Angela Merkel agreed a deal on February 07, 2017 to form a new coalition government in Germany on Wednesday, more than four months after suffering damaging losses in elections. Mrs Merkel reached an agreement with her former coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), after the longest period without an elected government in postwar Germany. She expressed the belief that the agreement can be the foundation of a good and stable government, which Germany needs and which many around the world expect of the country. The coalition agreement includes commitments to strengthening the EU and working with France on Eurozone reform. It pledges to work towards turning the Eurozone bailout fund into a full-blown European Monetary Fund, and says Germany is “prepared for higher contributions to the EU budget”.

The coalition has been weaved on many compromises. According to Wolfgang Steiger, the head of the CDU’s economic council, for the CDU, the allocation of ministries is a miserable result to the negotiations. He described the coalition agreement as “not the spirit of the future, but the garbage of redistribution”. After ceding control of so many ministries — the SPD claimed six in all — Mrs Merkel may find herself left with few choice portfolios to keep potential rivals within her own party quiet. Mrs Merkel has lost two of her most powerful allies in the party, and looks increasingly lonely. Wolfgang Schäuble, the longserving finance minister, has left to become speaker of parliament, while Thomas de Maiziere, who served as interior minister, said yesterday (WED) he was standing down from office. The next hurdle for Mrs Merkel and her potential new government will be when SPD members vote on whether to approve the coalition agreement starting on February 20.

Nevertheless, the deal could bring an end to months of uncertainty in Europe’s dominant power and biggest economy. But the relief in Berlin came at the cost of shock following the SPD leader, Martin Schulz’s announcement that he would be stepping down and taking a cabinet post as foreign minister instead. The coalition deal also came at a significant cost to Mrs Merkel, who had to relinquish control of the three great ministries of state and agree to a number of demands from her coalition partners. And it still has to be approved in a vote by the full SPD membership — where it is facing a challenge from rebels who have sworn to prevent a new Merkel government and mounted a Momentum-style campaign to sign up new members to vote No.

Merkel is facing a challenge from the rebels led by the party’s youth wing, the Jusos, managed to sign up more than 24,000 new members in their Momentum-style campaign to block a coalition before a deadline expired on February 06. With the party membership at over 440,000 and no reliable polling data, it is not clear whether it will be enough to swing the result, which is expected to be announced on March 4.

Mrs Merkel has been fighting to stay in power since since her first attempt to form a coalition after September’s elections collapsed.Her former coalition partners in the SPD came to her rescue but they exacted a heavy price for their support, and the new government is set to be much more active in pursuing greater European Union integration and Eurozone reform. Martin Schulz, the former European parliament president who has called for a “United States of Europe” is now set to become foreign minister. Andrea Nahles will take over as leader where she is expected to focus on rebuilding the party, which suffered its worst ever result in September’s election. Instead he has decided to pass that job to Ms Nahles. At the foreign ministry the federalist Mr Schulz will be able to direct Germay’s EU policy. And he will have the supporty of a party colleague at the finance ministry. Olaf Scholz, the current mayor of Hamburg, is set to become one of the most powerful figures in government as both finance minister and vice-chancellor.

There are many remarkable indications in the coalition agreement. It mentions that after Brexit, making Germany more attractive for financial institutions is an important possibility. In a sign of another key policy shift, the most outspoken critic of Mrs Merkel’s “open-door”refugee policy is to be handed direct control of the issue as interior minister. Horst Seehofer, the leader of Mrs Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), will take over a beefed up interior ministry with expanded powers. Under the coalition agreement, there will be an upper limit of 220,000 on the number of asylum-seekers allowed into Germany each year, and restrictions on family reunification for those already here. But there were angry reactions from Mrs Merkel’s own Christian Democrat party (CDU) at the number of concessions she made.

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Bitcoin is one of the most popular versions of crypto currency. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system. It is the first decentralized digital currency, as the system works without a central bank or single administrator. Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Bitcoins are completely virtual coins designed to be ‘self-contained’ for their value, with no need for banks to move and store the money. Bitcoins carry value and can be used to purchase goods and services online, or you can be kept as an asset for increase in their value over the years. Bitcoins are traded from one personal ‘wallet’ to another. Although Japan considers bitcoin as a legal tender, JP Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon calls it little more than a “fraud”. Indian government also does not favour the concept of Bitcoin. The Reserve Bank of India is also uncomfortable with “non-fiat” cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.  By the end of last year, on the back of huge increase in its value, Bitcoin plunged over 50 per cent by 2017 December end.

Forbes, the popular American business magazine, has come out with the first-ever list of the richest people in the cryptocurrency market. The cryptocurrency list names various secretive freaks, geeks and visionaries who rode on to the crypto-wave to spectacular highs and pocketed billions. Bitcoin price at the time of reporting today was $8,111. Here are the top-ten richest people in the cryptocurrency world listed by Forbes:

1)Chris Larsen: The 57-year old co-founder of Ripple, a technology that facilitates global payments for banks using blockchain technology, has an estimated cryptocurrency net worth of $7.5-$8 billion. Larsen was the chairman and former CEO of Ripple.

2)Joseph Lubin: The 53-year old co-founder of popular cryptocurrency Ethereum and founder of Consensys holds an estimated cryptocurrency net worth of $1-$5 billion. He is a former Goldman Sachs executive.

3)Changpeng Zhao: The 41-year old CEO of Binance (cryptocurrency exchange) holds an estimated crypto- net worth of $1.1.2 billion. He is known to establish world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange in just 7-months.

4)Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss: The 36-year old twins and founder of  Winklevoss Capital own $900 million-1.1 billion net worth of cryptocurrency.Winklevoss brothers, the identical twins, are said to be the first public figures who became millionaires through their investments parked in the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin. The brothers entered limelight after they sued Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg alleging he stole their idea to create popular social media platform Facebook.

5)Matthew Melon: The 54-year old individual investor holds $900 million-1.billion net worth of cryptocurrency.

6)Brian Armstrong: The 35-year old CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase holds  $900 million-1 billion net worth of cryptocurrency.

7)Matthew Roszak:The 45-year old co-founder of Bloq and founder of Tally Capital  holds $900 million-1 billion net worth of cryptocurrency.

8)Anthony Di Iorio: The 43-year old co-founder of Ethereum and founder of Jax and Decentral  holds own $750 million-1 billion net worth of cryptocurrency.

9)Brock Pierce:The 37-year old chairman of Bitcoin Foundation holds $700 million-1 billion net worth of cryptocurrency.

10)Michael Novogratz:The 53-year old CEO of Galaxy Digital holds $700 million-1 billion net worth of cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin  hit an all-time high of almost $18,000 on the the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange on December 15, 2017, up 9 percent on the day, as warnings grew over the risks of investing in the highly volatile and speculative instrument. The cryptocurrency’s staggering price rises — more than 1,700 percent since the start of the year 2017 – led to worries that the market is a bubble that could burst in spectacular fashion. Bitcoin had climbed almost 80 percent by mid-December 2017 alone, putting it on track for its best month in percentage terms since December 2013.

A study by Anglia Ruskin University, Trinity College Dublin and Dublin City University released (December 2017) says that bitcoin could pose a threat to the financial stability of traditional currencies and markets.”Our evidence finds that the price of Bitcoin has been artificially inflated by speculative investment, putting it in a bubble,” said Larisa Yarovaya, one of the report’s authors and a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. “Although bitcoin is not regulated by governments, it could still have a knock-on effect on traditional markets due to the interconnectedness of cryptocurrency markets with other financial assets.” Others, however, say bitcoin’s total market size — around $300 billion — mean the impact of any future price collapse would not be large enough to have a knock-on effect on financial stability.

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Pakistan’s iron lady Asma Jehangir passes away

She was special. She was an icon, an apostle of courage, honesty and justice. She was an inspiration. She has faded leaving her mark on the posterity to think beyond self and act on real ground to fight injustice.   Asma Jehangir passed away on February 11, 2017 at the age of 66 due to a cardiac arrest in Lahore Pakistan’s top lawyer who was more known as human rights activist. Asma was bold and courageous and she lived her life fighting against authoritarianism and abuse of law by the powerful. She was Pakistan’s symbol of resistance and a human rights activist who spoke against military dictators and abusers of law for the past five decades. She headed the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and remained the Supreme Court Bar Association chairperson. She was also appointed as UN Rapporteur in the region during the 1990s. She remained in jail during the dictatorial rule of General Zia-ul Haq in 1983 for raising her voice for the democrats.

Born and raised in Lahore, Jehangir studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary before receiving her B.A from Kinnaird and LLB from the Punjab University in 1978. In 1980, Jahangir was called to the Lahore High Court and to the Supreme Court in 1982. In the 1980s, Jahangir became an democracy activist and was imprisoned in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq. In 1986, she moved to Geneva, and became the vice-chair of the Defence for Children International and remained until 1988 when she moved back to Pakistan. In 1987 she co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and became its Secretary General until 1993 when she was elevated as commission’s chairperson. She was again put under house arrest in November 2007 after the imposition of emergency. After serving as one of the leaders of the Lawyers’ Movement, she became Pakistan’s first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.She has co-chaired South Asia Forum for Human Rights and was the vice president of International Federation for Human Rights.

Jehangir served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion from August 2004 to July 2010, including serving on the U.N. panel for inquiry into Sri Lankan human rights violations and on a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements.She won numerous national and international awards for her struggle for the oppressed. The awrds she won include the 2014 Right Livelihood Award (along with Edward Snowden), 2010 Freedom Award, Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Ramon Magsaysay Award, 1995 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. She was awarded an Officier de la Légion d’honneur by France. Her prominent writings include The Hudood Ordinance: A Divine Sanction? and Children of a Lesser God.

Condolences poured in as soon as the news of her death came. Condolences poured in from within and outside the country. Leaders of all political parties paid rich tributes to her. Foreign Minister of Pakistan’sForeign Minister Khwaja M Asif said in his tweet, “ What a brave woman.Pakistan poorer without her. People like Asma are anchors of a society.The brave and dedicated daughter of a brave father.After 3 generations of camaraderie between our families,this is a deep personal loss. God bless her soul.” Nobel Prize winner brave girl from Pakistan, Malala, now pursuing her studies in Oxford tweeted, “Heartbroken that we lost Asma Jahangir – a saviour of democracy and human rights.” Former cricketer and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan tweeted, “Asma Jehangir’s death is a loss of a strong voice for the marginalised and oppressed. Despite our differences I always respected her for her fight for human rights and for standing up for her convictions.”Indian actress Nandita Das expressed her condolence saying Deeply shocked & saddened to hear of #AsmaJahangir. She was a true defender of #HumanRights #Democracy & fought till her last breath against authoritarian power, orthodoxy & discriminatn. She was & will remain an inspiration. A huge loss!

The people in power were not very comfortable with Asma Jehangir’s activism. General Musharraf openly expressed his hate for Asma Jehangir for raising her voice against missing persons often picked up by the intelligence agencies and never produced before the courts. She took up cases of dozens of missing persons and fought in the courts for their recovery free of cost. She was a vocal advocate for peace between Pakistan and India. Asma was often criticised by right wingers for her stance towards freedom of speech and against the use of religion to curb progressive voices. Asma also criticised the judiciary for not giving justice to the oppressed and not taking notice of extra judicial killings and abductions.

Asma Jehangir, the Iron Lady of Pakistan has bid adieu. But her voice for freedom and justice would keep on reverberating in the ears of the posterity inspiring and motivating to continue the fight for a freer, just and better world. South Asia is proud of this daughter from Pakistan and she would always remain alive in the minds of people, especially when they need a reason to hope that howsoever difficult it is , the fight for justice and freedom is worth, no matter what it takes!

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