rascott.com                                                                                 news, views and an occasional blog...

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Note that each Jan/Feb link leads to the remaining AOB pages for that year. 12 years of diary keeping!

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There are many other links on my AOB blog page.


The Blowback From Delta CEO’s Open Skies Escalation

22 February 2015 The Associated Press

U.S. airlines have been sparring for several years with fast-growing Persian Gulf rivals that seem to be poaching passengers from the Americans. Now, a CEO’s comment that dragged 9/11 into the debate has escalated the fight.

The three largest U.S. airlines claim that three big Gulf carriers have received more than $40 billion in subsidies from their governments since 2004, making competition with them unfair because their costs are artificially low. The CEOs of American, United and Delta are asking federal officials to renegotiate or kill treaties that have allowed airlines from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to increase flights to the U.S.

American, United and Delta say that unless the treaties are changed, they will be forced to cut back or drop international routes.

State-owned Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways say that the U.S. airlines are merely blocking competition and protecting the high fares they charge on international flights. Some U.S. consumer groups agree.

The Gulf airlines also have also claimed that the U.S. airlines have gotten subsidies too. And that is where things got testy this week.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress approved $5 billion in cash aid and up to $10 billion in loan guarantees to help U.S. airlines survive a sharp drop in travel. The Gulf airlines contend that those payments, and benefits that major U.S. airlines received from bankruptcy protection, amounted to subsidies.

In response to those claims, Delta CEO Richard Anderson seemed to link the Gulf carriers and their nations to the 9/11 attacks, in which American Airlines and United Airlines jets were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington, killing nearly 3,000 people.

“It’s a great irony to have the United Arab Emirates from the Arabian peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian peninsula,” Anderson said on CNN.

On Thursday, Emirates charged that Anderson’s comments were “deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect. This brings into question his credibility.” Earlier, Emirates CEO Tim Clark had said Anderson “crossed the line” with the comments about 9/11, which “caused great offense in this part of the world.”

The United Arab Emirates is among the most prominent Arab members in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, and all three big Gulf carriers are major customers of U.S.-made Boeing jets — together, they have taken 176 Boeing jets and have another 544 on order.

Delta said that Anderson did not mean to link the Gulf airlines or their governments to the 9/11 attackers.

In a statement, Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said Anderson was only reacting to claims by the Gulf carriers that the post-9/11 payments and bankruptcy laws amounted to subsidies. “We apologize if anyone was offended,” she said.

The U.S. airlines have been complaining about the Gulf carriers for several years. They say unfair competition has reduced the share of traffic between the U.S. and the Indian subcontinent on U.S. and partner airlines while the Gulf carriers’ share has grown. They say the Gulf carriers are now targeting routes between the U.S. and Europe.

But the effort to reopen or repeal aviation treaties is opposed by some consumer groups, who say the agreements have boosted competition and lowered fares.

“The overall impression is that the big U.S. network airlines want to lock out independent airlines that offer lower fares, newer airplanes, faster connections, more destinations and better service,” said Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition.

American, Delta and United declined to make their CEOs available for interviews.

Thailand’s ineffective rule by force

21 February 2015 The Washington Post editorial

NINE MONTHS after staging a coup against a democratically elected government, Thailand’s military has little to show for it. The economy is stagnant, one of the worst performing in Asia. The national “reconciliation” the generals promised is nowhere to be seen: There are hundreds of political prisoners, and a criminal prosecution of ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is underway. Martial law remains in effect, making it illegal to hold any gathering without permission and crippling free expression.

Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha lamely protests that, unlike the military-backed regime of Egypt, his has not killed anyone. But given his reactionary plan to permanently hobble democracy, even that dubious distinction may not endure much longer.

The army is attempting to accomplish something it has failed at twice before: a political system that eliminates the influence of the Shinawatra family, which has won every election in Thailand since 2001. Thaksin Shinawatra, the family’s exiled leader, gained wide support among the rural poor with a populist program that infuriates the country’s traditional elite, including the military leadership.

Mr. Thaksin was guilty of authoritarian abuses while in office, and some of the policies he favored were ill-advised. But the ouster of three elected governments since 2006 has succeeded only in entrenching his support. Thai analysts believe that, if a free election were held now, Ms. Yingluck or another family nominee would win again.

Knowing that, Mr. Prayuth has delayed elections despite a promise that his regime would last only a year. But the generals have had trouble restoring relations with Thailand’s closest allies, including the United States, where a law mandated the shutdown of military aid and training programs after the coup. So during a visit to Tokyo this month, Mr. Prayuth pledged that an election would be held at the end of this year or in early 2016 — on the generals’ terms.

The military plan envisions a rewrite of Thailand’s constitution without a referendum to approve the result. The political system would be tilted, with reserved seats in parliament for the military and its supporters and tight controls on parties. The election itself would be held under martial law, making it impossible for parties or candidates to campaign freely.

The junta appears to hope it can return Thailand to the 1980s, when sham elections were followed by the installation of governments headed by generals. But Thailand has changed since then: An election held on the military’s plan could prompt Thais to take to the streets or turn to violence.

It should also be unacceptable to the United States. The Obama administration missed an important opportunity to use its leverage in Thailand when it went ahead with annual military exercises this month that are an important source of prestige for the generals. Its budget for next year proposes new military assistance for Thailand, though that should not be possible by law unless the country returns to democracy.

Mr. Prayuth should get the message that in the absence of meaningful steps, starting with the lifting of martial law, the Thai military will lose its relationship with the United States, including future exercises. If the Obama administration is unwilling to act, Congress should step in.

Thailand’s generals have failed: it is time that democracy, in spite of its problems, is restored

20 February 2015 The Guardian editorial

Thai political life after last year’s military takeover hovers somewhere between farce and tragedy. Farce, when the government had to hurriedly delete a scene showing a schoolboy painting a picture of Hitler in a film promoting prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “12 core values”, a list of duties and responsibilities vaguely reminiscent of Vichy France’s “travail, famille, patrie”.

Incompetence, sabotage, or what: who knows? It was farcical, too, when a prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who had already been forced out, was solemnly impeached by an assembly that did not have the power to impeach. Even if it had, nobody could explain how impeachment, a method of removing a leader from office, could apply to one who had already departed. But such constitutional illiteracy is an everyday phenomenon in the generals’ Thailand. Farce, again, but darker, when critics are “invited” to army installations for “attitude adjustment” sessions. Farce, shading into persecution, when opponents are tried in military courts with no right of appeal or forced to sign documents that allow the seizure of their assets if they engage in political activity, or pursued on corruption charges when similar allegations against the junta’s supporters are neglected.

The latest twist came on Thursday when the attorney general filed charges against Yingluck, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who turned Thai politics upside down a decade and a half ago. Thaksin, now in exile, tapped into the needs, aspirations and frustrations of the less well-off majority, particularly in the countryside, and did it in a way that has enabled him or his proxies to win every election in Thailand since. The Thai elite was both enraged and perplexed, and remains so. It felt his majority was somehow unfair, that he had bought his support, and indeed Thaksin was and is a populist bearing some resemblance to a figure like Silvio Berlusconi. Still, he had the votes. Subterfuge, legal legerdemain and, finally, military intervention have all failed to alter the situation: the Thaksin phenomenon won’t go away, and wouldn’t even if he himself were to pass from the scene.

As the Thai military and its civilian allies labour in vain to create a political system that looks respectable but in which the pro-Thaksin forces cannot win, there are signs that elements within the regime understand that some form of accommodation might be more realistic and more successful. Shadowy envoys flit back and forth between Bangkok and Dubai, where Thaksin lives. The charges against Yingluck may be part of a process involving both bargaining and threats.

The tragedy, as this drifts on, is that Thailand is wasting time it can ill afford. Its economy is faltering just when it most needs growth. Its society is unsettled as the difficult moment when the country has to cope with the succession to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87 and not well, comes closer. Its relative position in the region is slipping, as is its relationship with its long-time ally, the United States. The attempt to fix the country’s political future should be abandoned. A return to democratic rule is overdue.

Delta gets ugly in its fight with Emirates

18 February 2015

The CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc. does not like the big three Middle East airlines. But his latest foot in mouth offering was offensive. It was also deliberate. Dick Andesron blamed 9/11 terrorists “from the Arabian Peninsula” for his company’s bankruptcy bailout in 2005.

In doing so he linked the airlines and their governments with the 9/11 terrorists.

“I’m a little bit concerned that Mr. Anderson crossed the line in some of the statements he made with regard to what went on with regard to 9/11,” President Tim Clark of Dubai-based Emirates Airline told CNN on Wednesday. “And I know that has caused great offense in this part of the world, and I’m sure will be dealt with at the governmental and state level.”

Anderson told CNN on Monday that he saw a “great irony” in airlines from the Arabian Peninsula criticizing U.S. aid to domestic carriers after the 2001 attacks since many of the hijackers hailed from the region.

Strangely a Delta partner in Skyteam is Saudi Arabian Airlines. Onwed by the Saudi government.

The heart of this dispute is that American Airlines, United Airlines and Atlanta-based Delta, the world’s biggest carriers, say their gulf rivals get unfair government subsidies. The U.S. trio is urging federal officials to consider curbs on Qatar, Emirates and Etihad under the USA's “Open Skies” treaties for overseas flying.

It is also about protecting feeder traffic into their alliance partner airlines.

Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker scolded Anderson and reiterated the gulf airlines’ assertion that they aren’t subsidized. The Delta chief “should be ashamed to bring the issue of terrorism to try to cover his inefficiency in running an airline,” Al Baker said on CNN. “Mr. Anderson should be doing his job improving and competing with us instead of just crying wolf for his shortcomings in the way the airline is run.”

A longtime critic of gulf airlines’ business practices, Anderson and his U.S. peers stepped up their attacks recently by lobbying Obama administration officials to limit the carriers’ access to the U.S. They also compiled a 55-page document listing more than $40 billion in what they said were subsidies for the Middle East airlines.

This document does not appear to have been publicly released.

The Delta CEO rejected the idea that post-9/11 assistance amounted to a bailout and brought up the origins of the terrorists. “It’s a great irony to have the United Arab Emirates from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula that caused us to go through a massive restructuring,” said Anderson, 59.

Of the 19 hijackers aboard the four commandeered jets, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from the UAE and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. Qatar Airways is based in Doha, and Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi, which like Dubai is in the UAE. Etihad declined to comment on Anderson’s remarks this week.

Trying to calm the dispute Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said in a statement after Anderson spoke that the CEO was only reacting to claims about U.S. subsidies for airlines. “He didn’t mean to suggest the gulf carriers or their governments are linked to the 9/11 terrorists,” Talton said. “We apologize if anyone was offended.”

It is one of the most insincere apologies.

Clark said he was “bemused” by the attack by U.S. airlines, and he said Emirates will “continue to draw business to points that currently the American carriers don’t serve, have never served, and probably never will serve. So why would you deny us that?”

Clark is being disingenuous. He knows that he is flying passengers from the USA not to Dubai but to points beyond Dubai - mainly in South Asia. In doing so he competes with all of the airline alliances that feed passengers from USA to European carriers and on into South Asia, the Far East, Africa etc.

Anderson claimed Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways were “not airlines, they are governments”. He said that "We have spent two years analysing their financials and we have found evidence of their actual financial statements from other places in the world that provide documented evidence that can’t be refuted of tens of billions of dollars of direct government subsidies."

Let us see the accusations in full. Anderson is essentially calling certain EK executives liars. Since the launch of Emirates, EK have maintained that the Government of Dubai granted a once-off $10 million loan to EK as start-up capital - which has since been repaid in dividends many times over. So Delta; it is time to publish your alleged evidence.

Anderson added that “the Middle East carriers, the UAE and Qatar cannot deny huge government subsidies. They’re a violation of the WTO [World Trade Organization] definition of subsidy and they’re a violation of US open skies agreements."

Emirates Airline subsequently rejected the lukewarm apology from Delta. Rejecting Delta's defence that CEO Richard Anderson had not meant what he said, Dubai-based Emirates left no room for error.

"We believe that the statements made this week by Mr Anderson were deliberately crafted and delivered for specific effect," Emirates said in a strongly-worded statement on Thursday.

"This brings into question his credibility as a CEO of a US public listed company, as well as the integrity of the submission which his airline has submitted to the US authorities.”

This argument has a long way to run.

Purging the Shinawatra clan

12 February 2015

Thailand's top court has ordered another key member of the embattled Shinawatra family to face trial, an official said Wednesday, as the wealthy but wildly divisive clan become further snared in legal challenges. Somchai Wongsawat - brother-in-law of deposed premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra - must appear before the Supreme Court on May 11 to enter a plea on criminal charges of abuse of power over a crackdown on a 2008 protest, a court official told AFP. He was prime minister at the time, but lasted just 80 days before a court removed him from office. Somchai has been tipped for a possible comeback as leader of the battered Shinawatra-aligned Puea Thai party, which was swept aside by a coup last May shortly after Yingluck was toppled by another court decision

The Supreme Court has accepted a lawsuit filed by the National Anti-Corruption Commission against former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and three others over 2008’s crackdown on People's Alliance for Democracy protesters.

Of course the Court is not pursuing the Democrat led government for the killings of red shirt members, journalists and civilians at Ratchaprasong on 2010.

The court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions set the first hearing in the case against the ex-premier and Gen Chavalist Yongchaiyudh, the former deputy prime minister, Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwonk, the former police chief, and Pol Lt Gen Suchart Muankaew, the former metropolitan police chief, for May 11.

In the suit, the four are accused of being responsible for the crackdown on PAD protesters who blocked the entrance to parliament. Two people were killed and 471 injured in the government action.

The Junta is slowly strangling Pheu Thai's leadership.

William Shatner to beam into Dubai

11 February 2015

Canadian born actor William Shatner, who rose to fame playing Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series and 80s TV cop T. J. Hooker, has been announced as the big celebrity name set to appear at the annual Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) in April.

The three day event, celebrating pop culture from comics, film and television, will take place from April 9-11 at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Joining the 83-year-old Shatner will be Karl Urban, best known as Éomer in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the two most recent Star Trek movies, and Judge Dredd in Dredd, along with Flash Gordon star Sam J. Jones.

Music will also be provided by Thirty Seconds to Mars, which is fronted by Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto. The band will make their Dubai debut as part of MEFCC on April 10.

Come to think of it if you were looking for alien lifeforms then Dubai is a good place to start.

Anwar Ibrahim jailed again

10 February 2015

So the Malaysian judiciary has once again jailed Anwar Ibrahim for an alleged offence that quite likely did not take place, with the flimsiest of evidence and using an archaic law that seems only to be used for the prosecution and persecution of the leader of the political opposition..

His five year sentence will be sufficient to ensure that he cannot contest the 2018 election; and given that he is already 72 years old this may be the effective end of his frontline political career.

Ibrahim was the bright, young, ambitions deputy prime minister in Dr. Mahathir's government 20 years ago. He may have become too ambitious too quickly. Dr Mahathir ceased to be a mentor and became a very powerful enemy and has remained so.

In 2013, despite an electoral system that is rigged against the opposition, Anwar came closer than ever to overthrowing the UNMHO ruling party who have been in charge since 1957.

But for 17 years Anwar has been fighting allegations and charges that sort primarily to limit his political influence.

Timeline: Anwar Ibrahim case

1998: Anwar Ibrahim appears in court and pleads not guilty to sodomy and corruption charges.

2000: Anwar convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for sodomy.

2004: The sodomy verdict is overturned and Anwar is released from jail.

2008: Anwar fronts court and pleads not guilty to fresh accusations he sodomised a male aide.

2012: High Court acquits Anwar after judge ruled DNA evidence had been tampered with. The prosecutors file an appeal against the acquittal.

2014: The Court of Appeal overturns the acquittal a week before Anwar was to contest a state by-election he was expected to win.

2015: Anwar loses his final appeal against sodomy convictions and is sentenced to five years jail.

Just as a side note Malaysia’s criminal sodomy law, Section 377, was drawn from the Indian Penal Code of 1860 and imposed under British colonial rule. In 2009, India repealed its sodomy law. Malaysia has not done so.

Today's sentencing was a political calculation. Pro-Mahathir hardliners wanted Anwar buried as a political threat. Meabwhile the ruling party still trying to find somebody, anybody, anywhere, who believes this isn't politically motivated. Other than party loyalists they will not succeed.

Thailand’s generals should stand aside

8 February 2015 - The Financial TImes

In a year when there are elections in Myanmar, once the epitome of a tinpot dictatorship, it is ironic that neighbouring Thailand should now be more deserving of that description. No one can harbour illusions about the generals who seized power last May with the claim of restoring harmony to Thailand’s long-fractious political scene. It is now crystal clear, if it was not from the very outset, that the coup leaders are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his fellow military men have imposed a dictatorship only too willing to use the powers of the state to silence critics. True, his regime may not be killing people. But its attempts to quash the social forces unleashed more than a decade ago by the deeply flawed but still-popular Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister, are doomed to fail. Only a commitment to restore the country to representative government can begin to heal the deep social divisions that are eating away at Thailand’s body politic.

Sadly, this seems to be the last thing on the junta’s mind. Rather, the suspicion is it wants to stay in power long enough to oversee the delicate business of royal succession when King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ailing and 87, eventually dies. At the very least, it seeks to recast the rules such that politicians it considers irresponsibly populist can never be elected again. It is a vision of “managed democracy” that the harder-line generals in Myanmar would fully understand.

In a combative press conference, Gen Prayuth, head of the so-called National Council for Peace and Order, could not disguise his hatred of dissent. When one journalist asked about the detention of critics for “attitude adjustment”, he thundered back that it was inappropriate to challenge his “full power”. The journalist would be “summoned too if you keep asking questions like this”. If this is the junta’s public face, one hates to think what goes on in private.

The junta has also stepped up its war on Yingluck Shinawatra, former prime minister and sister of Mr Thaksin, a populist leader whose election in 2001 ended with a 2006 coup. The subsequent struggle between his supporters, many from the historically poorer northeast, and the urban elites and their allies triggered a political crisis still being played out.

The latest instalment came when the puppet parliament impeached Ms Yingluck and banned her from politics for five years. She faces up to a decade in prison for alleged criminal negligence over a rice subsidy scheme, which the junta says was a vote-buying ruse.

However wrong-headed the attempt artificially to prop up rice prices, the military government has dealt in anecdote and innuendo. So far, it has not proved the scheme was anything other than a policy it did not like. This looks like political vengeance, not the rule of law.

The government has support among the elite and business community who argue that it has restored stability. But stability built on repression is no stability at all. Western powers should now step up pressure on Thailand to hold elections as soon as possible. Daniel Russel, the top US official for east Asia, has made a start by delivering a sharp message to the junta. Thailand, he said, was losing credibility by not moving more quickly to end martial law.

The generals’ hopes to influence the course of future democratic exercises through fixing the rules are shabby and unworkable. The sooner they hand over power the better. Then it is for politicians to make their case — and for the people to decide.

Emirates' Clark strikes back in US open skies debate

7 February 2015 Flight Global

Emirates president Tim Clark has hit back at an effort by the three US mainline carriers to lobby the US government to roll back open skies with some Gulf nations, calling the airlines' allegations "sweeping and unfounded".

"I am surprised by reports that the three largest US carriers – each of which was a beneficiary of America’s unique Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganisation law - have presented a case against open skies access for some airlines including Emirates, based on claims of subsidies," says Clark in a statement to Flightglobal.

"As far as the airline industry is concerned, aeropolitical protection for airlines is arguably the biggest subsidy of all," he adds. "Therefore, it would be ironic, and a shame, if the US, who have been the forerunners of liberalisation and deregulation, would now contemplate a u-turn on its successful international aviation policies for the benefit of a narrow few, based on sweeping and unfounded subsidy allegations."

In late January, chief executives of Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines met with senior White House officials to persuade them to consider limiting the access of Gulf carriers to the USA. It is understood that the carriers are pushing the US government to review existing open skies deals with the countries of these Gulf airlines.

Delta says the three carriers have begun a discussion with the US government on "the impact of more than $40 billion of government subsidies and unfair benefits to state-owned Gulf airlines, specifically Emirates, Etihad and Qatar [Airways]".

In response to this, Clark says: "We are very interested to see how the figure of '$40 billion of government subsidies and benefits' was calculated. It is especially surprising because some of the complaining CEOs have publicly called for the US to emulate the pro-aviation growth policies of Dubai."

The three Gulf carriers have repeatedly denied charges that they benefit from state subsidies, and Clark reiterates this. "We have never received financial subsidies or bail-outs. We did receive start-up capital of $10 million in 1985 and a one-time infrastructure investment of $88 million for two Boeing 727 aircraft and a training building," he says.

"This investment has been more than repaid by dividend payments to the government of Dubai which total over $2.8 billion to date."

Etihad and Qatar Airways decline to comment on the move in Washington DC by the three US mainline carriers. The US Department of Transportation declines to comment on the meeting between the three US airline chief executives and secretary of transportation Anthony Foxx. The chief executives are also believed to have met with commerce secretary Penny Pritzker.

"For the United States government to be persuaded by a non-representative vocal minority that it should change course, particularly with regard to its Open Skies policy, makes absolutely no sense," says Clark.

The bid by the three US airlines for their government to reevaluate its open skies deals with certain Middle Eastern countries have attracted strong reactions. Mid-sized and smaller US airports that are not significantly dominated by a US mainline carrier have said that rolling back open skies could hurt new international service to the USA.

Delta, American and United have been backed in their efforts by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The union says it is in favour of open skies “provided that partner nations’ airlines compete on commercial merit and do not benefit from unfair economic advantages in the marketplace”.

Among other US carriers, New York-based JetBlue Airways and FedEx have spoken out in favour of retaining US open skies policies. JetBlue is a codeshare partner with all three Gulf carriers - Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

Southwest Airlines - the other major US carrier - has so far remained silent on the issue. US airline trade association Airlines For America has declined to comment, referring all questions to the three US mainline carriers.

Emirates operates to nine US cities non-stop from Dubai, and provides one-stop service to 60 other cities in the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.

Clark says these are destinations "currently not served by American carriers, except perhaps via their alliance partners where routings are often relatively convoluted or inconvenient".

"Head-to-head, there are virtually no competitive overlaps between Emirates’ network and those of the three complaining US carriers," he adds.

The Dubai-based carrier has transported more than 10.7 million passengers on its US flights, and Clark estimates that the carrier's US operations have contributed more than $2.8 billion annually for the airports in New York, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.



Dubai360 - opens the door but where are the people?

28 January 2015 www.dubai360.com

Last week while I was away in Thailand Dubai launched another of its big promotional projects - Dubai360 - an online interactive city tour. Maybe the first of its kind.

The website uses a combination of super high-resolution 360 degree panoramic photos, videos, maps and timelapses to give visitors a feel of what it’s like to stand on top of the tallest building in the world, float over The Palm Islands, take a ride on the Metro and sneak a peek inside some of the most luxurious hotels in the world.

Over 500,000 individual photographs were used for the project and it took a team of 30 designers, photographers and coders more than 18 months to complete with unprecedented access to the city’s landmarks.

It is good - but does it do enough?

Where are all the people? Where is the energy, life, work, play of the over 2 million people that live here?

Where are the thousands of workers that get their one day off a week and are playing cricket on makeshift pitches across the Emirate?

Where is the tour of the coffee shops of old Satwa?

Where are the folks that still build the old dhows?

Where are the mass of tour boats and their guests floating around the creek every night?

Where are the punters in the public areas at Meydan races?

Where are the often endless immigration queues at DXB airport?

It is soul-less. Another fine tribute to Dubai's bling; another fine tribute to modern architecture; another fine tribute to the remarkable pace of growth. But it is as though no one lives here.

So exactly who is the target audience? There are English and Arabic descriptions. But maybe there should also be Chinese and Russian as the source of signficant numbers to come to Dubai. and there are typos which always seems unforgivable in a high profile project.

The other catch is that with the pace of development in Dubai scenes can quickly become obsolete. The view off the roof of my tower in Business Bay is probably over a year old. The opear house is beginning to take shape as is the Dubai Mall extension.

It deserves a good look. And it needs a more detailed look from me. Part of my problem is that despite the fistfuls of dollars I pay to Du each month the timelapses still load very slowly.

Flights to Baghdad suspended after shooting

28 January 2015

Flights from the UAE to Baghdad have been suspended with immediate effect after a Flydubai aircraft was hit by small arms fire as it landed in the Iraqi capital.

The incident took place on Monday when the Dubai to Baghdad flight came in to land, Flydubai confirmed.

Emirates and Etihad said on Tuesday morning that all flights have been suspended due to “safety concerns”.

Local media reported that a sniper had fired on the aircraft on Monday night and that Baghdad Airport was shut down following the incident.

Local media reported that a child passenger had been injured but Flydubai said no passengers required medical attention.

Flydubai said bullet holes were discovered in the fuselage.

The statement said: “After landing at Baghdad International Airport (BGW) on 26 January 2015, damage to the aircraft fuselage consistent with small arms fire was discovered on Flydubai flight FZ 215.

“All the passengers disembarked normally through the jet bridge. No medical attention was required at the airport. Passengers from Baghdad to Dubai were accommodated on a replacement aircraft. An investigation is underway to establish what happened.”

An Emirates spokeswoman said: “Emirates can confirm that we are suspending our flights to and from Baghdad due to operational and safety concerns. This took effect from 26 January until further notice.

“Our services to other points in Iraq – Erbil and Basra continue to operate as scheduled. We remain committed to our customers in Iraq and hope to resume services to Baghdad as soon as operational conditions allow us to do so.

“Our customer service team is contacting affected customers to assist them with making alternative travel arrangements. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Customers can also check emirates.com for the latest flight status.”

Etihad said the decision had been taken following a ban by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority on Monday.

A statement on Etihad’s website said: “To comply with the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority ban on operation to and from Baghdad on security grounds, Etihad Airways has suspended all flights to the Iraqi city with immediate effect and until further notice.

“The safety of our customers and employees is always our first priority. We will continue to work closely with the authorities and monitor the security situation before recommencing scheduled services to Baghdad.”

Etihad said that cancellations and refunds are being offered.

Emirates continues to fly into Erbil and Basra.

Why the Greek result matters

27 January 2015 - The Economist

As one country after another on the periphery of the euro zone had to swallow painful reforms and fiscal austerity as the price for their bail-outs between 2010 and 2013, the surprise was that by and large they accepted the medicine without a large-scale populist revolt. But Sunday’s result in the Greek election marks a turning-point because Syriza, the radical-left party that has prevailed at the polls, campaigned on casting aside austerity, backtracking on the reforms and renegotiating the vast debt that Greece owes its European creditors. These policies are unacceptable to the euro-zone countries, especially Germany, that have lent Greece so much money. The outcome of the election could also have wider implications. Why does the Greek result matter?

A clash is impending because the Greeks see their recent history in a very different light from that of the Germans and other Europeans who have bailed them out. From the perspective of Northern creditor nations, Greece was the architect of its own misfortune by mismanaging its public finances on a staggering scale. It has been lent an astonishing amount of money in not just one but two bail-outs, amounting to €246 billion ($275 billion), worth more than the country’s entire economic output. From a Greek perspective, however, the country has suffered a calamitous decline in GDP, which at its low in late 2013 was 27% down on its pre-crisis peak. Harsh spending cuts and tax rises have been imposed again and again as conditions for further economic support. Greeks feel that they have lost control of their country, which is now instead being directed by the hated troika: the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank.

Syriza won on Sunday because Alexis Tsipras, the party's leader, offered a message of hope to a country still in despair, even though the economy is now recovering. But the difficulty with his plan for Greece is that it requires other Europeans to finance it—or to countenance a reversal of reforms they regard as vital for Greece to cope with euro-zone membership. If Mr Tsipras makes good on promises of higher spending and lower taxes then Greece will fail to meet its objective of running a big primary budget surplus (ie, before interest payments), which would make it far harder to get its debt down from 175% of GDP. And if he reverses reforms such as the ones that have brought down wages, then Greece will head back towards the uncompetitive economic mess that, along with budgetary mismanagement, got it into trouble in the first place.

In the negotiations that will now occur between Mr Tsipras and Greece’s creditors, Germany will give little ground. Angela Merkel, too, must pay attention to domestic opinion, which would be hostile to any concessions. The German chancellor also has to reckon with the wider impact of any deal that appeared to reward Syriza in emboldening populist revolts in other countries in the euro area, notably in Spain. For any country to leave the euro will be destabilising because it would break the supposed irrevocability of membership. But if Mr Tsipras were to get his way then the euro area would become a club where borrowers rather than lenders called the shots, which would be unsustainable. That is why Mr Tsipras will, before long, face a difficult choice between backing down on his demands—or presiding over a ruinous Greek exit.

The Royal Road to Ruin

26 January 2015 The Economist

In Thailand, strict lèse-majesté laws pose the gravest threat to free expression

Although lèse-majesté laws remain on the books in many constitutional monarchies, prosecutions are rare. Thailand is an exception: it enforces them far more assiduously than any other country since Japan canned rules protecting its emperor after the second world war. Anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" the King, his heir, the Queen or a regent risks between three and 15 years in jail. For decades, the number of cases averaged around ten a year, but since 2004, they have soared to several hundred each year, as friction between Thailand's populist governments and its traditional ruling establishment has erupted into conflict.

Lèse-majesté complaints are a common way of harassing political rivals. A surge of new cases followed last May's military coup. Anyone can report an offence, and it is not only speech that breaks the rules. In 2011 a 61-year-old received a 20-year sentence for sending four offensive text messages; he denied the charges and died in prison the following year. People who fail to stand for the royal anthem, still played before most film screenings, or deface banknotes, which bear the King's image, have fallen foul of the law. In December complaints of lèse-majesté were made against a woman who wore black clothes on the eve of the King's birthday. In 2008 a series of charges against the BBC included the complaint that its website had allowed the King's image to appear below that of a politician.

Foreigners who break the lèse-majesté law are often swiftly deported, but in recent years more of them have served jail terms. In 2007 Oliver Jufer, a Swiss national, received a ten-year sentence for defacing pictures of the King while drunk (he was pardoned after a month). Shortly afterwards an Australian, Harry Nicolaides, spent more than a year behind bars because one paragraph in a self-published novel contained an unflattering description of the crown prince. In 2012 Joe Gordon, a Thai American, spent seven months in prison for translating excerpts of "The King Never Smiles", an English-language biography of the King that is banned in Thailand.

In 2005 King Bhumibol warned supporters that over-zealous implementation of lèse-majesté laws could create problems for the monarchy. The palace regularly issues pardons, particularly if cases are well-publicised and miscreants apologetic, but the volume of prosecutions is moving upwards, all the same. Hard-liners argue that criticism of lèse-majesté laws is itself a crime, which is one reason the plague is so difficult to stop. And cases are poorly covered in the media, for fear of repeating the offence.

In theory the death of King Bhumibol, who is 87 years old, could provide a window for reform. It is more likely that fears about the monarchy's future will prompt the courts to crack down even harder.

Yingluck's farcical impeachment; and now, criminal charges

24 January 2015

Thai authorities have banned former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office for five years and launched a legal case that could see her jailed for up to ten years.  The impeachment sends a strong signal that there will be no compromise and her family will be removed from politics.

An army-appointed - national legislative assembly - impeached her over corruption in a scheme she oversaw to subsidise rice farmers.

The impeachment process was more show trial than legal proceeding: All the members of the assembly were handpicked by the junta, and the military cannot explain how someone who is no longer in power could be impeached. So they applied the penalty retroactively.

For the NCPO this is something of a public relations disaster. They have promised national reconciliation. But Yingluck had to be found guilty to appease the Democrats and the Suthep led PRDC. The last thing the junta leader needed was a coup to remove a coup. How he must wish that Yingluck had simply taken flight and left Thailand.

In this analysis it suggests that the biggest loser from this impeachment process is in fact General Prauth - he simply looks like a pawn of the elite - like General Sonthi back in 2006. The decision may also discredit General Prawit who appears to have been seeking a deal with Thaksin Shinawatra. No deal is possible now.

For the members of the Bangkok establishment who last year led the takeover of government buildings and called for a hiatus of democracy, Friday presented them with a moment of jubilation.

Akanat Promphan, a leader of last year’s protests, hailed the “bravery” of the junta’s assembly and said the vote would “set the standard of morality of Thai politicians in the future.”

Bravery? What else were they to do.

But for Ms. Yingluck’s supporters, a political movement that has won every election since 2001, this was confirmation that the military was out to destroy their movement and side with the Bangkok establishment accustomed to calling the shots.

“We are fighting on a battlefield owned by dictators,” said Reungkrai Leekitwattana, a member of Ms. Yingluck’s party, on a satellite television channel sympathetic to the movement.
The members of the assembly who impeached Ms. Yingluck “are not the representatives of the people,” he said.

The power struggle in Thailand has always been more complicated than rich versus poor or democrats versus autocrats. But the threat of imprisonment could turn Yingluck into the most unlikely martyr and a symbol of democratic struggle rather than simply another elite caught up in Thailand's power struggle.

Economists considered the rice program wasteful, and the program infuriated members of the Bangkok establishment, who resented that their taxes were being transferred to farmers.
The anger over the policy exemplified the difference in priorities between the urban establishment and Ms. Yingluck’s iconoclastic, rural-based political movement.

Ms. Yingluck has defended the rice subsidy program as assistance for the poor. “Many governments have public policies to help farmers,” she said in testimony at the impeachment hearings. “It’s the government’s duty to look after them.”

The point of the program, she said, was “reducing the gap between the rich and the poor, reducing social disparity.” The rice subsidies, which caused the government to borrow heavily, benefited the rural constituencies that form the core support of Ms. Yingluck’s party.

Shortly after her impeachment, Ms Yingluck was due to hold a news conference at a Bangkok hotel. But troops arrived and prevented her from speaking.

Thailand is still under martial law and unauthorised political meetings are banned.

Ms Yingluck has since posted a statement (in Thai) on her Facebook page accusing the authorities of trying to destroy her.

"Democracy has died in Thailand today, along with the rule of law," she said.

Those advocating impeachment argued that it had nothing to do with politics or reconciliation. They argue that it should be understood purely as a response to corruption in the Yingluck government's rice support scheme.

But no-one has yet been tried or convicted of corruption in relation to the scheme. It was expensive, it was mismanaged, some people no doubt took advantage. But what exactly was Yingluck guilty of beyond trusting her ministers to do their job. History is riddled with governments using financial schemes and differential taxation to gain the support of an electorate.

The best summary is from Jonathan Head at the BBC who simply noted that: "this was not about corruption, or the rule of law. It was the culmination of eight months of lobbying by hard-line opponents of the Shinawatra family, who want them purged from politics, and eight months of hesitation by military rulers who had some hopes of being seen as saviours, delivering the nation from political turmoil."

Ms Yingluck faces the same fate as her brother - jail or exile. To her credit and to the Junta's dismay it looks like she will stay in Thailand and fight. That can only galvanise her supporters.

The Guardian view on Saudi Arabia after King Abdullah’s death

24 January 2015 The Guardian

The House of Saud is one of the biggest and most successful family businesses in the world and, as in any business, much depends on the CEO. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was a skilful manager of his awkward country after he took over as effective regent in 1995, when King Fahd was disabled by a stroke.

He was adept at steering the contentious princely clan at the top of the Saudi system, many of whose members have less access to privilege and power than the stereotypes suggest. He was good, if slow, at accommodating the growing class of educated commoners whose allegiance, and satisfaction, are vital if Saudi Arabia is to become a modern industrial economy. He was successful in defeating a major internal Islamist threat in the shape of al-Qaida. He also took action, belatedly and still far from completely, on the export of Wahhabi extremism and the funding of Islamist movements abroad by Saudi individuals and groups, the worst aspect of the dangerous double life long led by the Saudi state. He moved just a little, but still perceptibly, on political matters, widening consultation slightly and introducing elections to municipal councils. He was, in other words, not a bad man, and his reign illustrates the argument that parts of the princely elite are more liberal, in a very broad sense of that word, than much of the rest of Saudi society and than its religious establishment.

The proof of this good management came with the Arab spring, when many saw Saudi Arabia as ripe for the kind of change that at that time seemed to presage a new democratic future for many countries in the region. But the country weathered the storm with surprising ease, indeed emerging to become an arbiter in the internal conflicts that followed in the nations where regime change had taken place. The wisdom of that foreign policy, whether in Syria, Egypt, or Libya, is very debatable, but it is nevertheless the expression of a relatively strong state.

Yet at the end of Abdullah’s reign Saudi Arabia is still a country where terrible and deplorable things happen. It is a country where a young man can be sentenced to repeated floggings because he put forward moderately worded arguments on freedom of thought. It is a country where women cannot drive a car, a country without a single non-Muslim place of worship, even though many who work there are Christians or Hindus, and a country where corruption, grand and petty, remains a serious problem. It is, finally, still a country a long way from dealing with the contradictions that will undoubtedly undermine its ambitions if they are not at least partly resolved. Saudi Arabia cannot be the economic powerhouse it wants to be without enfranchising its educated professionals, on the way to fuller political participation for all. It cannot flourish, given its demographics, without meeting the aspirations of its youth and without allowing the half of the population that is female the right to work, among other rights, if they wish to do so. And it cannot be a state open to the world, which its large expatriate community at home and the large number of its students and businessmen abroad dictate it should be, if it continues to act as if everything foreign is in some way toxic.

The new ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, is thought to be in bad health. Both he and his crown prince, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, are old. Although age has never been a disqualification in this long-lived family, the name that may turn out to matter more is that of Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Young by Saudi standards, he is a nephew of Abdullah and the first of the grandsons and great-nephews of Ibn Saud to have an opportunity to rule.

Whatever the exact dynastic sequence turns out to be, the Saudi royal family has work to do. Their nation was founded on two enormous pieces of luck. The first was that the British chose to look the other way as Ibn Saud rounded out his kingdom in the 1920s. The second was oil, swiftly parlayed into an alliance with the United States that has endured ever since. But the oil revenues are no longer enough to sustain a state that has historically contained its problems by throwing money at them. Saudi Arabia needs to move down the new path that King Abdullah very tentatively explored both more swiftly and more surely than in the past.

Too sick to work?

16 January 2015

I am too sick to work...so come in and prove it. And then you will get a sick certificate. That is the new rule for cabin crew at my wife's employer.

An organisation that does not trust its staff to behave like adults is on a slippery downward path...the trouble is that there have always been a few crew at Emirates who will call sick because they want an extra day off or dot feel like a 3am turn to Hyderabad. They know that there are reserve crew who can fly in their place so they abuse the system. And then everyone suffers.

A note on PPRUNE said that "Over 400 cc called in sick today. Cc were called out on days off to cover. Pandamonium!" (sic)

A Swiss forex shocker

15 January 2015

The Swiss National Bank lobbed a bombshell into the global currency markets as it gave up defending the Swiss franc against investors desperate for a safe haven against the eurozone debt crisis.

It ditched its three-year-old cap of Swfr1.20 against the euro, imposed to stave off the invasion of cash-seeking protection from turbulent markets.

Within seconds, the "Swissie" soared nearly 30 per cent against the single currency with one investor describing the move as "like detonating a stick of dynamite in a dam".

The pound also plunged, along with all other major currencies.

Steve Woodcock, head of trading at TradeNext, said: "It’s the biggest move I’ve seen in a 30-year career as a trader."

Some analysts speculated that the sudden U-turn in Switzerland’s previous policy meant the SNB had got wind of an even bigger blast of quantitative easing money printing from the European Central Bank than was expected next week.

Only on Monday, the SNB’s vice chairman, Jean-Pierre Danthine, said the cap would remain the cornerstone of Swiss monetary policy.

But the growing crisis in the eurozone meant the flood of cash kept on coming, making it evermore difficult to sustain the cap.

Last month, the SNB was forced to take further measures to defend itself by imposing negative interest rates, effectively meaning investors had to pay to lodge cash in the country.

In an effort to soften the impact of removing the currency cap today, the SNB slashed interest rates even further, by half a percentage point to minus 0.75 per cent.

The SNB said that linking the Swiss franc to the euro meant the currency had fallen dangerously far against the dollar.

"In these circumstances the SNB concluded that enforcing and maintaining the minimum exchange rate for the Swiss franc against the euro is no longer justified," it explained.

Simon Smith, chief economist at currency dealer FxPro, said: "The Swiss central bank has decided this is a battle it can’t win given the ECB is likely to do QE next week or at least in March."

He added that “pressure had been building” on the currency cap due to the swissie’s traditional status as a safe haven.

"But at this point in time, the SNB has broken a dam wall and the waters have flooded out."

Foreign exchange expert Gain Capital’s research director, Kathleen Brooks, added: "If the SNB is so spooked it is disbanding with a policy that it has held dear since 2011, then the rest of the market may want to reconsider their expectations for next week’s ECB meeting."

The Euro is now under serious pressure.

How bad was it - well this is the 16 January announcement from UK forex broker Alpari:

"The recent move on the Swiss franc caused by the Swiss National Bank’s unexpected policy reversal of capping the Swiss franc against the euro has resulted in exceptional volatility and extreme lack of liquidity. This has resulted in the majority of clients sustaining losses which has exceeded their account equity. Where a client cannot cover this loss, it is passed on to us. This has forced Alpari (UK) Limited to confirm today, 16/01/15, that it has entered into insolvency. Retail client funds continue to be segregated in accordance with FCA rules. - See more at: http://www.alpari.co.uk/client-updates/notifications/posts/2015/january/important-announcement#sthash.u9m1x4Iv.dpuf"

Presence at Paris rally of leaders with poor free press records is condemned

12 January 2015 Reporters Without Borders singles out the leaders of Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates - The Guardian

Press freedom campaigners condemned the presence of world leaders attending the unity rally in Paris on Sunday who have poor records on human rights and the free press in their home countries.

Reporters Without Borders singled out leaders from Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as being responsible for particularly harsh environments for journalists. These countries rank respectively 159th, 154th, 148th, 121st and 118th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom in a league table compiled by the group.

“We should show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting the world’s other ‘Charlies’,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the campaign group. “It would be intolerable [if] representatives from countries that reduce their journalists to silence profit from this emotional outpouring to … improve their international image … We should not allow the predators of the press to spit on the graves of Charlie Hebdo.”

About 40 world leaders gathered in Paris to take part in the massive rally. France’s president, François Hollande, the British prime minister, David Cameron and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, walked arm in arm with other leaders at the start of the march.

Also invited were the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Sheikh Abdallah ben Zayed al-Nahyan of the UAE and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Russia and Algeria: Sameh Choukry, Sergei Lavrov, and Ramtane Lamamra.

Nearly 70 journalists are being prosecuted in Turkey for referring to corruption allegations against close associates of the former prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now the president.

In Egypt 16 journalists, including three from al-Jazeera, are in jail. The al-Jazeera journalists have been held since December 2013 for “spreading false news” and “membership of a terrorist organisation”.

The al-Jazeera journalists include Peter Greste, formerly of the BBC, who has lodged paperwork with the Egyptian government seeking his own deportation. But his release from prison could be weeks or months away, as the new presidential power to deport foreign prisoners is tested for the first time.

A member of Greste’s Australian legal team said the jailed journalist’s application was “among the first” to petition the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, for deportation.

Several Russian journalists have been imprisoned, often in Siberia, and two NGOs that support the media have been added to an official list of “foreign agents”, a term used to stigmatise bodies that receive foreign funding and are suspected of “political activity”. In December, 20 activists including Masha Alyokhina from Pussy Riot were arrested in Moscow, after staging an all-night protest against the conviction of Alexei Navalny, a critic of the Kremlin, and his brother Oleg.

Algeria bans marches and public protests, prompting the Algérie-Focus website to say: “Marches and public protests are banned in Algeria, but Algerian ministers have the right to march in the streets of … Paris!”

As an addendum the world leaders did not so much lead the parade as conduct their own photo-op at some distance from the parade - pseudo-solidarity said one smart commentator. See more details in this Independent article.

Beaucoup de chefs de gouvernement mondiaux ne sont pas Charlie

9 January 2015

It is the first time since the Libération of Paris in 1944 that so many people have taken to the streets of Paris, and the first time so many world leaders have congregated in one place in what is essentially a show of solidarity and condolence with France. The massed crowds were wonderful. The leaders less so.

On a political and diplomatic level, is was certainly unusual: there were around 60 presidents, prime ministers, world leaders, statesmen and women travelling by bus from the Elysée palace to the 11th arrondissement of Paris.

To put this into perspective, last year, to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a total of 19 world leaders went to Normandy.

On a human level, it was a massive outpouring of national grief, solidarity and defiance. People turned out en masse not only to show their respect for the 17 victims of the three terrorist attacks last week, but their support for the values of the Republique “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

A huge area of Paris was in lock down with possibly a million people gathered in Place de la Republique and Place de la Nation and along the 3 km march route.

There were marches and vigils in most French cities and also across Europe.

Yet these 60 world leaders hijacked today's unity march. There message of unity reeked of hypocricy.

There was one nation notably absent - the USA: President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Sec. of State John Kerry. Actually that is no bad thing. The USA tends to take over these events; their security requirements are simply massive - too much for this rally at such short notice and actually, not everything resolves around the USA.

But just why were so many leaders where there other than for their own political capital - this was an event for the people, Not an event for certain leaders to be seen to be attending. And the very idea that some of these leaders have any belief in or acceptance of press and personal freedoms as defined in three wonderful words by the French is basically risible.

So who was there:

French president François Hollande
German chancellor Angela Merkel
British prime minister David Cameron
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy
Romanian president Klaus Iohannis
European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker
European parliament president Martin Schulz
EU president Donald Tusk
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg
Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz
Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras
Irish prime minister Enda Kenny
Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho
Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka
Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico
Latvian prime minister Laimdota Straujuma
Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán
Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović
Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel
Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat
Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven
Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko
Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga
Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama
Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg
Georgian prime minister Irakli Garibashvili
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov
Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz


USA's Ambassador to France
Canadian public safety minister Steven Blaney


Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman
Jordanian King Abdullah II and Queen Rania
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas
United Arab Emirates foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan
Qatari Sheikh Mohammed Ben Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani
Bahrain foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and prince Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Khalifa


Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
Gabonese president Ali Bongo
Niger president Mahamadou Issoufou
Benin president Thomas Boni Yayi
Tunisian prime minister Mehdi Jomaa
Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra

You cannot count the number but it was estimated that one million Parisiens took to the streets to claim their right to liberty, fraternity and equality.

But let's talk about press freedoms in some of the countries whose leaders attended the Paris rally today...

The notes are from the US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013

Apparently the Saudi Arabian ambassador to France was in attendance representing a state that is giving blogger Raif Badawi 1000 lashes?

Marching right next to Francois Hollande: Ali Bongo of Gabon, who recently "suspended" 3 newspapers. 1 for satire.

In the United Arab Emirates "the law prohibits criticism of rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest..."

In Turkey "the penal code and antiterror law contain multiple articles that restrict freedom of the press."

In Tunisia "speech considered offensive to local sensibilities continued to be treated as criminal."

In Russia In 2013 "the government instituted several laws that restrict freedom of speech."

In Niger in February 2013 "police beat journalists covering protests by a teachers’ trade union...Authorities took no...action."

In Mali  "the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted press freedom."

In Jordan "the law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the gov..."

In Israel "news printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship."

In Georgia in 2013 "there were credible reports that the government at times did not adequately protect freedom of speech."

In Gabon the "government suspended several newspapers & TV stations during the year for disrupting public order or libel."

In the Ukraine the "government did not uniformly respect the rights of freedom of speech & press provided by the constitution and law."

In Croatia "the law provides for no less than six months’ and no more than five years’ imprisonment for hate speech."

In Bulgaria "the penal code provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for incitement to 'hate speech.'

In Benin "the government occasionally inhibited freedom of the press."

In Algeria "Individuals were not able to criticize the government publicly."

And even in France there are restrictions on "offending the dignity of the republic”... include "insulting" anyone who serves the public. In addition it is an offense to insult the national flag or anthem, with a penalty of a maximum 9,000 euro or up to 6 months' imprisonment.

Beaucoup de chefs de gouvernement mondiaux ne sont pas Charlie

Charlie Hebdo: Don’t blame this bloodshed on France’s Muslims

8 January 2015 Nabila Ramdani in The Guardian

Those of us trying to make sense of the Charlie Hebdo massacre need to understand the bloody history of my home city, Paris. That four hugely popular cartoonists were considered legitimate targets by murderers said to have been living within a few miles of the Louvre and other global symbols of liberal Gallic civilisation doesn’t seem possible: donnish satirists are not meant to be gunned down in quaint Paris arrondissements any more than municipal policemen used to dealing with traffic and tourists.

Sadly, the French capital has been associated with some of the worst barbarism in human history.

The Terror started by the 1789 Revolution led to tens of thousands of deaths, with many of its victims guillotined in front of vengeful crowds. Savage mass murders continued on squares and boulevards throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Commune and two world wars, the second of which saw tens of thousands of Jews persecuted before being sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Postwar, many of the Gestapo-trained gendarmes involved in the those atrocities showed a fresh brutality to Algerians displaced by their own nation’s fight for independence from France.

The three French-Algerian men believed responsible for the 12 deaths in Paris on Wednesday would have been steeped in a recent history of this conflict which, in the 1960s, was exported from the battlefields of Algeria to Paris itself. During one notorious atrocity in 1961, up to 200 Algerians were slaughtered around national monuments, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral. Many were tossed into the Seine from some of the most beautiful bridges in the world and left to drown.

Half a century on, the violence has subsided but there is still a strong sense of resentment among alienated communities living in housing estates on the outskirts of the capital. Many are Muslims of north African origin who complain that discrimination against them extends to every field of life, from housing and employment to the right to religious expression. This is particularly so as politicians of the left and right regularly blame Islam for these social problems, which in fact have nothing to do with spiritual faith.

Anti-religious hate speech has thus become all too prevalent in modern France, as it is manipulated for political purposes. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, is a convicted racist and antisemite, and his daughter, Marine Le Pen, the party’s current leader, regularly stigmatises Muslims and other minority groups.

Immigration policy underpins all of this discourse. Manuel Valls, the reactionary Socialist prime minister, infamously portrayed Roma gypsies as a group who cannot integrate and who should be deported back to Romania and Bulgaria, despite being EU citizens. This was followed by a number of violent attacks on Roma, while a right-wing mayor blocked the burial of a Roma baby in a municipal cemetery last week.

There is no doubt that Charlie Hebdo’s notorious cartoons satirising the prophet Muhammad saddened and angered Muslims in equal measure. When the magazine published a cover with a bearded and turbaned cartoon figure of the prophet saying “100 lashes if you’re not dying of laughter” in 2011, their offices were firebombed.

Other images and articles were also vindictive, including some about the other major monotheistic religions, Christianity and Judaism, but it was Islam that the Hebdo team always really had in its sights. Its murdered editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, regularly expressed his disdain for this religion. Such prejudice was in fact condemned by the White House in September 2012, when a spokesman for President Obama questioned the judgment of Charlie Hebdo for publishing “images that will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory”. Richard Prasquier, head of France’s Jewish council, also said he disapproved of the caricatures because they constituted a “form of irresponsible panache”.

The climate of intolerance across France may well have been something Charlie Hebdo was reflecting, rather than creating, but strict laws banning hate literature would certainly have made many of its past issues unpublishable in countries including the UK. Comparisons between Private Eye, the British satirical weekly, and Charlie Hebdo have been made recently, but actually they are wrong: the self-styled “nasty” French magazine produces a far darker form of satire.

The sacred point, however, is that none of this in any way justifies violence, let alone the horrific slaughter this week. The vast majority of French Algerians and, indeed, Muslims across the world, were shocked and appalled by the murders, with a spokesman for the French Council of the Muslim Faith speaking of a “barbaric act against humanity, democracy and freedom of the press”.

Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque in Drancy – scene of those Holocaust deportations during the Nazi occupation – spoke up for many when he said of the killers: “They have sold their souls to hell. This is not freedom. This is not Islam and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this.”

Two of the dead – Ahmed Merabet, a police officer, and Mustapha Ourad, who was working in the Charlie Hebdo office – were themselves Muslim. Many fellow Muslims were among the crowds that poured on to the streets on Wednesday night in a show of solidarity for the Charlie Hebdo victims, rallying behind President Hollande’s call for national unity.

Despite all this, the seemingly inevitable backlash has begun, with mosques being targeted. Blank grenades were thrown at one in Le Mans on Wednesday night, with bullet holes also found in its windows. Shots were fired at a Muslim prayer hall near Narbonne, in the south of France, while an explosion close to a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saône was described by a local prosecutor as a “criminal act”.

As the history of Paris shows, extreme violence often inspires further violence. The bloody cycle continues, just as it has always done. But attributing its causes to millions of law-abiding French Muslims is as cynical as trying to blame it on a small group of artists and writers.

French Humor, Turned Into Tragedy

The Attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Tradition of Parisian Wit

8 January 2015 from the New York Times

In September 2012, the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, defying the advice of the French government, published several lewd caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

I was in Tunis that week. There were tanks and soldiers outside the mosques, and graffiti in English, French and Spanish calling for revolution, declaring war on the West and all those who hated Islam. A few days earlier the United States Embassy in Tunis had been attacked, and the American School burned down. And shortly before that, the American ambassador to Libya had been murdered by a jihadist militia.

I spent a tense half-hour on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, trying in vain, as a lone and very visible European, to hail a taxi before the curfew took effect. I cursed Charlie Hebdo for its willful and unnecessary provocations over the years: In 2006, the newspaper reprinted cartoons mocking Muhammad that had first appeared in a Danish newspaper, and in 2011, its offices were firebombed after it published a spoof issue, “Charia Hebdo,” a play on the word for Shariah law.

But, like everyone else in Paris, where I live, I was shocked to the core when I heard about the killings of 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a 20-minute walk from my own office, on Wednesday morning.

I first became aware that something was wrong when I noticed heavily armed police officers and soldiers at every corner and cars being towed by military vehicles. I stopped for coffee on the Rue de Grenelle and everybody was talking at once and staring at the TV as it showed footage of the massacre, in which two police officers were killed, as well as the magazine’s editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, and several cartoonists.

“This is just another stage,” the guy next to me said.

“Another stage in what?” I said.

“The war against the Arabs,” he replied.

It has to be said that Charlie Hebdo is an unlikely victim of such unjustified violence. For most Parisians these days, the magazine is a quaint relic of the ’60s and ’70s that has long since lost its power to shock. Only the day before the killings, I had noticed on a newsstand a recent front cover of the magazine that showed a goofy-looking Virgin Mary giving birth to an even goofier-looking Christ. I shrugged and walked on, reflecting on how few people read the magazine these days, how it had only just begun to overcome its money troubles, and what a museum piece it had become.

To some extent, this was reflected in the ages of two prominent figures who were killed: the brilliant and much-loved cartoonists Jean Cabut (or Cabu) and Georges Wolinski were, respectively, 76 and 80. Most important, they belonged to the generation of May 1968 — the generation that had revolted against the heavy hand of Charles de Gaulle’s paternalism with a belief in unlimited liberty, unrestrained sexual behavior, drug taking and, above all, the freedom to mock all forms of moral and religious authority.

Charlie Hebdo’s relentless pursuit of provocation — or “la provoc” in slangy French — belongs to a very Parisian tradition. It dates to before the French Revolution, when it was termed “L’esprit frondeur,” or “slingshot wit.” (A “fronde” was a catapult used to hurl stones at the king in times of insurrection.)

What also made Charlie Hebdo, founded in 1970, so French was a militant, aggressive secularism. This again is an old tradition in French culture — historically, a way of policing the power of the Catholic Church. May ’68 was also the revolt of the young against the old, and anti-religious satire a key part of that revolt.

But in contemporary France, the young rebels of ’68 have long since become the cultural establishment, even if they still espouse the leftist and libertarian ideals of their younger days. Charlie Hebdo, for all its vaunted anarchism, has been a member of the establishment for a very long time.

Or at least this is how the magazine is viewed out in the banlieues — the enormous and often wretched suburbs that surround all major French cities and that are home to a huge immigrant population, mainly from former French colonies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. What is seen in the center of Paris as tweaking the nose of authority — religious or political — is seen out in the banlieues as the arrogance of those in power who can mock what they like, including deeply held religious beliefs, perhaps the only part of personal identity that has not been crushed or assimilated into mainstream French society.

What was gunned down on Wednesday in Paris was a generation that believed foremost in the freedom to say what you like to whomever you like. Parisians pride themselves on what they call “gouaille,” a kind of cheeky wit, based on free thinking and a love of provocation, that always stands in opposition to authority.

The awful killings are the direct opposite of all that: the merciless massacre of the Parisian mind.

Andrew Hussey is a professor of cultural history and dean of the University of London’s Institute in Paris. He is the author, most recently, of “The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and Its Arabs.”

Trying to make sense of the Paris murders

8 July 2015

Dave Pope's pointed cartoon sent with the following twitter message: "Can't sleep tonight, thoughts with my French cartooning colleagues, their families and loved ones "

Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, was attacked by gunmen yesterday, with 12 people killed. Editor Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier and prominent cartoonists Jean “Cabu” Cabut, Georges Wolinski and Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac were among those confirmed dead.

These were well known cartoonists; household names in France; celebrated for their art in a country that embraces anarchy and that celebrates their liberty, democracy and equality with a very active, diverse and politically engaged media.

Mustapha Ourrad, a Charlie Hebdo copy editor of Algerian descent who was among the victims. He is a Muslim.

Attending a weekly editorial meeting they were shot at point blank range by two heavily-armed, trained attackers working to a clear plan. The killers carried out their lethal mission with military precision. They sought out the cartoonists by name before executing them and turning their guns on the others.

Then as the attackers left they shot and wounded a policeman who raising his hands and pleading not to be shot they then executed with a close range shot. All captured on security cameras.

It was a sophisticated attack by well trained killers suggesting that they had powerful backers. The killers are still at large.

Charlie Hebdo was first established in 1970 following the state censorship of its staunchly anti-establishment predecessor Hara-Kiri magazine, which was banned after appearing to mock the death of former president Charles de Gaulle.

The left-wing magazine publishes weekly and came to international prominence in 2011 after its offices were fire-bombed and it had its website hacked.

It frequently pokes fun at the extreme right-wing and at all religions. Its depiction of the prophet Mohamed was the reason behind the 2011 attack.

The following year, its publication of another series of lewd cartoons depicting Mohamed prompted the French government to close embassies and schools in 20 countries.

Following that controversy, late editor Charbonnier told the news channel iTELE: “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.”

All satire is intended to be provocative. Charlie Hebdo's cartoons regularly targeted Islam. Depicting the prophet Muhammed is But that is no excuse for yesterday's murders. But it does explain why Charlie Hedbo was targeted.

For all the tub-thumping the reality us that this was death delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades.

It would be easy to suggest that the murders are the result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies. Or they are due to French military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East, or the American invasion of Iraq before that. T

And nor can they be understood and accepted as a reaction to disrespect of Islam by irresponsible cartoonists.

The same extremism, the same shock tactics, the same rule by fear murdered three thousand people in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, has brought mass rape and slaughter to the cities and deserts of Syria and Iraq; has massacred a hundred and thirty-two children and thirteen adults in a school in Peshawar last month and regularly kills so many Nigerians, especially young ones, that hardly anyone pays attention.

There has been a significant surge in Islamist killing around the world. These deaths no not avenge perceived insults to Islam. And we should not alienate the millions of Muslims who dislike what’s being done in the name of their religion. Many of them immediately condemned the attack on Charlie Hebdo, in tones of anguish particular to those whose deepest beliefs have been tainted.

The killers yesterday waged war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance and pluralism. A war against the values that are part of a democratic society.

Jihadists kill because that is what they do. It does not matter if you are a French cartoonist or a Yezidi child, or an aid worker or journalist. Provocation is merely an excuse used by bullies to justify their actions, while seeking to force the world to bow to their will.

In October last year, imprisoned Syrian journalist Mazen Darwish managed to smuggle a note from his Damascus cell to the free speech charity English PEN. Darwish had been singled out for an award by PEN and Salman Rushdie, and he took the opportunity to address Rushdie directly, writing:

“[W]e committed an unforgivable sin in the Arab world when we responded with indifference to the fatwas and calls for your death. So indifferent were we that we colluded – even if just by our silent complicity – in excluding and eliminating difference, while acting as if the whole thing had nothing to do with us. And so here we are today, paying the high, bloodsoaked price of that collusion, and finding ourselves the main victims of the obscurantist ideology now infiltrating our homes and our cities.

What a great shame that it has taken us all of this bloodshed to arrive at the belief that we are the ones who will pay the price for preventing those with whom we disagree from expressing their views – and that we will pay with our lives and our futures. What a shame this much blood has had to be spilled for us to realise, finally, that we are digging our own graves when we allow thought to be crushed by accusations of unbelief, calling people infidels, and when we allow opinion to be countered with violence.”

With all of that said; deliberate provocation seeks out a reaction. And that is the risk. That in justifying our own freedoms we may simply be contributing to greater polarisation and alienation.

At what point does free press become hate press? At what point does humour turn into vitriol?

All I know is that we live in a more dangerous world. We live in a world where extremists have created a security paranoia and have allowed governments to remove so many of the freedoms that have been fought for for centuries. And the trouble with extremists is that they desire and they create more extremists and breed instability and fear.

We are not afraid was a strong and welcome message overnight in Paris. So for today show solidarity with the victims of this terror by demanding justice. That is defiance. I am not convinced that the reactionary re-publication of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons is either defiant or useful.

Mehdi Hasan on Islam and blasphemy: Muhammad survived Dante’s Inferno. He’ll survive a YouTube clip

Like freedom, tolerance is not a western invention or innovation; it is an Islamic virtue.

7 January 2015 -
Originally published in the New Statesman on 27 September 2012 -

Dear Muslim protester,

Where do I begin? Having watched you shout and scream in front of the world’s television cameras, throw petrol bombs and smash windows, I reluctantly decided to write this open letter to you.

Let me be blunt: you and I have little in common other than our shared Islamic faith, our common belief that there is no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger. You live in a Muslim-majority country, where religion (or should that be religious extremism?) defines the boundaries of political debate and the limits of free speech; I was born and brought up in the liberal, secular west as a member of a minority Muslim community.

If I’m honest, I have to say that, listening to your belligerent rhetoric and watching your violent behaviour, I struggle to recognise the Islam in which you profess to believe. My Islamic faith is based on the principles of peace, moderation and mercy; it revolves around the Quranic verses “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” (109:6). Yours is a faith disfigured by anger, hate and paranoia.

Please do not misunderstand me: yes, you have every right to be angry. I have no time for those neoconservatives here in the west who airily dismiss “false grievances” in the Middle East and beyond. Muslims have much to be aggrieved over – from Bagram to Guantanamo Bay, from Abu Ghraib to Haditha, from US soldiers urinating on the Quran to the spate of racist films and cartoons depicting our beloved prophet as a terrorist/murderer/paedophile/rapist/ delete-as-applicable.

Anger, however, is not an excuse for extremism. Have you not read this saying by the Prophet? “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”

Today, 14 centuries later, too many of us seem to have lost all self-control. Your fanatical counterparts on the Christian evangelical right have a phrase they often deploy: “WWJD”, or “What would Jesus do?”. Perhaps you and your fellow protesters should ask “WWMD”: what would Muhammad do? Would the Prophet endorse your violent attacks on foreign embassies and schools, on police stations and shops?

We both know the answer. As a child, you will have been taught, like me, about how Muhammad was verbally and physically abused by the pagan worshippers of Mecca – but never responded in kind. The Quran calls him a “mercy for all of creation”.

But your anger has blinded you. You tell foreign reporters you are protesting against injustice – but the fight for justice begins at home. Where were you and your fellow flag-burners when a poor, 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was arrested on trumped-up charges of “blasphemy” in August and threatened with the death penalty? Where are you today when the Syrian regime continues to wage war against its own (Muslim) people? Why do you not protest outside the embassies of the Bahraini regime, which tortures and tear-gasses its (Muslim) citizens?

You say you love the Prophet and cannot bear to see him abused, yet in Saudi Arabia the house of the Prophet’s first wife, Khadija, was flattened to make way for a public toilet, while the house where Muhammad was born is now overshadowed by a royal palace. Where is your rage against the Saudi regime? Or is your selfprofessed love for the Prophet just a cynical expression of crude anti-Americanism?

You and I have long complained of the west’s double standards in the Middle East; it is time for us to recognise that Muslims are guilty of equally egregious double standards. Egyptian state television has broadcast a series based on the infamous anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pakistani television channels regularly air programmes demonizing the country’s Ahmadiyya community. Islamic scholars appear in online videos ridiculing the core beliefs of Judaism and Christianity. Yet you and your allies demand special protection for your religion and your prophet. Why? Is your faith so weak, so brittle? Muhammad, lest we forget, survived Dante’s Inferno. Trust me, he’ll survive a 14-minute clip on YouTube.

Perhaps the greatest irony, and tragedy, is that by publicising the online insults directed at the Prophet, you have given the wretched “Sam Bacile”, the maker of the offensive movie, and his Islamophobic, evangelical Christian ally, Steve Klein, a victory they could never have achieved on their own. Need I remind you that when the full-length film, Innocence of Muslims, was released earlier this year, it was shown only once, to an audience of fewer than ten people, at a run-down cinema in California?

Meanwhile, the reputational damage done to our faith – exacerbated, I hasten to add, by lazy journalists in the west who cannot seem to distinguish between Islam and its adherents – has been immense. Have you not seen the cover of Newsweek magazine? “Muslim rage”, screams the headline.

But I have some (bad) news for you (and, for that matter, Newsweek). You represent no one but yourself. You do not speak for Islam or for the Prophet. Nor are you representative of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. In a recent Gallup survey conducted in ten Muslim-majority countries, representing more than 80 per cent of the global Muslim population, believers, when asked what they admired most about the west, cited political freedoms, fair trials and . . . wait for it . . . freedom of speech.

Your actions undermine not just the great religion of Islam but a worldwide Muslim community, or umma, whose members want to live in peace and freedom despite the provocations from the bigots, phobes and haters.

Like freedom, tolerance is not a western invention or innovation; it is an Islamic virtue. As the great Muslim caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib once wrote: “Remember that people are of two kinds: they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.”

Yours faithfully, Mehdi.

Mehdi Hasan is an NS contributing writer and the political director of Huffington Post UK.

Understanding the Brits

2 January 2015

Tai might find this helpful :)

Goodbye 2014 - you will not be missed

31 December 2014

So another year comes to an end and more than any other in recent times I will be glad to see the back of this one.

Of course that does not mean that 2015 will be any better - or that some things simply go away because it is the end of the year - but there will always be the sense that 1 January marks the start of a new year and the hope of change.

2014 will be remembered for the loss of Tai's father in the sort of accident that is just the waste of a life and for her sister's stroke. That her sister has made a partial recovery contrary to the surgeon's expectations is one of the reasons for hope.

Both events highlighted the importance of family and community in Thailand. It is such a tragedy that a country with so much potential is being held back in the dark ages by powerful vested interests and a compliant army. Andrew MacGregor Marshall's late 2014 book "A Kingdom in Crisis" should be required reading for anyone who loves Thailand but who believes in the future rather than a servile past and present. The May coup was just another setback on the road to building a proud future and an educated democratic nation.

Meanwhile an industry that I love had one of its worst years in recent history. The disappearance of MH370 remains one of the great aviation mysteries. I still believe that the wreckage will be found and her secrets revealed but the uncertainty and the wait for the families must be heart-breaking.

No one has yet been found responsible for shooting down MH17. Though most rational people are certain that it was Russian supported Ukraine separatists. Political pragmatism must ot be allowed to hide the truth and bring those responsible to justice.

And just three days ago Air Asia had its first fatal accident with the loss of flight 8501 from Surabaya to Singapore. Air Asia will survive. Its CEO has been strong. But the airline's innocence has gone.

The world seemed a less certain place in 2014. The rise of ISIS in the middle east should concern anyone who values peace in the region. Calm appears to have come to the Ukraine but there remains uncertainty over Russian intentions which have been somewhat short circuited by the dramatic fall in oil prices. Disputes over island ownership and passage through the South China Sea could be the next hot spot. Calm heads should prevail. But the rise of sabre-rattling patriotism could cause escalation. Maybe there is the issue - the rise of extremism is all its different hues. The rest of us - the big silent majority - may just get caught up in the crossfire.

The Gaza conflict in July shocked the world. Israel launched a devastating operation on Gaza after three teenagers were kidnapped by Palestinians. In seven weeks of bombardment, 2,200 people were killed - the vast majority of them Palestinians. There appears to be no acceptable (to all parties) resolution. And war and murder are hiddne behind ever more effective propaganda machines.

Myanmar's refugee problem and the oppression of the Rohinya people continues. The greatest disappointment - the silence of Aung San Suu Chi. After years of persecution she should be standing up for the oppressed not playing for political expediency.

Oscar Pistorius got away with it - which shows what can be done when you can afford the best legal representation. The trial should never have been televised. It simply led to media excess.

Ebola is a reminder that nature can still terrify us and that there are some remarkably brave doctors, nurses and relief agency staff working with little fuss and only with the well-being of their patients in mind.

In a troubled world the US looks impotent; Russia looks weakened; the rise of China is inexorable. How China uses that influence and its economic domination will be a great test for all.

It was a good year for travel - even if it was not always for the happiest of reasons: on the map this year were London, Newcastle, Vienna, Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai), Tokyo, Rome, Vientiane, Switzerland, Devon, Ireland, Stockholm, Norway, Seattle, Portland, Sicily, Hong Kong, Athens, Sydney. Norway and Ireland were highlights; Norway for its scenery and just simple decent friendliness; Ireland for the landing place of Alcock and Brown and for that connection to one of the great feats of aviation.

Lunch in Stockholm was a wonderful way to reconnect. Long lunches and long conversations should happen more often.

Dubai meanders along. As it has rebounded from the 2008-2010 financial crisis the hubris has ratcheted up as well. Dubai was granted the 2020 World Expo. The truble is most people do not know what this is or indeed where the 2015 event will be held. But they have been told it is important so it is.

There are still too many vanity construction projects - hello Dubai canal - and not enough projects that make a difference to the lives of all the UAE's residents. The trouble is when Dubi booms there are people taking advantage - and when it crashes there have been too many people taking advantage. Meanwhile human rights and concerns over legal transparency remain a concern here as they do throughout much of the region.

So that's about it - a troubled year ends. And a new year begins. I wonder where I will be writing this from in 12 months time.

Take care, gentle reader. Thank you. Have a safe and happy new year and an optimistic 2015.

In praise of.....London

31 December 2014

It is time to give London its due - it is one of the world's great cities - maybe it eve tops the list.

I left London in 1988. Thatcher was Prime Minister. Eddie the Eagle was the best the British could offer at the Calgary WInter Olympics. London felt old, tired.

The new London is far from perfect - that is part of its appeal. But it is a vibrant, international city, that has benefited hugely from an influx of nationalities who have arrived to study, work or just to explore.

That to me is the biggest and most welcome difference. The new London is an international city. The old 1980s London was a British city.

House prices are prohibitive. The best properties are now foreign owned. Commutes have become longer and more expensive. The infrastructure creaks....but that at least gives the British something to complain about.

Over Christmas engineering work on the railways predictably did not finish in time. Finsbury Park - a remote NE London commuter station replaced Kings Cross as London's main terminal for two days. Perhaps the daftest piece of contingency planning since Canute tried t stop the incoming tide. Misery for those caught up in the mess. Mirth for the rest of us.

But what a fun place to visit. The investment in the city over the last thirty years has transformed derelict suburbs into new destinations; Canary Wharf; the city around Liverpool Street; Paddington Basin; the transformation of the South Bank, including Borough and Southwark.

On a sunny, cold December Sunday evening crowds on the south bank were enjoying a European style winter fair. The churros and hot chocolate stand was next to the duck confit burger stand and the chorizo roll and hot sangria stand. There was music. There was the buzz of a happy crowd.

The river is so much busier than it used to be. Tour boats continue through the winter months. The redevelopment of the South Bank, allows an uninterrupted walk along the river and takes in the Globe Theatre; the Tate Modern, the National Theatre - and some fine restaurants, bars, and markets. London is a city where you should explore as much as you can on foot. There is always something to see.

Over in Covent Garden, whose transformation in the 1980s arguably started the rebuilding of London as a destination, performers entertained a big crowd. The market was busy. The festive decorations were classy. The subway station as over-crowded as it always is.

Chinatown and Soho were busy. This is a very different Soho from 30 years ago. Restaurants of just about every nationality line the streets. Few of the staff are British - maybe that is why they are welcoming and enthusiastic. There is a warm energy. Explore and you will be rewarded.

The media remains vibrant - both traditional and new media. Fleet Street's media giants have long gone, to be replaced by solicitors and accountants and even a Premier Inn in one of the old Reuters buildings. But reading newspapers like the Independent and Guardian is a good reminder of what quality, questioning, informative and sometimes humourous journalism can do....and is such a refreshing change after too many years of the SCMP, Bangkok Post and Gulf News.

Maybe that is part of the charm - London does not take itself too seriously. None of the pompous overblown self promotion of Dubai. London has it all and does not need to make a loud noise about it. Take Paddington station where a statue of the great engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel sits next to a tribute to Paddington Bear. London has this ability to make people smile.

I am sure living in London has many frustrations. The cost of living is among the highest in the world. But for a visitor it is hard to beat.