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23 August 2015

In a week in which two Hong Kong residents were killed and six injured by the Erawan shrine bomb, the professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand is dismayed to learn that a photo-journalist from Hong Kong has been detained and charged for carrying body armour and a helmet.

Hok Chun 'Anthony' Kwan, who was assigned by Initium Media Technology last week to cover the aftermath of the Erawan shrine bomb, was stopped at Suvarnabhumi Airport as he was about to board a flight back to Hong Kong. He is being charged with possessing an illegal weapon, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years, and which will be tried in a military court. Body armour and helmets used by journalists are not offensive weapons and should not be treated as such.

Anthony Kwan is being charged under the 1987 Arms Control Act, which prohibits the possession of military equipment without a licence. However, the use of body armour and helmets is routine by journalists around the world, and is clearly to enable them to do their jobs in dangerous situations. The deaths of two foreign journalists in Bangkok from gunfire during the political unrest in 2010 underscores the need for this kind of protection. Journalists based in Bangkok have openly worn body armour during the more recent political turmoil without any action being taken against them by the Thai authorities. It is now a requirement of big media organisations that their journalists carry body armour and helmets into potentially risky environments.

The FCCT has in the past asked the Thai authorities to address this issue, so that journalists can purchase, import, and carry adequate protective equipment. The case of Anthony Kwan presents an opportunity now to find a solution. We urge the authorities not to press ahead with the criminal case against Mr. Kwan, and to work with the media community in Thailand to decriminalise the legitimate use of body armour and other relevant and purely protective items.

Bangkok Bomb at Religious Shrine Kills at Least 19

17 August 2015

A bomb placed inside the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok exploded Monday evening, killing at least 19 people, hurling body parts onto the pavement, shattering building windows and creating panic in one of the city’s most popular districts.

The shrine is in the heart of Bangkok; imagine a bomb in Time Square New York or Trafalgar Square London. That is how central this bomb was.

At least 123 people were reported wounded in what Thailand’s top police official and others called a vicious act meant to target helpless civilians.

The explosion came at a particularly busy time of day at the Erawan Shrine, an important tourist attraction in Bangkok’s main shopping area.

There have been a small number of explosions that have occasionally disrupted the country since the Thai military seized power in a May 2014 coup. But nothing on this scale or as deliberately and cruelly targeted.

As of early Tuesday there was no claim of responsibility. Thai forces are fighting a Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist country's south, but those rebels have rarely launched attacks outside their heartland.

"The perpetrators intended to destroy the economy and tourism, because the incident occurred in the heart of the tourism district," Defense Minister (and General) Prawit Wongsuwan told Reuters.

National police chief Somyot Poompanmuang told reporters the attack was unprecedented in Thailand. "It was a pipe bomb," Somyot said. "It was placed inside the Erawan shrine."

The shrine, on a busy corner near top hotels, shopping centers, offices and a hospital, is a major attraction, especially for visitors from East Asia, including China. Many ordinary Thais also worship there.

Two people from China and one from the Philippines were among the dead, a tourist police officer said. Media said most of the wounded were from China and Taiwan.

The police discovered at least two additional devices they suspected were unexploded bombs inside the shrine and said other bombs may have been placed in the area, yelling at bystanders: “Get out! Get out!”

Some Thai media reported later that the suspicious devices did not appear to be bombs.

The Bangkok Post reported on its website that the shrine bomb, apparently placed just inside the fenced Erawan compound, detonated at 6:55 p.m. The scale of the explosion set vehicles in the adjacent intersection ablaze and bowed the iron fence of the shrine outward.

Jonathan Head at the BBC tweeted "The sight of those terrible injuries after the Bangkok bomb will be with me for a long time. A cruel, calculated attack - but who? and why?"

And these are the big questions; who did this; why did they do it; and will they do it again.

Thai authorities have been hesitant to point the blame in any direction. During a televised address late Monday night, a spokesmen for the Thai military government read out a statement expressing “deep concern” for the victims and their families, while emphasizing that it is “too early to speculate which group may have been responsible for this crime but authorities are following possible leads”.

However, at roughly the same time, the army’s Internal Security Operation Command openly speculated on possible motives for the attack (“political conflict, state official reshuffle, and international terrorism”) without providing any substantial information that supports their assessment. It also reportedly ruled out insurgents from the Deep South.

In a more pointed (and with no evidence) assessment Defence spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanich said the bombing was “the work of those who have lost political interests and want to destroy the ‘happy time’ of Thai people. It’s an attempt to ruin Thailand’s tourism image and cause damage to the country’s business sector.”

No doubt ultra-nationalists and supporters of the Thai military government will point their fingers at the red shirt supporters of the ousted government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But since the coup, the military junta has kept a tight lid on any possible display of opposition and dissent. A bomb attack on this scale, with casualties being coldly accepted as part of the plan, would be absolutely out of character for any political protest groups and thus highly unlikely.

The ongoing conflict in the southernmost Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are often overlooked and underreported in Bangkok. However, the sad reality is that the separatist insurgency has been going on for over a decade now and claimed thousands of lives on both sides, on nearly a daily basis. But Royal Thai Army chief and deputy defence minister General Udomdej Sitabutr said in a televised interview that “This does not match with incidents in southern Thailand. The type of bomb used is also not in keeping with the south,”

So who and why are questions that may never be answered But whoever carried out these attacks has played into the hands of the hawkish Thai military government, regardless of the intentions. It potentially delivers them the justification for harsher security measures or, even worse, a reason to ensure the longevity of military rule in Thailand.

What the bombing has done is add fear and chaos to an already tense political situation.

flydubai to start DWC operations

13 August 2015

flydubai has announced that it will commence scheduled operations out of Dubai World Central this winter in a move that will see the budget carrier operating from both of the Emirate's principal airports.

In a statement, flydubai said effective October 25, it would offer flights from Dubai World Central to Amman Queen Alia, Beirut, Chittagong, Doha Hamad Int'l, Kathmandu, Kuwait, and Muscat. Existing flights to those destinations from Dubai Int'l will continue to operate as normal.

This suggests that flydubai's growth at DXB has now been capped and that all new routes and additional flights will start to be operated from DWC. Makes a lot of sense in terms of capacity but less sense in terms of connectivity as many passengers transfer from flydubai to Emirates.

"The development of DWC will allow the UAE’s highly successful aviation sector to continue to grow strongly over the next decades," the carrier said. "Following the recent decision to expand capacity at the existing terminal at DWC to 26 million by 2018 flydubai has taken the opportunity to offer its passengers the choice of flying from Dubai’s two airports."

Primarily a cargo hub, other scheduled passenger carriers to serve Dubai World Central include: Arke Fly, Gulf Air, Jazeera Airways, Qatar Airways, Rotana Jet Aviation, and Wizz Air.

Emirates hat tip to Panama

13 August 2015

Emirates latest route announced has probably surprised many. From 1 February 2016 the airline will begin service to Central America, with the launch of daily Dubai – Panama City operation on non-stop basis.

The daily flight will be operated by Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, becoming the world’s longest nonstop flight in terms of distance and one-way flying time.

The flight times are:

EK251 DXB0805 – 1640PTY 77L D
EK252 PTY2230 – 2315+1DXB 77L D

Operational flight distance is 8580 miles, 11 miles longer than QANTAS’ Sydney – Dallas route (8569 miles). Flying time for EK251 is 17hrs 35mins, EK252 is 15hrs 45mins. EK251 will be 20-25 minutes longer than existing DELTA’s westbound service from Dubai to Atlanta, 40 minutes longer then DELTA’s Northbound service from Johannesburg to Atlanta.

17 hours 35 minutes in 10-abreast economy. Tough for passengers. Tough for crew. I suspect this route is all about onward connections rather then DXB-PTY traffic. and to launch it daily is a bold step!

Since this route will require three 777-200s other routes will need to be upgraded to 777-300s.

Shuffling the pack won't improve Thailand's hand

5 August 2015 The Nation editorial published 28 July 2015

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is set to make cosmetic changes to his Cabinet, but these will not solve any of the deep and growing political, economic and social problems now facing Thailand.

The obstacles are beyond the ability of Prayut and his crew to cope with.

The actions taken by the junta and the prime minister in the year since they seized power are merely repercussions of pre-existing problems, which they do nothing to solve.

The fundamental reality, which is being ignored by Prayut, the military and the elitist establishment, is that military coup was itself a part of the problem, not a solution as claimed.

First of all, it is widely acknowledged that the country is deeply divided along both political and social lines. It is not a simple question of a conflict between two camps of politicians, as Prayut has maintained all along. Compounding the crisis is the fact that the military was not a neutral party, as it claimed, but has sided with a particular faction from the beginning. Hence the junta and its supporters in the National Reform Council do not qualify to oversee the process of reconciliation.

Second, the coup-makers have swept away the foundations of democracy while simultaneously claiming to be enacting democratic reform. The absurdity of that contradiction seems lost on the junta. Prime Minister Prayut talks of democracy, yet at the same time he orders his soldiers to hunt for citizens who express "difference". Students and social activists, whose only weapons are thoughts and words, are regarded as a threat to national security by the junta.

Thailand has a long history of military coups, none of which has done anything to further the cause of democracy. To the contrary, each and every one has consolidated the power of an authoritarian elite.

Third, the junta has stuffed its administration with incapable individuals who have no mandate from the people whose interests they are supposed to be serving. Prayut, as junta leader, must take much of the blame for this state of affairs since he handpicked his own men for Cabinet positions. With changes now in the offing, we can only conclude that the wrong men were picked for the job. While it's true that certain members of the military might have some knowledge of economics, none of those in the Cabinet know how to run an economy in troubled times. Prayut's economic tsar has an impressive background in banking management, but his actions have failed to restrain or reverse the downturn. Thanks to an obsessive prejudice against "populist economic policy", his measures to stimulate growth have been too little, too late. The government's faith in an upswing powered by investment from the business sector has proved unfounded, yet it remains very reluctant to intervene to alleviate the plight of farmers. If a vast number of disadvantaged Thais are left to languish in poverty, the engine of growth that is domestic consumption suffers.

Fourth, the coup, junta rule and misjudged foreign policy have weakened Thailand's position when it comes to negotiating with other countries. Though no direct economic sanctions were levied against Thailand in response to the coup, our trade partners suspended negotiations for more market access to certain economic blocs. Meanwhile the junta's lax management of the aviation and fishery sectors has triggered penalties and ultimatums from foreign powers. In normal times, foreign policy is driven by economic interests, but the junta is instead focused on using its diplomats to justify the coup to the international community.

Finally, Premier Prayut has delivered a very confusing message with his Cabinet reshuffle. While he repeatedly blames politicians and elected governments for the deep-seated problems afflicting the country, the figures he is so desperate to bring into his Cabinet are politicians, including former ministers from previous elected administrations. After holding the electoral system and democracy responsible for placing the "wrong people" in charge, Prayut is now poised to prove that his way is no better, by placing the same people at the helm of his own administration.

England v Pakistan - schedule

28 July 2015

The England v Pakistan cricket schedule to be played in the UAE in October and November 2015 has now been announced: three test matches; 4 one day internationals and 3 T20s. Enjoy!

October 13-17: First Test, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
October 22-26: Second Test, Dubai Cricket Stadium
November 1-5: Third Test, Sharjah Cricket Club

November 11: First One Day International (ODI) Day/Night (D/N), Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
November 13: Second ODI D/N, Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi
November 17: Third ODI D/N, Sharjah Cricket Club
November 20: Fourth ODI D/N, Dubai Cricket Stadium

November 26: First T20, Dubai Cricket Stadium
November 27: Second T20, Dubai Cricket Stadium
November 30: Third T20, Sharjah Cricket Club

The nuclear deal’s other winner

25 July 2015 The Economist

(Not sure that the Dubai- Iran trade qualifies as smuggling when it is entirely open along Dubai Creek - there is no sense of doing anything illegal).

At Dubai Creek in the United Arab Emirates the dock workers load everything from computers to cigarettes onto dhows headed across the Persian Gulf to Iran. At the airport, some ten minutes away, men with suitcases full of dollars board planes bound for Tehran. Dubai, the busiest entrepot in the Gulf, has long been the back door through which smugglers have entered Iran to swap goods and cash in breach of Western sanctions. It is now hoping to become Iran’s front door as well.

The nuclear deal between Iran, America and five other world powers will gradually lift most sanctions if the mullahs keep their end of the bargain. This has raised fears that a more prosperous Iran will step up its meddling in Arab affairs, and that its renewed oil sales will lead to yet lower prices and a battle for market share. But others see an opportunity, as the region’s largest market—home to nearly 80m mostly young and typically well-educated people—reopens. Dubai is best placed to take advantage.

Of the 400,000 or so Iranians who now call the UAE home, many live in Dubai. The emirate also plays host to nearly 10,000 Iranian businesses and trading companies, by one estimate—though some are mere fronts for smuggling. Little wonder, then, that the UAE is Iran’s second-largest trading partner, after China, even though commerce between the countries has slowed since sanctions began to bite in 2011. If the Iranian economy grows fast, as analysts predict, the amount of cash, goods and tourists crossing the Gulf will likely surge.

It so happens that the three sectors of the Iranian economy worst hit by sanctions are ones where Dubai excels. Start with air transport, which has suffered in Iran due to a lack of spare parts for its ageing and increasingly unsafe fleet of planes. Dubai, meanwhile, has created a vast air-services hub, including maintenance and manufacturing facilities, around its airport, one of the world’s busiest.

Similarly, Iran’s oilfields have been crippled as sanctions kept needed equipment out of the country. Much of the investment in new Iranian infrastructure will now run through Dubai’s port at Jebel Ali, which is a hub for everything to do with pipes, pumps and rigs.

The third sector is finance, where sanctions have left Iran completely outmoded. Dubai, by contrast, hosts the regional headquarters of most big banks. Rouzbeh Pirouz of Turquoise Partners, an investment firm in Tehran, is reminded of Hong Kong, where global financial institutions and multinational firms set up to gain access to the young Chinese market. “Dubai can play a similar role [for Iran],” says Mr Pirouz. It is already a hub for firms looking to do business in the Middle East and Africa. Tehran is just two hours away by plane and trade links between the countries are centuries old.

There are already about 50 flights a week between Dubai and Tehran, and dozens more between various other cities in the UAE and Iran. FlyDubai, a discount carrier, has increased the number of Iranian destinations it serves from two to nine this year. Emirates, the region’s biggest airline, already flies to Tehran and will now also connect with Mashhad, Iran’s second most populous city and a Shia pilgrimage site. Meanwhile, the port at Jebel Ali, which saw shipping volumes from Iran fall as a result of the sanctions, is set to bolster its place as a main trans-shipment point for Iran-bound goods.

Analysts caution that the economic impact of Iran’s opening will be delayed. Sanctions will be lifted at intervals, and only if Tehran complies fully with the agreement. America’s own trade embargo, related to terrorism, will remain in place. Companies looking to trade in Iran will also encounter a range of bureaucratic hurdles (see article). The country is a woeful 130th on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business list. Some firms may choose to wait. The smugglers of Dubai Creek will not go out of business just yet.


25 July 2015

The age old question - are there other life-forms out there? Maybe we are a little closer to saying yes.

Yesterday NASA announced that its exoplanet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has spotted another Earth-like world. The space agency today announced the discovery of Kepler-452b, the smallest planet we've found yet orbiting inside a star's habitable zone — the places around a sun where it’s warm enough for liquid surface water. NASA researchers are dubbing Kepler-452b as Earth 2.0.

Kepler-452b is about 60 percent larger than Earth and orbits its parent star, Kepler-452, once every 385 days — just 20 days longer than Earth orbits the Sun. Kepler-452 is also a lot like our own host star; it's roughly the same size and temperature and only 20 percent brighter. Kepler-452 is also 6 billion years old, approximately 1.5 billion years older than our Sun.

"This is really the first step, and humankind’s first step, to answering that question "Are we alone in the Universe?"

Kepler-452b’s system is about 1,400 light years away from our Solar System, located in the constellation Cygnus. NASA researchers don’t know its exact mass or what it’s made out of, but they said that previous research has shown that planets the size of Kepler-452b are usually rocky. And since the exoplanet has spent 6 billion years in orbit around its star, the chances are good that life may be dwelling there.

"This is really the first step, and humankind’s first step, to answering that question "Are we alone in the Universe?" John Jenkins, of the SETI Institute, said at a NASA press conference. "You and I won’t be traveling to these planets, but our children’s children’s children may."

The discovery of Kepler-452b is substantial but it’s not the first of its kind. Last year, astronomers at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Researcher Center announced the first Earth-sized exoplanet, Kepler-186f, found orbiting in a star’s habitable zone. The main difference between Kepler-186f and Kepler-452b is their host stars; Kepler-186 is a red dwarf whereas Kepler-452 is much more closely related to our Sun.

The Kepler spacecraft was launched in 2009, with the goal of searching for other Earth-like worlds within the Milky Way Galaxy. So far, the spacecraft has found 4,696 exoplanet candidates, and follow-up observations and analysis have confirmed 1,030 of these candidates to exist. Through the combined efforts of Kepler and other astronomers we know of 1,927 exoplanets out there in the cosmos.



Emirates replaces Conakry with Bamoko

24 July 2015

Emirates airline will add Bamako, the capital and largest city of Mali, to its global network from 25th October 2015.

Bamako is one of the fastest growing cities in the world with a population of about 2,3 million people, and is located in the south western part of Mali on the Niger River. Once services commence, it will become Emirates’ 28th destination in Africa and 6th in West Africa.

Bamako will be linked to Emirates’ current four times weekly service to Dakar, Senegal, which is operated by an Emirates Airbus A340-300 and offers 12 luxurious seats in First Class, 42 deep reclining seats in Business Class and 213 spacious seats in Economy Class.

“There is currently no direct service between Dubai and Bamako. Mali has a growing economy and huge tourism potential, and we expect that linking Bamako to our Dakar service will greatly boost both business and leisure travel to and from Mali,” said Adil Al Ghaith, Emirates Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations, Northern and Western Africa.

The flight to Bamako will depart Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 0720hrs and arrive in Bamako at 1310hrs. It will then depart Bamako at 1440hrs and arrive in Dakar at 1630hrs. The return flight will depart Dakar at 1800hrs and arrive back in Dubai at 0730hrs the next morning.

Airbus confirms plans for next gen A380 superjumbo

25 July 2015

Airbus is to go ahead with plans to build a new generation version of the A380 super jumbo.

President and chief executive, Fabrice Brégier told The Sunday Times that the A380neo, which will have new engines, could be ready for sale in five years.

“We will move to the A380neo type. You can say that. Absolutely. We will need it between 2020 and 2025,” he said. The neo will cost $3 billion to develop.

Brégier said Airbus had not decided whether the fuselage on the new version would be extended to provide more seats, but that the company would not do a stretched version “for one airline”...I assume he means Emirates!

New engines will help to cut the double decker aircraft’s operating costs.

The A380 programme has struggled to find customers; one carrier, Emirates, accounts for about half the 300 aircraft ordered so far.

Brégier said he was “convinced there is a market” for a new A380 because trends in aviation with fast-rising passenger numbers and slot constraints at airports in many countries favouring bigger aircraft.

“The air passenger market is doubling every 15 years. Airlines can’t simply rely on flying more planes more often. We have to have larger aircraft,” he said.

“How can you imagine crowded Heathrow in 2030 without the A380? This is the same for New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Frankfurt and China in a few years.”

The Guardian view on media globalisation: good news for the Financial Times

24 July 2015 (Thoughtful and optimistic commentary on the Nikkei acquisition of the Financial Times)

The Financial Times is one of the best newspapers in the world, not just in Britain. It is quick without being rash, accurate without leaden pedantry, thoughtful without being ponderous, and unpredictable in its opinions without being tediously contrarian. On top of all that, it even makes money. So its sale to the Japanese newspaper publisher Nikkei is a matter of global interest in the media business, and a fascinating development in the globalisation and digitisation of our industry. As a newspaper market, Japan has many advantages over the English-speaking world. Newspaper circulations are huge: the two biggest broadsheets sell 9m and 7m print copies a day, while even the Nikkei newspaper, Japan’s equivalent of the Financial Times, sells 3m broadsheet print copies a day – compared with 2m for the tabloid Daily Mail in the UK and a mere 200,000 for the FT itself.

These subscription figures, and the unparalleled delivery system that makes them possible, have so far cushioned the Japanese industry from the advertising slump. Fiercely competitive local distributors keep almost every household supplied with a daily paper, which is thus woven into the fabric of everyday life. Barriers of language, culture and technological ecosystems all tend to preserve this uniquely profitable media market. But Japanese newspaper subscribers are getting old. The habit of print is weakening. More and more people read on their smartphones. Students today hardly ever subscribe to newspapers. It makes sense for Nikkei to spend its cash on one of the few really successful global digital brands. The Financial Times is almost unique in the English-speaking digital news business in funding its digital operations in a rather Japanese way, by charging subscriptions rather than relying on advertising. And it manages the trick, too, by supplying reliable information entertainingly that allows readers to make decisions that they hope will make them money.

Pearson, the previous owner of the FT, wants to concentrate on its educational business, despite recent setbacks. It has kept the 50% of the Economist that it owns. So the deal makes sense from that end, too. But what about the readers of the paper, and the people who work there?

One of this week’s big business stories has been the scandal at Toshiba, where earnings were inflated by 152bn yen (£780m) over the last decade, and which shows the potential conflicts between British and Japanese attitudes to financial scandals. The pressures on companies in both countries are similar: if the bosses demand impossible performance figures, there is a temptation for their subordinates to cook the books rather than admit failure. But in Japan this is often regarded as a more or less victimless crime. In Britain and America the interests of the shareholders are paramount, and they see the crime as one with real victims – shareholders, who are deprived of the accurate information they need to make the most profitable decisions. The Financial Times is unequivocally on the side of shareholders; Nikkei only questionably so.

The last really big corporate scandal in Japan, when Olympus was found to be concealing losses of $1.3bn, resulted in the unceremonious sacking of the (English) chief executive who revealed it. The Financial Times broke the story; Nikkei did not cover it until it became wholly unavoidable. Nor would readers of Nikkei be acutely aware that Japanese-made airbags have been blowing up in the US since 2004, a story that has long preoccupied the New York Times. Mainstream Japanese journalism is not corrupt, but it is respectful, like the culture around it. Anglo-Saxon journalistic traditions are not, at their best, respectful of anything. There are some things that British newspapers should respect more, such as privacy, but it is also possible for respect to shade into the kind of incurious deference to power which lets scandalous behaviour flourish.

So there are obviously ways in which the deal might go wrong. But it is at least as possible that it will go right. The better parts of each company’s culture will come to influence the other. The world needs journalism that is both measured and punchy and the FT is today one of the papers that best supplies it. That in turn can only be sustained by a profitable business. Nikkei has the capital and the Financial Times the global reach, the language and the knowhow that could combine to build a media business that can make a profit from quality even in the digital age.

Phase one of DWC to be ready by Q1 2022

18  July 2015

The expansion of Dubai's Al Maktoum International Airport - to make it the world's biggest - will be completed by the first quarter of 2022, according to a senior official.

Khalifa Al Zaffin, executive chairman, Dubai Aviation City Corporation (DACC), said the expansion will increase the airport's annual passenger capacity from the current five million passengers to 130 million.

In comments published in the July edition of Via Dubai, the official newsletter of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), he said: "Our current aim for Al Maktoum International Airport is twofold - to attract more airlines to operate from the airport and ease passenger traffic at DXB until such time that Phase 1 of the new airport is ready.

"In that context, AMIA is currently undergoing an expansionary phase that will see its annual passenger handling capacity rise from the current five million to seven million by early 2016," he said.

Last September, it was announced that Dubai is to spend $32 billion expanding Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC), making it the world’s largest airport.

Al Maktoum International Airport at DWC is expected to become the largest in the world and will be developed in two phases.

Phase one will include two satellite buildings which will jointly be able to handle around 120 million passengers annually and accommodate up to 100 A380 superjumbos at any given time.

It is anticipated the airport will ultimately be able to accommodate more than 200 million passengers a year when complete, a quarter more than the previous estimate of 160 million.

The announcement came as passenger traffic continues to grow at Dubai International Airport and is expected to reach almost 100 million by the end of 2020.

Separately, Via Dubai quoted Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of DCAA and chairman of Dubai Airports said the aviation's importance will grow significantly in the run up to Expo 2020.

"The UAE has an outstanding aviation infrastructure and globally recognized for seamless travel facilitation. We are developing Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai World Central (DWC) into the world's biggest airport with an annual capacity of over 220 million passengers. Alongside, we continue to develop the Dubai International Airport which will handle 100 million passengers when the expansion plans get over. Emirates and flydubai have remained in expansion mode," he said.

"It has been rightly said that Dubai is exemplary of the heights that can be reached when governments believe in the role of aviation as a strategic economic growth partner and a powerful driver of social and economic progress," added Sheikh Ahmed.

The implications are that current planning is for the two airports to both be operational until at least the final expansion of DWC is complete - which will probably not be until around 2030.

Up close with Pluto

16 July 2015

NASA’s New Horizons probe has just made history by successfully completing its flyby of Pluto. This is the first time any space probe has encountered the former ninth planet, and scientists are currently swimming in data, which will no doubt lead to plenty of discoveries. New Horizons has been a historic mission in numerous ways and was designed quite ingeniously.

New Horizons blasted off in January 19 2006, and was the fastest launch recorded, reaching speeds of over 36,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft passed the Moon after just nine hours, around eight times quicker than the Apollo programme, and reached Jupiter the following year.

Most spacecraft are powered by solar radiation, converting incoming light into electricity to keep onboard equipment warm and power communication and processing units. But at nearly four billion miles from the sun, the solar radiation is so faint by the time a spacecraft reaches Pluto that it would need impractically large solar panels to harvest enough energy. Instead, New Horizons is powered by a nuclear generator – appropriately containing plutonium fuel – that gives off heat as it decays.

New Horizons was still moving quite fast a year into its mission, but a quick slingshot around Jupiter boosted its speed by more than 9,000 mph. If not for this boost, it would have taken three more years to reach Pluto.

It will take until late 2016 for all the data to transmitted back to Earth at a rate of just 2 kilobits a second. It takes 4.5 hours for the signal to reach Earth.

The fuel is designed to last until the late 2020s or even beyond. When it runs out of power, astronomers will lose contact with the probe and it will continue to drift out past the Kuiper belt and eventually leave the solar system.

Bolding going where no space probe has gone before.

All change in the Middle East?

16 July 2015

The Iran nuclear deal is done. It’s a historic moment. But as important as it is to defang Iran’s nuclear threat, the bigger story is what the deal means for Iran’s new standing in a crumbling geopolitical order. Three changes will matter most.

First, the competition between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia will heat up, and the balance of power will tip toward Tehran. Saudi Arabia is now pumping the most oil since 1980, but an unsanctioned Iran will cut into Saudi market share. Iran is the holder of the world's fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and second-largest natural gas reserves, and will soon bring 1 million barrels a day back to the market. Meanwhile, proxy fights in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere will intensify. As the U.S. and Europe look to reduce their presence in the region, the escalation of proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran will heighten the risk of direct conflict.

Next, Iran will open for business. The world will trade again with Iran’s $420 billion economy. Trade with the EU could expand as much as 400 percent, from $8.3 billion last year. Economic benefits will spill across the Gulf. Dubai will become a launch pad for foreign investment in Iran. And the investors are coming. Iran is not just another Middle Eastern petro-state; it offers investors a diversified economy with an established capital market. Its population of 80 million, the second largest in the Middle East, promises consumer demand across sectors as varied as travel and logistics to pharmaceuticals and consumer products. By some estimates, the nuclear deal could accelerate growth in Iran to 8 percent over the next three years and motivate the potential return of hundreds of thousands of highly talented Iranians.

Finally, Iran will lead the fight against ISIS. Obama is in no position to put U.S. boots on the ground, but the more battles ISIS wins in the Middle East, the more of a problem it will become internationally. Washington needs someone with the will and resources to deal ISIS a strong blow. And that’s Iran. Though economic sanctions and a global arms embargo have limited the sophistication of Iran’s military powers (Iran spends a fifth as much as Saudi Arabia on boosting its military assets), the expansion of Iranian influence and economic capabilities will pave the way for greater defense leadership in the Middle East. Iraqi Shia militias, backed by Iran, will offer a desperately-needed counter to ISIS.

Will Iran cheat on the deal? Yes. The U.S. and Iran aren’t about to start trusting one other, much less become fast friends. But in the world created by the deal, Iran starts to matter much more than Saudi Arabia and other old-guard U.S. allies.

Today’s deal isn’t the end of the story. It’s only the end of the first chapter.

A deal - and now for the hard work

13 July 2015

European leaders lined up to say Grexit has been averted, but this snappy soundbite glides over the fact the eurozone has simply agreed to open negotiations on an €86bn (£62bn) bailout. Although this is a step to shoring-up confidence in the euro, it is only a promise to have more talks with no guarantee of success.

Talks on the bailout plan are forecast to last around four weeks. “We know time is critical for Greece, but there are no shortcuts,” said Klaus Regling, the official in charge of the the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund that Greece hopes to tap.

But these formal talks can only begin, if eurozone leaders avoid several political and financial tripwires. The Greek government has until the end of Wednesday to ensure that sweeping reforms to its pension system and VAT rates are written into law. If Greek lawmakers meet this eurozone-imposed deadline, the baton will pass to the creditors. At least five countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and Finland, will have to put the idea of opening negotiations on a bailout to a parliamentary vote.

Politics could be overtaken by financial deadlines. Athens faces demands to repay €7bn of debts in July, including €3.5bn due to the European Central Bank on Monday (20 July).
Eurozone officials are working round the clock to come up with emergency funds that will help Greece bridge the gap before a permanent bailout kicks in. “It’s not going to be easy,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the hawkish Dutch politician, who was re-elected chair of the eurozone group of finance ministers on Monday. Several options were being discussed on bridge finance, but no one had found “the golden key to solve the problem”, he said, although he hopes to see progress by Wednesday.

And that is the short simplified version.

How damaged is eurozone and EU by Greek debacle?

13 July 2015 - Robert Peston, Economics editor, BBC

Over the weekend, the director of one of the world's biggest drug companies told me that this company had given up expecting to be paid by Greece for the life-saving pharmaceuticals it makes.

But for those dependent on its cancer and other treatments to stay alive, for example, it would not stop supplying them - though now for free. It could not and would not pass a death sentence by withholding medicines.

But whether any new cancer sufferers - those not diagnosed till today - would be able to obtain these treatments, now that's another question. I asked and my answer was a shrug and sheepish look.

That brings home to me the magnitude of what is happening in Greece.

We simply haven't seen since the 1930s a rich developed country collapse as Greece is doing right now - millions of people threatened with losing their life savings, companies on the point of collapse, cancer sufferers unsure what treatments, if any, will be available to them.

Now to most outsiders, this demarche is in part the consequence of the incompetence and greed of a succession of Greek governments, and the negligence, incompetence and political insensitivity of the rest of the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.

In other words, debtor and creditors are both to blame, arguably in equal measure.

So what is particularly horrifying to dispassionate observers is the perception that most of the eurozone, and especially Germany, is hell-bent on making an example of Athens, humiliating the government of Alexis Tsipras, as the price of a financial rescue that - in a best case - will continue to make Greeks poorer, though not as poor as leaving the euro would do.

The unappealing facts are these.

On Friday, Mr Tsipras capitulated - and accepted tax rises, pension cuts and economic reforms that his creditors had been demanding and which the Greek people overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum a few days earlier.

But rather than using Mr Tsipras's personally painful climbdown - which involved forming an entente with hated opposition parties and splitting his own party - as a basis for consensual discussions on a sustainable bailout, Eurogroup finance ministers, led by Germany's Wolfgang Schaeuble, denigrated it as too little, too late.

Instead, Mr Schaeuble tried to bundle Athens towards a door no one thought existed, since the euro is supposed to be forever - the one marked "temporary exit".

This so terrified Mr Tsipras that he has since, in the Eurogroup meeting and an all-night meeting of eurozone government heads - which at the time of writing is still continuing - allowed himself into negotiations that, if successful, would rob Greece of all meaningful economic sovereignty.

Tax, spending, privatisations and the structure of industries - the stuff that shapes lives - would be determined by emergency legislation rushed through the Greek parliament by Wednesday, with no opportunity for serious debate.

Is that democracy?

Only if an entire parliament demonstrably surrenders by the middle of this week would the rest of the eurozone start talks on possibly extending the additional €86bn of finance Greece needs to prevent future default and the total collapse of its banking system.

And for what it's worth, the presumption among other eurozone leaders that Mr Tsipras is willing and able to deliver the abject obeisance of Athens lawmakers may turn out to be naive.

Here in Athens, all I detect from government members, bankers and others is fatalism that they're ruined, more or less whatever happens - which makes their behaviour unpredictable.

There would in effect be a takeover, for years, of Greece by Berlin, Brussels and the IMF in Washington.

Monitors, from the IMF, would be permanently stationed in Athens, to prevent backsliding by the administration.

Privatisation proceeds would be put into some kind of escrow account, possibly in Luxembourg.

Athens would be deprived of even a figleaf of national economic autonomy.

Now it is perfectly plausible to argue that Mr Tsipras and his colleagues have brought this upon themselves by their incompetence - especially in their negotiations with the rest of the eurozone - since being elected at the turn of the year.

But if the eurozone and EU stands for anything, it is solidarity between member nations.

The widespread perception that Berlin and Brussels have put fiscal rectitude, the importance of a country paying its debts, above humanitarian concern for a nation's plight, or even the long-term sustainability of the euro itself, will reap a bitter future harvest for eurozone and the wider EU.

Will the eurozone's marginalisation of Greece make it harder or easier for David Cameron to sell continued membership of the EU to the people of the UK?

Will the offer by Mr Schaeuble of temporary leave of absence for Greece from the euro make it harder or easier for Brussels, Berlin and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt to quell the growing doubts of investors - who fund all important economic activity - that the euro is the permanent enterprise it claims to be?

Will the rise and rise of populist anti-EU parties all over Europe be staunched or encouraged by reports that an EU official described Mr Tsipras's treatment by other EU leaders as the equivalent of "waterboarding"?

The eurozone crisis began in Greece in 2010. It threatens to degenerate into an existential crisis for the wider EU.

Greece - again

13 July 2015

Sorry to give you more on Greece - but it is a spell-binding as it is depressing.

Where are we now: it is midnight in Dubai:

Alexis Tsipas , the other 18 eurozone leaders, and the heads of the IMF, ECB and EU are locked in talks at the emergency summit to discuss Greece’s request for a third bailout.

The proposal on the table would force Greece to vote through sweeping changes by Wednesday night. Or, it would be offered a ‘temporary Grexit’; an opportunity to restructure its debts.

The plan also suggests Greece surrenders €50bn of valuable assets to a euro-body, who would sell them off to pay down debt. Unless Athens cracks on with privatisations in a way it has never managed before.

We may know more in the morning.

Here are tonight's thoughts from the BBC's Richard Peston: @Peston on twitter.

Bemused that German fin min Schaeuble doesn't see that temporary Greek euro exit would more surely destroy euro than permanent exit #Greece

But once principle of temporary exit is established, the euro becomes a glorified currency peg, & they never endure.

Greek bankers tell me there have been no talks with them on how to manage euro exit. Tragic negligence?

And costs for European Central Bank of euro exit for Greece would be massive. Also survival of euro would be in doubt

If eurozone governments force regime change on Greece as price of rescue, euro risks being seen as antipathetic to democracy

I've never covered a crisis like the #GreeceCrisis where no deadline is real, while the destruction of an economy grinds on remorselessly

3 killer lines in eurogroup rescue offer:
1) Greece needs additional finance of €82-86bn - boost debt to well over 200% GDP. Bonkers?

2) Greek banks need additional capital of up to €25bn to absorb losses from implosion of econ - caused by forced bank closures!

3) if deal not reached, Greece should be offered "swift negotiations on time out of euro, with possible debt restructuring"

Understandable @atsipras recoils at eurozone insistence privatisation proceeds to go to Luxembourg escrow. This like divorce humiliation

@Peston is good - and I suspect spot on in his concern that any form of Greek exit - permanent or temporary - is a disaster for the euro.

But there are so many more issues at stake:

There are many in the euro-zone that want regime change in Greece. They do not trust Alexis Tsipras and his ruling left Syriza party. The idea of an escrow account filled with Greek assets reflects this lack of trust. They do not believe that promised changes will be made. Demands that the controversial reforms be approved by the Greek government and enacted into law by Wednesday were described as “utter blackmail” by leading party members.

There is likely to be a split in Syriza and the government may not survive. A cabinet reshuffle – removing those ministers who had refused to vote the austerity package through parliament early Saturday – could come as early as Monday.

It is not just Greece that is divided; Europe is split like never before under the Union: the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is now warning that there cannot be a deal at any cost. A German government paper floated the idea of expelling Greece from the eurozone for at least five years. But France and Italy argue that Greece must be kept in the currency union, fearing Grexit would be a historic mistake that would damage the credibility of the entire European Union.

Meanwhile several countries that have recently emerged from their own painful austerity bailouts, such as Portugal and Ireland, want to ensure Greece signs up to credible reforms to get further help. Finland is certain to reject another bailout for Greece to avoid a schism that could topple its two-month-old government.

Which led to this wonderful tweet: Alex Andreou @sturdyAlex : We practically HANDED you Eurovision 2012 with our 8 points. We all used NOKIAs for a decade. Bastards.

Finland’s refusal could embolden other eurozone members to block a deal, especially those in central Europe and the Baltic, which are proving to be the fiercest critics of the Greek government. Lithuania has hit out at what the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, called Greece’s “mañana” approach to negotiations; Slovakia fears the eurozone could become a “zombie” area if Greece stays.

Potentially, eurozone governments could override Finland, or another small country, by resorting to an emergency voting procedure that requires only 85% of eurozone governments to support a bailout. But this could be politically explosive, as well as uncharted legal terrain. To use the special voting rule, eurozone leaders would have to agree that “the economic and financial sustainability” of the eurozone is at stake. But many governments have spent weeks arguing exactly the opposite.

Whatever happens Europe will never be the same.

Those countries that sit on the outside of the Euro - such as the UK and Switzerland - are grinning in the background.

Above all else - if Greece does stay in the euro zone its sovereignty is gone. It will be run from Berlin. There will be euro officials drafting laws in Greece and overseeing their implementation; policy will be run from Berlin. And Greece will be left in political turmoil.

The union was always an experiment. It may have already failed.

Eurogroup draft on demands for Greek reforms

12 July 2015 Reuters

Euro zone finance ministers meeting in crisis talks in Brussels want Greece to commit to more measures to reform its economic system and government finances before they agree to negotiate a bailout loan.

Following is a partial draft Eurogroup statement, seen by Reuters. It was discussed by the ministers late on Saturday, before they resumed talks on Sunday.

Euro zone sources said it was likely to be amended but formed a basis for further discussion on Sunday. Sources also said ministers had pressed Greece to take other measures, including passing early legislation increasing value-added tax and making the national statistics agency independent:

"The Eurogroup takes note of the request by the Greek authorities for a three-year ESM stability support and the accompanying list of policy commitments, including a comprehensive list of prior action. The Eurogroup reiterates the need for continued full involvement of the IMF.

The Eurogroup welcomes the assessment by the institutions that the list of policy commitments of the Greek authorities represents a basis to start the negotiations on a new program. The Eurogroup also agrees with the institutions that the package needs to be significantly strengthened and broadened in order to provide for appropriate conditionality for a possible three-year ESM program. The Eurogroup thus welcomes the additional following commitments of the Greek authorities on the basis of a clear timetable:

- fully comply with the medium-term primary surplus target of 3.5 percent of GDP by 2018, according to a yearly schedule to be agreed with the institutions;

- carry out ambitious pension reforms and specific policies to fully compensate for the fiscal impact of the Constitutional Court ruling on the 2012 pension reform and to implement the zero deficit clause;

- adopt more ambitious product market reforms with a clear timetable for implementation of all OECD toolkit I recommendations, including Sunday trade, sales periods, over-the-counter pharmaceutical products, pharmacy ownership, milk, bakeries. On the follow-up of the OECD toolkit II, manufacturing needs to be included in the prior action;

- on energy markets, the privatization of the electricity transmission network operator (ADMIE) must proceed, unless replacement measures can be found that have equivalent effect, as agreed by the institutions;

- on labor markets, undertake rigorous reviews of collective bargaining, industrial action and collective dismissals in line with the timetable and the approach suggested by the institutions. Any changes should be based on international and European best practices, and should not involve a return to past policy settings which are not compatible with the goals of promoting sustainable and inclusive growth;

- fully implement the relevant provisions of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, in particular to make the Fiscal Council fully operational;

- adopt the necessary steps to strengthen the financial sector, including decisive action on non-performing loans, transposition of BRRD and measures to strengthen governance of the HFSF and the banks;

- develop a significantly scaled up privatization program with improved governance. A working group with the institutions shall provide proposals for better implementation mechanisms;

- amend or compensate for legislation adopted during 2015 which have not been agreed with the institutions and run counter to the program commitments;

- implement the key remaining elements from the December 2014 state of play of the fifth review of the second economic adjustment program."

Another day of Greek drama

13 July 2015

Inside the most expensive boarding school in the world

By Harry Mount Daily Telegraph 26 January 2015

It is known as the school of kings, counting among its alumni the Shah of Iran, Prince Rainier of Monaco and King Farouk of Egypt. Its catchment area was once the glittering palaces that housed the grandest families on the Continent: the Metternichs, the Borgheses and the Hohenlohes.

But Institut Le Rosey is now spreading its net to humble old Britain. For the first time in its 135-year history, the prestigious Swiss boarding school has been recruiting gilt-edged pupils, aged seven to 18, in London.

Co-educational since 1967, it is keen to claim a slice of a market hitherto dominated by British boarding schools such as Eton and Harrow.

But at £80,000 a year - more than twice their fees - the most expensive school in the world will hardly be cherry-picking the brightest and best middle-class British pupils. Their parents find British school fees steep enough already.

London, however, has become the city of choice for the world’s richest parents so is also home to the world’s richest kids. And it is they who formed the target audience for Le Rosey’s recruitment drive last week, held at the city’s Swiss Embassy.

There has long been a tiny British contingent at the school, making up five per cent of its 400 pupils. Its intake hails from 63 countries, with no more than 10% of its students coming from any one country, to prevent a single nationality dominating.

Sir Roger Moore and Elizabeth Taylor sent their children there. John Lennon’s son Sean studied there too, as did the Duke of Kent and Winston Spencer Churchill, grandson of the wartime Prime Minister.

But the days when it served an inter-continental upper-class elite are long gone.

“Le Rosey was different in the 1950s when I first came here,” says Taki Theodoracopulos, the Spectator columnist who lives in Gstaad, home to one of Le Rosey’s two campuses. “Then all the kids were upper-class - Rainier and the Shah were looked down upon. It was mostly American. Then the Italians and the French came. And then, in the 1970s, the Arabs arrived.”

As the international mega-rich pour in, the school is losing its Euro-Anglo-American founding ethos.

“That’s why they’re recruiting the British,” says Taki, whose son attended the school. “They want to get some Europeans, and the odd token Briton and American, but they can’t admit it.”

Some of that British sheen is supplied by Michael Gray, Le Rosey’s British headmaster, educated at a Liverpool grammar school.

Otherwise, the school is not only in another country, it might as well be on another planet as far as most people are concerned.

The winter term is spent in Gstaad, with lessons finishing by lunchtime so the children can hit the slopes for the afternoon. In spring, they head to the school’s Château du Rosey campus nestled on the site of a Gothic, 14th-century château in the village of Rolle on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The privately-owned institution is astonishingly well-equipped, with a shooting range, 1,000-seat concert hall and an equestrian centre boasting 30 horses. Few other schools have their own 38-foot yacht on Lake Geneva, let alone a spa for stressed-out pupils to unwind in at the end of the long school day. Classes are in French and English, in a system called “à la carte bilingualism”. The teacher-pupil ratio is an enviable 1:5.

But for those who can afford the fees, perhaps none of this seems out of the ordinary.

“Seeing a helicopter land on the football pitches with a Russian pupil stepping out with his parents, I was somewhat shocked at the in-your-face parades of wealth,” says Annabel, 25, who worked as a housemaster’s au pair at Le Rosey in 2008. “It is very different to a British boarding school - it is run like a business. One pupil had 'I AM RICH’ planted across his jumper. I felt the boys definitely wanted to prove their wealth in a more crass way than the girl pupils.”

Yet the school is at pains to deny that money is a divisive issue among its students.

“No one goes around, saying 'I’m richer than you’,” Gray told the Times, “It’s completely unsnobbish. If people put on airs and graces they wouldn’t survive.”

The school is also keen to stress it’s not just for those who have money but no brains. All the pupils sit official external examinations - the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the French baccalauréat. Only those who can expect to get into university are offered a place . And only one in three applicants is accepted.

“It’s certainly not academic,” says Taki, “But the school does do its best to improve the kids. My son was happy there - and they are polite. My wife was going up in the ski lift the other day with three Le Rosey kids. One was Russian, one American, one Arab. They couldn’t have been nicer or more polite.”

Unsurprisingly, this rarefied elite ends up forming close bonds.

“I saw a lot of relationships,” says Annabel, who now works in advertising in Australia. “Many of the boarding students were renting out pretty expensive hotel rooms in Gstaad for the weekend, where they could get up to mischief without adult or teacher supervision.”

Go to Le Rosey - or, even better, marry another Ancien Roséen, as Old Roseans are called - and you’re set up for life. There’s an Anciens Roséens alumni programme and a strictly private directory that lets you network with other super-rich old boys and girls.

With that exclusive alumni network, along with the school’s fabulous settings and eye-watering fees, it’s hard not to agree with F Scott Fitzgerald: the very rich “are different from you and me”. And they start being very different at a very young age.

Greece’s fight is for democracy in Europe. That’s why we must support it

6 July 2015 Owen Jones in The Guardian

From the cradle of democracy, a lion has roared. It is difficult to overstate the pressure the Greek people have both endured and defied. A country that has already experienced an austerity-induced economic disaster with few precedents among developed nations in peacetime has suffered a sustained campaign of economic and political warfare. The European Central Bank – which has only recently deigned to publish some of the minutes of its meetings – capped liquidity for Greek banks, driving them to the verge of collapse. There were stringent capital controls, and desperate queues outside banks followed. A country desperate to stay within the euro was told it would be ejected, and with calamitous results.

That’s what the EU pulled off in Italy and Berlusconi – it should have been his people who removed him

Martin Schulz, the European parliament’s president and a so-called social democrat, whose attitude towards democracy can be generously described as ambiguous, called for the removal of Greece’s elected government in favour of a technocratic government.

It wasn’t bluster. That’s what the EU and the markets previously pulled off in Greece and, yes, in Italy: however much justifiable distaste exists for Silvio Berlusconi, it should have been his own people who removed him. In Greece itself, the oligarch-owned “free media” acted as a political machine (sound familiar?), pumping out relentless propaganda in favour of capitulating to the creditors’ demands. An alliance between Greece’s economic elite and the EU great powers told the Greek people: however tough your lives have been in the last few years, your world will cave in unless you acquiesce. And still the Greek people voted no – not narrowly, but overwhelmingly.

The referendum was, of course, a rejection of an austerity programme that has unleashed what is commonly described in Greece as a humanitarian crisis. Since Lehman Brothers crashed in 2008, austerity has always relied on the displacement of blame from elites to elsewhere. It was Goldman Sachs who helped the then Greek government to cook the country’s books to win entry into the euro. It was German and French banks who profitably and recklessly lent to Greece, just as US banks disastrously showered subprime mortgages on low-paid Americans. It was Germany who benefited from being able to export its consumer goods to peripheral European countries such as Greece.

After the crash, Greece was forced to implement measures that sent debt hurtling to 180% of GDP, doubled poverty, left a quarter of Greeks and over half of young people without work, raised the suicide and infant mortality rate, left many without healthcare, and shrunk the economy by a quarter. Precious little of the bailouts went to Greece; instead they went to the European banks that had recklessly lent in the first place. While Germany’s postwar economic renaissance owed everything to debt relief – including from war-devastated countries such as Greece – Athens was denied the write-offs it desperately needed. As French economist Thomas Piketty points out, “Germany is the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt”, and Berlin is “profiting from Greece” because of its high-interest loans. The weak euro makes German goods so internationally competitive, and has been a linchpin of the country’s recent economic success.

But this revolt was about something much bigger, and that is why Greece remains in great danger. This is about the very nature of the European Union itself. The European project was founded in the rubble of a war of annihilation, genocide and totalitarianism. It was intended to secure peace, prosperity and democracy for the people of Europe. This dream has become something of a nightmare for a growing number of Europeans. A democratic deficit is unaddressed. The Transatlantic Treaty Investment Partnership is negotiated in secret with large corporations, conspiring to give them the power to sue elected governments in secret courts to try to stop policies they believe hit their profits. The EU treaty negotiated in 2011 effectively forbade any future eurozone government from pursuing an expansionary fiscal policy. Other treaties and directives enshrine free-market dogma in law. Austerity is mindlessly implemented across the eurozone with terrible human consequences: in Spain, too, around half of young people are out of work.

Syriza was a revolt against this Europe of austerity and corporate power, in favour of a democratic, socially progressive Europe. Podemos in Spain is part of this revolt, as is Sinn Féin in Ireland. If the referendum had produced a yes, then it would have represented a potentially terminal defeat for this gathering pan-European revolt. Instead, it has now been emboldened. Unfortunately the EU elites are not stupid, and realise this. They fear – justifiably – that if Syriza is seen to win concessions, the rebellion will spread. The resignation of Yanis Varoufakis is almost certainly part of an attempt to allow them to save face and do a deal.

But the EU is in a genuine bind. If Greece is ejected from the eurozone, the currency is no longer an indivisible union and a precedent will be set for the ejection of its members. If the ECB abandons Greece, the eurozone’s reputation will not recover. This is why Greece has bargaining power in its quest for debt relief and for an abandonment of austerity that has already ravaged the country. The EU still wishes to make an example of the country: by forcing Syriza to implement policies that will destroy the government, by making “the economy scream” (to quote Henry Kissinger) until it is ejected from office, or even a disastrous default and removal from the eurozone. It may still succeed. And that is why Greece desperately needs support.

Europe after the Greek referendum: Angela Merkel must take the lead

6 July 2015 - The Guardian editorial

This is a moment that demands both clear thinking and swift action by European leaders, qualities not so often displayed in a union usually characterised by ambiguity, complexity and delay. Those are necessary lubricants in everyday Europe, a collective that always has to live with contradictions and differences. But Europe after Greece is not everyday Europe. It is a union perilously close to a disaster that, while certainly not terminal, could be very damaging indeed.

Simply put, those leaders, above all Chancellor Angela Merkel, have to decide whether they want to keep Greece in, or whether they will let that unhappy country slip away. If Greece leaves the euro, there is no guarantee that it won’t leave the EU altogether. After the referendum these are no longer speculative possibilities, lying somewhere beyond the latest deadline for this or that repayment. They are here now, right in Europe’s face, needing resolution within a matter of days or, at the very most, weeks. Measures of immediate economic support, putting the Greek economy on hold until then, are probably needed within hours.

It would be foolish to predict the precise course of events, but broadly speaking Europe has two options. It can, in very rapid negotiations, work out a new and better deal for Greece, including a public promise that significant debt relief is part of the plan, thus sustaining and vindicating Alexis Tsipras’s government. That is something that the many critics of his populist tactics, including Greece’s own yes voters, would find a bitter pill to swallow, as of course would many voters in the countries that would have to pay for such a deal. But it would keep the Greeks in. Or Europe can conduct any negotiations in a laggard or inflexible way, precipitating either a fresh breakdown of relations or a sour deal. Such a deal would be no better or worse than what was on offer before the referendum.

Particularly after what was seen in Greece as arrogant interference in its national politics in the runup to the referendum, that would set the European leadership in a possibly permanent relationship of hostility with a large segment of the Greek people, and deepen the political polarisation already evident in that country. Some on the European side are speaking of the negotiations, which could well start on Tuesday as a new Greek team flies to Brussels, without the controversial Yanis Varoufakis but armed with a document saying most political parties support the government in the talks, as if they will consist of Greece making proposals and Europe saying yes or no. But this is a profoundly negative way of approaching the situation.

It seems likely that the majority of no voters in Greece intended to convey a message on the lines of “Now they’ll finally see how utterly fed up, angry and hopeless we are.” The vote, in other words, was a plea as well as a warning. It was a plea for a human response, not in terms of sympathetic coverage on television or newspapers – the Greeks have had almost too much of that – but in terms of policy.

The biggest share of the responsibility for what happens next unavoidably falls on the German chancellor, both because she is, in theory, the strongest of Europe’s leaders and because part of her electorate is resistant to such a plea. She has shown in the past an occasional capacity to switch out of her normally passive mode and take decisive action, to go from drift to drive. But scepticism about her leadership qualities has been growing in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. She is seen as having failed to handle Mr Tsipras effectively, and to be unwilling or unable to convince her own voters that any substantial additional price for continued Greek membership of the eurozone is worth paying. Yet Europe now desperately needs her to transcend her nature, to rise to the occasion and to take decisive charge of the crisis. There is, literally, nobody else who can do it. Britain and other non-eurozone countries are on the sidelines. France’s François Hollande can stand with her, and others as well, but she alone can lead.

The representation of Germany as an aggressive power, exercising in a new form Germany’s old ambition of dominating Europe, is a nonsense. Mrs Merkel’s reluctance has mirrored that of her country, which wanted to be largely left alone with the still unfinished task of reunification and with the attempt to maintain its economic effectiveness. But events will not leave either Germany or Mrs Merkel alone. It will be a testing time for them both.

Back to being mothers says the FA

6 July 2015

The Football Association is mired in the 195s and run by crusty old men still talking about Stanley Matthews.

I wish this was not true but a message from the on twitter confirmed all the worst stereotypes:

England's "Lionesses" - who are professional athletes - managed to make it to the semifinals of the World Cup and finished third after beating world champions Germany in the 3rd/4th place playoff. The men's team has not progressed this far since 1966.

And this is the best that the FA could come up with. The reaction on social media to @England's tweet was wonderfully swift.

Why did you stop at daughters @england ? Sisters nieces aunts cousins 2nd cousins friends godmothers sister-in-laws wives ex-girlfriends...

John Amaechi OBE @JohnAmaechi
Seriously @england when you take a Twitter handle that includes a country, you really shouldn't tweet from the 70's.

This @england Tweet was quite unbelievable. Like something from a @BritishPathe newsreel in the 1940s not from 2015!

The FA has deleted the tweet. Almost guaranteed to have been written by a male.

Plenty of people have also wondered what people are offended about - but it is the sort of casual sexism that is always inappropriate and ill-considered. No one would talk of the men returning (after their very short world cup campaign) to being fathers and sons.

Greece’s no vote: eight days that shook a continent

6 July 2015 The Guardian editorial

Kicking the can down the road has been the cliche of choice over a slow euro crisis that has steadily strangled the life out of the Greek economy. But at some point Europe was bound to run out of road. That happened on Sunday night, when it emerged that the Greek people had said no to continuing to engage with their creditors on the same suffocating terms.

Just over a week ago, Alexis Tsipras staked his future on forcing this denouement. The eight days that followed his midnight declaration of a plebiscite, to accept or reject the creditors’ terms for the latest slug of overdraft, have witnessed many extraordinary things. The Greek parliament licensed a hasty referendum on a question that had already been overtaken by events. A ballot paper written in jargon posed a ludicrously technical question, opening up a void for emotion to fill. Mixing talk of “terror” from their partners with haze about what would happen after a no, Mr Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, aimed squarely for the heart rather than the head. Meanwhile, Greeks faced the fiercest financial controls ever seen in modern Europe: bank doors were shut, supplies disrupted, and citizens queued at every cashpoint for their ration of notes. In countries such as Germany, where history engenders suspicion of referendums, it may have looked like a paradigm case of how not to do democracy.

But the response of the creditors was more extraordinary still. The first noises from the council of finance ministers and the European Central Bank sounded so hawkish that they might have been trying to get the vote cancelled. But then came a bit of a rethink: it emerged that the ECB was capping, rather than cutting off, liquidity support, and leaders including Angela Merkel spied an opportunity to rid themselves of a tricksy interlocutor. They imagined scared voters rallying to yes, trashing Mr Tsipras’s personal authority and perhaps unravelling his loose-knit Syriza alliance. By signalling that voting no would push Greece out of the euro, they broke all the usual protocols by weighing into someone else’s democratic contest. It was an appallingly presumptuous path to go down. Now, after Greece has said no, Mr Tsipras’s future is not the immediate question. It is the fate of the euro itself which is hanging by a thread.

All the eurozone leaders have their own mandates and domestic pressures, but those in the prosperous north should have grasped how much less room for manoeuvre there was for a Greek government presiding over a society which hardship has pushed to the edge of ruin. Having scotched one referendum plan under the altogether more clubbable George Papandreou government, northern leaders seeing the plebiscite resurface in less palatable form should have done a little soul-searching, about whether it is sustainable for Europe to allow itself to be pitted against “the people” in any one state. Above all, the creditors should have shown humility about the abject failure of five years of imposed austerity, which have not even succeeded in the very narrow terms of making it feasible for Athens to pay its debts.

The messy fallout from the referendum will need to be much more adroitly managed than the campaign. Athens needs to cool the rhetoric, and negotiate with steely calm. It may be economically weak, but the logic of the negotiation could be on its side. If Greece is forced out of the euro, contracts will be disrupted and supplies may dry up for a while, but in principle a carefully managed devaluation could provide a path away from penury. For the broader eurozone, by contrast, forcing Greece out will produce no upside. Instead of a negotiated debt settlement, official creditors could lose everything. A slow-burn fuse would be lit under the whole single-currency project, as markets speculate on where may be next. And now that the respectable course of EU-backed orthodoxy has failed at the ballot box, there is also a risk of political contagion, with untold consequences for the more fundamental and more precious project of kinship across the continent.

European leaders who have been used to getting their way in the past cannot presume that they will do so in future. They must show some humility and listen to a Greek people who have been driven to this leap in the dark. They must come up with reforms to fix a rickety single currency from its foundations. In time, that will mean underpinning monetary integration with broader sovereignty-sharing. More immediately, it means having the honesty to admit that the full Greek debts will not be repaid, and being ready to negotiate towards something more realistic.

Koh Tao murder trial

2 July 2015

Burmese migrant workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, go on trial next week accused of killing Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, found dead in late September 2014 on a beach on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand.

The two men were arrested in October 2014 and have been held without bail.

Their case has revealed much about the exploitation and helplessness of migrants across Thailand.

This combined with widespread criticism of the murder investigation and allegations of powerful actors influencing developments, continues to produce deep distrust or suspicion that the real people responsible for the killings have yet to be apprehended.

Two weeks into the murder investigation, police had yet to charge anyone with the killings. Amid conflicting statements regarding evidence and suspects, the investigation appeared increasingly disorganised.

Under pressure to make an arrest, officials frequently suggested the murders were committed by migrant workers.

In early October, authorities finally detained Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo as suspects for the murders. Both were working on Koh Tao to save money to support their families in impoverished Arakan [Rakhine] State in Burma. The two allegedly confessed to the murders during questioning; officials claimed the men’s guilt was also established by ‘solid’ forensic evidence linking them to the crime scene and Hannah’s body.

The forensic evidence will only be introduced at trial and has not been subject to independent verification. Zaw and Wai claim that they had never met the two deceased. and if they were responsible for the murder why would they have stayed working on the island rather than making a hasty exit to Myanmar.

Several days after being arrested, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo told human rights monitors at Koh Samui prison that they were tortured following detention, prior to being handed over to investigation officials. A week later, both pleaded innocent to rights lawyers organised for them. Both alleged their heads were covered with bags to imitate suffocation while they were threatened with electrocution, burning and execution to elicit confessions. Misconduct of translators assisting investigators was also alleged.

Genuine justice in this case can be achieved through ensuring a fair and transparent trial however this is not looking likely. If the defense does not have time and resources to prepare their case, or if their work is unfairly obstructed, there is a serious risk two innocent young men could be convicted and possibly executed for the murders while the real perpetrators live freely.

If they are found guilty, few people will accept it, and Thailand's image will suffer. If they are found innocent, the credibility of the police investigation will be in tatters, and Thailand's image will suffer. In either case it is likely that the real murderer(s) will still be at large, and unpunished

The are suggestions from the island that 112m THB was paid to make all this go away by the island mafia family of the real murderers. Not unusual in the Land of Smiles.

‘Torture made us admit killing British pair’

28 June 2015 The Sunday Times

The most striking thing about Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, is how small they are. Their black hair is closely cropped and skinny arms and legs protrude from drab prison outfits. In their bare feet they stand about and 5ft 3in and 4ft 11in respectively.

The men were detained after a bungled two-week manhunt for the people who raped and murdered British tourist Hannah Witheridge, 23, and killed fellow British traveller David Miller, 24, on the Thai diving mecca Koh Tao (Turtle Island), in the early hours of September 15 last year.

Police suspicions moved in quick succession from locals to Burmese migrants, then to British friends of the deceased, to speedboat drivers, to the son of the island’s richest man and back, finally, to Burmese migrants.

The two former hotel workers smiled as they clutched telephones behind the prison glass on the island of Koh Samui, eager to talk. Their trial for murder opens on July 8.

“We did not commit this crime,” Zaw Lin insisted, repeating their claims of innocence. They have recanted on confessions they claim were obtained after they were beaten and scalded.

“We did not even see the people who were killed. We had the night off work with our friend so we were near the beach, playing guitar,” Zaw Lin said.

“We had three drinks and got quite drunk because we don’t usually take alcohol, so we went to bed.”

For now their home is a crowded prison with 700 inmates. Zaw Lin said: “We are OK, we work cleaning bathrooms and we can exercise. Our cell only has 27 people so we can lie down and sleep, most are more crowded — one has 44 people.”

Both victims had head wounds inflicted by a heavy object police say was one of the cumbersome beach hoes used to rake fire pits in the sand.

Miller, a fit, strong man who appears to have attempted to save Witheridge from her attackers, drowned after being hit over the head, police said.

“Only an extremely violent and sadistic person could have done this. The suspects show no sign of these tendencies,” Nakhon Chompoochart, the lead defence lawyer said.

Zaw Lin admits he has been having trouble sleeping, the only sign that the pair grasp the seriousness of their situation. “We can’t wait to go home,” he said. “We miss our families.”

Police say they have forensic evidence linking the accused to the murders. But there remain more questions than answers to the case.

On the night of the killings, Witheridge and Miller were in a crowd at the AC bar 100 yards up the beach from where the young Burmese were relaxing.

The defence theory is that the hoe was used to hide gunshot wounds and the bodies were arranged to disguise what had actually occurred. A photo taken of Witheridge as she lay dead on the beach that has been obtained by The Sunday Times appears to show shrapnel wounds to her face.

Few, if any, people who live on the island will speak out as the case has been overshadowed by reports in the Thai media of interference by “influential figures”, a euphemism for organised crime. No British witnesses have come forward.

Since the murders of the young Britons there have been more suspicious deaths on Koh Tao.

In January a Frenchman died in what looked like a staged suicide — his hands were tied behind his back — and another European man, said to have been a potential witness to events on the night of the double murder, was killed in a diving accident.

Another Burmese man named Shy who was working at the AC bar on the night of the murders has disappeared, people on the defence team said.

“Everything is dependent on the forensics result, since there are no other witnesses to the crime so we will have to use the environment,” Nakhon said. His biggest concern is that he thinks “there will definitely be some political interference”.

The defence has struggled for adequate funding, raising fears of a potentially flawed trial, according to British human rights activist Andy Hall, whose Migrant Worker Rights Network is one of three non-government organisations helping the defendants. “It’s been very stressful, we haven’t had much money at all,” Hall said.

He said the British embassy and the UK government had been “very unco-operative, very difficult”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We want to see whoever committed these murders brought to justice through a fair and transparent process.”

Back on Koh Tao, despite the murders and subsequent tragedy that now seems a regular occurrence on the island, life goes on pretty much as usual. When The Sunday Times visited the island in early June, hotels and bars were busy despite it being the low season.

“There was a dip for a month or two after the murders,” one hotelier said, and that is pretty much all anyone on the island wants to say.

The only reminder of the events of last September is a desultory memorial at the rocks near the crime scene and the AC bar, which has been shuttered and fallen into disrepair.

Alexis Tsipras must be stopped: the underlying message of Europe's leaders

29 June 2015 - The Guardian

One day before Greece’s bailout ends and the country’s financial lifeline melts away, Europe’s big guns have lined up one after another to tell the Greeks unequivocally that voting no in Sunday’s referendum means saying goodbye to the euro.

There was no mistaking the gravity of the situation now facing both Greece and Europe on Monday. Leaders were by turns ashen-faced, resigned, desperate and pleading with Athens to think again and pull back from the abyss.

There were also bitter attacks on Alexis Tsipras, the young Greek prime minister whose brinkmanship has gone further than anyone believed possible and left the eurozone’s leaders reeling.

One measure of the seriousness of the situation could be gleaned from the leaders’ schedules. In Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London, a chancellor, two presidents and a prime minister convened various meetings of cabinet, party leaders and top officials devoted solely to Greece.

The French president, François Hollande, was to the fore. “It’s the Greek people’s right to say what they want their future to be,” he said. “It’s about whether the Greeks want to stay in the eurozone or take the risk of leaving.”

Athens insists that this is not what is at stake in the highly complicated question the Greek government has drafted for the referendum, but Berlin, Paris and Brussels made plain that the 5 July vote will mean either staying in the euro on their tough terms or returning to the drachma.

In what was arguably the biggest speech of his career, the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, appeared before a packed press hall in Brussels against a giant backdrop of the Greek and EU flags.

He was impassioned, bitter and disingenuous in appealing to the Greek people to vote yes to the euro and his bailout terms, arguing that he and the creditors – rather than the Syriza government – had the best interests of Greeks at heart.

Tsipras had lied to his people, deceived and betrayed Europe’s negotiators and distorted the bailout terms that were shredded when the negotiations collapsed and the referendum was called, he said.

“I feel betrayed. The Greek people are very close to my heart. I know their hardship … they have to know the truth,” he said.

“I’d like to ask the Greek people to vote yes … no would mean that Greece is saying no to Europe.”

In a country where an estimated 11,000 people have killed themselves during the hardship wrought by austerity, Juncker offered unfortunate advice. “I say to the Greeks, don’t commit suicide because you’re afraid of dying,” he said.

Juncker’s extraordinary performance sounded and looked as if he were already mourning the passing of a Europe to which he has dedicated his long political career. His 45-minute speech was both proprietorial and poignant about his vision, which seems to be giving way to a rawer and rowdier place.

That was clear from the trenchant remarks of Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor and the head of the country’s Social Democratic party. He coupled the Greek situation with last week’s foul tempers over immigration and said that Europe faces its worst crisis since the EU’s founding treaty was signed in Rome in 1957.

Gabriel was the first leading European politician to voice what many think and say privately about Tsipras – that the Greek leader represents a threat to the European order, that his radicalism is directed at the politics of mainstream Europe and that he wants to force everyone else to rewrite the rules underpinning the single currency.

The unspoken message was that Tsipras is a dangerous man on a mission who has to be stopped.

Standing alongside his boss, Angela Merkel, as if to send a joint nonpartisan national signal from Germany, Gabriel said that if the Greek people vote no on Sunday, they would be voting “against remaining in the euro”.

Unlike Juncker and Hollande, who pleaded with the Greek people to reject Tsipras’s urging of a no vote, the German leaders sounded calmly resigned to the rupture.

For Merkel, it was clear that the single currency’s rulebook was much more important than Greece. In this colossal battle of wills, Tsipras could not be allowed to prevail.

This is a good read to help understand the issues : Why Greece should vote No and leave the Euro


29 June 2015

Clueless. That is the only way to describe some of the public announcements from Thailand's military government.

In their latest rant deputy government spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said that the United States has a duty to explain why it put Thailand alongside countries experiencing the most significant human rights setbacks in its latest human rights report.

Maybe he could try reading it - and to help out here is a link to the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 - Thailand.

Sansern said that "the assessment in its human rights report that Thailand has seriously curbed the freedom of people is its own point of view towards the situation in many countries. However the US should say what the basis is and the sources of the facts that led to the assumption."

Sansern insisted that Thailand placed the most importance on the real situation in the country and the restoration of peace and happiness when the National Council for Peace and Order ended the political conflict.

Now peace has returned to the Kingdom and people can travel to any place in the country without fear, he said. Of course they cannot say what they really think for fear of arrest and detention for attitude adjustment or for the greater fear of a military trial under S112.

In the report's preface, US Secretary of State John Kerry placed Thailand alongside China, Egypt, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia as countries that are stifling the development of civil society.

"The military overthrew a democratically elected government, repealed the constitution, and severely limited civil liberties," Kerry said. "Subsequent efforts by the military government to rewrite the country's constitution and recast its political intuitions raised concerns about lack of inclusivity in the process."

It is hard to understand what part of that Sansern does not understand.

Citizens no longer have the ability to change the government through the right to vote in free and fair elections. Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded, and unsanitary prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable populations, including refugees; violence and discrimination against women; sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hill tribe members, and foreign migrant workers; child labor; and some limitations on worker rights.

The report also noted that the junta had stifled academic freedom, ordered scholars not to speak to the press and cancelled academic seminars.

The junta had also restricted press content deemed critical, leading to widespread self-censorship.

The US also mentioned what it described as abuses by government security forces and local defence volunteers in the deep South.

It is not a hard list to understand.

Now of course plenty of Thais and other apologists will call foul and accuse the US of hypocrisy. But it is a spurious argument to suggest the the sins of one country justify the sins of another. The USA has been producing this annual report for many years and it is a useful measure of a nation's progress or regress in respect of Human Rights.

It is a huge misunderstanding of US culture to assume that Americans support their own civil rights abuses. What they do have is the right to debate and protest them. Whether you like it or not the US is one of the best information gathering machines we have to monitor such things as human rights. The US is a nation of contrasts, conflicts and argument. Meanwhile Thailand endures a strangled media and a non-elected government with absolute power.

The 2014 report card for Thailand shows that slavery still exists and refugees are sold into it; camps are burned to "prevent them from being used again", or more likely to remove the evidence. Voting booths were blocked; people arrested and detained for speaking their mind, and an elected government was removed by a military coups. The US is far from perfect, but that does not invalidate the state department report.