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January 2010

The Precautionary Principle Breeds Threat Exaggeration

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French Intellectual Calls it “Excessive” and Ineffective

The swine-flu epidemic was the latest high-profile example of the precautionary principle as applied in France. Health officials in France (as in the United States and in other European countries) opted for a massive vaccination program. All the attendant problems (cost, statistical risks of deaths from vaccines, government credibility on health dangers) were accepted by the authorities, who said that they were compelled to take this initiative in the name of the precautionary principle. In the case of some previous threats (such as mad cow disease), Paris took a more cautious approach. In the instance of the swine flu scare, the policy provoked public debate and criticism, especially once it became clear that the imminent threat was small – and as a result, French people ignored the vaccination program. As a case study, this latest episode illustrates some of the contradictions and problems can arise with a systematic adherence to the precautionary principle. Exploring the issue, François Ewald, a French philosopher of risk management, does not criticize the authorities’ handling of the flu threat but he does conclude the precautionary principle may be incompatible with the real-life practices of contemporary Western societies.

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"Libel Tourism" to London Faces Extinction – like Dodo Bird

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Traditional British Law Overtaken by Evolution of Globalizing Realities

British libel law, according to The Economist, means in practice that “anyone anywhere in the world who can prove that someone in England has bought, read, or downloaded potentially defamatory material about them can start a court case.” That’s unique – and that jurisdictional sweep is not the end of it.

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“Could Europe Be Doing Something Right?” asks NY Times’ Krugman

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Americans Should Think Twice about European Socio-Economic Models

A leading and sometimes controversial U.S. economist Paul Krugman says that Americans should look beyond their knee-jerk dismissal of European countries’ economic systems and recognize some ways in which the Europeans’ formulas have succeeded in sustaining long-run prosperity – arguably better than the results in the U.S.

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Sarkozy Proposes Tax on Google Ad Revenue and other Web Firms

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Idea Google being Demonized in France as “Great Satan” of Web Hegemony

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made it official that he intends to tax foreign internet companies on their online sales in France, an initiative colloquially referred to as “The Google Tax.”
The idea -- the latest in a series of legal and political moves against Google's activities in France -- proposes to tax advertising revenues from online giants such as Google to support the creative industries in France hit by the digital revolution. But critics say it is unworkable, perhaps even counter-productive and could at best simply prop up failing business models.

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A Post-Racial America? New Optimism Among African-Americans

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Substantial Shift in Attitude Reflects Cumulative Reforms, Pollsters Say -- Not Just Obama Effect

African-Americans have become remarkably more upbeat about their personal prospects, according to a major national poll conducted at the end of President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

Fifty-three percent of African-Americans say life for their community is improving while only 10 percent predicted things getting worse. As recently as 2007, polls of the African-American community showed that 44 percent said things would get better and 21 percent expressed pessimism – nearly double the new figure.

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On Climate, Can the EU "Lead by Example"? Not at Copenhagen

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Such Hopes Discredited by Copenhagen

The watered-down outcome of the summit talks at Copenhagen fell dramatically short of expectations set by the EU. Since the 1997 Kyoto pact, Europe has claimed the moral lead on climate-change issues -- and the influence that goes with it. That image was dashed in Copenhagen: EU credibility and ambitions were sidelined in favor of the views of the U.S. and China. To regain a global voice, the EU needs drastic changes as it starts implementing the Lisbon treaty.

In a detailed review of the situation, an article in the Irish Times article -- “Copenhagen debacle brings home limits of EU's influence” – also talks about some apparently uncertain initial European steps to get a new grip on the climate agenda.

 

France to Google Books: “Hands Off Our Culture”

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Sarkozy Proposes Rival Digitization Plan Made in France

As a key (and culturally symbolic) part of its grandiose global design to make and compile electronic copies of all existing books, Google, the U.S. online search giant, has long sought to digitize the nearly 15 million books on the shelves of the French National Library. From the outset, Google’s ambitions have met opposition in some French circles, and now President Nicolas Sarkozy has put his foot down, announcing that Paris will put up more than $1 billion to fund its own national electronic-scanning project for France’s body of literary work.
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Cost of Transatlantic Non-Tariff Barriers

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A major new study documents the potential extra economic growth available on both sides of the Atlantic if the remaining non-tariff trade barriers were eliminated between the U.S. and the European Union.

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