Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 15-21 May

Judy Asks: Can Europe Deal With Cyberattacks?, by Judy Dempsey in Carnegie Europe

“Sorin Ducaru, Assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges at NATO: Europe has no choice but to rise to the challenge of dealing with a fast-evolving cyberthreat landscape. NATO has seen an increase in frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks in the last year. And the alliance is stepping up its game on cyberdefense. Over 200 experts help protect NATO’s networks around the clock. NATO Cyber Rapid Reaction Teams are on standby to counter attacks against NATO networks, or to assist allies, on request. The organization has enhanced information sharing, including with partners such as the EU and through a malware information sharing platform. Recognizing that resilient national cyberdefenses are key to collective defense, NATO allies adopted a cyberdefense pledge at their 2016 summit in Warsaw to prioritize investment in strengthening national cyberdefenses. This is consistent with the fundamental responsibility of allies to defend their networks; NATO supports them through the sharing of information, analysis, intelligence, and technical expertise and by promoting benchmark requirements for national capability development and relevant skills.”

Why the G7 can really matter, by Marta Dassù in Aspenia Online

“A lot of people fear that the Italian G7 presidency – or rather its climax, the leaders’ summit in Taormina a couple of weeks from now – will end up being little more than a photo opportunity. I beg to differ. The G7 makes sense precisely at times like this, at times when the United States and Europe hold considerably distant positions on such crucial issues as trade and the environment. The G7 was marked for years by a kind bureaucratic liturgy, with the sherpas (the heads of state and government leaders’ representatives) thrashing out a long and boring final communique in advance containing a few important things (for example new pledges on food security) but also full of perfectly useless inanities, and this was then endorsed by the “leaders.” To be brutally honest, the protest demos at the summit were starting to become almost more important than the summit itself. In the years of the financial crisis, the G7 was de facto dethroned by the G20 as the forum for debating major economic issues.  In view of the comparative weight that China and India had achieved in the meantime, it was a widely held opinion that a forum restricted to the industrially advanced countries of the last century made little sense, especially in the wake of a crisis triggered precisely by the money markets in the West.”

Slow Down: The Wisdom In Seeing The Economical Forest For The Trees, by Peter Georgescu in Forbes

“Ostensibly, the American economy is moving forward ever so tentatively. The usual indicators of economic health are, for the most part, improving. We’re seeing some job growth from month to month, higher levels of productivity, and a long-term bull market. Yet I find none of these numbers convincing. The unemployment figures mask the large number of structurally unemployed — those who have given up looking for work and thus aren’t included in the ranks of the unemployed. Productivity is mostly a measure of how much we can cut costs — eliminating muscle and marrow, in order to boost profits at the expense of a company’s long-term future. And Wall Street’s historic highs have been justifying this complacency, but this boom market rewards investors, in the short term, at the expense of the middle class. If you step back and look at this country since the late 1970s, you know that wages have been virtually stagnant, in comparison with rising innovations, productivity — and rising profits — over those decades. Corporate profit margins are at an all-time high, even though the economy has almost stalled, both here and around the world while wages have barely kept up with inflation.”

The Dispensability of Allies, by George Friedman in Geopolitical Futures

“U.S. President Donald Trump hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House on Tuesday. Later this month, Trump will travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia, along with Belgium, Italy and the Vatican. With all respect, Belgium, Italy and the Vatican don’t present the same degree of strategic challenges to the United States that three Middle Eastern countries do, so we should focus on the Middle East. Normally, summit meetings accomplish little. The important discussions are held at a lower level before the meetings, and the summit primarily blesses what has been agreed to before anyone got on the plane. A communique of warm commitment to work together is released, and then the folks at the lower level get together to repair any misunderstandings that the national leaders might have stirred up. Trump may change the rules of this well-worn game. Participants in high-level summits tend to work hard to hide substantial issues, which interferes with serious discussions. Trump seems inclined to confront important issues head on and even unexpectedly.”

Built-Out Barcelona Makes Space for an Urban Forest, by Feargus O’Sullivan in CityLab

“When a city needs green space, but it’s all out of room, what can it do? It’s an issue that many older, denser cities are facing as they try to make themselves more amenable to their citizens and the environment. For Barcelona, this challenge requires especial ingenuity. Take a walk around what is one of Europe’s most densely populated city cores and you’d be forgiven for pronouncing the place full. With an intense knot of historic masonry at its heart, Spain’s second city doesn’t display the most obvious potential as a future green paradise. But it badly needs new green spaces to battle its heat island effect, manage air and noise pollution, and generally improve citizens’ quality of life. That’s why, on Monday, the city nonetheless rolled out a paradigm-shifting re-greening program, one that will double the number of trees in the city, increase park space by two thirds, and give each citizen an extra square meter of green areas. The urban plan, which will deliver 108 acres of new green space by 2019 and over 400 acres by 2030 is a model of ingenuity that could serve as a model for other cities.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 8-14 May

From Trump to Brexit: Bipolar Nature of Modern Politics, by Mircea Geoana in the Globalist

“The U.S. elections and the Brexit campaign are not a divorce from democracy as many fear. Rather, they were the expression of the very bipolar nature of modern politics, reflecting the turbulent changes in our societies. In America, in Britain, in France or in Romania for that matter, the public is deeply divided along the fundamental fault line of modern societies. There is a deep fracture between the conservative and the liberal view of the world. Between the winners and losers of modern capitalism and globalization. Between the tribal nature of social media and the antiquated role of mainstream media. Between the huge differences in the level of education of our public and the level of cultural and professional readiness necessary to face the unstoppable, turbocharged nature of the fourth industrial revolution. These dislocations in democratic societies have found the traditional standard bearers lacking.”

Information Warfare Versus Soft Power, by Joseph S. Nye in Project Syndicate

“What is soft power? Some think it means any action other than military force, but this is wrong. Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction and persuasion rather than threats of coercion or offers of payment. Soft power is not good or bad in itself. Value judgments depend on the ends, means, and consequences of an action. It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms (though the subject usually has more autonomy in mental rather than physical processes). Osama bin Laden neither threatened nor paid the men who flew aircraft into the World Trade Center in September 2001: he attracted them by his ideas to do evil. The soft power of attraction can be used for offensive purposes. Countries have long spent billions on public diplomacy and broadcasting in a game of competitive attractiveness – the “battle for hearts and minds.” Soft-power instruments like the Marshall Plan and the Voice of America helped to determine the outcome of the Cold War.”

The comeback of Angela Merkel, by Constanze Stelzenmüller in the Washington Post

“Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential elections and a conservative upset win in a bellwether German regional election, both on Sunday, have produced an unexpected third winner: Angela Merkel. Germany’s chancellor, who is aiming for a fourth term in the Sept. 24 elections, has had a hard three years. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its support of violent separatism in Ukraine and its constant probing of European vulnerabilities sapped a lot of Berlin’s energies. Then there was the arrival of nearly a million refugees, many of whom were from Syria, in 2015, which fueled public anxiety and an upstart right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The Brexit referendum in June 2016 robbed Merkel of an important ally in the European Union. Last November, the United States elected a president who takes a much dimmer view of Europe and Germany than his predecessor. The rise of the anti-E.U., anti-euro, and anti-immigrant National Front in France and its candidate Marine Le Pen seemed to challenge the European project itself.”

Turkey’s role in Syria raises serious questions about Nato’s future, by Christina Lin in Asia Times

“At the upcoming May 16-17 meeting between US President Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart, and the May 25 Nato summit, serious issues relating to the status of Nato will need to be addressed — namely defense expenditures reform, clarification of the alliance’s approach to new security threats, and the status of Turkey’s membership. While Nato’s original purpose was to provide a shield for postwar Europe to recover and not fall prey to an expanding Soviet empire, over the past decades, the organization seems to have lost its way. As a legacy Cold War institution, Nato retains a built-in bias against Russia and is focused on conventional warfare. However, in an era in which the mission defines the coalition and not the other way around, Nato’s coalition of collective security against a conventional threat is ill-equipped to address new security challenges such as terrorism, refugee crises, and conflict prevention and resolution.”

The smart home might finally get some brains, by Dave Gershgorn in Quartz

“Alex Teichman thinks your smart home isn’t actually smart—it’s just remote controlled. “It’s great that you can turn down the heat when you’re away at work,” he says. “But all the intelligence is coming from you. It’s not actually smart yet.” Teichman is CEO of Lighthouse, a startup out of Android cofounder Andy Rubin’s Playground incubator. The company has redesigned the home-security camera to include similar 3D-sensing technology as self-driving cars, coupling that with artificial intelligence to make sense of what’s happening. The chosen tech isn’t random—Teichman got his PhD working at famed Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun’s self-driving car lab, and his cofounder Hendrik Dahlkamp was the first Google X engineer and a DARPA Grand Challenge winner. The company’s first product, called the Lighthouse interactive assistant, can not only detect who’s at home but also what they’re doing—running, walking, opening a door, or waving to the camera. Users can also give out complex commands, like “Let me know if the kids don’t get home between 3pm and 5pm,” and Lighthouse will understand and act accordingly.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 1-7 May

Tranziţia a mers cel mai prost în România: PIB-ul în euro a crescut între 1989 şi 2016 de patru ori, în Cehia de şase ori, iar în Polonia de şapte ori, by Sorin Pâslaru in Ziarul Financiar

“În condiţiile în care Occidentul se îndepărtează în termeni de PIB per capita, sunt căutaţi alţi indicatori pentru a arăta că totuşi evoluăm. România a avut cea mai redusă creştere a PIB-ului exprimat în miliarde de euro dintre ţările din Europa Centrală şi de Est, între 1989 şi 2016, de patru ori, în condiţiile în care în Bulgaria PIB-ul a crescut de 4,1 ori, iar în Ungaria, Republica Cehă şi Polonia de 5-7 ori, se arată într-un raport al Institutului de Cercetare a Calităţii Vieţii, dat ieri publicităţii în cadrul conferinţei „Dincolo de PIB: dezvoltare umană şi bunăstare“, organizat de Institutul Aspen România la  Palatul Parlamentului. „Trebuie să acceptăm că faza de tranziţie s-a terminat, iar ceea ce am obţinut este cea mai polarizată economie şi societate din Europa, cu un grad ridicat de dezagregare. România este complet deze­chilibrată, după ce în toată această perioadă s-a dus o politică a veniturilor mici, despre care s-a spus că este necesară. Astăzi, doar 59% dintre români spun că sunt satisfăcuţi de viaţa lor, faţă de 83% din cele 15 ţări cele mai dezvoltate din UE“, a spus Cătălin Zamfir, academician, profesor de sociologie.”

Impactul „Fake News” asupra burselor de valori, by Vasile Iuga in Ora Nouă

“Termeni precum „Fake News”, „Post Truth” sau „Alternative Facts” domină de câteva luni bune fluxurile de știri, părând a fi concepte recente, apărute în spaţiul politic în contextul alegerilor prezidențiale din SUA. În fond, însă, nu este vorba despre nimic nou, cu excepţia denumirii. Manipularea, minciuna, escrocheria sunt practicate de multă vreme atât în politică, cât şi în afaceri, nuanţele recente provenind de la comunicarea globală şi instantanee, mai ales prin intermediul reţelelor de socializare. În lumea afacerilor, mai ales a burselor de valori, s-a încercat de-a lungul timpului acreditarea ideii pieţelor eficiente, raţionale, logice şi transparente, a absenţei emoţiei, şi deci a manipulării în decizie. De aproximativ 100 de ani, a început să se admită gradual faptul că psihologia, şi deci manipularea, au un rol important în deciziile investitorilor şi ale profesioniştilor din domeniul financiar. A apărut şi s-a dezvoltat o disciplină nouă, „Behavioral Finance”, care încearcă să explice cum şi de ce sunt ineficiente pieţele şi care este rolul psihologiei în deciziile de investiţii.”

„Nu-mi fac griji de deficit, e destul de mare încât să-și poarte singur de grijă”, by Dan Bădin in Cursdeguvernare.ro

“Agenda publică este dominată în ultima vreme de discuțiile despre impozite, salarii și buget. Relaxarea fiscală, urmată de o majorare substanțială a cheltuielilor, a generat o preocupare firească pentru sănătatea financiară a statului, discuțiile ajungând de cele mai multe ori la același punct nodal: deficitul bugetar. Este bine să avem deficit bugetar? Dacă da, în ce limite? Și ce poate guvernul să facă pentru a-l ține sub control? La aceste intrebări voi încerca să dau scurte răspunsuri ce vor reprezenta, sper, un sumar util. La ce folosește deficitul bugetar? Deficitul bugetar reprezintă diferența cu rezultat negativ dintre veniturile si cheltuielile statului, un rezultat pozitiv fiind excedent bugetar. Similar, ca pentru orice familie sau companie, dacă nu reușești să îți acoperi cheltuielile din veniturile proprii, trebuie să te împrumuți pentru a acoperi diferența. Problema este că împrumuturile generează dobânzi (cheltuieli suplimentare) care trebuie rambursate mai târziu de noi sau de copiii nostri, unii nenăscuți încă.”

It only takes a few countries to kickstart a decarbonisation revolution, by Markus Hagemann and Andrzej Ancygier in The Conversation

“In 2016, more renewable energy was added to the global grid than ever before, and at a lower cost. A global energy revolution is clearly underway. What catalysed this transformation? In our latest study, Faster and Cleaner 2: Kick-Starting Decarbonization, we looked at the trends driving decarbonisation in three key sectors of the global energy system – power, transportation and buildings. By following the emission commitments and actions of countries, we examined what forces can drive rapid transition through our Climate Action Tracker analysis. It turns out that, in these fields, it has taken only a few players to set in motion the kind of transformations that will be necessary to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping the global temperature increase to well below 2˚C, ideally to 1.5˚C, over its pre-industrial level. The most progressive field in the power sector is renewable energy. Here, just three countries – Denmark, Germany and Spain – were able to show the way and start an international shift.”

Virtual-reality worlds filled with penguins and otters are a promising alternative to painkillers, by Jo Marchant in Quartz

“One of the most successful products to come out of the lab was SnowWorld, developed by cognitive psychologist Hunter Hoffman to ease the pain of patients with severe burns. Burns patients have to undergo regular wound-care sessions so painful that they can be excruciating even with high doses of painkillers. SnowWorld was designed as a kind of souped-up distraction method for use during these sessions, to divert patients’ attention away from their pain. Adapted from flight simulation software, it creates the experience of flying through a virtual ice canyon while exchanging snowballs with penguins and snowmen. Over the past ten years or so Hoffman and his colleagues have shown in several trials, including on army veterans burned by explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, that this works. Playing SnowWorld during wound-care sessions eases patients’ reported pain up to 50% in addition to the pain relief they get from drugs – significantly better than other forms of distraction, such as music or video games. Studies also show that SnowWorld reduces activity in areas of the brain associated with pain perception. The researchers believe that the sense of immersion created by VR – feeling physically present in the virtual location – is crucial.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 24-30 April

Pope Francis Urges TED Audience to Nurture Ties With Others, by Russell Goldman in the New York Times

“Pope Francis urged an audience of technophiles and entrepreneurs on Tuesday to use their powers of curiosity and inquiry to explore and nurture the relationships that bond human beings to one another. “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” Francis said in a recorded video talk that was shown at the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.” Francis has had a complicated relationship with technology. He has embraced social media much more than his predecessors, but he also warned in a 2016 encyclical that the omnipresence of digital communications “can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” The pope urged wealthy and powerful people to show solidarity with the poor and powerless, particularly migrants.”

Fenomenul angajaților care „își dau demisia” fără să plece din firmă. Cum pot deveni oamenii mai implicați, îndeplinindu-și în același timp visele, by Mirela Oprea in Republica.ro

“La fel ca multe alte lucruri bune din viaţa mea, şi acesta a început cu o carte. ‘The Dream Manager’ a lui Matthew Kelly este despre o companie fictiv-reală. În sensul că firma descrisă în carte nu există ca atare cu nume şi prenume, dar situaţiile cu care ea se confruntă şi soluţiile pe care le descoperă există în realitate şi sunt inspirate din experienţa Jancoa Janitorial Services şi a altor companii. La fel ca şi Jancoa din viaţa reală, Admiral Services din cartea lui Kelly, este în criză datorită unui fenomen care e tot mai întâlnit şi la noi: fluctuaţia mare de personal şi lipsa de motivaţie a angajaţilor. Un articol al Ziarului Financiar arată că înlocuirea unui angajat care pleacă are un cost uriaş: 12-18 salarii ale respectivului angajat, indiferent dacă este vorba de CEO sau de femeia de serviciu. Căutând informaţii despre costul motivaţiei scăzute a angajaţilor, am fost dezamăgită să găsesc doar informaţii despre activităţi de team-building şi sfaturi generale.  Nu ştim cât ne costă lipsa de motivaţie şi poate nici nu ne gândim la ea ca la un cost. Există o avalanşă de statistici şi lamentaţii cu privire la pierderile suferite de economia noastră datorită plecării în străinatate a concetăţenilor noştri, dar paradoxal nu ştim cât ne costă cei care nu pleacă fizic, dar pleacă motivaţional.”

Russia Opens the Door to Cryptocurrencies, by Antonia Colibasanu in Geopolitical Futures

“Russia has announced that it will legalize the use of cryptocurrencies. Official reports from the State Duma and the Finance and Economic Development ministries confirmed last week that a bill is being drafted to create the legal framework for trading in bitcoin, dash, ether and other digital currencies. This comes just a year after the same Russian institutions said that people trading in these currencies could be jailed. This raises two important questions: Why has the government made this U-turn, and what opportunities does it now see in this technology? The answers lie in Russia’s need to address serious problems in the banking sector and their impact on the economy. The Russian economy has been under severe strain since 2014, when oil prices dropped and the United States and European Union imposed sanctions that have dried up foreign investment. As the costs of accessing money increased, the banking sector was also affected by the downturn. Against this backdrop, the Russian Central Bank has intensified its anti-corruption campaign meant to address dodgy, inefficient banks, some of which use money-laundering schemes to remove capital from the country. About 100 banks have closed in the last three years.”

A Better Way from ‘R’ to ‘D’, by Edward Jung in Project Syndicate

“When business leaders get together to talk about innovating their industries, they typically focus on initiatives like improving government funding for basic research, or building technology hubs and incubators. But a crucial element of “innovation” is often absent from these discussions: the final products. That’s no oversight. On the contrary, the lack of product-focused discussion is symptomatic of a far more serious problem facing businesses of all sizes in nearly every industry. Simply put, product development takes a back seat in innovation strategy because the financial link between ideation and commercialization is broken. For economies to prosper, good ideas need a nudge getting to market. Innovative products are, after all, what makes life healthier, more efficient, and more fun. But there’s ample evidence to suggest that development – the “D” in R&D – has not kept pace with the blistering speed of “R” – modern-day research. Even the most robust economies have a surplus of ideas that never reach consumers. In the US, for example, just 5% of all active patents are ever licensed or commercialized. Most companies use less than a quarter of the inventions they own.”

France Against Itself, by Tim Judah in the New York Review of Books

“In the second round Le Pen will run against Emmanuel Macron, the thirty-nine-year-old former economics minister and founder of a party barely a year old, En Marche!, which took 23.9 percent on Sunday. In the face of a far-right finalist, almost the entire French establishment has gotten behind Macron and his centrist movement, and the polls have suggested that Macron could win by as much as 62 percent to 38 percent for Le Pen. But the establishment itself is much out of favor, and however he tries to distance himself from it, Macron is very much its creature. Wide though the gap may be today, abstentionism, another major terrorist attack, or something else as yet unforeseen could swing the vote. A visit to the Côte d’Azur gives some sense of how this situation came about. First was the abysmal performance of the current administration. By last year Hollande’s ratings had dropped so low that he decided not to run for a second term. His promises of reform and economic rejuvenation were largely unfulfilled. France has first-rate infrastructure and heath care, but taxes are high. The country’s growth has been lingering in the doldrums since the financial crash of 2008.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 17-23 April

Priya’s Freedom to Give Back, by Peter Georgescu in the Huffington Post

“I recently met a remarkable young woman, the child of immigrants from southern India, who has yet to enter graduate school but has already completed fundamental research on the nature of artificial intelligence. Her name is Pratyusha “Priya” Kalluri, and she’s from America’s heartland, Madison, Wisconsin—though when I spoke with her she was in Spain doing computer research at the Complutense University of Madrid. In the fall, she’ll be entering the graduate program at Stanford University. Her family’s emphasis on education motivated Pratyusha to pursue an undergraduate degree at MIT. In an early project, she built systems to reveal the goings-on inside the human body: at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, she developed an algorithm to identify the gene pathway changes that underlie breast cancer. In this work, she took the approach of many AI researchers—examining how to apply computer intelligence to existing practical endeavors, opening up new vistas into the human body. She created data mining software able to analyze large datasets about many patients in order to enable scientists to spot the key genetic changes that signal the onset of an aggressive cancer.”

Vreau să vedeți România de mâine: 25 la sută dintre copii „abandonează” azi școala! Și nu, nu o fac de capul lor…, by Mirela Oprea in Republica.ro

“În nordul ţării un copil vrea să meargă la şcoală. A vrut el, a vrut mama lui şi a vrut pentru el şi o doamnă asistent social. O doamnă care nu numai că vrea să îşi facă meseria, dar şi ştie cum să o facă, mergând pe teren, acolo unde sunt oamenii cei mai nevoiaşi dintre noi. Cei care nu au o casă aşa cum înţelegem noi cuvântul „casă”, adică acea alcătuire de materiale de construcţii care ne dă dreptul la arondarea pe o stradă, un număr (de bloc, apartamente etc.) şi apoi o adresă de domiciliu înscrisă în actul de identitate. Acolo unde merge doamna asistent social să-şi facă meseria, oamenii trăiesc pe groapa de gunoi a oraşului, din gunoaiele acestuia, dar nu din pricina asta ca nişte gunoaie. Materialele de construcţii pe care ei le-au folosit pentru alcătuirea a ceea ce ei numesc „case” (cartoane, plastic etc.), nu le dă dreptul la arondarea pe o stradă, la un număr şi apoi la o adresă de domiciliu înscrisă în actul de identitate. În afară de asta, ei sunt oameni ca noi, care îşi doresc ce e mai bine pentru copiii lor. S-au bucurat foarte tare când doamna asistent social a organizat o grădiniţă de vară pentru copiii din comunitatea lor nedomiciliată. Dar apoi mamele acestor copii, când a venit toamna, nu au îndrăznit să spere că ar putea să înscrie copiii la şcoală. Au mai încercat şi alte mame înaintea lor şi nu au reuşit.”

The Future of the MBA, in 3 Questions, by Claire Preisser on the Aspen Institute’s blog

“Given my job title, you would expect me to clear my calendar, put all devices on airplane mode, and dive into Duff McDonald’s “The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, The Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite.” My work at the Aspen Institute seeks to change how business is taught, so to unleash a new generation of managers who can better align business decisions with the long-term health of society. And McDonald’s book is, by all accounts, a well-researched and provocative expose of Harvard Business School (HBS), arguably the most influential institution in the world we try to influence. But I have a premonition that I won’t get too far in the McDonald’s 578 pages. It isn’t that McDonald’s treatise is all wrong. We concur fully on fundamentals: first, management education matters. Around the world, business is increasingly the degree-of-choice for our best and brightest, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Management educators are the under-appreciated “gatekeepers” in our free-market system—teaching the next generation of business leaders, consulting to the globe’s largest firms, and creating the new knowledge and theories that shape our firms, economies and very societies.”

For the First Time, UNESCO’s Peace Prize Goes to a Mayor, by Feargus O’Sullivan in CityLab

“You probably haven’t heard of the winner of this year’s UNESCO Peace Prize. In the past, the award, officially called the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize, has been granted to internationally renowned figures including Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, and Shimon Peres. This year, for the first time ever, the award goes to a mayor: 56-year-old Giusi Nicolini, mayor of a small Italian island that’s home to about 6,000 people. The island in question is Lampedusa, a small islet roughly equidistant from Southern Sicily, Malta and Tunisia. In recent years, it’s found itself at the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis. As mayor, Nicolini has stood out from her colleagues by campaigning to ensure that the island deals as efficiently and humanely as possible with the migrants and refugees fleeing war-torn Middle Eastern countries by sea. In campaigning across Europe to ensure better funding and faster visa processing for refugees and migrants, Nicolini has made Lampedusa a rare (though controversial) bright spot on a continent where hostility to even desperate migrants, partly manufactured by the media, has grown. The crisis Nicolini and her fellow islanders face is not a small one.”

These apps let your neighbours share your car, basement, tools, skills and meals, by Burhan Wazir on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda Blog

“Amsterdam has created dozens of new digital platforms encouraging citizens to participate in the sharing economy. An app called ParkFlyRent leases out cars parked by holidaymakers at Schiphol airport. Instead of the cars sitting idle for weeks, they are rented out and a portion of the income is handed to the owners. An app called Djeepo finds private storage spaces (basements, attic and spare rooms) for those needing extra room for their belongings. Konnektid allows users to share skills like guitar playing or foreign languages. We Helpen gives details of voluntary work available in the city’s neighbourhoods. An app called Camptoo allows people to rent privately owned motorhomes, which are usually only used 4-5 times a year. Abel connects drivers with passengers who are going in the same direction. ‘We wanted to truly make living in the city a shared experience,’ explained Harmen van Sprang, one of the organisers of Amsterdam’s sharing economy initiative. ‘We want people to feel like they have a connection not just with the city, but to each other as well.’ The apps lift citizens into the sharing economy and remind them that sustainability is an in-built motive.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 10-16 April

Why it’s so hard to recognize the geniuses around you, by Anne Quito in Quartz

“Individuals canonized as “genius” are often thought of as supernaturally gifted, as if touched by the divine. But the religious root of the 14th century Latin word actually means “a guiding spirit,” present for all humans. And by forgetting its original meaning and looking only for people who are born with a quasi-mystical quality, we risk becoming blind to budding geniuses all around us. True genius results from a rebellious attitude against compartmentalized thinking; it can also appear as a fleeting moment of insight, not necessarily a permanent condition of greatness. These ecumenical definitions are highlighted in two new biographies of the ultimate Renaissance avatar for genius, Leonardo da Vinci, a multi-tasking, ambidextrous polymath who bridged art and engineering. In the forthcoming book, Leonardo da Vinci (Simon & Schuster), Walter Isaacson describes genius as a trait that can be cultivated. As president of the Aspen Institute, Isaacson has regular dalliances with dazzling minds and he boils down genius to one trait: creativity.”

Book Pins Corporate Greed on a Lust Bred at Harvard, by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times

“If you were to look for one ingredient that binds together the nation’s chief executives, top managers and boards of directors, you’d find a remarkably consistent commonality, now and in generations past: A disproportionate number of them are graduates of Harvard Business School. An M.B.A. from H.B.S., as those in the know refer to it, has long been the ultimate Good Housekeeping stamp of approval on any résumé. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook — and the list goes on and on. The number of Fortune 500 chief executives who earned their business degrees at Harvard is three times the total from the next most popular business school, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It is hard to overstate the school’s influence on corporate America. That’s why a new, exhaustive history of the school is causing a stir before it is even out. The book, “The Golden Passport,” by the veteran business journalist Duff McDonald, is a richly reported indictment of the school as a leading reason that corporate America is disdained by much of the country.”

Why I am hopeful for the Roma cause, by Violeta Naydenova in E!Sharp

“There seems to be no hope for European Roma. Despite millions spent on integration and inclusion policies by the European Union and individual countries, they remain the poorest and most marginalized population on the continent. According to a report of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, 80 percent of the EU’s six million Roma are at risk of poverty; in Spain, 98 percent of Roma fall below the national poverty threshold, and in Greece, 42 percent of young Roma have not completed any formal schooling. The disheartening statistics go on and on, but, as shocking as they might be, they reveal nothing we did not know: the situation of Romani citizens is bleak and not improving. Some populists and right-wing politicians will use the new report as an opportunity to once again hold the Roma, known pejoratively as “gypsies”, responsible for their own ostracism, presenting their situation as a lack of willingness to integrate. That’s a convenient argument for the majority, which then feels morally legitimized to do only the bare minimum for its fellow Roma citizens.”

Media aritmetică, by Adrian Gheorghe in Viața Medicală

“Cunoașteți un medic bun? Dar un spital bun sau o farmacie bună? Și eu. Toți cunoaștem. De la oricare colț de județ și până la ditamai centrul universitar, se vor găsi informații mai mult sau mai puțin reale, care să îi separe pe cei „buni” de „ceilalți”. Anecdotic și extrem, a găsi ori a nimeri unul „bun” poate face diferența dintre viață și moarte, dintre a rămâne cu pensa cusută în măruntaie și a pleca acasă bine mersi. În realitate, nu se știe sigur cât de buni sunt cei „buni”, deoarece monitorizarea și evaluarea actului medical sunt fierte mocnit la stadiul de deziderat. Toți și toate ajung să fie atinși de subiectivism, diferențiați doar de șansa de a intra în gura potrivită la momentul potrivit. Căutarea obsesivă a celui „bun” ca reflex preemptiv la consecințele potențial tragice ale expunerii la opusul său e o tragedie de sistem, dar e doar un simptom. Boala lungă a serviciilor publice autohtone este că promovează excepționalismul ca măsură a performanței. În educație, se numără întâi olimpicii internaționali și elevii ajunși cu bursă la universități prestigioase. Realitatea din spatele lor, precum bacalaureatul, e subiect de film. În sănătate, se numără întâi RMN-urile și roboții din sălile de operație. Realitatea din spatele lor este, de asemenea, subiect de film.”

Is This New Material a Game Changer for Thermoelectricity?, by Kristen A. Schmitt in the Smithsonian Magazine

“You hike to an elusive camping spot, pack filled with enough gear to keep you content for a three-day retreat away from chaotic city living. But when you’re ready to leave, you realize not only has your cell phone died, its battery spent after searching for a signal the entire time you’ve been roughing it, but you can’t quite remember where you hiked in, which means that the GPS on your phone is your lifeline back to reality. Fortunately, because of a new material built into your cooking pot, all you need to do is turn the pot on, heat up the water inside and plug your phone into the port connected to it. In only a few hours, your phone will be charged and you can make it safely back to your truck parked at the trailhead. Researchers at the University of Utah recently discovered that the non-toxic material composed of three chemical elements—calcium, cobalt and terbium—generates thermoelectric energy from waste heat. By sandwiching the Ca3Co4Og between a layer that is hot, such as a cooking pot, and a layer that is cold, like the food or water within the pot, the charge from the hot end moves through the cold end, producing an electrical voltage. The energy is generated through a thermoelectric process using temperature differences.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 3-9 April

Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person, by Eric Garton in Harvard Business Review

“Employee burnout is a common phenomenon, but it is one that companies tend to treat as a talent management or personal issue rather than a broader organizational challenge. That’s a mistake. The psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees, which cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S., are just the most obvious impacts. The true cost to business can be far greater, thanks to low productivity across organizations, high turnover, and the loss of the most capable talent. Executives need to own up to their role in creating the workplace stress that leads to burnout—heavy workloads, job insecurity, and frustrating work routines that include too many meetings and far too little time for creative work. Once executives confront the problem at an organizational level, they can use organizational measures to address it. In our book Time, Talent and Energy, we note that when employees aren’t as productive as they could be, it’s usually the organization, not its employees, that is to blame. The same is true for employee burnout.”

Cât de mult se taxează industria energetică? Buget sau investiții, by Constantin Rudniţchi, RFI Romania

“Mai devreme sau mai târziu, România va trebui să ia o decizie cu privire la modificarea redevențelor în sectorul petrolier și de gaze naturale. Cei care pledează pentru creșterea redevențelor din motive legate de suplimentarea veniturilor bugetare sau pur și simplu, pentru a „pedepsi” companiile din domeniu, ar trebui să ia în calcul nevoia de investiții în domeniul petrolier și al gazelor naturale. Iar în industria energetică există necesități importante de investiții. Iată doar câteva argumente. În România, există 400 de câmpuri petroliere și 13.000 de sonde active, dar are una din cele mai mici rate de producție pe sondă. De aceea, identificarea de noi resurse energetice necesită foraje la mari adâncimi care presupun investiții. La fel, România are în față un proiect extrem de important, exploatarea gazelor din Marea Neagră, un proiect care presupune investiții masive. Așadar, impozitarea sectorului energetic trebuie să țină seama de ambele talere ale balanței: nevoia de bani a bugetului și nevoia de investiții.”

A graduate of the British spy agency’s startup incubator is using fake news to fight hackers, by Joon Ian Wong in Quartz

“A startup that has just graduated from the accelerator run with the help of GCHQ, the British government’s intelligence agency, wants to lure hackers into computer networks using a form of fake news, while secretly observing them to gather intelligence. The company, Countercraft, sells a tool that generates a series of cues to bait hackers into thinking they are penetrating a system. In fact, the attackers are revealing their attack methods in an isolated part of a system where they can do no harm. Countercraft’s approach is called a “deception technology.” It’s a tactic that’s gaining ground among big companies that are the target of cyberattacks. “This ‘deception environment’ allows us to learn from the adversary and treat them as a resource, so we can discover the tools they are using,” says Countercraft co-founder Dan Brett. “Are they low-grade nation-state actors? Script kiddies? Hacktivists?” The research firm Gartner has estimated that 10% of companies will use deception tools and techniques by 2018.”

Cum luptă pădurarii 2.0 cu defrișările ilegale. „Cu patru sau cinci drone, amplasate undeva în centrul țării, poți să scanezi toate pădurile din România o dată la patru zile”, by Raluca Ion in Republica.ro

“În viitor, o mostră luată din trunchiul unui copac ar putea arăta dacă acesta a fost sau nu tăiat ilegal. Fiecare arbore are o amprentă genetică unică, iar o analiză ADN ar putea să le ofere autorităților, companiilor din industria lemnului și activiștilor pentru protecția mediului date despre locul exact în care a fost tăiat un anumit copac. Departamentul de Stat al SUA, Agenția Americană pentru Dezvoltare Internațională, Serviciul Forestier al Statelor Unite, universități, ONG-uri și companii care se ocupă de genetică din toată lumea lucrează în acest moment la perfecționarea procedurii care ar putea pune o frână unei industrii ilegale de proporții enorme. Din pădurile lumii, de la cele din bazinul amazonian până la cele din munții Carpați, sunt tăiați, într-un singur an, copaci în valoare de până la 152 de miliarde de dolari, potrivit datelor INTERPOL. Sunt arbori puternici care au crescut și s-au luptat cu vitregiile naturii vreme de zeci și sute de ani ca să țină aerul și pământul lumii în echilibru. După dispariția lor, nicio altă tulpină firavă plantată în loc nu va avea puterea de a păstra sănătatea mediului. Cel puțin nu mulți ani de acum încolo.”

The new travel boom: why your next holiday won’t be where you expect, by Tiffany Misrahi on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda Blog

“Today, the number of people on the move is unprecedented, with international tourist arrivals increasing from just 25 million in the 1950s to 1.2 billion in 2016. Historically, travel was a luxury, but thanks to lower barriers to travel and falling costs, it is now within the reach of millions. These factors, combined with the growth of disposable income, the rise of the middle class in many emerging markets, and changing attitudes towards travel, have enabled the industry to flourish. The global middle class is forecast to grow by a further 3 billion people between 2011 and 2031, the majority of whom will come from emerging markets, with China and India leading the way. While travel is already booming in China, it is estimated that only 4% of Chinese nationals have passports. Similar trends are apparent in other emerging markets. What is clear is that these new travellers, like millennials and baby boomers before them, are looking for experiences.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 27 March – 2 April

În căutarea politicianului de mâine, by Ana Maria Luca in DoR

“Pentru schimbarea clasei politice într-una competentă e nevoie de societatea civilă, de toate partidele politice şi de instrumente de dialog care să structureze un proces de reformă credibilă şi pe termen lung, explică directorul executiv al Institutului Aspen România, Andrei Ţărnea. Institutul, o filială a organizaţiei non-profit înfiinţată în SUA în 1949, are ca scop promovarea unui dialog informat şi critic pe diverse teme de interes pentru societatea românească şi cultivă implicarea socială a liderilor din mai multe domenii. Aspen România, condus de fostul ministru de externe şi fost preşedinte al PSD Mircea Geoană, la fel ca multe organizaţii neguvernamentale şi chiar companii private, încearcă să suplinească ceea ce sistemul educaţional românesc nu oferă. După 10 ani de activitate, Ţărnea spune că Young Leaders Program, programul de un an destinat tinerilor lideri din mediul de stat, privat şi din societatea civilă, rămâne cel care a adus cele mai mari succese.”

Sărăcia energetică și consumatorul energetic. Cât de departe suntem de Europa?, by Corina Murafa & Anca Sinea & George Jiglău & Gabriel Bădescu, Centrul pentru Studiul Democrației

“În prezent, în România, principala metodă de măsurare, dar și de rezolvare a sărăciei energetice se raportează exclusiv la veniturile gospodăriilor și se traduc în practică prin acordarea ajutoarelor de încălzire de către stat (și a tarifelor sociale direct de către furnizori, în cazul energiei electrice). Totuși, analiza noastră evidențiază probleme de eficiență în modul în care sunt acordate aceste ajutoare și dacă ele ajung la toate acele gospodării care se află într-adevăr în sărăcie energetică. Aplicarea indicatorilor alternativi care iau în calcul și ponderea cheltuielilor cu energie, recomandați de literatură și utilizați în alte state, identifică diferențe semnificative și accentuează concluzia că ajutoarele de încălzire nu acoperă o mare parte a gospodăriilor sărace energetic. La aceste probleme se adaugă dificultăți legate de acces fizic la resurse, de regimul de proprietate al locuințelor, de cuantificarea veniturilor în natură care pot duce la neacordarea ajutoarelor sau de comunicare între autorități, furnizori și clienți în special în zonele mai sărace.”

CeRe şi ţi se va da, by Vintilă Mihăilescu in Dilema veche

“CeRe este exact ceea ce spune: Centru de Resurse pentru Participarea Publică. Nu vorbește neapărat de „societate civilă“ și nici de responsabilitate socială a corporațiilor (CSR), ci pur și simplu despre participare publică la binele public. Participarea oricui și cu orice mijloace legitime disponibile. Gala anuală, care face publice cele mai reușite proiecte dintre sutele depuse, a devenit și ea, tot mai mult, o „resursă“. O sursă de recunoaștere, desigur – și nu este lipsit de importanță să vezi că îți este recunoscută public o luptă pe care credeai că o duci, cu disperare, de unul singur sau doar în mici grupuri; de asemenea, o sursă de informare: sutele de participanți și apoi, prin media, mulți alți români din toată țara află ce fac compatrioți de-ai lor; dar mai ales o „resursă de încredere“, căci ne arată tuturor că se poate reacționa cu succes la abuzuri sau neglijențe de un soi sau altul, că, dacă te încăpățînezi să ceri și știi cum să o faci (în cele din urmă), ți se va da dreptate. E foarte important de știut acest lucru – iar după fiecare gală se nasc noi „cereri“.”

Meet the Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2017, by Hilde Schwab on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda Blog

“I am thrilled to announce the Schwab Foundation’s 2017 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awardees. Social entrepreneurs are people who harness the power of market forces and business principles to solve social problems, from poor health-care to unemployment. However, while creating markets for the underserved has made great strides, the fact remains that governments continue to be the primary provider of social services to the poor. Many of our 2017 awardees partner with governments in a variety of roles: as service providers, demonstrating how programs can be delivered differently; as technical assistance providers, giving public employees new skills, technology, and processes; and even as advocates, helping to craft new laws or policies that have a direct impact on people’s lives. The winners below will join the world’s largest network of mature social enterprises affiliated with The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the sister organization of the World Economic Forum.”

Negotiating Brexit. The Prospect of a UK-Turkey Partnership, by Sinan Ülgen, The Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) at Brookings

“British and Turkish policy makers thus face a very similar conundrum. They both need to reconstruct a relationship with Europe under the newly changed assumptions about their future status. The U.K. is on its way to becoming an EU non-member, while Turkey realizes that it may never get to be an EU member. They are therefore starting their political journey from different angles but may well end up at a very similar vantage point. It follows from this premise that there will be some common challenges facing the two capitals as they strive to negotiate a new framework that would underpin their relations with the European Union. This report will focus on two such areas: trade policy and security policy. The aim will be to explore whether a more collusive Turkey-U.K. relationship can assist the two governments in improving their negotiating position. This does not necessarily mean that the U.K. and Turkey should jointly negotiate with Brussels; yet, it does mean that establishing regular bilateral consultations between Ankara and London in advance of and possibly in parallel to their several rounds of negotiations with the EU may be of mutual benefit.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 20-26 March

Mariana Gheorghe: “Protecţionismul este o aventură imposibilă în această piaţă globală”, by Lidia Moise in Revista 22

Cred că este bine să fim parte din decizia europeană. Suntem o ţară importantă în Europa, chiar dacă nu întotdeauna economic am trăit la nivelul potenţialului nostru, dar cred că aceste discuţii care există acum despre Europa cu mai multe viteze ar beneficia de implicarea noastră în acest dialog. Cred că trebuie să amânăm decizia de a deveni ţară membră a zonei euro, pentru că trebuie să înţelegem mai întâi ce înseamnă clubul euro, care sunt regulile lui, care sunt cerinţele lui şi dacă noi suntem în stare să fim parte din acest club. (…) Am auzit la Londra de foarte multe nemulţumiri faţă de birocraţia din Bruxelles. Cred că Brexit-ul arată că dorinţa de a fi împreună este necesară pentru succesul unui astfel de club al europenilor, dar nu este suficientă. Clubul trebuie să fie performant, să alinieze interesele tuturora. Cred că fenomenul Brexit e ca un duş rece care ne aduce aminte că trebuie să facem lucrurile mult mai substanţial, mai aproape faţă de cetăţeni, trebuie să ne ascultăm mai mult unii pe alţii – este o chemare la înţelepciune, la raţiune. Nu trebuie să uităm însă că această Uniune reprezintă interesele şi aşteptările masei de votanţi şi alegători din întreaga Europă.”

A Turkish Thorn in the EU’s Side, by Javier Solana in Project Syndicate

“While the European Union tries to weather a nationalist storm that threatens its core institutions, some of its most important strategic allies have injected more uncertainty into the current political climate. A clear example is Turkey, which has been a NATO member state since 1952, and an official candidate to join the EU since 1999. On paper, Turkey looks like an ideal country to serve as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. But it has now taken an alarming turn away from Europe, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even accusing the German and Dutch governments of acting like Nazis. Since withstanding an attempted coup last July, Erdoğan has taken advantage of a national state of emergency to go on the offensive and shore up his power. A surge in popularity has buttressed his new strategy of governing by decree. So far, more than 100,000 civil servants have been fired or suspended, and many of Erdoğan’s political rivals have been jailed. Numerous civil-society organizations and news outlets have been shut down, and Turkey now holds the dubious honor of having a record-breaking number of journalists behind bars.”

Bulgaria heads to the polls – and the tide may be turning against Boyko Borisov, by Dimitar Bechev on LSE’s blog

“Going to the polls is turning out to be something of a national pastime in Bulgaria. Starting May 2013, citizens have cast their vote five times in general, European, local and presidential elections as well as in two referendums. On 26 March, they will be heading to the ballot boxes once more – to make their choice for a new parliament. This will be the third early election in this short span, after the ones in May 2013 and October 2014. It may not be the last. At a certain level, the frequent polls may suggest democratic habits are alive and kicking in Bulgaria. After all, the forthcoming vote was triggered by the outcome of the presidential elections in November. Having lost the race against the main opposition candidate, ex-airforce chief Rumen Radev, the centre-right government headed by Boyko Borisov made good on its promise to tender its resignation. Some may even remember how Borisov stepped down in March 2013 after several weeks of street protests, cutting short the life of his previous cabinet. In both cases, the former bodyguard, whose steady rise to the top was one of the main storylines of Bulgarian politics in the 2000s, paid tribute to the popular will.”

La Baia Mare, un asistent social i-a dus pe toți copiii de la groapa de gunoi la școală și la grădiniță, în ciuda împotrivirii autorităților care nu-i doreau alături de copiii „normali”, by Mirela Oprea in Republica.ro

“Azi e ziua asistenţilor sociali şi de ziua lor îmi vin în minte câteva cifre. Din datele Colegiului asistenţilor sociali, rezultă că în România sunt aproximativ 35.000 de absolvenţi de asistenţă socială. Dintre aceştia mulţi au plecat în străinătate, unde profesează în condiţii net superioare şi pentru salarii de cel puţin zece ori mai mari decât în România, unde mulţi asistenţi sociali câştigă în zona a 800 de lei, în condiţiile unei meserii care, dacă e făcută aşa cum trebuie, poate să fie extrem de utilă social, dar şi extrem de stresantă. Mulţi dintre cei care nu au plecat au ales să profeseze în alte domenii, pentru că meseria lor, deşi nobilă, e foarte grea şi prea puţin plătită. Astfel, din 35.000 de absolvenţi, doar 7000 profesează, ceea ce înseamnă că sistemul funcţionează cu doar 35% din specialiştii necesari, restul de personal încadrat pe posturi de asistenţi sociali fiind la bază orice altceva, mai puţin asistenţi sociali: horticultori, bibliotecari, ingineri sau chiar… nimic (studii medii). Lipsiţi de studii de specialitate, aceştia fac ce pot, în limita bunului simţ şi a inteligenţei emoţionale şi sociale cu care e dotat individul mediu în societatea noastră. Uneori asta poate salva vieţi, alteori e mult prea puţin.”

Români care produc schimbare | Interviu cu Oana Preda, directoare CeRe, by Laura Ștefănuț, Digi 24

“Dincolo de momentele de fervoare civică, cum sunt protestele, există cetățeni care se ambiționează să determine autoritățile să își facă treaba. “O doamnă dintr-un cartier mărginaș al Ploieștiului, doamna Zamfirescu, a reușit să își mobilizeze vecinii și să convingă primăria să asfalteze una din străzile din cartierul respectiv. A pornit de la o singură persoană care nu era în niciun fel asociată, nu era membru într-o organizație non-guvernamentală, nu are nici măcar cont de Facebook — și atunci a mers din ușă în ușă la vecinii ei, a vorbit cu ei”, povestește Oana Preda, de la Centrul de Resurse pentru Participare Publică (CeRe). În ultimul deceniu, CeRe asistă cetățeni care se împotrivesc abuzurilor, corupției sau incompetenței autorităților. (…) Foarte multă vreme spațiul public a înseamnat ceva foarte abstract, era al tuturor și de fapt al nimănui. Acum asistăm la o apropiere din ce în ce mai mare (din fericire) a oamenilor față de spațiul public. Au început să îl revendice. Dintre grupurile cu care noi lucrăm, foarte multe au cauze, își propun lucruri legate de spațiul public, fie că vorbim de reamenajarea unui parc sau de redarea unei clădiri abandonate comunității, sau de parcare, trotuare. Oamenii se uită din ce în ce mai atent la spațiul public.”

Aspen 5 Ideas. Week 13-19 March

Merkel Puts Europe First, by Ashish Kumar Sen in New Atlanticist

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a tough re-election battle in September and a meeting with US President Donald J. Trump is perhaps not the best way for her to burnish her credentials with the German electorate. The fact that she is making the trip across the Atlantic is an indicator of her determination to shore up the US-German and US-European relationships that have been buffeted by often controversial rhetoric from Trump. “If she were looking at this from a purely electoral calculation, she may not have even done this visit because no one in Germany wants to see her necessarily being close to President Trump,” said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. Making the point that the visit is more about the US-German and the US-European relationships, she added: “She is coming not only as the chancellor of Germany, but as the leader of Europe.” Trump and Merkel got off to a rocky start in their relationship with the former accusing the chancellor of “ruining Germany” with her open-door policy for migrants fleeing war zones in the Middle East, and the latter criticizing Trump’s “America first” policy and his decision to order a temporary ban on immigrants from seven—subsequently six—Muslim-majority countries, as well as all refugees.”

The Dutch Buck the Populist Trend, by Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Europe

“After a campaign so often shamefully marked by anti-Islam, anti-Turkey, and anti-immigration rhetoric, the Dutch voted on March 15 to reelect Prime Minister Mark Rutte in an election result that has consequences for the rest of the EU. Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which, according to preliminary results, won 33 of the 150 parliamentary seats, looks set to form a coalition with other pro-EU parties. Together, they managed to see off the anti-immigration Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders. The PVV gained votes but not enough to make the impact Wilders had hoped for. There was undisguised relief at the result, particularly from neighboring Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion! . . . Congratulations on this great result!” Over recent days, Altmaier, who speaks Dutch, had commented on the importance of the Dutch election. Berlin had no illusions about the consequences of the poll. Had the Netherlands swung decisively behind Wilders, it would have given a huge boost to other populist parties across Europe, particularly in France, which holds the first round of its presidential election in April.”

Proiectele finale ale străzii după protestele faţă de guvern: „România 2017+“ şi „Rezist 2.0“. Cum îşi propun iniţiatorii să le transpună în realitate, by Remus Florescu in Adevărul

“„Proclamaţia România 2017+” şi apelul „Rezist 2.0” sunt documentele coerente care au apărut în agenda publică după circa două luni de proteste în stradă. Primul, care are la bază Proclamaţia de la Timişoara, are un ton militant, mai radical, şi vrea o oarecare răsturnare a sistemului, în timp ce al doilea document este mai pragmantic şi pune accent pe reformarea pe termen lung a sistemului. Două documente scrise, asumate şi coerente privind solicitările străzii au apărut la circa două luni de la debutul protestelor. Dacă în primele zile, principalele probleme ridicate de „stradă” se referau la Ordonanţa 13, treptat manifestanţii au cerut un nou proiect de ţară. Pe de o parte vorbim despre „Proclamaţia România 2017+” o listă cu 8 solicitări publicată pe 9 februarie şi asumată de grupurile „Corupţia ucide”, „Timişoara Civică” şi „Umbrela Anticorupţie Cluj”. Pe de altă parte vorbim despre apelul „Rezist2.0”, publicat în urmă cu circa o săptămână, care reuneşte o serie de propuneri pentru o guvernare mai bună, care au la bază răspunsurile a 5.400 de membri ai comunităţii „de-clic”, o platformă de petiţii, apeluri la acţiune şi activism online.”

6 years of hell. Syria’s ruinous civil war is 6 years old and no closer to an end, by Tim Hume in VICE News

“Six years into the Syrian civil war, and the country’s future remains far from certain. But the facts are clear: The brutal, generation-defining conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead, traumatized millions of children, set new standards of barbarism, and produced global knock-on effects that continue to reverberate far beyond the battlefield. Against all odds, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and, thanks to the backing of Russia and Iran, he now has the upper hand on the rebels militarily — an outcome once unthinkable. But Assad controls only a fraction of the deeply fractured country’s territory, including Syria’s five major cities; rival armed groups ­— ISIS, multiple terror groups, nationalists, Kurds — hold their own fiefdoms in much of the rural areas. And the situation is only made more complicated by the increasing foreign military presence on Syrian soil, which includes the U.S., Russia, and Turkey. Though Russia- and Turkey-backed negotiations to broker a peace deal between the regime and opposition groups presses on, few analysts see any positives on the horizon.”

From Trash To Treads: Turning Tomato Peels and Eggshells Into Tires, by Randy Rieland in the Smithsonian Magazine

“Back when she lived in California, Katrina Cornish found herself wondering about those open trucks she saw carrying big loads of ripe tomatoes. Why, she thought, weren’t the tomatoes on the bottom crushed into big red puddles. The reason, she would later learn, is that the tomatoes were bred to have tough skins that allowed them to withstand all that weight from above. That bit of knowledge would come to serve Cornish well after she moved to Ohio State University, where she is a biomaterials researcher. Recently, she and her research team discovered that not only those tough tomato peels, but also crushed eggshells, can be effective replacements for the petroleum-based filler used in car tires. “What you want in a filler is something really tough and strong,” she says. “That was why we looked at the tomato peels. The filler of choice in tires and other rubber products has long been something called carbon black, a powdery carbon product that comprises 30 percent of most tires. In fact, it’s the reason many rubber products are black. Carbon black helps makes the rubber in tires more durable.”