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The weekly U.K. column

What's going on over in the United Kingdom. Weekly roundup of news from our British correspondent.

British news from April 22, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:27 on Apr 22 2010

As youíd expect, the main news in the UK this week was the cloud of volcanic ash that loomed over much of northern Europe. Thursday saw a second eruption in a month of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (can you pronounce ĎEyjafjallajokullí?).  The last eruption of this volcano lasted two years, from 1821 to 1823.

With about a million passengers unable to enter or leave the UK, Britain saw the worse air chaos since WW2. Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent three Royal Navy warships on the biggest civilian rescue operation in recent history. 250 people in Spain classified as vulnerable were due to be picked up by HMS Albion to travel home along with 200 soldiers returning home from Afghanistan. Scores more people turned up when word spread, but were first told, ďThereís no room on the ship. Itís crammed full.Ē

However, Commander Geoff Wintle said in the ĎSpirit of Dunkirkí, ďWeíre going to get everyone on. Nobody is being left behind.Ē He went on to say, ďItís a warship, so they wonít be used to the austere conditions, but they will get fresh rations, fish and chips for dinner tonight and curry tomorrow. We will provide as many camp beds and sleeping bags as we can, but itís no five star hotel.Ē

Back in Britain, pressure was building for the ban on flights to be lifted as the £200 million a day loss was becoming a point of contention, especially when German air testers had said that it was safe to fly. Wednesday saw most flights resume but still with many Brits stuck abroad.  Ė I really hope that money hasnít caused law makers and struggling airlines to make any rash decisions. It would be terrifying to think that there was the slightest chance of the volcanic dust causing component failures in an aeroplane I was on. Of course it is not ridiculous to think that it could stop an engine, it did so in 1982 when Captain Eric Moody managed to safely land a Boeing 747 after all 4 engines failed.
And on to finance: Interest rates were another cause for concern in the UK last week as they rose to 3.4% which is well above the 3.1% forecast in the city. Petrol prices are Ďfuellingí the surge, vegetables that froze at the beginning of the year are affecting food prices and the weak pound has been pushing up the costs of imports. The big question is, how long can the Bank of England hold off an interest hike? Itís at 0.5% at the moment and with an economy as fragile as it is, any increase in interest rates could be met with carnage. The real return at the moment after basic tax and inflation on an average savings account is minus 2.8% so savers would welcome an increase.  James Hughes, of Black Swan Capital Wealth Management said, ďThis sharp increase in UK inflation is possibly just the start of an inevitable and unstoppable slide towards double digit inflation and interestís rates within the next few years.Ē Ė The lesson is, if you have a low mortgage at the moment because interest rates are low and you have any spare cash each week, save it because hard times could be ahead.

In politics, a Ďhungí parliament has been the buzz word as the elections approach. This means that no single party would have won a majority of seats in the commons so the government would not be able to pass any laws without referring to the other parties. What follows is uncertainty as the rival parties attempt to form a coalition with one another. However, it was revealed last week that Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats (that is incidentally gaining ground almost every day), could not make the decision to form a coalition without the support of its members. Of course a partnership with the ĎLib Demsí is what Gordon would likely want to do in the event of a hung parliament. News like this can only serve to further fuel the nervousness in the city - that if there were a hung parliament, it would not be swiftly dealt with. This is especially poignant at a time when the markets are looking to the new government to make policy changes regarding our economy.

In local London news, the family of Agnes Sina-Inakoju have pleaded for witnesses to come forward after she was shot in the neck while chatting with friends in a take-out in Hackney. Agnes sadly died on Friday aged 16. She was said to be ďcharismatic, ambitious, loving and a caring girl who strove to make others happy.Ē The shooting happened randomly as two young men opened fire into the crowded take-out. She was thought not to be the intended victim.

Lastly, thousands of British holiday makers are likely to be out of pocket after the Volcanic Ash Crisis cancelled their holidays (Ďvacationsí for those of you who arenít privy to the Queenís English). There is a dispute going on as to whether it was an act of God (generally not covered under standard Insurance Policies) or bad weather. Ė I have to say that Iceland has a cheek, not only do they refuse to pay us back the money they lost when their banking system collapsed, but now they insist on spewing ash over us all. If it was an act of God then the dust would settle where it erupted!

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British news from April 15, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:26 on Apr 15 2010

A story that scooped a front page or two in Britain this week was that of a young soldier who saved his commanding officer in Afghanistan. Private Alex Kennedy, 19, was under fire in the Helmand province when his commanding officer was shot three times in the leg. Kennedy saw the commander raise his arm to signal he was injured, and under fire Kennedy raced back to save him. A bullet ricocheted off his rifle and forced him onto his back but the brave lad carried on regardless. Once there, he used his commanderís radio to signal others in the platoon to fire on the Talibanís co-ordinates. With fire drawn away he administered first aid and then with the help of a comrade dragged the bleeding man to safety. Private Kennedy will be the youngest soldier to be awarded the Military Cross since WW2.  He will be amongst 140 other service men and women to receive awards last year and the Queen will present the award in the summer.

In a story likely to shock, police officers in Manchester, UK, used a 50,000 volt stun gun on a man having an epileptic fit. He was tasered 5 times as police tried to get the man under control. Paramedics had been called to the scene at a gym in Manchester after the man, aged 40, had started having a seizure, however, he was so violent that the police had to be called. As the man bit and punched paramedics one of the police officers discharged his stun gun several times into the manís stomach and he was finally brought under control. The man has filed a complaint and an investigation is under away. Monica Cooper of Epilepsy Action said, ďPolice should be trained to recognise that seizure activity can be mistaken for violent or inappropriate behaviourĒ. I personally would have to say that if I was being kicked in the crotch, bitten by or even dribbled over by some crazed body builder that Iíd question whether I was mistaking the behaviour as violent or inappropriate.

The widow of a British reality TV star Jade Goody was in court today after being accused of raping a woman. Jack Tweed, 22, denies raping the 20 year old woman last summer.  It seems some people will do anything to remain in the spotlight.

A man in East London was described by witnesses as looking like a zombie with flesh falling from his face after another revenge acid attack. Mr Awais Akram, 25, from Denmark met Sadia Khatoon on Facebook and began an affair, the court was told. The prosecution claim that Sadia Khatoon set him up for the attack by calling him at his apartment and telling him to go to an internet cafe. On his way as he was speaking to her on the phone he was attacked by three men, who poured sulphuric acid over his face and body. Ms Khatoon and her husband are prime suspects with three men from Walthamstow, UK also in custody. There was a disturbing documentary on a very similar case not that long ago. A woman was called to an internet cafe by a jilted lover only to be disfigured by acid on the way. It was quiet harrowing to watch. It makes you wonder where these people get their ideas.
The bargain clothes superstore Primark (UK) has made front page news with the Headlines ďPaedo BikiniĒ in one UK paper. Primark had a padded bikini top on sale for 7 year old girls and parents are outraged. They said little girls wearing them would be sexualised ďwith breast shapesĒ and become attractive to predatory perverts.  I have to say that although not an expert, Iím sure paedophiles are not looking for breast size when on the prowl. I agree that padded bikini tops are wrong but I think many parents need to look at their 7 years old entire wardrobe; then companies such as Primark wouldnít think that padded bikinis are the next step.

Iím trying to avoid talking too much about the elections but I will say the polls are currently saying: Conservative 39% - unchanged, Labour 31% - down 2%, Liberal Democrats 20% - unchanged. The changes were on the back of a backfired Labour manifesto that was meant to kick start their campaign but instead saw them drop 2%.

Now for some news on how the economy got into this mess. Apparently us Brits are party animals who spend £75 billion ($116 billion) a year on having fun. Thatís £30 ($46) per person per week. That may not sound that much to some, but itís two and a half times more than we spent 10 years ago and is a fifth of our total spending. We spend 3 times the amount in restaurants and double what we spent in pubs.

Finally a Swedish airline pilot was fined in a Dutch court last week for flying for 13 years on a fake pilots licence.  Thomas Salme, 41, was caught in March with a licence containing spelling errors. He was fined £1770 ($2737) but avoided a custodial sentence. He used to fly for the U.K. operator Jet2, among others.

A massive volcanic ash cloud stopped flights to and from the UK today causing disruption to thousands of passengers. The Met office say they are constantly monitoring the cloud of volcanic particles but canít say how long it will go on for. Aeroplanes cannot fly through the clouds as the particles can be sucked into the engines and cause them to shut down or be sucked into the cabin where it would contaminate passengers environments. The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland continues to erupt as we go to print so it will be several days before things go back to normal.

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British news from April 8, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:24 on Apr 8 2010

There were last minute clashes between Gordon Brown (Labour) the British Prime Minister and David Cameron (Conservative), the opposition leader, this week. Parliament ends in two days and the campaigning for who gets in next is underway.

Brown and Cameron fiercely locked horns in the TV show, ďPrime Ministers Question TimeĒ talking about Labourís planned National Insurance (NI) increase. Cameron said ďThis prime minister would wreck the recovery by putting a tax on every job, on everyone earning over £20,000, a tax on aspiration, a tax on every business in the country. This government would wreck the recovery.Ē

Business leaders wrote in to the Telegraph newspaper to protest the increase but Gordon Brown patronised them by saying they had been deceived by the Tories. It was noted as not a politically astute move. Business leaders genuinely believe that a rise in NI will cost jobs and Cameron is promising not to up the tax. This is definitely going to feature heavily in the Conservative campaign although I think that Cameron and anyone else who cares for this country should consider the quandary weíre all in. Of course we donít want to see tax increases or job losses but we also donít want to see services cut. As Brown is aware we have a huge budget deficit going into the billions and the money has to come from somewhere. Cameron promises to cut £6 billion of wasted government spending to block the NI rise but letís face it, the Tories are not in power yet and talk is cheap. If they donít plan to raise NI then we all know something has to give. The recent budget didnít go far enough according to some analysts in showing that Labour was serious about plugging the chasm in the deficit - so unhappy days are bound to be ahead. What we can work out is that election victory party celebrations of whoever gets in will be swiftly followed by substantial fiscal changes. Letís think... we could call it ďbirth pangs of recoveryĒ. You heard it here first.

In East London, in a story that to me sums up our economy, ten police officers were injured when scuffles broke out at clothing retailer, American Apparelís temporary sale. Two thousand people turned up to the sale where some items were being sold for as little as a pound. Several people were arrested and the event was closed down. The company was forced to apologise.

Hundreds of supporters of the English Defence League, the far-right anti-Muslim group, clashed with police n Dudley, UK. The protesters were angry at the proposed mosque being built in the town. One group broke down metal fencing and stormed the site. Police say seven people were arrested.

Watching protesters storm the Kyrgyzstan presidential palace on the BBC TV news made me think a coup is imminent. This will cause major concern to the United States, which maintains an air base in Bishkek for re-supplying NATO forces in Afghanistan. Over 35,000 US soldiers move in and out of Afghanistan through the US base in Manas every month and 30 per cent of refuelling operations over Afghanistan start there. The protesters are angry at the growing authoritarianism towards political opponents and the media. Protesters seized parliament and took over the national television station in fatal clashes that left 100 dead in the capital Bishkek.  Both the US and Russia have called for restraint.

In another international story of governments losing power, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protesters have forced the Thai government to declare a state of emergency. The protesters, normally known as ďThe Red ShirtsĒ have held the nationís capital ransom for days. They are demanding that a fresh election be held as they say the present government is illegitimately holding on to power. The emergency status was declared to give more power to the military to deal with the problem. However, no arms are to be used in dealing with protestors.

Maybe Iím a pessimist at heart, but as economies suffer on in the coming years I expect to see more and more unrest on the world scene. Itís human nature that when times are good and money is awash we ask not from where it comes; but when it turns and the money is gone - we do ask where itís gone!

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British news from April 1, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:22 on Apr 1 2010

Big news on the BBC this week was America and Russia re-signing the treaty to cut nuclear arsenals by a third. Obama says it is a step towards a safer world. The new agreement will limit the total deployed warheads to 1550, and cut strategic missile launches to 800 on each side. This is a huge reduction from the 6000 missile launches which was the agreement when the treaty was first signed in 1991. Obama of course, sees this as the start of much bigger things in efforts to bring world peace. So has Obama earned his controversial Nobel Peace prize yet? Maybe heís after his second.

In Ďlocal to meí news, 20 teenagers were arrested after a 15 year old boy was stabbed and killed at Victoria station in London. He was taken to hospital but later died from his wounds. This of course is the latest in a very, very long line of stabbings in my home town.

Campaigners against the Third runway at Heathrow have had a victory at court. A judge described the governmentís position on the matter as untenable. The government would have to re-think its position and include all the recent ecological evidence if it were to try and repeal the case. Local councils, environmental groups and Heathrow residents are among the campaigners responsible for stopping the runway.

In world religion news, Pope Benedict and the Roman Catholic Church have been dealt a massive blow with only one third of its members now trusting the pope. This came as it is revealed that the pope may have known about a paedophile priests actions but failed to stop him, while he served as an archbishop in Germany, and later, as the Vaticanís chief doctrinal enforcer. At his home in Bavaria Germany people have openly spoken out against the pope.

Front page news in the UK was the story of 66 year-old Joan Higgins, and how a goldfish landed her in court. Mrs Higgins was the victim of a trading standards undercover Ďstingí in which a 14 year old boy was sent to purchase the aforesaid goldfish. This however contravened the new animal welfare law which bans the sale of pets to under 16ís.  Mrs Higgins, a pet shop owner was fined £1000 (US$1500) placed under a curfew and ordered to wear an electronic tag for two months, (yes really)!! Her son Mark, 47 was also fined and handed out a hundred and twenty hour community service sentence. The ordeal cost the taxpayers £20k (US$30,000) and cost the Higgins criminal records for life.

The Daily Mail newspapergave a rundown of a few recent cases that equate to the sentence that Mrs Higgins received. Here are a few of them:
ē    A thug who battered a dog to death with a hammer was given a community order and told to wear a tag. Christopher Dance, 23, of Maidstone, Kent, was found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering.
ē    Two boys and two girls aged 17 and 18 who beat and tortured a teenage boy with learning difficulties Ė including pouring boiling water over him Ė were this month given community orders of between 12 and 18 months.
ē    Stephen John Tee, 43, who punched a policeman in the face after his girlfriend was stopped for driving without a licence in Barnstable, Devon, UK, was given a community order and tagged for four months.

The weather in this country (UK) is getting ridiculous! It was just starting to get warmer, the daffodils were in full bloom and the forests were humming with the sounds of life once again. Then comes the beginning of April (the start of summer) and the snow hits the UK with full force. This has brought with it disruption, power failures and general chaos.  After a long hard winter, Brits are really feeling the bite and the cold weather will only worsen the state of the roads which has become quite an issue.
I reported in a previous edition of the Adscene that the state of the UKís roads was in a dire state. Well now, Captain Jonathan Allen, 29, was killed while riding his bicycle.  It was revealed that he had to swerve to avoid a 15 ft-long crater and was crushed by a lorry (large truck). Friends and Army personnel are furious at the state of Britainís roads and a website campaigning for better roads has been set up.

Lastly, the Olympic Stadium is a common site on my way to work, driving down the A12 but how will it match up to Chinaís stadium?

Well Chinaís cost $423 million and Londonís cost $808 million but when it comes to breaking ground, Chinaís is the worldís largest steel structure. Londonís stadium will only be its third largest capacity arena at 80k, (same as Chinaís). On the design front, well, itís a matter of taste. I like the Ďbird nestí structure of the Chinese stadium but we are yet to see the finishing touches to the London offering.

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British news from March 25, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:20 on Mar 25 2010

The big news of the week was of course the Budget.  The usual suspects were hit, those being alcohol and cigarettes. The surprise attack was on cider, the apple based and relatively cheap alcohol popular with young Brits. That had a 10% tax increase. Cigarettes were up 15p on a pack of 20 Ė youíll now pay around £6 for a pack. ($8.89).

If you earn over £150,000 (US$220,000) youíll now have to give up 50% to the government. On the other hand, if you are a first-time homebuyer then you wonít have to pay Stamp Duty (property purchase tax) on your property.

There was good news in the U.K. as Sahil Saeed, 5 was returned to his father and mother in Oldham. The youngster was kidnapped by Pakistani gunmen 12 days ago in Pakistan. They demanded £100,000 (US$150,000) which has been paid according to Pakistanís law minister Rana Sanaullah. The gang, believed to be made up of three Pakistani men and two Eastern Europeans were later arrested. The latest news is that the father has not yet made it back to the UK from Pakistan but is believed to be on his way. Iíll keep you posted if that story develops.

More good news for us Brits, as Nissan announced that the Nissan Leaf, the first affordable Ďzero emissioní car is being produced in Sunderland (North of England), where it will safeguard hundreds of jobs. The car has a 100 mile range which understandably may put some people off although hundreds of institutions are being subsidised to install charging points. Of course until the production of electricity in the UK is zero emission itself and not produced by fossil burning power stations then it hasnít really achieved much -  ecologically speaking. If you live in France on the other hand, where only 5% of power comes from burning fossil fuels then Iíd say an electric car is well worth the price and hassle, but in the UK only 5% of our electricity is NOT produced by burning fossil fuels. Interesting fact of the day.

As the unions tighten their grip on an already struggling industry, we saw 3 days of strikes by BA (British Airways) staff as talks collapsed with the UNITE union. After one day of the strikes they continued to argue but this time about how much the strike had affected BA. There were claims and counter claims over how many planes were grounded. Unite said it had grounded 85 planes, BA said it hadnít. Unite said most of the staff were on strike, whereas Willie Walsh the Chief Executive of British Airways says that staffing levels have been very good. Tony Woodley, Unite Joint General ĖSecretary said, ďMr Walsh needs to realise that this is Britain today, not Burma.Ē Didnít he mean the Union of Myanmar? He also reputed the claim that 1100 staff turned up for work.

If you think the UKís problem are all up in the air then think again, rail workers also voted to strike. The reasons they give are planned job cuts, working practices (i.e. having to work weekends) and the safety concerns that these issues may cause. We are set to see plenty more public sector walks outs as the government has to make cuts at some point. The expression Ďspring of discontentí has been bandied about although I suspect it will be a summer of discontent as the government will leave any nasty shocks until after the general elections on or before June 3rd. What we do know, is that the government has to start to claw back from our debilitating position of having £796.9 billion national debt which is 55.5 per cent of our national GDP. Now it looks like we are the Ďpoor man of Europe!í
The Student Loans Company is expected to delay payments to students again this year. They have seriously flawed contingency plans and some students from last year have still not got all their money.  In an economic climate that means finding part-time jobs is more difficult than normal, this could mean many students are forced to quit their studies.

In India, two men go on trial for the murder of 15 year-old Devon girl Scarlett Keeling, two years ago. She was found dead on a Goa beach and later examination revealed she had been forcibly held underwater. 29 year-old Placido Carvalho, a local businessman and barman Samson DíSouza are charged with her rape, drugging and murder.

On Friday an expedition to the North Pole by wounded service men and women was launched by Prince Harry (25), on which he promised to join them for the last five days of the trip. This is if his military engagements allow it of course. It is thought that he wants to re-engage the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly.

Lastly, Pope Benedict XVI apologised for abuse suffered by countless children at the hands of Catholic priests. Many victims were disappointed however that he did not go further and admit that the church tried to cover up allegations of abuse.

In a letter the Pope said, ďYou have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry,Ē and, ďYour trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.Ē
Letís hope that puts an end to the abuse. Thatís the news as I see it from here.

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British news from March 18, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:19 on Mar 18 2010

Interesting news this week; new research has shown that if your blood pressure goes up and down regularly (spiking) you are more likely to have a stroke. Spikes in blood pressure that would previously have been ignored. The new research could mean more people are treated for high blood pressure, and that doctors might be advised to choose different drugs to treat it.

On the flip side of drugs news, the legal recreational drug Mephedrone more commonly known as ĎMeowí because of its chemical name (mmCAT) has made its way into UK schools. Described as having similar effects to cocaine and ecstasy but with the benefit of costing far less at only £8 a gram or less, head teachers are having to hand confiscated drugs back to children as the law says it is legal. The UK death toll from the drug has risen to 5 and demands are growing for it to be banned.

The problem however is with the way British legislation works when banning a substance. At the moment, each drug that is brought to the streets by the drug barons has to be tested and then classified individually. If they ban ďmeowĒ then they will simply change the chemical formula enough to make it necessary for the government to reclassify it under a new law. (Thatís exactly the process ďmeowĒ came through.) That would be ok if the system was instantaneous but this can take years, in which time enough has been sold and enough research into the next chemical has been done for it to be a real problem. It is sold online as plant food and sellers will make it very clear that it is NOT for human consumption.  It will be banned soon but the next high will be on sale soon unless the process is changed.  There is the view that alcohol kills more people every year and there are of course the conspirator theories that say that the government has allowed or instigated these legal highs to bring the illegal cocaine industry to its knees. It is true that cocaine is now only £20 on the streets, down from £40-50 a few years back. Meow is not as good as coke, apparently, but in a recession.....

Almost to follow on from that, some alarming figures came out that self harming of young Britons has increased by 50% over the last year. In a news item on morning television it was sad to see how many young people worry about the recession and how it will affect their future. Young people certainly seem to be getting more aware of the world around them.

The UK government seems to agree with children being aware when it refused to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12. As it is, the UK has one of Western Europeís lowest ages of prosecution with Scotland the age being 8. The government believes at 10 years old a child is aware of the consequences, although a lot of Europe disagrees.

As recession starts to bite British society further it is revealed that over 10 million people in the UK do not work. That is quarter of the working age population. This figure includes those permanently off sick, long term unemployed, those that have lost their jobs in the recession and those that have opted to stay in education. Thatís like the population of Austria sitting at home doing nothing. Official unemployment figures however show a small drop this month in unemployment. The figures are said to mask a much more serious underlying discouragement of the British people.
David Beckham, 34, the world famous British footballer has injured his knee while fighting for the ball with Pachucaís Fernando Salazar during their SuperLiga final match last week in LA and will sit out the world cup and not play for England. He will however join his team mates on the side lines as a ďfourth lionĒ in South Africa.

Finally, in Royal news, Prince Harry, son of the late Princess of Wales, may return to Afghanistan Ė flying the latest attack helicopter a British newspaper reported. Trainee pilot Harry, 25, has asked to return and fight the Taliban in a Lynx 9A. Sources believe he will get his wish.

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British news from March 11, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:17 on Mar 11 2010

Gordon Brown spoke to the Iraq Inquiry this week defending his role as the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the war. Allegations had arisen that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) was underfunded thus lives were lost unnecessarily. Gordon argued that although he wouldnít know what equipment is needed on the frontline, requests for funding from the MOD were never refused. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the UK £18 billion according to Brown and this is on top of an increasing MOD budget. In an attempt to divert attention from his Iraqi Inquiry interview he hopped on the next plane to Afghanistan to pledge 200 new vehicles for the troops there.  The Iraq Inquiry is not a court of law, it is a committee of men appointed by the government to ...consider  the UKís involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.. In other words, and concluded by the fact that *Sir Martin Gilbert is a member of said committee, a chance for history to be written. We know that WMDís (weapons of Mass destruction) were not found; we know that the reasons for invading Iraq and Afghanistan have been cloaks masked by cloaks and we know that it has cost us more in time, money and lives than almost anyone envisioned. So will the Inquiry and therefore history put the Iraqi and subsequent wars down as mistakes? Let us wait for the report to be published in late 2010.

Another story to grab the headlines this week was the return to prison of Jon Venables.  Jon Venables together with Robert Thompson murdered, tortured and sexually abused James Bulger, a 2 year old boy in 1993. Both 10 years old at the time, they were sentenced to 10 years in prison, later increased to 15 by the Home Secretary. James Bulgerís mother, Denise Fergus received a lot of airtime this week demanding that we are told why he was arrested and that he lose his new identity.  Jack Straw, the Home Secretary refused as it could Ďjeopardise any future trial.í
Denise went on daytime television telling some popular presenters how sheíd like to be in court if he goes on trial for his latest crimes. Of course whether you like it or not, if Jon Venables has been released from prison then he has paid his debt to society. If you were to return him to the court room as Jon Venables the child killer then any UK juror with all their rage would find him guilty no matter what.  Of course, I feel deeply for Denise Fergus and what she went through 17 years ago but I cannot fathom what this latest news has to do with her. We cannot allow the British justice system to be manipulated by sensationalist media coverage. If Jon Venables goes on trial again it should be only for the crimes he is on trial for.

Perhaps Gordon Brown should look at these figures. We spend 11 times more on locking children up than on preventing youth crime. About 75% of young people leaving custody will reoffend, and 27% of adult prisoners have been in care. Reoffending by these former children in care costs about £3bn a year. We could go to war for 1 and a half years on that or save even more and send them to the front line. I jest.

Facebook killer Peter Chapman was jailed for the murder of 17 year-old Ashleigh Hall. Peter Chapman confessed to the murder and rape of Ashleigh after grooming her on Facebook. Pretending to be a boy her own age Peter flattered the impressionable teenager and finally got her to meet him.  Fresh warnings were given to anyone using social networking sites, to take precautions if you meet people in real life.

Sandra Bullock won her first Oscar in the same week she won her first Razzie (an award for the worst movie). I must point out the awards were not for the same movie. To amuse myself I will not list what Avatar, the $150 million spectacular won (Cinematography and Art Direction)! Instead I shall list what they thought theyíd win but didnít. Directing -The Hurt Locker, Best picture - The Hurt Locker, Film editing - The Hurt Locker, Music (original score) Ė Up, Sound editing - The Hurt Locker, Sound mixing -The Hurt Locker. How much did Hurt Locker cost to make? Kathryn Bigelow, the Director and first woman to win an Oscar for direction did it on a shoe string budget of $11 million, less than a tenth the cost to make Avatar. It has only grossed $21 million so far but I predict that will change dramatically.

Thousands of public workers went on strike this week because the terms of their redundancy pay outs have changed. Instead of receiving three years redundancy theyíll only receive two. Public workers need to wake up to the fact that the rest of the country is struggling and most people would feel lucky to have two years redundancy. Head in clouds, lazy, and selfish are some of the words I feel boiling to the surface.

In similar news, the postal workers strike has ended and the results are in. Theyíll get paid more for less work and a more secure job. Lucky them!

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British news from March 3, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:49 on Mar 3 2010

Fifty-two year-old Billy Bragg, the poet/songwriter is refusing to pay his taxes unless something is done about the £1.6 billion bonus payouts Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) are giving to staff. RBS are 84 percent owned by the British taxpayer; however, what Billy and countless other protesters are failing to see is - well, reality. We live in a society that fiercely protects and proliferates capitalism, so why would anyone expect investment bankers to work any other way? If the British public want to see a return on their £14 billion invested into RBS then we must have the very best people working to make sure that happens. However, if we do what the protesters suggest which is to give little or no bonuses then the very people we want working at RBS to sort out this mess will go elsewhere to work. Wake up people; these are investment bankers, the very epitome of capitalism. Itís love of money, not country that drives them.

In politics, David Cameron addressed his party at the Conservative spring conference. No notes and an Obama style message of needed change in politics was the order of the day. Iím not sure that any politician has ever entered the pre-election arena without the promise of change but voters still seem to lap it up. Mr Cameron, leader of the opposition has seen his lead in the polls diminish this week as fears over the countryís financial deficit causes divisions. Cameron has made it clear that he intends to start needed cut backs if he is elected.  The problem is, only 25% of people worry that the deficit wonít be dealt with quick enough, but 40% are worried that dealing with the deficit will cause them inconvenience when local services start to disappear.

The unfortunate case in the UK at the moment is that before we have even approached dealing with the financial deficit, local councils are already running out of funding for basic local services. Care for the elderly is under threat as are many environmental and social services. As a side note, it is very apparent in London at the moment that the roads have ceased to be repaired. Potholes have made the roads a mine field for motorists and the authorities are refusing to repair them.

Following up on a story we published a couple of weeks ago, the verdict from the Senior Judges is finally in. Based on evidence, including 42 unpublished CIA documents, collected over the past 18 months by two high court judges and described in six separate judgments, itís official; MI5 withheld evidence and co-operated with the CIA in the torture of Guantanamo Bay detainee, Binyam Mohamed.
MI5 boss, Jonathan Evans now has the audacity to suggest that the mediaís reporting of the UKís Senior Judges findings is playing into the hands of our enemies, allowing them to use propaganda to undermine our ability to confront them. Not so my dear Mr Evans, you undermined our ability, you provided our enemies with tools to use against us. You did that when your agency failed to uphold the values you are meant to hold so dear and the very law you are meant to stand for. Shame on you for continuing this tirade of buck passing!

In sport, there has been a lot of talk around London this week of the decision Wayne Bridge, the UK premiership footballer made to pull out of the World Cup squad. I reported a few weeks ago that John Terry the English captain had an affair with Wayne Bridgeís ex-fiancť which led to the sacking of John Terry. Since then, they have met on opposing teams and tensions have run high - but should he have quit the World Cup team to avoid John? The consensus from fans is that he may regret not being able to recount to his grandchildren the time he helped England to WIN the World Cup.

In other news, a man who is suspected of killing his girlfriend and baby is at large. Anthony Marsh, 21, has been missing since the bodies were discovered on Saturday. Miss Bellinger and her daughter Lily were found at their home in Totton near Southampton, stabbed to death.  Anthonyís mother appealed on television for him to hand himself in.

Finally, the infamous Yorkshire ripper, Peter Sutcliffe is seeking a high court ruling to set a release date. He was convicted in 1981 of cold bloodedly murdering 13 women and attacking 7 others in Yorkshire, UK. The judge at the time of sentencing recommended that he spend a minimum of 30 years behind bars. That elapses next year. He said MINIMUM, Mr Sutcliffe - look it up. You really are coming across a little eager!

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British news from February 24, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:47 on Feb 24 2010

Caribbean and Latin American leaders have unanimously backed Argentina at a summit in Mexico over a 170 year old dispute with Britain that has raised its ugly head once again. In short, Argentina claim sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (which they refer to as Islas Malvinas) but the UK have started drilling for oil based on their alleged sovereignty since 1833. UK Minister for the region, Chris Bryant, said that Britain had ďno doubt about our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.Ē
ďIt is underpinned by the principle of democratic self-determination,Ē he said. ďFalkland Islanders want to remain British.Ē

However, Argentina has received all round support from its neighbours. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called on the UN to debate Argentinaís sovereignty claim.

ďWhat is the geographic, the political or economic explanation for England to be in Las Malvinas?Ē he asked. ďCould it be because England is a permanent member of the UNís Security Council [where] they can do everything and the others nothing?Ē  The UK and Argentina went to war not too long ago in 1982 over the same dispute, during a seven-week war that killed 649 Argentine and 255 British service personnel. If we do end up at war over this, letís try and remember this time Ė it IS over oil!
Back here in the UK, troubled Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught in another scandal, this time over the alleged bullying of his colleagues. It really is like a school playground in British politics. This came after Christine Pratt, Chief of the National Bullying Helpline went public with the revelation that employees from 10 Downing street had used the helpline. Mrs Pratt has made it clear none of the callers accused Mr Brown personally of bullying and said he may not even have known about the claims. However, since the scandal broke, so many defenders of Brown have been trying to dig him out of a hole that they seem to be sitting in a much deeper one now where Browns temperament has definitely been called into question. Well done guys!

On Wednesday 24th PM Gordon Brown apologised to 130,000 children forced to migrate to colonies such as Australia and Canada. Lied to, abused both physically and mentally, deprived of childhoods and split from their siblings, many are still trying to come to terms with what happened to them. This was a shameful government scheme between the 1920s and 1967 when the last child was shipped. Amongst other things Gordon said: ĒWe are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back.Ē
Director of the Child Migrant Trust, Margaret Humphreys said: ďIt gives them [the migrants] the recognition they have sought for so long - and, sadly, that so many have not lived to witness.Ē
Up in the North, a Scottish company selling ďAnyone but EnglandĒ T-shirts for this yearís Football World Cup has been warned by Police that it could be seen as racist. Oh my goodness, we can give it but we just canít take it. Truth is; most Brits just see them as a bit of light hearted fun.

And finally back to London...

In a worrying trend, more and more Londoners are breeding banned fighting dogs. Many see them as protection in low cost housing estates while others actually pitch them into fights with prizes of thousands of pounds. Although Pit bulls were one of the named breeds banned by the UKís 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act the breeders cross them with legal dogs, thus getting around the law.
Residents surrounding Londonís Heathrow airport (already Europeís busiest airport), including 13 councils (local government), green groups and residentsí organisations have said an emphatic ďNOĒ to a third runway proposed by the UK government. They have now reached the high court in an attempt to stifle the plans. Noise, air pollution and demolition of local infrastructure are just some of the things at stake.

In yet more predicted problems for British Airways, cabin crew voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over pay and conditions. UNITE (the airline crew union) said that 78.77% of the 11,691 ballot papers issued were returned. Of those 80.7% (7,482) supported taking action with 1,789 voting against it. British Airways warned: ďWe will not allow UNITE to ruin this company.Ē  Negotiations are continuing.

Finally in some good news for Britain, Amy Williams the GB teamís skeleton slider has won a Gold medal. Although itís great news, it highlights the embarrassing fact that it is our first individual winter Olympic gold for 30 years! The 27-year-old from Bath won the womenís skeleton title at Vancouver 2010 Olympic by a whopping 0.56 seconds!

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British news from February 17, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:46 on Feb 17 2010

Starting with our European amigos, Greece was described last week as the Ďsick maní of Europe as EU leaders stood together to help Greece sort out its financial troubles. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was among leaders putting in place a rescue package with coordinated measures to defend the euro Ė even though the UK is sticking thus far with the pound. Greece has been told it must cut spending - it needs a mere 53 billion Euros to stay afloat. The French and Germans are the key players in the rescue plan, most probably as they have the most to lose from a euro nose dive. Itís undecided whether UK tax payers will cough up for Europeís woes, and many are asking whether the UK government got something right by keeping out of the euro?

In a shock to friends and fans, superstar fashion designer to royalty and stars, Alexander McQueen was found hanged in a wardrobe of his London apartment last week. He was 40 years old. From an apprentice on Saville row to four-time winner of the British Designer of the Year award, Lee (his real name), was awarded a prestigious CBE in 2003. Hailed as not just a fashion designer but a fashion Ďcreatorí, he was known to his Twitter followers to be in serious grief over the death of his mother Joyce the week before.

On Saturday 13 Feb, 15,000 British, US and Afghan troops launched their biggest offensive since the Afghan invasion began. ĎOperation Mushtarakí is aimed at taking Taliban strongholds in the South Helmand province with US/Afghan troops attacking Marjah and the British attacking Nad-e-Ali. Twenty Taliban have been killed so far according to Afghan officials.

Major General Nick Carter, the NATO Commander in Southern Afghanistan said, ĒIt seems we caught the insurgents on the hop - he appears to be completely dislocated.Ē  However, as the week dragged on we heard other reports saying that it is going to be a long, slow operation.

On Sunday, day 2 of the operation, 12 civilians, mainly women and children were killed by mistake. The thing that bothers me most about the UK coverage of the war is that you feel rather than reporting the facts, they are constantly trying to persuade you that we are doing the right thing. The death toll for British soldiers in Afghan alone is over 256 so far.

The latest update was that the Ďmastermindí of the homemade Taliban bombs and senior Taliban Military commander has been captured. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar the Deputy Defence Minister for the Taliban government is the most senior Taliban leader to have been caught and was responsible for the financial direction and bomb planting that has killed so many Allied soldiers. The ISI (Pakistani intelligence agency) worked closely with the CIA to capture him and it is hoped he will provide useful intelligence and could be used as a bargaining chip.  Iím sure he will; the MI5ís Ďpossibleí knowledge of CIA torture in Guantanamo Bay didnít dispute that it went on!

In other news, British scientists raise fears over chip and pin safety when using your debit or charge cards. It could mean the whole system needs to be reworked. The Cambridge team has found a flaw so huge it shocked even them. What Ė your credit card isnít secure anymore?

On the British economy, the number of homes repossessed last year is the highest since the mid 90ís....46,000 people had their homes repossessed in 2009. Inflation also rose sharply to 3.5% last month, the fastest rise since 2008. Of course this is down to ridiculous fuel prices among other things.  FYI, in Jan 2009 we were paying 86.6 pence per litre (US$ 5.10 /gallon) for gasoline in the it is up to 115 pence a litre (US$ 6.78 /gallon)! And you wonder why we all drive small cars? With a weak pound and transport costs going up the UK, could we be seeing the end of cheap imported goods? How can the bank of England keep interest rates low with inflation on the rise?
On the brighter side of the economy (for some), the major Barclays banking institution slides through the gloom of recession with bumper profits and huge payouts to staff. Many Barclays staff will take home £100,000 (US$ 155,000) bonuses. Profits of 11.6 billion pounds will mean 22,000 staff at investment bank ĎBarclayís Capitalí will receive an average of £190k (US$ 295k). It is true that Barclays didnít receive the handouts from the government when the financial system melted down, but that really sensible?

In only what can be described as election news, Gordon brown wept on Pierce Morganís chat show as he recalled the death of his 10-day-old daughter from a brain haemorrhage. It is sad and I canít imagine what he went through, but many are dubious as to his motives for going on the chat show. Is Gordon going for the sympathy vote?

In the courts, a Birmingham mother admits killing her daughter by starvation but denies murder.  7 year old girl Khyra Ishaq died 2 years ago.  She weighed just 2 stone 9 pounds (37lbs or 17kg)when she died. Her motherís boyfriend admitted hitting her but blames his childhood.

In an update on last weekís story about MI5ís involvement in torturing prisoners, Jonathan Evans, MI5 Director General wrote ďthere have been a series of allegations that MI5 has been trying to Ďcover upí its activities. That is the opposite of the truth.Ē He continued, ďour enemies will seek to use all tools at their disposal to attack us. That means not just bombs, bullets and aircraft but also propaganda and campaigns to undermine our will and ability to confront them.Ē

Alan Johnson, the British Home Secretary said on the BBC News that MI5 has the highest ethical standards.

Lawyers for the torture victim Binyam Mohamed are furious to be besmirched in such a way.  I have to say it seems odd that the only Ďtoolsí I see the Ďenemiesí using are the BBC, the British courts and British lawyers.  A senior Judgeís criticism of MI5 is on hold for now but may be released early next week.
In another update, Ali Dezai the senior Police Officer reported about in last weekís article is appealing against his conviction. Maybe heís not as dishonest as they say.

In mainland Europe, two  trains in Belgium collided head-on killing 18 people. The crash happened south of the capital Brussels in the town of Buizingen. It was one of the busiest stretches of line in Northern Europe....the Euro star runs by there and has been suspended. It was 8.30am, commuter time with 200-300 people on board. There was absolute carnage as carriages were flipped on their sides. At least 125 were injured, 55 seriously. It was snowing and freezing cold as passengers were trapped in the wreckage.

A few people apart from Barclays employees are unaffected by the recession, a couple from Gloucestershire, UK.  Justine Laycock and Nigel Page won 56 million pounds on the Euro Millions Lottery, they celebrated in true British style by eating a bacon bap (sandwich). He had forgotten to get her a valentineís card so the cheque had to do. Hmm different surnames? I bet she wishes sheíd married him now!! They become one of the 1000 richest people in Britain.

In an interesting survey, apparently 56% of Londoners believe rape victims are sometimes partly to blame. Of 1000 Londoners questioned, 28% also believed that those wearing revealing clothing should be held partly responsible. What the poll seems to suggest is that when you leave your house you must expect to be potentially raped and take the necessary precautions - otherwise itís partly your fault!

Finally in entertainment news, American superstar Lady Gaga won three Brit awards, and X-Factor runners-up and chart toppers JLS also won best new act and best single.  Could they be the next Beatles?

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British news from February 10, 2010

Posted by Bram Swinnerton at 9:43 on Feb 10 2010

The expenses scandal that has rocked the UK political world over the past few months is finally coming to a head. Three Labour politicians, Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine will face criminal charges over fraudulent expenses claims. To further deepen the wound however, the accused three intend to use a law dating back to 1688 in which they enjoy parliamentary privilege, effectively making them above the law. Weíll be watching closely to see if justice is done.
In yet another embarrassment for the UK government, a secret document about the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed accused of terrorism but later released has been made public. The British government tried to suppress it but failed. It shows that MI5 knew about the CIA torture of Binyam in Guantanamo.

Overall, trust in British politicians is at an all time low and all this in the run up to the general elections in June.   Time for change. Weíll see.

In sport, John Terry the English football captain has been sacked. The decision was made by the English manager after married John Terry had an affair with a teammateís ex-girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel and allegedly paid her £800 000 to keep quiet. Of course this story dominated the headline news in the UK shunting the fallout from the Haiti disaster, the war in Afghanistan and the economy to Ďotherí news.

Jailed for 4 years last week, senior ethnic minority police officer and Iranian born Ali Dizaei was accused of trying to frame an innocent man. Why the British media are so insistent on his ethnicity in this instance worries me. He has previously faced allegations of taking drugs, fiddling his expenses, abusing his police credit cards and fabricating evidence.  Once released perhaps a career as a politician would be more suited.

British soldiers face their biggest offensive yet in the Afghanistan southern Helmand province, weíre told the attacks are imminent. Once back in the UK, injured British soldiers can expect to receive up to double the previous compensation according to Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary.
In other news, a record number of people were declared insolvent last year in England and Wales, 134 000. The Bank of England announced that recovery from the recession is going to take a lot longer than expected.

In sport, the six nationís rugby is up and away with England beating Wales, France beating Scotland and Ireland beating Italy. Rugby, although not as popular as football in the UK has seen an increase in interest since England won the world cup in 2003.

In Europe, eurozone ministers are trying to save Greece from a financial meltdown. Fears over not being able to pay their national debts could destabilise the euro but France and Germany are expected to spearhead the bailout of Greece.

Lastly from the UK this week, 25% of the British public according to a BBC poll do not believe in climate change.

(100% wish it would!)

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