06 Nov 172017-11-08 16:42:23
As Kosovo’s government mulls withdrawing from CEFTA, citing its unequal treatment, economists warn that a halt to regional free trade will result in price rises.
|Illustration. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Schwarzkopf|
Moldovans who leave their country to work abroad have been choosing the European Union over Russia, indicated by the fact that remittances sent home are increasingly in euros and dollars rather than in Russian rubles, official statistics showed on Monday.
During the third quarter of 2017, Moldovans sent home 154.11 million dollars, 135.99 million euros, and only 27.13 million Russian rubles, the central bank statistics show.
About 800,000 Moldovan citizens are registered as currently living and working abroad, but the real number is estimated at 1 million people. About half work now in the EU, the US and in Canada while the other half work and live in Russia and neighbouring Ukraine.
According to the state bank, the flow of remittances follows political trends. Since relations between Moscow and Chisinau became tense, after Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the EU, Russia has imposed sanctions on Moldova and expelled thousands of undocumented Moldovan workers.
Russian authorities and Moldova’s President Igor Dodon, who is friendly to Russia, in March 2017 urged Moldovans working in Russia to register and receive work permits so they would avoid deportation.
Since the Russia imposed an embargo on Moldova in 2013, 65 per cent of Moldova’s exports now go to European markets, and just 11 per cent reach Russia, government statistics show.
With at least a million of its population of 3.5 million now working abroad, Moldova has one of the highest emigration rates in the world. Remittances also account for about a quarter of the country’s GDP.
|Romanian Social Democrat-led cabinet during its weekly meeting. Photo: gov.ro|
Romania’s Social Democratic Party (PSD)-led government is set to adopt a controversial new Fiscal Code, despite widespread opposition from unions, the business community, and the public administration.
Prime Minister Mihai Tudose confirmed Tuesday that the new Fiscal Code is set to pass as an emergency decree during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. Emergency decrees hold the same status as organic laws passed by parliament.
Over 10,000 employees of the Dacia commercial vehicle plant in Mioveni protested the move Tuesday, while all other unions threatened a general strike. Unions say that the decree will lead to a drop in wages starting January 1, 2018, as most employees will have to pay 35 per cent of gross salary in taxes and social contributions.
Mayors from across Romania also gathered in Bucharest to call on the prime minister and PSD head Liviu Dragnea to give up what they called “the fiscal revolution”.
Activists also called for renewed protests in front of the main government building in central Bucharest on Wednesday at 11:00am, requesting that companies allow their employees to attend.
President Klaus Iohannis also criticised the move on Monday calling it “totally untimely” and said that the government should postpone the move until its impact is thoroughly assessed.
Finance Minister Ionut Misa said Monday that the new Fiscal Code is intended to transfer social contributions from the responsibility of the employer to the employees. It has gathered all other required approval. Misa faced an impeachment motion in parliament on Monday over the planned move, but the liberal opposition could not gather a majority of votes.
“The wages law can be applied without any problems,” Misa told journalists. “When we came up with transferring the social contributions from employers to employees in our governance program we thought of all fiscal requirements and there will be no negative effect over the wages law,” he added.
Dragnea and Tudose also defended the new Fiscal Code by saying that the union leaders did not understand the new measures and that, in fact, they believed salaries would increase.
“No businessman who has good will would use these changes to cut salaries,” Dragnea said last Thursday.
Tudose also said that the unions follow “crooked logic by starting from the premise that we’re going to close down the country.”
But according to Romania’s Fiscal Council, the new tax measures will lead to a drop of a billion euros in budget revenues and the uncertainty will incur major risks to the economy. Employers should increase gross wages by at least 20 per cent to compensate for the transfer of social contributions from employers to employees. However, they are not legally obliged to do this.
Liberal MP and economist Florin Citu, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the new Fiscal Code, stated on his Facebook account that he believes the PSD is activating a ticking time bomb with the new legislation.
The Social Democrats, who hold a majority in parliament, passed a unitary wage law in July increasing wages for the public sector starting January 1, 2018. Citu said that the effect of increasing salaries in 2018 would cost Romania a 5 percent drop in GDP, and, in order to make up for that loss, the Social Democrats came up with the idea of transferring responsibility for social contributions from the employers to the employees causing salaries in the public sector to remain the same or even drop.
“These Fiscal Code changes will cost private companies a lot of money; money they could use for investments or wage hikes. Now, they will have to spend it on new software for paying wages and for the split VAT,” he pointed out.
The Social Democrats are also under fire for trying to pass a justice reform bill that threatens the independence of prosecutors, despite a massive mobilisation of magistrates and civil society against the move.
|Illustration. Photo: Pixabay/Zstupar|
As Croatia’s government announces stricter rules for the state’s ailing pension system, both pensioners groups and experts have warned that the announced changes will not resolve the key issue – the unhealthy ratio between working people and pensioners.
With only 1.16 workers for every pensioner in Croatia, the government plans to tighten the rules on people taking early retirement to stop the ratio from getting worse.
Last year, Croatia paid out pensions costing about 4.9 billion euros while working people paid only 2.7 billion euros towards contribution for retirement. The state budget covered the gap.
Now the government wishes to further penalise people taking retirement before the age of 65, possibly lowering their pensions by 30 per cent instead of the existing 20 per cent.
Also, noting the introduction of new technology and better security and protection at work, the government wishes to cut around 100 job categories in which employees have an opportunity to retire at a younger age. These include police officers, firefighters, workers handling hazardous chemicals and similar jobs.
Milan Tomicic, deputy president of the Croatian Pensioners Union, told BIRN that the union was dubious about the announced reforms, as previous ones did not resolve anything, “but just further worsened the issue”.
He said the union was firmly against stricter criteria for early retirement. “I don’t see how these stricter conditions will ease the unfavourable ratio between workers and pensioners … it [changing the ratio] should be done through new jobs,” Tomicic concluded.
Economic analyst Guste Santini agreed that the planned measures will not help Croatia turn round the unfavourable ratio, or find new money.
“The government must not ignore the fact that Croatia during and after the [independence] war was badly de-industrialised, so some categories of workers can only go to early retirement,” he told BIRN.
“Also, the government can’t deny that certain jobs can’t be performed at certain, older ages,” he added.
All Croatian workers pay into two mandatory “pillars” of the pension fund, giving 15 per cent of their gross salary for the first and 5 per cent for the second pillar.
The government has announced that in future, workers will have to give 10 per cent for the second pillar.
Santini rejects this idea as well, claiming it will have negative effects on the economy by raising the cost of work.
With Croatia’s retirement age set now at 65, the state has vowed to raise it to 67 by 2038. Although the government pondered doing this by 2030, following advice from the IMF it has backed off from this idea for the time being.
The government is also considering introducing a national pension for people who do not have the needed minimum years of working experience to get a pension.
This national pension would be set at around 40 per cent of the minimum salary, around 130 euros a month. The average pension in Croatia is worth around 300 euros.
|Romania Central Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu. Photo: IMF/Flikr|
Romania’s Central Bank chief Mugur Isarescu on Thursday sounded a cautionary note about the country’s economy, despite the optimistic growth forecasts coming out of the European Commission among others.
Romania faces the risk of running a high trade deficit in 2017, unless the government postpones investment and cuts taxes, he said.
Bank Governor Isarescu also said that inflation is also due to rise from 1.9 per cent earlier this year to 2.7 per cent by the end of the year, due to increased imports and production costs and low exports.
Romania’s currency reached its lowest exchange rate with the euro in five years on Wednesday, due to the high trade deficit.
“We also still have a pro-cyclical fiscal and income policy, an expansive one, although slightly less so lately. The data show now that we will probably meet the[EU’s] 3-per-cent deficit requirement. However, there are issues with the reasons to meet this requirement: reducing taxes and postponing investments,” Isarescu said.
Another problem creating tension in the economy is the lack of correlation between wage hikes and productivity, he added. Romania has a lack of highly skilled workers and too many unskilled workers, he added.
Isarescu explained that while productivity in Romania had risen, wages had risen faster, and the hikes were not always justified by improved productivity.
Romania needs serious structural reforms if the government wants to achieve sustainable economic growth in future, the bank governor warned.
Romania has been hailed for having the fastest growing economy in the European Union in 2017.
On Friday, the European Commission announced that it expects Romania’s economy to grow by 5.7 per cent in 2017 and by 4.4 per cent in 2018, considerably more than economies in the region and way ahead of the EU average.
“Real GDP growth accelerated in 2017, driven mainly by private consumption. Looking ahead, growth is set to decelerate but remain above potential,” the Commission’s forecast for Romania said.
“[However], the budget deficit is projected to increase due to public wage increases projected in the unified wage law,” the report added.
The Commission noted some of the risks that might prevent Romania from reaching the growth forecast. They include a possible tightening of the central bank’s monetary policy in response to emerging inflation, cuts in public investment, and a continued rise in labour costs due to wage growth outpacing productivity growth.
Belgrade’s 1.2 billion euro Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF is slowly coming to its end on a positive note, though experts warn that some serious challenges for the economy still lie ahead.
They might not typically be the reason you go to the multiplex on a Saturday night. But these upcoming documentaries serve as reminders to live healthier, take a breath, and to be good to ourselves and those around us.
Benedict Cumberbatch lent his considerable vocal prowess to the narration of “Walk With Me,” which provides a peek into the life of Zen master Thich Nhát Hanh at his secluded Plum Village monastery outside France’s Bordeaux region.
The film, which had its Los Angeles premiere in early September, is directed by Marc J. Francis and Max Pugh. The scenery is sublime, the messages uplifting and just the act of watching it will make you want to slow down.
Info: The movie is currently being screened via Theatrical On Demand, which allows people to host a screening. There is one Nov. 7 in Calabasas. Information and tickets about the screening.
Irvine-based Pedram Shojai, founder of wellness site well.org and self-described “urban monk,” distills his fascination with conscious capitalism into “Prosperity” by setting out to discover “sustainable ways for us all to thrive.”
He follows the founder of a nutritional supplement brand as she tries to implement a fair trade deal for an indigenous tribe near Panama and talks to companies that believe in a “for benefit” model — such as Studio Movie Grill cinemas, which offer screenings specifically for special-needs children.
Info: “Prosperity” will be screened at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills until Oct. 5. Thereafter on DVD and online.
In “Heal,” medical experts and scientists join people who were afflicted with serious diseases to discuss the body’s innate ability to heal. Writer and director Kelly Noonan Gores said she felt compelled to make the film after following the work of the likes of Deepak Chopra, biologist Bruce Lipton and author Anita Moorjani, whose 2014 bestselling memoir “Dying to Be Me” documents her recovery from serious cancer.
“I was fascinated with how intelligent the human body is, how it’s designed to repair itself,” said Noonan Gores. “I wanted to sit down with these teachers and see what was truly possible. It feels like so many people are sick these days, and that they are ready to hear this information.”
Info: Oct. 20 at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, and through hosted screenings. The film will be released on VOD platforms Dec. 5.
A documentary looking at the self-esteem and anxiety issues faced by girls won’t be out till next year, but in the meantime, mini-episodes of “self(i.e.)” leading up to the feature have started streaming on YouTube. Sarah Dubbeldam, CEO of Darling Media, partnered with fashion brand Aerie by American Eagle to create the content after she realized that every girl she encountered — as young as 8 — held themselves to the impossible (and retouched) standards of beauty they see on social media.
“They’re aspiring to standards based on a deception, to something that’s not real,” said Dubbeldam, a former model. “There are studies that show anxiety has surpassed depression in women because of the pressures from social media. It’s a pervasive problem that needs to be fixed from the inside out.”
Between now and the end of the year, there will be 10 mini-episodes, which run a few minutes each.
Info: The videos are available on Darling’s YouTube channel.
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California’s outbreak of hepatitis A, already the nation’s second largest in the last 20 years, could continue for many months, even years, health officials said Thursday.
At least 569 people have been infected and 17 have died of the virus since November in San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles counties, where local outbreaks have been declared.
Dr. Monique Foster, a medical epidemiologist with the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Thursday that California’s outbreak could linger even with the right prevention efforts.
“It’s not unusual for them to last quite some time — usually over a year, one to two years,” Foster said.
That forecast has worried health officials across the state, even in regions where there haven’t yet been cases.
Many are beginning to offer vaccines to their homeless populations, which are considered most at risk. Doctors say that people with hepatitis A could travel and unknowingly infect people in a new community, creating more outbreaks.
San Diego County declared a public health emergency in September because of its hepatitis A outbreak.
Since November, 481 people there have fallen ill, including 17 who died, according to Dr. Eric McDonald with the county’s health department. An additional 57 cases are under investigation, he said.
Hepatitis A outbreak
Sources: County health departments, California public health departments
Hepatitis A is commonly transmitted through contaminated food. The only outbreak in the last 20 years bigger than California’s occurred in Pennsylvania in 2003, when more than 900 people were infected after eating contaminated green onions at a restaurant.
California’s outbreak, however, is spreading from person to person, mostly among the homeless community.
The virus is transmitted from feces to mouth, so unsanitary conditions make it more likely to spread. The city of San Diego has installed dozens of handwashing stations and begun cleaning streets with bleach-spiked water in recent weeks.
McDonald said county health workers have vaccinated 57,000 people in the county who are either homeless, drug users or people in close contact with either group.
“The general population — if you’re not in one of those specific risk groups — is at very low risk, and we’re not recommending vaccinations,” he said.
The outbreak has also made its way to Santa Cruz and L.A. counties, where 70 and 12 people have been diagnosed, respectively.
Officials from both counties say they’ve vaccinated thousands of homeless people and will continue to do so.
New cases linked to the outbreak might not appear for weeks, because it can take up to 50 days for an infected person to show symptoms, said Santa Cruz public health manager Jessica Randolph.
“I don’t think the worst is over,” Randolph said.
Tenderloin Health Services, a clinic in the San Francisco neighborhood known for its large homeless population, has been offering hepatitis A vaccines to its patients for weeks. The clinic recently held an event in which workers gave shots to 80 people in three hours, said Dr. Andrew Desruisseau, the clinic’s medical director.
“The cases in San Diego and the magnitude of the epidemic there certainly set off alarms in the Bay Area,” he said. So far, there have been 13 hepatitis A cases in San Francisco, but none associated with the outbreak.
Desruisseau said 90% of the clinic’s patients are homeless and many also have other liver problems or are drug users, making the disease especially dangerous.
Typically, only 1 out of every 100 people with hepatitis A dies from the disease, but it appears to have killed a higher rate of people in San Diego because of the population affected, experts say.
All 17 people who have died in the San Diego outbreak had underlying health conditions, including 16 who had liver problems such as hepatitis B or C, McDonald said.
Desruisseau said he was particularly concerned about conditions on the streets in San Francisco.
“With all of the housing crisis and gentrification in San Francisco, we’re seeing a much more condensed homeless population,” he said. “We have a lot of obstacles in keeping it a very sanitary place for our clients.”
Doctors and nurses in several California counties are beginning to offer vaccines to their homeless populations, as recommended by the state health department. Typically only children and people at high risk are vaccinated for hepatitis A.
In Orange County, which has had two hepatitis A cases linked to the outbreak, public health workers have given out 492 vaccines, mostly to homeless people, officials said. County nurses have also been visiting shelters and parks to vaccinate people.
Some officials, including in Riverside and Sacramento counties, also said they were reviewing their sanitation protocols for homeless encampments. An L.A. councilman recently called for more toilets in neighborhoods such as skid row and Venice in light of the local hepatitis cases.
Many have blamed San Diego’s outbreak on a lack of public bathrooms near homeless encampments.
In Oakland, city workers, represented by SEIU Local 1021, sent a letter to City Hall last month saying they feared a hepatitis A outbreak in the region’s homeless community. So far, there haven’t been any cases in Oakland or the rest of Alameda County, but city safety steward Brian Clay said he believed the city has allowed unsanitary conditions in homeless encampments.
Oakland city officials did not respond to a request for comment.
“There’s syringes, there’s human feces, there are dead animals, rats alive, and dead rats … pee bottles, five-gallon buckets used as toilets,” Clay said. “We’re definitely concerned about this added threat of hepatitis A.”
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3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the outbreak.
This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.
The first thing Dave Asprey will tell you about his newly opened Bulletproof Labs in Santa Monica is that it’s not a gym. Rather, he says, it’s the world’s first “human upgrade” facility dedicated exclusively to biohacking, or tweaking your biology for better performance.
At first glance, the light-filled space adjacent to his Bulletproof Coffee café on Main Street certainly looks like a gym, with personal trainers standing by and gleaming equipment lined up.
But take a closer look, and that equipment is unlike anything you’re used to seeing in a health club, from the cockpit-style atmospheric cell trainer by the door to the rotating virtual float tank in the center of the room. These are the same machines that Asprey has in the $1-million performance lab at his house in Victoria, Canada.
“It has been a dream for several years to make this level of technology available for everyone,” said Asprey, the world’s most famous biohacker. “Part of the role Bulletproof plays in society is to make people aware of all the things they can do to tap into their full power — and it’s frustrating to me that this kind of amazing technology isn’t more widely available because it makes such a big difference.”
With this first lab, Asprey and his partners are learning how to scale these “stacks” of treatments for mind, body and cellular health for a larger audience of Paleoites, Bulletproof podcast listeners and butter coffee drinkers, with locations to follow in other cities.
Some of the lab’s equipment might be familiar to elite athletes and hard-core fitness enthusiasts. There is the oxygen trainer, which uses a bike and an oxygen mask that alternates between 100% oxygen to low oxygen air to optimize cardiovascular function and performance. Or the cryotherapy chamber, in which three-minute stints in temperatures as low as minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit are meant to decrease inflammation, enhance recovery and boost the immune system.
Although Asprey may not want to call it a gym, many of the machines are designed to complement or expand on the gains its users have made at the gym, starting with the cheat machine, which delivers an adaptive resistance strength workout that eliminates the user’s ability to “cheat” or use momentum, said to deliver a week’s workout in 15 minutes.
There’s also a bone density trainer to support all that muscle, as well as “cold cardio,” a cooling and compression bike that is being tested by NASA for space flights to Mars.
Other treatments for cognition and mental performance include neurofeedback; a dry float tank that induces a rejuvenating, dreamlike state; light therapy; and heart rate training to manage stress response.
While they’re between treatments, members can have a vitamin IV infusion administered by a nurse at its in-house lab and clinic area.
“Most of the technologies are focused on recovery, immune system function, cellular health and cognitive performance, and other areas not available in the standard fitness concept,” Asprey says.
If this all sounds a bit out there, it is.
Much of the research on this equipment is still in the early stages and therefore, like biohacking, it’s an experiment you’re performing on yourself in hopes of getting ahead of the research curve and feeling and performing better.
Because the treatments are unfamiliar to most people, staff members expect people to come in to try a few individual treatments before they commit to a membership, which ranges from $500 a month to around $1,500 per month depending on frequency of use. Each membership includes a battery of tests and an individualized treatment plan depending on performance goals.
It’s certainly not inexpensive, but Asprey’s team says if you come in once a week, it’s comparable to paying for a very high-end personal training session. And for many, he says, it will be the thing that helps them feel and look better, when traditional workouts and dietary changes are not enough.
“This,” he says, “is about getting the best biological return on the effort you put in, and that works for everyone.”
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