 billion euros, or a record 13.1 percent of national GDP, from 11.4 percent a year earlier. Municipal debts, however, eased over the year to 35.4 billion euros or 3.3 percent of GDP. Regional governments enjoy a high level of autonomy, prompting concerns in financial markets that their spending could compromise the central government's deficit-cutting goals. Spain had agreed to cut its annual public deficit to 6.0 percent of GDP in 2011 but it overran that target by a wide margin and ended up reporting a deficit of 8.51 percent of GDP. After winning a slight relaxation from Brussels in its goals for this year, Spain is now aiming for an annual deficit of 5.3 percent in 2012 and 3.0 percent in 2013. But the regions are not entirely to blame. The central government's finances also deteriorated in 2011, as its public debt rose to 52.1 percent of GDP at the end of the year from 46.4 percent a year earlier.

Cadíz second bridge delayed until at least 2013


The Ministry for Development has announced a delay in the opening of the second road bridge into Cádiz which will now not be open to traffic until 2013. Minister, Ana Pastor, said that not with all the money in the world could a 2012 opening be achieved. 2012 was the target date so that it coincided with the bicentenary of the 1812 Spanish Constitution which was signed in the city on March 19 1812. The General Courts of Spain were transferred there while in refuge from the Peninsular War. The Minister added, ‘It will take at least another 15 months, and that only if there is no wind’. The Ministry of Development says the suspension bridge is now 75% complete, but a fundamental part of the project, linking to the 13 pivot bases which are already showing in the middle of the Cádiz Bay is still to be done. The bridge is the largest road infrastructure project in Spain and has a cost of about 300 million € and will link Cádiz with Puerto Real. It will be known as the Puente de la Constitución de 1812, and not the ‘Puente de la Pepa’ which was the name given by the previous Minister, Magdalena Álvarez.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Place your bets on Euro Vegas

IT MAY just be the single largest contrarian bet in the euro zone. Sheldon Adelson, a casino tycoon, is expected soon to choose between Madrid and Barcelona for a €16 billion ($21 billion) gambling resort. The euro-zone turmoil does not faze him: “It will take us four to five years,” he told Forbes magazine. “By then everything will be solved.” Mr Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands (LVS) hopes to create a “Euro Vegas”, capable of attracting the 1 billion people who live in the 50 countries within a five-hour flight from Spain. He chose the country because of the weather and because its unemployment rate, now at 23%, “assures us the support of the government”. The numbers are certainly eye-popping. LVS would invest €6 billion in a first phase to build four hotel strips—eventually reaching 12—as well as casinos, shops, restaurants, golf courses and convention centres. LVS says the project could create 260,000 indirect and direct jobs, enough for nearly half the unemployed in Madrid. Spain is already the fourth-largest holiday destination in the world, but LVS reckons Euro Vegas would attract 11m new tourists on top of the 57m a year Spain already gets, increasing tourism spending by €15.5 billion over the next ten to 15 years. In this section News of the world Good for you, not for shareholders Zimplats happens Watch this space »Place your bets on Euro Vegas Luxury on the cheap Nazis in space The view from Liverpool Reprints Related topics Gambling Barcelona Madrid Spain Madrid and Barcelona, used to battling it out on the football pitch, have won a promise of neutrality from the central government. Barcelona admits that Madrid has the edge so far, since it has been talking to Mr Adelson on and off since 2007. But Barcelona has not given up. Mr Adelson recently visited a beach-front site near the city’s El Prat airport, which like Madrid’s Barajas has plenty of spare capacity. National and local leaders are keen on the project but opponents are sceptical of LVS’s claims about job creation, and worry that the casino will become a “fiscal and legal paradise” of tax breaks and exemptions from labour laws—a charge which regional officials deny. However, LVS is thought to be seeking a relaxation of Spain’s ban on smoking in public places, and lower gambling levies. Whichever city won would also have to bear the cost of such things as transport links to the resort. Given Spain’s precarious public finances, and considering that, as Mr Adelson puts it, there are “tens of billions to be made” from the resort, the authorities ought to resist any temptation to splash out taxpayers’ money to win the deal. They will have to assuage public fears of encouraging gambling addiction, infiltration by organised crime and the environmental impact of such a giant construction project. As in Singapore, where LVS recently opened a big casino resort, Spanish officials play down gambling as a small part of the overall package. Another worry is that the project will not happen at all. Spain has had its share of unrealised property developments. A €17 billion casino complex in the desert of Aragon, proposed in 2007, remains unbuilt. But LVS has withstood the global downturn pretty well, and the success of its Macao and Singapore operations gives it plenty of financial firepower. LVS boasts that its Marina Bay Sands development has “moved the needle” in Singapore, with record tourism figures one year after its opening. Euro Vegas would be much larger. A casino resort may lack the prestige of, say, a technology cluster, but Spain will have to take a few gambles to get its soaring unemployment under control.

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